A Conversation With David Peel

 

Let's begin with a little background info on you, ok?  I have searched the internet over and can only find references to the movie "Nashville" you starred in back in '74 or '75.

Ok, I am a native of Nashville, born & raised here. A funny thing though, I never attended the Grand Ole Opry until I performed "I'm Walkin'".  That was the first time I'd ever done anything like that.  I was really out of touch with the country loop. Anyway, I went to high school in Nashville and attended a small West Tennessee college.  After one year of college I moved out to California. Thatís where I hooked up with the folk music scene, big time.  I was primarily a folk singer. I worked for a guy named Randy Sparks who created the New Christy Minstrels in a small folk singing group. After that I was "discovered" by Fess Parker of Daniel Boone and Davy Crocket fame while working for Randy Sparks.  I went on to do some roles on the Daniel Boone series.

What time frame was all this happening?

That was in 1965, '66 time frame. I also did the Virginian series, which was another western.

I remember all those shows. The Virginian was one of my favorites!

I toured with Fess Parker as part of a small group that was his "band". We backed him up at the rodeos and fairs and things like that. I had a very close relationship with Fess during those years. I went skiing one year in Aspen, CO in 1967. I met up with Bob Shane, the lead singer and creator of the Kingston Trio. We started a relationship that lasted for the next couple of years with one other guy.   Together we performed as either "Bob Shane and Friends" or "The Shane Gang".  Bob was responsible for introducing me to Bobby Russell ("Little Green Apples"), a well-known Nashville writer. On one of my trips back home to Nashville, I performing in this small restaurant and guy walked up and gave me his card. It turned to be Chuck Neese who was a booking agent with Hubert Long. I went to see him and we had lunch and he said "I need to get you on a label, I really like your stuff".  He introduced me to Slim Williamson. I think it must have been a trade of some sort. I think Slim probably said "Hey, if you'll book some of my acts, I'll take the new guy". You know, something like that!  Ha, Ha! I don't know , really, if I was a trade or not, but I didn't even audition for Slim. He didn't even know I sang! Maybe it was the fact I was associated with The Kingston Trio to a certain degree had something to do with it, I don't know.  He found out real quick though!  He had booked some studio time and I was on a split session with Connie or one of the other artists. I cut either "Wax Museum" or "I'm Walkin'" and the session came off so well for Slim he said "Hey man, we're gonna make this happen!"
You know, back then you signed a contract and then went to the studio to see what would happen!

You signed the contract and then they found out you could sing, huh! That's pretty cool!

Exactly! I'd never thought too much about it, but that's the way it happened! I don't think I sung a note for Slim until I was in the studio. And I had the greatest sessions in the world, you know? I mean, I had Lloyd Green as the session leader and the players were just awesome! They were the players that made Nashville what it is; they were just great!

Yep, I know that Slim & Lloyd got the best musicians they could.

Absolutely!  And he always booked RCA's studio B.  I am very fortunate to have gotten to record there. It all seemed to turn into a fairy tale. Growing up in Nashville, driving down Music Row as a teenager, and not necessarily dreaming of becoming a big star you know, but being very appreciative that I was able to record some legitimate music and get air play.

That's the thing right there.  A lot of people cut records, but getting them played on the radio was a whole different matter.

Oh yeah, you've probably spoken with some of the people who were involved with promotion at the label.

Well, not really.  I think Joe Gibson was in charge of that area and I haven't gotten to speak with him yet. (I have spoken to Joe since this interview was conducted)

Hmm, there were some other people too.  I'll e-mail you the names of the one I can remember.

Ok, that sounds super!

What the promotion people would do is ask me to come in, just anytime, and get on the phone and call Dee Jays.  I remember seeing an A, B, and C list of radio stations across the country and I would get on the phone and just start calling them and ask if they were playing "Wax Museum" or "I'm Walkin'" or whatever song I had out. They started showing me some charts where I was  number one in this town or number 10 or 20. They told me I needed to work these areas and maybe I would start getting some Billboard attention. And it happened! I was well pleased with the promotion part of it. I was as much a part of it as anyone. I was very excited about it all.  Slim was very easy to work with. It was like a family.  Anytime they had a gathering or a party I was invited. I was invited over to their house. They encouraged me to do the Opry as much as I could. One of my favorite stories goes, I was making six to seven hundred dollars a week plus room and board at ski resorts and I would come home to Nashville to work the Opry and only make fifty five dollars for Friday and Saturday night! But the promotion I did while I was here was very important!

Right, and once you got on the Opry it was, well, I guess back then it wasn't nation wide, but -

But it was a big deal! Being on the Opry was like "the" thing. They would always tell me that I needed to come in and do the Opry every once in a while. I worked at the old Ryman Theater and I'll always treasure those memories. Tex Ritter gave me my first introduction on the Opry.
Getting back to the Chart thing, I once counted 5 releases in a single year for me. It was like one after the other was going to the charts. It was 1969, 1970. Those were big years for me. I was getting a lot of airplay.  I wasn't getting very many big bookings, but I was on everybody's play list.

