There have been quite a few new independent labels created in the last few years in Nashville, as well as other parts of the country. Many of them have been short lived, but some of them are making their presence well known. A few that come to mind are: Oh Boy!, the label created mainly to market the music of John Prine; Cross Three Records, a label started to market the music of Wiley and the Wild West Show; Dead Reckoning, invented to market the music of its partners, Kevin Welch, Kieran Kane, Tammy Rogers, Michael Henderson, and Harry Stinson. Last but not least is Winter Harvest, a label started to showcase left-of-center singer-songwriters.
The first of this group, Oh Boy!, is the longest running and most successful at this point. The label opened a Nashville office four or five years back. We have to remember, however, that Al Bunetta (John Prine's manager and partner in the company) and John Prine had six or more records released and distributed on major labels and fifteen or so years of constant touring on which to turn to Prine's audience and say, "Okay, now you can still get John's new album; it'll just be on his own label."
Starting with mail order and live show sales, Oh Boy! now boasts six-figure sales marks. Don't misunderstand, I'm not taking any of the hard work and strategy away from Bunetta, Prine and vice president Dan Einstein. It's just that everyone is always quick to cite Oh Boy! first as the great example of what can be done when you go into business for yourself. I just think it should be kept in mind that they had a real solid base built first. After all, labels such as Rounder and Sugar Hill are very reluctant to consider artists until they've gone out and made some kind of name for themselves. As Al and John both know, it's very difficult to break a new act in a short amount of time and most artists today should realize it's a long road.
Oh Boy! didn't stop there. As a matter of fact, I think Red Pajamas Records was their first venture with the music of the late and very great Steve Goodman. Those collections along with virtually everything else is still available. Oh Boy! is also working with newcomer Heather Eatman, who is opening about half the dates on John's current Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings tour. By the way, I noticed that in the July issue of LMN Michael Campbell's review of Prine at the Palace neglected to even mention Heather's existence. Better get there earlier next time, Michael!
The company is also on its eighth volume of The Best of Mountain Stage, from the long-running radio show out of Charleston, West Virginia, on its Blue Plate label. There was a Keith Sykes solo CD release about three years ago. They also presently distribute Orleans' Live release. Rock on boys!
The Dead Reckoning label has been receiving much press lately with the help of ace publicist Lisa Shively, and it's well deserved. This quintet of multi-talented individuals has a bit of a new concept. That is, with the exception of drummer, writer and producer Harry Stinson. They each have a solo project out with everyone playing on each other's CDs, as well as their touring being done as a unit with interchanging front spots. I took in part of their show at the Riverfront here in Nashville recently and it kicked booty. These guys are about to happen, in my opinion. They also just secured worldwide distribution through Rounder.
Cross Three Records is a small but very busy place. They started with Wiley and the Wild West Show and now have a diverse roster of cutting-edge music aimed directly at the Americana market and alternative radio.
In addition to Wiley and company, they now either manage, release, or distribute the music of: The Mavericks (their first release before signing with MCA); musician and comedian Judy Tenuta; honky-tonker Dale Watson; funny man Cletus T. Judd "No Relation"; country rocker Janne Brown; Christmas projects of Paulette Carlson; guitar fireball, Jerry Donahue of the Hellecasters fame; and soon to be released Janet McLaughlin's debut disc.
Wiley and the Wild West Show have garnered lots of video air time and are building a good following around the country. The label also has plans to reissue some great music by established artists in the same fashion as Rhino Records.
Winter Harvest is very impressive so far inasmuch as who they've signed. Their roster reads like a list of classy well-respected writer-artists who never quite got their due. Starting with the legendary Mickey Newbury, king of morbid but beautiful balladry, to Mark Germino of great reviews and a Letterman Show appearance, but no notable sales or national following as yet. According to other press, Newbury's album/CD has made them money since it was virtually Mickey and his guitar all recorded live along with some help from acoustic guitar great, Jack Williams, another recent Winter Harvest signee. Then there's the Steve Earle acoustic project just released and, I would hope, selling fairly well. Newest on their list of great writer-artists are Angela Kaset and Mac Gayden. If this label can promote and distribute decently, I think they have a good future. If they can't, then it'll be one more case of great records that never got heard. Let's hope the former is true.
"Til next time.
Rhody is a free-lance writer, a hit songwriter, and touring performing artist. He can be reached at P.O. Box 121231, Nashville, TN 37212.