Vince Gill’s latest album, Pocket Full of Gold, is still top 10 on the country charts; his new single, ”Take Your Memory With You,” is headed that way. No matter — it’s time for Gill to make a new album. Unlike pop acts, major country artists release an album every 9 to 12 months, in part because it’s no big deal to make them. The time-honored Nashville tradition of brisk record making hasn’t changed. You simply pick a studio, hire a few pickers, select the songs, assemble, and, in about a week, make an album. Memo to studio overachievers Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen: Read on and learn.
Jessie Noble, MCA’s director of recording and a funky cowgirl in jeans and boots, is handed a list-the dream band for the new album, as drawn % up by Gill and MCA executive vice president Tony Brown (producer of Gill’s last two albums). Unlike pop albums, most Nashville records use studio musicians rather than road bands. (”Vince’s (touring) band has a right to be pissed,” says Brown. ”We’re just trying to make a good record as efficiently as possible.”) Noble books the Masterfonics studio, a Gill favorite, and hits the phones, hiring musicians for February.
Local 257 of the American Federation of Musicians — the union’s Nashville branch — has 3,500 members, yet most major-label country albums use a core of only 30 to 40 highly skilled studio pros. Gill has chosen seven of them: guitarists Richard Bennett, Randy Scruggs (Earl’s son and a producer and musician in his own right), and Steuart Smith; bassist Willie Weeks; keyboardists Pete Wasner and John Barlow Jarvis (heard on the latest albums by Wynonna Judd, Patty Loveless, and Reba McEntire); and, imported from L.A., drummer Carlos Vega. ”I try not to play last week’s licks on this week’s record,” says Jarvis, who recently won a Grammy for cowriting the Judds’ ”Love Can Build a Bridge.” ”But it gets tough sometimes.”
Each musician will be paid union scale: $241.43 for a three-hour session, with each day to consist of three three-hour sessions. Studio veterans Jarvis and Weeks command double scale, so they’ll gross nearly $6,000 apiece for four days’ work (session players don’t receive royalties, though). The budget is about $100,000 — typical for a country album but as little as one-fifth the cost of most pop albums.
Back home in Nashville after a lengthy tour, Gill blocks out the month to write the 10 songs needed for the album. He ends up doing two with Max D. Barnes and Don Schlitz of Almo/Irving Music, one of Nashville’s many song-publishing houses.
Almo/Irving, owne d by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss (of A&M Records), is indeed run out of a house — a refurbished Victorian home that is a quick stroll from Masterfonics. In its cozy confines, most of the company’s 15 staff writers crank out songs in offices outfitted with tape decks and couches, making an average of $20,000-$40,000 a year (additional royalties from Almo/Irving can push the amount higher). Each week, an average of 10 songs are written and added to the company’s catalog of 8,000 songs. Current staff writers include hit makers like Schlitz (the Judds’ ”Rockin’ With the Rhythm of the Rain”), Paul Kennerley (Marty Stuart’s ”Tempted”), and Mike Reid (Bonnie Raitt’s ”I Can’t Make You Love Me”).