I am slowly on the road to recovery and I am hoping things start moving smoothly.
There are a couple of big things that I would like to talk about with you today. First and foremost, Frank and I have restructured a few things and I have decided to leave my current position so I can dedicate my time to getting in to better shape mentally and physically. In turn, this will also allow me to put far more focus on my passion – writing this blog! It is a bold move to make but I know in my heart that this is the write thing to do (see what I did there…). I also have a Café Press site that I am setting up where you will be able to purchase Red, White and Country swag!!! As soon as it is up and running I will post the link so you can get hooked up. I can’t wait for y’all to see the fantastic work my great friend Teena Lee has done for me! And I REALLY can’t wait to see you guys wearing my gear!
Secondly, and this is a HUGE one, Strut Entertainment based in Toronto has asked me to team up with them to promote the upcoming Country Music Association of Ontario Awards Show and the CMAO R2I Spring Tune Up Conference. I will be heading out to Toronto at the end of May to cover both events. There may even be some great interviews coming up from some of the nominees! Stay tuned! The next few weeks are going to be amazing!
Here are the nominees for the 2016 CMAO Awards:
Typically with the blog, I write a news section, a fashion section and then an interview. Today, I would like to discuss something else. On Wednesday, April 6, country music suffered a huge loss with the passing of Merle Haggard. So today, I would like to pay tribute to the country legend, known lovingly as “The Hag”.
Merle was born in 1937 near Bakersfield, California on April 6th. Is father was a railroad worker and he and his parents lived in a converted box car. When his father passed away from a stroke in 1954, Haggard’s mother was forced to look for work and Merle was left with family members to be taken care of.
Because he had been sort of left to his own devices, Haggard became somewhat of a rebel, racking up a criminal record that consisted of grand theft auto, phony checks and skipping school. While sewing his wild oats, he taught himself how to play the guitar. He inherited his musical abilities from his father, who was a guitarist and a fiddle player.
When he wasn’t serving time in jail or reform facilities, Merle worked in the oil fields by day and played the guitar at night in local bars. At the age of 20, he was sent to San Quentin prison for burglary and for an attempted escape from the county jail. While serving a two and a half-year sentence, he completed his GED and played in the prison’s country band. It was also here that Merle was in the audience for Johnny Cash’s famed performance in 1959. He was paroled in 1960 and returned to Bakersfield. He sang and played guitar in local honky-tonks. The gritty sound that he was becoming known for was a huge contrast to the “safe” sound of country that was coming out of Nashville at the time.
In 1962, he signed with Tally Records and recorded five songs, which included his debut single “Sing A Sad Song”. It rose to number 19 on the country music charts. Then, in 1965 he formed a back-up band called The Strangers and signed with Capitol Records. For the rest of the 60’s, Haggard and his band released a series of number one hits, including “Okie From Muskogee”, which earned him several CMA awards. Over his career, Merle released almost seventy albums and six hundred songs, two hundred and fifty of which he wrote himself.
In 2008, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He had surgery to remove the tumor. After a very quick recovery, he returned to touring and song writing. Haggard passed away in his home on his 79th birthday. He had been suffering from a case of double pneumonia and succumbed to the illness after 11 days of fighting. The country music community has had an outpouring of tributes and sympathetic messages to the family. Willy Nelson posted a picture of the two of them with the message “He was my brother, my friend. I will miss him”.
In remembrance to “The Hag”, here is a 1978 live performance of “Sing Me Back Home” recorded at Austin City Limits. Rest in peace, Merle. Your legend will live on forever.
I happened to be home when it happened. I got a new email notification and when I opened it, I found a listing for all of the nominees for the CMAO awards. In the Female Artist of The Year category was a familiar face; Leah Daniels. As I looked on, I saw that she is nominated for a few awards! In the fall, this talented young lady and I had an opportunity to have a chat.
Let me start off by saying that talking to Leah is really like sitting on a deck having a cold beer with a good girlfriend. Friendly, funny, and obviously stunning, Leah comes across as laid back as can be. It sort of made sense that we got on like a house on fire, since we both happen to be small town girls. Leah is from Uxbridge, Ontario and continues to live on a farm near there. Out of curiosity, I asked how small the town was. Her first response was, “Well, we have a Wal-Mart.” We both laughed, understanding the significance of this. She continued to tell me that there was around 8,000 people in the town. Coming from a small town and having lived in large cities, Leah and I had yet another common thread. If you have never lived in a town like this, you should know that there is a certain simplicity that comes with growing up like that; a place where a handshake seals the deal. I had to ask her how she feels that her background changes her view of the music industry. She admits that she is a very happy and positive person. After moving to Toronto, she soon realized that more often than not, smiling at people made them think you were interested in them. “I had to learn how to put on my business face.” In a nutshell, she had to learn to be confident and when to put her foot down.
