Still Peakin’ at the Beacon

On June 1st, the legendary Allman Brothers Band officially announced their final tour dates, ending a 45 year long career. They will performing, of course, at the Beacon Theatre, their traditional New York City home. ABB has been tearing up the Beacon for decades now, including a powerful bout of performances celebrating their 35 year anniversary. Author Randy Poe reminisces about the profundity of these performances in his book Skydog: The Duane Allman story. Enjoy the excerpt below!

00331994

Still Peakin’ at the Beacon

One night at the Beacon I looked down and realized, I was the only one left on the front line.” – Gregg Allman

It’s a Friday night in New York City. In the tradition of more than 150 previous Allman Brothers Band shows at the Beacon Theater, the joint is packed tighter than a subway car at rush hour. This is a ritual that shows absolutely no signs of losing its decade-and-a-half-long head of steam. Throughout the week, the band has been giving the crowd exactly what they’ve come for: exemplary musicianship, a light show straight out of another era, an impressive array of guest musicians sitting in night after night, and classic songs from the Allman Brothers Band’s 35 year career. In fact, on this night – March 26, 2004 – the band and audience are celebrating exactly 35 years of Allman Brohters history. the first half of the show includes plenty of old chestnuts – “Statesboro Blues”, “Can’t Lose What You Never Had”, “One Way Out” (with guest guitarist Lee Roy Parnell sharing slide duties with Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes) – as well as “Rockin’ Horse” and the heart-wrenching  “Old Before My Time”, both from Hittin’ the Note, the band’s well-received album of the previous year. As if that weren’t powerful enough, after the intermission there is a seismic shift upward in the energy level as the band opens the second set with “Mountain Jam.” All of us behind the stage – “grizzled road warriors, music industry veterans, various ABB family members, assorted friends and associates – are struck by the stepped-up intensity. The backstage chatter stops. We inch forward, ignoring the white stripes painted on the floor that both the fire marshal and tour manager Kirk West have already pointed out as the line not to be crossed under any circumstances (excluding, presumably, fire.). The “Mountain Jam” drum solo has begun. The other band members drift offstage. Whether or not he’s conscious of the anniversary date at this moment, Jaimoe has figuratively caught fire. The years fall away as the trade-offs between Jaimoe and Butch seem to conjure the same magic they had at the Fillmore East more than three decades ago. The only difference is the adddition of Marc Quinones on percussion, bringing congas, timbales, and cymbal crashes into the mix. After the drummers have done their thing, the rest of the band returns to the stage – but instead of resuming “Mountain Jam” they segue into “I Walk on Gilded Splinters.” The song was originally written and recorded by Dr. John, but the version that comes to my mind tonight is Johnny Jenkins’s 1970 rendition with Duane Allman on dobro. Duane stays on my mind as Gregg Allman begins to sing “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More”, the song he wrote immediately after his brother’s death. The historic night ends with encores of the Otis Redding ballad “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” and “Southbound” from Brothers and Sisters – the first Allman Brothers album without Duane. Watching the band walk past me as they head offstage and into the night, I wonder if the set list for the second half of the show was intended as a tribute to Duane Allman, or if it was simply a selection of great songs that worked well together in that sequence. I also think back to the show of three nights earlier and a rather unsettling moment that has stuck in my head. At the Tuesday night Beacon show, the band’s pre-encore closer was “No One to Run With,” one of the standouts from their 1995 album, Where It All Begins. The lyrics tell the story of a man whose friends have all left town. As Gregg sang, the screen above him was filled with images of musicians now gone. The New York crowd, amny of whom probably weren’t even born at the time of Duane Allman’s death, had virtually no reaction as flickering images of Duane appeared on the giant backdrop. Footage of Berry Oakley was met with the same eerie silence. A few cheers could be heard when pictures of former ABB bassust Allen Woody came up, but when Jerry Garcia’s face splashed across the screen, the crowd erupted in a loud roar. Garcia’s voluminous contributions to American music and culture notwithstanding, observing the audience’s reactions – or lack thereof, with respect to Duane and Berry – was nothing short of disconcerting to me. I couldn’t help but wonder if Duane Allman has begun to fade from the public’s collective memory – even from the memories of many fans of the very band that bears his name. A year earlier, the Allman Brothers had added “Layla” to the set list – an overt tribute to Duane. Did the audience who attended Allman Brothers concerts that year really grasp the connection, or were they simply cheering the band’s decision to cover an old Eric Clapton record? In September 2003, Rolling Stone published its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” placing Duane at Number 2, just behind Jimi Hendrix. “I thought it was a very wonderful gesture,” Gregg told Hittin’ the Note‘s John Lynskey. “And I thought, ‘You made your mark, man. You didn’t make any money, but you made your mark.'” Rounding up the top five Rolling Stone‘s roster were B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Robert Johnson – pretty impressive company for a kid from the South who didn’t even live to see his 25th birthday.

