Monday, May 30, 2016

Larry Ferguson Is Mr. Nashville

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Larry Ferguson is a native of Louisville Kentucky. As an only child he grew up loving music and television. At three years of age he fell in love with Dolly Parton. By the time he was a young teen he was modeling for Alix Adams Agency. He also co-hosted ‘Louisville Tonight Live’ while still in High school.

As a teenager he helped local concert promoters promote country music and gospel music shows. At 18 he started his own concert promotions company, Larry Ferguson Promotions.

A dream came true when his other lifetime love, the legendary singer/songwriter Dottie Rambo asked him to manage her. At this time he moved to Nashville. There he launched a major, successful comeback for Dottie. He authored the book, ‘Driving Ms. Dottie’ about his life on the road with her.

He co-created and was one of the producers for a 2 hour concert television special ‘We Shall Behold Him,’ hosted by Barbara Mandrell and featuring Crystal Gayle, Larry Gatlin, Barbara Fairchild, Dolly Parton and many others. The special was nominated for an NRB award.

Larry and Dottie were like family and he managed her until a 2008 concert tour bus crash killed Dottie and left him broken up physically and mentally.

As a music producer he has produced many artists including, Carol Channing, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Little Richard, Patti Page, Lynn Anderson, Ricky Skaggs, Mamie Van Doren, Lily Tomlin, Joe Diffie, Solomon Burke, Tanya Tucker just to name a few.

Tentatively scheduled in 2016 is a musical CD tribute to Dottie Rambo with 30 artists and 18 songs written by the legendary songwriter. This summer he starts airing his new internet talk show, ‘Mr. Nashville Talks.’

Larry is a single father of two boys Christian, 16 and Pierce, 11.

AM:  Larry, let’s start with the obvious.  How did you get the moniker of “Mr. Nashville?”

LF:  Actually this story has two extremes. I was in New York for a meeting and I got to meet Joan Rivers. She kept calling me “Nashville” and then she started calling me Mr. Nashville and heckling me a little bit. That was the first time. Even people on the street in New York called me Nashville because of my accent. Then I met Sarah Palin at a reception and she started calling me Mr. Nashville. Then I saw her again some time later and she remembered me and called me Mr. Nashville again. 

AM:  You are a memorable person Larry.  Nobody is going to forget you!

LF:  That’s probably a bad thing. 

AM:  No, quite the opposite.  So how did you decide to make the name stick?

LF:  Originally I was going to do a radio show and everything was set to go but then they started wanting to control everything like what guests I would have so there was no way I wanted to do that. 

AM:  That would not have been fun.

LF:  I started a web site then and started posting news items about Country music and Nashville legends from a Nashville perspective. 

AM:  So you are covering all types of entertainment from a Nashville point of view?

LF:  Right, the people don’t have to be from Nashville at all. I am the Nashville part.  I want to feature people that I miss seeing and hearing about. These are artists who are still making great music or doing theater. People still have an interest in these artists but since they are no longer on TV regularly people don’t know what they are doing. 

AM:  What do you think about the current status of celebrity?

LF:  There are no stars anymore.  Everyone is a celebrity, but no stars.

AM:  We are losing the legends left and right and we’re not creating new ones.

LF:  There’s no Hollywood glamour anymore. On rare occasions there is still a hint of it. The Oscars looked like an upscale prom.

AM:  Do you think your internet show will ever be on TV?

LF:  I hope it is. I’ve had a few people tell me they would love to air it, but I want to make sure that I won’t get into the same situation like the radio show. I have to own the show and control it.

AM:  You’ve started taping several segments already so you’re on your way.

LF:  Yes, I’d like to maybe make a television special out of this. Eventually I would love to have a weekly series. I love to just sit down and talk. I miss shows like that.  I miss Dick Cavett and Phil Donahue. Basically I’m filling a role that somebody else should already be doing. 

AM:  What makes you the right person for this job?

LF:  I like to talk and I DO listen. That’s missing from a talk show perspective.

AM:  You are not just talking to people that a publicist threw in front of you.  Your heart is involved from the beginning.  That’s what’s missing from talk shows now.

LF:  Exactly, now talk show hosts are basically actors. Everything is done behind the scenes by fifteen to twenty people involved.

AM:  There are no genuine conversations anymore.

LF:  I don’t have to do all this research because I know who these people are.

LF:  What do you do differently to get an interesting conversation going?

LF:  I try to bring up subjects that haven’t been talked about as much. This way the person I am talking to isn’t bored by the same old questions.

AM:  Who would your dream guests be for ‘Mr. Nashville?’

LF:   Of course Dolly Parton would be my number one choice. I’ve worked with her a lot. She is my ultimate.

AM:  You’ve had a working relationship with Dolly for years.

LF:  Yes, I’ve been very fortunate. I worked with Dolly a lot when I managed Dottie Rambo. She’s been a great friend who has been very good to me. She sang on a few records that I have produced. When Dottie died, Dolly brought me to Dollywood and we planted a rose in Dottie’s honor. She gave me this beautiful vase made of hand blown glass that had peacock feathers painted on it. The wonderful thing is Dottie collected peacock art so it felt like it was meant to be.

AM:  What about some TV people?

LF:  I want to get Marla Gibbs so bad. I love her. I grew up with her.

AM:  The young people don’t even know who any of these people are.

LF: You know what Alan, I have discovered that if the information is out there the younger audience does discover and appreciate these older talents. They just never see them so they haven’t discovered them yet.    

