Doug Johnson Shane McAnally Jay Demarcus
Chad Carlson Trey Fanjoy Scott Hendricks
Mark Bright Forest Glen Whitehead Michael Knox
Although many prefer not to work ‘inside’, Doug Johnson is one of a small handful of legendary producers, who prefer to be at the pulse, where A&R, artist development and writer development collide. And for good reason … at the heart of it all, is a songwriter, with well over 100 cuts, including 10 top 10s and 10 number ones. Interestingly enough, Doug Johnson has the distinction of being the only ‘Hit’ songwriter in Nashville, to ‘ever’ maintain three successful careers, ‘simultaneously’.
In the past 25 years, as President of Giant and VP of A&R at Epic and Curb, Johnson has signed, produced, written with, nurtured, launched and overseen the careers of, countless stars, from Patty Loveless, Collin Raye, Doug Stone, Joe Diffie, Ty Herndon, Sons of the Desert, Clay Walker, The Wilkinsons, Blake Shelton, Joe Nichols, Neal McCoy, Tim McGraw, Leann Rimes, Rascal Flatts, George Strait, Trace Adkins, Kenny Rogers, Wynonna, Rodney Atkins, Lee Brice, Clay Walker and Heidi Newfield, to Kelsea Ballerini. And you only have to be in his presence for about 1 minute, to realize that, Black River’s growing pains are officially over.
Listening to Doug talk about the joy and the significance, of having the opportunity to sit in a room and write with Kelsea Ballerini and Gordon Kerr while they go through that vital process of discovery, speaks volumes to, his passion and the keys to his success … And he has plenty to say.
“There’s never been a time, where hit records made and who an artist is, needs to be more genuine because singles lasting as long as they do on new artists, can last 40 weeks. Lee Brice’s song Love Like Crazy lasted fifty six weeks. It’s good for me as a writer but, for a record company, cost of promotion but, also trying to put a name with the face like, who is Lee Brice, you know that brand. But I guess we all know what it means. I think that, the fact that for us, Kelsea Ballarini is totally Kelsea Ballerini. She has not tried to be Kelsea Ballerini. And luckily for us, Forrest Whitehead and Jason Massey who co-produced it, basically went in and made a record that, the three of them love. And thankfully we weren’t dumb enough to find anything wrong with that. They made the record they love, personally, that she loves.
Sam hunt is genuine. There’s an amazing group of songwriters around him that have great material, and a great record but he’s genuine. Chris Stapleton is genuine. None of the above are anything alike but, you know what you’re getting pretty quick.”
Lee Brice’s massive hit Love Like Crazy written by Doug Johnson and Tim James broke the record established by Eddie Arnold, for the longest chart run in the history, of the Hot Country Songs charts.
“Radio is not the enemy. I’ve always said that radio can’t play what we don’t send them. I think it’s a matter of just great music. The biggest artist in the world, Adele … it’s just great music. She’s a great singer and it’s hitting a nerve. She said in an article that, she thinks it’s the fact that, she’s a little overweight, and she might be a little ordinary. I’m not sure exactly her words but, the essence was that, she thinks it helps her success because, she’s just another one of the people out in the world, with a few pounds extra. If they are moved, I think the hair on the back of their neck and their arms matter more.
I think it’s good to have a look. Jack Nicholson has a look as an actor. And we, as A&R people and producers and people in our format … it’s always tempting to listen with our eyes sometimes or, to let that be part of the equation and the truth is … in the world of media, record labels are going to spend a million plus dollars to give a new artist a real chance. So you want everything to be as good as it can be.
Another challenge to me … the track guys in town. Which are some brilliant talent but, if we’re not careful because so much of the sounds are similar, we’re going to end up with a lot of male artists sounding similar.
Shane McAnally started writing songs in Texas when he was 8, he began performing in clubs for the first time when he was 12, appeared on Star Search at 15 and later spent a whole summer performing in Branson, before returning to Texas, where he became a regular, on the Opry circuit … and he never slowed down. So it’s no wonder that, when the ‘very savvy’ 19 yr old singer/songwriter/musician arrived in Nashville in ‘93, it only took him 2 years to get signed to both, a record deal and a pub deal. During his 5 yr stint with Curb, Shane toured with Reba, Kenny Chesney and Alabama, living his childhood dream on the big stage but, as fate would have it, not at radio. The best of the three singles released on McAnally peaked at No. 31 on Billboard and he exited the label, which ‘in hind-sight’ was the beginning of a miraculous transition, that eventually propelled him from being ‘the artist’, to becoming one of this year’s nominees for Music Row ‘Producer of the Year’ and a 2016 nominee for ACM ‘Songwriter of the Year’.
After Curb, Shane had a private show with Joe Galante at RCA but, while recording a few sides and doing a showcase, he had already made up his mind to move to LA, which turned out to be a pretty rough 7 yr stretch as a bartender, while continuing to write and play a lot of music by himself. But Nashville wasn’t finished with McAnally. In 2008, Shane finally got his first major cut with Leann Womack’s, ‘Last Call’, thanks to co-writer Erin Enderlin, and it was back to Music City. In 2009 his co-write with Jamie Teachenor, ‘What Is Country’ was cut by Luke Bryan and then, in 2010 … the flood gates opened. Reba cut ‘All the Woman I am’, a co-write with Kent Blazy and Marv Green, ‘Cry’, a co-write with Brandy Clark and ‘The Day She Got Divorced’, another co-write with Brandy and Mark D. Sanders. That same year, LeAnn Rimes recorded ‘Crazy Women’ another co-write with Clark and Jessi Jo Dillon and Shane got his first # 1 ‘HIT’ with Kenny Chesney, a co-write with J.T. Harding. Not bad for a guy without a publishing deal. But that was only half of what was brewing.
Along the way, McAnally’s obsession with songwriting led to what became the final phase of his transition into producing. It all began when Shane organized the first of many songwriter retreats, at a cabin on Center Hill Lake with Brandy Clark, Josh Osborne, Old Dominion’s Mathew Ramsey & Trevor Rosen and Matt Jenkins. At the time, they’d all been kickin’ around for about 10 years with little success but something clicked. And as they began writing and recording their demos, Shane found himself, at their request, producing their demos.
In a recent interview, McAnally said: We would all set up there and literally, would write with no agenda because, none of us had anything going on, We would all just write songs we loved and a lot of those songs got recorded. There was something special about everyone in that crew.”
They called themselves ‘The Hit Shitters’, and it was ‘that’ combination of talent, that proved to lay the foundation, for Smack Songs. McAnally’s new publishing, production and artist development company which he and his partners Michael Baum and Robin Palmer launched in 2011. Staff writers include original ‘Hit Shitters’ Shane, Mathew, Trevor and Josh Osborne … plus … Josh Jenkins, Mathew McGinn, Jo Smith and Walker Hayes.
Brandy Clark eventually bought the cabin, the retreats continued and ‘Shane n Clark’ still go there, while putting the finishing touches on the musical score of songs for MOONSHINE, the HEE HAW adapted musical, by Robert Horn which debuted in Dallas at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theater, to ‘Rave Reviews’ in September 2015 and is now headed for Broadway,
Shane’s producing credits now boast two Kacy Musgraves albums on Mercury/UMG, Same Trailer Park in 2013 and Pageant Material in 2015, co-produced with Luke Laird, Sam Hunt’s album Montevallo, which he co-produced with Zach Crowell, on MCA/UMG, in 2014, Old Dominion on Sony, in 2015 and he’s currently finishing up Jake Owen’s new album, which he co-produced with Ross Copperman, another current nominee for Music Row’s coveted ‘Producer of the Year’ Award, along with Shane, Byron Gallimore, Jay Joyce and Frank Liddell.
