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Bluegrasser gets away with murder

By Jon Weisberger, January 2000

With a long list of country songs already bearing his name on writer credits, you'd think Larry Cordle wouldn't be especially surprised to have a hit record himself.

Nevertheless, the bluegrass-singing songwriter didn't expect to see his "Murder On Music Row" (Shellpoint) firmly lodged in the Top 10 of Gavin's Americana chart - in fact, he wasn't sure what to expect at all.

"We're trying to figure out what this all means. I guess it can't be anything really bad," he laughs, "so I'm tickled about it."

Indeed, though his fourth album - made with a new edition of his band, Lonesome Standard Time, featuring veteran pickers David Harvey, Booie Beach, Terry Eldredge, Fred Carpenter and David Talbot - is a powerful collection of both old and new songs, there's little doubt that its success is being driven by the title track.

Cordle's past songs have been recorded by George Strait, Garth Brooks, Loretta Lynn, Trisha Yearwood, Alison Krauss, The Osborne Brothers, Ricky Skaggs, George Jones, John Michael Montgomery, John Anderson, and Gene Watson.

In 1992, he was nominated for a Grammy and was awarded the International Bluegrass Music Associations' Song Of The Year for the song "Lonesome Standard Time."

Some of his other hits include Skaggs' "Highway 40 Blues" and Diamond Rio's "Mama Don't Forget To Pray For Me."

When Cordle performs "Murder..." on the Grand Ole Opry, the dressing rooms empty as visitors and Opry members alike crowd the wings to listen, and its impact is only likely to grow, thanks to a recording by George Strait and Alan Jackson slated for release on a March greatest hits collection of Strait's.

"I'm not really sure it will happen, but if George Strait's and Alan Jackson's labels choose to put this 'Murder' song out to radio, we ought to be able to get some sort of indication as to what is going to happen (with country music)," Cordle says.

"If two guys of that stature will get up and say that on the radio, and people will play it, then I think it will open up some things. Nashville is in a huge time of change here. A lot of people have already lost their jobs. They're getting rid of more writers every day. There are a lot of things closing down. There are a lot of things that already have, and there are more to follow. There are too many record labels, and not enough emphasis put on the music - and I think that not only has the music gotten slicker, it's got worse. I don't care what the instrumentation is or whether a record is pop, you can still find a lot better songs here because there are the best songs in the world here."

"With 'Murder On Music Row,'" he continues, "we were just having fun andthat was our take on it: hey, you can't completely throw away the one that brought you to the dance, which is what they're trying to do. I don't think it's the greatest thing that was ever written. It's just timely. A lot of these younger singers, they'd probably just as soon be out playing something other than what they're recording. It's just that it's what the powers that be want them to do. I've been here 15 years, and I think Nashville's always been a little embarrassed about country music. This goes back a long time, and it's all for sales. I'll tell you honestly, I don't think we ever did have 12 million people here that would go out and buy a country record, but we did have 2 or 3 million that would. Once Garth (Brooks) and those guys came through here and blew those numbers out, the business people began to think on that scale, and things changed. There have been people here in the last 3 or 4 years that have gold records who have lost their deals because that wasn't enough."

"It's sad, but the creative people here haven't been business people, and the business people don't care about the music. There needs to be a happy medium; the two need to learn how to work together," Cordle concludes. "What Nashville needs is a new kid in here who wants to do country music and can sell it to people his age."

In the meantime, though, Cordle thinks that "the current state of country music has really helped the bluegrass business. "I think that people who like our kind of music can see that, rather than perfection being the thing. It's heart stuff."