SO LONG JOHNNY
The Sendoff For Slate
MOON, SPOON IN JUNE ... HAVING A PICNIC & ONE HELL OF A GOOD TIME WHILE WE STILL CAN, WITH OUR GOLDEN TREE AWARDS
AT TREE PUBLISHING # 1 PARTY - JUNE 11, 1991
Tunesmith Kim Williams, ( obscurred by big hair ) Tunesmith Yours Truly, Recording Artist Joe Diffie, The Late Jack Lameir, Promo Man of CBS Records , The Late Donna Hilley CEO of Tree , and The Now Late Producer / Publisher/ Tunesmith & Cubs Fan, Johnny Slate to whom this page is dedicated to, The gray building in the left background was where API , Johnny's publishing office was located at that time.
THE REASON FOR THE PICNIC WHERE THEY SERVED DEVILED HAM
THAT IS THE NEW ASCAP BUILDING GOING UP NEXT DOOR. A PLACE THAT KIM WILLIAMS & I PAID FOR A FEW BAGS OF THE CEMENT
CHECK PLEASE ... I SEEM TO HAVE SAID "TOM, JOHNNY'S BUYING TODAY"
IN REALITY THAT'S TOM LONG OF ASCAP PASSING OUT # 1 CERTIFICATES TO API FOUNDERS JOHNNY, TONY HARLEY & DANNY MORRISON
IT WAS THEIR GOLFING PAL TOM WHO CAME UP WITH THE NAME "TEXAS WEDGE MUSIC" FOR API'S AFFILIATION WITH ASCAP
BTW : JOHNNY LOVED CHOCOLATE PIE , HE TREATED ME A FEW TIMES TO IT AT SYLVAN PARK RESTUARANT, THE LAST PLACE WE EVER ATE TOGETHER IN MARCH 1992
NASHVILLE, AUGUST 3rd, 2015 :
For a real long time, August 3rd, has had two significant meanings in my life. First and foremost, it is the birthday of my big sister Gerri, who as a teenager introduced me to this new kind of music they would call R&R, when she tuned into Alan Freed on radio station WINS back on Long Island, NY. Or when she spun 45's on the portable record player she got for her 15th birthday in 1955, along with a couple of those little 7" discs with the big hole in them & the big beat in their grooves. I recall two of her birthday 45s really well. "Maybelline" by Chuck Berry on the Chess Label published by ARC Music ( Dick Clark's low profile publishing company) I was always a fan of the fine print on record labels, something I should of paid more attention to on record contracts over the years ! The second one on the Decca label, was clearly marked A side & B side. A sides were the songs the label were promoting as the hit. This A side had a rather long title: Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town) that sailed right over my 8 year old head. It really didn't matter though, for it was what was on the B side that not only grabbed my ears, but a huge part of the entire world . It was "Rock Around The Clock" by Bill Haley & The Comets and rock we all did and I got a guitar. Reason # two was, it is the birthday of singer the late Gordon Stoker leader of the legendary group The Jordanaires. Someone I listened to closely on recordings of Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Patsy Cline and many, many more. Gordon would also be the first music professional, who encouraged me in 1986 to move to Nashville to pursue songwriting. And now August 3rd has another meaning to me, for it is the day I along with several hundred other folks gathered into the caveronous cloisters of First United Methodist Church of Hendersonville, TN to say so long to Nashville music industry veteran John T. Slate. Someone who was a friend and an enigma to many of us for probably as many different reasons as Carter had liver pills. So what follows is my take on that Monday afternoon along with some other memories I chose to leave out of my talking to the group that, because if all of us who did speak told all we knew or recalled about Johnny "Satellite Baby" Slate, we would still be there going strong as this is now Weds afternoon August 5 as I write this.
