Cliff Williamson

Producer & A& R

Cliff, I donít know if you will know all the answers of these questions or not . . .

Probably not, but Iíll try. If I canít answer them, maybe I can refer you to someone who can.

That sounds great! Ok, letís get started. When was Chart Records established?

One of the first hit records was "Lookiní For More In Ď64" by Jim Nesbitt, so it would have been around 1964! And actually that record came out while my family lived in Louisville, Georgia. The money we made from that record was enough for Dad (Slim) to move us to Nashville! We literally took the proceeds from "Lookiní For More In Ď64" by Jim Nesbitt and moved to Nashville Tennessee!

Wow! So that was a fairly successful record?

Oh you bet!

I knew it had charted and sold well, but I couldnít find a lot of information about it.

It sold very well. By todayís standards it wouldnít have been much of a record, but back then it was a lot of a record! Plus there was the music publishing revenue, which helped.

Hmm. From the information I have gathered so far and from the release numbers there may have been up to 14 or so records before "Lookiní For More In Ď64". Itís release number is 1065, and they were released in a "5" sequence. I mean, 1065, 1070, 1075 and so forth. And this is just a guess. I have a listing of records released in 1963, but Iíve not actually seen the records.

If thatís the case, then chances are it may have been founded a year or three before that, in 1962 or 3. But, Dad will be able to tell you that. Back then I was more about radio than records. On the radio we were Big Slim & Little Slim. It took a long time to get people to quit calling me Little Slim, although now I am proud they did.

Do you know anything about the Labels your father owned before Chart?

Sure, Peach.

And Yonah?

Yonah was a music publishing company. He eventually sold the publishing companies to Acuff-Rose.

From looking at the records, Yonah and Peach Music Publishing were used almost exclusively, at least in the early years.

Thatís exactly right. Yonah Music (BMI) was named for a mountain that overlooked Cleveland, Ga. Yonah Mountain. Later, there was also Sue-Mirl Music (ASCAP) named for my Mom, Merle and Ottís wife, Sue.

I think Chart Records was sold, like, 2 or 3 times. Do you know when it was sold the first time?

I think the first time was to a company in New York, Audio Fidelity. Herman Gimble was the principal. Dad will have to tell you the year and all that, if he can remember it. It was a long time ago! He bought it back from them and sold it at least one more time. Herman was a real gentleman and businessman. Dad speaks highly of him. I think Dad learned a good bit from Mr. Gimble.

Who was it sold to at this time? I have heard 2 different names. One was Bill Worden.

Yep, he was one of the principals involved.

The other name was Tom Anthony.

Hmm, I donít remember him. I have heard of Tom Anthony, but I donít remember him buying Chart. It was Bill Worden that I remember. Maybe Mr. Anthony did, Iím just not sure.

Iíve been trying to find some information about him (Tom Anthony), but unfortunately Iíve not been able to find anything. At least not on the internet. Speaking of the internet, have you had a chance to look over the web site yet?

Yes I have. Itís very interesting. Itís nice that youíve taken to time to do something like this.

Well, thank you!

After I spoke to you the last time and looked over the website, I spoke to Dad and encouraged him to participate. He has some old press releases and things he is going to make copies of for you. They have a lot of dates and may answer some questions for you. The old Record World magazine (Charlie Lamb & John Strudivant) did a big spread on Chart Records. If Dad still has a copy of that, itíll answer most of your questions.

Oh Man! That would be super!

Yep! You should ask him about it when you talk to him and see if he does have a copy he could send to you. Iíve been kind of lobbying to have Dad inducted into the Georgia Music Hall Of Fame.

You know, I was thinking the very same thing! I just didnít know how to go about getting it started.

Well, I have the paperwork. I just havenít gotten it completed as yet. Your website will actually help that. I can send them there to look at it, and they can see a lot of what he did. Iím just kind of waiting for you to get a little more up there and then Iíll chase after that a little harder.

Well, I donít know if thereís much I could do to help the process along, but Iíd definitely help in any manner I could.