To-date, McAnally has had over 150 major cuts, 15 of which went to No. 1, he’s already won CMA and Grammy awards and last year was named Billboard magazine’s No. 1 hot country songwriter, No. 4 hot country producer and No. 7 hot country publisher for his company Smack Songs. So far, every album Shane has produced or co-produced has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Country Album … Transition complete.
It looks like Jay DeMarcus’s musical journey has ‘finally’ come full-circle. The truth is … Jay didn’t come to Nashville to do 200 dates a year with Rascal Flatts, he came here to produce and write songs. The remarkable part is … he’s managed to do it all. And the proof is in the puddin’ …
In addition to producing Reba McIntire’s next album and Rascal Flatts current album REWIND, while preparing for their 2016: Rhythm & Roots Tour with special guests Jana Kramer (Spring Dates) and Kelsea Ballerini & Chris Lane (Summer/Fall Dates), DeMarcus has also produced the band CHICAGO, ALABAMA, 3 albums for Michael English, Jo Dee Messina, James Otto, Laura Bell Bundy, Kix Brooks, Jason Crabb, Austin Bridge, Ronnie Dunn, Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Mötley Crüe, for Scott Borchetta on Big Machine, Rascal Flatts and Lucy Hale on WE LOVE DISNEY along-side David Foster and The NASHVILLE Cast Christmas Record. And that’s just a partial list.
Jay is also a killer self-taught multi-instrument musician, who seldom turns down session work, when opportunities to play with artists like Brian McKnight, Leann Rimes, Lady Antebellum and Lionel Richie come his way. His body of work has also garnered multiple Grammy and GMA Dove awards and nominations, an impressive list of songwriter credits, and what appears to be, a promising acting career. Jay was born in Columbus, Ohio in ’71, to musical parents.
“Yeah, they met playing music. Both my mom and my dad grew up playing music with their families. All I knew growing up was, my dad was gone nights playing music and he was really good at it and my mom was Country Music Queen of Ohio in 1969.”
Jay started playing drums when he could walk, wrote his first song at age 11, learned how to play bass, keyboards, guitar and mandolin and sang his ass off in bands, while attending Lee College in Cleveland, Tennessee before arriving in Nashville in ‘92, only to land a record deal on Benson, with Christian group East To West. But the rest is like a blur to DeMarcus, whose fame with Rascal Flatts has been etched in stone, on both the Nashville and Hollywood Walks of Fame.
Then, on May 15, 2004, DeMarcus married CMT Personality Allison Alderson, currently acting as host of “Reel Eats” and “CMT Southbound,” who while hosting “CMT Hot 20” met DeMarcus on the music video set for the Rascal Flatts song, These Days. Their first child, Madeline Leigh, was born in December 2010 and Jay and Allison welcomed a son, Dylan Jay, in July 2012.
“I wanted to write and produce and it’s so funny, I’ve had two artist record deals without really trying. I never really wanted to be an artist. I was so much more fascinated with the behind-the-scenes stuff.”
Looking at what appears to be, a long over-due focus on producing, all I can say is, DeMarcus is finally gettin’ to-do, what he came here to-do … “God lifts us up where we belong,” Congratulations Jay.
Talking to Chad Carlson at his poolside Cabana home studio about the 2 Grammys he received for Taylor Swift’s FEARLESS album led to, his never-ending passion for female voices which is well-reflected in his impressive body of work. Carlson’s Engineering and Production discography includes 4 albums with Taylor, 2 with Trisha Yearwood, Allison Kraus, Chase Rice, Love & Theft, Brandy Clark, Sugarland, Blues Traveler, Jewel, Lady Antebellum/Stevie Nicks, Love & Theft, Randy Houser, Janis Ian, Thompson Square, Jana Kramer, Maddie & Tae, Matraca Berg, Rachel Proctor, Cole Swindell, Mickey Guyton, Katie Armiger and Point Of Grace, which gives you an idea of how busy Chad has been, since he arrived in Nashville in 2002.