Listen: Randy Poe on WSM Radio

The Onstage and Backstage podcast from Hal Leonard is available on iTunes and Libsyn. You can catch Randy Poe talking about Buck Owens on WSM Radio on our podcast!

>>LISTEN HERE<<

Buck ‘Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens is the life story of a country music legend. Born in Texas and raised in Arizona, Buck eventually found his way to Bakersfield, California. Unlike the vast majority of country singers, songwriters, and musicians who made their fortunes working and living in Nashville, the often rebellious and always independent Owens chose to create his own brand of country music some 2,000 miles away from Music City – racking up a remarkable twenty-one number one hits along the way. In the process he helped give birth to a new country sound and did more than any other individual to establish Bakersfield as a country music center.

In the latter half of the 1990s, Buck began working on his autobiography. Over the next few years, he talked into the microphone of a cassette tape machine for nearly one hundred hours, recording the story of his life.

With his near-photographic memory, Buck recalled everything from his early days wearing hand-me-down clothes in Texas to his glory years as the biggest country star of the 1960s; from his legendary Carnegie Hall concert to his multiple failed marriages; from his hilarious exploits on the road to the tragic loss of his musical partner and best friend, Don Rich; from his days as the host of a local TV show in Tacoma, Washington, to his co-hosting the network television show Hee Haw; and from his comeback hit, “Streets of Bakersfield,” to his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

In these pages, Buck also shows his astute business acumen, having been among the first country artists to create his own music publishing company. He also tells of negotiating the return of all of his Capitol master recordings, his acquisition of numerous radio stations, and of his conceiving and building the Crystal Palace, one of the most venerated musical venues in the country.

Buck ‘Em! is the fascinating story of the life of country superstar Buck Owens – from the back roads of Texas to the streets of Bakersfield.

Click here to watch a video extra on YouTube for Buck ‘Em.

Randy Poe at the Country Music Hall of Fame

Randy Poe, author of Buck ‘Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens, will be giving a talk at the Country Music Hall of Fame about Buck Owens and the Bakersfield Sound on Saturday, December 7th at 1:30pm. Check it out here! And while you wait, here is an excerpt from Buck ‘Em.

My parents moved out to Bakersfield that same year, so pretty soon most of the folks who had made that original trip from Texas to Arizona ended up in the same town again. The only one who didn’t eventually make the move was my older sister, Mary Ethel. She’d gotten married in Arizona, so she stayed there. My younger sister Dorothy had been a senior in high school when my parents moved to Bakersfield, so she lived with Mary Ethel until she graduated. Then she came on our and moved back in with our parents. A year later, Melvin came to Bakersfield, too. It was where we’d all planned on going back in 1937. It just took us a little longer to get there than we’d thought it would.

When I got to Bakersfield, I found out my Uncle Vernon had been absolutely right about the music scene that was going on. In fact, Bakersfield had been kind of a music hot bed, I guess you’d say, going back quite a few years before I arrived.

Bob Wills had been a regular at the Bakersfield dance halls back in the ’40s. There’d also been a fiddler named Jimmy Thomason who played a big dance at the Beardsley Ballroom every week. He started playing there in ’49, and I guess he would’ve played there forever if the place hadn’t burned down in 1950. I think Jimmy might’ve been about the first resident of Bakersfield who actually got a record contract. He was signed to King Records, a label that put out a bunch of great blue-grass and country stuff in those days. None of Jimmy’s records were chart hits or anything like that, but being a genuine recording artist sure made him a big deal around town. When television finally arrived in Bakersfield, he became a local TV star. He and his wife hosted a bunch of different country performers on The Louise and Jimmy Thomason Show.