On the ride up to Hendersonville, which is 23.6 miles ( Not 26 Miles Across The Sea...that's Santa Catalina ) from my door, I brought along the CD "1000 Winding Roads " that Johnny produced along with recently departed Bob Montgomery, for Joe Diffie's entry into the world of the Big Time music industry back in 1990. It is really a very fine recording with lots of really good songs on it. Besides the fact that Joe could sing a phone book and make it sound good, the playing on it, and the arrangements etc. just sparkle. "Home", by second cousin Andy Spooner, thrice removed & Fred Lehner kick it off superbly. I still recall that stormy October day up on the roof of the Spence Manor with the late Tony Harley & Kerry Kurt Phillips trying to hang the # 1 Banner for it . I think the last time I listened to it in its entirety, was as I drove out to Danny Morrison's funeral three years ago. Danny BTW was not only Johnny's co writer on lots of songs like Blaze Of Glory, his biz partner in API, he was also his real first cousin. Johnny was always a All In The Family kind of guy. I think family meant a lot to him and he sure had a large one. As I got into the town of Hendersonville , I passed the street that leads to the home of Kim Morrison and Ronnie Godfrey, two incredible talents and friends, I would meet through Johnny well over a quarter of a century ago. I would meet a lot of great musical talent through Johnny & am happy to say, I likewise introduced him to my share of them. More about them later. I'm very happy to say there is no word Late attached to either Kim or Ronnie's name, a word that both Johnny's daughter Stacey and I agree is coming into use, far far too often lately. As one of my favorite ballads "There Goes The Neighborhood", came up to play, I couldn't help but recall the late Tommy Dotson who wrote it. Tommy and I also met through Johnny and we did sit on my deck, high up on a mountain top and try and write a tune or two together, but I'm not that big of a co writer. But geez Louise this LATE crap needs to back off a bit. Around here it's getting like the White Rabbit running amok saying I'm Late, I'm Late... lately .... Another tune that gave me big pause as it came up to bat was "Almost Home" I recalled when Johnny first wrote it with the late Lonnie Williams (brother of the still with us I'm happy to say, Kim Williams ) Hang in there Kim. If you see the reaper coming, change your doorlocks , that's what I did on that SOB going on twenty years now. Give em the finger too for me ... Where was I , oh yeah as I was saying about "Almost Home", Tunesmiths seem to always like to play their new works for other songwriters to gauge their reactions. Johnny played me a demo of it and I said, "You got that title off the Chocolate chip cookie bag didn't you." He grinned and said yes. Seriously though, I like that one a lot more now, than when I first heard it, now that I'm a lot older.
When I wheeled into the church parking lot, I was lifted by how many cars were there, and it should be that way for a guy who spent as many years as he did down on Music Row. When I opened the doors to the church the first face I made contact with was that of Wyatt Easterling, a fine singer songwriter, I first met Wyatt before I ever met Johnny via the Daily Demo, a radio spot DJ Gerry House did a long long time ago where he would throw demos of our stuff to the lions ( the Nashville listening public ) to vote on ...Is it a Smash or is it trash?. Both Wyatt and I survived that trial by fire, and I also played a small part in introducing him to Stacey Slate down the road when Wyatt was in A&R at Atlantic Records. Many of you know, Stacey Slate, became Stacey Easterling for quite a number of years. Anne and I went to their wedding in 1992. I then saw the irrepressible Steve Pippen, who I met through Johnny and had the pleasure of working with down the road. Steve and I had last seen each other at Bob Montgomery's sendoff last December. We both agreed to stop meeting like this, but he keeps turning up. Next I did a mutual hug with Johnny's son David, who is one of my newest friends on Facebook. Followed by Johnny's daughters Stephanie, Jenny and son Stephen who you can find in the dictionary under the definition of nice guy. Worked my way back to the rear of the church and talked for a spell with Joe Diffie about this that and everything. Then the music started and we took our seats. I sat in the very last row, which I really should not have done because I only have one functioning ear, and now I only have one and a half functioning legs, ( I broke my right one a few months ago in two places and it is now bolted together and far from healed) I knew I was going to have a bit of a jog up front, because Stacey had asked me a week ago to say something at the service. and I didn't want to hold things up. They opened the service with a fine cello and piano version of Bridge Over Troubled Water, which made me think about part of what I planned to say that had water under the bridge in it. They also played Roger Miller's recording of Hoppy's Gone, a 45 that Johnny gave me a copy of years ago. It's a tune Johnny wrote with the late (shit) Larry Henley , NO LARRY is not a shit, far from it, he was a great writer, with tunes like Wind Beneath My Wings to his credit, the fact that the word Late is recently now in front of his name, is what is shitty. I need a break here ...