Well, I think what youíre doing with the website will be very advantageous. It will help a great deal.

Well thatís wonderful! Iíd be proud to help in any way.

Thank you! I think he definitely deserves to be there. Starting out as a radio announcer at WIMO in Winder, GA to being a record company entrepreneur should certainly qualify him to be there. From Slim & the Georgia Peachboys (band), to Slim from Horse Creek (disk jockey), to radio station owner, to record label owner/executive, he has done more than most.

I agree wholeheartedly.

Maybe we can see that happen in his lifetime.

I certainly hope so.

I know why RCA started distribution of the Label, but I was wondering why they stopped. I can only assume it was because Lynn Anderson left the label.

Actually, I think it might have had to do with the fact that it had been sold to Audio Fidelity. Also, one of the RCA guys from New York was close to Dad and a strong supporter of Chart Records. He died in a car accident on the way to the airport here in Nashville. After he passed away it probably just wasnít the same. But Dad would be able to tell you all that. I havenít even thought about these things in years and years. For the past 10 years I havenít concentrated on anything but Reba. Also, donít forget about the importance of Junior Samples in the later years. Junior was quite a character. One day Iíll share some of my Junior stories with you. Dad took Junior to Sam Lovelle who bought into the idea of Junior on Hee Haw. I remember at the time thinking they were all nuts. Boy was I wrong.

I would love to hear some of those stories!

What is your position with Reba?

Iím the Chief Operating Officer of Starstruck Entertainment, which is her company and have been with her and Narvel (Blackstock, Rebaís husband/manager) for almost 10 years (Feb, 2002).

Do you ever talk with any of the people who were associated with Chart Records? Besides Slim, of course!

LaWanda Lindsey and I still keep in touch some - LaWanda Lindsey Smith now. She lives in New Mexico near Kenny Vernon, who I also try to keep up with. Also, one of the original artists and an early partner of Dadís is Ott Stephens. Ott owns a radio station in Louisville, Georgia. He and his wife, Sue, visit us once in a great while and we them. We try to keep in touch. I think he sees my mother and father more often, since they are all in Georgia. Dave Peel and I have remained friends over the years. We try to call each other every now and then. Ernie Rowell is still in the business and I run into him pretty often. We try to stay in touch.

You know, Paul Gibson who has helped out with this web site said that Chart Records was a label of friends and I have to agree. So far everyone Iíve spoken to has been just been the friendliest people youíd ever want to talk to!

Yep, thatís true. Everyone was buddies and it was a lot of fun. A couple of Dadís great friends were Joe and Betty Gibson. Betty passed away a few years ago and I believe Joe is also living in Georgia now. Joe was promotion & marketing with Bettyís help at promotion. Their son, Noel, still works in the music business in Nashville. He has an indie label and distribution company.

What was your position with Chart?

Ha, ha! I was just a kid who had a great father who let him hang out and play with the family! I produced some of the records, well quite a few actually. And really that was pretty much my position. When Dad kind of bowed out a little, he handed it over to me, and I ran the day to day business for a while. Not long though. Mainly, I was a producer and head of A & R. I was too young to run a record label. I can safely say if I only new then, what I know now. But thatís life isnít it?

As I was talking with Dallas Corey, he had mentioned that during his association with the label you were the President of the Label.

You know I guess I was, come to think about it. During that time period I sure was. For about a year or two I ran the label. But I donít want to take anything away from Dad, because that was his thing, not mine. I stepped in and helped when he needed me to, but the primary thing I did for him was produce a bunch of records -- some pretty good and some not so good. Lloyd Green and a bunch of incredible musicians helped me accomplish more than I was capable of. For a matter of fact, my awe for Lloydís talent as compared to my own and the city dump had a lot to do with my decision that I really shouldnít have been producing records at that time.