There was another place in town called The Rainbow Gardens where everybody went to dance after the Beardsley Ballroom burned down. Outside of the city limits a little ways was a place called the Pumpkin Center Barn Dance. A guy named Ebb Pilling ran the Pumpkin Center. He called himself Cousin Ebb, and he played the banjo in his own band there. Cousin Ebb booked a lot of bands at the Pumpkin, including the Maddox Brothers and Rose. Bonnie and I had seen the Maddox Brothers and Rose back in Mesa when we were teenagers. I remember another Bakersfield guy – Roy Nicols – was the guitar player the night me and Bonnie saw ‘em. Rose and her brothers were the first act I ever got to see that wore really colorful Western-type outfits with rhinestones on ‘em – the kind of things all of us country singers started wearing in the ’60s.

All of these places I’m telling you about – the Beardsley Ballroom, the Rainbow Gardens, and the Pumpkin Center Barn Dance – were great big places with big ol’ dance floors. Most of the music being played at those places during that era was Western Swing. I loved Western Swing. In fact, one of the earliest Western Swing bands was a Texas outfit called the Light Crust Dough Boys. I still remember listening to the Light Crust Dough Boys on the radio when I was real little.

Buck ‘Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens is the life story of a country music legend. Born in Texas and raised in Arizona, Buck eventually found his way to Bakersfield, California. Unlike the vast majority of country singers, songwriters, and musicians who made their fortunes working and living in Nashville, the often rebellious and always independent Owens chose to create his own brand of country music some 2,000 miles away from Music City – racking up a remarkable twenty-one number one hits along the way. In the process he helped give birth to a new country sound and did more than any other individual to establish Bakersfield as a country music center.

In the latter half of the 1990s, Buck began working on his autobiography. Over the next few years, he talked into the microphone of a cassette tape machine for nearly one hundred hours, recording the story of his life.

With his near-photographic memory, Buck recalled everything from his early days wearing hand-me-down clothes in Texas to his glory years as the biggest country star of the 1960s; from his legendary Carnegie Hall concert to his multiple failed marriages; from his hilarious exploits on the road to the tragic loss of his musical partner and best friend, Don Rich; from his days as the host of a local TV show in Tacoma, Washington, to his co-hosting the network television show Hee Haw; and from his comeback hit, “Streets of Bakersfield,” to his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

In these pages, Buck also shows his astute business acumen, having been among the first country artists to create his own music publishing company. He also tells of negotiating the return of all of his Capitol master recordings, his acquisition of numerous radio stations, and of his conceiving and building the Crystal Palace, one of the most venerated musical venues in the country.

Buck ‘Em! is the fascinating story of the life of country superstar Buck Owens – from the back roads of Texas to the streets of Bakersfield.

Click here to watch a video extra on YouTube for Buck ‘Em.

Buck Owens

Guest Author: In Buck ‘Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens, Randy Poe helped Buck Owens posthumously tell his story. Below is excerpt from an interview with Randy Poe. To keep reading, go to Music Tomes.

Music Tomes: In the intro to the book you talk about meeting with Buck’s family about doing a biography and then being presented with the idea of turning it into an autobiography. First of all, what made you want to do a biography of Buck Owens?

Randy Poe: I wanted to do a book on Buck because I felt he was a phenomenal country artist who was incredibly under-rated, if not forgotten to a certain extent. It was much the same reason I wrote Skydog: The Duane Allman Story. Buck and Duane are both extremely important figures in American music, and up to this point very little has been written about either of them. In fact, Skydog was the first book ever written about Duane Allman, even though he’d passed away over thirty years before my book came out. So, I like to write about musicians who I feel deserve more attention than they’ve gotten, and to me, Buck Owens definitely qualifies as one of those.

MT: What kind of complications are there in creating the autobiography of someone who is no longer around to answer new questions or clarify anything?

RP: You bring up an excellent point. I can’t tell you the number of times I regretted not having the opportunity to ask Buck follow-up questions. On the tapes I was working with, he told so many great stories about his life. But, since he was just sitting alone talking into a cassette recorder, there was nobody there with him to get him back on track if he changed stories in mid-stream, or if he didn’t finish a sentence. Luckily, Buck’s office had kept literally thousands of newspaper and magazine articles that quoted Buck, so many times I was able to find him telling the same stories in greater detail than he’d told them on the tapes. Like I said at the beginning of the book, writing this thing was like trying to put together the most complicated jigsaw puzzle ever created.

To read the rest of the interview, go here!

