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Joni Harms put the western back in country

By David McPherson, June 2004

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Regardless of how this disc is received, however, she has no itch to settle down.

"I have been doing this a long time, and I don't plan on stopping no matter what happens," she says. "If this all fell apart I still wouldn't stop making can't make me quit because I love it too much. On the other hand, it would be nice if this one finally worked out."

Everyone has heard the horror stories of musicians' experiences with record companies and contracts, and Harms certainly is a good case study.Despite the fact that she had two singles on country radio before the release of her first album, just as the album was ready to be shipped to the stores, the Universal label was dissolved.

A year and a half later, she got moved over to Capitol Records, and they had a huge barbecue and album release party out on her ranch in Oregon.

"They released the album, and then about two weeks later, I got a letter in the mail from Capitol Records saying I had been released from the label," she recalls.

The record company roller coaster ride continued as just when she was in the process of being signed by RCA, the gentleman that was the head of A&R there was let go, along with her record deal. Finally, Harms released "Cowgirl Dreams" on the Western division of Warner in 1998, and only a couple months after its release, that label dissolved.

"Everybody goes through it to some degree," she says. "It's really a unique business."

Throughout all these high and low notes of her career, Harms has always kept a positive attitude.

Despite the ups and downs, she is grateful for the opportunities the music industry has afforded her. "Cowboy Up" - a fun, western swing song from her new disc - summarizes Harms' homegrown philosophy. The chorus goes: 'You better cowboy up when you get throw'd down/Get right back in the saddle soon as you hit the ground/You've heard that the tough get goin/When the goin gets tough/'Round here all we say is/Son you'd better cowboy up.'For "Let's Put the Western Back into the Country," Harms is on a new, private independent label - Wildcatter Records based out of Graham, Texas. She was also fortunate to get Sony RED to pick up the disc's distribution.

"I went down to do a celebrity rodeo in Texas and was asked to perform at this new ranch (Wildcatter Ranch) that was being built," she says. "It was going to be a very elegant western experience for folks to come out and be part of what the Texas lifestyle is, riding and living the Western way. But they also wanted people to experience Western music.

"One thing led to another, and they wanted me to play out there a lot, so I let them know that I was in the process of doing another album, and unfortunately I didn't have a home for it. They decided that they would very much like to start their own label and maybe have the folks that they put on their label play at their elegant Western dude ranch after that all happened. So, they gave me complete freedom to go ahead with what I was doing and do it the way I wanted to, record the things I wanted to, use the producer and the players that I wanted."

"They have a real drive to make Western music at least alive and well at their Texas ranch and then whatever else can happen with it is a bonus," she says of the label.

Harms counts living legends such as Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard and Emmylou Harris as her major influences. The sweet ballad "Coyote Café" off her latest disc echoes Emmylou's style.

"Dolly wrote my very favorite song, 'A Coat of Many Colors,'" she says. "What I always liked about that song is that you didn't know how much it was going to touch you until it was over."

Once her son enters grade school next year, Harms will have a little more time at the ranch during the day to devote to her music. But, at the end of the day, family will always take precedence over her music.

"As much as I love music, family is number one," she concludes. "That's something that will always be there for you if you treat it right where it's not necessarily the case in the music business."

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