Thereís a neat little story I like to tell. When I left Chart, I went to work at Tree Publishing. With help from my Dad I got an appointment with Buddy Killen at Tree Music Publishing. My real thing has been music publishing. As a matter of fact, I came here (Starstruck) as a music publisher, too. I was head of the Starstruck Writers Group in the beginning before moving up the chain of command. Oh, I digress Ė back to the story.

When I went to see Buddy Killen he liked me and said he would give me a shot as a song plugger at Tree, but I would have to meet Jack Stapp, and heís got to like me and say OK. He said if he approves of you, you got the job. So I went to see Jack, and I told him this story which I believe helped me get the job. As a matter of fact after I told him this story, he just said, "Son, youíre hired!"

At least once a year, usually in the summer, Dad would have me get a rental truck. I would get a couple big strong guys to help, and we would load up all the records that didnít sell (the returns) and take them to the city dump. Thatís where Metro Center (in Nashville) is located now. They built it right on top of the dump! Being a creative kind of guy and enjoying doing my job, you know - and I think to keep me in check with reality - Dad would send me out there to the dump to get rid of the records that didnít sell. At that time country records didnít sell all that much. I mean you could have a top 5 hit and not sell many records to speak of. So one day Iím out there with these two guys, and weíre sweating like crazy and pushing those records out the back of the truck. Man, the dump stinks, especially in the summertime. So somewhere between the tears of watching what I had thought were great records going out the back of the truck to a stinky, mirky grave and thinking whatís it all about, I came to an overwhelming realization. I said, "And Jack you know what? To this day every time I hear a song thatís not a hit, I smell the city dump! He looked over at me and said, "Son, youíre hired!" He literally hired me, I think, because of that story, but it was a true story! I admit that dump had a profound effect on my entertainment career.

Well, that is a neat story. Itís pretty funny!

I noticed that with artists such as Anthony Armstrong Jones, Connie Eaton, & Kenny Vernon and so on, the music took a slightly different turn. Kenny had called it "Cliffís new sound".

Well, I donít know about that. We just did some things that were a little bit different for that particular time, you know. Cutting "The Crawdad Song", which was especially, really different - "Pickiní Wild Mountain Berries" with Kenny & LaWanda. At that time it was pretty progressive for country music. Now that would be considered pretty dog-gone country, but back then it was rather progressive. Then we did several successful covers of rock hits like, "Angel of the Morning" by Connie and "Proud Mary", by Anthony Armstrong Jones. Conway Twitty introduced us to Anthony. Conway actually made the suggestion that we cut "Proud Mary". Conway and I went on to become really good friends. I traveled to a few shows one summer with him and Big Joe, Pork Chop and Hughey. Conway called me "Click". I really miss seeing him.

Was that your mind-set at that time? To make a new or different sound?

You know what? It was just about emotions and what felt good and what sounded good to me at the time. I think "Pickiní Wild Mountain Berries" is a great illustration of that. It was so up and moving. It had the traditional elements in it with the banjo (Bobby Thompson) and steel guitar (Lloyd Green) playing some very unique patterns, but the other thing that was so cool about it was that it had some rhythm that could appeal to a younger audience. More I think it was us doing things we all liked and what really felt good and not being afraid to do anything. At times I guess we did some things my Dad was probably wondering about! Whether it was right or wrong, who the heck knows! But it was sure fun! And he let us do it.

Iíll bet it was! I would have loved to have been in a situation like that when I was younger, myself.

It was a blast, no doubt about it. You have to know that when we moved to Nashville I got a job at WKDA, which at that time was an AM station and played top 40. Back then, AM was king and FM was kind of like elevator music. In evenings or on weekends, I was one of the KDA "Good Guys" on the radio. Funny thing, a couple of my listeners back then was Louise, Irlene and Barbara Mandrell. That was before their careers took off. Their family had just moved to town from California. I think a lot of Irby and Mary, their parents and the whole family, including Irlene and Barbaraís husband, Ken. Ken was in the Air Force back then. He was a pilot. Those were great times. Today, Barbara and Ken are friends with Reba and Narvel, as well.

