This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Barry Coburn, co-president, Ten Ten Music Group.
Barry Coburn can’t stop talking about the music that he hears from his publishing and management roster.
For nearly three decades, Coburn’s Ten Ten Music Group has been a creative fixture on Nashville's Music Row, and the New Zealand native is credited for developing, and launching the careers of two of country music biggest superstars, Alan Jackson and Keith Urban.
Ten Ten has been wildly successful of late in the rock format, scoring hits with Papa Roach (“Burn” and “Kick In The Teeth), and credits on recordings by 3 Doors Down, Saliva, and Cavo.
Besides co-writing "Kick In The Teeth" and "Burn,” Ten Ten producer and songwriter Bobby Huff also co-wrote Drowning Pool’s recent hit "Turn So Cold"; and Halestorm’s "Bet U Wish U Had Me Back.”
Additionally, Huff also contributed to Shinedown's album “The Sound of Madness,” including its key track, "Breaking Inside.” Shinedown released a deluxe CD/DVD edition of “The Sound of Madness,” on Nov. 23, 2010 that featured nine bonus songs, including a version of "Breaking Inside" with guest vocals from Halestorm's Lzzy Hale.
Huff has recently been in the studio producing Halestorm, and Capra, as well as Aussie rocker Wes Carr.
Over the years, Ten Ten’s publishing division has had enormous success in the country field, yielding such hits as: Keith Urban’s "Somebody Like You" and "Tonight I Wanna Cry”; John Michael Montgomery’s "The Little Girl"; Alan Jackson’s "Between The Devil and Me"; Martina McBride’s "Wrong Baby Wrong"; Love and Theft’s "Runaway"; and Reba McEntire's "Turn On The Radio.”
Jerrod Niemann’s current country hit "What Do You Want" was co-written with Ten Ten artist and writer Rachel Bradshaw, who also provided backing vocals on the track, and appears in the music video.
Robert Ellis Orrall, Ten Ten songwriter and producer, had multiple cuts and production credits on Taylor Swift’s 2006 self-titled, debut album that peaked at #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums and #5 on the Billboard 200. Additionally, the song "Crazier" which Orrall co-wrote with Swift, was featured on the “Hannah Montana: The Movie” soundtrack in 2009
Ten Ten has long been quick off the mark in securing film and television syncs including landing the Tim Finn song "Winter Light” in the 2005 worldwide blockbuster film “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” which grossed over $300 million in the U.S. alone.
Coburn and his former wife Jewel, a respected country singer in her own right, co-founded Ten Ten Music Group in 1984, four days after being married in New Zealand. The Coburns moved to Nashville from Melbourne, Australia—having stopped in New Zealand to get married.
After arriving in Nashville, they set up their office at 1010 16th Ave., the former Almo/Irving Music building. They stayed there for about seven years before moving to their current address at 33 Music Square West.
Coburn had started a publishing company, Coburn Music, in 1971 (it remains their BMI company; Ten Ten Music is their ASCAP company), and had been involved in publishing while down under.
Primarily, however, Coburn was a promoter in the ‘70s, overseeing concerts in New Zealand and Australia for Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Duke Ellington. He also managed Split Enz.
On a limited budget during their early days in Nashville, the Coburns started out doing single song deals with young writers to build a catalog.
It took Ten Ten five years to get its first hit single, Jo-El Sonnier's “If Your Heart Should Ever Roll This Way Again.” Soon after, Ten Ten had a hit with Keith Whitley's “I'm Over You,” and then "Here in the Real World," which kicked off an incredible hit run for Alan Jackson in 1990.
To his surprise, Coburn found himself in demand as a manager in Music City. After being asked by Lacy J. Dalton to handle her management a few months after he had arrived in town, he then signed Holly Dunn. In time, he would manage BR5-49, Suzy Bogguss, and Diamond Rio as well.
In 1988, Coburn signed newcomer Alan Jackson as a management client, a relationship that spanned the next six years. During this period, Coburn got Jackson a hefty record deal with Arista Nashville, and worked tirelessly to develop, and promote Jackson's career.