To learn more about Larry visit his web site 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Waylon Payne Shines His Light

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Country singer/songwriter and actor Waylon Payne is the son of Jody Payne, a guitarist in Willie Nelson's band, and Grammy winning Country Music singer Sammi Smith. He was named after his godfather, Waylon Jennings. He began his career writing songs and playing with other musicians. Notably, he placed ‘Elvis’ and ‘Sing Til I Stop Crying’ on Pat Green's album ‘Wave on Wave’ in 2003, also singing and playing guitar on the disc. He had already finished recording his own album, ‘The Drifter,’ without a label deal and was playing with Willie Nelson in New York when Green suggested he play the record for Green's label, Republic/Universal.

Waylon Payne was signed to the label, which released ‘The Drifter’ on June 22, 2004. It attracted critical praise and was tapped by other artists for material. Django Walker put ‘Her (She's Gone)’ on his album ‘Six Trips Around the World,’ and ‘The Bottom’ was covered by both Keith Gattis, producer of ‘The Drifter,’on ‘Big City Blues,’ for which Waylon sang background vocals, and Charlie Robison on ‘Good Times.’

Waylon was cast in the role of Jerry Lee Lewis in the Johnny Cash biopic ‘Walk the Line,’ which opened in 2005. Waylon's appearance on the soundtrack album allowed him to share the Grammy Award won by the disc. He was next cast in the starring role of Hank Garland in the 2006 biopic ‘Crazy.’ In 2010 he played the bad guy in ‘Road To Nowhere.’ In 2014 he has also starred in ‘The Identical.’  It’s loosely based on Elvis and the cast includes Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd.

Coming up in 2017 is a documentary titled ‘The Drifter: The Waylon Payne Story’ about his time in Los Angeles recording ‘The Drifter,’ his decent into drugs and the loss of his mother filmed from 2002 to 2005. His critically acclaimed album ‘The Drifter’ was reissued on March 11, 2008.

AM:  How are you Waylon?

WP:  I’m good buddy, how about you?

AM:  I just got back from working in Los Angeles.

WP:  I need to go out there and work soon.

AM:  Yes you do.  Everyone loves you out there.

WP:  I love it out there as well, but I’m trying to get myself together here in Nashville.

AM:  I think that’s the smart thing for you to do.

WP:  I think so too.  Hollywood will always be there and provided I don’t get any older I’ll be alright (Laughter)

AM: You’re a man so you can work the rest of your life.

WP:  Well from your mouth to God’s ears. 

AM:  So are you focusing on music while you’re in Nashville?

WP:  Right now I’m in the studio with Frank Liddell.

AM:  Didn’t you just record a new album?

WP:  I’ve got this album called the ‘Prodigal’ that’s kind of cool that I recorded in Texas. It’s all about me getting sober, dealing with the death of my dad and being a forty something year old man.  I think it’s on the back burner just for a slight minute because Frank Liddell wants to do a new record on me.

AM:  How exciting to have Frank Liddell want to work with you.

WP:  I’m going to let myself be steered a little bit and give myself a real shot. I don’t know if it’s selling out or cashing in. (Laughter) I figure I’m on this path and doing really well.  I’m making some strides. I’d like this next project to be the best that it can possibly be.

AM:  Is there anything else you are working on? 

WP:  I’m focusing on writing now.  I’ve got some songs coming up on some other artist’s albums but I can’t reveal who yet.  It’s very exciting. That’s what’s going on.  I also play and sing harmony in Lorrie Morgan’s band now, which is a dream come true.  I’m staying busy in Nashville and seeing what’s supposed to be next. 

AM: That’s great.  What about any movies?

WP:  I have a film called ‘Turnabout’ and it’s playing in a lot of film festivals right now. It’s screening in LA for the Cinefest.  You never know, it could be a hit.  I really enjoy working in films. I actually treasure the experience.

AM:  Your film career came out of nowhere, right?

WP:  I had a bad experience in high school with a drama teacher who told me I should probably be doing anything in the world except acting.  Then I realized later on in my life that all I’ve ever been doing is acting. (Laughter) You put on different faces for people to let them see what they need from you.  I really enjoy the technical side of acting. 

AM:  Who are your acting heroes?

WP:  Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and anyone who is excellent at their craft. I like to go on set and pretend that I am a Hollywood legend and try to give it my all.
AM:  I’ve seen most every film performance you’ve ever done and I always love you.

WP: (Laughter) I’m so sorry about some of them.

AM:  You are always good no matter what, but I’m really excited about you recording a new album with Frank Liddell.

WP:  He’s one of the biggest producers in Nashville.  He produces Miranda Lambert and Lee Ann Womack.  He’s a great man.  We’ve known each other for twenty five years. He was my publisher in 2006 when I went through my journey to get sober. He welcomed me with open arms when I came back. He gave me my job back.  He’s a saint. 

AM:  People are good to you because beyond your talent, they can see a good soul with a beautiful heart.

WP:  That’s what I strive for. All I want to do is be a beacon and an inspiration.
AM:  What about the documentary about your life.  How is that coming along?

WP:  It’s called ‘The Waylon Payne Story’ and it’s coming soon.  We just teamed up with another group of folks who want to take this thing worldwide. They think that telling the story of overcoming amphetamine use is an important one to tell.

AM:  I have to agree with that. So you are happy with the film?

WP:  The best thing about this documentary is it captured my entrance into music and film. We started shooting it in 2002 when I just got to Hollywood and decided to make a record with Keith Gattis.  We got the recording of the whole album on film. They followed me on a daily basis from 2002 until 2005 when my Mom died. They got the birth of this guy trying to be a Country singer and also getting into a heavy methamphetamine problem.  They captured the whole crash to the bottom.