Buck ‘Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens is the life story of a country music legend. Born in Texas and raised in Arizona, Buck eventually found his way to Bakersfield, California. Unlike the vast majority of country singers, songwriters, and musicians who made their fortunes working and living in Nashville, the often rebellious and always independent Owens chose to create his own brand of country music some 2,000 miles away from Music City – racking up a remarkable twenty-one number one hits along the way. In the process he helped give birth to a new country sound and did more than any other individual to establish Bakersfield as a country music center.

In the latter half of the 1990s, Buck began working on his autobiography. Over the next few years, he talked into the microphone of a cassette tape machine for nearly one hundred hours, recording the story of his life.

With his near-photographic memory, Buck recalled everything from his early days wearing hand-me-down clothes in Texas to his glory years as the biggest country star of the 1960s; from his legendary Carnegie Hall concert to his multiple failed marriages; from his hilarious exploits on the road to the tragic loss of his musical partner and best friend, Don Rich; from his days as the host of a local TV show in Tacoma, Washington, to his co-hosting the network television show Hee Haw; and from his comeback hit, “Streets of Bakersfield,” to his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

In these pages, Buck also shows his astute business acumen, having been among the first country artists to create his own music publishing company. He also tells of negotiating the return of all of his Capitol master recordings, his acquisition of numerous radio stations, and of his conceiving and building the Crystal Palace, one of the most venerated musical venues in the country.

Buck ‘Em! is the fascinating story of the life of country superstar Buck Owens – from the back roads of Texas to the streets of Bakersfield.

Happy Birthday, Willie Nelson!

It’s Willie Nelson’s 80th birthday today!

Guest Blogger: Randy Poe, author of Stalking the Red Headed Stranger.

Randy Poe and Willie Nelson

Randy Poe and Willie Nelson

Unless you were listening to country radio in 1962, you probably aren’t aware that Willie Nelson had two Top Ten singles on Liberty Records that year. “Willingly” – a duet with Shirley Collie – entered the charts in March, followed two months later by “Touch Me,” Willie’s first solo venture to reach the Top Ten.

It would be thirteen years before Nelson would have another hit single. In 1975, his recording of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” went to number one on the country charts, number twenty-one on the pop charts, and number twelve on the adult contemporary charts. Before long, Willie Nelson was on his way to becoming a household name via records, concerts, movie roles, television appearances, and – well – just being Willie Nelson.

While I was researching Willie’s life story for my book Stalking the Red Headed Stranger, the main trait I personally found to be most admirable about the man was his indomitable determination.

When he scored that first Top Ten hit in 1962, Willie was twenty-nine years old. When he followed it up with another Top Ten hit a couple of months later, major stardom must have seemed just around the corner. However, his next few singles didn’t make the kind of noise those first two had, and by 1965, Liberty Records had closed it Nashville offices, leaving Willie without a label.

Despite that dry spell during his last couple of years on Liberty, Willie was soon signed to the all-powerful RCA Records – home of Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, Hank Snow, and a host of other country giants.

Chet Atkins – RCA’s head honcho in Nashville – was so confident he’d signed a winner that he assigned himself the task of producing Nelson’s records. With the combination of RCA and Chet Atkins on his side, Willie’s next hit single was virtually a fait accompli. But it quickly became apparent that Chet’s “Nashville Sound” production methods (lots of background singers, lots of strings) just didn’t work in Willie’s world. Year after year, single after single, album after album, Nelson’s career remained in neutral, if not reverse.

After seven years of failure, Willie’s days at RCA mercifully came to an end. Atlantic Records was next. By then, Willie was forty years old. Most country singers have had their last number one hit long before they hit forty. Willie was yet to have his first. Two years, two albums, and six singles later, Atlantic Records – just as Liberty had done in the mid-’60s – got out of the country music business, leaving Nashville and Willie behind.

Despite the fact that Nelson had now gone over a dozen years without anything close to a hit, Columbia Records was waiting in the wings – not only ready and willing to sign the singer, but to also give him complete creative control over his recordings for the label.

The end result was Red Headed Stranger, a concept album that broke the mold in country music with its dark story line, its stark instrumentation, and its number one single, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”

After that – as the deejays say – the hits just kept on comin’.

* * * * *

Willie Nelson turns eighty today. His musical talents have been known throughout the world for decades. But what if he’d given up after that first year on RCA with no hits, or that second year, or that sixth or seventh year? Anyone could understand why he might call it quits after none of his albums or singles on Atlantic made much noise either.

Just like millions of others, I’m a huge fan of Willie’s music. I also admire his work with Farm Aid, Habitat for Horses, and the other important causes he has championed over the years. But it’s pretty safe to say that without his incredible, indomitable determination – at least as far as his recording career is concerned – Willie Nelson might very well be remembered today as just another singer who had a couple of Top Ten hits in the early 1960s.

Happy birthday, Willie. Thanks for all of your contributions to the world of music – and for reminding us that talent is an asset, but determination is invaluable.

Stalking the Red Headed Stranger

Stalking the Red Headed Stranger is a guide to the art and history of professional song plugging. But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill history book/instruction manual. It is an in-depth, up-close look into the real music business by industry insider and Grammy Award nominee Randy Poe, who has represented literally hundreds of the greatest songs in the history of popular music, including “Stand By Me,” “Happy Together,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Under the Boardwalk,” “Hound Dog,” “What a Wonderful World,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Chapel of Love,” “Summer in the City,” “Love Potion No. 9,” and “Kansas City.”

But wait! There’s so much more! Interwoven throughout this entertaining and enlightening book is the hysterical saga of the author as he chases American icon Willie Nelson across Canada – via plane, taxi, rental car, and even ferryboat – in an attempt to pitch a single song to the Red Headed Stranger. And what happens on Willie’s bus doesn’t stay on Willie’s bus.

Willie Nelson’s Birthday: Celebration of a Legend

Below is an excerpt from Randy Poe’s book, Stalking the Red Headed Stranger.

Red Headed Stranger also went to No. 1 on the country album charts and reached the Top 30 on the pop album charts. For the first time in his thirteen-year recording career, Willie Nelson had finally made an album his way. And lo and behold—after all those years of being forced make records the way other people wanted him to—it turned out that all the experts were wrong and the first-time record producer was right. After Red Headed Stranger, there was no looking back.

Over the next decade, seven more Willie Nelson albums would reach the top of the country charts. During that same time span, Willie scored seventeen more No. 1 singles, including “Always On My Mind,” which also made it to No. 5 on the pop charts. The Stardust album alone spawned three hit singles. And then the movies began. Willie appeared first in the Robert Redford/Jane Fonda film Electric Horse- man—with a soundtrack that included the No. 1 hit “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.” His first starring role was in Honeysuckle Rose, a movie that included two more No. 1 hits: “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” and the song that has become the theme of Willie’s life, “On the Road Again.” And of course there were the duet hits—with Waylon Jennings, Ray Charles, Merle Haggard, Julio Iglesias, his old friends Roger Miller and Ray Price, Leon Russell, Toby Keith, and others. As if that weren’t enough, he also had hit singles and albums with his country supergroup, the Highwaymen (Willie, Waylon, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash). There have been some serious hiccups along the way—problems with the IRS and more than one arrest on drug charges—but through it all, Willie Nelson has never stopped making music.

He has received Grammy Awards, CMA Awards, ACM Awards, American Music Awards, and others. He’s been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame. He’s been a Kennedy Center Honoree and the guest of several presidents. (He even smoked pot on the roof of the White House during the Carter administration.)
Like Bob Dylan (another of his duet partners), Willie Nelson changed the musi- cal landscape. The term “outlaw country” was created for the kind of music he and pals such as Waylon Jennings began to make in the 1970s. Willie unsuccessfully tried to play the Nashville game for over a decade before he finally realized that the only way to beat the system was to break virtu- ally all of the rules Nashville had ever written. A line from his song “Me and Paul,” captured all of those misspent years in a single phrase: “Nashville
was the roughest.”

Stalking the Red Headed Stranger

Stalking the Red Headed Stranger is a guide to the art and history of professional song plugging. But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill history book/instruction manual. It is an in-depth, up-close look into the real music business by industry insider and Grammy Award nominee Randy Poe, who has represented literally hundreds of the greatest songs in the history of popular music, including “Stand By Me,” “Happy Together,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Under the Boardwalk,” “Hound Dog,” “What a Wonderful World,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Chapel of Love,” “Summer in the City,” “Love Potion No. 9,” and “Kansas City.”

Dick Clark


Guest Blogger:
Randy Poe, author of Stalking the Red Headed Stranger (Hal Leonard Books)

In 1983, I was Executive Director of the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York. The annual black-tie awards dinner was to take place on Monday night, March 7th. At noon on the 7th, I entered the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom to watch the show’s rehearsal, only to be informed by the producer that the scheduled emcee was currently resting comfortably in a nearby Manhattan hospital. “Any ideas for a replacement?” He asked.

