How did you get started in the music business?
To go back to Peach and Chart and how everything got started, I had a local boy here that wanted to make a record. We went over to the radio station where I was a disc jockey in Winder, GA.(WIMO). They were the Georgia Ramblers; two Garrison Boys and Leon Holmes. We went to the radio station and cut a record. So, we go to Nashville like a million other people do everyday to see what we could do. I had heard of Don Pierce and had gotten stuff from him and he was one of the few people that would see you back then
Was he with Starday Records?
Yes, he owned Starday Records and Publishing Company. I went down there and he saw me. He listened to the record I played for him. He didnít want to discourage me but it wasnít anything he wanted to put out. I asked him "well, what do you think of the artist?" and he told me that artists are a dime a dozen and told me no artist is any better than the songs they have. That has followed me throughout my music career. That is the truth. I don't care if itís Sonny James. If he gets in a rut doing the same type songs three or four times in a row, heís just another artist. Don told me "why donít you just start your own record company and you and I will start publishing a company together. Iíll press the records and you can mail them out and if something happens we will put it on Starday." We were all excited and I dug up the $150.00 to pay him to press the record and we put the record out. I have one right here. Iíll show it to you. Itís Leon Holmes and the Georgia Ramblers. We put a couple records out that way. Then there was another boy from Winder named Rambliní Red Bailey and we put out a record on him. About that time Lewis Pruitt came along and I cut a record for him on the Peach label. We had a bunch of disc jockeys that knew each other and every one of us was trying to get into the record business so we would help each other out. Back then if you had about 5 listings, if theyíre playing it, you could get into the charts. We were getting records in the top ten that hadnít sold twenty records. We cut a record called "Timbrook" (Lewis Pruitt) and we put it out and it got in the charts. Harry Silverstein of Decca records called me and said he wanted to put it out. We leased it to Decca and they put it out. Then we cut two or three other records, I canít recall the artists right this minute, and they were leased to the Chancellor label, which had Fabian. Chancellor later called me and said "this record is number 8 in the national charts and I donít have a single order". He couldnít figure it out! Then we started cutting records and putting them on Decca. Harry Silverstein of Decca started coming to my sessions. Del Reeves recorded the first big record we had. We leased his record to Decca and things were starting to come together. We had Del Reeves, Ott Stephens, Lewis Pruitt, and several others on Decca. Then I put out a record from Jim Nesbitt and just mailed it to the disc jockeys. It was "Lookiní for More in 64", which was the first hit record ever on Chart Records. I went to Nashville and I met Gary Walker who told me "just put it out on my label, Chart Records" he owned Chart Records at that time and he paid about about $350 to get it in the union. He never really used Chart Records except for custom stuff at that time. So there we were. We had a hit record that was playing and it stayed on the charts about as long as anything did. So I went to the pressing plant in Nashville and I said "I ainít got no money but I got a hit record". I made an agreement with them where they would press emí, ship emí, and collect the money and instead of me paying them a commission, they would pay me. That went on for several records when we first started the label. We set up our own distribution and things were going pretty good. We started recording other artists and then Lynn Anderson came along. We were at the disc jockey convention, as usual, and Liz Anderson was writing for our publishing company, Yonah Music. Merle Haggard had cut some of her songs, which I had published. She had some popular things going on. Well, Lynn sat down beside Merle Haggard at our hospitality suite at the music convention and they sang "Just Between the Two of Us" which was a hit for Merle and Bonnie Owens. Lynn sang the part of Bonnie Owens. It was the last day of the convention and I went home that night and I could not sleep. At 2 oíclock in the morning after hearing Lynn sing I called Liz at the hotel and woke them up. They were leaving that day and I asked them "is there any way in the world you can stay for three days and if you have a song I want to record it". Liz said they would have think about it. About 7 oíclock that morning, after they had not gone back to bed, they called me back and agreed to stay and Lynn recorded "Ride, Ride, Ride" her first hit record, about two days after the convention.
Anyway, I bought the label from Gary Walker for $350 and that was how Chart Records started. To make a long story short we became the number one independent for two years in a row. RCA Victor came to us and wanted a distribution deal, so we signed with RCA. The late Steve Shoals, I am sure you have heard that name, was it in country music. Steve Shoals was "the man" at RCA like Owen Bradley was at Decca Records. When we signed for distribution at RCA is when we started making albums. Lynn Anderson, Jim Nesbitt, Junior Samples and so on.
Can you recall the first meeting with Lloyd Green?
