Gary James' Interview With Songwriter
Buzz Cason

At the age of 16 he became the lead singer for the band he formed called The Casuals. That band shared the stage with Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Brenda Lee and Eddie Cochran. He wrote the song, "Everlasting Love", which has become a classic, and co-wrote "Soldier Of Love". He wrote a Top 5 hit for Martina McBride, "Love's The Only House". His songs have been recorded by The Beatles, U2, Pearl Jam, Jan And Dean, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gloria Estefan, Carl Carlton, The Oak Ridge Boys, Mel Tillis and T.G. Sheppard. He also sang back-up for Elvis Presley, Kenny Rogers and Roy Orbison. He produced and published the early songs of Jimmy Buffett. In 2004, he published the story of his life, Living The Rock And Roll Dream: The Adventures Of Buzz Cason. These days he's still writing and recording for Plowboy Records. We are talking about Buzz Cason.

Q - Mr. Cason, you're still writing and producing songs today, aren't you?

A - It's pretty amazing because I actually have a record deal with Plowboy Records here in Nashville, or in Brentwood, which was started by Eddy Arnold's grandson, Shannon Pollard along with Cheetah Chrome, Punk Brocker and Don Cusie, an author and professor at Belmont. Their motto is "Respect the Unexpected." The older generation on there is myself and Bobby Bare and they have Cheetah Chrome from the Punk era and they have Chuck from the BR549. I forgot his last name. Then they have a couple of new bands coming out. So I'm real blessed to be part of that label. My first album came out this year (2014) called "Troubadour Heart". We charted Americana on that and we also had a song off it that went to number 5 on the Americana Roots Folk chart. We also received some Country air play. But I'm still writing. I'm still writing some for other people but mainly just doing my own thing right now, making my own records.

Q - I don't know if you follow the charts at all today, but could you get one of your songs to someone who's on the charts?

A - Well, it would be pretty difficult. I have been an active publisher for years. I used to have all the connections, but sitting in Nashville you just don't get (that). My manager, who gets the bookings, he can run people down and he does a good job at it, but we're not really pursuing anything like that right now. The guy's name in BR549 is Chuck Meed.

Q - When you were coming up, a song had to tell a story. There was a beginning, a middle and an end. Today, I don't know what the singer is singing. The beat seems to be more important, right?

A - Yeah. But Gary, that proves one thing; you're getting old! (laughs)

Q - How did I know you would say that? You take Taylor Swift, and I've said this to other people, I can't understand one word that girl is singing.

A - Well, you know it's a generation gap thing there because you know, they criticized our music and some of our early stuff didn't have much of a melody. Let's take "Louie Louie" in consideration. You never knew what they were saying. For some reason the young people can understand it. It's always been like that in Rock 'n' Roll. You have to have the feel and something in the hook. You might be walking around singing the wrong lyric, but you're walking around singing it. I've always gravitated towards writing something that sounds like a single, although I've got a lot of throw away album cut stuff. You just kind of try to stay close to that template if it's kind of hooky, you know.

Q - Didn't Frank Sinatra record one of your songs?

A - The only song I had associated with Frank Sinatra was a song I published, "Little Green Apples", written by my partner Bobby Russell. He did a version of that.

Q - You didn't have a hand in writing that?

A - No. My partner Bobby Russell also wrote "Honey" for Bobby Goldsboro, "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia" for Vicki Lawrence. Reba McEntire had it also, and "Sure Gonna Miss Her" for Gary Lewis And The Playboys.

Q - What a great song writer!

A - Yeah. We started out as teenagers together. Then we achieved the dream of our own publishing company a few years later.

Q - Did you ever meet Sinatra?

A - I met him one night at a studio in Hollywood, at Western Studios. He had accidentally walked into our studio while we were recording. I was in there with Bobby Vee and he apologized and everybody was just stunned. I said, "That's alright, sir." (laughs) That's about all I said to him. I regret never getting to see him perform.

Q - Did you meet Elvis?

A - Yeah. We met Elvis in 1957 at WHBQ radio station in Memphis.

Q - That's early on in his career.

A - Yeah. He had just finished making Lovin' You, his second picture with Dewey Phillips. He was the first guy who ever played an Elvis record. We were plugging our record, we meaning The Casuals, my first band that I was in.

Q - Since you were in the business, did you see The British Invasion coming before other people did?

A - No. I was in California. I was working for Liberty Records from '62 to '64, right in the heart of it. I was the guy who screened songs and went through material. They sent 'em in metal acetates. One of my first jobs was with Snuff Garrett, the producer, sent me in a room and said, "Go through these songs." There must've been 500 discs in there. I found one song that was commercial and I can't remember which one it was, but it had two writers on it. I told Snuff, "Man, I found one song that I like. It's two guys, Lennon and McCartney. (laughs) That was about '63 and of course all hell broke loose. We did all kinds of Beatle cover records. I even sang the part of Alvin on "The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles". We did a Jackie De Shannon / Beatles thing. The Crickets covered some of those songs, the early songs. Then I toured with The Crickets in '64. I replaced Jerry Naylor, who had sung with then after Holly had died. Sonny Curtis and I went to the premier, first showing of A Hard Day's Night in Piccadilly Square in London. We worked a TV show with The Animals when "House Of The Rising Sun" came out. The Swingin' Blue Jeans were on it. Dusty Springfield. John Lee Hooker was on it. The Ready Steady Go TV show in London, which was the hot thing at the time. Nobody expected that, (laughs) to be what it was.

