Cowboy Corner

Cowboy Corner
By Michael W. Stout

2007 in a Nutshell

Two thousand-seven was another stellar year for country music and it was especially stellar for artists like Carrie Underwood, Rodney Atkins and 18-year-old newcomer Taylor Swift. Billboard magazine recently released its year-end chart ranking the top country artists of 2007 and "All-American Girl" Carrie Underwood topped the list. Rascal Flatts was the runner-up to Underwood, followed by Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley. "Alyssa Lies" singer Jason Michael Carroll topped the list of the top new country artists of 2007, followed by Underwood's fellow American Idol alums Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covington, as well as Luke Bryan and Cole Deggs and the Lonesome.

You would have to have lived the entire last year with your head in the sand if you hadn't guessed that Rodney Atkins was the most-played country artist on radio airwaves. Atkins' "Watching You" topped the list, which was compiled by Nielsen SoundScan. Not only did Atkins land in the top spot on this list, but #4 as well with his infectious country anthem "These Are My People." Billy Currington's "Good Directions" ranked #2, followed by Kenny Chesney's "Never Wanted Nothing More" at #3 and Rascal Flatts' "Take Me There" at #5. The sixth most-played country song of the year was Big and Rich's "Lost in This Moment," followed by Carrie Underwood's "Wasted," Tim McGraw's "If You're Reading This," Dierks Bentley's "Free and Easy Down the Road I Go," and Sugarland's "Settlin'."

Taylor Swift has thoroughly enjoyed her senior year in high school, juggling homework and being one of the top new country artists. Besides taking home the Horizon Award at last year's Country Music Association awards, her smash hit "Teardrops on My Guitar" was named the #1 country song of 2007 by iTunes. The digital music retailer's Best of 2007 Editor's Choice also listed Taylor as the Best New Country Artist of the year. In addition, Taylor is celebrated as the most popular country artist on the ever-so-popular MySpace website. The youngster averages 100,000 music streams a day on her site and her total number of streams has topped a whopping 31 million. That's a whole lotta fans! And if that weren't enough, when her self-penned "Our Song" hit the top of the country charts, she became the youngest artist to write and sing a chart-topping tune entirely on her own.

When it came to touring last year, CMA "Entertainer of the Year" Kenny Chesney topped the list of country tours. His "Flip Flops Summer Tour" was seen by more than 1.1 million fans and grossed more than $71.2 million. The only three higher-grossing tours of all genres of music were The Police's reunion tour, the Genesis reunion tour and Justin Timberlake. Billboard's top package tour award also went to Chesney, along with the help of Brooks and Dunn, Sara Evans, Pat Green and Sugarland.

Country Grammy Nominees

When the nominees for the 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards were recently announced, Dierks Bentley and Tim McGraw topped the list of country nominees with four nods each. Bentley will vie for Best Male Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song for "Long Trip Alone," Best Country Album for the album of the same name and Best Long Form Video for his live concert DVD "Live and Loud at the Fillmore." Tim McGraw will compete for Best Male Country Vocal Performance and songwriting credit for Best Country Song for "If You're Reading This," Best Country Collaboration with Vocals along with wife Faith Hill for "I Need You," and Best Country Album for Let It Go.

In addition to the traditional country award categories, Vince Gill will compete for overall Album of the Year for These Days, competing against the Foo Fighters, Herbie Hancock, Kanye West and Amy Winehouse. "Before He Cheats," which was written by Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins and performed by Carrie Underwood, will vie for Song of the Year (a songwriter award for all genres of music). Taylor Swift will compete against Feist, Ledisi, Parmore and Amy Winehouse for Best New Artist and Alison Krauss and Robert Plant's "Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)" will vie for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.

On February 9, the day before the actual awards ceremony, country/bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy. The 31/2 hour 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards ceremony will be held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on February 10 and will be broadcast live on CBS Television.

And the nominees are: Best Female Country Vocal Performance: Alison Krauss' "Simple Love," Miranda Lambert's "Famous In a Small Town," LeAnn Rimes' "Nothin' Better to Do," Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats," and Trisha Yearwood's "Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love"; Best Male Country Vocal Performance: Dierks Bentley's "Long Trip Alone," Alan Jackson's "A Woman's Love," Tim McGraw's "If You're Reading This," George Strait's "Give It Away," and Keith Urban's "Stupid Boy"; Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals: Brooks and Dunn's "Proud of the House We Built," The Eagles' "How Long," Emerson Drive's "Moments," Montgomery Gentry's "Lucky Man," and The Time Jumpers' "Sweet Memories"; and Best Country Collaboration with Vocals: Steve Earle and Allison Moorer's "Days Aren't Long Enough," Reba McEntire and Kelly Clarkson's "Because of You," Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's "I Need You," Willie Nelson and Ray Price's "Lost Highway," and Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood's "Oh Love."

Best Country Song (Songwriter Award): Dierks Bentley's "Long Trip Alone," Tim McGraw's "If You're Reading This," Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's "I Need You," George Strait's "Give It Away," and Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats"; Best Country Album: Dierks Bentley's Long Trip Alone, Vince Gill's These Days, Tim McGraw's Let It Go, Brad Paisley's 5th Gear and George Strait's It Just Comes Natural; and Best Country Instrumental Performance: Russ Barenberg's "Little Monk," The Greencards' "Mucky the Duck," Brad Paisley's "Throttleneck," Andy Statman's "Rawhide!," and The Time Jumpers' "Fidoodlin'."

Congratulations to all the nominees!