Ten Ten Music Group also worked with New Zealand-born Australian, country music singer Keith Urban as a songwriter from 1991 through 2005.
In 1999, Coburn became president and CEO of Atlantic Record’s Nashville division, building a formidable roster that included John Michael Montgomery, Tracy Lawrence, South 65, Tim Rushlow, Craig Morgan, Old Dogs, Kristin Garner, and Elizabeth Cook.
In 2001, however, Atlantic shuttered its 12-year-old Nashville office. Twelve of the label's 13 staffers were out, including Coburn, who returned to the music publishing and management fold.
How many songs in your combined catalogs?
A little over 13,000 songs.
Music publishing has become more competitive in recent years as record sales have waned.
Yes, there’s competition, but we have spread our wings so much that we now have a lot of activity in rock—a lot of activity. It is also important that we get cuts (covers) in Germany, Australia and Japan as well as in L.A. and New York when we can. Our attitude is that we have to reach out, and be everything. That works great for the writers who work in different forms like Tia Sillers, who is a great classic writer. She has written (on) all of the new songs on the new Kenny Wayne Shepherd which is coming out on Roadrunner Records.
You have charted with at least one single in the rock Top 10 now for weeks.
It just keeps coming. We had a Top 5 single with Papa Roach (“Burn” which followed “Kick In The Teeth” both co-written by producer/songwriter Bobby Huff). Bobby has tracks on so many different projects. He’s doing really well. He’s got the next 3 Doors Down single. We’ve also got the new Saliva single. Robert Ellis Orrall is also doing a lot of things in multiple formats.
We have a new girl called Porcelain Black. She’s on tour with Lil Wayne, (blink-182 drummer) Travis Barker and (Miami rapper) Rick Ross. This is an act that I developed for four and a half years. Her first single (“This Is What Rock ‘N’ Roll Looks Like”) has just come out on Universal Republic. The album was produced by RedOne. We developed the project, and we publish her.
[Born Alaina Beaton, Porcelain Black grew up in Detroit and previously recorded under the name Porcelain and the Tramps for Virgin Records.]
Have most of your writers been signed for full publishing or on a co-publishing basis?
It’s a mix. It depends on the writer. I can tell you that a lot of deals in Nashville are going back to full publishing because the investment is so high; the costs of operating are so high; and the returns are so minimal. The (CD) sales aren’t there.
Co-publishing supposedly is a partnership with the songwriter, but the music publisher often does much of the work.
(Co-publishing) gives songwriters an ownership (position), but (as a publisher), you have to be incentivized. Every day people want to sign with us. We don’t sign many people. We have a very small roster. We have nine writers, but they are spread around. Two or three of them aren’t especially active, but the others are. We expect them to work in this kind of environment. If you are pushing someone uphill, it’s like pushing a piece of rope with jelly uphill. It’s no fun.
How big is your staff?
We have six full-time and two part-time staff. Basically, the six people in here every day are all actively looking for opportunities to maximize the catalog. We have an amazing team of people who feel the same way (about music publishing). Patrick Clifford (VP of A&R) doesn’t shut up for five minutes. It is just constant (activity) here. Everybody is going for it. We have a team. We are only successful if our writers and producers are successful.
You and Jewel divorced last year.
And, we’ve stayed in business together. We were married for 26 years, then we divorced, and we decided to carry on (working together). We’ve got two sons, 18 (Glenn) and 19 (Tyler). They are involved in the interest of the business. Glenn works part-time in the office. Tyler has a band (Gnarwhal) that tours constantly. He played 17 cities in 18 days recently.
How do you split duties at the company?
Jewel works the country format pretty closely in Nashville. She also works in L.A. for film and television. She has a lot of contacts out there. Patrick travels a lot. We try to have someone in L.A. once a month—one of us. We have another great A&R guy Daniel Lee who liaises with international. Our catalogue manager Amanda (Cirotto) does some pitching as well for commercial and film. Mark Weiss (VP of business affairs) works commercials and advertising as well as being our head of administration.
The company doesn’t have partnerships or co-ventures.