Chad hails from Orlando, Florida where his mother was a choir director, his (deacon) father played trombone and Chad mastered the french horn in high school, which led to a scholarship at Southern Adventist University and a seat in the Chattanooga Symphony, while playing guitar in rock bands, on the side, before attending and graduating from the Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences in Phoenix, AZ
Admittedly, Chad didn’t have his sights set on Nashville and certainly not on country music. His influences musically were artists like Prince, The Police and Madonna, so LA and New York seemed like the logical place to be. But country music had evolved and Chad’s wife Amanda wanted to be near her parents, in Chattanooga so, he agreed that, if she could land the interior design job she wanted, he’d give Nashville a shot.
His first intern job at Sound Stage Studios, after graduating from the conservatory in Phoenix, led to becoming Garth Fundis’s chief engineer at Sound Emporium, who to this day, Chad proudly calls his mentor. But every bird must leave the nest and as Chad’s engineering and production skills became more in-demand, he opened his own Hippo Sound Studio, where his prosperity and his propensity for producing truly emerged over the next 6-7 years, before finally moving into his new Cabana Studio facility.
Being a Grammy-winning engineer has also given Carlson the opportunity to work with some of the best producers in the business including Nathan Chapman, Russ Titelman, Norbert Putnam, Josh Leo, Stan Lynch, Mickey Jack Cones, Derek George, Dann Huff, Fred Mollin, Ross Copperman, Julian King, Sam Ellis, Chris Lindsey, T Bone Burnett, and Victoria Shaw, who also signed Carlson to his current co-pub deal, along with well-respected publisher Leslie DiPiero/Tom Leis Publishing, in 2012. Recently, Chad has written songs for David Cook, The Scott Brothers from the TV show Property Brothers and Jana Kramer’s track number 1, Boomerang from the album THIRTY ONE, which he wrote with Maddie & Tae.
There’s a new breed of producers on Music Row and Chad is definitely one of them but, being an engineer, a symphony level musician, a songwriter, having a background in arranging and composition, with one’s own studio and two Grammys, already in-hand, has postured Carlson perfectly, for today’s new breed of artists and tight-budgeted projects.
When Trey Fanjoy rolled into Nashville twenty years ago, in her vintage ‘68 Cutlass convertible from Los Angeles – the world of ‘music video’ production was pretty much like the music industry itself … male-dominated. And it still is, with one major exception, Trey Fanjoy, who is the only female director to ever capture the coveted Country Music Association’s Video of The Year award, having done so twice with consecutive back-to-back wins in 2009 and 2010 for Taylor Swift’s Love Story and Miranda Lambert’s The House That Built Me.
In 2014, Fanjoy claimed both Female Video of the Year with Lambert, as well as Male Video of the Year with Blake Shelton at the CMT Music Awards and … collectively, has received well over a hundred CMA, ACM, Billboard, MTV and CMT awards and nominations including seven hit video clips for superstar Taylor Swift, eight videos for Keith Urban, over a dozen projects with Miranda Lambert and multiple videos with Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, Blake Shelton, George Strait, Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett … plus … Sheryl Crow, Lady Antebellum, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Jewel, Kid Rock, Jerry Lee Lewis, Steve Earle, The Band Perry, Brooks and Dunn, Jack White, Dierks Bentley, Chris Young, Jennifer Nettles, Cam, Steven Tyler, Faith Hill and Loretta Lynn, which barely scratches the surface of her illustrious body of work.
But don’t think for one minute that Trey didn’t earn her stripes. After studying journalism and theatre at the University of South Carolina she accepted an internship in New York working with Associated Press, while also studying acting at the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse under Sanford Meisner.
