FIVE: Nashville Cats
Warning: The author’s behavior described herein is professional in nature and should not be attempted by amateurs.
Just after the fortunate music-publishing success with Kenny Rogers’ Gideon album in 1980, I left Hollywood hoping to transplant my music business adventure to England. Shortly after returning to Amarillo to consider my options, which included an offer to head the London office of an American music-publishing company, I learned my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I assumed Dad’s responsibilities as the rental property manager for properties owned by the Durrett and Hays families, and after Dad’s death on August 15th I continued living in Amarillo managing the property until early 1984. During this time, Jim Ed Norman, who had produced a string of hits with Anne Murray and other recording artists joined Warner Bros. Records in Nashville as head of A&R. When Jimmy Bowen, the top executive of Warner Bros. Nashville, unexpectedly left the company in 1983 to run MCA Records Nashville, Jim Ed was appointed as his successor.
By 1984 my one remaining connection with the music business was a subscription to Billboard Magazine and although I seldom read it, I did notice a blurb about Jim Ed’s promotion. I called with my congratulations and to offer my service should circumstances warrant such consideration. Living back in my hometown for four years had been rewarding, but boredom-creep had begun to emerge—the same feeling that caused me to raise sails to leave there in 1964. I’ve no doubt that living the remainder of my life in Amarillo could have been a fruitful life, but a storyline too easily imagined is troubling. I’d rather have little certainty about what tomorrow brings, and Jim Ed delivered a good measure of uncertainty by saying that before considering my offer he needed to sort out the many responsibilities that had so unexpectedly come to him. But a few days later I received his job offer of general manager.
Jim Ed had agreed to retain all current employees and I was the only new addition to his team. Late one morning soon after joining Warner Bros., I was standing in Jim Ed’s outer office with two other employees when Jim Ed’s wife and two daughters arrived for a visit. There was a direct line of sight down the long hallway leading from the reception room to his outer office, and as his daughters, ages about three and four, started down the long hallway toward me it was apparent they had mistaken me for their dad—something easily done from a distance since both Jim Ed and I were tall, slender and had graying hair. With open arms extended for an expected hug the youngsters excitedly ran toward me hollering, “Daddy, Daddy.” Befuddlement—possibly even suspicion—lit the faces of the two employees whose wrinkled brows seemed to ask, “What’s going on here?” After all, I was the only outside employee hired by Jim Ed and his two young daughters were excitedly running toward me exclaiming, “Daddy, Daddy.” About halfway down the hallway the girls realized I wasn’t “Daddy” and their excitement abated causing wrinkled brows to relax, although keen observation continued—possibly for any telltale sign worth feeding the robust Music Row gossip mill. It was a “Hollyweird” moment turned “Weird-billy.”
Shortly after the Lexus LS400 made its American debut, a Warner Bros. Nashville employee who had purchased one made such a fuss about his Lexus being the most wonderful car of all cars ever manufactured that the braggadocios comments began irritating fellow employees.
“Eddie, how much do you think the hood of a new Lexus would cost?” Jim Ed asked.
“I don’t know—maybe $1,000? Why?”
“It might be worth $1,000 to take a hammer to the hood of that Lexus just to see his reaction.”
Jim Ed would never do such a thing, but it hinted at his affection for farce—foolishness I would attend by pouring some anti-freeze on the parking pavement directly beneath the Lexus’ radiator just before the owner’s lunch break. I shared my prank-in-progress with a fellow employee and supplied him with some fallacious automotive advice as we waited out of view. The owner immediately noticed what appeared to be a leaking radiator just as my friend approached him.
“I read in Motor Trend that Lexus is having a problem with radiator leaks, but they pay all but $1,000 of the repair cost.”
“By God they’re gonna pay all of my costs.”
The owner opted not to use his Lexus for transportation to lunch, and later one companion claimed the owner seemed emotionally absent during their entire meal—possibly strategizing some hell raising at the Lexus dealership about a radiator repair cost of $1,000.
This same employee once ordered $600 worth of black jellybeans for the Warner Bros. recording studio. He claimed it saved the company money by not ordering regular jellybeans since he only ate the black ones. Now that’s creative rationalization of the first order. He also ordered $300 worth of writing pens (over $500 in 2016) for only the studio. Unusual invoices and those in excess of $5,000 required my approval and when this invoice appeared on my desk, I questioned why so many pens were purchased. “It’s a year’s supply,” he responded. I divided the number of pens by 52 to calculate a week’s supply would be 20 pens.
“Will you be sending a memo each Friday morning inviting all employees to the studio to do some writing in order to deplete the weekly supply of 20 pens?”
“It’s actually a three-year supply,” he retorted.
“Why only a three-year supply? Why not a ten-year supply?” Helping manage the finances at Warner Bros. taught me many things and one was that excess tends to breed excess.
When a new telephone system required users to dial additional numbers, Jim Ed sent this note.
In 1989 it took approx. 3 seconds to dial a long distance #. In 1990 it took approx. 10 sec. And in 1991 in now takes 20 seconds. At that rate of growth by the year 2000 if you want to call an Elvis impersonator on Friday, you’ll have to begin dialing on Wednesday. FYI, JEN
In our first year of managing Warner Bros. Nashville the bottom line was negative $2 million, and in the second year negative $1 million. The financial statements were printed with three zeros missing so that $100,000 would be represented by $100. The year-end financial statement for our third year showed $1 on the bottom line—a profit of $1,000 for the year. For the following year of 1987 we submitted a budget forecasting a sizable profit—rather sizable given the lack of profit during the first three years. The home office CFO thought our forecast was overly optimistic and made a $100 bet with the business affairs attorney that we’d fail to deliver the forecasted profit.
In March, after learning about this bet and realizing our fortunes had taken a most positive upswing, I suggested the business affairs attorney double the amount of forecasted profit in an attempt to double the amount of his bet. Based on my enthusiasm he was willing to double his bet but not the amount of profit. At year’s end the profit delivered was five and a half times greater than our original forecast. It was a great year with even more rewarding ones to come.
During the beginning of our success, the Nashville business community began taking notice, and soon a young reporter from the Nashville Business Journal scheduled an interview with Jim Ed. As I walked through the reception area where she waited for her appointment, she asked, “Are you ready for our interview?” My puzzled reaction caused her to repeat her question, and I realized she thought I was Jim Ed. I stood silently and motionless for a few moments while a small, insistent urge from the depths of my conscience screamed for my attention. Unfortunately, my professional manner led me away from that urge and to my reply. “I’m not Jim Ed. He’ll be with you very soon.”
As I walked away the small urge continued to gnaw until it finally had voice. My mischievous alter ego had urged me to pretend that I was Jim Ed in order to create a momentous Music Row prank—an outrageous, ego-maniacal interview in which I would have claimed to have taught Jimmy Bowen everything he knows about producing records, to have single-handedly changed the face of country music, to now be the savior of Nashville songwriters, and to shrewdly be positioning myself as the next governor of Tennessee. The appearance of such an interview in the Nashville Business Journal would have served up quixotic entertainment for both the Music Row crowd and the Nashville business community at large—possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity missed. I shared my fantasy with Jim Ed and warned I was now hard-wired should a like opportunity arise. His good-spirited reaction to my imagined prank spoke loudly of his self-confidence and great sportsmanship.
In addition to self-confident, Jim Ed is intelligent, creative, knowledgeable, curious, dedicated, compassionate, fair-minded, has a strong work ethic, and like me, can be pretty dang stubborn. We worked together for fifteen years at Warner Bros. Nashville, and during that time he often claimed I was the boss and that he worked for me. But when the chips were down there was no question regarding who was boss, and due to the great respect we had for one another it seldom mattered. We were busy doing what was needed to succeed, with Jim Ed directing his energy and talent toward the creative aspects of our business while I mostly managed the business and operational side of the company. Being hired by an ex-employee is one of the highest compliments one can receive, and I greatly appreciate the compliment my previous employee extended by hiring me.
I voiced my opinion about many company issues, and it was difficult to determine if I actually influenced any of Jim Ed’s ultimate decisions. At times I believed my influence was so limited that I declared, “Jim Ed, during our time at Warner Bros. I’ve given you $100 million worth of good advice and you’ve only accepted about $20 million of it.” He would simply nod and smile. But if he did accept $20 million of my advice, then given the cost of my salary and benefits, Jim Ed’s investment was a profitable one for the company.
Jim Ed was tolerant to a fault, which afforded opportunity for some to take unfair advantage. But he was unflappable—serene and above petty machinations even when used as a manipulative wedge. Jim Ed was busy doing the work of a visionary.
Rather than push someone to accomplish a task, Jim Ed would pull. There’s a great difference between pushing and pulling, and it’s one of the most important lessons he taught me. Pushing is to use force to demand action. Pulling is to lead one down a path of action. I’ve not known a more decent or caring person, and this world surely and sorely needs many more of his kind.
THE BOOK OF MARK
Talented Nashville country songwriter, record producer, and record company executive Mark Wright is a unique character full of love, creativity, music, emotion, and good humor. We’ve had much fun over the years as you will learn from three stories that must be shared.
When I joined Warner Bros. in 1984, Mark was employed by RCA Records and our paths often crossed at various music business events. After separately having dinner with our families at a Japanese restaurant, Mark and I sat down at the sake bar to become better acquainted. In a quirk of happenstance, and in no way directly related to that evening at the sake bar, it was the last time I drank an excessive amount of alcohol.
In January 1992 BMI’s Roger Sovine hosted a lunch to celebrate one of Mark’s songs having recently been a country hit. En route to our offices after the lunch, Roger asked Mark if the hit album he produced with recording artist Mark Chesnutt had been certified gold (the award status for having sold over 500,000 copies). Mark replied that sales were over 400,000 but didn’t know if it would eventually sell 500,000 copies.
“Mark, has Columbia Record Club released the album?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
“A record club release will easily sell another 100,000 copies.”
“I’ll check it out.”
Only a day or two later, Columbia Record Club executive Marshall Wilcoxson arrived in Nashville for one of his regular Music City business visits. Marshall was instrumental in determining if and when the club released a record, so I inquired about the Mark Chesnutt record at our lunch meeting. He took the release schedule from his briefcase and said, “Eddie, it’s being released this week.” It was a perfect setup, and Marshall accepted my offer to have some fun. On his personalized Columbia Record Club notepad he wrote as I dictated. “Initially I didn’t believe the Chesnutt record merited release, but as a personal favor to my good friend Eddie Reeves I have scheduled it for immediate release.” Timing can be everything if good use is made of it.
