Gary James' Interview With
Kelly Lang

She made her first record when she was only fifteen. She's shared the bill with Country legends George Jones, Lorrie Morgan, Ricky Scaggs, T.G. Sheppard and Ronnie Milsap, not to mention Brenda Lee and even Barry Gibb of The Bee Gees. Now, how many people can say that? Her songs have been recorded by George Jones, B.J. Thomas, Janie Fricke, Crystal Gayle, The Oak Ridge Boys and Jerry Lee Lewis, to name just a few. We are talking about Kelly Lang.

Q - When people think of Country music, they probably think of Nashville. But you're from Oklahoma City, correct?

A - Yes. I was born in Oklahoma. My dad, soon after I was born, began to work with Conway Twitty. I was always around the music industry through that. When I was a young girl, I think I was seven, Conway decided to move the whole organization, his offices, management, over to Hendersonville, Tennessee. I think it was in '76 it was. So, I've been in Hendersonville since I was a young girl.

Q - How did your father land this job as Conway Twitty's road manager? Did he meet him when he was passing through Oklahoma City in concert?

A - No. Conway actually lived in Moore, Oklahoma and my dad managed a grocery store there. I think it was Rudy's Redbuds or something like that. Conway would come in on a Sunday after having performed over the weekend and needed his check cashed. Of course banks were not open. My dad always allowed him to cash his checks in there. They just kind of formed a friendship. He liked my dad's ethics and the way he managed the store. He wanted him to go manage a new store called Odds 'n' Ends and then when he saw how successful he was with that, he said, "I need you on the road. I need you to be my Road Manager." So it just kind of evolved. He eventually began traveling with him. He stayed with him for twenty-five years, up until he passed away.

Q - What a story!

A - (laughs) Yeah, right place, right time kind of thing I guess.

Q - I guess so. Did your father have a musical background?

A - No, He couldn't play anything. He couldn't sing his way out of a paper bag. He loved Conway very, very much. They were extremely close. It's really neat, as the years progressed, several people that my dad was allowed to work side by side, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, via Conway, they all wrote about my father in their memoirs about he helped them and what a kind and honest man he was. The legacy of that extends far from Conway and it's such a flattering thing to see his name in print like that for that very reason.

Q - Since your father had that friendship with Conway Twitty, you must have had a lot of Country singers over to your house when you were growing up.

A - (laughs) Yes, I did. I honestly didn't think it was unusual thing 'til all these years later and I realize now it was. You just kind of take it for granted when you're living amongst that. It wasn't anything to hear Loretta call or George Jones would call. Randy Travis ex-wife / manager, Lib Hatcher, she used to call my dad for advice as Randy's career was taking off. I thought that was kind of neat. Cal Smith, he sang, "Country Bumpkin", he was really good friends. He would just pop in for coffee. Just a real fun upbringing really.

Q - It sounds like your father could've made the jump to personal management, but he never did that, did he?

A - Well, he basically was. I mean, he handled every detail of Conway Twitty's life except for contracts per se or whatever, but he handled everything from personal expenses within his family to concessions for him. Making sure deals were struck properly for him at venues. He was just kind of a Rock Star Manager, Road Manager kind of guy. He just took it very personally and he loved his job and he loved Conway. I guess that ethic just kind of passed down to me and wanting to be that type of person in the music industry. It's just been a wonderful ride to see the examples I had set before me and hopefully I can continue that along myself.

Q - You made your first record at fifteen.

A - Yes. (laughs)

Q - On what label and what happened with that record?

A - Well, a little bit before that I had begun playing around with recordings. Strangely enough one of Conway's office managers named Hugh Cardin took me into the studio and helped me dig through all the boxes of songs that Conway had discarded. I'm talking boxes, major, big, giant cardboard boxes of songs that people would pitch his way that he held aside for future recording, or things that just weren't good for him, but were great songs. So, I've always had an opportunity to choose what I think has been top quality music. So, I recorded with him first when I was around twelve years old. Then I went on to record my first single called "Lady, Lady". It was a song written for me by a man named Stewart Harris. A funny little thing about that song, CMT (Country Music Television) was just beginning when I released that. They needed some content for their programming. They paid for my first video, "Lady, Lady". Looking back on that, that was surreal to have them proceed to talk to me about that. I wish I had a great copy of it, but I don't. That was back in the day when we didn't have a lot of opportunities for digital. But yeah, it charted and it allowed me to travel and I was an opening act for tons of artists which led me to doing The Ralph Emery Show and the Nashville Network and Star Search. One thing led to another. You had to start somewhere and that was a great beginning.

Q - I see you've shared the stage with people like Barry Gibb?

A - Yeah. He's a really close friend. I'll tell you it's funny, when he calls you say "Yes, Sir!" Whenever he wants you to perform, it's going to be an international event. The times that we've worked together have been, oh my gosh, some of the highlights of my career. He called a few years ago and wanted me to sing "Islands In The Stream" with him at the induction of Kenny Rogers into The Country Music Hall Of Fame.

Q - That's a big show!

A - It is, and we sang at the Grand Ole Opry together and some benefit things here throughout the years. We're close friends. We're even flirting around with the idea of writing something soon. You never know. He's just an icon.

Q - How did you first meet Barry Gibb?