Q - Were The Beatles in attendance for that showing?

A - I don't know. They probably had a premier night where they were. I would think so. It wasn't on the very first night, the first showing there.

Q - Did you wonder what Lennon and McCartney looked like after hearing the acetate?

A - No. I don't remember what song it was. I got a feeling it wasn't one of the first hits. I don't think it was. It could've been, but being 50 years ago, it's kind of hard to remember. I don't think we recorded it. Another young man brought me songs in there. We were the first people to have anything to do with Frank Zappa. They said there's a guy here from Cucamonga, California that's got some songs. I listened to a couple of 'em and we recorded a couple of those. They never came out.

Q - Did you record Zappa's "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow"?

A - No. (laughs) He had some real commercial sounding songs. They weren't out there. That was before he did The Mothers Of Invention.

Q - The Beatles really did change the industry, didn't they? They were a self-contained unit. It must've been harder for a singer to find songs to record.

A - They didn't have enough songs to do four hour shows like they were doing, like club dates. That's how I wound up getting a cut on their album. They recorded our song "Soldier Of Love". They liked Arthur Alexander and it was originally recorded by Arthur. They had recorded "Anna" already, one of his big songs. They went into the BBC and recorded "Soldier Of Love". It was actually in '63, Live On The BBC. There's a lot of covers on there. They did a lot of outside material until they got the writing thing going.

Q - The Stones, the same thing. In the beginning they too were doing cover material.

A - Oh, yeah. Well, we all were. You couldn't get jobs if you went out and played unknown songs. Nobody wanted to hear you.

Q - Same problem exists today, doesn't it?

A - Well, I think nowadays if you see a band, you don't expect 'em to do covers. You expect 'em to do their own stuff, and they usually do.

Q - I'm talking about a band that's playing a bar.

A - Oh, yeah. You're right. I was thinking more or a singer / songwriter original kind of a show.

Q - How long did it take you to write "Soldier Of Love"?

A - Oh, gosh. We wrote it in one afternoon, me and Tony Moon. We knew a DJ who helped me get my start and he requested we write a song for Arthur Alexander. It was one of those rare occasions where you write a song for an artist and they actually out it. (laughs) So, that was pretty neat. I'm pretty sure Tony had the idea for it. We just used all military terms. He was a good guitarist. He was playing guitar with The Casuals. It was just about the time I was getting ready to leave The Casuals to take this job with Liberty Records. We didn't write many songs together.

Q - Did one guy write the lyrics and one guy write the melody?

A - No. We'd do it together. We very seldom do that.

Q - So, an afternoon to write "Soldier Of Love" means it took you four or five hours?

A - Oh, no, less than that. Maybe two hours, something like that. In the case of "Everlasting Love", that was done in about twenty to twenty-five minutes. And that's been our biggest song. Mac Gayden just laid down the chords and sang part of the melody and I put what little lyric there is to it. It's just one of those things that happens every now and then.

Q - You usually have to work it then?

A - Yeah, it usually takes a while. Sometimes you've got a co-writer and sometimes there can be someone that's real picky and real set in their ways and you have to conform to them and that makes it extra hard also. It's time consuming or you have interruptions with the writing process.

Q - Didn't you tour with Eddie Cochran?

A - Well, I did two shows with Eddie Cochran. We did Kansas City and St. Louis back in about '59 I think it was. He was a real nice guy. I really fretted over I can't find a picture I had with him and I have not been able to dig that thing up. I was going to put it in my book and I couldn't find it.

Q - There was a Rock 'n' Roll star.

A - He was a super guy too. A good looking kid. He played that Gibson guitar. He probably would've had a long career.

Q - Is there still a need for a record producer today?

A - Yes. Some people like to go in and get a spacier sound. My studio is really not that big. We actually put amplifiers down the hall and different places to get ambiance and bigger sounds. We've built a much bigger room next door. Not the studio. I wound up selling that. It's one of the top studios in town. It's called Black Bird. It's hard to make money with a studio because people will take their stuff home and mix it and overdub it. You have Pro-Tools and it's just hard to maintain the expense of operating a studio.

Q - Do you tour anymore?

A - Well, I traveled quite a bit this year. I've been back on the road since '04. I do mainly small clubs and festivals and house concerts. I've come full circle. I've got an empty nest. I've got no obligations. I just started doing it more or less for the fun of it. I went over to England for a couple of weeks. I've been all over the mid-West and just got back from Texas. Just before that I was in New Mexico. Both of those were festivals. We were in Florida in January (2014). We'll be back in Florida on the Gulf Coast in November (2014) for the Frank Brown Festival. I drive a lot of miles, let me put it that way. I drive a lot and fly.

Q - Are you traveling with a band?

A - No. It's usually just acoustic type shows. I do have a band here in town. We're called The Love Notes. We play locally on occasion. The decent gigs around this town are few and far between.

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