Blake Chancy, a Nashville song plugger at the time and later a successful record producer, often met with Mark to plug songs. Blake sometimes stopped by my office when visiting Warner Bros. and during one such visit complained that one night when Mark was “flying high” Mark had borrowed a $100 but didn’t remember borrowing it. Whenever Blake mentioned the debt Mark would just slough it off. Inspired by the zaniness of Mark’s quirky character I proffered my most creative effort to synchronize the personality of my handwriting with the likely comportment of Mark on the night in question and scrawled on a small piece of paper in virtually illegible handwriting, “I O U $100 Mark Wright.” Obviously, Blake doubted Mark would accept a counterfeit I.O.U., but I urged him to give it a try. To our great amazement Mark not only accepted the I.O.U. as his own but also agreed to pay Blake the $100 debt. Now the trap was set.
By some concocted pretense I lured Mark to my office to deliver Marshall Wilcoxson’s note stating the record club would immediately release the Chesnutt record as “a personal favor to Eddie Reeves.” Mark was much impressed by my effort on his behalf and showered me with his most grateful gratitude. I responded that he reciprocate by settling the $100 debt with Blake. Mark questioned how I knew of the debt, but after some discussion he committed to pay Blake. Believing the hook was now deeply imbedded, I demanded that Mark write a check to Blake before leaving my office. I was being obnoxious in the extreme, but thought Mark’s perceived value of the benefit I had delivered was much greater than the resolution of a $100 debt. He promised his business manager would send a check to Blake, but I pressed Mark to request the check before leaving my office as I continued to push the limits of the perceived good will generated by my scam. During the conversation with his business manager I suggested $20 in interest be added, and that the check be sent to my attention to insure Blake received it. With good-natured reluctance Mark agreed to all my demands, and the next day I handed Blake a check for $120. We both agreed that such an improbable event was possible only with our friend Mark. Later I revealed the truth to Mark and his initial reaction was to not believe me. But my detailed confession eventually convinced him of the truth and his reaction is best described as anticlimactic. But at the very least my friend had been introduced to my propensity to cast some bait for attempted fun at his expense.
When compact discs were fast becoming the dominant means of delivering recorded music to consumers, NARAS (the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) arranged a lunch to educate Nashville music business executives about new software developments. I shared a table with some of Mark’s friends who prior to the presentation voiced concern that his unbridled lifestyle might jeopardize his budding career.
A man unknown to anyone at our table interjected, “Well, to hear you all talk, I must have done a terrible job.” We wondered who he was and what he meant.
“I’m Mark’s godfather and I practically raised him.” A frail attempt was made to deflate the seriousness of our remarks and then the presentation began. Before it ended, Mark’s godfather left the table and did not return. I began concocting the next episode of my shenanigan and called Mark that afternoon.
“Mark, I have a confession and an apology to make.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know how I love joking around, but this time something got out of control and I’m calling to apologize ‘man to man’ and to explain what happened.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
I described the NARAS lunch, the conversation and the concern of his friends regarding behavior of “coloring outside the lines.” Then I related the comments of his godfather—comments I greatly embellished.
Working with creative people over the years has offered a revealing insight into the general nature of the creative mind. One peculiarity is that if one finds a credible, believable way to refer to one’s creativity as creative genius, then immediately following such praise it is possible that a two or three-minute window of opportunity will materialize during which the creative person will believe almost anything that is said. This discovery may suit Mark less well than most of us, but I thought it worth a try on my zany friend.
I repeated the comment of Mark’s godfather about “having done a terrible job raising Mark” and related how terribly embarrassed we all were for having been so indiscreet.
“Mark, I tried to smooth things over by explaining that you aren’t a drug addict or an alcoholic or anything like that, but that you are a creative genius that needs to explore all dimensions of consciousness including the use of drugs. I told your godfather you used drugs only to understand each particular state of altered consciousness in order to incorporate any newly discovered dimension into your creativity. I said even though you’ve used LSD and marijuana that you’re not addicted to either. I then explained to your godfather how terribly uncomfortable it was for me when you described your one and only homosexual experience that you believed was necessary for the complete evolution of your creative conscience.”
Mark shouted, “You said what?” quickly followed with other colorful exclamations.
“Please hear me out. I was making a joke to deflect and deflate the negative remarks that had been made about you and then was about to tell your godfather I was only joking when suddenly the presentation began. I intended to explain my joke as soon as events allowed, but your godfather left for what I assumed was a men’s room break and he didn’t return. So now, at best, your godfather is wondering if you’ve had a homosexual experience and, at worst, believes you have. Please give me his phone number so I can set things straight.”
Mark began yelling about as loud as a man can ever yell with threats to come “punch my lights out” while furiously berating me for finally having gone too far with my antics. When his rage subsided there was a brief silence after which he calmly asked, “Are you just screwing with me?”
“Of course I am.”
Mark’s befuddlement was almost audible over the phone, but was happy to know my story was purely fiction. “You get me every time. Why do I always fall for it?”
“For the same reasons that make you the unique, endearing person so many people love. It’s something that can’t adequately be described with words. It’s something bound up inextricably in the essence of Mark Wright.” Uh, oh…there I go…baiting him again.
After co-producing the first album of country artist Clint Black, Mark became an independent record producer (a producer not exclusively employed by one record company). As Jim Ed and headed to lunch one day we saw Mark, who invited himself to join us and we happily obliged. During the entire meal Mark completely ignored me as he energetically engaged Jim Ed, who did the hiring of record producers for Warner Bros.
The young waitress serving us was a stunning beauty—a rare combination of “wholesome all-American girl” and “sexy young thang” evoking a 1950s Vargas pin-up girl. Each time she appeared she did not go unnoticed. Mark’s vigorous immersion in his record-production conversation with Jim Ed caused Mark to lean forward toward Jim Ed to such extent that I was mostly rendered a view of Mark’s backside. The two things that most assuredly trigger whatever creative ability I possess are being alone or being threatened by boredom, and at that moment I’d virtually been moved to a table-for-one by Mark’s extreme physical posture. Mark had placed his pocketbook and keys on the table granting me an opportunity to entertain myself with a prank I’d played years earlier on friend Randy Brown at Martoni’s Restaurant in Hollywood. I carefully removed Mark’s pocket book from the table, quickly located his credit card, and returned his pocket book to where it had been. Jim Ed observed my maneuver but gave Mark no hint of it.
No longer involved in the successful Clint Black project, Mark was searching for his next fruitful opportunity and while between movies, as they say, had adopted a conservative financial posture. Without regard for his circumstance, I handed the young waitress Mark’s credit card as Mark rolled his eyes in reaction to her remarkable beauty. She returned with the credit card and voucher, handed it to me and said, “Thank you Mr. Wright.”
“Hey, what’s going on here?” Mark inquired. I quickly entered the tip, signed the voucher, and handed a copy to the waitress and the credit card and receipt to Mark.
“Thanks for buying lunch, Mark.”
“How did you get my credit card?”
“You were so busy romancing Jim Ed and ignoring me that I was left to entertain myself. Since you invited yourself to our lunch, the least you can do is pay for it.”
Mark shook his head in disbelief as Jim Ed warned, “Mark, you’d better look at the receipt. Eddie’s known to be a big tipper.” Mark discovered the $50 tip (about $90 in 2016) added to the $50 bill for a total charge of $100.
“Mark, I tipped an amount I thought you would have given to our beautiful, young waitress.” He was speechless—but not for long.
Realizing she’d received a 100% tip, the waitress was waiting at the front entrance of the restaurant to thank me. Her radiant, killer smile flashed as we approached and looking directly at me oh so sweetly she said, “Thank you, Mr. Wright. Thank you very much.”
Mark stood there looking at the lovely object of our lunchtime infatuation, who had just received $50 of his money but was smiling at and thanking me. It was more than he could bear. While exuberantly and repeatedly pointing to himself with both of his hands Mark loudly exclaimed, “I’m Mr. Wright, I’m Mr. Wright,” and then pointing at me he loudly continued, “He’s Mr. Wrong.” He repeated his newfound mantra of “I’m Mr. Wright and he’s Mr. Wrong” a couple of times as we left the restaurant and the warm glow of a lovely young waitress filled with youthful gratitude.
After my friend Tom Collins, a successful Nashville music publisher and record producer, purchased the publishing rights of famous songwriter Tom T. Hall, I began referring to him as Tom T. Collins. I figured a guy with the name of an alcoholic beverage might enjoy the variance. Later I realized there was good reason to simply reverse the first two parts of this moniker to T.Tom Collins since there were two successful men named Tom Collins in the country music business—my friend T.Tom and recording artist/songwriter Tommy Collins.
When Capitol Records signed country singer Leonard Raymond Sipes in the early 1950s, Snipes adopted Tommy Collins as his stage name. His first hit, “You Better Not Do That,” occurred in 1954 with band member Buck Owens as lead guitarist. “If You Ain’t Lovin’” is his best known hit as a songwriter, a #2 country hit for Faron Young in 1954 and #1 for George Strait in 1988. There was some confusion in the country music business regarding Tommy Collins and Tom Collins during the overlapping years of their successes. Although Tommy Collins’ career as a successful country singer had mostly faded by the late 1960s, he remained an active songwriter into the 1990s, which was inspiration plenty to create the name T.Tom.
“Eddie, why are you calling me T.Tom? What’s the “T” for?”
“The ‘T’ is for ‘The’—as in ‘The Tom Collins’ to finally separate you from Tommy Collins, and to leave no doubt regarding who is more important.”
T.Tom loved being clearly labeled the definitive Tom Collins of country music, and in turn sometimes referred to me as “just another average, run-of-the-mill genius.” Well, maybe it takes one to know one. T.Tom’s friend Nettie claimed I’m the friend T.Tom never had in the fifth grade, and it’s possible this is true given our many juvenile stints that have accomplished nothing more than our own frivolous entertainment. T.Tom played trumpet in high school and college marching bands, and shortly after his divorce I suggested we form a musical touring group.
“You play trumpet and I’ll sing and play rhythm guitar. We’ll do a nursing home tour and call ourselves ‘The Old Farts’ with the motto, ‘Our Future’s Behind Us.’”
“Sounds good, but only if you wear a white suit and white buck shoes.”
“But Eddie, why a nursing home tour?”
“Finally, an opportunity for you to get lucky with the ladies. But for a nursing home tour maybe we should be Gerry and the Maniactrix.”
“Yes. The Gum and Gummer Tour—a string of one-dayers.”
“With rave reviews and sitting ovations.”