Leah grew up listening to a variety of music. Her grandfather listened to traditional country while her uncle and brothers all were in to rock. Where she originally drew the line was at yodeling. Her grandfather really wanted her to learn how to yodel. At the time, she thought it was so uncool and so old-fashioned. That was until she got her first cassette tape, Leann Rimes “Blue”. “In that song she does a little yodel and I heard that and thought ‘Oh, well, if Leann Rimes can yodel then it must be cool.” Despite her varied musical education, she admits her sound is not what would be considered traditional country. “Its definitely like pop rock country for sure.” Her iPod playlist is very eclectic, including it’s fair share of classic rock. Bearing this in mind, I asked her why she opted to stick with country music. “I think it comes down to the stories and the lyrics and that’s what country music does so brilliantly,” She added, “Its real life.”
Naturally, I am familiar with Leah’s music and there was one song in particular that I was curious about. The song “Go Back” has a bit of a dark side to it. With lyrics such as “I see you creepin’ round the other side of town…” and “He’s not your play thing, he’s not your anything…”, it leaves you wondering where the inspiration for it comes from. So, I asked her. “Sometimes there’s things that happen in your life and you gotta get them off your chest and write a song about it. ‘Go Back’ was definitely one of those songs.” Co-writing the song with Beverly Mahood and Bruce Wallace allowed her to see the male and female perspective of a song like this, “A lot of us can relate to both sides of the story.” She admits when she first started co-writing that she had some anxiety about it. “When I first started writing music, I would always write by myself because it was almost therapeutic.” She continued, “I started writing with other people and fell in love with it. Often times when I am writing by myself, I’ll run in to a block and sometimes the song never gets finished. But when you are writing with other people it forces you to work through those. You’re not just drawing upon your past experiences but you’re drawing upon theirs as well.” Leah has also written with the likes of Sam Ellis, Dan Hill and Gavin Brown.
This talented girl has worked both in Canada and in the US – Nashville, of course. There is an obvious difference between the Canadian and American country music scene. She said, “Everybody there [in Nashville] is doing music. I always come back feeling so inspired.” The real difference in Leah’s opinion is that everything in Canada is so widespread, “You have to seek it out more.”
Being a female in this industry comes with it’s challenges. I’ve referred to Jason Aldean’s comments about female country artists previously on this blog. I asked Leah what she thought about his comment that all women sound alike. “For one, I don’t think that we do. I think that our voices are quite unique actually. I would almost argue that sometimes, when I am listening to the radio, that the guys sound the same.” I had to agree with her. It made me consider the “Bro Country” phenomenon, where a lot of the male acts sound very similar. Leah commented, “I think that we’re almost nearing the end of that phase, or at least I would like to think we are. It was huge and still is but I think with all music there are trends that happen, they come and go. I think that if you’re a band starting out I would try and not do the bro country thing and do something different.”
All of her hard work over the last couple of years has paid off for Daniels. She has had several CCMA nominations. The first one she received was for “Interactive Artist of the Year” three years ago. “I remember I was at my cottage and you know, at your cottage you’re trying not to be on your phone too much. I saw that my phone was going off the hook and I saw that I was nominated. I just freaked out! I mean that is the ultimate recognition in Canada. To have that happen was a dream come true.” Being an “interactive artist” suggests that Leah made full use of social media to promote herself in the beginning and continues to be social media heavy. I asked her what some of the strangest requests or messages she has received. She laughed. She’s had everything from marriage proposals to people asking if she would come and visit them. “That’s the thing with the internet. Anything can happen online and you gotta kind of filter through some of it.”
It was clear that Leah and I had gotten to a point where I could ask her a couple of personal questions. She is on the road quite a bit so I asked her what some of the things that she must have with her. “I gotta have my notebook. I have a notebook that I write everything in whether its things that I gotta do today or song lyrics, stuff that I need to remember. I have that always with me. And one other thing, this is probably weird, but dental floss. If I forget my dental floss, it just totally throws me off.”
Something people may not know about Leah is that she is a bit of a foodie. “I love food, so let’s just put that out there. I love trying all different kinds of food. Some of my faves are…I love pasta and I love seafood. If I’m at home and want to make something special or something that I’ll enjoy, I’ll make some garlic shrimp and some fettuccine alfredo type of thing.”
This talented young lady was so much fun to chat with and I can honestly say I hope our paths will cross again. Please pop by her website (http://www.leahdaniels.com) or follow her on Twitter (@LeahDaniels). For now, I would like to leave you with “Go Back” by Leah. I am sure you will love it as much as I do!: