Off the Record

The late Lynn Shults, an exec at Capitol, UA and Atlantic, along with label chiefs James Stroud of DreamWorks Records, Joe Galante of the RCA Label Group, Luke Lewis of Mercury Records/Nashville, Curb and Reprise/Warner Bros. Danny Kee , retrace their personal histories, dish a little dirt on their rivals and on the politics of the biz, and assess the roles of the various players and positions in Nashville's tight-knit recording community.

The late Lynn Shults, an exec at Capitol, UA and Atlantic, along with label chiefs James Stroud of DreamWorks Records, Joe Galante of the RCA Label Group, Luke Lewis of Mercury Records/Nashville, Curb and Reprise/Warner Bros. Danny Kee , retrace their personal histories, dish a little dirt on their rivals and on the politics of the biz, and assess the roles of the various players and positions in Nashville’s tight-knit recording community.

Shults note wryly: “I got into trouble for wanting to sign an artist who was … 14 years old. I think it’s ironic that Mike Curb had three huge successes with three 13-year-old girls: Debby Boone, Marie Osmond and LeAnn Rimes.”

It wouldn’t be country without a fair measure of b.s., such as Kee’s comment that “an artist’s age is somewhat of a factor,” in securing a deal and promotion. Given Nashville’s successful crusade to purge itself of its past — cutting loose most of the performers over 40, legendary or otherwise — in pursuit of sales numbers never dreamed of, this has to qualify as the understatement of the century.The book’s strange format lends itself to such ingenuousness. Sections read like taped descriptions of interviews without any editorial insight to challenge their assertions or recountings, no matter how erroneous or off the base.

Still, if you read “Off the Record” carefully and diligently, you’ll glean insights into the prevailing, even overwhelming, business logic that helps explain why the wild, edgy country music that Nashville was at least partially built upon, is, like the song says, just “sweet dreams” of days past.

Shults’ description of the sacking of the entire Capitol team just before Garth Brooks exploded on the charts and redefined the economics of the business is especially telling:

“Jimmy Bowen was fighting for his professional survival; he had been tossed out of MCA. … He had support from inside corporate sources, particularly Joe Smith, who was Capitol’s CEO, and there was no allegiance to any of us in Nashville. It was in the cards, and that’s the way it is.”

If outsiders bother to do their homework — and insiders bother to overlook the pedestrian explanations of Nashville 101 — “Off the Record” can be worth a place on the shelf to both.

Off the Record

Production: JENNIFER EMBER PIERCE (MADISON BOOKS; 165 PGS.; $ 26.95) Off the Record" is off the wall: a very strange compilation of interviews, historical data on music labels, exec musings and assorted glossary entries and acronyms, all covering the business of country music in Nashville. As in country music itself, strange ain't bad. Just unusual in that the book would at first glance look like a good read for novice followers of Nashville's Music Row scene. But in fact, the book is at its best and sharpest in laying out details that only music biz insiders could fathom or appreciate.

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