T.Tom generated his music business success by producing most of the hit records of both Ronnie Milsap and Barbara Mandrell, and by using his position as a successful record producer along with good song sense to build prosperous music publishing companies. The Nashville music business, probably not unlike other businesses, is a “dog eat dog” competition, although mostly a civilized rivalry on Nashville’s Music Row. In the throes of such battle some participants delight in today’s winners becoming tomorrow’s losers, and some may be disappointed that T.Tom’s comeuppance never happened. He deservedly takes pride in his accomplishments and should any detractor interpret T.Tom’s self-pride as arrogance such view may speak more to jealousy than to reality.
Sometimes I’ve delighted in tossing explosive little grenades of witty barbs into T.Tom’s comfortable, highly organized world of self-assuredness. When friends asked about my plans after retiring from Warner Bros., I explained I would be T.Tom’s emotional trainer. For half an hour each week immediately following his physical trainer appointment at his office, I’d listen to, and then disagree with, everything T.Tom would say in a steadfast attempt to convince him that he’s totally full of bull. Each of these emotional workout sessions would level T.Tom’s ego just enough to enable the world at large to tolerate him for another week. For the privilege of propagating such deprivation upon him I would pay T.Tom $100 each week, and within a year or two he would finally recognize the value of my contribution to his emotional well-being, resulting in a financial reversal where T.Tom would pay me $100 each week. Financially, I could break even in three or four years, and breaking even with T.Tom is like making a profit on anyone else.
I’m a pack rat and have saved lots of stuff—some from my childhood years. I still have the football pants from fifth grade when Mr. Veazey, Doug and Benny’s dad, was the Kids Incorporated football coach of the San Jacinto Elementary School team. While organizing some of these keepsakes I found a 45-rpm record sleeve—a single-sleeve “gatefold” that opens like a book and contains an inside slot where a 45-rpm record can be placed. A copy of “Tumbleweed” by Sylvia on RCA Records was located inside, along with a love note from my girlfriend who later was my wife. She’d given this gift in 1981 after hearing me rave about this song and Sylvia’s falsetto-vocal performance. To my surprise I later learned T.Tom had produced this hit record, so I was anxious to share this discovery with him—but with a few alterations I devised.
I showed him the gatefold, and as he read the love note inside his shoulders lifted and his chest expanded. His body posture seemed to defy gravity as he glowed in a moment of boundless pride.
“T.Tom, isn’t it interesting that a record you produced years before we became friends has played a meaningful role in my romantic life?”
Unable to contain his entrepreneurial pride he added, “I also published the song.”
After allowing him to bathe a while in the warmth of my story, I preceded with my blithe fabrication.
“I’m sorry to confess that the record cover and love note is an old trick I concocted when working as a music publisher in Hollywood. Any time I had difficulty gaining consistent access to a prominent Hollywood record producer, I’d buy one of their recent hit records, place it in this same gatefold with love note inscribed, and present it along with a similar love story to penetrate the record producer’s insatiable ego. By using this ploy I often succeeded in gaining more consistent access.”
T. Tom began to physically shrink—becoming shorter, less robust, slump-shouldered, and unsmiling. Then suddenly with great vigor he asked, “The first story you told is what’s true—right?”
“Yes, T.Tom. Sure, T.Tom. Oh yes, T.Tom.” The tone of my reply made it impossible for him to know which story, in fact, was true. He verbally attempted to separate fact from fiction another time or two, but with without success.
Several weeks later we had dinner together with our wives, and it was the first time T.Tom met my wife. As soon as introductions were finished he immediately asked, “Did you give Eddie a record of ‘Tumbleweed’ by Silvia and a love note a few years ago?” The question exploded from impulse bathed in “truth on demand” by T.Tom’s urgent need to know—to know right then and there.
One of my visits with T.Tom in his office was interrupted by an appointment with a visiting British journalist. As I was leaving T.Tom urged, “Eddie, go stand in the corner while the journalist does his interview.” We discussed no particulars. We didn’t need to. We were riding the same wave of tomfoolery and each innately recognized an opportunity for some outlandish fun.
I stood facing the office corner most distant from T.Tom’s desk where the interview would take place—and I stood perfectly still. The introductory conversation with the journalist soon wound its way into the interview, and after a few minutes T.Tom interrupted the interview by sternly commanding, “Okay, Eddie, you can leave now. But don’t you ever do that again.” The journalist’s attention addressed the back corner of the office where T.Tom’s remarks had seemingly been directed where he observed me turning away from the corner of the room bent over in a position of cowed servitude and slowly making my way toward the exit while replying, “Yes sir, Mister Collin. Yes sir, Mister Collin.” From out in the hallway I heard the British journalist exclaim, “What the hell was that?” T.Tom hollered, “Eddie, come back in here” and I re-entered still meekly chanting, “Yes sir, Mister Collin; yes sir, Mister Collin.” We burst with laughter as the British journalist again begged to know, “What the hell is going on?” T.Tom and I gleefully explained our quirky caper to a Briton who, like most well-educated Brits, knew his history. And this Brit was in the South—a place historically linked to the obedience of servitude.
The journalist added a quirky wrinkle by sharing that his last interview had been at the ASCAP office (an organization that primarily collects money from radio and television airplay for songwriters and music publishers), where he’d seen a mannequin of an elderly woman standing in the building lobby as though waiting for the elevator. Connie Bradley, head of ASCAP in Nashville, had placed this mannequin she’d named Miss Doris to add warmth to the mostly stone and glass adorned lobby of the new building. After the journalist discovered yet another mannequin in the corner of T.Tom’s office, he’d made a mental note to ask about what appeared to be a mannequin tradition on Nashville’s Music Row.
We all laughed and laughed, and T.Tom and I have had great fun telling this story. And oh how we would have loved to be flies on the wall at some London pub listening to this Brit tell his story about Music Row’s penchant for mannequins quixotically morphing into a tale of an employee made to stand in the corner as punishment by an overbearing country-music boss man.
As a fundraiser for the local police benevolent fund, Capitol Records and Warner Bros. Records agreed to a “battle of the bands” in which all band members were required to be current employees of the two companies. Warner Bros. formed a fairly competent rock band, and as part of our show I performed two songs—Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” A guest appearance by Eddie Cochran (surreptitiously played by me) was announced in a press release, even though on April 17, 1960 at age 21 the famous 1950s rocker had tragically died in a taxicab accident in London, England. Cochran’s fiancée, Sharon Sheeley, and rock star Gene Vincent were also passengers in the taxicab, but only slightly injured.
On the day of the concert after having dyed my hair black and donning an overcoat and sunglasses, I walked throughout the halls of the Warner Bros. office without being recognized by anyone. The concert was a blast, and a video was made of our performances. I labeled a copy of this video, “Performances by Eddie Cochran,” and sent it to my good friend Bob Venable since we had performed these songs many times in our high school rock band. Hoping for some fun, I called a few days later to get his reaction.
“Bob, isn’t it sad how old rockers continue on far past their prime when their performance carries hardly a hint of what made them famous?”
“Yes, it’s sad to see that poor fellow still trying to be a rocker.”
“Well, actually that’s me performing, not Eddie Cochran.”
Bob wasn’t listening closely and continued talking about old rock ‘n roll stars. “Bob, the video isn’t Eddie Cochran singing ‘Summertime Blues’—that’s a video of me performing.”
“Uh oh,” Bob sheepishly responded after having described his friend Eddie as “just another one of those old, worn-out, has-been rockers from the 1950s.”
The day after the concert I went to the barber who had dyed my hair to have it returned to its natural color, as he had promised. He had claimed this could easily be accomplished, but when he applied the chemical treatment my hair was transformed to an exotically entertaining pinkish-orange. It was a sight to see. His several efforts to correct the problem only worsened it. I immediately accepted my fait accompli and dismissed any serious concern regarding the outrageous sight of my hair. On occasion, some of the young folks on Nashville’s Music Row made reference to me as “that guy with the orange hair” or “that guy with the funny-colored hair.”
A few weeks later, Jim Ed requested that I attend a civic meeting in downtown Nashville on his behalf. By then, my pinkish-orange hair had grown enough that a two-inch wide streak of gray and black hair ran from front to back across the top of my head and the two sides appeared somewhat like two large pinkish-orange earmuffs. It was a most unusual appearance—maybe not in music business circles, but surely in a conservative business environment.
Arriving late at the top floor of a high-rise bank building, I was ushered through thick, ornate nine-foot doors—an entrance well suited for a king’s royal court—into a large, opulent conference room where about 20 men sat around a giant circular conference table. Bill Denny, president of the local gas company, who had previously been engaged in Nashville’s country music business, was the only attendee I knew. “Eddie, great to have you with us,” he greeted as I headed toward the lone empty chair. I could read the lips of some attendees turning to one another asking, “Who is he?” Bill introduced me to a flourishing of wrinkled brows of these city fathers—some whose family names were also names of well-known Nashville city streets. I could feel the onslaught of stern blue-blooded judgment drilling down into the depths of my unsophisticated social mores while in reply I had nothing to immediately offer but my radiant pinkish-orange hair—a movie scene fit to be engraved upon the collective conscience of pop culture.
If only then, I’d known what I know now—that my great, great, great, great, great aunt Charlotte Reeves was the wife of James Robertson, co-founder of the city of Nashville. “Gentlemen, pardon my late arrival, but I’m happy to be here as a representative of Nashville’s music community and as a great nephew of Charlotte Reeves and James Robertson—even if over six generations the family hair-color gene has radically mutated.”
With special thanks to cousin Sharland Reeves, here’s the lineage.
Elmer Jackson Reeves, my father, was born in 1910 in Mangum, Oklahoma.
Elmer Benton Reeves, my grandfather, was born in 1878 in Robertson County, Texas.
Robert Phillip Reeves, my great grandfather, was born in 1855 in Grayson County, Texas. Nicknamed “Uncle Phil,” he was the second sheriff of Gray County (not Grayson), Texas from November 1906 to November 1910 (two terms).
John Graham Reeves, my great, great grandfather, was born in 1827 in Tennessee.
John Reeves, my great, great, great grandfather, was born in 1786 in South Carolina and lived on the Duck River in Hickman County, Tennessee. His younger brother, William Steele Reeves, born in 1794, was the father of George Robertson Reeves, born in 1826. George Robertson Reeves was a soldier who fought for the U. S. Eleventh Calvary in Indian War campaigns (eventually as a colonel) and for Ross’s Texas Brigade on the side of the Confederacy in the Civil War. As a politician he served five terms in the Texas State Legislature, eventually as Speaker of the House. Reeves County, Texas was named for him.
George Reeves, Jr., my great, great, great, great grandfather, was born in 1767 in Orange, North Carolina and married Polly Steele. His older sister, Charlotte Reeves, was the wife of James Robertson (married January 21, 1768), co-founder of Nashville, Tennessee (along with John Donelson) and an early explorer companion of Daniel Boone. Charlotte, Tennessee, and Charlotte Pike in Nashville are both named for Charlotte Reeves Robertson. James Robertson (June 28, 742 - September 1, 1814) and Charlotte Reeves Robertson (January 2, 1751 - June 11, 1843) are buried in the Nashville City Cemetery.