The first time I met Lloyd he had played on some sessions, but my real first impression of him was the steel guitar work on "Ride, Ride, Ride". Lloyd Green was my man. You know, people would ask me "Why do you do this? What do you know about producing records?" and I said, "I donít. I know when it sounds good and when it donít and maybe I donít know what to tell them to do but Lloyd Green does." I have always said if you are going to be a success in any business surround yourself with people who know what they are doing whether you do or not and Lloyd Green was it. The last time I saw Lloyd was recently at a fundraiser for Charlie Lamb who owned the Music Reporter for several years. Lloyd was playing steel at the reception. Brenda Lee put it on for Charlie. This may be interesting concerning Chart Records. I went to see Charlie Lamb when he owned the Music Reporter. I had wanted to meet him, but he didnít see me. I had him a half bushel of Georgia peaches in the car, so I went and got his peaches and I carried it back and I left a record on top of the peaches that I had wanted him to preview. As I was walking out to leave, Charlie had caught up with me and I went inside. We talked for a while and became great friends. Charlie Lamb, Don Pierce, and Grant Turner did more for me and Chart Records than about anyone, really. They were the Goodwill Ambassadors for Chart Records and you couldnít have any better than those three.
What about the sale of Chart? Tell me a little about that.
John Sturdivant of Record World told me "I have an outfit in New York (Audio Fidelity) that wants to buy a record label, can I talk to them?" Vance Bulla, who was a songwriter working for me, and myself drove to New York and to make a long story short, they bought the label. They messed up because they pulled the distribution deal with RCA. They wanted to do their own distribution but they knew nothing about country music. They were dealing with pop and outlandish type albums. Lynn Anderson was up for a new contract and they blew that deal. They couldnít work it work out. I got my money. After they bought it and were unsuccessful, I bought it back and made a little profit and tried to set up independent distribution again and someone else came along who wanted it worse than I did. A crowd had evidently raised some money in Cincinnati Ohio so I sold the booger again!
And who were the buyers at this time?
Bill Worden, from up around Cincinnati or somewhere, bought it. After that, I donít know what happened to it. They finally just went out of business and nobody could find them. I donít know what happened although they did put out some records. Also, about that time, Acuff-Rose came along and wanted to buy the publishing company so I sold it to them. We got $500,000 for the record label and $275,000 for the publishing company. The most money Iíd ever had in my bank account was about $300 !
How did you get Junior Samples as an artist?
That is a very interesting story. I had a friend who used to be a Dee Jay in Winder, GA named Bill Powell, The Cuz From Kitchakoonie Creek, in fact I took his job when he left and went to Macon, GA. Bill called me up and said "I have something I am sending you a tape of and I want you to listen to it. We are getting requests for this thing over and over and I think it will be a hit record." What it was, Jim Morrison from the Georgia Game and Fish Dept., was on his way back to Atlanta and there was a car race in Buford, Ga. Junior and his boys were there and they had found this fish lying in a creek that someone had thrown out from the ocean. Well, Junior got the thing and started running around at the racetrack telling everyone it was a big bass he had caught out of Lake Lanier. Well, the race was being broadcast on the radio and they announced Junior had caught a bass weighing 22 lbs. 9 oz. Jim Morrison heard the announcement on the radio and the next day Jim went to Juniorís house and did an interview about the fish. Junior lived in a small shack; three rooms, with about 7 kids. You wouldnít of believed it if you had seen it! Well, I called Jim Morrison and I found out he had the fish and had found out it was from the ocean and not a bass at all! I still hadnít got in touch with Junior. Junior told me later "I told him to forget about the damn fish but he just wouldnít do it so, I went inside, took a fifth of white liquor from the mantelpiece, drank about half of it and told my wife by god if he wants a fish story Iíll tell him a fish story". So Junior went back out on the porch and Jim took out his recorder and Junior just made up the thing as he went along and that is how the "Worlds Biggest Whopper" was born. Well, when I talked to Jim I told him "I want to put this thing out on record" and he said he had no problem with it but heíd check. He called me back and told me how to find Junior. When I found Junior he said "Nah. Nah, I donít want to do that". Well, we just started talking about moonshine and things and finally I said "Junior, dang it, you have nothing to lose what so ever" and he finally agreed. I got some contracts and Jim Morrison met me there and we signed Junior and it was a hit . Well everybody was wanting Junior in Nashville so I carried him to Nashville. He had two pair of overhauls and a tee shirt in a paper sack and there he was in Nashville. He was going to be on the Ralph Emory radio show and he was one of the few artists that went in front of the Tennessee Legislature. I believe he, Elvis, and Johnny Cash were the only ones invited to appear before the Tennessee Legislature. They wanted him to do his little talk. It scared me. I bought him some overhauls and a red flannel shirt. I didnít want to change his image. I carried him up there and we made the rounds. I had gotten him some shaving lotion and things like that. He told me the next day he drank it! I was friends with Jack McFadden who was booking talent for Hee-Haw and I called him and told him "I have got someone you need on Hee Haw". Well I sent him a record and a package of Junior, he listened to it, checked around and finally agreed to put Junior on Hee Haw as a guest a couple of times which led to Junior becoming a regular on the show. Joe Taylor took over booking for Junior and had a hard time with him sometimes. Junior was a hard dude to crack! If he wanted to go he went, and if he didnít, he didnít go! Once on the Ralph Emory Show Junior was asked if heíd ever been sick. He said yeah a few times. Have you ever been in the hospital? Yeah, one time. Well, what was the problem? Grace, Juniorís wife, said "He had the heem-mo-rah-gees!" Thatís the story of Junior.