AM:  Wow, talk about timing.

WP:  The best part about it is they have the whole rebirth too. We’ve turned it into something that will help folks understand what methamphetamines do to people.  The doctors come on and tell you exactly what the addiction is.

AM:  That is so important. It will help many people.

WP:  They’ve got me living through it.  I’m extremely proud of it and I hope that people get something good out of it. It was a journey that almost killed me a few times.  I’m really glad that I’m alive!

AM:  I am too Waylon.  You are a very special person. Keep shining your light!

WP:  Like I said, I just want to be an inspiration and a beacon. That’s what I do.

Follow Waylon on Twitter

Monday, May 2, 2016

Bebe Buell: The Mother's Day Blog

All Photos: Alan Mercer      Hat: Moonshine Nettie
To see these photos larger please click on them.

It is almost impossible to capture the remarkable life and career of Bebe Buell in a few paragraphs.  Her lengthy and respected musical career has shown her to be an important artist with razor sharp musical instincts; a singer, songwriter and performer with a power and command rarely seen in entertainers. Bebe has the unequaled gift of being able to delve into a song and spark it to life with immediacy and poignant raw emotion; whether performing her own works or her always groundbreaking choices of songs by other writers.  
Bebe's unique, multi-faceted talent manifested itself at an early age. At ten years old she began singing in the Villa Maria Academy choir sporting an "alto" a very unusual, deep vocal range for a young girl, that caught everyone's ear.     
Upon graduating from high school she was discovered by super- agent Eileen Ford of Ford Models. She was whisked away from Virginia Beach to New York City and hit the Manhattan music scene as soon as she arrived. She soon became involved with legendary rock musician Todd Rundgren. At the time, she was living in a woman’s residence run by nuns.

Affectionately called "Friend To The Stars", Bebe earned that title because of her closeness to everyone from Jack Nicholson to Patti Smith, and her carte blanche access to rock's elite royalty. She was frequently dubbed a "legendary beauty" by photographers and peers alike. Mick Jagger was once quoted as saying that he could bring Bebe "when I dine with royalty."

Bebe's musical career jumpstarted with her first release, ‘Covers Girl’ in 1981 produced by Ric Ocasek and Rick Derringer. It was a four song EP of obscure cover songs featuring legendary group The Cars backing her on two of the tracks, which was also, coincidentally, Rhino Records first release. Bebe's pure love of music and natural sense of cool come through on these recordings.

When Bebe's daughter Liv found out her father was really Steven Tyler, not Todd Rundgren, 1991 became a year of big changes. Well documented in the media, Bebe has said in interviews that she didn't want to tell Liv who her real father was because of Steven's heavy drug addiction at the time. Todd had known that he was not the biological father of Liv but had kept the secret in order to give both Bebe and Liv some semblance of a stable home. Steven got sober and the news of Liv's parentage was no longer a secret.

In 2000, the Oscar winning film "Almost Famous” was released. Writer/director Cameron Crowe based the film on elements of Bebe's life. Some of the film's dialogue is directly taken from quotes of Bebe's that Crowe had remembered from their friendship which began decades earlier in 1973 on the road with Todd Rundgren.

Bebe completed her autobiography, "Rebel Heart; An American Rock And Roll Journey" (St, Martin's Press) in 2001. It quickly became a New York Times best seller. The following year she married Jimmy Walls of Das Damen and Vacationland fame. In 2008 they bought a house in the New York City area and began the concept for Bebe's next musical chapter. The result was two critically acclaimed albums "Sugar" and "Hard Love" and performing for capacity audiences in New York City and the Northeast United States.

The singer/songwriter and pop culture icon now calls Music City home. Bebe, dubbed the “Mother Of Rock & Roll” came to Nashville in 2012 to sing on an Eddy Arnold tribute album for local label Plowboy Records. Being a Southern girl at heart (she was born and spent her childhood in Virginia) Bebe immediately fell in love with the city.

In her short time in Music City, Bebe has graced several local stages including three sold out shows at the iconic Bluebird Café and recorded at famed studios, RCA Studio B and Sound Emporium. She has also been songwriting prolifically, including a duet with Crystal Gayle (who joins her onstage regularly).

This year is shaping up to be one of Bebe Buell's most exciting yet. In addition to her new music, band and stage show, expect projects in film and a return to the literary world. Bebe has never allowed herself to be stereotyped or pigeonholed. A musician, mother, muse, model, celebrated lover, manager, best-selling author, and pop culture icon, music has always held her deepest passion.   

Scarf designed by Manuel  Hat designed by Ivy  Silberstein 

AM:  Bebe, wasn’t it two years ago on Mother’s Day that you did your first sold-out Bluebird show?

BB:  Yes, Mother’s Day 2014 was my LIVE debut in Nashville. So Mother’s Day holds a very special place in my heart, not only because I’m a mother and I have a third grandchild coming in July, but because I had an epiphany with my first live show at the Bluebird Café. And I got my first break here at The Bluebird thanks to Erika who gave me a shot. I’m very connected to the spirit of Mother’s Day.

AM:  I’d say so.

BB: Another thing I like about Mother’s Day is it's an empowering celebration of women- the Mother.  A tip of the hat to childbirth. Not everyone can grow a human being in their body! And then give birth to a new life.

AM:  What is your message to your audience?