The Rigi is a famous 5,900-foot Swiss mountain on Lake Lucerne known as “Queen of the Mountains” and although only the 399th highest mountain in Switzerland, its prominence is over 4,200 feet (8/10 of a mile—vertical measure of elevation from the surrounding land at the base of the mountain to the height of the summit), making it the 16th most prominent Swiss mountain. From the summit one can see the city of Zurich to the north, the Swiss Alps to the south, thirteen separate lakes, and parts of Germany and France. On my visit to the Rigi in 1981, Europe’s first cog railway built in 1871 delivered a thrilling ride to its summit.
In 1832, five years after Ludwig van Beethoven’s death in 1827 at age 56, the reflection of the setting moon on Lake Lucerne inspired German poet and music critic Ludwig Rellstab to name the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp, “Moonlight Sonata,” a work Beethoven completed in 1801 at age 31. Also, Mark Twain wrote about the Rigi in A Tramp Abroad, which was based on his travel through central Europe in the late 1870s.
Riding along the cog railway en route to the Rigi-Kulm Hotel located near the summit, I was entertained by the rich tones of cowbells from the many cows grazing the mountain’s lush summer grass—tones that echoed up the side of the mountain creating a symphony of cowbell cacophony. Because no fences separate cows belonging to different owners, all cowbells belonging to an individual owner have the same unique identifying ring. From the railway stop near the summit I made my way toward the outdoor hotel restaurant by walking down and across a large meadow where several wild goats, most likely Alpine Ibex, were grazing.
About 12 or 13 years later at the Christmas party of a married couple, each a PhD and department head at Vanderbilt University, most of the guests were also Vanderbilt professors. In a conversation with the head of the Germanic-Slav language department I learned this German man along with his wife and children had also visited the Rigi. As the family walked through the same meadow en route to the hotel’s outdoor restaurant, a wild goat making aggressive threats stood menacingly between them and the hotel. The professor gained the attention of the goat to allow his wife and children to safely make their way to the restaurant, where several people had gathered to observe the unfolding drama. As the professor proceeded alone across the meadow, the wild goat closely followed and suddenly, with its very large, curved horns, butted the professor. The force caused no serious injury, only bruising—some physical and some to the professor’s pride. The wild goat’s butting repeated a few times as the professor hurriedly made his way toward the safety of the restaurant and what had become a fairly large crowd of intrigued observers.
Toward the end of the professor’s story the possible cause of the wild goat’s behavior in that beautiful Rigi meadow began occurring in lock step with my discernment of the professor’s physical attributes—long, narrow face; small piercing eyes; and most remarkably, a goatee. I suggested that his own physical appearance may have triggered the wild goat’s instinctive response to defend its territory from the intrusion of a competing suitor. The professor’s reaction was to frown and then walk away without speaking a word.
I shared the story with the party hosts and their reactions were polite smiles and no Christmas party invitation extended the following year. Possibly my exclusion was for reasons other than wild goats and goatees, but I’m certain the professor didn’t appreciate being the butt of my joke any more than being butted across the Rigi meadow in full view of the hotel audience. And now if I see, or even think of, a wild goat, I can only envision a Germanic accent should one ever bellow.
KOBE HAPPY BIRTHDAY
After celebrating my 49th birthday at Kobe Steaks Japanese Restaurant on 25th Avenue North in Nashville, my two daughters and I were waiting for the parking attendant to deliver our car. After two or three patrons who exited the restaurant after us had departed in their cars, I questioned the delay. “There’s been a problem, but your car will be here shortly,” the parking attendant explained, causing me to consider the possibility of a minor accident, maybe a bent fender. Finally, my car appeared and the young parking manager explained that when he went to retrieve my car he observed someone urination on it and chased the perpetrator and his companion down the alleyway for two or three blocks. A Vanderbilt University police officer in a patrol car noticed the chase, joined in and apprehended the culprits who were being held at the university security station. The young parking manager urged me to accompany him to the security station to confront the perpetrators and consider filing charges against them.
“Is my car damaged?” He pointed to the front right tire where the urination had occurred. “My car’s okay. No need to file charges.”
“Well, if that’s the kind of world you want to live in, all right, but it’s not the kind of world I want to live in. This guy should be held accountable for his actions.” There was great energy in the young parking manager’s declaration. “Please go with me to the security station. It’s only two blocks away and if you don’t file charges, maybe I will.”
I was impressed by the young man’s conviction and learned he was a Vanderbilt student working his way through college parking cars. “Okay, I’ll drive over to the security station, but I may not be willing to file charges.”
I had imagined the perpetrator and his buddy were a couple of college students, but surprisingly I was introduced to two mature business men in their mid-30s. The parking attendant began passionately venting his anger toward the two men, causing the Vanderbilt police to escort him from the room.
Alone with the two men I broke the awkward silence. “Why don’t we begin by exchanging business cards?”
The man accused of the urination was the branch manager of the Third National Bank office located adjacent to the Vanderbilt campus. “Did you really piss on my car?” I asked.
“No, we’d had a couple of beers and were walking over to the Vanderbilt basketball game. I stopped in the parking lot to relieve myself on the ground between cars, not on any car.”
He seemed sincere and I believed him. “Well, everything’s good with me. My daughters and I are celebrating my birthday and want to get back to them.” We shook hands and when I exited the room the parking manager again urged me to file charges. “Here’s $20 for your troubles,” I offered. “You feel so strongly about what’s happened, maybe you should file charges.”
“Maybe I will.”
The next morning the parking manager called. “Would you like a free meal at Kobe Steaks compliments of the bank manager?”
“No thanks. I’m satisfied how things were left last night.”
“How about a free car wash?”
From my office about 20 cars were visible in the parking lot. “How about 20 free car washes?”
“No problem. I think he’ll do it.”
“I’m just kidding—and wondering how far you’re willing to go. I really don’t want anything. But tell me, what happened last night after I left?”
The young parking manager had decided to file charges and as he and the bank manager were about to be transported by the Vanderbilt security officer to a city police station, the bank manager asked to speak to the parking manager in private. Out of earshot of the security officer, the bank manager began tearfully pleading with the parking manager not to file charges, which could cost him his job at the bank—a job that supported his wife and young child. The parking manager agreed to deliberate overnight and was including me in his deliberation regarding an appropriate measure of justice.
Shortly after our call ended, the bank manager called.
“I’ve been thinking it’s probably best to let sleeping dogs lie, but finally decided to call to make sure you’re okay with everything.”
“I’m good, but I do have a question.”
“If the story you told last night is true, then why was the young parking manager so extremely angry?”
“Well, I’d really rather not discuss it.”
“I understand. Do you know Joyce Rice?”
“Of course I do. She’s a Third National Bank vice president.”
“Well, at least I’ll have a good story to share with Joyce.” The bank manager made a strange, guttural sound—one possibly arising from an attempt to swallow the unpleasant reality that had so unexpectedly emerged.
“Oh, I will greatly appreciate you not mentioning this to Joyce. I will really, really appreciate it if you don’t!”
I assured him I wouldn’t tell Joyce and I didn’t—at least not until years later when she was no longer employed by Third National Bank.
“Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.” –Mark Twain
Prior to takeoff the flight attendant asked if we wanted something to drink. Fellow employee David had a glass of wine while I nursed a Perrier. Once airborne, David had another glass of wine and one more when our meal arrived. We were flying business class to Europe and as we dined I shared, “David, I need to talk to you about your drinking problem.” With great energy he emphatically stated that he did not have a drinking problem, that he drank responsibly, and that his drinking was comparable to typical social drinkers. Without success, I attempted to interrupt his continuing diatribe to explain what I meant by “drinking problem” but his spirited commentary made no allowance for interruption, leaving me to linger until his words were finally spent. I don’t know what life events caused David’s passionate response, but whatever it was had peeled back a few layers of emotional veneer to lay bare a subject of extreme sensitivity. When finally there was silence enough, I explained the “drinking problem” I’d referred to was a small amount of wine seeping from the corner of his mouth into his beard. His reaction was suitable for framing.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center generously offered a free annual prostate exam to various Nashville music business executives who had helped raise money for cancer research. Participants were offered a gratis round trip chauffeured town car from their Music Row office to the Medical Center. During the return trip to my office, I asked the driver the name of his next passenger. “Barry Coburn,” he replied.
Barry’s impressive résumé includes several years as personal manager of country star Alan Jackson, personal manager of several other recording artists, record company executive, successful music publisher that published songs of Keith Urban’s initial success, and industry leader with strong, insightful opinions he vibrantly and ably expresses. At the time of this story, Barry was personal manager and/or music publisher for three recording artists under contract to Capitol Records, which was headed by Scott Hendricks in Nashville and by New Yorker Charles Koppleman in North America.
On a two-inch by three-inch piece of paper I torn from the prostate exam information sheet, I wrote the names of several Capitol Records recording artists. After the name of most artists I noted “OK,” but after the three artists associated with Barry I wrote “Drop”—a term meaning an artist’s contract will be terminated by the record company. I placed the note on the back seat of the town car knowing the contrast between the white paper of the note and the black upholstery of the town car would make it conspicuously visible when Barry slid into the back seat. I prepped the driver that for any questions regarding recent passengers he should reply a Mr. Charles Koppleman had been transported from the airport to Capitol Records. We rehearsed the name Koppleman several times after which I suggested, “When you drop Barry Coburn at his office, tell him to call Eddie Reeves.”
Later Barry called to share his experience. He had immediately seen the note and his mind went racing as he examined it—where did it come from, who wrote it, and did it really mean what it appeared to mean—that his three most important clients were no longer under contract to Capitol Records. He sorely visualized his many hours of hard work and his entire company suddenly evaporating—gone in but an instant. He asked the driver if Scott Hendricks had been a recent passenger. “No, my last passenger was Mr. Koppleman who I delivered to Capitol Records, but you might want to call Eddie Reeves.”
The Bugs Bunny cartoon character was often used in advertising and promotional efforts by the many divisions of Time Warner, including Warner Bros. Records Nashville, where we independently created visual images of Bugs Bunny. The collective sum of these many differing images had created corporate concern that without proper management the image of Bugs Bunny and other cartoon characters might morph into varying visual forms that could dilute and damage the integrity and the value of these well-established icons. Such concern caused Time Warner to establish the Licensing Corporation of America (LCA) to manage and control the use of all cartoon characters owned by Warner Bros. Pictures. Soon thereafter, an LCA executive directed all concerned that approval was required prior to the use of any Warner Bros. cartoon characters, especially any visual use. In keeping with this new policy I sent the following memo to Dan Romanelli, head of LCA, requesting approval for a specific visual use of Bugs Bunny.
