Ricky Van Shelton Returns With New Music

Acclaimed country singer finds a haven with new label, Audium.

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

his topical "The Decision" (


>RealAudio excerpt), about the choice to have an

abortion, but also includes the traditional "All I Have to Offer

You Is Me" (


r_You_Is_Me.ram">RealAudio excerpt).

"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

Billy Swan,

country legend Loretta

Lynn, country-rock wildmen the

COLOR="#003163">Kentucky Headhunters,

traditional country singer

COLOR="#003163">Daryle Singletary,

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."

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