Songwriters Hall of Fame Awards, 1983. L-R: Randy Poe, Kari Clark, Dick Clark. Photo credit: Sam Teicher Collection, courtesy of the Songwriters Hall of Fame Archives.

The offices of the Songwriters Hall of Fame were at One Times Square, the same building where the ball dropped every New Year’s Eve, and where Dick Clark’s radio network, United Stations, was based. Although I’d never gathered the courage to introduce myself to the man, I’d seen him in the building that morning, so I knew he was in town. One phone call and a half-hour later, Dick Clark arrived in the ballroom, ready to take on the task of being himself.

The hotel found a perfect Bandstand-like podium for Dick to stand behind. As the day wore on, the performers for that night’s event rehearsed their numbers with the house band, followed by Dick discussing with each of them how they preferred to be introduced. The only star missing that afternoon was Willie Nelson. He had his own band, of course, so no rehearsal was necessary. He was also at the apex of his career in 1983, so Dick Clark’s introduction was to be nothing more than a simple, “Ladies and gentlemen – Willie Nelson!”

What could possibly go wrong?

An excerpt from Stalking the Red Headed Stranger

Everything was going according to plan. The songwriters who were being inducted into the Hall of Fame had all shown up. None of the performers was throwing a temper tantrum. The backing musicians were all on time and in tune. All was right with the world. Then, as Teresa Brewer went on stage to perform “Music! Music! Music!” for what must have been at least the millionth time, Willie’s road manager appeared in the Green Room, looking none too happy and coming straight toward me at a pretty rapid clip for a man his size. His name was Randall “Poodie” Locke. He had long hair in a single braided ponytail down his back. He was at least six inches taller than I, and he was massive. Years later I would read a joke on Willie’s website: “Question: Why does Poodie wear XXXL T-shirts? Answer: Because he likes ’em tight.” I laughed when I read the joke, but back in March of 1983, as Poodie loomed over me, I was feeling pretty somber. Poking an accusatory index finger into my rental-tuxedoed chest, he said, “Somebody shifted all of our gear around backstage. We’re going to need at least five minutes to set up once that chick’s done singing.”

He might as well have said it would take an hour and a half. I headed out the door and across the back of the ballroom, watching as Dick Clark stood just offstage, serenely tapping his foot while Teresa sang. I sidled up next to him and said, “Mr. Clark?”

“Yes?” he said. He was wearing that charming Dick Clark smile – such a happy-looking man.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Willie’s crew is going to need five minutes to set up after Ms. Brewer finishes singing.”

His reaction was slightly worse than I’d expected: Dick Clark – Mr. American Bandstand, Mr. Cool, Mr. World’s Oldest Teenager – literally dropped to his knees. With his hands clasped together, he looked up at me and whispered, “Please tell me you didn’t just say ‘five minutes.’”

“Yes sir. Five minutes.” I grabbed his elbow and pulled him back up. By the time he was standing again, he had managed to regain most of his composure.

“Okay,” he said, “Quick as you can, tell me everything you know about Willie Nelson.”

I spat out the whole “outlaw” movement thing; that Red Headed Stranger was Willie’s breakthrough album; that the album’s single, “Blues Eyes Crying in the Rain,” had gone to No. 1 on the country charts; that Stardust was Willie’s biggest-selling album to date; that “Always On My Mind” had been his biggest hit single; that I was sure he must’ve won some Grammy awards and some CMA awards – and suddenly I realized that Teresa Brewer had finished singing and was walking off the stage.

As the applause died down, I stepped to one side. Dick Clark jumped back to his podium as the curtain closed behind him. He started by telling a couple of funny American Bandstand stories, and then – just as he began regurgitating everything I had told him about Willie – a noise akin to fifty jackhammers drilling through concrete kicked in behind the curtain. Dick flinched momentarily but plowed on ahead – bestowing more honors, awards, and multimillion-selling records on Willie Nelson by the second.

Through the sound of speaker cabinets scraping across the stage floor, microphone feedback, and other loud, unidentifiable noises, I heard a distinct, “Pssst! Randy!”

I looked to my left and saw Willie in the darkness, behind the curtain, his hand motioning for me to join him onstage. I flew up the steps two at a time. “What can I do for you, Willie?” I whispered.