To: Dan Romanelli
From: Eddie Reeves
Subject: Use of Bugs Bunny Image
Date: December 22, 1993
We need your approval to use the following Bugs Bunny image.
[I left most of the memo page blank where the image of Bugs Bunny would have been displayed.]
It has occurred to me that I do not have your prior approval to use the Bugs Bunny image that must be included in this memo for consideration of your approval. Since it is not possible to use an image of Bugs Bunny that has not previously been approved, please advise how it will be possible to obtain your approval without first using an image of Bugs Bunny that has not yet been approved for use.
Executive VP & GM
Record company employee Ralph was intelligent, well-educated, creative, a self-starter, and a good communicator (often in the music business this means “a good bullshitter”). Fellow employee Charlie was not as quick on his feet, less a good communicator, not as well-educated, and maybe less of a self-starter. Neither of these employees was a vice president.
At the end of each year when most company promotions occurred, I would send a memo to home office listing the year-end promotions. One year after I had sent the usual promotions memo, I added at the end of the document the promotion of Charlie to vice president knowing that Ralph would find it intolerable if Charlie were promoted to vice president prior his own ascendancy. I enlisted a fellow employee to deliver the “doctored” memo to Ralph with the explanation that my assistant must have unwittingly left the memo in the copy machine. I instructed my fellow employee to ask Ralph if it could possibly be true that Charlie was being promoted to vice president.
Ralph looked carefully at the memo and responded with great disgust, “If it’s true there’s gonna be some very unhappy people around here.” Ralph’s next phone call was to another company employee who later said that Ralph went on and on about how the company “wasn’t the company it used to be” and he didn’t know if he wanted to work there anymore. But Ralph made no mention of Charlie’s imminent promotion to vice president.
Ralph and his wife were up most of that night examining their financial condition, discussing the possibility of cashing in some investments and brainstorming what income-producing avenues seemed most likely.
The following morning Ralph and I attended the same company meeting, but I purposely arrived late to ensure I took a position at the opposite end of the long conference table from him. During the meeting I avoided looking directly at Ralph but my peripheral vision informed he was intently observing me. When the meeting concluded Ralph quickly approached me with a burning question.
“Are you messing with me regarding the promotion memo?”
“Yes, I am.”
A fellow record-company associate and I held considerable differing views about many issues relating to the company, and this often fueled lively discussion. After several disagreements on one particular occasion he finally blurted out in frustration, “Eddie, you’ve disagreed with everything I’ve said today,” to which I replied with great enthusiasm, “No I haven’t.”
At a meeting of the record company radio promotion team, one reason given for why a particular record was not succeeding was that “the record is too slow.”
“What do you mean by ‘too slow’?” I asked.
“Eddie, the record is too slow.”
“Do you mean it’s moving up the radio airplay chart too slowly?”
“No, the tempo of the song is too slow.”
“Oh, I see. Then should we get a metronome and determine the tempo of this record to ensure we never again release a record at this particular tempo?” A bit of laughter ensued.
“Okay, Eddie. The reason the record isn’t doing well is that the radio programmers don’t like this record.”
“Now we’re making some real progress about what’s really happening with this record.”
I had dinner with some Texas friends and their friend Bob and his wife Jan. After dinner we visited Bob and Jan’s home for Bob to demonstrate his state-of-the-art audio system and dedicated listening room where a walk-in closet housed the audio equipment and media storage. Two large speakers faced two comfortable couches at one end of the large listening room, and at the other end a game table and four chairs.
My friends had explained that Bob was aware of my music business career and was looking forward to demonstrating his high-end audio system. While Jan prepared drinks in the kitchen and Bob searched the media room for just the right piece of music, I introduced my friends to an idea I thought could create a bit of fun.
After hearing the second piece of music I winked at my friends as a reminder to play along with my prank, and then asked Bob, “Are you aware of the buzz in one of your speakers?”
“I’m not sure, but maybe the right one.” During the next piece of music Bob moved close to the right speaker for a careful listen.
“I don’t hear a buzz.”
“Well, maybe it’s coming from the left one. Sometimes it’s difficult to know which speaker a buzz is coming from.”
He listened closely to the other speaker. “I still don’t hear it.”
I asked my friends if they could hear the buzz and with deadpan seriousness both confirmed they did. Bob’s concern was increasing.
“Bob, has your listening room been tuned?”
“What does that mean?”
I explained that tuning a room is the application of acoustical engineering to an audio room—a recording studio, a mixing room, or a mastering room to compensate for the physical structure, size, shape and surface finish of a room to mediate how those physical characteristics affect the various frequencies of sound. For instance, a particular room may have too much bass response and acoustical elements can be constructed and applied to diminish the amount of a particular overabundant bass frequency.
“No, the room hasn’t been tuned.”
I explained the buzz could be a result of the room not having been properly tuned. Bob was beginning to show signs of diminishing pride regarding his audio system and listening room due to a buzz in one of his state-of-the-art audio speakers and the fact that his room had not properly been tuned.
We all listened again but Bob still couldn’t hear the buzz. Then to my deep regret, he reluctantly confided that a recent hearing test had revealed a deficiency that likely was the reason he could not hear what we so clearly heard. It was a great embarrassment for him to make such an admission about his hearing loss, and I felt awful my joke had struck his physical disability dead center. It might be a minor disability for many people, but not for an audiophile like Bob.
I confessed regarding the imaginary buzz and explained that it was only an attempt to have some harmless fun. Bob seemed relieved to know there was nothing wrong with his room or his speakers, but I wonder if he eventually investigated tuning his listening room. After all, an audiophile is an audiophile—through and through.
A newspaper article reported that Alabama researchers had concluded people who listen to country music have a higher rate of suicide than those who don’t listen to country music. CNN Radio called requesting an interview with a country music executive regarding this finding.
“Mr. Reeves, did you see the article in the (prominent national newspaper) this morning?”
“No, I didn’t.”
After explaining the conclusion of the research the interviewer asked, “As a corporate executive who works to make country music available to the American public, what is your reaction?”
“What if the Alabama researchers had concluded that people who sit alone in bowling alleys have a higher incidence of suicide than those who don’t sit alone in bowling alleys? Would anyone think an effective cure would be to send out waves of suicide prevention squads to ensure that no one sits alone in a bowling alley in order to save them from their impending doom?”
“What do you mean?” asked the interviewer.
“If people sitting alone in bowling alleys do, in fact, have a higher suicide rate than people who do not sit alone in bowling alleys, then I’m confident that the act of sitting alone in a bowling alley is the result of a suicidal tendency, not the cause of it. Maybe the Alabama researchers should research the difference in cause and effect.”
In 1988 I sent the following email to a record company executive who had advised me that his company wanted to lease an unfinished album by a well-known country artist but for no monetary advance payment as was the usual business custom. Since our company had incurred considerable cost recording this album, I sent the following reply.
I understand your company wants to obtain the rights to the [name of country artist] project for no monetary advance. Our best efforts to accommodate this request is to convey to your company the rights to only the musical introduction of each song. But don't worry; you can make a wonderful new age album from these musical introductions.
In case you haven’t noticed, new age music is nothing more than a long series, sometimes a very long series, of musical introductions. Just when you think a new age piece is about to make a substantive musical statement, along comes yet another musical introduction. It’s best to explain this in person. My body language really helps make the point.
February 5, 2005
Mr. (name of financial advisor)
The Fifth Third Bank
210 East Main Street
Franklin, TN 37064
Dear (name of financial advisor),
I have an IRA account that I might move to the Fifth Third Bank, but the name of your bank gives me cause for concern. Could another bank adopt the name of the Third Fifth Bank? If so, Third Fifth Bank and Fifth Third Bank might create confusion and I wouldn’t want anything to negatively affect my IRA account.
What assurance can you give that another bank will not use the name of the Third Fifth Bank? I will greatly appreciate your thoughts regarding this.
Our company managed the cost of business cards by printing large quantities with only the company’s four-color logo and later printing on this four-color logo bulk supply the much smaller quantities, which included each employee’s name, title, and contact information.
At a time when the printing company had exhausted the four-color logo bulk supply, a rush request was made for a newly hired employee, requiring the rush order be printed from scratch, which greatly increased the cost as reflected by an invoice stating the cost at more than sixty cents per card. Concerned, I sent a memo to company employees explaining that business cards had become so expensive they would no longer be available. I suggested that when an employee needed to supply their contact information it could simply be written on a $1 bill, a cost to be submitted on each employee’s expense account.
What could be more memorable than receiving someone’s contact information on a $1 bill? After all, the purpose of a business card is to be remembered in a positive manner and the gift of one dollar would likely accomplish this goal. Even though a dollar is worth more than sixty cents, in the long run the total cost of this new practice would be less since fewer business cards would be disseminated due to the perception that giving away a sixty-cent business card seems like nothing of value while giving away a dollar bill seems like something of value.
The personal manager of a recording artist was scheduled to meet the president of a record company. As a prank, a fellow company employee asked the personal manager what gift he would be giving to the company president. “I didn’t know I was supposed to bring a gift,” replied the manager. Recently, there had been a prank played on this company president regarding a gospel music issue, so in keeping with this prank the company employee claimed that due to the extreme religious beliefs of the company president the personal manager should consider a gift of religious nature.
The meeting occurred about an hour later in the president’s office where the manager presented the president a Bible. A very forthright man with a keen sense of humor, the president asked, “Why are you giving me a Bible?”
“I understand you’re a devoutly religious man.”
The label president smiled broadly as the progenitor of the prank asked, “Where did you purchase a Bible on such short notice?”
The manager bowed his head and sheepishly replied, “I stole it from my hotel room.”
Early one morning I was greeted by a business friend who happens to be bald-headed. He asked, “What have you done to your hair?”
“Well, it looks different.”
“In what way?”
“Have you always parted it down the middle like that?”
“This is how it dries when I get out of the shower—been like this for years.”
“Well, I wish I had a nice part down the middle like you do,” stated my bald-headed friend.
“Well, you do, but your part is much wider part than mine.”
SINGERS & SONGWRITERS
“It takes an uncommon amount of guts to put your dreams on the line, to hold them up and say, “How good or how bad am I?” –Erma Bombeck
Country-music icon Roger Miller walked up to country-recording artist Ronnie Milsap
who is blind, covered Milsap’s ears with his hands and asked, “Guess who?”
While undergoing brain cancer treatment in Los Angeles Roger Miller was visited by a Nashville friend. Noticing Roger had lost a lot of weight he asked, “Are you on a diet?”