Then, it was off to LA where every young actor works at whatever they can, to afford pursuing their dream. The difference being, Trey’s day gig was in TV commercial production and as time passed, her interest and expertise, in what goes on behind the scenes grew. When she arrived in Music City, she quickly found work as a freelance producer with Jon Small, who became her mentor. Fortunately for Fanjoy, during this period, CMT was putting the names of both the directors and the producers on music videos so she immediately had her name on network as a producer. Trey was honing her craft producing for some of the industry’s leading directors. Because of her writing skills, she found herself coming up with concepts, writing them and doing shotlists. Fanjoy made the transition into the director’s chair with Small’s company Picture Vision. After a decade of directing with their company, Trey left with Small’s blessing to form her own Big Feather Films in 2006.
“Writing is first and foremost in my career because my skills as a writer enable me to write the concepts that get me the jobs as a director. “
With a daunting work ethic, an eye for talent, an ear for great songs and a thirst for opportunities to take risks, Nashville’s own Scott Hendricks, has already put his thumb-print on a significant portion, of ‘Country Music History’
Hendricks has produced well over 100 albums, giving birth to 102 Top 10 singles, 63 of which peaked at No.1 collectively spending 2 years, at the top of the charts. His production credits span almost 4 decades of artists from Restless Heart, Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Faith Hill, John Michael Montgomery, Trace Adkins, to Dan + Shay, Jana Kramer, Michael Ray and super-star Blake Shelton.
To-date, the industry has recognized his achievements with six ACM Awards and two CMA Awards as the producer of such hits as Brooks & Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” John Michael Montgomery’s “I Swear,” Alan Jackson’s “Don’t Rock The Jukebox” and Blake Shelton’s collaboration with Trace Adkins, “Hillbilly Bone” which won an ACM Award for Best Collaboration in 2011, and an Emmy, for his production of Hank Williams Jr.’s “Monday Night Football” theme, as well. And … music fans everywhere discovered Scott’s pedigree, when he joined Blake as a mentor for 3 episodes in Season 8 of NBC’s The Voice.
Since his arrival at Warner Music Nashville in 2007, and his new appointment to EVP of A&R, Hendricks has also overseen the discovery and introduction of Hunter Hayes, Brett Eldridge, Jana Kramer and Michael Ray along with right-arm A&R ace Cris Lacy, while producing Shelton’s Loaded: The Best of Blake Shelton, All About Tonight, Red River Blue, Bringing Back the Sunshine, If I’m Honest and Cheers, It’s Christmas, Dan + Shay’s Where It All Began, Obsessed and Hunter Hayes’ debut and Storyline albums.
Prior to Warner, Hendricks helped found EMI’s Nashville division for Virgin Records in 1998, where he signed Chris Cagle, prior to which, he was President/CEO of Capitol Records Nashville, from ‘95 to 98, on the heels of Jimmy Bowen’s rein, where Scott oversaw the careers of Garth Brooks and Deana Carter, and was responsible for signing Trace Adkins, Roy D Mercer and Keith Urban, following the launch of Scott’s publishing company Big Tractor in 1991, whose writers penned “I Saw God Today” for George Strait and “Amazed” for Lonestar.
Thirteen years earlier, Hendricks’ journey began in 1978. After graduating from Oklahoma State, with a degree in Architectural Acoustics, Scott’s first gig was, designing and selling gear to recording studios, for Nashville Sound Systems. He also landed a part-time job teaching engineering classes at Belmont University, which lasted seven years. During a sales call at Glaser Sound Studios, the engineer invited Scott to hang out at sessions any time he wanted. Hendricks became an unpaid gopher at Glaser Sound—where he watched many historic sessions with Jimmy Bowen at the helm.
After nine months the Glaser Brothers hired Hendricks as a full-time engineer and he was officially “in,” but that, was just for starters. From Glaser Sound Hendricks moved to Bullet Recording Studios, where he was chief engineer. Hendricks and another Okie, Tim DuBois, (who arrived in Nashville with Scott) hooked up to co-produce Restless Heart, a new band eventually signed to RCA Records. Together with Hendricks and DuBois, Restless Heart racked up 13 top ten singles, including six No. 1 singles.