You know, that's something I've noticed in recent years. Most artists only release one or two songs a year and that's about it. If the song is good it gets played to death before another one comes out. I remember back in the day a person or group had a hit record coming out every couple months it seemed.

Yeah, there were a lot of releases back then.  You went into the studio and you cut a lot, too.  At each session we'd typically cut 3 songs and all three were going to be releases. It wasn't like we'd set up the session to record a song and say, "Ok, we're going to keep working it until it's a hit". Slim would come to the studio with some new material from his publishing company that he thought was appropriate for you and you'd cut the songs. Slim wasn't a musician and Cliff really wasn't either, although he was going to Belmont and majoring in music, I think. As Cliff took over Connie's career he found out she and I could sing together and that's about when Slim stepped back and let Cliff run the control board. It was a good experience. Cliff and I are still good friends today.

That's super. Life long friends, practically! When did you sign with Chart?

I signed in the summer of 1969. I had just come off a tour with the New Kingston Trio and I decided to stay around Nashville for a while and it paid off! I tried to juggle between mainstream country music and what I felt I was as an artist. You know I was really a folk singer. I didn't think of myself as a country performer.  Even though I was born and raised here in Nashville, I was very much into folk music.  To come into a label such as Chart, which was a very traditional country music type label was very different for me.  I was young and some of the songs they pitched to me made me think, "Oh no! We're not going to do that are we?"  And Slim was the best!  He'd say "Yeah, you gotta try that. You watch, you'll be good on that song!"

Who were some of the artists you liked to listen to back then?

Hmm, Neil Diamond would be up at the top. He came from a folk beginning.  Gordon Lightfoot. In college I was influenced by Ian Tyson of Ian & Sylvia.  And of course Peter, Paul, and Mary.  They were the center piece of my experience. Every thing they came out with was the standard! I learned guitar licks from Paul Stookey. Somehow I missed all the bluegrass & country scenes. I had to learn country!

Were you a Dylan fan?

I was.  I recorded some early Dylan songs. Not on Chart, but on my own. When I came to Chart I set all the folk stuff aside. I trusted Slim, big time.  When Cliff came up with some ideas of making the pop covers, they weren't near as successful as the country things we did. Connie and I did "It Takes Two" and we got a lot of airplay, but the favorite thing we did together was "Rings Of Gold" and it was real country.  

How long were you with Chart?


I was with them for 3 years from 1969 to 1972. My contract was for 3 years but they exceeded the releases in the original contract. Connie & I had good success with the duet. Neither one of us was sure if that was the direction either one of us wanted to go.

About that time it seemed like duets were the big thing in country music.

It was, yes, there was Connie & I, Kenny & LaWanda, boy that brought back memories!

Did you and Connie ever perform any on the road?

No we never did.  I would have really enjoyed that. It was kinda tough at that time, though.  Cliff & Connie were just married. I had just gotten married to my first wife in 1970. You know.
While I'm thinking of it, if there's anything I can do to help the web site, I'd like to do it. Maybe some old photos or something?

That would be great! Anything you think that might enhance the website would be welcome.

You know, I framed my first 45! "I'm Walkin'". Slim was pretty astute when it came to song selection. He knew what people were listening to. He knew what a lonely Dee Jay, for instance, wanted to come out with at news time to wake his audience up.  Instead of doing a killer ballad, Slim said "The first thing we need is something that will guarantee us some airplay." So we released "I'm Walkin'", and boy it happened. Let me tell ya! I heard that song all over the country!

Would you happen to have any of the Billboard or Cash Box & Record World ads?

I think I do. They took out a lot of ads. Also I have something I want to send you.  Mary Reeves, the wife of Jim Reeves, owned a radio station just outside of Nashville. At that time it was an A list station and they charted "Wax Museum" number one!

David, tell me a little about your LP, "Move Two Mountains".

Boy! I thought that was going to take forever! You know, I think about five singles preceded that LP. I was very jealous of the other artists who had their own albums. I had gone down to Spartanburg, South Carolina to the Mark V Studios and met Cliff there. We cut about 3 songs and that gave me enough for a 10 or 11 song album. Connie and I had already released the "Hit The Road Jack" album, and boy I was chomping at the bits waiting for this one.  My mentor growing up was Ray Walker of the Jordanaires. I just wanted to get to know this guy. Which I did, we became best friends. Sort of a dream came true when I stepped into the RCA studio and he was there. I asked him to write the liner notes for my album.

How involved were you in the selection of your material?

Well, most of the time I was given 3 or 4 songs by the in-house writers, Vance Bulla, Grant King, and others, and asked to select one or two from those. I think for the album, the only one I brought in was "Move Two Mountains". It was a Motown song. It came off well and got a lot of play.  Other than that, I trusted them and liked what the gave me. I got a couple ASCAP chart buster awards on my wall. Five songs from that album made the national charts.