Anyway, my father and I were both pretty grounded in radio. Even though I was producing those records I didnít give up the radio thing for quite awhile. Iím playing all those rock & roll and pop records as a disc jockey and that probably influenced where I went as a producer, too.

Iím sure it did. One thing Iím wondering about, Cliff. Did any artists who later turned out to be major artists ever slip through your fingers?

I donít think any ever did. Crash Craddock recorded for the label and later went on to be even bigger when he left. Del Reeves was a good example of that. Ask Dad about that. He was a great friend of my fathers and was kinda one of the gang. He cut some songs that Yonah published, but I donít know if Dad would have ever had a shot with him at Chart or not, though. I was friends with the Mandrellís, but never had a chance to work with any of them. Just friends.

He actually did do at least one 45 with Chart. It was released in 1970. "Bad, Bad Tuesday" B/W "The Stand In".

Well, I guess I didnít realize that. Then, they didnít really get passed on, but later on went to do greater things with other labels. I canít think of anyone that we passed on who later went on to do great things.

Well, thatís a good thing! You donít want to be one of those who says "Man. We could have had her or him!"

Thatís right!

Do you know what company actually pressed the records?

Well, one of the companies was National Record Pressing Company here in Nashville. Joe Talbot owned it. He and Dad were friends. Dad could probably tell you some of the others, but National was the main one that I remember. Dad was also friends with Bill Lowery in Atlanta and before we moved to Tennessee, Bill hooked him up with someone near Atlanta to press records. I used to go watch them press the things. I remember a very young Ray Stevens was at the plant in Atlanta on one of our visits. Ray had a new sports car and he was kind enough to show it to me. It was pretty wild! That was before he had his first hit record. When RCA was with us, the records were pressed in their plants. I remember going with Dad to some of the RCA pressing plants, also. He always liked to touch base with everyone from the ground up. He was probably one of the few people that would actually go to a pressing plant. Thatís where I remember them pressing them. Theyíd take a little piece of plastic and throw it in there and a record would come out. It was really fascinating.

One of my sisters worked in a pressing plant years ago up in Cincinnati back in the early Ď70s. She always talked about it.

Yes, you know, I can hear it and smell it right now, if I close my eyes and think about it! It was a unique sound and smell.

One of the neat things I have is the Sammy Poole LP . . .

Sammy Poole. He did a religious album with us. I donít think he did any country.

No, it was all religious. (Sammy told me he recorded a single on the Great label that was country)

Thatís what I thought. I remember Sammy.

On one side of the record has the right label, while the other side has Lynn Andersonís "Ride, Ride, Ride" label on it! The music is all Sammyís, just the wrong label.

Yeah, somebody messed up at the plant.

I thought that was kinda neat!

Seems like I remember when that happened. Maybe it happened more than once. I do remember some talk about something like that taking place.

I just wondered how things like that happened.

You know Dad, trying to be an innovator somewhat, I think he purposely pressed some records with something different on each side. If youíre sending that to a radio station, you really didnít need to have something on both sides if you just wanted the one to go. He may have done yours on purpose I donít know if he did or not. It happened a few times by accident, too.

Do you know how the Buddah Records distribution deal came about?

Oh Wow! You know, I donít remember. I had almost forgotten about the Buddah thing.

Dallas Corey had mentioned that the Buddah deal came about on the strength of his record, "The History Of The American Revolution".

I donít know that it necessarily did. It might have had something to do with it, but there were probably a lot of things that contributed to that. I canít remember now if Dad did the Buddah deal or if I did. It could have happened on my watch, I donít really remember itís been so long ago.

I can tell you it happened around 1973.

1973 . . . that probably was when I was heading the company, but Dad was always there to help. Because of the fact that we were independent and a boutique type of a record label, we were always getting hit on from people wanting to do something. There were always opportunities like that, so it could have been a call from them. We might not have done anything besides take them up on their offer. I just donít remember, maybe Dad does.

From what I can tell there were only 3 or 4 LPís released under the Buddah deal then the company folded. And that leads to the next question of why it folded?