Who was your first artist on Chart Records?
Jim Nesbitt was the first artist signed with Chart Records. Jim was a Dee Jay over in South Carolina and I owned a radio station at that time in Louisville, GA. (WPEH) and this is before I got into the music business. Jim brought me his recording of "Lookiní For More In 64" and thatís when Chart Records was born. We put that record out and it was a hit. And that was when I went and made the deal with Gary Walker and the pressing plant, Sounds of Nashville.
That was when you made the "reverse" deal?
Well, the reason I bought it from Gary was we had a hit. I went to Gary and I said "I ainít got no money and you ainít got no money and we got a hit record. I don't have a contract and Iím fixing to make a deal." He said "give me $350. That's what it cost me to get it in the union and it's yours." Jim had a big hit with that record and he kept on with "Still Alive In 65", and then he made some albums with some great stuff like "Stranded". "Runniní Bare" was a great album and single. Jim later went from a Dee Jay to a weatherman on TV for awhile. I haven't seen Jim in a while, I would like to know where he it's.
He is in Florence South Carolina. We spoke with him a few weeks ago.
Before you go I would like to get his phone number and maybe holler at him.
Sure thing, no problem. Did Gary Walker have any artists to release records on the Chart Label before you bought it?
Whether he did or not I do not know. He owned the label but I really cannot answer that. HeĎs still around. He was at the Charlie Lamb thing last year.
Cliff told me he owned a chain of record stores in Nashville called Great Escapes.
(I have since talked with Gary Walker. His remembrances of the transaction with Slim are basically the same as Slimís.)
Slim, I know you had the Peach Records label. I think you had mentioned to me that you also had Yonah Records in addition to the Yonah Music publishing company.
I think I did but don't have any of the records. I'm just lucky that I have these records you see here. I threw it all away after the Ronnie McDowell thing. All of my SESAC awards, all of my RCA awards, all of the No. 1 record awards. I bulldozed it all under. I was very bitter at the music industry. I didn't sell Scorpion Records, I just closed doors and came home. I was very bitter, very bitter.
Has your feelings softened any since then?
Well, I guess they have softened some. Iím sorry I threw it all away and my kids are sorry I threw it all away. Oh, we had a lot of things. SESAC Awards, BMI Awards. Theyíre all gone. Bulldozed under. But I donít want to dwell on that.
Did you expect Chart to become the success that it did?
Not really. We just had the guts to go on with it I guess.
What about your publishing companies? What happened to them?
I had Yonah (BMI), Peach (SESAC), and Sue-Mirl (ASCAP), Sue-Mirl was mine and Ott Stephensís wifeís first names, Sue Stephens & Mirl Williamson. I sold Yonah to Acuff-Rose after I sold the label the second time, probably in 1972. I sold Peach when I sold Chart the second time. I donít remember who bought Sue-Mirl, but it was sold at about the same time as the others.
Why did you hire Lloyd Green to be your session leader?
I have no idea. Probably someone recommended him. It was probably Gary Walker.
I think Lloyd Green told us that Buddy Killen was doing your sessions when he was hired.
You know, I think you're right. Buddy Killen was a big help back then. It may have been Buddy that recommended him. One thing Iím sure of is that I'm glad I did hire Lloyd.
Did Jim Nesbitt record the first album for Chart?