That success made Hendricks a go-to engineer as well as an up and coming producer. Soon after, Wayne Watson asked Scott to produce/engineer his next project, which became a No. 1 album in Contemporary Christian Music. Hendricks also mixed and/or engineered albums by Alabama, Anne Murray, Lorrie Morgan and Tanya Tucker, among others. He recorded Lee Greenwood’s “Holdin’ A Good Hand”, which earned a Grammy nomination for Best Engineered Recording. He also took the sonic reins on seven Hank Williams Jr. albums, including the award-winning Born To Boogie. During that partnership, he combined Hank Williams’ vocals from a 1951 acetate recording with new tracks to create “There’s A Tear In My Beer,” a honky-tonk number with a foot in two different generations. And … it won a Grammy and awards from both the CMAs and the ACMs that year.
Scott has had numerous pivotal moments in his career but, one of his most memorable, was around 1985, after Restless Heart had hit, when Jim Ed Norman called him one day and said; I’ve got this guy who’s moving to Nashville, he’s a legend named Barry Beckett. He’s from Muscle Shoals rhythm section and he needs an engineer, would you be up to mixing something for him?
Hendricks: By the time I met Barry, I had mixed 25-35 number one singles and so I thought I knew what I was doing, Barry brings out this tape of something I don’t even remember what it was. I said I’ll mix it tonight, why don’t you come in in the morning and we’ll go from there. So I mix it as good as I can get it. Man I’ve got this nailed. He comes in the next morning and I set him up to listen without me in there.
He finally came out of the control room with a serious look on his face. He said you ready? I said yup, so we roll up to the board and he reaches up and he grabs all the faders and pulls them down. And I’m sitting there thinking… what did he just do? I was just stunned. I mean, he goes we’re going to start here. We’re going to start with the high hat. And he raises the high hat fader. I was just thinking, are you kidding me?
Long story short, by the time we got through, I had been schooled. My tail was between my legs, I could not believe how much better this mix was that Barry just did with me. It was so obvious, it wasn’t like we could argue this. I thought I was something and I had just been taken to school on mixing. Barry taught me so, so, so much about a lot of things. He was my mentor, my biggest mentor hands down, ever.
Knowing that, over the past three and a half decades since Mark Bright began his remarkable journey in Nashville, his legendary accomplishments as a producer, corporate executive, publisher and hit songwriter, have been well-documented, one can’t help but think about, the huge array of people who have been blessed by, their association with Mark.”
A partial list of artists alone would include Blackhawk, Reba McEntire, Sara Evans, Jo Dee Messina, Lonestar, Rascal Flatts, Scotty McCreery, Peter Cetera, Sting, Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Steven Tyler, Keith Urban, Two Story Road, Lucy Hale, Edens Edge, Mountain Heart, Hanna Montana, Billy Ray Cyrus, Luke Bryan, Whitney Duncan, Danny Gokey, Shakira and Carrie Underwood, who along with Mark is over the moon with excitement about her current album STORYTELLER, their most recent # 1 Church Bells and her 4 CMA nominations which include ‘Album of The Year’, ‘Female Vocalist of the Year’, ‘Music Event of the Year’ and Carries first-ever nomination for ‘Entertainer of the Year’.
Mark accredits his successes to mentors like Joe Galante and Tim Dubois but what makes Mark unique is his willingness to share that which they taught him. And teach him well they did. Bright’s meteoric rise from the tape room to the Vice-Presidency of Screen Gems/EMI Music and his two year stint as president & CEO of Word Entertainment, provided Mark with a world of knowledge that only a handful of producers have been privy to.
