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New label, new name, BR549 seeks elusive hit

By By Jon Johnson, July 2001

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"We're big Nick Lowe fans," says Mead. "He was always one of my songwriting heroes. Whenever I want to get inspired I put on one of his records because I just like the way he approaches things. That Rockpile record has always been one of my favorites. I think we did a damn fine country version of that."

There is, of course, the matter of the dash. Though on earlier records the group had spelled their name "BR5-49," they recently decided to do away with the hyphen in their name.

Mead is surprised by the attention the change has caused, claiming that it was made for aesthetic reasons and had nothing to do with the switch to a new label.

"We were talking about how it looks like a formula the other way and people that aren't hip to 'Hee Haw' (the original source of the group's name) were confused by the name. In England, they didn't get 'Hee Haw.' They don't know what the joke is. It's hard enough to find people in America that know the joke anymore. The other day we were signing autographs out at Opry Mills. There was this gospel kids' choir and they asked us what that meant. We said, 'Don't you remember "Hee Haw?"' And one of them went, 'Hello? I was born in 1984!' They didn't even know who Buck Owens was."

"We didn't think it was that big a deal when it came up. Hey, Mary Chapin Carpenter dropped the hyphen from her name, 38 Special took the period off - we're part of a long-standing tradition."

In addition to having performed at producer Paul Worley's wedding, the band also played recently at the Aspen wedding of Black Crowes vocalist Chris Robinson (a longtime friend of the band) and actress Kate Hudson, best known for her Oscar-nominated role in last year's "Almost Famous." Was the wedding a spectacle of entertainment industry excess, as one might have expected?

"Well, no. It was very small, and it was just like playing any other wedding. It was just a party. There was probably only 60 people there," though Mead adds that almost everyone associated with the bride and groom's family got up and sang, including Hudson's mother, actress Goldie Hawn (who had actually cut a country album in 1972 with Buck Owens' Buckaroos).

Asked about the current problems in the country industry - declining sales, diminishing radio listenership, and mergers that have left major labels no longer capable of supporting artists who don't sell large numbers of records - Mead isn't worried, but optimistic.

"No, I think that's good because I think something else has to break. I think that there's room enough for everybody. There's room for us right alongside Kenny Chesney as far as I'm concerned. Anybody that's in this business on a level where you've got a record label and you're out touring, you're working your ass off, whether you're Tim McGraw or The Derailers."

Over the past several years, BR549 has played to a wider audience than many mainstream country artists have thanks to opening slots on tours with the likes of Bob Dylan, the Black Crowes and the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Mead enjoys playing for rock audiences, having grown up himself on a steady diet of The Beatles, The Who and the punk bands of the '70's and '80's. In fact, Mead has observed that rock fans have a greater appreciation of traditional country music these days than many in the country music industry.

"If you want to expand country music and really get it out there, you have to understand what these people from the rock world like and recognize as country music. And they recognize George Jones, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash...and the Dixie Chicks. Dixie Chicks are fucking great! Who else can you name that got banjo back on mainstream country radio? They sing their asses off, they play their asses off, they make great records, and they deserve everything they get."

Even without any actual hits under their belts and little in the way of mainstream country radio airplay, the group is respected in Nashville music circles, regularly appearing on the Grand Ole Opry and at music industry events around town.

"I'd really love for us to have a hit, for a bunch of different reasons. I think that would legitimize (the whole alternative country) thing. And it might lead to Dale Watson getting played on country stations because he's probably the most brilliant of the new country people."

Mead is nothing if not optimistic about the new album's chances.

"The new one's going to be widely accepted - a billion seller. Triple platinum."


"Well, I hope. Everybody hopes for a hit record, right? Even Hank Williams wanted a hit record."

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