BB: My message to people is you can do anything for as long as you want, as long as you do it well, as long as you have something to say. Some examples of people I can think of now are Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Jane Goodall and your friend Mamie Van Doren. There’s a wealth of knowledge that comes from a woman who’s lived a full life. You don’t have to ever be jaded. I still feel like a child when I see things for the first time. I continue every day to see things through fresh eyes. People say to me, “Oh you’ve seen it all. This isn’t your first time at the rodeo!”
Well, I’ve never been to a rodeo. Each thing that happens to me is a new experience. Even if there are similarities to something else, it’s still something enlightening and new. My message is the empowering of the human spirit to keep going even in the eyes of adversity.

AM: That’s a great message.

BB: Sometimes that attitude makes people jealous but I’m trying to stop that. I don’t want people to be envious. I want them to be empowered. I’ve also been called the Mother of Rock & Roll for years and years.

AM:  Who was the first to call you that?

BB:  Maybe it was Jack Nicholson, I’m not sure. Joey Ramone came up with "The Girl With Windex Colored Eyes" way back in the late 80's. And I've always been a "Rebel Heart".

AM:  That is a great moniker. Why do you think people think of you as the Mother of Rock & Roll?

BB:  I think I got it from being so motherly to all my friends. I love taking care of people, cooking for them, inspiring people and helping them come up with ideas. That will always be part of who I am even though my own art is very important to me. Then I can go up onstage and my Bebe Bad Ass comes out... my healing continues with my music and message. My strength continues in my persona which embodies my inner courage. I find so much happiness from performing. Entertaining people is in my DNA for sure!

Scarf designed by Manuel

AM:  I know you released a single called ‘Secret Sister’ and ‘Hello Music City.’ Of course I own and love them both! Do you plan anymore recordings in the near future?

BB:  I wrote those songs when I first came to Nashville in the summer of 2013 with my husband Jim and Jon & Sally Tiven. Jon was really helpful in getting me started on a fresh path and I'm eternally grateful. I'm writing constantly but what I'm working on right now is a big passion for me. My One Woman show I'll be calling "Rebel Soul". Yes, it's a continuation to my New York Times best selling bio "Rebel Heart", which came out in 2001.

AM:  Are you going to be on stage by yourself?

BB: Even though it’s called a one woman show I’m going to have a couple people up there with me. It’s a stripped down show with only a drummer and a guitar. I’ll be telling stories about my life and singing songs.

AM:  I am excited about your one woman show!

BB:  I’m traveling light with a drummer and a guitar player. My drummer will also sing so there will be harmonies. Of course my husband Jim will be the guitar player. He’ll be able to handle that very well all by himself. I love two piece bands anyway, and as much as I love bass guitar, you'd be surprised at the things my husband can do on a guitar. He's got game and then some!

AM:  Who is your drummer?

BB:  I haven’t decided on the drummer yet although I have a couple of candidates. I’m hoping it can be a woman actually. I would love that. Jim and I are forging ahead and getting all the material together so whoever we bring on board will feel comfortable and be ready to jump right in. I love the drummer I've played with for almost three years, Shannon Pollard, but he's got an empire he's running and won't be able to tour so we've got to find someone who wants to hit the road.

AM:  What made you decide to do this show?

BB:  The reason I’m doing it is because I’ve been in loud Rock & Roll bands my whole life and a lot of people tell me it’s the story telling and the healing aspect of what I do that they get so much benefit out of. So it dawned on me that I need to go back into the Bluebird in a stripped down format. You can lay your soul bare in that magical room. The Bluebird is very intimate. 

AM:  Are you ready to debut the show yet?

BB:  I’m going to be working on this presentation for at least another month or two. It’s a big deal.  There’s a lot of dialogue. People may not realize that when you put on this kind of show there is a formality you have to follow. And when I take it to bigger stages there will be a little movie and slide show that runs along with it.

AM:  Is it like writing a script?

BB:  Sort of. When you write it yourself it’s so submitted to memory you don’t have to learn it like a script that somebody else wrote. It does have to have an order and a structure however. I'm sure each delivery will have wonderful spontaneous moments, too. That will be part of the fun.

AM:  Will you still play with a full band occasionally?

BB:  I played my last full band live show this past February 18th at Third & Lindsley. I won’t be doing a full band show again for a while.

AM:  Oh bummer.

BB: I'm not stopping- I'm just trying new things. I’ll still get up on stage and sing as a guest when I’m invited. My favorite Nashville band right now, along with The Blackfoot Gypsies, is Thee Rock N' Roll Residency. They play every Tuesday night at the Harp & Fiddle. They’ve created this incredible scene over there along with Brandy Goldsboro. The place is packed to the gills every Tuesday. They play all covers but they put their own spin on everything making it sound fresh. They always have guest signers like Robin Zander from Cheap Trick, Alice Cooper, Lzzy Hale, Hannah Firelight, to name a few, and I recently got up there and sang with them. I'm smitten and hooked so I will continue to do that when I can. I want to stay relevant in my musical community. I like the little pockets of scenes they have here in Nashville. I will always like singing with my friends, The Long Players, the brainchild of the brilliant Bill Lloyd. They take an album and recreate it with guest singers for the various tracks. The last show I did with them was The Rolling Stones ‘Some Girls.’ I sang ‘Beast of Burden’ and then I came back and did a favorite that isn’t on the album, ‘Paint It Black.’ We ripped through "Satisfaction", too! One of my highlights with The Long Players was The Bowie tribute at The Frist Museum. Singing "Moonage Daydream" and "Rebel Rebel" under a full moon is a memory I'll treasure forever. This was before Bowie's passing so the emotional connection is profound for me.

AM:  Any other projects you can talk about?

BB:  I just shot a sizzle reel for a show called ‘Routes of Rock’ here in Nashville. The format would take me all around the world to locations where all the great music was created and inspired. The show's creators want me going everywhere from Kashmir to Loch Ness.