Country Heavy Metal

It seems like there's something new to report about Carrie Underwood every single month and this month is no different. The superstar's sophomore album, Carnival Ride, was released on October 23 and has already been certified double platinum for sales in excess of 2 million copies. The disc includes Underwood's first self-penned #1 single "So Small," as well as her current single "All-American Girl." Her debut album, Some Hearts, was released in November 2005 and has sold an astounding 6.1 million copies. Not too shabby for a country girl from Checotah, Oklahoma.

"The Cowboy," George Strait is definitely no stranger to a little heavy metal himself. His double-album 50 Number Ones, which was released in 2004, was recently certified 7X-platinum for sales of more than 3.5 million copies. Sounds impressive enough, but Strait's 1995 box set Strait Out of the Box has been certified 8X-platinum. As a follow-up to both of these astronomically selling compilations, Strait released 22 More Hits in November, including his hit songs since 50 Number Ones.

Super Sellers

For being retired from touring until his three daughters graduate from high school, international megastar Garth Brooks sure sells a whole lot of concert tickets. He recently announced that he would perform a charity concert on January 26 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles to benefit the recent Calif. fire victims. Officials approached Brooks about helping out the victims and Brooks stated, "I'm flattered they've asked and I'm honored to accept. This is going to take a team effort like nothing I have ever been a part of before." When the concert tickets went on sale, tickets went so fast that two additional concerts were scheduled for the same day and two shows on the previous day. In total, 85,000 tickets for the January 25 (6 and 10 p.m.) and January 26 (1, 5 and 10 p.m.) shows were sold out in a mere 59 minutes. Following the amazing ticket sales, Brooks said, "California just raised a ton of money for their own. I'm so proud to be part of this."

Garth Brooks is not the only quick-selling country artist these days. Kenny Chesney's "Poets and Pirates Tour" stop scheduled at Gillette Stadium near Boston, Mass. sold out in just 15 minutes. This is his fourth consecutive sellout at this stadium. This July 26 concert will feature Gary Allan, Sammy Hagar, LeAnn Rimes and Keith Urban.

Tim McGraw News

Tim McGraw keeps pretty busy in the music industry, but he's going to be quite busy with other ventures this year. This summer, McGraw will launch his very own cologne by Coty, the same fragrance company that developed Shania Twain's scent. The cologne, which will be distributed throughout the United States, has not yet been named. McGraw says, "Creating my own fragrance is an exciting new endeavor for me. Coty has a great creative and marketing team, one of the best in the industry and I'm looking forward to working with them."

In the meantime, it was recently announced that McGraw will star in a holiday romantic comedy titled "Four Christmases" next Christmas. McGraw will be joined by fellow country crooner Dwight Yoakam, as well as Kristen Chenoweth, Robert Duvall, John Favreau, Sissy Spacek, Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon. No details have been released of exactly when and where filming will take place.

Legal Woes

¯ "Chicks Dig It" and "What a Beautiful Day" singer Chris Cagle got himself into a little hot water last month following a benefit concert in Tucson, Arizona for the Arizona's Children Association in the early morning hours of December 13. Cagle was charged with misdemeanor assault after punching a fan's boyfriend in the face. A female fan reportedly was angered when Cagle refused to sign any more autographs for her after signing several items for her. When he refused to sign more autographs, the autograph-seeker began calling Cagle names and it was at that point Cagle reportedly threw the punch. The boyfriend decided to press charges against the singer once a police officer happened upon the altercation upon driving up outside the Cactus Moon Café nightclub.

¯ "Here's a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)" singer Travis Tritt is suing his record company, Category 5 Records. Tritt filed a $10 million lawsuit on December 11 claiming the record company and its president and CEO Ray Termini misrepresented the label's financial resources and didn't allow him creative control over his latest album, The Storm. There is speculation that Termini, who is also CEO of a now-bankrupt nursing home chain in Connecticut, illegally used Medicaid funds to help launch Category 5 Records. Tritt claims the record label owes him almost $400,000.

Keep reading in the upcoming months as details of these two cases unfold.

Country Codas

¯ Eighty-eight-year-old Chickie Williams, the wife and singing partner of country singer Doc Williams, passed away November 18 in Wheeling, West Virginia. The Williams were best known as performers on the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree radio show. Mrs. Williams' biggest solo hit was her 1947 recording of "Beyond the Sunset."

¯ Kentucky's own Troy Gentry, who makes up country duo Montgomery Gentry with pal Eddie Montgomery, lost his mother to cancer on November 20. 65-year-old Patricia Ann Gentry died in Little Rock, Ark. The family asked that memorial donations be made to the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

¯ Fifty-our-year-old bassist Ralph Ezell, one of the founding members of the group Shenandoah ("The Church on Cumberland Road"), died November 30 in South Dakota of an apparent heart attack. Ezell co-founded Shenandoah in Muscle Shoals, Alabama back in 1985 along with lead singer Marty Raybon, guitarist Jim Seales, drummer Mike McGuire and keyboardist Stan Thorn.

¯ James Ervin "Jimmy" Porter, who was one of the first members of the legendary Hank Williams' band, the Drifting Cowboys, died at the age of 79 at his Hoover, Alabama home on December 15. Porter began playing electric guitar at the age of 12 and joined the Drifting Cowboys at the ripe old age of 13. Following his stint with Williams, Porter went on to play with the likes of Curly Fox and Texas Ruby.

Our condolences go out to the Williams, Gentry, Ezell and Porter families.

Well, that's it for another month. I'd like to take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you the happiest of New Years. I hope this year is full of happiness and good health for you and your family. Always remember: "Keep your boots shined up and your hat on straight, 'cause country music is comin' your way."