“Yeah, I’m trying to get back to my original weight.”
“Seven pounds, four ounces.”
Folk-country singer/songwriter Guy Clark had previously recorded for Elektra Records in Nashville, and sometime in the early 1980s the company closed their Nashville operation and sold all of their country master recordings to sister company, Warner Bros. Records. In either 1991 or 1992 I suggested to Guy that Warner Bros. Nashville create an album containing some of his Elektra recordings plus one new recording that had potential for airplay at country radio. Guy was interested, but in the midst of our discussions someone at Elektra in New York discovered Guy's worthy talent and songs and signed him to Elektra's pop division. It was a great opportunity for Guy, but when recording was completed and Elektra’s pop division commenced creating a marketing campaign for a folk-country album, they realized the only viable marketing approach was to enlist the aid of Elektra’s country division in Nashville headed by Kyle Lehning.
Committing his division’s best efforts on behalf of Guy and the pop division, Kyle organized a country radio promotion tour for Guy to meet country radio music directors in the hope of generating radio airplay. I asked Kyle about a story that surfaced regarding this promotion tour, to which he replied, “Eddie, that’s exactly what happened.”
The tour began in Seattle sometime in 1992 with plans that Guy would stop at several radio stations as he worked his way back to Nashville. Elektra’s west coast country radio promotion man set a dinner meeting with Seattle’s most important country radio music director. The music director and his wife were escorted by the promotion man to a restaurant in the hotel where Guy was staying, and after proper introductions Guy produced a pack cigarettes and asked, “Mind if I smoke?” The music director and his wife intensely disliked smoking and quizzically looked at one another as if to ask, “How do we handle this situation?” After an uncomfortable pause the music director said, “We really don’t like being around cigarette smoke and will greatly appreciate it if you don’t smoke at the dinner table.”
Radio music directors hold much power since collectively they determine whether or not the public will ever hear a record, and due to their power some music directors are viewed as, and treated like, “little gods.” But Guy was strong willed and a person least likely to ever be described as “phony,” so his reaction would not be surprising to many who know him, even though it was clearly not an action in his own best interest.
"Well fuck you then," Guy replied and then moved to a nearby table where he lit up. After finishing his smoke Guy remained at his table-for-one, ordered dinner, and dined alone without ever acknowledging his former prospective dining partners throughout their dinner at a separate table.
“Kyle, what words of wisdom did you offer in response to Guy having offended an important radio airplay gatekeeper?” I asked.
Kyle, who is an honest, upfront, no bullshit kind of guy, replied, “Guy, you did the right thing. That music director wasn’t going to play your record anyway.”
I countered, “Well, Kyle, I’m happy to know when all the chips are down and it’s time for a Nashville label head to choose between radio promotion rhetoric and artist relations, you have the good sense to choose artist relations.”
Billy Edd Wheeler’s songwriting credits include “Jackson” by June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash (Grammy Award winner for the duo) and by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon for the movie Walk the Line; “The Reverend Mr. Black” by the Kingston Trio in 1963 and also by Bobby Darin, by Faron Young, and by Johnny Cash; “Ode to the Little Brown House Out Back,” (ode to the proverbial outdoor toilet) recorded by Billy Edd as well as by Bobby Bare; the Kenny Rogers hit “Coward of the County” and recordings by over 160 artists including Judy Collins, Jefferson Airplane, Neil Young, Nancy Sinatra, and Elvis Presley. In addition, Billy Edd has written 16 plays and four outdoor dramas including the long-running performance of the Hatfields & McCoys at Beckley, West Virginia. His books include Laughter in Appalachia.
I met Billy Edd in 1968 when he was hired to open and run the first Nashville office of United Artists Music. A career of music-publishing executive was not Billy Edd’s primary goal but instead his aim was the promotion of his own songwriting and the enhancement of opportunities to land a recording contract as a country singer, and heading up United Artists Music in Nashville allowed him to meet Music Row’s principal players.
Billy Edd set a lunch appointment with Chet Atkins—at the time one of the two or three most important Nashville music figures. Billy Edd drove to Chet’s office, picked him up, and during their drive to a restaurant neither man spoke a word. At the restaurant their decided silence continued while viewing the menus and ordering their meals. In fact, there was no conversation at all during the entire lunch or the drive back to Chet’s office.
Although Chet was not a talkative person, he did talk. Billy Edd said he got the feeling Chet just didn’t feel like talking, and that was just fine with Billy Edd. As he exited Billy Edd’s car Chet said, “Nice to meet you, Billy Edd. Let’s have lunch again sometime.”
It is important to realize that at the time Billy Edd was a neophyte of the Nashville music business and Chet was a god. Very few, if any, young music business greenhorns would have had the courage and self-confidence that Billy Edd displayed during his first meeting with the great Chet Atkins. It was a gutsy, possibly instinctive response that sowed the seeds of a lifelong personal friendship between these two unique, talented men.
After seeing a Broadway show that was all the current rage but that did not impress him, the great lyricist Johnny Mercer remarked, “I could eat a can of alphabet soup and shit a better lyric than that.”
I learned to play guitar early in 1956 by listening to 78-rpm Sun Records by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. Photos of Elvis and Johnny Cash hung on the walls of the room where the family upright piano and record player were located and in one photo Johnny Cash wore a black shirt with the collar and top edge of the shirt pocket made of narrow, black and white stripes.
Back then, some moms occasionally made cloths for their kids. My mom made some skirts and blouses for my sister but never made clothing for me until the day I asked for a black shirt like the one Johnny Cash wore in his photo. Mom was always so good to me and in a few days’ time I had my cool, special shirt that still hangs in my closet today, albeit a few sizes too small. Even when it did fit I seldom wore it and treated it like a special keepsake. I thought of it as the coolest shirt I ever owned, and maybe it is.
I didn’t know Johnny Cash, but I did have the good fortune of being in a photo with him, Gene Autry and Clint Black taken at the ASCAP Country Awards in Nashville on October 12, 1989 where Gene Autry received “The American Classic Award” from ASCAP (their first such award) honoring Autry’s lifetime achievement in film, recording, and songwriting. Here’s an excerpt from Gene Autry’s acceptance speech.
“But I’m so glad to be here and see all of those beautiful ladies out there. Yes sir, looking over this crowd of beautiful girls and women—it’s just like looking at a beautiful garden of flowers. Of course, here and there there’s a weed but I guess in a garden this big, well…there’s bound to be some weeds in it too.
“Are you having a good time out there? I hope you are having a good time because you know we only go through this life but once. We might as well enjoy it and have a good time because I don’t know anyone else that’s come back to enjoy it.
“When you come to think about it you know this world is so upset. Everybody’s trying to fight all over the world—wars, wars, wars. To come to think about it, you know there’s only two things that you really have to worry about. Either you’re happy or you’re not happy. If you’re happy you have nothing to worry about. If you’re not happy, there’s just two things that you have to worry about. Either you’re healthy or you’re not healthy. If you’re healthy, you have nothing to worry about. If you’re not healthy, there are just two things that you have to worry about. Either you get well or you don’t get well. If you get well, you have nothing to worry about. If you don’t get well you’ll be so damn happy shaking hands with old friends you don’t worry in the first place.”
Sometime in the late 1990s as I stood at the back of a large hotel ballroom for a music awards ceremony, suddenly Johnny Cash was standing only four or five steps away and looking well considering his recent hospitalization. I thought of the “Johnny Cash shirt” my mom made some 40 years earlier and considered introducing myself to share the story. What I knew about Johnny Cash bolstered my confidence that he’d appreciate this story, but I decided to respect his privacy even though the urge to share it continued churning within my emotions. Then “The Man in Black” was called to the stage and my opportunity evaporated—forever. A few times over the years I’ve thought of this Johnny Cash moment and wish I’d decided differently. I should have given greater consideration to the possibility that a small, seemingly insignificant nugget of personal experience can sometimes yield a large benefit of shared joy. I’d like a replay on this one so I can tell Johnny Cash all about that cool, black “Johnny Cash shirt” my mother so lovingly made for me.
From about 1955 to 1975 country singer Faron Young had 41 top-ten country hits including “Hello Walls” (#1 country, #12 pop and songwriter Willie Nelson’s first national hit) and “Sweet Dreams” (the first hit record of this much-recorded Don Gibson classic). Sometime in the late 1980s Faron sent a note to me at Warner Bros. written on his personalized card. In it he made reference to “advances,” a monetary payment commonly made by a record company to a recording artist for personal services rendered by the artist. Faron had a unique take on “advances” regarding a country singer no longer in demand.
Any chance of me making records for your company? As far as advances go, I could raise $5,000 - $10,000 if you give me a couple weeks notice.
Let me know.
A Warner Bros. recording artist who was raised with 15 siblings claimed the first time she ever slept in bed alone was after she got married.
One of my favorite classical recordings is Felix Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto #1 in G Minor as performed by Howard Shelly, who both conducts the orchestra and performs the piano solo. An acquaintance who knows even less about classical music than I know asked, “How can Howard Shelly play piano and conduct the orchestra at the same time?”
“He uses his big, bushy eyebrows to communicate with the orchestra leaving his hands free for his piano performance.”
Along with a well-known Nashville country songwriter and singer/songwriter John Prine, I participated in a music industry seminar aimed at educating young music business hopefuls regarding various aspects of the country music business.
The panel moderator’s question, “What is success?” was answered in a highly personal manner by the country songwriter who at the time had an amorous relationship with a successful female country singer.
“If you had heard the telephone conversation between [country singer’s name] and me last night, you’d think neither of us has anything happening in our careers even though her record is #1 this week on the country chart and I wrote the #2 song. So I know success isn’t something you can put in a box and carry around.”
The moderator directed the same question to John Prine whose physical demeanor seemed to ask, “Now how am I gonna answer a question like this?” He pondered for a few moments and then in his slow, deep drawl offered, “Well, to me success is when all my bills are paid and I can sleep as late as I want to in the morning.”
True talent pays off in the long run, but unfortunately some talented people are not long-distance runners.
Before area codes our family telephone number was 2-0951. Later it was DRake 2-0951 with “3” dialed for the “D” and “7” dialed for the “R.” Later this was simplified to 372-0951, and when area codes were added our number was 1-806-372-0951. My generation was maturing at the same time telephone numbers matured to ten digits in order to create enough numbers to satisfy the growing demand of American homes and businesses.
Like old songs, old phone numbers can conjure up many memories. “The Song Remembers When” from the creative genius of songwriter Hugh Prestwood paints a story of precious memories flooding one’s heart after hearing a song from an earlier poignant time.