AM:  Wow Bebe!

BB:  I’ll be the female Anthony Bourdain without the food. Ha! Each episode will feature a different artist or band. We’ll go to various locations where they would hang out- their haunts or childhood home, and I’ll talk to the people behind the scenes. It’s being submitted to networks as we speak. I also wrote a movie eight years ago that I never thought I could get made because when I wrote it I lived in NYC and it's set in the South. But now that I’m in Nashville, I can shoot it right here. Isn't fate interesting?
This movie is my baby. I can hardly wait to release the details, the cast and everything about it. It's going to have an epic soundtrack to boot. I'll keep you posted on both projects as we move forward. I have to say, this is the most exciting time of my artistic and spiritual life and growth!

AM:  You really are doing a lot!

BB:  I’m expanding my brand. I’m going beyond music and incorporating film, television, storytelling and healing into my message. I want to travel and do as much good work as I can until I go to wherever Prince, Bowie and Oscar Wilde are hanging out. I definitely want to go there.

To learn more about Bebe Buell visit her web site

Follow Bebe Buell on Twitter

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Time I Met Prince

I can’t believe it’s now been 35 years.  In many ways it seems like yesterday because the memory is still so strong.  Prince was not yet a household name at this point.  He had a few R&B hits and was getting rave reviews as a performer and recording artist but mainstream America hadn’t caught on yet.  April 4th, 1981…Dallas, Texas…SMU McFarlin Auditorium…PRINCE played the third to last show of his Dirty Mind Tour and I was there.

First a little history, I entered the musical world of Prince starting with his second album from 1979 that had the big hit; ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover.’  I LOVED the whole album.  This made me curious to get his first album ‘For You’, released one year earlier.  That album was off the hook as well.  At this time I knew I would like every Prince album the future would hold. 

Prince released his third album, ‘Dirty Mind’ in the second half of 1980.  I purchased it immediately and was totally blown away by this modern masterpiece.  It was funky, soulful and raunchy.  I’d never heard lyrics like this at that time.  However, it was the music that stood out over any racy lyrics.  For me the lyrics were fun. 

When news of the SMU concert became public I was among the first in line to get a pair for my cousin Lynette and myself.  You could actually afford a concert ticket and wait in line and get good seats, which is what I did.  I scored tenth row center seats to see Prince in a small theater!  

Back in those days I did many pencil drawings in a 9x12 sketch pad with rings at the top of each page.  One of the many drawings in the book was one of Prince, taken from his 1979 album cover.  I had been sketching and taking the results to concerts if I had a drawing of the performer.  

Occasionally I would be invited backstage to meet the star.  I also took to bringing along an album cover in case I could get it signed. So I took this simple sketch (and album) with me to SMU and I gave the drawing to a friendly looking Roadie and asked him if he would give it to Prince.  He kindly took the artwork wrapped in a PLASTIC sleeve and said, “Sure I will.” 

It was all very unpretentious and straight forward.  After giving the crew member the drawing I said to my cousin, “That’s it.  Prince will never want to meet me.”  He just seemed so untouchable already.  I was in for a wonderful surprise when a few minutes later the roadie came to my seat and told me Prince wanted to meet me after the show!  I was super excited!  My cousin and I were both ecstatic!  Then a sobering thud, only I could meet Prince.  No one else would be allowed.  Suddenly I was heartbroken for my cousin.  How NOT fun for her. 

Five minutes later the show started and out came a tiny creature wearing a military style jacket, a bandana on his head, in a G-string and leggings, wearing high heel boots and PLAYING a guitar.  One of the most dazzling and electrifying performances I have ever seen by anyone had just started.  Prince sang, danced and played for two hours that night to a very enthusiastic, near sold out crowd.  He earned his applause that night!  He was everything we wanted.  His performance was often erotic and at times down right blatantly sexual.  All of it done with swagger and confidence.  He didn’t rely on any kind of prop other than his guitar which became a phallic symbol throughout the whole show. Needless to say, everyone in the audience had a very satisfying evening based on the standing ovations and many curtain calls. 

I was told where to stand to wait for the Roadie to come out and get me now that the show was over.  My cousin was very gracious and told me not to feel guilty or worry about her not getting to meet Prince.  I’ll always be grateful for her attitude.  Within fifteen minutes the roadie appeared and told me to follow him.  I pleaded once more to allow my cousin to come with me.  I remember saying to him, “She’s very quiet and won’t say a word.” 

Glory Hallelujah, he told me they WOULD allow her to come back with me after all!  Now is an experience I had never had before this and have never had since then.  I had to go through three pre-interviews with road manager, publicist and personal assistant.  I was interrogated as to why I liked Prince and why I did a drawing of him and told I could not take a picture with Prince because Warner Brothers Records would not allow it. I was also instructed on the proper etiquette when Prince was in front of me like “don’t ask him anything personal”, or really anything. Just tell him how much you liked the show.

After all were satisfied that I wouldn’t embarrass them or make a fool of myself they took us to a tiny hallway by a dressing room door.  In a matter of moments the door opened and there stood the tiny creature. He was shirtless, still in his G-string, leggings, heels, minus the bandana and jacket.  I must admit he looked even smaller up close.

When we were introduced, Prince told me he really liked my drawing.  He then told me he could tell I was a gentle being based on the drawing and he wanted to meet whoever drew it.    I asked him if he would autograph my album and he was so humble and kind.  He then crouched on the floor and used his knees as a table to sign the album.  That was pretty much it.  Everyone involved seemed suddenly more relaxed.  We said our good-byes and thank you.  My cousin never said a word other than hello and a big smile. 