That’s how we operate. We can move quickly. It’s one of the reasons we really do well with film and television. We have had dozen upon dozen of syncs (sync licenses) this year, and it’s because we can clear them instantly. If Fox Television, NBC or Warner Bros. Pictures communicate with us this afternoon, asking if they license something, they are going to get a clearance or a negotiation immediately. They will get a quote from us immediately. If they go to Warner-Chappell, Sony/ATV or EMI, it could take them weeks, by which time the film is already shot or the TV show has already been shown. We base what we do on service and being sensible. I never give our music away for free unless there some gratis use that makes sense.
Are you managing anymore?
I’m managing Bobby Huff as a producer, and we manage Robert Ellis Orrall as a producer. Then we have Rachel Bradshaw that we are developing. She’s the daughter of (Hall of Fame quarterback) Terry Bradshaw. She has a top 10 single now with “What Do You Want” that she wrote with Jerrod Nieman. She’s a great writer.
When I joined Atlantic Records (in 1999), and ran Atlantic here, I stepped away from management. All of the staff that was working for me at the time went off and joined Gary Borman and other people. I haven’t really stepped back into (management).
Wouldn’t it be natural today representing the artist also as a songwriter, and, maybe, as a producer for varied revenue streams?
I agree. There was a long period where it was regarded as being a conflict of interest if you were more than one thing. When I signed Alan Jackson and managed him, just before I got his record deal (with Arista), I got half his publishing back for him. I borrowed the money, and bought (the publishing) back from Glen Campbell, and I gave it to Alan. I never took that publishing. Alan said, “Well, you should have it.” I said that I thought it would be seen as a conflict of interest. He was like, “Well, you have really helped me develop my songwriting, I think you should have it.”
I offered that publishing to some of the big publishers here, and no one would take it and the price I wanted, which wasn’t a very expensive price considering that cassette of songs that I took around ended up having eight #1 songs on it.
Many managers now operate labels and publishing companies.
We see it all of the time now. Managers like Allen Kovacs, who is also the record company and has a piece of the publishing. It is becoming the way. We certainly see situations where we feel—especially with our rock activity—that we really should manage because we know what’s going on.
Frequently, when you are the publisher, you are the investor (in a project). You are the artist development. You are paying to develop the tracks. And then, if you don’t participate in the other things, you are probably being stupid, and you are not being what the business expects now.
You are absolutely right. I think there is a space now where we could be the manager and do others things. We certainly do look at that when we look at bands. Often I have a young manager who knows enough to be good but he also knows just enough to be dangerous, and cause problems for everybody. Perhaps, we should bring them in-house. Between myself, and Patrick Clifford, we can certainly provide them with a lot of information that they could use to maximize the career of an artist.
Nashville has always been centered on music publishing.
It is an important part of everything. Our reach (as a publisher) is so much different than it was five years ago. We find that the majors will have an artist that they are keen on, and they will ask, “Can you help us develop some tracks? We aren’t quite clear which way this is going to go.” Bobby Huff has certainly played a part in developing some artists. We’ve got four projects coming up on major labels in the next six months where I really feel that we have been a major part of the A&R process.
When labels invite you into the developmental process, does that mean you are paying for the recording of demos and tracks? Or do they just want your expertise?
No, we end up carrying a lot of the costs. But recently, I have been pulling back and going, “We’re not going to do that.” Labels are going, “What do you mean you aren’t going to do that?” I say, “We are not interested in being involved in a situation where you are going to have 50 songs written for a project.”
The problem is that the younger babies are going to the more beautiful babies. The artist may have something to say in the first 20 song or 10 or 15 songs, but after that they are just burned out trying to come up with new things. The songs that were written at the very beginning are (usually) the best ones. They have the more interesting ideas. They have got things that the band or artist wants to say. They are great but, because the label spent 18 months or two years trying to get the project right, you will find that a project will stall. You will be going, “Wait a minute. We’re not even going to get on this record,” although you have spent a lot of time and money into it.
A songwriter often has to co-write with the artist whether they want to or not.
Or whether the artist can write or not.
In many cases, if you want to be on the album, you are co-writing with the act.
You absolutely are.
