George Jones' Record Label Threatened In Consolidation

Asylum Records becomes Warner Bros. subsidiary, resulting in major staff changes.

NASHVILLE — The label home for country veteran George Jones, teen-oriented artists Bryan White and Lila McCann, and others is in a state of flux.

Asylum Records integrated with Warner/Reprise Nashville this week — severely downsizing its staff from as many as 22 employees earlier this year to six employees.

"This move doesn't change the status of our artists on Asylum. It will actually enhance their possibilities through added resources and manpower," said Asylum President Evelyn Shriver. The label's artist roster also includes Chad Austin, Mark Nesler, Chalee Tennison and Monte Warden.

Still, the move is one more example of the kind of label consolidation that has increasingly been shaking Music Row — and that in some cases has resulted in artists being dropped by their record companies.

Asylum Records had been an Elektra subsidiary, reporting to Elektra's Sylvia Rhone in New York. The label, which has moved from its own building into the Warner Bros. conglomerate building, now reports to Warner/Reprise Nashville President Jim Ed Norman.

Asylum received Grammy awards this year with George Jones' hit "Choices" (RealAudio excerpt) and the powerhouse collaboration "After the Gold Rush" from Trio II featuring Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. Asylum also released the Ronstadt/Harris effort Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions in 1999.

Asylum will maintain a small promotion department, but will share marketing and promotion efforts with Warner/Reprise. A similar, earlier change came in late 1999 when Atlantic Records left its own headquarters building and took up residence in the Warner/Reprise building.

Consolidation is keeping executives and artists all along Music Row on their toes. Country mainstays such as Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Diamond Rio, BR5-49 and other Arista artists' future is uncertain with the expected folding of Arista Nashville into the RCA Label Group, said to be imminent. Both are BMG holdings.

The upheaval at Arista/Nashville began in late 1999, when parent company Arista head Clive Davis began a struggle with BMG management over forcing his retirement at age 65 — a BMG policy.

Coincidentally, Arista/Nashville president Tim DuBois announced that he would be leaving the label to join Gaylord Entertainment, the parent company of the Grand Ole Opry and other extensive holdings. DuBois had been hand-picked by Davis to launch Arista/Nashville in 1989 and his first signings were soon-to-be-platinum acts Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn. Both DuBois' and Davis' contracts with Arista are up June 1. When DuBois finally joins deep-pocketed Gaylord, he is expected to launch new country and pop labels this year, and industry observers in Nashville point out that DuBois — given his popularity and proven track record — can sign virtually any artist or executive he wants to.

Universal also has made radical changes in the Nashville landscape. The January 1999 Universal and PolyGram merger shut down Decca Records, dropping Dolly Parton and transferring Mark Chesnutt, Lee Ann Womack and Gary Allan to MCA Nashville. In 1998, Universal also closed its Rising Tide imprint, ousting such acts as Delbert McClinton and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.