That was just the first of many Prince Performances I attended throughout the 80’s and 90’s.  Prince only got better and better each time I saw him in much larger stadium shows.  Every time I saw him on stage, television or the movies I always felt a kinship from our brief and sweet meeting. He was precious.  R.I.P. Sweet Prince...I look forward to the music you left behind in your famous vaults!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Manuel: Designer To The Stars

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Manuel first learned how to sew in 1945 from his older brother, Adolfo, in Coalcoman, Michoacan, Mexico. "I started making prom dresses when I was 13," says Manuel. "You know that grandmothers and aunts made the prom dresses for all the kids. But I started making prom dresses that were pretty expensive, and all the girls said, 'Mommy I don't want you to make my prom dress. I want Manuel to make my prom dress!' I continued making prom dresses and in one year I made 77 dresses, then the next year I made 110, and from then on I hired people to help me sew. I made a fortune."

Clients knew Manuel as the quiet tailor in the back at Nudie's who also did all of the fittings. Manuel designed and created many of the suits that Nudie's Rodeo Tailors became famous for in the late 50's, 60's, and early 70's. Even though Nudie encouraged Manuel to make repeat "copies" of designs that sold well, Manuel refused. It was at Nudie's Rodeo Tailors that Manuel became known for his one-of-a-kind designs, making each piece unique.

In September 1965 Manuel married Nudie's only daughter, Barbara L. Cohn. They would go on to have a daughter, Morelia.  In 1975, after Manuel and Barbara got divorced, Manuel opened his own shop, Manuel Couture, just down the street from Nudie's Rodeo Tailors in North Hollywood.  Many of the friends and clients that Manuel made while working with Nudie, including Johnny Cash, Marty Stuart, and George Jones, supported Manuel and his new shop.

Manuel Couture became the "go-to" designer and image maker for up-and-coming musicians in Los Angeles. "His customers seem to place a near-blind faith in Manuel putting their professional images in his hands, believing that what he whips up for them will be right. 'That's partly why I have survived as a designer all these years. People put their trust in me to create something truly unique,' he says.” Throughout his North Hollywood career, Manuel also worked closely with famed costumer, Edith Head and made costumes for over 90 movies and 13 television shows, including making the jeans James Dean wore in the movie Giant, and Lone Ranger's infamous mask.

Before long, a new set of country-rock pioneers discovered Nudie, beginning with Gram Parsons, who had him design and create a decidedly counter-culture garment, featuring marijuana leaves, poppy plants, pills, and naked women, known as the “Sin City” suit. Gram forged a friendship with Manuel and his boss Nudie, and he introduced them to his friends, including the Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt, and his band, the Flying Burrito Brothers. Soon, customers included Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Elton John, who wore his best Nudie suit when he was presented to the Queen of England. Later, when Bob Dylan met the pope in 1997, he also wore Manuel.

In the 1980’s Manuel left Nudie to open his own business, and many of his long-time friends and clients, followed him. Manuel also rapidly attracted his own clientele, and pretty soon artists like Dwight Yoakam were coming to him for help developing their signature style. “I asked him about what I used to call the Buck Owens jacket,” according to Yoakam. “Manuel said, ‘Oh yes, the bolero. I did so many of them in the Fifties and Sixties.’” I said, “Yeah, I wanna try one of those,’ and he started making them for me.” Thus was born Yoakam’s signature style, as pictured on the cover of his famed CD, “Hillbilly Deluxe.”

With a completely different twist, Manuel helped create the image of the venerable “Man in Black”, Johnny Cash. His most subtle entertainment garments, the black clothes made for Cash supplant color in favor of a manly silhouette, thus empowering him through the negation of distracting ornamentation. This is not to say that these garments were without detail, it is just that the detail was in the art of tailoring.

Another famous achievement of Manuel is the famous “Trio” album cover, which features Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, and Emmy Lou Harris, who are diametrically opposed in terms of their stage personae. Manuel however, was able to connect their look using a well-known Mexican symbol, the rose. He was able to weave this thread into contemporary culture brilliantly and unite these very three diverse talents in terms of their visual performance on stage.

His client list continues to grow and includes but is not limited to: all four Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Porter Wagoner, John Wayne, Clayton Moore (the Lone Ranger), Dwight Eisenhower, Little Jimmy Dickens, John Lennon, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Glen Campbell, Ernest Tubb, Gene Autry, the Osmonds, David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Roy Rogers, Neil Young, Elton John, The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, George H. Bush, George W. Bush, the Bee Gees, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Catherine Bach (Daisy Duke), The Jackson Five, John Travolta (Urban Cowboy), Robert Redford (The Electric Horseman), Robert Taylor, Marlon Brando, Burt Reynolds, Raquel Welch, David Lee Roth, Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Shooter Jennings, Kid Rock, The Killers, Jack White, Kenny Chesney, Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Zac Brown Band, Miranda Lambert, and countless others. 

AM:  Did you know you wanted to design costumes as a child?

Manuel:  Not really, it was a calling when I was standing in front of my brother who was a tailor and I asked, “How’s the tailor doing?”  He always thought I was sarcastic.  I was a bright child, one of those unwanted children.  He said, “Instead of looking pretty, why don’t you sit down and help me sew some pants?”  I said, “Why don’t I?”  I haven’t stopped since then. 

AM:  Did you realize you had a passion for this?

Manuel:  Well if I didn’t it sure crept on me internally. I’m still sitting in front of the sewing machine and sewing, cutting and designing.  My designs have gone through leaps and bounds through the years until I found what I really wanted to do.  I’ve always been this crazy person.  You have to really watch out when you walk in here as a priest or a lawman.  I will put some rhinestones on you before you leave! (Laughter)

AM:  Who was the first entertainer you designed anything for?

Manuel:  Yes, as a child I would walk five miles to watch episodes of ‘The Lone Ranger.’  Then when I got to the United States I met the real Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore and I got to make his mask and his outfits for his show. 

AM:  Did they recognize that you had talent?

Manuel:  Probably, I don’t know why they hired me.  I never had anyone help me out with that.  I did get into the movies in 1954 through Edith Head. 

AM:  Edith Head!  Did you like her?

Manuel:  Nobody liked her but I LOVED her!  She loved me and we became friends and dinner partners for many years.  I worked on 92 movies.  I also did 13 television shows like ‘Gunsmoke,” “Big Valley,’ ‘The Rifleman’ and others.  The studios like Universal and Fox really loved me because I could produce what they needed fast.  They paid me really great money for the time. 

AM:  How did you get into music?

Manuel:  That was a mission of friendships.  It was Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and George Jones.  Later on a twelve year old Marty Stuart came into my shop and my life.  He saved up his money and wanted to buy a suit for $250.00 but the suits were $2,500.00 so I told him one day he would be able to walk into the store and buy the whole thing, but for now he could have a free shirt. 

AM:  That’s a great story.

Manuel:  I had John Travolta, Ricky Nelson, The Monkees and Elton John, who was a lot of fun.  I got to make him nine outfits. 

AM:  How would you describe your relationship with these artists?

Manuel:  Believe it or not, it’s a love affair between designer and entertainer.  That’s the way it is with Dwight Yoakam.  I’ve been designing for him for years.  Before that I worked with Joe Perry and Steven Tyler. 

AM:  Do people think of you as a Country Music tailor?

Manuel:  I have never been anyone’s tailor.  I am an international tailor and I would be a tailor for anyone in the world. 

AM:  Who are some of your favorite musicians?

Manuel:  Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Johnny Mathis, Earth, Wind & Fire, Little Richard and Bebe Buell. 

with Bebe Buell

AM:  Do you make time in your life for anything else except work?

Manuel:  I do what I do but what do you call it?  Do you want to call it fun?  I don’t know what to call it but I don’t call it work.  I would love to know what it means to work even one hour. 

AM:  What a great attitude that is! Do you get approached by young designers for advice?

Manuel:  I’ve been lecturing young designers since 1986.  I love it when they go on and do great things.  I hope they feel like I do.  I’ve had the best life.

AM:  What is left for you to do?

Manuel:  My greatest ambition now is that I want to die with the scissors in my hand.  I’m inspired by Merle Haggard who died on his birthday.  I’ve never heard of anyone doing that.

AM:  You were close friends?

Manuel:   He was like my brother.  We all grew up together, everyone one of us including Johnny Cash.  Then I liked the younger ones at the time like Glen Campbell and Gordon Lightfoot.  These were all beautiful people.  I have had such a great life with these people.

To learn more about Manuel visit his web site /

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Sheer Enjoyment of Táta Vega

All Photos: Alan Mercer 
 Make-up: Rudy Calvo  
 Make-up Asst.: Chloe Vega

A fresh and original blend of energy and effervescent personality combined with abundant talent, refreshing music and an eternal message. With Táta Vega, what you hear is what you get--and what you get is an artist whose music mirrors her spirit...and vice versa.​

​Táta is a rare and exceptional artist who has had the opportunity to cross nearly every musical boundary while all the while remaining true to who she is. Growing up in the Panama Canal Zone, she was surrounded by the sounds of Latin, Panamanian and Calypso music while developing a vast appreciation for the sounds of Rhythm and Blues, Soul, Gospel, Rock, Folk, Country and any other music that Táta could hear would also affect her in their own individual way.

By the age of sixteen, it was apparent that Táta was destined for a career in the music industry. She moved to California and made her way into the musical Hair. While in Hair, she met Dobie Gray (known for his international smash "Drift Away") who invited her to become a part of a counter-culture band called Pollution. After two albums under Atlantic with Pollution, Táta joined another band, Earthquire, who would sign a deal with Natural Resources, a division of Motown. As lead singer, songwriter and percussionist with the band, Táta's talents were immediately noticed by Motown who signed her as a soloist on the Tamla label.

As a soloist with Motown, Táta released four critically acclaimed albums ("Full Speed Ahead", "Totally Táta", "Try My Love", "Givin' All My Love"). These four albums covered every musical territory possible: Southern Soul, Disco, Gospel, Jazz, Funk, Country, Latin and Doo-Wop. Táta also scored two international hits ("I Just Keep Thinking About You Baby" and "Get It Up For Love") which topped Disco charts in both America and Europe. These songs were so contagiously funky that some critics dubbed her "The Godmother Of Funk".

Following her tenure at Motown, Táta maintained a hectic schedule as a studio singer while simultaneously moving into Gospel music. She became the cornerstone of Andraé Crouch's back-up group and as a featured vocalist who began touring with him internationally, earning her a Grammy Nomination for the song "Oh It is Jesus".

In 1985 Táta landed back on billboards' top 100 with "Learn to Love Again" a duet sung with legendary entertainer Lou Rawls.

Perhaps the pinnacle of the eighties for Táta was being the voice of the infamous Shug Avery in motion picture, ‘The Color Purple.’ This recording led to an Oscar nomination and performance, followed by other motion picture soundtracks including ‘The Lion King,’ ‘The Circle Of Life’ for  Spanish speaking countries, Amistad, Forrest Gump and others.

