Interview with Gail Davies
By CSO European
Contributing Journalist, Christian Lamitschka.
CH: Gail, how would you describe the music that you are playing to somebody that doesn't know you?
G: Country, Folk, Blues - my music is not really twangy. I do not sing hillbilly music though I sing a lot of traditional Country Music with a tendency towards Folk Music.
CH: How is your current CD doing?
G: Very well. The Greatest Hits album is out. I was just nominated for a Grammy for my duet with Ralph Scanley on his album "Clinch Mountain Sweethearts" and we won an IBMA Award. I was nominated for my production work on an album called "Caught in the Webb" which is a tribute to country legend, Webb
Pierce. I have also produced all of my own albums myself. So things are going really well. My newest album will be released this summer. Is is called "The Songwriter Sessions". There will be 40 songs on this double CD. We have not finished that yet.
CH: How did you find the title for you upcoming CD?
G: Well, because I am a songwriter. A lot of times people only think of me just as a singer and record producer because I was the first woman producer in Country Music. When I was in Holland doing a show there, the promoter drove me around in his car and he played a song to me from a bluegrass group called The Whites. He told me that I would love the song and asked me whether I was familiar with it. I told him yes, I wrote the song. It was then that I realized a lot of people do not know I am a songwriter as well and therefore I am doing this album "The Songwriter Sessions".
CH: You said that you were the first woman producer. Do you think it is harder for women in that business or for men?
G: I think these days it is hard for every artist in Country Music, because the business has been taken over by so many big corporations from outside Nashville. A lot of those people do not really understand Country Music. When I moved to Nashville, Billy Sherrill, who wrote with Tammy Wynette and produced George Jones, was the head of CBS Records and Chet Atkins was the head of RCA. So the record labels were run by people who were musicians themselves, but those days are gone. Therefore I think it is hard for everybody, although I believe women have had a harder time in Nashville and in Country Music business. The mentality is still very much like the old movie "Gone With The Wind" and all of that Scarlett O' Hara stuff. It is getting a lot better obviously with people like Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks and lots of others.
CH: Where do you see the differences between todays and yesterdays artists?
G: In the old days Country Music in general was more about country people. There are not very many people pining away in the hollow any more, like where Loretta Lynn grew up. Even if kids are from the country, they wear Calvin Cline Jeans and Jordan Air Shoes. They know a lot more about the world than country kids did back in the 40th and 50th. That is why we do not have a lot of songs today about 'going to Detroit City cause you are stuck in the dusk bowl of Oklahoma' - because times have changed and therefore the music did too. The kids are singing about things that are relevant to them. A lot of it is about relationships. It is not really the same world any more. The Chinese have a proverb, which is 2000 years old saying "music is a direct reflection of the state of it's society". Our society has changed, therefore the music did as well.
CH: How much do you think can a song influence the public mind?
G: A good songwriter writes a song that applies to a universal thing. Everyone has heartaches, everyone has experienced the death of a loved one, everyone has had somebody they love leave them or whatever may happen in a life. The key to a good song is writing something that crosses all barriers. For instance, I wrote a simple little song called "Someone is Looking for Someone Like You". The song has been translated into seven languages, it has been recorded in German, Czechoslovakia, Wales, Japan and other countries. If a song is able to translate beyond borders, then it will influence lots of people.
CH: How has the internet affected your popularity and your CD sales? Has it hurt you?
G: For me it has been wonderful. I quit the business when my son Chris Scruggs, who now plays with BR549, was young. I spent about 12 years just raising him and not doing my music. I did not want to go back on a major label and when I recorded my album "Eglectic" I started my own record company and set up a web site. I wrote all the songs and I owned all the publishing, so I just sold my albums on that web site and it is the first time in my life that I ever saw any money for my work. Before, I have had 18 hit records and the record company never paid me one penny.
CH: How can that happen that you get no money for your work from the record companies?
G: A lot of people do not understand that system. When a record company signs an artist they give them a very small royalty, sometimes only 65 cents per record that is sold. Then they charge the cost of making the album against the artist's royalties. Therefore, if the artist does not sell enough to pay that back - sometimes it costs $250,000 dollars to make a record - he will remain in debt with the company. If you do a video that is charged against the artist and if you do a tour, the tour support is charged against the artist as well. Pretty soon the artist may wind up owing millions of dollars to the record company. That is why Prince had written "slave" on the side of his face. Because the companies get you in a situation where they own you. Even though you have to pay for making the album, the record company owns the album, you cannot have it. You cannot even put it out and sell it on your own, they own it, but you pay for it. So, in my situation, they told me that my albums had never sold enough to recover the costs of making them, although there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people in the world that own my album. For my first album "Lifesong" I have never even seen a statement. They have never accounted to me for a single dollar of that money. I also recorded a song on an album "The Sweethearts of the Rodeo" recorded. I co-wrote it with Janice Gill, Vince Gill's ex-wife. CBS/Sony Tree refused to pay me because they had a deal with Janice, which is called a controlled composition clause. It says if you record for them, they do not have to pay you as a writer. They simply said that that applied to me also. My lawyer said it does not, but they insisted it did and I did not have the money to hire a lawyer to sue them, so they got to keep my $35,000 dollars.