But Mark’s expertise doesn’t end there. It’s been said that, to be successful in business, one must know how to cut deals and he’s obviously mastered that skill, as well. In 1999 Bright co-formed Teracel Music as a joint venture with Sony/ATV, signed Brett James, who landed over 40 cuts in the first year and sold it in 2005 for, the highest multiple ever paid, for a joint venture, at the time, before launching My Good Girl Music, which was later renamed Chatterbox, in another joint venture with Sony/ATV and EMI. Bright currently writes for Delbert’s Boy Music.
When asked what he’s into these days, Mark’s answer was, he’s working beside his new wife Jennifer, whom he married April 1st of this year. Also, he is celebrating his 23rd number one single “Church Bells” with Carrie Underwood and the one constant that has propelled the music industry, from day-one … the discovery and development of new talent.
If ever there was a success story that needed to be told, Forest Glen Whitehead is it. Not only does he have the distinction of being, the youngest major producer in Nashville, he just happens to be producing the youngest super-star on the block … Kelsea Ballerini.
From the time Whitehead set foot on Nashville soil in 2009 (at 19), his incredibly intuitive approach to ‘chasing the dream’, miraculously considering the odds, got him signed to Black River Publishing by Celia Froehlig in just two years in. But make no mistake … it was his chops that ultimately led to cuts with Terry Clark, Brantley Gilbert, Dylan Scott and … 6 songs on Ballerini’s debut studio album THE FIRST TIME.
The album’s first 3 singles “Love Me Like You Mean It” (writers: Ballerini, Whitehead, Josh Kerr and Lance Carpenter), “Dibs” (Ballerini, Kerr, Ryan Griffin and Jason Duke) and “Peter Pan” (Ballerini, Whitehead and Jesse Lee) all soared to # 1 making Kelsea, the first new female artist to send her first three releases to the top of the charts since Wynonna Judd in 1992 and the first female to top both the Billboard Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay charts simultaneously.
With similar influences, the magic emerged when Kelsea and Forest started co-writing and found the unmistakeable wound in her first single, “Love Me Like You Mean It”. Kelsea then got her record deal and after several producers had been considered, she insisted to the label that Forest produce and he got the gig.
What’s even more telling about Whitehead was his decision to bring in co-producer Jason Massey (Ole Songwriter), to achieve his vision for Ballerini’s sound, which earned her the 2016 ACM New Female Vocalist of the year Award and 2016 CMA nominations for Female Vocalist of the Year and New Artist of the Year. What’s equally telling was Black River’s willingness, to trust Ballerini n Whitehead’s instincts.
Forest cut his teeth studying drums at 10 yrs but when his grandmother bought him his first guitar at age 12 (which he still has) he learned to play by-ear and quickly began writing songs. Fast forward … His session credits on THE FIRST TIME include; banjo, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, piano, slide guitar and background vocals. Forest also played guitar on Carrie Underwood’s song “Smoke Break” and Brandy Clark’s latest release “Big Day In A Small Town”, both produced by Jay Joyce.
Then came recording …
Forest: I downloaded a free program on an old PC computer that I had when I was in high school. I think the program was called Audacity. It was just a simple program where you could layer tracks. Before that, whenever I had the cassette decks, I would actually have two separate stereos overdubbing, and with a Radio Shack mic, press play on one tape that I already recorded, press record on the other and overdub while the other one’s playing. You got all this noise and hissing and everything else, but it was just so interesting to me. When I got the Audacity program, that’s when I first started learning how to layer different instruments, while doubling parts and putting guitars on the left and right side and learning what sonically made a record sound great.
Rewind … The summer before he graduated from high school, Forest worked at a bait-n-tackle shop in North Shreveport Louisiana, which allowed him to save enough to buy a travel trailer. And what better place to bunk-in than the KOA Campground, right next to Mother Opryland at Opry Mills, while he got his feet wet.
