From Chicken Soup for the Country Soul

Big House

Do what you love, the money will follow.

Marsha Sinetar

My partner, David Neuhauser, and I have been playing together on and off for twenty years. When we decided to make a boom-box recording of our new songs, we were living in a big house in Van Nuys, California, rehearsing with the band. The next day, our keyboard player came over with the tape we recorded and said, “You guys have got to listen to this!”

It was magic. Dave and I just looked at each other and said, “This is what we’ve been waiting for.”

For years, I would come to Bakersfield and play with whatever country band Dave had going. We were too country for rock’n’roll in our early days. We were also too bluesy for country or too country for the blues audience. But every time I came and sat in with Dave, the same thing would happen—over and over—the crowd would go nuts and we’d have a ball. We would do these great country songs and put a blues twist to them, just for fun. Many nights, we’d be sitting there after a gig and Dave would say, “We’ve got to go to Nashville.”

I always had the same reply, “Are you kidding? Those cats in Nashville won’t get it.”

Dave would also always mention another name along with the conversation of Nashville, and that was Tony Brown, President of MCA records. Dave said, “He ’d get what we do.” And I just thought my partner was nuts all those years.

The whole Big House story got started at a place called “Trout’s.” This bar is over forty years old and plays live country music seven nights a week. It’s the place where Merle Haggard and Buck Owens got started. The town is actually Oildale, a suburb of Bakersfield. Oildale isn’t where the people who own the oil wells live; it’s where the people who work the wells live. It was a tough crowd, but they knew their country music. A typical comment would be, “You’re aw’right son, but you ain’t no Merle Haggard.”

Finally, we got an opportunity to play the Blue Bird Cafe in Nashville. We traveled there in a minivan. You can imagine what six big guys and their gear looked like in this small van! We drove on East with our feet in each other’s noses. When we got to the Blue Bird, we didn’t think anyone would show. We were surprised when quite a few did; and we got a standing ovation.

So we came back to California and told our manager, Robbie Randall, that things went gre at in Nashville. At the time, we were making a tape of the things we did and thought maybe we’d make a record and release it ourselves.

On our second trip to Nashville, we played the Ace of Clubs. We still didn’t know what would happen or who would show up. A buzz had started in town about the tape we’d made. We were lucky to have volunteer advance men help us out—people like Merlin Littlefield, former Associate Director of ASCAP Publishing. Merlin would drive around Nashville with his top down, tape turned up, and pull people over. So when we got to the Ace of Clubs, everyone in town showed up. There were ten record labels there that night and a packed house. We put on a whale of a show!

Before we got halfway back to California, we had offers. About the only record company that didn’t show up at the Ace of Clubs in Nashville was MCA Records. As soon as we got back to Bakersfield, Tony Brown of MCA Records called up saying he wanted to see the band. He flew out to Los Angeles to meet with us. He even paid for a private rehearsal room at SIR Studios. Considering we were flat broke when we returned, that was a real blessing.

So we had this private showcase—on a big stage—in this big room—for an audience of just two people, MCA’s Tony Brown and Larry Willoughby. Not the most comfortable situation for any band! Luckily my car had already been stolen that day, so I wasn’t worried about a little thing like a private audition for two major recording executives.

We started off with our hit, “Cold Outside.” About three songs into the showcase, the president of MCA Los Angeles, Jay Boberg, came in and Tony Brown stopped us. “Play that song, ‘Cold Outside,’ again. I really dig that song.”

That broke the ice; we just cut loose and did what we did every night. After we got done, Tony said, “I want to sign you to MCA.” It was pretty overwhelming. He not only signed us, he released the demo tape we had made. We’re the only band that’s ever done that on MCA. He didn’t change a thing! It was a dream come true to coproduce our own record with Peter Bunetta and have Tony give us the freedom to just set up, dial up some great guitar tones, and do it live.

This has been a fantastic year! We’ve been out touring with everybody—Collin Raye, Patty Loveless, Merle Haggard, Blackhawk, Dwight Yoakam, Travis Tritt, Leroy Parnell and many others—we’ve been treated great. We’re the number-one selling new band in country in 1997, and we’ll be heading back to Europe soon where we’re also doing real well.

Staying the course and being true to the roots of the music you make is like having a family identity. What we have always wanted to do—and finally are doing—is bringing everyone into the Big House.

Monty Byrom

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