NARAS/Leadership Music Mentoring Program: Opening Remarks

Friday, October 2, 1998

I have a certain sadness, a sense of mourning, that seems to be constantly with me. Something is gone, something has died; something that won't be recovered. It's as if the house in which I was raised has burned to the ground; the family photo albums are lost, the home movies destroyed, the old furniture smoldering in a heap. I can no longer smell my dad's pipe tobacco or my mom's pot roast in the air. It's as if I were living in one of those dreams where you are in a place that you know but, something is different, something is wrong, something is not quite as it should be and you can't seem to do anything about it. I have a certain sadness, a sense of mourning, that seems to be constantly with me with me on Music Row.

For several decades Nashville has provided a livable, nurturing and sane environment for those driven by the desire to test their creative mettle in the business of music. It has been the choice of many musicians, songwriters and singers as well as those pursuing careers as publishers, publicists, managers, agents and mail room clerks; a choice they have made over New York, Los Angeles, London, Dublin, Chicago, Austin, TX, Muscle Shoals, AL and many other smaller music centers in this country and beyond. Part of the beauty of the Nashville music community has been its geographic compactness; everything nestled in to this 3 X 5 block rectangle in the heart of the city. Another part of the package was the short drive and easy access to and from nice neighborhoods in the suburbs. Add to that the success of the country music industry, the advent and growth of the Christian music industry, the continued sophistication of the recording facilities, the new management and legal offices opening up all over the Row, the bodies of higher education that offer degrees in music business, the new label and publishing edifices sprouting up every other month, 15 new record labels, more jobs, more opinions, more arrogance, more isolation, more demand, more intensity and, "Voile!" Welcome to LA.

The real essence of the beauty and allure of Nashville as a destination for those seeking a career in the business of music was its sense of community. People talked to one another. People encouraged one another. People rooted for one another. They shared information, collaborated on songs, worked for the communal good, housed, clothed, advised, taught, nurtured, spoke well of, loaned money to and bought beer for one another. It was widespread. It was contagious. It was part of the deal and it was sincere.

Now, do these things still happen? Yes, certainly they do but, they seem to occur in isolated circumstances. I am no longer aware of a pervasive feeling of community and it would seem that I am not alone. Enough people were concerned about the deterioration of our Music Row culture that they got together and created a program to preserve it. That's why we're here this morning. Hallelujah!

So, forgive me for doing what every other speaker does when they can't think of a decent transition to the next portion of their speech: I am going to tell you how the dictionary defines Mentor. I was surprised when I found it capitalized. Mentor was actually a mythological figure. (As I look around the room this makes sense to me.) Mentor was the teacher or counselor to Odysseus. And, the uncapitalized version means a wise counselor or teacher. So, by definition, you who have been designated as mentors have big, mythological shoes to fill. And, I know you will.

Drawing on my own experience it is difficult to distinguish between a mentor and a friend, a good and devoted friend. A friend will be there for you at all costs, jump your battery when you're stranded at the mall, watch your kids, loan you money, help you move, laugh at your jokes, tell you when your zipper's down and paint your house. A mentor may do some of these things but, don't count on it. A mentor will point you in the right direction, shed light on confusing issues, take a keen interest in your career path, clarify the subtleties of doing business on Music Row, turn you away from the wrong people, introduce you to the best and, perhaps most importantly, believe in you and, in the words of Tim Hardin, give you a reason to believe in yourself.

For the sake of this moment I have made myself distinguish between my friends and my mentors. If the truth be known all my mentors became my friends. I was blessed with the consistent advice of many good people over the course of my twenty-two years in Nashville. Among my mentors I include my first publisher, Jim Malloy, a veteran recording engineer, producer and publisher who took me and my young family under his wing, entertained me with Music Row war stories, introduced me to Jack Clement, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, insisted that I play golf at least 3 times a week, asked nothing from me except that I write songs, sat behind the console as I did my earliest song demos, gave me the money to purchase a 1977 red Ford Granada and got me a 3-year advance from BMI. I include Even Stevens, a funny, diminutive and energized songwriter who etched it upon my soul that I was, indeed, the songwriter that I hoped I was and who taught me to pour everything into that gift with little regard for anything else and who spent months and months introducing me to musicians, singers and producers, buying me lunch and talking me out of co-writing. I include Wayland Holyfield and Layng Martine who demonstrated to me, in elegant and profound ways, that a guy could give himself over to this business and maintain an abundant family life. I include Norro Wilson who made me laugh and allowed me to witness, first-hand, how an understanding and appreciation of the sheer joy of music can energize and pull the very best out of a roomful of great musicians. And, perhaps the most princely of all mentors is Harlan Howard, the wise poet, the troubled soul, the original Highwayman, the teller of tales, the man who holds the mirror for all of us who loves to sit and talk about songs, about rhymes and stories, about hooks and twists that move him to tears; who wants to share his experience and give advice; who loves to fascinate you with his memories of Kristoferson and Willie and Roger Miller and Lefty Frizell; who wants you to write a great song and will congratulate you when he thinks you have. Finally, if I had to identify just one individual who served as a mentor to me, it would be, without question, Roger Sovine. I suppose what distinguished Roger from the others is that he didn't only respond to my questions, he initiated the dialogue; he called me with opportunities; he involved me in organizations; he volunteered information; he made certain I was present in situations that he deemed important; he pushed me outside my boundaries of comfort and, from time to time, he chided me for making bad decisions and telling dirty jokes in mixed company.

So, that was my good fortune; these folks were my angels, my mentors on Music Row. I am not privy to the exact mechanisms that have been established for this Mentoring Program on which you all are about to embark. But, I will say this: I think it is awesome that half of the people in this room have volunteered to be available to share their time, their wisdom, their insights and their friendship as mentors in this program. I think it is awesome that these two sponsoring organizations heard the call and understood the timeliness of this program and responded to it. But, I'll tell you honestly, I think it is most profound that half of the people in this room made it perfectly clear that they want to learn, they want to grow, they want to be guided, they have questions and they don't know it all. It is a very refreshing attitude in an era when we want so much to be instantly gratified; when we can write one hit and demand a six-figure advance; when we can produce one successful album and get our own label; when we pay no homage to the past and are terribly uncertain about the future. It is unfortunate that, what was once a natural occurrence, is now a "program." However, I commend all of you for your efforts in making it natural, again. Good luck.