Well, Bill Worden bought it and youíd have to ask him why it folded. I donít know what happened after he bought it. It just seems like it went away. I donít even think Dad knows what happened to it.

That project that Dallas did was a brainstorming idea he had regarding the Bicentennial. I had an artist friend, Lowell Mosley do a painting and the artist happened to know some of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The DAR adopted the painting and Dallasí music as a project for the Bicentennial. It was pretty interesting to meet those ladies and see what they were all about. Does Dallas still do any music?

Yes, thatís about all he does do now. He had quit the business for quite a few years, but heís now working on a project he began back in the 70ís called "The Legends of Monkey Joe". He tells all about it on his website. (www.myfathersbussiness.net). He has a very detailed synopsis of how the record "The History of the American Revolution" came about. Itís very interesting reading!

That sounds great.

Do you know what radio stations Slim owned?

Yes. The first one was WRWH in Cleveland, GA. He then built WPEH in Louisville, Ga., which he later sold to Ott (Stephens). Next he bought WLOV in Washington, GA. Those were the first 3. After that he bought the radio station in Winnsboro, SC., one in Jackson, GA and one in Alabama, but I donít remember the name of the city. Then he built the radio station in Portland, TN., WQKR. Ronnie McDowell introduced him to Portland, and thatís how Portland ended up with a radio station. (Slim had another record label named Scorpion Records for which Ronnie recorded for.) And thatís where I met my wife. I went back to work for Dad in radio. I left Tree Publishing in 1981 and moved to Portland. My brother, Marty and I jumped in and rolled up our sleeves and helped build it. I met the editor of the newspaper, Cindy Vanatta Sanders, and she became my wife. Weíve been married for over 20 years now! Another interesting point about the radio stations is that Dad had a financial partner named Henry Braselton (Braselton, Georgia). Dad credits Henry with helping him to make his dreams come true. Henry is still living in Braselton and is a close family friend.

Thatís great! Itís seems a rare thing nowadays for a marriage to last long.

Well, I think we were meant for each other. It just took a while to get us together.

If you donít mind answering, how did you and Connie Eaton get together?

High School friends introduced us, from Overton High. We were kind of friends, and record producer/artist type of a thing and very young. And thatís how all that happened. We were married for a short period of time. Almost four years. We had a daughter, Cortney, and she has 2 sons, so I have 2 grandsons there, and Cindy & I have a daughter, Velvet, who has a son, so I have 3 grandsons! I also have a step-son, Steven. Connie was very sick. I donít know if you know about that or not.

No, I really donít know much about her at all.

I donít think itíll hurt to say this, because I know if Connie were alive she would be very supportive in helping people who have this, but she was manic depressive. She had a lot of heartache in her life because of that mental condition. Frankly, itís probably what kept her from being more successful as a recording artist. She was a talented lady.

Very much so. A very talented lady.

I saw that on the web site you had that Connie died, you thought, in a car wreck. She actually died of lung cancer. My daughter could tell you when it was. I think it was about 3 or 4 years ago. Cindy and I went to the funeral and everything, but I canít remember the exact day she passed away.

Thatís such a shame she passed away so young. Wasnít she was born in 1950?

Yes, I was born in 1949 and she was a year younger than me.

Do you know who designed the Chart logo?

Actually Gary Walker owned the logo and the name "Chart". Heís an old friend of my Dadís. He heard Dad talking about how he wanted a new label, a new union label, cause the Peach label wasnít a union label. It was a very expensive and lengthy process to get a union label back then. Anyways, Gary heard him talking and said he had one heíd sell him. I think he bought the logo and the label itself for $300.00. Gary had started it, just hadnít done anything with it much. Garyís the guy who owns the Great Escapes chain of record stores in Nashville.

Oh yes! Iíve seen their place on the internet. Itís quite a large outfit.

Ok. just a couple more questions. Did Slim ever fire you?

I donít think he ever did. He probably should have a few times, but I donít think so! If he did it would have been for my best good.

