From Chicken Soup for the Country Soul

What It Takes

One of my most memorable experiences took place when I worked as Associate Director of ASCAP in Nashville. At the time, Rod Phelps, one of my Texas friends, asked me to talk with a new guy he was sending to see me. You must understand that in the music business, it’s common courtesy to listen to your friends and spend time with the people they send you. Soon after talking with Rod, the new guy dropped by my office and played me some songs. I remember I didn’t pull any punches; I told him his songs were only “fair.”

In the middle of our conversation, I was distracted when one of my writers—a guy with money problems— barged in. I asked my guest to excuse me a moment while I got the writer some paperwork to support a bank loan application. Later, I asked the new guy to keep the writer’s situation confidential because it was a private matter. My guest responded, “Man, I recognize that writer. He needs a bank loan?”

“Yeah! Everybody needs help now and then,” I told him.

Overhearing the conversation the guy caught the amount of money that the writer needed. My guest said he made more than that in a week playing in Oklahoma.

“If that’s the case, you’d better get on back to Oklahoma. You’ll never make that kind of money playing the clubs in Nashville. I’ve got this saying: ‘We create music in Nashville, and we sell it in Texas.’ You can certainly include Oklahoma in there, too,” I added.

The new guy laughed, “Well I just can’t believe that. What if I bring my whole band down here?”

“How many is in your band?” I asked.


“Well,” I said, “you and five other guys will starve to death in Nashville,” I predicted.

Sensing that I’d offended my guest, I tried to make amends by telling him, “Those are just the facts in this town. If you want to come here and write, if you want to make it as an artist, it’s going to be tough. However, I’ll be glad to help you. I’ll see you at 9:00 tomorrow morning right here in my office. Since my friend, Rod, sent you to me, I’m going to do what I can to help you.” Later, I learned that my guest had the use of Rod’s personal credit cards so the guy could get to Nashville—that’s how much Rod believed in his potential. “You be here at 9:00, and I’ll help you find a place to live,” I promised.

Well, at 9:00 the next morning, the Oklahoma guy didn’t show. I waited ’til about 10:30 before I called Rod and asked if he’d seen him. “No, I thought he was with you,” was the response.

I told Rod the guy was suppose d to be with me. That bothered Rod because, well, this guy always kept his appointments. That afternoon, Rod called to let me know what had happened. His guy was all upset with me and was headed back to Oklahoma. I explained that all I did was just tell him the truth. “Man, if he can’t take the truth, well, I’m sorry. I just told him the way things are in a detailed story of what has to be done to make it in Nashville.”

That was the end of it—or so I thought. About a year later, this Oklahoma guy came back. But instead of seeing me, he walked right past my office and down the hall to talk with my associate. Soon after, the two of them struck a deal. I guess the guy didn’t particularly want to see me. A few months later, this associate left ASCAP and opened a publishing company with the guy from Oklahoma.

Several months later, I attended a “Writer’s Night” at Nashville’s Blue Bird Café. To my surprise, the Oklahoma guy was filling in for a writer who didn’t show up. A few months later, he was signed to Capitol Records and recorded his first album. At that time, the president of Capitol Records was a friend of mine named Joe Smith. I sent Joe the guy’s advance tape and told him to give special attention to this young man. I told Joe this guy was a friend of mine, and he’s going to be a “monster” artist. Joe took my advice. Capitol Records spent a lot of money on the new artist and did everything necessary to help him become a huge success.

After this guy hit the top, he told everybody who would listen that everything I’d said had been true. Since then, he has thanked me many times. Not long ago, the now-legendary country star and I got together. He said, “Merle, you remember that first meeting we had in Nashville? Has it already been ten years? I’ll never forget it!”

This story just goes to show that it takes more than being friends—it takes talent, persistence, focus and hard work—to survive and become a superstar in the entertainment business.

Just ask my friend, Garth Brooks.

Merlin Little field

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