Temptation is one of my finest, most proud musical accomplishments. Not just because the record is a standout, but because it was at this time I discovered I was more than a singer. I could make things. I was an artist.
Los Angeles. It’s a long hike from Twangtown to The City of Angels but I was ready to start hitchin’. I was released from CBS, and had the freedom to search for another label.
There was a new movie studio named Morgan Creek in the making. They were in the middle of their first film release with a movie called True Romance and needed music for the film. They hired record business legend Jim Mazza who ran Capitol in the ’80s to charge the music department, so one sunny afternoon in Century City we had lunch together. He was already familiar with me and my short run so far but heard my voice underneath the Nashville attempts and was looking for an artist to help mold into something big for not only Morgan Creek, but hoping to make the music department into a new label. We hit it off immediately. He knew my country roots but as we got to know each other he could see what I was after. I was immersed in Swing music at the time, everything from Sinatra, Ella and the great Jazz greats, but also embracing what I had grown up on as a kid, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. I kept telling him, “It’s not country, it’s swing, you know like a big band.”
He saw the possibilities, loved my style and my look but more importantly knew that I understood the genre and what I thought I could bring to it, something traditional but completely hip and modern. Morgan Creek was based out of Los Angeles but their distribution was through Mercury in Nashville for some reason, which allowed me to continue living there when we signed a deal together. Jim and I asked legendary Brent Maher (The Judds) to produce the record with me and he was game. Brent was quite a name in Nashville but never got too deeply into the politics making of records there, he was almost a black sheep, and had a depth about him I respected. He knew what I wanted to do with the music. I didn’t want to sing about howling dogs at the moon, or prairie dogs and tumbleweeds. I wanted sophisticated songs with an uptown groove.
I had never been told about the business part of making money by writing all of your own music. Nobody had ever told me about that.
But Brent encouraged me to write half of the record with him so we would have original material on the record. The album process was as easy as showing up. The musicians were the best in the world, I loved the songs we were writing and I trusted Brent. He was an engineer before he became a record producer so he knew how to work the board, how to make music sound good, knew mics and placement, music and singers. He was a hands-on producer and I knew I was in good hands and could relax inside the process. I hadn’t had that since Billy Sherrill. As a singer, you always know when it’s going down right and good. There’s a feeling that comes into the room and sits down beside you as you let what’s inside you find itself, allowing it to fall onto the tape. The experience was so much fun I could hardly believe that I was doing something that I wanted to do musically. I was satisfied in knowing when we pushed the playback button that what I was doing was good, really good, unique and wonderful. This was no ordinary record. It was a special record. I couldn’t quit listening to it. I fell completely into my own style, way, with clothes, attitude, hair and found something I was looking for. I cut my hair off even shorter and dyed it bright copper penny red. It was so radical but I felt like I was finally myself. I felt cool, and classic like a leader, a troubadour and I felt like someone who could change things. I never knew what happy was before this time.
The record came out in early 93 to unbelievable reviews. It was a force and Morgan Creek was not ready. They put one of the songs from the record onto the Soundtrack for True Romance and let me make a couple of videos for CMT. I did everything I could without a tour to promote the record but it was too sophisticated for country music and it just wilted away. It became a critic favorite and people were taken aback by the beauty of the record, but it was short-lived. I found out years later that the press train that took off for the record was such a surprise to the Morgan Creek. They had never even had plans to make a record label, the record wasn’t even supposed to come out. The record shot off like a cannon critically in spite of the unknowing goings-on at the film company.
I had found myself. I was doing what moved me as an artist. I was filled up by what I was creating. It was not of the norm, it was off the rails. It was real and it was inspired. It was music, not a formula. It was creative and it was bold. It went against the grain and it went against the rules. What I learned was simple. Do your absolute best work, do what you love and do what you do. The art will find its place in the world. It went against everything because it was art. Art is against. Art is never following. Art is uncatchable like air under a bird’s wings flying high to the sky.
Art is a bird.