”If it doesn’t sound like a Dodge truck commercial, it ain’t gonna make it on FM country,” grouses Pete Anderson, Dwight Yoakam’s longtime producer. Anderson isn’t alone; among artists, producers, and A&R folk, the monotony of mainstream country radio has become the gripe du jour. Next month, they might find some relief. Gavin, the influential San Francisco-based music-biz weekly, whose 11 charts monitor airplay in radio formats from Top 40 to jazz, will add a 12th: Americana.
Gavin is credited with championing the two-year-old adult album alternative format (”Triple A”), which helped pump new blood into mainstream pop (Counting Crows and Sheryl Crow). Now it wants to do the same for country, with a chart aimed at raising the profiles of younger innovators (like Jim Lauderdale and Alison Krauss) while reviving the careers of erstwhile hitmakers (George Jones, Merle Haggard). The former, says Gavin’s Rob Bleetstein, ”are too left field for Nashville, too twangy for Triple A”; the latter are written off as old hat. As of Jan. 1, Gavin had signed up 48 reporting stations, each of which plays at least 12 hours a week of alternative country. So the new chart, says Bleetstein, merely legitimizes a groundswell.
”This is a breath of fresh air,” says MCA/ Nashville president Tony Brown. ”I love my Vince (Gill) and Reba (McEntire) hits, but I’m frustrated by my lack of success with Mac McAnally and Joe Ely.” Not to mention some of his legends: ”I’m in the studio now with George Jones and Tammy Wynette,” says Brown. ”I told them, ‘Radio don’t give a s— anyway, so just go ahead and do what you do best.’ Then I heard about this chart and thought, ‘Maybe there’s a place that might actually play it!”’