Man!  That's almost half the album! That's real good!

Thank you. I had another release called "An Ordinary Day In The Life Of A Fool". To me it was one of the best things I've done.

I don't think I've heard that one. It looks like it was released with "Wax Museum" on the flip side.

Hmm, I thought "Wax Museum: was before that.

It looks like this was the second release of that one. The flip side of the first release was "If You've Been Better Than I've Been".

Ok, I remember now. They didn't know how well "An Ordinary Day" would do so they backed it with "Wax Museum". They figured that the other markets that didn't pick up on "Wax Museum"  might pick it up if it were released again. And quite frankly, I think that was the last time I was in the studio. At that time they weren't recording much.

How did you and Connie get paired up?

That was Cliff's idea.  Of course the duets were the hot thing back then. Cliff wanted to hear what we sounded like together so we tried it.  I got a call from him not long afterward and he said as soon as I got back to Nashville he wanted to see how it works.  The first time in the studio with Connie, it just felt right. She was very easy to sing with. I was a harmony singer anyways so it worked out real well. "Hit The Road Jack" was the first idea Cliff had. I guess pop cover songs were getting a lot of airplay back then and we did quite a run of those kind of things.

What can you tell me about Joe Gibson?

Joe Gibson.  That's who I was trying to think of before. He and his wife, Betty, were the in-house promoters for Chart. They were the nicest people in the world! They were the ones who would get with me and say "Let's talk to this many Dee Jay's today, here's the names & numbers". Also, when I'd travel, Joe always gave me a list of names and numbers to call. That's about all I really know other than they  were very wonderful people. It's one thing to work for the label, but they gave me the feeling that they loved everybody and they loved their work. They were big country fans.

How did your association with Chart affect your career?

It gave it new life. It didn't make me an over night star, that's for sure, but it did give me a lot of credibility. It was my first attempt to perform on my own. I had always been with a group up until then.  I've never been with a group since. It gave me a lot of national attention.  It never did much for my acting career, cause they don't listen to country music and they didn't know who Chart was. It sustained me while I was in California cause country music was big out there.

Did you ever write any songs?

Not while I was with Chart. I wish I had.  I started writing gospel type music years later in the mid to late '70's.

When I was talking with Slim, he was under the impression that you had become a minister?

Well, he's partially right. I remarried in 1978 and my wife and I recorded a gospel album. We were living in California at the time and we were writing a lot of songs. We were being invited to all these gospel conventions and Christian events, some pretty large, and we were like the ministering duo of these events. Everybody wanted to hear your testimony and all that kind of thing, you know.  I spent the first five years of marriage traveling as a minister. But it was all geared around the music. Nothing like what you would see on TV.

You weren't a Televangelist? (laughing)

No. I was not! (laughing) I would not have made a good one! I'm still writing some in that vein. The movie "Nashville" was a very pivotal time for me also.

I have been looking for that.  I remember seeing it back in the late 70's. I really want to see it again.

I wrote one of the songs for it and performed it in the movie. In order to get the part, I had to really play down the fact that I had any recording history. I would not have gotten the part if they had known the extent of my recording history.

Really?  Why?

Director, Robert Altman was selecting actors and not singers.   I don't think he wanted to cast singers for singing roles.  Ronnie Blakely and myself (she sang with Hoyt Axton) were about the only professional singers cast in the movie.  Of course actor, Keith Carradine went on to win an Oscar for "I'm Easy".  He wanted actors who would write their own songs and portray entertainers in the film.  He knew that most of them would not write hit songs. His comeback to that was "Well, how many hit songs are there compared to poor songs in country music anyways? You only hear the good songs".

What about after the movie? What's happened since then?

Well, "Nashville" was the most significant thing. Then my gospel music years. That lasted into the mid '80's. Then I went into a real slump. I was trying to figure out a way to get back into the music industry and I got a call from a friend of mine in Branson, MO who wanted to produce a family act in Branson.  We were very successful there. That lasted until the late '90's. I got divorced again and my daughter and I moved to Nashville where she enrolled in David Lipscomb University. Since I've been here I've written more and got into a new business.  Custom Remodeling. Also the Kingston Trio is becoming a major part of my life again.  I may be replacing Bob Shane as lead singer whenever he retires.  I'll join them at the Birchmere Theatre in Alexandria, VA this Spring. (2002)

That sounds wonderful! Do you have any regrets about anything you did or did not do during your Chart years?

The biggest regret I have, Martin, is succumbing to the lure of the road and not staying closer to the label and writers here in Nashville where things were happening and being more involved with the creative process. I somewhat envied Connie Eaton's ability to stay close to Nashville and research good material.

No doubt.  I guess it's like they say, though, hindsight's 20-20.  Well, David, I wish you luck with the Kingston Trio and it was an honor to talk to you. I appreciate it very much!

Thank you Martin, it was a pleasure.  Good luck on your project and if thereís anything I can do to help you along please call on me.

Thank you, I will!  Have a good one, bye for now.