Stacey, bless her broken heart, was able to speak for quite a spell and able to talk about both the ups and the downs in the life of her Dad. Many of you know she worked for Johnny at API for a number of years. In fact she started working there not long after I first met Johnny and Danny. Following her Drew Womack, who led the recording group Sons Of The Desert, that Johnny produced, did a fine rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.. Johnny's niece Janet Tate had some great stories about his childhood days in Clarksville, especially the one where Johnny wanted to play ball with his sisters, but they didn't have one, so John went and took his Dads's prized signed by the whole team of the St . Louis Cardinal's, baseball, then proceeded to smack it over the fence into the pig pen, where the pigs made a meal out of it. Steve Pippen had some good stories to tell ending with a joke that some might think dicey to be told in a house of worship, but if you really knew Johnny, you knew it was allright. Joe Diffie surprisingly did not sing, but told some deeply moving stuff about not only the industry and how he worked with Johnny, but also about his son, Tyler a special needs child that Johnny helped him with when Tyler was first born. Then the preacher called my name and this is what I said.
UNLIKE MANY OF YOU WHO KNEW JOHNNY FOR A REALLY LONG TIME, I ONLY KNEW HIM FOR WHAT WOULD BE 27 YEARS, COME THIS DECEMBER. AND OVER THOSE 27 YEARS WE DIDN’T HAVE TOO MUCH TO SAY TO EACH OTHER, EXCEPT FOR A BLOCK OF 4 YEARS IN THE LAST CENTURY FROM 1988 - 1992 . DURING THAT TIME WE SAW EACH OTHER 5 DAYS A WEEK IN HIS TUNE FACTORY ON 16TH AV KNOWN AS AFFILIATED PUBLISHERS INK. UNLESS IT WAS A REALLY NICE DAY AND HE WAS OFF PLAYING GOLF SOMEWHERE.
TO ME, LIFE'S CHANGES ARE A LOT LIKE CHORD CHANGES. THERE ARE MANY OF THEM , AT LEAST WHERE I COME FROM. YOU GOT YOUR MAJORS & MINORS, SEVENTHS (YOU CANT PLAY THE BLUES WITH OUT 7THS ), 9THS, 13THS FLAT 5S , AUGUMENTEDS, SUSPENSIONS, DIMINISHEDS & WITH THE RIGHT LYRIC, A FEW DEMOLISHEDS . THEY CREATE COLORS AND MOODS THAT KEEP MUSIC & TUNESMITHING FROM BEING A HO HUM WAY TO MAKE A LIVING
LIVING HAS IT CHANGES TOO. DURING THOSE 4 YEARS WE WORKED TOGETHER, A WHOLE LOT OF THEM WASHED UNDER OUR RESPECTIVE BRIDGES. BUT I WANT TO TALK ABOUT ONE DAY SPECIFICALLY. THE DAY I FIRST MET HIM FOR IT WAS A DAY THAT WOULD LEAD TO A WHOLE LOT OF CHANGES IN NOT JUST MY LIFE & JOHNS, BUT MANY OTHER FOLKS TOO, SOME WHO ARE HERE WITH US AND SOME WHO I HOPE ARE THINKING ABOUT JOHNNY TODAY.