You were an outsider to Nashville when you arrived in 1984. What did the labels there think of you managing their acts?
When I walked into Columbia for the first time for a meeting with (senior VP) Rick Blackburn and the other staff members, I told them, “On this new Lacy J. Dalton album, I want to sell 250,000 units.” They said, “Are you flipping crazy?” I said, “No.” They asked, “So, how are you going to do that?” I said, “I can sell 150,000 units in Australia where the population is minimal.” They were like, “Well, that’s not going to happen here.” Anyway, we tussled quite a bit.
On the next Lacy J. Dalton record a year later, I called up Joe Walsh, and asked him to produce the album. He said that he wanted to. I went into Columbia, and I said that I wanted Joe Walsh to produce her album. They just thought I was insane. They said, “What does he know about country music?” I said, "Have you ever listened to Dan Fogelberg?" (Walsh had produced Fogleberg’s 1974 breakthrough album “Souvenirs” with his first major hit "Part of the Plan"). He understands acoustic instruments really well.” Anyway, they wouldn’t let me do it with Joe.
You also managed BR5-49, Suzy Bogguss, Holly Dunn and Diamond Rio.
It was an interesting experience for me, and I was learning all the way. I started to create good relationships with concert promoters all around the country as I got out there with my acts more and more. I got to know the people at the TV shows, and everything else. All of this prepared me to start developing other artists. I was always looking at rock things. I managed blues guitarist Joe Louis Walker. We had quite a bit of success with him. Management was good over the years. I enjoyed taking Alan Jackson from zero (to stardom). Getting him the record deal with Tim Dubois and Clive Davis at Arista. Clive came to Nashville to convince us that we should sign as the first act to Arista Nashville. I actually turned him down, and said I had to think about it, but then I signed Alan there.
[Alan Jackson spent 22 years on Arista/Nashville—charting 35 #1 songs, and selling nearly 60 million records during that time. He recently announced that he'll be joining Capitol/EMI Records Nashville on a roster that includes Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban, Darius Rucker, and Dierks Bentley. The new partnership reunites Jackson and Mike Dungan, president and CEO of Capitol Nashville and former GM of Arista/Nashville.]
What was Alan Jackson’s appeal to you?
I really liked him, but it took me 18 months to get the music right with him, getting all of the songs written. When we got it right, it happened very rapidly. Alan would come into the office and ask, “When are you going to get me a record deal?” And I would say, “When you write the songs.” That was the weekly mantra.
Then he started his run of 13 consecutive #1 hits at Arista/Nashville.
When you look at him now, I think that he’s one of the greatest songwriters since Merle Haggard. I don’t think there’s been anyone that has come near him in terms of the large body of work that he has done, and the large body of hits.
That was a hell of a streak of hits for a newcomer.
It was an amazing run. There are so many stories related to all of that time. And he was writing. When we did the showcase that caused Tim Dubois to sign him, Alan performed nine songs. We had done three showcases in two weeks. For the last one he did (for Arista/Nashville), he did nine songs, and all nine are on the first album [“Here In The Real World”]. The first album had four #1s on it. We had the album recorded 14 days after Tim saw the showcase.
How difficult was the parting between you and Alan after six years?
It took me by surprise. I knew that he was having difficulty just accepting someone telling him things, but I feel that managers have the obligation to tell their artists the truth.
It’s tough breaking with a client after such a period of time.
It is tough. Alan has moved (his management) a number of times since then. He just generally doesn’t want anyone to tell him what to do. You can see a lot artists who don’t trust those around them, and therefore they don’t take their advice. The problem is that everybody needs someone who can, at least, be honest with them. Alan struggled with that (with me). He’d come to me and say, “Why am I doing these interviews? George Strait doesn’t do as many interviews as I do.” I’d say, “What can I tell you? It’s your career.”
Did you know Keith Urban when you were living down under?
I didn’t, but Jewel did because he had played guitar in her band when she was the Australian female vocalist of the year.
Were you involved with his trio The Ranch?
Oh yeah. From the time that Keith came (to Nashville) we got involved. Right from the beginning. We supported, and funded everything.
