Current Album: Sweet
Whether he’s speaking or singing, you won’t mistake Ken Mellon’s mellow baritone for anyone else. There’s a dash of George Jones smoothness, a twist John Anderson intensity, and a sprinkle of Keith Whitley longing, but the final mix is pure, smooth, easy-to-ingest Mellons. You can’t help but wonder why every country radio station in the land isn’t serving him up as the feature of the day.
Mellons came to the interview booth dressed in his go-to-work outfit – Stetson hat and a western-cut shirt with a contrasting yoke decorated with appliqué – striking indeed. He admitted that he likes shopping for his stage clothes and thinks he has a good fashion sense. And right now, "Retro is in." And his newest project should establish that "Ken Mellons is in."
Mellons. like many of the talented artists in Nashville, knows the game of label roulette very well. Initially on Epic where he cut the million airplay song, "Jukebox Junkie," he later languished at another company until he asked for and received his release. Now, on Home Records, an independent label, he has a new album titled Sweet.
And that album title was cleverly displayed as a nailed to the wall car license on the front porch of his booth in the Wrangler Fan Fair Exhibit Hall. The comfy porch, complete with inviting chair, looked just right for "settin’ a spell "after some time working in the wood-shed.
Mellons says that "wood-shedding" is exactly what he was doing during the time he wasn’t making records. "Wood-shedding," he explained for CSO is "honing in and crafting your skills ... a lot of time writing with some of the greatest songwriters in Nashville." The frustration he felt at being on hold with the label and not making records, was worked off in his song writing efforts during the time. He scored some cuts with major artists like George Strait, Hank, Jr., Mark Chestnut, Dierks Bentley. "Though my label contract kept me from making records, I could make a living in the industry."
Asked about how the songwriting process works for him, Mellons responded, "There’s a certain chemistry – I can be driving down the road, sitting watching a movie, carrying on a conversation with somebody. There is not a certain set way that you go about writing a song. I’m 50-50 between lyric and melody. I usually come up with some pretty good melodies – especially the traditional country kind."
About co-writing – "Two heads are better than one, especially when you set down with somebody like Dean Dillon with a track record like he has (25 number one hits for George Strait). I was driving down the road in my pick-up truck and this idea kept running through my head – ‘You can’t make my heart believe you’ve made up your mind to leave’ – over and over, such a great idea. I knew I was writing with him on Monday and I just kept riding around, riding around and this was Saturday – when I got with Dillon on Monday, he said ‘You got anything,’ and I played him the melody and what I had, and he said, ‘Let’s write it.’ He’s very creative, talented and I enjoy writing with him a lot."
The music industry has a way of lifting you up, only to drop you hard. Mellons release of "Paint Me a Birmingham" was headed to a sure-fire upper spot on the charts, and could have been another career song for him. Robert Oermann, music reviewer and critic for Music Row magazine, lauded, "Simply terrific. The song tugs at your hillbilly heart. Ken sings with extraordinary emotion and depth. The production is beautifully understated. And Vince Gill provides the tenor harmony. This minor masterpiece made my day."
Mellons expressed his pride in the single, "I thought we had a great cut there –Vince Gill came in and did harmony – it was just magic – we released it in August." Then the phone call came. Tracy Lawrence’s new label had bought the cut that Lawrence had made two years before and planned to release it as a single. Many radio stations played the two versions head to head in a "Battle of the Birminghams."
"And listeners called in and voted and we were winning 99% of the time, but the politics kicked in with radio and we lost out. I’m happy for Tracy; it’s a great song. We were obviously disappointed; it’s a dead issue now for me."
Mellons’ reflected, "It gained 2 things – people in radio know that Ken Mellons is a damn good country singer now. And they know that we’re back and that’s something that we wanted to do."
And back he is!! His new album, Sweet – full of finely crafted traditional country music – reveals how well Mellons has honed his skills. Besides his own writing efforts, (half of the cuts are his), several of Nashville’s A-List writers contributed to the project. And if you want to snare some A-list singing partners, you don’t do any better than Vince Gill and George Jones.
Jones collaboration with Mellons on "Institute of Honky Tonk," validates Mellons’ course-work in the school of country music - "I graduated at the top of my class … I’ve got a Ph.D in pure country."
And that says it all! The second single, the lively "Climb My Tree," has been released to radio as a single. Look for the album, Sweet, to be released on July 27th, 2004.
Feature article by Helen Neal