IT STARTED WITH A PHONE CALL I MADE TO NASHVILLE SONGWRITERS ASSOCIATION IN LATE NOVEMBER OF 1988. I WAS CALLING FOR GLENN WARREN , A FELLOW I HAD MET WHEN I FIRST MOVED TO TOWN THE YEAR BEFORE. GLENN KNEW I WORKED AT GIBSON GUITAR AND HAD ALWAYS EXPRESSED AN INTEREST IN WORKING THERE. WELL I CALLED TO TELL HIM OF AN OPENING WE HAD IN MY OFFICE ,BUT HE WAS NO LONGER AT NSAI. THEY GAVE ME A NUMBER OF WHERE TO REACH HIM. WE MADE CONTACT , HE THANKED ME FOR THINKING OF HIM , BUT TOLD ME HE WAS REAL EXCITED ABOUT HIS NEW JOB AT A MUSIC PUBLISHER AND INVITED ME TO COME BY AND BRING SOME OF MY SONGS WITH ME, WHEN I HAD THE TIME. THAT TIME CAME JUST A FEW WEEKS LATER WHEN GIBSON GUITAR & I PARTED COMPANY AND I DECIDED TO SPEND MY TIME PURSUING WHAT I MOVED HERE FOR .,,, A SONGWRITING GIG.
GLENN PLAYED A GUITAR / VOCAL TAPE I BROUGHT WITH THREE TUNES ON IT AND ASKED ME TO SIT TIGHT FOR A MINUTE. H E LEFT THE ROOM WITH THE TAPE, RETURNING ABOUT 10 MINUTES LATER WITH TWO FELLOWS NAMED DANNY & JOHNNY. THEY SAID THEY REALLY LIKED THE SONGS & ASKED ME WHO I WROTE THEM WITH , I SAID NO ONE, THEY SAID THEY ARE STONE COUNTRY CLASSICS AND ASKED ME A BIT ABOUT MY BACKGROUND . THEY WERE SOMEWHAT SURPRISED THAT I GREW UP IN NY. JOHNNY ALSO SAID, THAT CAN’T BE YOU SINGING THEM , I SAID , "NO I SURE CAN’T SING LIKE THAT, HE’S REALLY GOOD ISN”T HE . HE IS A FRIEND OF MINE I WORKED WITH AT GIBSON. THEY OFFERED ME SINGLE SONG PUBLISHING CONTRACTS ON TWO OF THREE TUNES AND ASKED ME TOO FOR THE SINGERS NAME AND PHONE NUMBER. I SAID SURE , GAVE HIM THE NUMBER AND HEADED ON MY WAY FEELING PRETTY GOOD ….. LATER THAT NIGHT I PHONED JOE DIFFIE AND TOLD HIM TO EXPECT A CALL FROM A GUY NAMED JOHNNY SLATE …..THE REST IS MUSIC HISTORY…
IT WAS SOME WEEKS LATER, A RAINY DAY FILLED WITH MINOR CHORDS IF I RECALL, THAT JOHNNY & I SAT ALONE, ONE ON ONE IN HIS OFFICE TRADING MUSIC BIZ WAR STORIES. HE HAD HIS SHARE FROM MUSIC ROW & I HAD MINE FROM THE TRENCHES OF TIN PAN ALLEY . HE SAID SOMETHING THAT DAY THAT STILL RESONATES WITH ME. HE SAID I’VE BEEN UP & DOWN IN THIS BIZ MORE TIMES THAN AN OLD WINDOW SHADE. I SAID SOMETHING LIKE. SO HAVE I JOHN , BUT AT LEAST WE CAN STILL ROLL UP & DOWN. I’D HATE TO BE STUCK IN ONE POSITION. I THINK WE WOULD BE BORED TO DEATH, STUCK IN THE DARK OR THE LIGHT ALL OF THE TIME.