Yes he did. That would have been in 1964. We did not produce another album until Lynn Andersonís "Ride, Ride, Ride" in 1967. Shortly after that was when RCA took over distribution. Really, there wasnít much going on and many of the singles we released between Ď64 and Ď67 would not justify an album. Most of our success came in Ď69 and Ď70.
How did the distribution deal with RCA happen?
Felton Jarvis instigated it to begin with. He introduced me to Steve Shoals. Steve was the man who worked out the deal with RCA. I really liked him. He had a heart attack and died shortly after we made our deal.
When did RCA distribution start?
That was in September 1967. When Audio Fidelity bought Chart in 1969 they killed the deal with RCA. They wanted to do their own distribution, but they didnít know how. They thought RCA was getting all the money and they didnít want to continue with it.
How did you generate interest in the artists?
We mailed records and called the radio stations; we had a list of the Dee Jayís who reported to the trade magazines and of course you did the heaviest concentration on the ones that reported. We would write, call, and travel to those radio stations. I was friends with Ralph Emory and Bob Jennings and if they would play it others would as well. We had enough key people that would work together if we had something that was good. In the early days we promoted things that were not very good but that is just part of the business and as you mature into the business you say "well, that wasnít right" and you only promote the things that you believe has a chance. The worst thing a publisher can do is promote a song he knows is a dud. Itís bad enough when you only think it might be a hit, but to out and out promote one you know isnít any good will do you more harm than anything. Youíll lose respect.
No use throwing good money after bad!
Thatís exactly right! Getting back to the mailings for a minute, when we first moved to Nashville we packed records and mailed them from the basement of our home. We did not have a big office in1964 and we did that for almost a year!
That must have been a real headache!
Yes, but the whole family pitched in and helped. We all worked together.
Who was in charge of promotion?
Joe Gibson was our promotion guy and his wife helped him a lot. Has his name come up anywhere with you?
Oh, itís come up several times!
Joe is a real good friend and we are still in touch. He lives up in Bethlehem, GA. I met Joe through a guy who owned a club in Alabama and he was with Chart for several years. He was at my 50th wedding anniversary, along with Liz Anderson. Heís not in good health, but heís a real good man. He was our promotion man for several years.
How did you decide who would record an album and who wouldnít?
Well, no one wants an album by an artist who didnít have any hit singles or records in the charts. But every artist wants an album! They want one to sell on their road show!
Well, I guess thatís understandable, but I can see where you would have to be cautious on that. What was the purpose of the Great Records label?
It was strictly a custom record deal. People knew it when they came in. The amazing thing about people is you can try your best and try everything to talk them out of making a record and that will make them want to do it that much more. Doctors and lawyers are worse than anyone in the world! They will bring an artist in there and want to put the money up and you can tell them that the odds are not in their favor and they will want to do it anyway. Great Records was really a sub label of Chart. Musictown Records was a sub label of Chart also. I had forgotten about that label until I found one of the records.
When I first talked you, you told me that Great Records was for those people that just wouldnít shut up and leave you alone and had to have a record!
Thatís right! Thatís the actual truth!
That tickled me good when you told me that!
Has things changed in that respect? Are there any recording outfits like that now?
Oh yes! There are plenty of people in Nashville making a living doing custom records. I wonít name any names, but there are one or two that the general public in Nashville want to run out of business. I knew a boy that was almost took in by one. I went with him down to Nashville and found out the deal. It was strictly a con. You can get right on the verge of the law, you know, the way they advertise and promote. They stay just within the law. Itís unethical but itís not illegal. Thatís still happening in Nashville today.
Did you ever pass over any artists that had success with other labels?
Iím glad you asked that question. To my knowledge never, ever did I turn down a song that was a hit record. And I never refused to listen to someoneís song. If someone on my staff sent someone away because of their looks or something, I was upset. I may not have told people what they wanted to hear when they brought me a song, but I listened and gave them an honest opinion. Sometimes people get angry when you give them an honest opinion. One time a man brought me a song, which I really liked, and I had a bad habit - you know if you really like something you shut the rest of the world out while you are listening? Well, I closed my eyes and was really getting into the song and the man got up took the tape off of my tape player and left mad because he thought I had fallen asleep while listening to his song. If someone comes in that you believe has talent then you are going to do something to get them to bring you more songs. I have took a contract on a song that I knew wasnít going to get recorded but I knew the person had talent and I wanted them to come back and maybe bring me a good song. And I have recorded songs that were not necessarily the song the guy was pitching me. It was just another song on the tape that I liked. "Softly and Tenderly" turned up that way. I never judged anyone based on their attitude or what they looked like.
