NASHVILLE — Following a career that cooled
off several years ago, award-winning singer
COLOR="#003163">Ricky Van Shelton is
back, with an album on Audium, a company giving "second
chances" to worthy but label-less performers.
Shelton is happy to be there and to have a newfound
creative freedom. His new album, Fried Green
Tomatoes, includes uncompromising material such as
>RealAudio excerpt), about the choice to have an
abortion, but also includes the traditional "All I Have to Offer
"I've always said the people at record labels should stay in
their offices and leave the artists alone to make the music,"
Shelton said. "Why stifle the creativity?"
If the artist-label fit is good from Shelton's perspective, it's
also fine by Nashville's Audium Entertainment, the brainchild
of the Dixie
Chicks' British manager,
Simon Renshaw, and industry veteran Nick Hunter.
Audium opened its doors earlier this year with the intention
to sign known and talented performers who for whatever
reason did not have a home at a record label.
Form Over Function?
In an industry that champions youth and good looks, talent
alone seems unable to carry a country-music career. In
addition, any artist who gets a reputation for being
independent is branded a troublemaker and considered
undesirable. So Audium had a wide field of artists from
which to pick.
Among their choices were certified pop and rockabilly artist
country legend Loretta
Lynn, country-rock wildmen the
traditional country singer
eccentric Oklahoma country-rockers the
COLOR="#003163">Tractors and Shelton.
"We're proud to have Ricky on Audium," said Hunter, the
label's president. "Who wouldn't be? He's one of the best
singers country music has had."
Shelton came out of Grit, Va., in the mid-'80s with a rich
baritone voice and good looks, and it seemed like the sky
was truly the limit for him.
He signed with Columbia, and his third single to chart,
"Somebody Lied," went to #1 on Billboard in 1987.
His next five singles also were #1 hits, including his
signature song, "I'll Leave This World Loving You."
At one point, Shelton was as hot as you can get in country,
winning the Country Music Association's Horizon Award (for
Most Promising New Artist) in 1988 and Male Vocalist of the
Year in 1989. He was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry in
Overall he had 10 #1 Billboard country hit singles and
four other top-5 hits from 1987 to 1991 while on Columbia
Records — including a duet with Dolly Parton on
the #1 "Rockin' Years" in 1991. To that, add three
Billboard #1 albums, including Living Proof,
which held the top spot for 10 weeks in 1988.
Career No-Nos 101: Takin' On The PTBs
Things then began to slow down for the country star,
especially after his backstage argument with Irving Waugh,
the executive who ran the Country Music Association
Awards show in 1993. The bone of contention was over
cutting the length of Shelton's performance on the show's
live telecast, which the singer ultimately refused to do.
Waugh summarily dropped him from the show and ordered
him, his band and his tour bus to leave the rehearsal
immediately. Shelton also had unkind words to say in
interviews about country radio consultants. Columbia
Records dropped him in 1995.
Shelton began a sometime acting career, including a guest
spot on "Baywatch," and started writing children's books,
most notably the successful "Quacker" series, about, what
else, a duck. He also recorded one album himself, on his
own Wal-Mart&3150;distributed label.
Now Shelton, sporting a shaved head, is on Audium.
He said he'd not been looking for a new label before
Audium came along. "As a rule of thumb," Shelton said,
"radio stations won't play an independent record, no matter
how good. They play nothing but what the majors give
them. I think it will be different at Audium because of Nick
[Hunter] and the people he has working there. Nick has
been around and knows the business in and out."
Shelton said Hunter convinced him the association would
be a good fit. "Nick said, 'You make the record; I'll get it
played. You're in the music business. I'm in the
record business.' That was real refreshing to me. I've
already had a successful run, but I hope this works,
regardless of me. Music needs fresh approaches."