Steve Dukes, who started working at API as a song plugger, followed with some heartfelt stuff, especially of how he went from song plugger to songwriter with mentoring from Johnny. Steve wrote some #1s for Joe Diffie, "Bigger Than The Beatles" and Tim McGraw "I Like It, I Love It" Young Adam Easterling had some whoppers to tell about his grandpa, along with a real heart stopper that drew a tremendous hand. I think there should be more applause at memorial services, don't you ? There was a touching video presentation of a song "At Your Feet" daughter Jenny Slate both wrote and sang on that was a three hankie job. I needed to leave to pick up my wife from work, so I couldn't hang around long for the afterwards stuff, but I did speak for a spell with Sherry Morrison, who I had not seen since she buried Danny. She said she has some of their wedding pictures to send me with Anne, Erik and Old Blue my '36 Plymouth that I bought with my first royalty money. Funny thing about Old Blue, not a day after Johnny's service, news came that Billy Sherrill, a music legend, who produced monster hits like George Jones' signature song "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" had passed away. It was because of Old Blue & songwriting that I would meet Billy in 1991 and receive one of the nicest compliments I ever got in the music biz. It happened right on the streets of Nashville, when totally out of the blue, Billy saw my car parked and stopped by to look it over and talk to me about it. Looking at the license plate he said "YOU OBVIOUSLY HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH THAT DEVIL DANCED SONG. THAT IS ONE OF THE MOST CLEVER TITLES & BEST WRITTEN SONGS I HAVE HEARD IN A LONG, LONG TIME ! " I said thank you and told him I was one of the writers. He stuck out his hand and said , "I'm Billy Sherrill" ...... (whoa ... get a hold of yourself Ken ) We talked for a few minutes longer and I went on my way looking for a phone booth to call Kim Williams, my co writer to share the HIGH I WAS ON.
In the four short years I worked with Johnny, I would get to meet and sometimes work with many really talented folks and some legends in the music buisness. Some that are coming to mind are Wood Newton, Bob Montgomery, Mac David, Mickey Newberry, Larry Gatlin, and Kim Williams. Johnny even made it possible for me to work with Gordon Stoker & The Jordanaires, when he backed me to produce some songs for the ABC -TV show Elvis. Unknown to both of us at the time, was the fact that ABC had already pulled the plug on the series after just six episodes. But that's the way the window shade rolls.
Like many others he worked with, everything between John & I was far from all "Blue Sky Pie" ( a term I learned from John ) all the time. I recall one big to do we had was over a tune I wrote called "Wild Blues Chase", for some reason, he just didn't get it and we really argued over it. What I never got though was this and if I had the chance to ask him I would. I meant to bring it up the day we spent some one on one time together in 2001 and now regret I didn't. The last time I saw Johnny, was at Danny's funeral in 2012 and he wasn't in any shape to ask about anything. But if we ever do meet again like " Out Where The Blue Begins", I would really like to know .... JOHNNY... HOW THE HELL COULD YOU LET THE TUNES "BEHIND THE 8 BALL AGAIN" the very song that started your ball rolling again and your shade to rise back up and "COTTON EYED MOON" FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS WITH JOE, NOT ONCE, NOT TWICE, BUT THREE TIMES ??? Joe wanted to do both of them on a 1000 Winding Roads AND YOU KNOW HE WOULD OF TOOK THEM TO TOP OF THE CHARTS BACK THEN. What was the story behind that screwup ?? You both knew they were hits, THEN AFTER HIS FIRST MEET THE RADIO STATIONS ALL ACROSS AMERICA TOUR IN 1990, JOE ASKED BOB MONTGOMERY TO PUT A LOCK ONTO COTTON EYED MOON FOR THE SECOND ALBUM. Bob said "We'll see"....... crickets and I don't mean the Buddy Holly kind... instead there was a half hearted pre production demo done on "That's My Story" a fun tune, but not a "Stone Country Classic" ... THEN AT THE ASCAP AWARDS IN 1992, TONY HARLEY TOLD ME "BEHIND THE 8 BALL" IS DEFINITELY GOING ON THE THIRD ALBUM" ... Kerry Kurt also told me that the same evening.
Now granted you did a stellar job producing both tunes down the road on Ron Williams, who sang both of them as good as anyone ever could, but you know and I know the difference between major label promotion and indie label promotion. Indie label promotion can be summed up with the Dylan song "You Ain't Goin' No Where"