“Would it be all right with you if we open with ‘Whiskey River?’” he asked. His calm demeanor fascinated me as total chaos was going on directly behind him. I’d once read an interview with Kris Kristofferson in which he’d said, “Being around Willie is like being around Buddha.” Now I understood exactly what he meant.

With Willie talking in one ear and Dick Clark talking about Willie selling more records than Elvis and the Beatles combined in the other, all I could muster was a weak, “Pardon me?”

“‘Whiskey River.’ We always start our shows with ‘Whiskey River.’ Would that be all right with you?”

As Willie’s words sunk in, I envisioned hundreds of blue-haired ladies fainting dead away while their elderly husbands fell to the floor, clasping their chests as the entire audience breathed its collective final breath.

“It’s our tune-up song.” Willie said.

“Your what?”

“Our tune-up song. We tune up our instruments while we’re doing ‘Whiskey River.’ If we start with anything else, our guitars and stuff’ll be out of tune.”

“Of course you can open with ‘Whiskey River,’” I said. “How could I possibly say no to Willie Nelson?”

Stalking the Red Headed Stranger is a guide to the art and history of professional song plugging. But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill history book/instruction manual. It is an in-depth, up-close look into the real music business by industry insider and Grammy Award nominee Randy Poe, who has represented literally hundreds of the greatest songs in the history of popular music, including “Stand By Me,” “Happy Together,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Under the Boardwalk,” “Hound Dog,” “What a Wonderful World,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Chapel of Love,” “Summer in the City,” “Love Potion No. 9,” and “Kansas City.”
But wait! There’s so much more! Interwoven throughout this entertaining and enlightening book is the hysterical saga of the author as he chases American icon Willie Nelson across Canada – via plane, taxi, rental car, and even ferryboat – in an attempt to pitch a single song to the Red Headed Stranger. And what happens on Willie’s bus doesn’t stay on Willie’s bus.
Stalking the Red Headed Stranger, or How to Get Your Songs into the Hands of the Artists Who Really Matter Through Show Business Trickery, Underhanded Skullduggery, Shrewdness, and Chicanery, as Well as Various Less Nefarious Methods of Song Plugging: A Practical Handbook and Historical Portrait is the funniest, hippest, longest-titled how-to book you’ll read this year.

Q & A with Randy Poe

This week, Jo Maeder interviews Randy Poe on jomaeder.com. Here’s a taste to whet your appetite, but do click on over to the site to read the rest! Randy Poe is the author of Stalking the Red Headed Stranger.

Jo: You arrived in New York City in 1980 from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with $275 tucked in a wallet made of duct tape. You knew no one in the music business. You started by memorizing every name and face you needed to know in Billboard magazine and crashing black-tie events wearing a $5 thrift store tuxedo jacket and pants you had “dressed up” with black electrical tape down the side. No one ever noticed?

Randy: The beauty of events like that is that they’re always badly lit. It’s the ambiance . . .and they say sinful things never happen in the daylight. See, nobody paid attention to me. I was in a room full of people who knew each other. My job was to get in, recognize, say hello, introduce myself and get out before the dinner bell rang. I wrote this book because so many people complain they can’t get a break in the music business. There are ways to create your own luck.

Jo: You do seem inordinately lucky. You also have bulletproof confidence and know how to walk the thin line between being impressed by a celebrity but not intimidated – and make yourself interesting but not draw attention away from the star. Where did that come from? Was your father or mother an entrepreneur?

Randy: My father was a Baptist minister! I guess he had to have complete confidence in what he was selling and face a lot of rejection, too. And he took me into some pretty shady places where people had moonshine stills and, well, imagine the movie Deliverance. I was just a kid. It probably had something to do with my fearlessness. But ever since I was five years-old – and I never lived in a city of more than 40,000 until I moved to New York – my nickname was “city slicker.” I don’t know why. There was just something about me that people picked up on.

Continue reading on JoMaeder.com.

Stalking the Red Headed Stranger

Stalking the Red Headed Stranger is a guide to the art and history of professional song plugging. But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill history book/instruction manual. It is an in-depth, up-close look into the real music business by industry insider and Grammy Award nominee Randy Poe, who has represented literally hundreds of the greatest songs in the history of popular music, including “Stand By Me,” “Happy Together,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Under the Boardwalk,” “Hound Dog,” “What a Wonderful World,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Chapel of Love,” “Summer in the City,” “Love Potion No. 9,” and “Kansas City.”