Now for the last question. Can you give me sort of an overview of your feelings about that period of time and maybe about any of the artists that lingers in your memory?

Wow! Whew! Thatís a tough one! I would have to contemplate on that one for a while. Like I said before, Iíve lived and breathed Reba McEntire for the past 10 years. I havenít thought about these things in over 30 years.

You probably never thought this subject would ever come up again, did you?

No. I guess I really didnít. But I did learn a lot back then. I learned a lot about dreaming. But somewhere along the line diligence has become my mantra. At least for the past 20 years, anyway. I realized that just dreaming wasnít quite enough. God gives us the talent and the opportunity, but He expects us to supply the effort. I learned that during my days at Chart, but it wasnít really until near the end that I said, "Wow, I get this!"

Iíve used this to encourage and inspire songwriters that I have worked with since then, and that is: Diligence is the ingredient that transforms a dream to reality. Physical work isnít enough, either. Youíve got to put your heart in it, too. It just donít happen unless youíre a diligent, hard working human being. Diligence is what you get when you put your heart in to hard work. I think I picked that up watching Dad and doing what we did back at Chart. Back then it was easy saying, man this is fun. But when youíre in the city dump and smell that and see all those records being dumped, itíll give you a big old wake up call. Another thing I learned at Chart was that God gives us all a talent and I was always struggling with, "whatís mine". I could play guitar, but not very well. I could play saxophone, but I was never going to be the worldís greatest saxophone player. I could write a song, but I was never going to be another Curly Putnam or Bobby Braddock. The talent God gave me was watching after the talent He gave other people. It was like he had given someone the talent to write great songs, and he gave me the talent to nurture that. I think that is what Iíve lived to accomplish. It was the Chart days that helped me see that. Thatís why I give the credit for those great records to Lloyd Green and others. I could start naming names and that could be dangerous! There were a lot of great musicians during those days, Pig Robbins, Bill Purcell, Jimmy Capps, Bobby Thompson, Norbert Putman, Buddy Harmon and so on and so on. Gosh, I could go on for days and days if I ever got started about who made those records happen for me. Iíve learned a lot over the years and maybe one day Iíll even go back and produce a record again. God might have a talented singer who needs Cliffís help.

Thatís a great outlook on life. I think everyone could take that advise to heart.

Iíve been working on a book and one day when I donít have so much to do, Iíll finish it. Iím writing for my grandsons, but maybe someone else will find some inspiration in it, too.

Iíve learned a lot from Reba, too. What a talented and hard working lady she is. I mean, she takes diligence to another level. Being around her has shown me how to maximize all you have and never forget where you come from and whatís really important in life Ė God, family, friends and good health.

What all have you done since you left Chart?

I went to work for General Record Corp. for a couple years. What a nightmare that was! Then came Tree Publishing for 7 years, then I worked in radio for my Dad for a year or so, then I went to work at Multimedia, a radio & newspaper conglomerate that wanted me to start a music publishing company for them. I was there for 4 or 5 years, then for Alabama, the group not the state, as creative director of their music publishing company Ė Maypop. I did that for 7 years and finally to Rebaís. Iíve been here for almost 10 years. Thatís my story and Iím sticking to it as they say!

Itís been a very interesting story!

Itís been a pleasure talking with you and I appreciate you doing what youíre doing. Itís a very nice thing, especially for my family and those who poured their hearts into a label called Chart. I hope it leaves a little to posterity about what was once a "great little record label".

Thatís exactly what Iím hoping for too.

And really & truly Starstruck Writers Group, Rebaís publishing company that we sold to Warner Brothers last year (2000), was to the music publishing business what Chart was to the record business. We did things a little differently. I donít know if there will ever be another Chart or if there will ever be another Starstruck Writers Group.

Things have changed so much over the years, itís really hard to say.

Yes, it really is. Iíll keep an eye on the website and If I come up with anything that may be of use, Iíll let you know.

I appreciate that! Itís been great talking with you Cliff; good luck on your book and have a great afternoon!

Thanks and you too.