[In 1992, New Zealander Keith Urban moved to Nashville, where he found work as a guitarist for Brooks & Dunn. He can be seen backing Alan Jackson in his 1992 music video for "Mercury Blues.”]
Another hard parting?
Well, it took six years to really get any return from (working with) him. We invested for six years in him. We had a significant amount of money invested in developing him. We published him for 13 years.
A difficult week for you must have been closing down the Atlantic Nashville office in 2001, and letting its staff go.
Yeah, it was. I was in New York City sitting with (the label executives) when it was decided. I had a lot of product in the can that was never released. We then had a big record with John Martin Montgomery and some other projects were clicking. It was that typical merging thing (after AOL purchased Time Warner). It was a cost-cutting measure.
[In 2000, a new company called AOL Time-Warner was created when AOL purchased Time-Warner for $164 billion. Unfortunately, the growth and profitability of the AOL division stalled. In 2009, Time Warner spun off AOL as a separate independent company.]
For me (the closure) was tough for a lot of reasons. But I’m thrilled to look back from the stand point that my first two signings there were Elizabeth Cook and Craig Morgan. Craig Morgan has proven to be a real act; and Elizabeth Cook is critically acclaimed, and has toured a lot internationally.
The fact is that it was a good experience for me. I had been a manager. I had been a publisher. I had owned an agency, and I had been a concert promoter. So it was good to add that (experience).
You were a concert promoter for many years.
I did it for 14 years in Australia and New Zealand. I started in New Zealand, and then I moved into Australia. Elton John, I did with my partner in ’71; Led Zeppelin in ’72; Duke Ellington in ’72; and Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon in ’71 and ’72. I did Dave Brubeck in ’73.
In ’73, I went out my own. I did Black Sabbath in January of ’73 by which time I was 23. I moved to Melbourne, and did 13 shows in Australia with them.
How did the American and British agents treat you? American acts rarely went to Australia in those days.
They were starting to. My problem was that I was in New Zealand. I would call and say that I’d just want (the act for) New Zealand and they’d go, “No no no.” At the time, in the early ‘70s, (the American and British agents) didn’t like the Australian promoters. This was before (Michael) Gudinski and (Michael) Chugg really got going. They were just starting to get going. Agents would say, “You have to take Australia.” By 1973, it was, “If you want the act, you have to take Australia as well.”
Was there any question about your age? You were only 22 in 1972.
A lot of agents didn’t see me until late ’72 by which time I had already done Led Zeppelin, Elton John and Duke Ellington shows. I think that people didn’t realize (my age) until I arrived in London in April of ’72.
The international contacts you were making must have been helpful.
When Led Zeppelin toured for me, I asked their manager Peter Grant, and their road manager Richard Cole, “Who is the best concert promoter in the world?” They said, “Tats Nagashima in Japan.” I said, “I’d love to be able to go and see how he does it.” They said, “Well, let’s set it up.” They got on the phone and called Tats Nagashima. They set it up for me to go. I went on tour called “Ten Years After Versus Procul Harum” for a week—four cities in five days. I got to see how (a tour) all worked from a great standpoint. That really gave me a lot of inside information.
[The late Tats Nagashima was one of the first concert promoters in Japan for international acts. Practically every international artist who performed in Japan for decades was promoted by Nagashima’s Taiyo Music, which he founded in 1962. This includes Nat King Cole, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Monkees, Peter, Paul & Mary, the Ventures, Cliff Richard, Simon and Garfunkel, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Kiss, Elton John, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, the Eagles, Stevie Wonder, Janet Jackson, U2, ABBA, and Diana Ross. Nagashima passed away in 1999.]
Before London, you had stopped off in India, and later you came down with dysentery.
Then I was in the hospital in England while I recovered from having dysentery. When I finally got into the hospital there, I weighed 112 pounds. While I was in England, I did the deal for Black Sabbath with Don Arden. I went out to his mansion on the edge of Wimbledon Commons, and we shaped the deal. He said, “Okay, when are you going to New York City?” I said that I was going in two weeks time. He set it up for me to meet with Ira Blacker and Jeff Franklin at ATI (American Talent International), who were the agents for Black Sabbath. They wanted the deal done out of the U.S. So, I met with them on my second day in New York City. My head was still spinning. I was trying to work it all out and I was recovering from dysentery.
By this time, you had started managing Split Enz?
I was managing Split Enz from ’72. I managed them from the night they played their first-ever gig, I saw them and I told them how much I loved them, and that I was a concert promoter in New Zealand. We got together the next morning, and I became their manager. I had them on a lot of tours. The first opening act (spot) I put them on was with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. Then I put them on at Now Are Hear, a big festival that I staged. I put them on immediately prior to Black Sabbath, which wasn’t a good move. It was 11 P.M. on a Saturday night.
How difficult was it trying to establish Split Enz outside Australia and New Zealand?
That was a hard battle. It was really hard. When I look back now, I wonder how we made anything work. We didn’t have Email. We didn’t have cell phones. We communicated by mail and by telex. It was so hard early on to contemplate bringing acts (over to North American) and sewing up things. But gradually, as I met more agents, managers and people over the years, I was able to build up this network of people that I could work with.
You continue to work with Tim Finn from Split Enz.
About seven years ago, Tim and Neil Finn came over for dinner one night, and Tim asked me if I’d be interested in structuring a publishing deal for him. So we published all of Tim’s songs for the world outside of Australia and New Zealand.
Tim has a new album coming.
Yeah, he’s been back recording with Jacquire King producing. We just got the final album, and it’s really nice to hear it. It’s really good. we are starting to get it out to (label) people.
Like the Finn lads, you are from New Zealand.
I grew up in Christchurch which there is not much left of after the earthquake.
[Christchurch was severely damaged in the 6.3 earthquake on Feb. 22, 2011 After five weeks, the city center is still cordoned off The shattered heart of Christchurch has been named the red zone, and is under 24 hour surveillance by police and the military. Buildings are unstable and many facades have fallen, leaving stores and merchandise open to the streets.]
Your father was a band leader. Did he come to your Duke Ellington show in 1972?
Unfortunately, he had passed (away) by then. He would have been so proud. He had a dance band, and a weekly radio program in Christchurch. His band was so good, and the arrangements that he wrote were fine.
I have these amazing recordings of my father’s orchestra. I got the (vinyl) 78s from my mother about nine years ago. I brought them back to Nashville so cautiously in my hand luggage, and then I took them down to the Country Hall of Fame which has a facility to transfer early recordings, and do transcriptions. I got them to do a dub of all of these 78s. Then they transferred the recordings to a digital file. Georgetown Master is right beside us in our building. (The late mastering engineer) Denny Purcell, who did all of the mastering on all of the Neil Young and Mark Knopfler albums and endless other records, he re-mastered these for me. Then I made CDs, which I sent to the ex-band members of my father who were still alive. There were only three them still alive.
Were these commercial recordings?
No. They were radio programs. He had the Merv Coburn Orchestra (on Radio New Zealand). I got them transferred, and I got them all cleaned up. I had just got the CD and I was playing it at home one night when Steve Cropper and Jim Horn were over for dinner. Jim said, “Is that a Duke Ellington record? I haven’t heard that before,” I said that it was my dad. Jim was like, “What?”
You must have grown up with a lot music in the house.
It was great. I grew up with (my dad’s music), and I started sending overseas for music when I was 14 or 15. I started sending over to a record store in Wardour Street, The Record Exchange. I used to get Melody Maker. I had subscription that would come surface mail. It would get there six weeks later. I would look through it and I would trust emphatically Richard Williams and Chris Welch. I would look at their reviews and get postal notes and send over for the records. Then six or seven weeks later I would get the records in the mail.
There was also a magazine called Beat Instrumental. It was more geared toward the business side of things. I became their Australian and New Zealand correspondent. I used to write a column twice a year for them.
You worked for a record company when you were 17?
I worked for MDC, which was Manufacturers Distribution Company, which had a big pressing plant in Wellington and an office in Christchurch.