Táta signed with Quincy Jones' Qwest Records in 1998 and released her long-awaited Gospel solo debut, ‘Now I See.’  The album was birthed from her life experiences and testifies of the salvation, mercy and devotion of God. The album was also critically acclaimed and earned a Stellar Award nomination.​

In October of 2009 Táta released her 8th Studio album ‘This Joy’ with Music Producer Alan Abrahams. ‘This Joy’ delivers heart-wrenching vocals not created by studio tricks, but by the spontaneous spirit of an artist souled-out for her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!​

In January 2013, Táta's long awaited dream was fulfilled when she along with Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and Judith Hill premiered "Twenty Feet From Stardom".  A film that explores the lives of the women behind the biggest headliners today, The Backing Vocalists, often referred by Táta as the "Frame for the Painting". In March 2014, “Twenty Feet...” went on to win The Academy Award and Grammy for Best Documentary and Best music in a film.

Táta has been recognized as one of the most successful session singers of today and has sung back-up for a number of artists including legendary entertainers, Sir Elton John, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and new artists' such as Iggy Azalea, Natasha Beddingfield, and countless others.

Today, Táta while touring with Elton John, maintains a simplicity and sweetness that has endeared millions of people around the world. Her fan base spans the United States to Sweden, Spain to Japan. No matter the cultural surrounding, Táta carries an indescribable something that everyone can relate to. Her heart's desire is to reach as many people as possible-by any means necessary-with a message of love, hope and prosperity.

AM:  Táta, when ‘20 Feet From Stardom’ came out and won all the awards and acclaim, did it change your life?

TV:  Yes, ‘20 Feet From Stardom’ changed my life by helping me become more confident.  It’s a story for all people, not just background singers.  I’ve made so many new friends.  It’s a whirlwind.  We had no clue it would be so powerful. 

AM:  You could never guess it would win an Oscar?

TV:  No, we didn’t know.  Let me put it this way.  I heard a curdling scream when they made the announcement and I realized the sound came out of me.  I didn’t realize how excited I was and how much I wanted it to win. 

AM:  How did you end up touring with Elton John?

TV:  Bill Maxwell, who is in the movie, put in a good word for me on an Elton John recording session and to tour with him so that’s how I got that job.  Mr. Maxwell is also who got me in the movie.

AM:  I bet that made you happy!

TV:  I thought it was going to be a reality program so at first I didn’t want anything to do with it.  Then I realized it was a legitimate documentary.

AM:  Now you’re really set in history.

TV:  You think so? 

AM:  Of course, Academy Award winning movies don’t go away.  You’ve had a long career in music even if you haven’t had a number one hit.  You were born to sing!

TV:  I think so.  There is always so much to do.  Listening to all the other girls and what they had to say made me think about, what is it that really makes me happy?  Not everybody does it for money and fame.  Some do it for the sheer enjoyment.

AM:  I get the feeling you’re that way as well.

TV:   Sometimes you do get pulled away and it does become about paying the bills, but then you stop having fun. 

AM:  You also have another place in film history with Steven Spielberg and ‘The Color Purple.” Do you enjoy singing ‘Miss Celie's Blues?’

TV:  Yes, every chance I get.  

AM:  Do people go crazy when they hear it?

TV:  Yes, they love it.

AM:  You also sing ‘Maybe God Is trying To Tell You Something.’

TV:  Yes, it’s a prayer actually.  I recorded it at four or five o’clock in the morning.  There were no words.  That’s something the Lord gave me right then and there. 

AM:  You also worked with another legend, Mr. Andraé Crouch.  I know we recently lost him and that he was a wonderful man.

TV:  I loved him and I still love him.  He’s still alive, even though he’s left this plane.  He was my mentor, my dad, my brother and my friend.  He taught me so much.  I really believe that if it wasn’t for Andraé Crouch I probably wouldn’t have been able to have done all the work that I’m doing today.

AM:  I’m so glad he mentored you.  What a gift!

TV:  He taught me about being balanced and staying focused, he taught me about God.  The face of Gospel music today wouldn’t be the same without Andraé Crouch because he was the one that changed the face for all time, just like the Beatles did for pop music.

AM:  Do you enjoy singing gospel more than other styles?

TV:  Oh I LOVE ALL MUSIC!  If it’s something that’s uplifting, that’s even better. 

AM:  I want you to record a Latin flavored salsa type album.

TV:  Thank you, I would like to record some music like that too.

AM:  OK Universe, let’s get Tata to record a Latin album!  Maybe a tribute to Celia Cruz?

TV:  That could happen. 

AM:  Can you tell me what it was like to be a part of Motown?

TV:  I was with them eleven years.  It’s like a dream now.  The albums are still going.  They just re-released some of them.  It’s hard to believe I was ever there.  What a life.

AM:  I have always loved the song ‘Get It Up For Love.’

TV:  I fell in love with that when I heard the Average White Band do it.  Even my Mom liked that song because she understood it was about getting people up and celebrating love.

AM:  Wasn’t that song banned from the radio in England?

TV: Yes and I couldn’t believe it.  People with dirty minds!

AM:  And you always put a gospel song on your albums.  Did Motown ever try to get you not to do one?

TV:  Yes, they didn’t want me recording songs that had to do with God.  Luckily Iris Gordy fought for me every time.

AM:  You certainly have had a great career.

TV:  I really appreciate that.  Sometimes I need to be reminded. 

Jewelry: Claudia Tate

To learn more about Táta Vega visit her web site