57: Murder on Music Row

57: Murder on Music Row

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

Murder on Music Row

Story by Larry Cordle

Song written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell

Recorded by George Strait and Alan Jackson

Larry Shell, one of my longtime friends and co-writers, called me up one day back in early 1999 and said he had an idea for a song. I had just come off the road and was in the middle of recording a new album, so I really wasn’t in the mood to write anything. He told me he had a title. It was “Murder on Music Row.” And no sooner did he get that out of his mouth than I said, “Oh, man, is it about killing country music?” And he started laughing and said yes. He knew that I got it right away.

Since we were already on the same wavelength, I said, “Let’s get together sometime over the next few days and write this thing.” It only took us a few hours to finish it. I was making a bluegrass album at the time and I didn’t think it was a bluegrass song. I thought it was a traditional country song, so I had no intention of recording it. But I got out and played it a couple of places. I played it first at The Bluebird Café. I did a show there with Rebecca Lynn Howard and some other folks, and it got such a response. The Bluebird is a listening room. You usually get good responses there, but it was really over the top, even for The Bluebird. Then I played it at The Station Inn in Nashville one night, and it was the same way — just over the top.

So the last night of the session, I told the guys, “Let’s record this.” It was about midnight. I said, “At the least, I still need a demo to pitch.” Well, that became the record. I took a disc and put a yellow crime scene tape around it and took it over to the disc jockey Carl P. Mayfield. He made a website and did this whole thing. For about a month, it was his whole show, his mantra. He told me the first day he played the song on his show, he played it eight times. And his show was only four hours long. It was just a CD with no label printed on it or anything. I think the song title was just handwritten. Apparently, the station manager, Herb Woolsey, heard Carl play it on the radio and then called George Strait and said, “I’ve got a song for you.”

Renee White at MCA called my cell phone. I was in Louisville at the IBMA Convention when it was still being held up there, and she asked if we would hold the song. I said, “Sure, Renee, I wasn’t planning on playing it for anybody anyway. I was just planning on releasing it myself.” She said, “Well, George Strait is thinking about doing it and he’d like Alan Jackson to record it with him.” And I said, “Well, lord yes!”

After we wrote it, we stood back and looked at it, and I knew that some people on Music Row might not like it. I can’t say we never got any negative reactions. But it won the CMA Song of the Year in 2001 and neither Larry nor I could even vote for it. We weren’t even CMA members at the time. We had no lobbying strength. The song won on its own merit. And it was not even released as a single. It was never promoted. It got up into the 30’s I think, on the charts, just from people playing it straight from the CD.

George Jones cut it with Dierks Bentley a few years later. There are things about their version that I love, and there are things about my version that I love, too. Gene Wooten played Dobro on mine and that was the last real record that he played on before he died. But I guess Alan and George’s version will always be the definitive version. I mean how can you not love Alan Jackson and George Strait together on the same record?

It may have been the first time something has won Song of the Year without ever being released as a single. I think the song came through us for a reason and it just needed to be written, so we wrote it.

Murder on Music Row

Nobody saw them running

From 16th Avenue

They never found the fingerprints

Or the weapon that was used

But someone killed country music

Cut out its heart and soul

They got away with murder

Down on Music Row

The almighty dollar

And the lust for worldwide fame

Slowly killed tradition

And for that, someone should hang

They all say “Not Guilty!”

But the evidence will show

That murder was committed

Down on Music Row

For the steel guitars no longer cry

And the fiddles barely play

But drums and rock ‘n’ roll guitars

Are mixed up in your face

Ol’ Hank wouldn’t stand a chance

On today’s radio

Since they committed murder

Down on Music Row

They thought no one would miss it

Once it was dead and gone

They thought no one would buy them ol’

Drinkin’ and cheatin’ songs

Well there ain’t no justice in it

And the hard facts are cold

Murder’s been committed

Down on Music Row

For the steel guitars no longer cry

And you can’t hear fiddles play

With drums and rock ‘n’ roll guitars

Mixed right up in your face

Why the Hag wouldn’t have a chance

On today’s radio

Since they’ve committed murder

Down on Music Row

Why they even tell the Possum

To pack up and go back home

There’s been an awful murder

Down on Music Row

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