I had left home, and joined a rock and roll band as the keyboard player. I came back to Christchurch after I had been with this band. I realized that I wasn’t much of a musician, and that I would be better off in the business side of (music). I learned about agents and record companies while being with them. It was a great education because I came back thinking, “I want to work for a record company.”
How did you get hired?
I used to go to the record stores in Christchurch, and I got to know the girls and the guys at the stores really well. I’d read their Billboard magazines or their Cashbox magazines, and I would read their Melody Makers. I used to see these (sales) guys come in with these 12-inch square satchels. They would have the front cover of the new records that were coming in three weeks or whatever later, and they would be out taking the orders. I was always looking over their shoulders, wanting to see what was coming.
One day one of the girls in the record shop told me that (one of the salesman) had said that there was, perhaps, an opportunity in the warehouse at his company. So I talked to the salesman, and he said that there was a position available. I went straight over to the company on that Friday. I walked into this little warehouse type place on the edge of town.
You walked in the front door and there were offices on the left and the right, and there was this swinging door. I could see through the glass window that there were just thousands of albums in shelves. More than anything, there was a turntable and the guys were playing the new records, and playing them quite loudly. I was like, “This is heaven.” It was intoxicating.
So I asked about the job, but the girl said that the boss was gone for the weekend and that I should come back on Monday. Over the weekend, I got my hair cut—I had long hair down to my shoulders—and I got a suit. I went back on the Monday morning with a suit on, and my ears were trimmed. I walked in and the boss immediately said, “Your name is Coburn. Are you related to Merv Coburn?" I said, “That was my dad.” He said “great” and then he started asking me questions about music, and I answered them.
Then he told me that there were two positions available. He said, “I’d like to consider you for the company representative position.” I had to ask what that entailed. “You go out and visit all of the record stores, and you sell them records, and you call on the radio stations in towns. You will cover the whole south island. That would be your job.”
I was sitting there wide-eyed.
Then he asked, “You do have a driver’s license, don’t you? I said, “No, no no but I’m close to getting one.” I’d only driven a car once. My mother very nervously had let me drive her car. He asked, “How long would it take to get your license?” I said, “I’m sure I could get it very quickly.” He gave me the job, and he called his assistant, and said, “Louise, can you get Barry that driving instructor that you used recently. Get as many lessons quickly for Barry as possible. Barry is going to start with us. He’s going to work in the warehouse until he gets his license and then he will be out on the road.”
That’s how it all started. This company distributed Verve, Bluenote, Polygram, Capitol, and Elektra and Roulette through Viking Records, which was the major independent (in New Zealand). It was just like a smorgasbord (of labels).
Eventually I got hired away by Viking Records. They hired me on the basis that I would produce, and be the A&R guy for Elektra Records there. So I started producing records. I produced country things for Maria Dallas, who was quite popular. It was a great step for me. But Viking was also a music publisher. They distributed a lot of publishing and they sub-published a lot of catalogs. That got me into the publishing industry.
How did it feel marrying into Australian country and western musical royalty?
Well, it was great. It is an amazing legacy.
[The Blanch Family—the trio of Arthur, Berice, and daughter Jewel were Australia's first country music family. Jewel, in fact, began her career at four recording the novelty number “(I Want To Stay On) Jumbo” for W & G Records. Produced by Jack Varney, the song was written by Blanch and Jim Wesley. The Blanch Family recorded for Capitol Records in the ‘70s, and Arthur and Jewel recorded for CBS Records in the ‘80s. Living in the U.S. for 12 years, including in Los Angeles and Nashville, Jewel was signed to RCA Nashville as a solo artist. She was, in fact, heralded in 1979 as the best new female county artist by all three American music trades, Billboard, Cashbox, and Record World. Jewel returned to Australia in 1980, and won the top female vocalist at the Australian Country Music Awards in 1982.]
You and Jewel met at a festival in 1982?
We did indeed. We were friends for quite some time. When we decided to get married, she wanted to live outside of Australia. She had spent a lot of her time out of Australia living in L.A. when she was acting and she was signed to Capitol Records with her family. She was in such TV shows as “Bonanza,” “Mod Squad," and “Lassie,” and movies. So, she had had a long history of being in the U.S. She didn’t want to live in L.A. So we thought, “Where do we want to move to?”