Who were the easiest artists to get along with?
I didnít have any trouble getting along with anyone. Everyone was great. Dave Peel was great. Roy Drusky and Jean Shepard (both on Scorpion) were super. Itís hard to say. Now if you asked me who the hardest one was, that was Ronnie McDowell (Scorpion Records)! He just wouldnít listen to anybody! But, on Chart we didnít really have any problems.
That was one of the recurrent themes as weíve talked to different artists. They all agree that their years at Chart were a super experience. We even came up with a little slogan. "Chart Records. A Label Of Friends". Everyone has had the highest regards for you and the other people at Chart. Itís wonderful!
Well, thank you. And thank them. We were small and you can only do so much when youíre small.
Lloyd spoke of you with great admiration. He gives you a lot of credit in getting him started.
Lloyd is a great talent. Heís good people. There is one artist who has never mentioned me in any interview or any paper or anywhere of how she got started. Thatís Lynn Anderson. She only says that "A man" recorded her. Sheís never mentioned me by name. I donít know why.
What was your proudest achievement with Chart records?
I guess my proudest achievement, and that was why I got into the record business to begin with - what I didnít tell you earlier is that Leon Holmes, when we cut the very first record, the doctors didnít give him long to live. He had a heart ailment and that is why is carried him to Nashville to meet Don Pierce. My label was built on giving young artists a chance. The Anthony Armstrong Jonesí, the LaWanda Lindsayís, the Lynn Andersonís, the Connie Eatonís, several artists were even under 20 years old. My life has been dedicated to giving young people a start. The proudest things I have done in my life was to help people and to give young people a start. Anything that you do for other people, you will be rewarded.
I remember a story that Lloyd told me about your feelings about the other record companies. You never really got the respect you felt you should have from the other labelís executives?
Yes. They didnít really think of me as one of the players. What really irked me with the situation with the majors is they wanted me to find the artists and get the first hit record, then they would come along and tell the artists "hey man, you canít do anything on a small label" and try and take them away. You know, anybody can take a hit artist and cut hit records, but to cut hit records with no names, the Anthony Armstrong Jonesí, the LaWanda Lindseyís, and the young people, you got to have some talent and some work to build them. Some of the artists forget that. Theyíre swayed by the bigger labels promises. Thatís why I got so bitter after the Ronnie McDowell thing. I just decided I wasnít going to build anymore for them. Let them build their own.
What about life after Chart Records? What have you been doing?
In 1972 I came to Georgia and retired (from the record business) and just bought land and sold it, which was in my blood. Then I went back to Nashville in 1975 and started the Scorpion label and I think Ronnie McDowell was one of the first artists we had, he had just gotten out of the Navy and I thought he had potential. He had a song, which I didnít think was a big hit. I had a paid session coming in on a sub label called Sugar Hill Records and I used his song to make the connection with Ronnie McDowell. Well we did the song and the rest is history although I think Ronnie would have been better off in the long run if he would not have recorded that Elvis record the way he did.
Well, I think the song was good for him, but what I think he did wrong was to ride the Elvis thing too long.
Thatís right. He did ride it too long. I advised him against releasing "The King Is Gone" and I actually forbade him to put it out on the label to begin with. I was in the Cayman Islands when Elvis died and he called me about it and I said no. So then when I got to Miami I had a call waiting for me at the airport and Ronnie told me he made a dub of it and he said itís great. He carried it to one of the radio stations and I told him donít put your name on it, put a fans name on it or something, or you will kill yourself. When I got to Nashville, he was determined so we put his name on it released it. It turned out to be a big hit record. What people donít know is that I leased the master out, because it was bigger than anything I wanted to get into, to a company in California called GRT Records and never got a dime. It really cost me about $165,000, "The King is Gone" did. I had borrowed the money from the bank to promote the record. GRT went bankrupt and we got nothing. After that happened, I was bitter with the whole music business. I threw most of my music things away. All of my SESAC, BMI and RCA awards. All of the number one records I threw away. I was very bitter. I didnít sell out the company I just closed the door on the Scorpion label and came home. I started Arcade Homes and have been developing land since them. Iím planning on retiring later this year and Merle and me are going to travel around and see the country.
I wish you the best, Slim. Thank you for talking with us today and thank you for the copies of the press releases. It has been a real honor talking to you.
Well, thank you and good luck to you, too.