Forest: I tried to have some income doing musical things and I was in a blues band for a little bit and I did demos for other songwriters, but my main job that actually paid the bills was working in a pawn shop. I also worked at McDougal’s Chicken in Hillsboro Village. I did writer’s nights at the Commodore, Douglas Corner, The Blue Bird, The Listening Room, any open mic night I could find and I made a lot of connections that way. There was a big process coming to Nashville and learning song structure, melody, and learning imagery, things that make country music great and country songwriting great. I absorbed that. I studied songwriters. I would find out all the cuts that, Craig Wiseman or Jeffrey Steele and just study them. I was such a fan of songwriters for a long time that I was just obsessed about learning their credits and what set their songs apart.
MICHAEL KNOX (Christmas Show 2016)
Michael Knox is someone I refer to as ‘Industry Royalty’, by virtue of birth-right, just like Hank Jr. and Pam Tillis. But when Michael showed me, the rare photograph of his Rockabilly Hall of Famer Father, the legendary Buddy Knox with his buddy Elvis, in his Senior Vice-President, Shalacy Griffin’s office at Music Knox Management, over at peermusic Nashville, I couldn’t help but think about how proud, the ‘first artist’ to ever write his own #1 hit song (Party Doll-1957) would be, of his son’s accomplishments.
The first time I met Michael, he told me that he grew up sitting on the dashboard of his Dad’s Winnebago, ‘on the road’, listening to Roy Orbison, Elvis, The Everly Brothers and his dad on the radio. And don’t think for one minute that, young Michael didn’t have full intensions of following in his Father’s footsteps … if he could only sing.
When Michael arrived in Music City in 1991 and opened Nashville’s first song plugging company HIT PLUGGERS, it wasn’t long before industry giants like Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, George Strait and Reba realized that Knox had great ears and great instincts, as Music Row watched him place an astounding 300 songs in eight years. That quickly propelled him to Warner/Chappell Music, were Knox was VP responsible for Artist/Writer Development and Song Placement, and where he left his stamp on more than 150 million records, proving himself to be, one of Nashville’s most creative business minds and trusted developers of talent. (1992 – 2002)
Now, with 19 number ones, over 30 Million singles and 14 million albums sold, Knox’s stellar production credits include – Jason Aldean, Michael Tyler, Thomas Rhett, Josh Thompson, Trace Adkins, Montgomery Gentry, Kelly Clarkson, Eric Church, Luke Bryan, Bush Hawg, Ludacris, Connie Britton, Hayden Panettiere, Chris Carmack, Will Chase, Chip Esten, Hank Williams Jr., Chuck Wicks, Frankie Ballard, Miranda Lambert, Randy Owen, Charlie Daniels, Rachel Farley, Brantley Gilbert, Lost Trailers, Crossin Dixon, Lila McCann, the Road Hammers, Danni Leigh, JD Myers, the hit TV series Nashville and the ‘Late-Great’ Buddy Knox … who was the first artist Michael ever produced.
In Michael’s 25 Years in Country Music (which he just celebrated), he has served on the GRAMMY® Special Committees, ACM and CMA Boards and, his works have been honored with over 50 Grammy, ACM, CMA, ACA, Billboard, Teen Choice, Mediabase, Touchtune, I-Heart Radio and Producer Awards and Nominations, ranging from ‘Albums of the Year’ to ‘Song of the Year’, not to mention the awards that so many others have taken home, as result of Michael’s song savvy and production skills.
Today, under his Vice-Presidency and creative leadership, peermusic Nashville has become one of Nashville’s most prestigious independent publishing companies. In 2013 they received ASCAP’s ‘Song of the Year’ Award for Randy Houser’s “How Country Feels” co-written by Neil Thrasher and Vicky McGehee and they just received SESAC’s ‘Song of The Year’ Award, for Deirks Bentley’s, ‘Somewhere On a Beach’, co-written by Jaron Boyer and singer/songwriter Michael Tyler (REVIVER Records), who is being managed by Knox.