As Bobby Darin lay on his deathbed, his sister was there for a final goodbye. When his weak voice made it difficult for him to be understood, she moved close to his lips to hear him softly whisper the family telephone number they had as youngsters. And it would be the last thing he ever said to her—words that surely brought a flood of memories and emotions—some then, and more for years to come.
Famous drummer Buddy Rich was a frequent guest on the “Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” On more than one occasion during his appearances, Rich ridiculed country music to such extent it became part of his persona—“great jazz drummer makes fun of country music.” Given his shtick, it is especially ironic that the final words Rich spoke before his death were “country music.”
While being cared for by a nurse on his final day of April 2, 1987, a vocal sound from Rich caused the nurse to ask if something was bothering him. “Yes,” Rich replied, “country music” and moments later he died.
Because Tennessee state law forbids anyone to marry more than 12 times, the 13th marriage of a Nashville songwriter took place in Kentucky. When asked if his many marriages were due to being drunk or getting married on a whim, he claimed he truly believed he’d found everlasting love each and every time.
But what could the Tennessee legislature have been thinking when fixing “12” as the number of allowable marriages, rather than a more understandable number like “5” or “6”? Eventually I want to search the Tennessee congressional record for any discussion having transpired prior to the passage of this law. Maybe I’ll find something like, “Well, Uncle Jimmy Don’s been married seven times and he’s a good ol’ boy.”
After experiencing a few years of record-breaking success, a famous country singer married his personal manager. The story circulating was, “Do you know why he married his manager? He married her for his money.”
While living in Franklin, Tennessee from 2003 to 2007 my favorite place to eat was Art McCloud’s country-cookin’ Dotson’s Restaurant. It was good home cooking and it’s likely their homemade pies had the world’s tallest meringue. I loved the cream style corn, fried okra, turnip greens, sweet potato casserole, chicken and dumplings, chicken and dressing, and fried chicken just like my grandmother used to fix.
At the start of 2004 my mom lived with me so I could help care for her, and we had lunch at Dotson’s almost every day. It was sad that at age 86 she had to leave her few good friends and the independent life she’d been living in Texas, but a better option wasn’t available. More than just a place for Mom to have lunch, Dotson’s was an important part of daily social activity for the last 18 months of her life.
Many photographs of Nashville stars hung on the walls of Dotson’s—the Judds, Amy Grant, Vince Gill and others. After Mom passed away in August 2005, I gave a Dotson waitress one of Mom’s funeral cards with a photo of her at age 44, and a few days later it had been framed and was hanging on the wall next to photos of the country stars. I’d give anything to see the look on Mom’s face if she saw her photo there. She was such a humble person she’d have found it difficult to believe it was real. The folks at Dotson’s were always caring and kind to Mom and gave her love and special attention. Home cookin’ and love? Now that’s a restaurant. I’ll never forget the tasty food, but mostly Dotson’s will always represent the place where Mom and I spent our last good times together.
When we first began eating there, one waitress learned that early in my music career I’d been a songwriter and she wanted to know which songs I’d written. She also asked, “How do you write a song, anyway?” Never had that question been put to me so forthrightly and simply, and my mind raced in search of a proper answer—one just as simple and forthright. In a reflex response I said, “Writing songs is just making up stories. If you’re a good liar, you’re qualified to be a songwriter.” The waitress looked at me sharply and replied, “Well I bet you’re a real good ‘un then.”
When the cost of producing a country music video was about $50,000 to $75,000, a video costing $600,000 was produced for a television special with the cost being shared equally by the record company and television network. Soon after the completion of this expensive video I spoke to the artists’ personal manager.
“Eddie, what do you think of our new video?”
“Do you want my honest opinion?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Well, I could have created the same video for $400,000.” I was being facetious in the extreme—the equivalent of congressional testimony wherein someone testified they could supply hammers to the Department of Defense for $400 each instead of the $600 being paid. Without hesitation the artist’s manager replied, “Yes, I was thinking there’s about $200,000 missing from the video.” Maybe he missed my point or maybe he was just shining me on, but his loyalty to his artist was unquestionable.
Patsy and Peggy Lynn, twin daughters of country singing star Loretta Lynn, were under contract to Warner Bros. Records. The twins were having difficulty with various issues, especially some pertaining to the record company’s role in their career development, so an appointment was set for the Lynn Twins to visit me.
I told my assistant to let me know when they arrived and then to wait for about a minute before bringing them into my office. Upon their arrival I crawled underneath my wooden desk where I was entirely hidden from view.
“Eddie? Eddie? Are you here? Eddie, where are you?” the twins questioned.
I let silence do the talking for about 15 seconds and finally replied, “I’m under my desk.”
“Why are you under your desk?”
“I’m not coming out until you promise to take it easy on me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know you’re upset, and I’ll try to help you. But only if you promise to be nice to me.”
They began laughing while pledging their most cordial behavior.
My ploy partially disarmed their angst and we had what I believed was a productive meeting. I answered their questions and did all I could to correct their many misconceptions. I related similar problems other artists had encountered, and showed them a tour jacket I had created for Dwight Yoakam after an occurrence during one of his early tours when Dwight’s tour bus was pelted with rocks by disgruntled fans while following him out of town. Possibly this story had been exaggerated, but still it served as impetus to make five special tour jackets—one for his personal manager, one for the Warner Bros. employee who discovered him, one for me, one for Dwight, and most importantly, one for his tour manager. I ended our Eddie-crawled-under-his-desk meeting by giving my Dwight tour jacket to the twins.
The colors and graphics of Dwight’s second album, “Hillbilly Deluxe,” were the basis of design for the reversible tour jackets. On the back of the high-quality turquoise corduroy of one side was embroidered, “I Love Dwight Yoakam” and on the back of the white linen of the reverse side, “I Don’t Know Dwight Yoakam.” Dwight’s personal manager and tour manager, indeed Dwight himself, were now prepared for his fans—those who loved him and those who chose to throw rocks. The jackets were a big hit, even with `the “hillbilly cat” himself.
Prior to my four-year residency in New York City, I’d lived only in Amarillo and Austin, Texas. Of the many differences between these two environs, one lay subtly hidden until the end of my cross-country trip from New York to Hollywood in early 1968 to open and manage the first United Artists Music Publishing office on the West Coast. While driving along Sunset Boulevard the array of vibrant colors overwhelmed my visual senses—the varying bright greens of abundant palm trees and other vegetation, the kaleidoscopic colors embedded in modern architecture, and the sun-filled, clear blue sky above. The constant bombardment of the photoreceptive cells of my retinas by the gray and brown tones of Manhattan and Queens had dulled the color palette of my visual cortex. My Sunset Boulevard awakening was dazzling—maybe what Londoners experience when the spring sun finally releases them from winter’s deprivation.
After the merger of United Artists Records and Liberty Records, I inherited the responsibility of Metric Music, the music publishing company of Liberty. Talented singer/songwriter Delaney Bramlett was signed to Metric, and along with his wife, Bonnie, recorded for Stax Records as Delaney & Bonnie. Delaney had written a few worthwhile songs—some with Mac Davis and some with other writers.
Even though Delaney and I were not golfers or even fans of the game, we spent one afternoon at the nine-hole, three-par course on Whitsett Street in Studio City just getting acquainted and enjoying the sunny, crystal-clear skies of southern California. Delaney said when he’d moved to Los Angeles eight years earlier the beautiful, clear skies were the norm, but now (1968) the smog had crowded out many of those sunny days. And during my own 12 years in L. A. from 1968 to 1980, the clear skies continued their decline, as did the vibrancy and beauty of Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard.
Sometime in the summer of 1968 while Delaney was in Memphis for a Stax recording session, Bonnie and baby daughter Bekka (born April 19, 1968) remained home. When Delaney’s trip lasted longer than expected causing Bonnie to deplete her financial resources, she appeared at my office one morning with tears flowing and little Bekka in her arms. “I’ve run out of milk for my baby and don’t have any groceries,” she fretted. I handed her $100 from my own pocket and she thanked me, as did Delaney later on.
Eventually, Delaney and Bonnie succeeded as Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, a troupe that at varying times included Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Leon Russell, Duane Allman, Gregg Allman, Dave Mason, Rita Coolidge, and King Curtis. Delaney wrote “Never Ending Song of Love” and co-wrote “Let It Rain” with Eric Clapton. Bonnie and Delaney co-wrote “Superstar” with Leon Russell, which was recorded by the Carpenters and many other artists.
Billy Burnett introduced me to Bekka at the 1997 BMI Country Awards dinner in Nashville. She was 29 years old and a beautiful young lady. I said, “Bekka, we’ve previously met.”
“Sorry, Eddie, I don’t remember.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to remember. You were only a few weeks old.” I told Bekka the story of Bonnie coming to my office when Delaney had been delayed in Memphis.
“How old are you?” asked Bekka.
“57,” I replied.
Bekka moved close and softly complimented, “You’re a beautiful 57-year-old man.”
She was so sweet, but even more rewarding were the emotions welling up from the realization that Bekka virtually represented bookends of my music business career—having first seen her in the arms of her worried mother and then fast forwarding to 29 years later when she appeared in the twilight years of my incredible adventure.
“I can explain it to you but I can’t understand it for you.” –unknown
En route to my office one morning after dropping my daughter off at school, I noticed an ambulance over a block away proceeding toward me with red lights flashing but siren not activated. For no rational reason I could discern, the driver of the car directly in front of me suddenly slammed on their brakes resulting in me crashing into the rear end of their car. I thought it likely the flashing red lights had caused the driver to panic, but assumed the accident was my fault. Later, however, an attorney explained rear-end collisions are not always the fault of the driver of the rear car.
Unable to reach a settlement, the insurance companies went to trial, which ended in a hung jury. The judge asked the prosecuting and defense attorneys if they would accept a majority decision of the jury rather than the mandated unanimous decision, but the attorney for my insurance company rejected this offer since he believed only one or two jurors might have voted in my favor.
As the insurance company attorney and I exited the courthouse, we happened to see three of the jurors and the attorney asked them to speak with us. To our great surprise, only one juror had voted against my favor and if my insurance company attorney had accepted a majority decision the case would have been ended. Instead another trial would be set.
The planning required for and the participation in the hung-jury trial was an inconvenience and a real pain, but also an entertaining experience. The attorney for the plaintiff was a character straight out of a B movie. His general demeanor was coated in Deep South, and his booming voice well complimented the exaggerated motions of wildly waving arms as he peered through the thick lenses of spectacles comically magnifying his unusual, nearly cockeyed eyes. He was as entertaining as I can imagine a courtroom attorney could ever be. At the start of my cross-examination he asked, “Mr. Reeves, please tell the jury the events that occurred prior to the accident.”
