Gary James' Interview With Talent Coordinator
She was one of the first producers of Alabama's largest fund-raising events, the George Lindsey Celebrity Golf Tournament And Concert For Special Children. She joined the Jim Halsey Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma and was re-located to the company's offices in Nashville, where she rose through the ranks to become the Executive Vice-President in charge of day to day operations and international touring. In 1990 she partnered with Refugee Management International where she co-managed the careers of Jo Dee Messina, Jolie Edwards, River Road, Holly Dunn, The Forester Sisters, George "Goober" Lindsey, Minnie Pearl, The Texas Tornadoes and The Desert Rose Band. Since establishing her own company, JSI, her management clients have included Julie Edwards, Pat Boone, The Bellamy Brothers and John Adam Murphy. She currently coordinates all international tours for The Bellamy Brothers and orchestrates the only Country music festival in Japan. She is the talent coordinator for numerous festivals throughout Europe and Asia. Since 1987, she has produced more than four hundred international tours and festivals featuring Country music, Rock and Classic Rock artists. And in her spare time she talks to us! We are talking of course about Judy Seale, of Judy Seale International.
Q - You are involved or were involved in coordinating a Country music festival in Japan. Just how big is Country music in Japan?
A - I actually started that one with the promoter. I was on tour in Japan with Pat Boone and this was in 1988 and the Country Music Association back then, everything was handled by fax overseas. There was no e-mail. They got a fax from a guy in Japan saying he wanted to do a Country music event and they sent it to every booking agency. Most of 'em just threw it in the trash. My boss sent it to me and said, "Why don't you see if you can meet with this guy?" So I called him. His name is Charlie Nagatani. He flew over to Kyoto where we were and we met. A wonderful person. Loved Country music. He had no money, he had no sponsors, but he was determined to have the festival. He and I started from there and had the first festival in 1989. There's no Country music radio stations in Japan anymore. There were very few to start with and when they did have one it was like one hour a week on a Sunday night. So there was no way for the Country music fans to really get information until the Internet came along and then they could go on there and stream radio, listen to Country songs, go to YouTube. So that's how they got their information. Every country that I started a Country music festival in has been more about cowboy boots, cowboy hats, jeans and horses than it is about the actual Country music singer. They may not know the singer, but they want to dress up. They want to come out. The songs are all so lyrically compelling. They all understand English. They may not speak it very well, but they understand it in every country. They love the instrumentation, the banjo, the dobro, the pedal steel, the fiddle. They love those instruments. It's more of a day event where they can dress up and be Country music stars themselves.
Q - That Japanese festival is still going on today?
A - It is. Very much smaller than it used to be and we're hoping to change that, but when the economy went down in Japan... When we first started it we were taking five artists and all of their bands and it was fifty to sixty people for a one day concert. It was very expensive and he never made money. He lost money every year, but he was in partnership with the government and the production company. Every year he lost money, but he still had the festival and we brought five people. Then we dropped back to four people. On our 20th anniversary he said, "I can't continue it anymore like I'm doing now." So we went to three artists using one band. That's what we've been doing. It'll be the 28th anniversary in October (2016).
Q - How many people are turning out for the festival?
A - Well, the most they ever had was like 20,000 and that was back in the day when it was big and we had the huge names. Then it slowly went down and it's now like 2,000 people that attend. He'll be 80 in February (2016), the promoter. He still sings Country music. He still comes to Nashville. They put him in the Opry for a song every time and Country music is still his life. He's very traditional Japanese. I just got him on Facebook two years ago so he could communicate with people. But he's got to start marketing in a different way to reach the younger audience because everybody that started supporting the festival twenty-eight years ago are either too old or died off. So he's got to build that new fan base.
Q - You were with something called Refugee Management?
A - Yes.
Q - You were managing the careers of many people. Were you also booking those people as well?
A - No. On the side we had the Japan festival and I didn't want to let it go 'cause I went with Refugee in 1990. I started with them in December 1990 and we already had two Country festivals under our belt and then we slowly added other international festivals. We would book the talent for all that. We were the middle agent on that. Talent Coordinator is what I call myself. So, we slowly added more of those. The main focus was still management, not booking. I've never been a booking agent as far as when I was with the Jim Halsey Company, I was not an agent. I worked for the President. I took care of the artists. I was never out booking those dates.
Q - Colonel Parker had one artist to manage, Elvis. Brian Epstein had The Beatles and a stable of other artists which in the end probably was too much for one man to handle. How do you manage all those artists and give them the time they need?
A - Well, when I was there it was not just me, it was my partner and at first it was another partner, a third partner, and then we all had assistants. So we were able to split up the artists to whatever I was responsible for and they took whoever they were responsible for. Yeah, it's a lot of work. I think in the 1990s the most I ever slept was four hours because I'm not working. (laughs) When I started my own company I had new, young artists that had record deals and we were just trying to break them. You know how brutal that business is, trying to break a new artist.
Q - It's really tough.
A - We sat down and looked at my cash flow and said, I'm spending this much money of my own money to try and make this artist a star, so it's costing me money, but all my international endeavors are making me money. So what am I going to do? I totally got out of management other than handling The Bellamy Brothers as far as their international career.
Q - You said you were helping the President of the Jim Halsey Company run the company. What did that entail?
A - I was in Tulsa and they hired me specifically to come in and get everything organized. They were grooming someone to take over as the President. They wanted me to support him. They were going to make him President in a year. I think it took maybe two months when he took over as President. So, I did a really good job at organizing. (laughs)
Q - How long were you with The Jim Halsey Company?
A - I started there in '87. They closed the office in Tulsa and moved the office to Nashville and I moved there with them. Then they sold the company to the William Morris Agency, if you can sell a company. You can't sell an agent's contract, so I'm not sure what they sold. But they sold the company and I stayed with Jim and we went into management. We had Waylon Jennings and The Oak Ridge Boys and The Forester Sisters, plus the clients that had been on our agency roster. I stayed with him a year, or 'til the end of the year and that's when I went with Refugee Management.
Q - You were one of the first producers of Alabama's largest fund raising event. That wasn't an entry level job for you, was it?
A - That was actually my first job, but I was employed by the State Of Alabama. It was a government position and it was called the Alabama's Governor's Commission On Physical Fitness. We handled physical fitness programs for all the schools and colleges throughout Alabama, but under that program was a non-profit program called Alabama Special Olympics and we did all the fund raising and coordination for that event. So, that's how I got my experience with celebrities and raising money. George Lindsey, "Goober" from The Andy Griffith Show, was the head coach and at that time The Andy Griffith Show was huge. This is way back in the '70s and he was able to get the top name celebrities to come in once a year and do a big golf tournament and a concert. So, that's how I kind of fell into the music business. I was going to be a school teacher in Alabama. (laughs)
Q - Have you met everybody in the music business that you wanted to meet?
A - I did not meet Elvis Presley. I went to his show. I had third row seats, but I didn't meet him. (laughs)
Q - Maybe there's still hope.
A - Yeah, right. He's living in Hong Kong you know. My friend in Hong Kong says he's there. Said he's fat and bald and living in Hong Kong.
Q - Is this person pulling your leg?
A - He usually is, but he is I guess the biggest Elvis fan I've ever known. He quit his job and put his company in receivership and went to work for B.M.I. for one reason and that was to get Elvis' product released in China. It hadn't been released in China and he succeeded and went back to his business.