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Nashville Scene Capitol Campaign

So Garth Brooks hasn't hurt EVERY artist

By Michael McCall

JULY 13, 1998:  Pat Quigley, the head of Capitol Records in Nashville, called recently to dispute a comment in a June 18 Scene music column about the current state of country music. Understandably, he took issue with the statement that the actions of his company's primary record seller, Garth Brooks, had hurt other artists on the Capitol roster. Quigley was quick to point out that Brooks has performed duets on recent albums by Suzy Bogguss and Steve Wariner. Not only does Brooks' presence on these records virtually guarantee a greater amount of radio airplay and sales for these artists' albums, the superstar also voluntarily waived the requisite fee for his performance.

True, we were wrong to imply that every artist on Capitol has been hurt by the extravagant amount of promotional money and staff time currently being funneled toward Brooks. (After he was so upset at selling only 4 million copies of Fresh Horses, the singer has seen sales of his 8-month-old Sevens leap all the way to 5 million, now that he's getting everything he wants from the label.)

Wariner obviously is enjoying a career comeback, and Brooks has played an instrumental role in that success--at Brooks' encouragement, Wariner became Quigley's first signing to Capitol after he took over as division chief. So it makes sense that Brooks would want to make sure his colleague was a success.

As for Bogguss, she attended a Capitol staff meeting in which Brooks stood up and characterized Capitol as his family, saying that he wanted to help out his kin in any way he could. Bogguss immediately contacted Brooks and asked him to sing on her next album, Nobody Love, Nobody Gets Hurt, which came out last month. It was a brilliant stroke on Bogguss' part; with Brooks having just made his statement, how could he refuse?

Cynics that we are, we can't help but think that both of these generous acts support the perception that Capitol Records is controlled by Brooks, and that Quigley is little more than a brash, outspoken puppet doing his master's work. After all, it was Brooks' hardball, behind-the-scenes maneuvers that got Scott Hendricks booted from the company, and it was his full endorsement of Quigley that got the marketing man bumped up to the top position. Now it appears Brooks has similar sway over the label's roster as well. If he shows support, then an act gets moved to the top of the batting order. Meanwhile, young acts formerly in development at Capitol, including well-regarded talents such as Dean Miller, have been unceremoniously put out on the street.

Quigley did challenge us to come up with a Capitol act who has been harmed by Brooks' actions. At the mention of Trace Adkins, the label head howled, saying that Adkins' first-quarter sales for his latest release have been exponentially larger than the first-quarter sales for his debut. Well, yes, that's true, but he was unknown at the time of his first album. The question is whether he's getting the staff support and percentage of promotion money due to one of the label's fastest-developing new acts. That's a subjective call, of course, but there are those who think Adkins is suffering because of the attention and money being directed toward Brooks and Wariner.

We also asked Quigley about artists who've been dropped from the label. Needless to say, they've not benefited. But, in Quigley's defense, rosters regularly get trimmed, especially when a new executive takes over.

In answering the question, the label head did let go of a bombshell. He would be glad to show us a letter from Tanya Tucker, he said, in which she is requesting to leave the label. That's big news, of course, but Quigley's implication is that he's not forcing her out.

For us, though, Tucker's possible departure further reinforces the idea that Capitol is becoming the stable that Garth built. Quigley may not have asked her to leave, but why does she want to find another label? Could Quigley possibly think that she's volunteering to step out of the way because she believes Garth deserves more attention than she does? No matter what Tucker may write in the letter--official notices of resignation are one of the greatest repositories of deceptive politeness in the biz world--she clearly believes it's better to cut ties and start anew rather than stay where she's not fully appreciated.

There's no mistaking that Pat Quigley wholly believes his actions are in the best interest of Capitol Records, himself, and his best-selling artist. He also believes that old-school forces in Nashville have it out for him, and that the Nashville Scene has joined their ranks. He characterizes himself as a New Yorker and an outsider with good ideas, and he mentions RCA's Joe Galante and Mercury's Luke Lewis when talking about a "circling of the wagons" that he perceives is taking place among the Music Row powers-that-be. "I've never met either one of them," he says of the two label heads, both of whom have publicly criticized Quigley's methods. "Never once have they called or asked to meet with me or discussed with me the ideas I have or what I'm trying to accomplish here."

Maybe Quigley doesn't know it, but when Galante and Lewis started working in Nashville, they were outsiders too. Galante is a New Yorker who faced vocal and widespread opposition on Music Row when he took Jerry Bradley's job at RCA Nashville in 1982. But Galante, who also has a background in marketing, eventually earned respect from the local and national music industry for his fresh ideas in the '80s. In 1990, he left Nashville to return to New York and take over all of RCA's domestic operations. After a difficult run in New York, he returned to RCA Nashville in 1994.

Lewis, a Florida native, spent more than 20 years in Dallas, Boston, New York, and Los Angeles before coming to Nashville in 1993. He worked his way up the ranks at CBS and MCA before taking over the chief Mercury Records post in Nashville five years ago.

In short, neither exec would consider himself part of a good-old-boy circuit. Nor do they seem like the type of men who would engage in a circling of wagons. But the fact remains: Nashville music insiders are questioning Quigley's methods. For instance, what does it mean that Capitol was the only Nashville-based label not to present a new artist at Fan Fair? And what does it mean that Capitol is currently operating without a single employee in its talent and A&R department?

Quigley is breaking with convention on several fronts, and that's going to get him criticized. It's probably too early to tell whether his choices are shrewd or reckless. In the end, what will count most are the sales figures, profit margins, and even the quality of the music. We'll grant that Quigley has one thing right: He's shaking up Music Row.

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