“After dropping my daughter off at school I drove north on 21st Avenue and made a right turn onto Grand Avenue, the street where the accident occurred. I noticed an ambulance with red light flashing but no siren sounding that had stopped at a cross street over a block away. It turned onto the street on which the plaintiff and I were preceding and headed toward us.”
The attorney asked, “Mr. Reeves, what were you wearing on the morning of the accident?”
“I don’t remember.”
“How do you expect this jury to have faith in your memory regarding the events relating to this accident, if you can’t remember what you were wearing that day?”
“I have a very good memory, but not a perfect one. Can you remember what color tie you wore yesterday?”
“The testimony given here today is not about my memory Mr. Reeves. It’s about your memory. But for what it’s worth, yesterday I wore a blue necktie.”
“Well, it’s a shame you weren’t with me on the day of the accident so you could tell the jury what I was wearing.”
“I object, your honor,” his reply thundered in an explosion of energy attended by eyes bulging and arms waving wildly—first directed toward me, and then at the judge in anticipation of his objection being sustained amid a background of laughter from some jurors, the bailiff, my attorney, and a few courtroom onlookers. Even the judge cracked a faint smile.
Managers attending a company meeting were asked to give an opinion regarding a particularly difficult issue. One apprehensive manager replied, "In my opinion, I don't know.”
While serving on the board of directors of the Country Music Association (CMA), a close friendship developed between Amarillo businessman Sam Marmaduke and Nashville music business icon Joe Talbot. The CMA is responsible for promoting country music in general, running the Country Music Hall of Fame, and staging the annual Country Music Awards television show. Sam owned Western Merchandisers, a successful wholesaler of recorded music, and Hastings, a successful chain of retail stores selling music, books, videos and other entertainment merchandise. Joe, who had been a prominent steel guitarist, owned a music publishing company and a record pressing plant.
At an award ceremony honoring Joe’s many contributions to both country music and the country music community, Sam was invited to speak about his good friend, and his words were few although very much to the point. He recalled that when he first met Joe he figured Joe had many close friends since Joe knew everyone involved in the Nashville music scene and they all knew Joe. But eventually when their friendship solidified, Sam was surprised to learn that Joe had very few close friends. Sam said, “In my opinion that’s just fine, because I’ve always thought that anyone who has more close friends than they can count on the fingers of one hand is just too damn loose with their emotions.”
A bus driver who crisscrossed the U.S. many times with rock bands claimed the best road sign he’d ever seen was advertising a restaurant in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming or Montana: Stop and eat before we both starve to death.
After my first few weeks of working for Warner Bros. Records Nashville in 1984 I finally had the occasion to speak to Murray Gitlin, the chief financial officer located at the Burbank home office. I was aware he could be difficult regarding financial matters and he was calling about a $600 expenditure (over $1,300 in 2016) one of our radio promotion employees had incurred for a dinner following an Emmylou Harris concert in Austin. Murray was quick to question this expense by calling me, briefly introducing himself, and then sharply asking, “What the hell is going on with this expensive dinner?”
“I don’t know, Murray, but I’ll find out and get back to you right away. If I find there’s not good justification what do you suggest I tell our employee?”
In his most dry, biting tone Murray strongly directed, “Tell him to have a shorter arm.” It was classic Murray Gitlin, and my introduction to the cantankerous tone he delivered during the next few years.
Emmylou’s concert had been cancelled when she came down with the flu and our promotion person felt compelled to entertain the radio station personnel from out of town who had made a special trip to Austin for the show. Murray found this explanation acceptable, but after this experience I joked that Warner Bros. was a company “with deep pockets, but short arms.”
“If you throw enough shit against the wall something will stick” is a business tactic born of panicking for success while being overwhelmed by desperation. I believe if you throw enough shit against the wall, the wall will stink. And if you continue for long enough, the wall will fall down.
I don’t like traveling by bus. To me, a commercial airliner is a bus with wings and a cruise ship is a bus that floats. In the late 1980s my dislike of traveling by commercial airline, where it’s likely one will be herded like cattle, caused me to travel only by auto or by train unless circumstances of time and/or of distance forced me to be herded through the usually less-than-friendly skies.
In order to meet the European affiliate managers of Warner Bros. Records, I traveled by train along the 1987 European tour route of country singer Dwight Yoakam. The best leg of the journey was Amsterdam to Paris—great food and tracks so smooth that a glass of water or wine on a table in the dining car made not the slightest ripple. But the most interesting train trip was Stockholm to Oslo. My reserve seat was in the last car of a very long train—by far the longest passenger train I’d ever seen. When I came to the end of the pavement along the boarding area, it was necessary to walk along a grassy area for two or three car lengths to board my car. There, in a private compartment consisting of six reserved seats, I joined a polite, reserved Australian married couple who were touring Europe. Soon thereafter, we were joined by an American married couple.
The American man was a writer for a beer magazine and his wife was talkative—boringly and obnoxiously talkative. As they rambled on and on, the wife would say, "Harry, tell them about the beer festival we went to in Italy.” Harry then recounted the many details of the Italian beer festival. The Australian couple and I did a lot of head nodding, but spoke few words. When Harry’s story was finished his wife urged, “Harry, tell them about the Munich beer festival" and Harry delivered yet another beer festival travelogue.
As the third beer festival narrative began, I excused myself to have something to eat, and began walking from the last car of this extremely long passenger train to the first car where the snack bar was located. I stumbled from side to side through the twenty-some-odd cars as the train bumped and bounced along the rough Swedish rails. After finally reaching the snack bar I sat at a small table to enjoy a sandwich and drink. Just as I finished, the train made a station stop that I happily took advantage of in order to more easily return to my compartment. En route I stepped into the area between two cars, where some boarding passengers were struggling with several pieces of luggage. After helping with the luggage I attempted to open the door of the next car, which was empty, but found it locked. A conductor in the empty car quickly walked toward me waving his arms in a motion suggesting I should not enter. He entered the area where I stood and then closed and locked the car door behind him.
“I need to walk through this car to get to my compartment at the end of the train,” I stated.
“This is the end of the train,” he replied.
“It can’t be. My compartment is a located a few cars back.”
“There are no cars back there. This is the last car.”
“What happened to the rest of the cars?” I exclaimed.
“They were disconnected and are on the way to Oslo.”
“I’m going to Oslo.”
“Not now. These cars are going to Gothenburg.”
“Yes, Gothenburg, Sweden.”
“Then how will I get to Oslo?” I queried. A newly connected engine, the pleasant Australian couple, the obnoxious beer-festival storytelling American couple, and my luggage were headed for Oslo, Norway, but not me. I was led to the head conductor who had a good laugh.
“Why don’t you tell passengers part of the train will be disconnected?” I asked.
“It was announced—three times.”
“In what language?”
“Swedish, of course.”
Yes, Swedish, of course. As a language-centric American speaking but one language, I’d deservedly been blind-sided by the Swedish train announcement. The conductor radioed the other train to request my luggage be held at the Oslo station and then he issued a voucher for free passage from Gothenburg to Oslo. In Gothenburg I discovered there was a four-hour wait for the Oslo train, so I rented a car for the 180-mile, three-hour drive. And it was a beautiful, late Sunday afternoon drive in perfect June weather with loads of beautiful scenery until two hours later when the flow of traffic halted. I assumed there had been a traffic accident, but until I reached Oslo the traffic alternated between a complete standstill and moving very slowly. I arrived only minutes prior to arrival of the Gothenburg train and learned the traffic congestion was the result of travelers returning home on the final day of the Swedish “Midsummer” holiday weekend.
Backstage at a London concert venue during this Dwight Yoakam tour, several Warner Bros. executives were waiting to visit Dwight after his performance—a wait longer than their assigned self-importance and patience comfortably allowed. After all, Dwight was an American country artist performing in London where the importance of the U. K. record company to the benefit of his career far outweighed the importance of his sales potential to the record company.
I urged Dwight’s tour manager, R.C., to not further delay the meeting with these executives, and our short verbal exchange included raised voices due mostly to the noise in the backstage area, but partly because of the stressful situation. In frustration R.C. grabbed my arm and demanded I go with him to observe the overflow of visitors in the greeting area, but when I abruptly pulled my arm from his grip, he lost his balance and fell to the floor. In the turmoil of the crowded backstage area the London executives had only a partial view of what had happened—loud conversation followed by R.C. falling to the floor just as I drew my arm back as one would do after throwing a punch. The next day at the Warner office the story circulated that Eddie Reeves had punched out Dwight Yoakam’s tour manager. Word was, “Don’t mess with that Nashville guy.”
As a music business company struggled through some particularly bad years, and as the corporate hierarchy became more and more desperate, I finally understood the message being clearly communicated by the financial bosses to the underlings: “Creativity? We don’t have time for creativity. What we need is some success.”
On August 15, 1994, Mo Ostin announced he was leaving Warner Bros. Records, where during the previous 31 years he had established it as the most successful American record company. It was the beginning of the end for this great company, where being employed was more akin to being part of a family than working for a corporation.
Along with the succession of several different bosses over the next four or five years, there was an unfortunate, and unwise, shift in business focus from music to finances. When Mo Ostin and Jim Ed, head of the Nashville division, spoke by telephone, the conversation was mostly about artists, songs, producers, and music related topics. After all, music was our business. After the departure of Mo and shortly thereafter the departure of his protégé Lenny Waronker, the dialogue with the new bosses became more and more about budgets, sales projections, and expenses with scant corporate focus on the music.
For eleven years I liked my job at Warner Bros., but 1995 was the beginning of a downward spiral in leadership from home office. In 1998 I was fed up with the over-focus on financial issues and in response made a few lapel buttons that were a take-off on the political slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.” I created “It’s the money, stupid,” crossed out the word “money,” and above it wrote the word “music” to create the slogan, “It’s the music, stupid.” One of the new bosses didn’t think my button was funny or even inspiring, but he didn’t survive long as company leader. Financial matters are of critical importance to any company, but they are the result of, not the core of, a business enterprise.
After my retirement from Warner Bros. at the end of December 1999, my good friend Jim Ed Norman honored me with a plaque affixed to an exterior wall of the second-floor terrace of the new Warner Bros. building at 20 Music Square East in Nashville. Inscribed on it are the words I wrote in March 1994 for the booklet created for the dedication ceremony of the new building.
When I look at this building I see our artists and I hear their music. And I see all the efforts of the many people whose dreams and hard work have contributed to the success of our business and to the good of our community. All of these dreams, all of this effort, are here in this building: in the bricks and the mortar, in the stone and the stairways, and in the beauty of God's own splendid maple. And the building speaks to all who pass by or enter, “Oh, what great work these many people have done.”