By that time, the concert business (in Australia) was getting more difficult. The deals were getting tougher, and the percentage splits were much tougher. I was now in competition with Michael Chugg and Michael Gudinksi.
So you and Jewel came to Nashville in 1984.
Yeah, we got married in New Zealand and moved to Nashville two days after we got married. We arrived with two suitcases and a box of tapes.
Most of the reason why Jewel and I connected so well when we first met was that we loved the same sorts of music. We had these conversations about Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Lacy J. Dalton, Roseanne Cash, and Guy Clark. All of those (country) things that were going on at that time were really key in both of our minds. That was really where our connection was.
I had been in Nashville (previously) to see people. I would go to MIDEM, and then to New York and see the agents. I was doing a lot of shows with (promoter) George Wein. The first time I came to Nashville was in 1976. I just passed through for a day and a night. Then I came here in 1978. It was the first time I spent any time here. After that I came to Nashville, and got into it a little more.
Did you have many contacts in Nashville?
When Jewel and I met, I had been trying to get Emmylou Harris to Australia and New Zealand for a long time. I would go to L.A. and talk to (her manager) Ed Tickner. I could never get it done. Finally, I got Emmylou to come to Australia in ’83 for a promotional tour. Then we set a tour for 1984. She was the last tour that I did down there. Eddie Tickner and Phil Kaufman, the road manager, and the Hot Band all came down. So when Jewel and I decided to move to Nashville, we arrived and Phil Kaufman was at the airport to meet us. He picked us up, and said, “You’re staying with me until you can find somewhere.” We stayed with him for six weeks. That was pretty vivid, and wild as you can imagine.
Your original goal was to set up a publishing company, but you went into management instead.
BMI had offered to give us an advance to help us fund (the publishing). They ended up not doing it. The people that I knew here were saying, “We really need good managers. You would be a great manager.” Emmylou called me one day and said, “Lacy J. Dalton is in town, and she’s looking for a manager. I told her about you.”
So I got an interview. Then I got another interview. Lacy was here recording an album with Paul Worley and Marshall Morgan. She said, “I want you to be my manager.” Meanwhile, I had been talking a bit to Eddie Tickner. I called him and said that I’d just signed Lacy J. Dalton for management, and asked if he’d like to come in with me. He came to Nashville from L.A. the next week and said, “I will only do it on one basis, that we join together.” He also said that, “Emmylou and I have been together for a long time, and she feels she needs more energy (in her management), and I think that you would provide that.”
So you teamed up together.
We had our company (Meter Management), and managed those two acts plus Marty Stuart. We got Marty his record deal at Columbia. Then we had some other things that didn’t make it. Eventually, Emmylou left Eddie, and he eventually got Vern Gosdin going again. I took on Duane Eddy and managed him. I made an album with him (“Duane Eddy”) that had John Fogerty and George Harrison on it. I managed him through that album, and got him a deal with Capitol. On the week that the album was being released, he came to me and said that he wanted his wife to manage him instead of me.
[The self-titled album “Duane Eddy” was released by Capitol records in 1986. Tracks were produced by Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne, Ry Cooder, and Art of Noise. Guest musicians included John Fogerty, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ry Cooder, James Burton, David Lindley, Steve Cropper, and Larry Knechtel and Jim Horn from Eddy’s original band, the Rebels.]
At 61, you remain very excited about music.
I’m still mad for it. Every night, and every day. (Music) is so broad in its reach. I love the really good things, the really interesting things. I love those things that are probably on the edge. I do love all of those things.
For me, the excitement (in business) is just being able to step out and to step out into so many other worlds, and have success at it.
That has taken time.
That’s what Keith Urban was. That’s what Alan Jackson was. That’s what Bobby Huff has been. You develop (people) over a period of time. You give them feedback, and they have to be willing to accept it and then get it right. If you get the music right, everything else will fall into place. But, you have to get the music right.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide: Celebrating 40 Years Of The Juno Awards.”
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