CH: If you had the chance to change something in Music Row, what would you like to change?
G: Probably the people that run the record companies. There are a few really good ones out there, but in general I think they need people that know music better. Tim Dubois is one of the good guys - he knows music. He is great. There are other people that are in there for marketing or sales reasons or they have good friends in New York, etc. Also, I would like to see producers being more original with their production work. I get bored of hearing the same drum sound on every record, the same kind of guitar solos, very generic guitars. I can turn the radio on and when I hear that sound, I turn it off. I do not care about that sound and that song - the productions are generic. One of the artists I really love today is Alison Kraus, because she has taken a bluegrass format and has made it interesting and has given it new life. She is an excellent producer. She and Union Station have broken through to the world with something that is unusual. I like unique things, like John Prine, or when The Judds first came out.
CH: The Dixie Chicks are very popular now in Europe for their answer about Mr. Bush. What is your opinion about this answer from the Dixie Chicks?
G: First of all I love the Dixie Chicks. I like the fact that they are strong women, that they run their careers, that they write their songs, that they have ideas. I think that Natalie got caught off guard there. That comment was too personal. I would rather have heard her say something political, like "I do not agree with the war", but I think the way she said it offended a lot of people in Texas because it was like she was speaking for the State of Texas. I believe as artists and Americans we have the right to dissent. The man that wrote about the Dixie Chicks on the internet sent me a copy of his letter and I replied to him saying "whether you agree or not with what they had to say, I do not ever want you to send me another e-mail because your speech is anti-American." He wrote back asking me what I meant by that and I said "If you do not defend other's peoples right to have an opinion in this country, that is anti-American." I do not care what someone believes, they have a right to say it. That is what this whole country is built on. Whether they are against or for Mr. Bush "das macht nichts". You can say what you want to say. We are supposed to be a free country. I am afraid that more and more people and artists are being pressured to say and not to say what others tell them to. We should be free to say what we want to say. But we should say it in a way that is not personal, but focuses on facts, like good politics. I do not want to say things like "someone is ugly, etc." because that would not make the point. The point in that case was that they felt we were doing something wrong as a government and it wasn't just Mr .Bush, there are a lot of people along with him. So it is an entire government issue and if you are opposed to that you need to speak in terms of what we are doing as a nation.
CH: Today many music fans are getting their information about artists via the internet. Do you have your own web site and exactly what information can one find on it?
G: Yes and the address is: www.gaildavies.com
They can find everything on there including every album. If you click on the album covers it will tell you what musicians played on it, what songs are on it, who wrote the songs, etc. There is a discography about everyone I have toured with from Neil Young to George Jones, Willie Nelson and Roger Miller. Everything you want to know about me is on that web site. You can also find my biography in five different languages, including German.
CH: Many European fans come to Nashville for Fan Fair because it gives them the chance to meet many of their
favorite stars at the same time. Will you be participating and where can fans find you?
G: Betty Walker is putting together a Fan Fair event and I might be part of that. I usually do a show at the Station Inn during Fan Fair, so I may have a show there as well.
CH: What are your plans for 2004?
G: In April we are going to Holland, England, Scotland, Ireland and Spain. I have not been to Germany for a couple of years, but I have played there before with a promoter named Karl-Heinz Seiber. He is a good friend of mine. He and his wife have a company over there. I hope to come back there because I love Germany, I love the nice Down Pillows and the fluffy comforters and the fact that it is so clean. My grandfather was a Whittenburg, so he was German/English and my Grandmother was Irish and American Indian. I have enough German in me to be stubborn.
CH: Gail, is there anything special you want to tell your European fans at the end of this interview.
G: I just hope that they keep on listening to and enjoying real country music. I hope that the American corporations do not infiltrate their view of music. Americans have become youth worshippers and they have the attitude to believe that anybody over 30 years is gone. I love singing for people and they still enjoy and love me.
CH: Thank you Gail for the interview.
Christian Lamitschka ( Ch.Lamitschka@t-online.de