A - Strangely enough I think God works in such mysterious ways. We had a terrible tornado here in our town of Hendersonville and he had just recently bought the Johnny Cash house. This is prior to me knowing or having met him. I was in charge of putting together a tornado relieve benefit concert for our city and had a lot of entertainers on the show like The Oak Ridge Boys and Ricky Scaggs and Lorrie Morgan and T.G. Sheppard. Just a bunch of artists. The idea came to me, hey, Barry just bought Johnny Cash's house. Wouldn't it be cool if he just came and waved to his new community? They would flip out. I knew somebody that had worked with him before. So I reached out to them. I said, "Would you be open to doing this?" Management called back and said not only will he be in town for the first time to see his house, the Johnny Cash house, but he would like to sing with you at this thing. I was, "Really?" (laughs) "You've got to be kidding me." So the first time I met him he was sitting on the bed of June Carter Cash on the Cash property with a guitar and a cowboy hat on. I'll never forget that. I wish I had that on video. That was kind of a surreal moment. I didn't have a clue at that time we would be life-long friends and we consider family at this point. We've been through a lot together. We take vacations together. The whole family is just phenomenal. The point I was getting to is, when I met him he had not been singing in years and had no intention of ever recording again or performing again. That one single invite got him back to the desire of getting on stage again. His family and him have all said thank-you for the encouragement of getting on stage again. So, he's since traveled the world. He has since recorded an album. I don't think it had too much to do with me. I think he was just waiting for the opportunity. I'm flattered that he would feel that way.

Q - I hope you get to write with him.

A - I do too. I sent him a song. I always run things by him. When I write a song I send it to him. Who gets that opportunity? (laughs) I don't take it for granted. So, one of the songs that I had sent that I was getting his opinion on I thought was completed. He said, "No, no, no. We have to add a bridge to that. I've already written it. We just have to put it down." I'm like, "Okay." (laughs) So, we're hopefully going to be able t finish that in the next few months. It's really cool to be able to have the greatest songwriter of all time in your back pocket.

Q - You wouldn't be writing Country songs with Barry Gibb, would you?

A - You know what? He is a huge Country fan. His favorite type of music is actually Bluegrass, believe it or not. He wrote "Rest Your Love On Me" for Conway (Twitty), "Islands In The Stream" for Kenny and Dolly. If you look at the structure of a lot of his songwriting as time has progressed, his music has evolved into Pop sounding Country music anyway. So, I think a lot of his things could be translated or cross that border of Pop / Country anyway at this time. His heart is in Country music. His heart is at the Opry. His heart is really singing a song that really touches your heart and could be translated into Country in any way.

Q - You've had quite a few name singers recording your songs. Do you have a high-powered song publisher really promoting your material?

A - Not really. I feel like God is really, truly leading my life because I just happened upon really cool opportunities. I write only when I'm inspired. I'm not one of these writers that makes an appointment to go downtown and write from three to seven. I just can't do that. I have in the past and I've had some opportunities with some publishing companies, but I take great pride in the songs I've written. I feel like they're my children. It's a legacy for my little children to be able to hold on to at some point. It's just something I would not want to share with a publishing company. So, I have seriously just kept them to myself. Not that I couldn't use a push or need the money, but I'm okay. I don't want to split 'em with anybody, if that makes any sense. So, there's a price to pay for that. You don't get as many songs cut at a volume rate. But the ones that I have had out have been very monumental and meaningful for me. I like to write for special projects. I wrote for a Burt Reynolds movie, three songs, and that meant something to me. I wrote for special projects for people's albums. I wrote the whole entire album for Lorrie Morgan called "I Walk Alone". She and I had a blast. If it doesn't really move me to do something like that I don't enjoy the process of going to try and put something within three minutes with somebody that you just met. Lorrie and I are really good friends. We wanted to get her emotions out on what she was going through in her life on record. So it was a labor of love kind of thing. That's what it felt like to me. I just put myself whole heartedly into situations that I thoroughly enjoy. If they pay off, great. If not, I'm not worried about it.

Q - When does inspiration strike to write a song? Does it bother you when some time goes by and there's no song ideas?

A - It varies. In the middle of the night sometimes I'll wake up and I'll have a melody running through my head and I'm thinking did I hear that on the radio or is that new? I have to really question myself because why would I be woken up with this melody? So, I record it right there on my phone. At least I have it when I wake up in the morning. Once I have the melody going on in my head, I try to have words that... I don't know where that inspiration comes from. It has to be a God thing. The way I write is it's melody coming through my head and I'll progress with that and then add the words as I go to what I'm feeling that day. I got a new song that I'm writing right now. It's really weird. I start a lot my songs in the swimming pool, like I'm laying out there truly relaxing and all of a sudden the melody will come, an idea will come and then I finish 'em that night in the bath tub. (laughs) So it's got something to do with water with me. I don't know what it is. I have to be totally relaxed, free of all worry in my head. Then it just comes to me. I wish I could express it a bit different than that, but it's just simply that way. I think we're all vessels for creativity to come through us, but maybe we don't quiet our brain down sometimes and that's to listen. I do more writing in the summer or in the bath tub than I do anywhere. (laughs)

Q - That is strange.

A - It is. I'm not denying it, but it's just the truth.

Q - I wonder what would happen if you went to a different climate. Would that affect your song writing?

A - Probably. I don't do well in cold. (laughs)

Q - What do you think of the route Country music has taken from when you were growing up to where it is today? it's almost unrecognizable, isn't it?

A - Well, we all have our preferences as to what we want to hear or not hear. I'm an advocate of change. I like to see things evolve. Obviously it's striking a chord with a lot of people because there's thousands of people at the CMA Fest and there's thousands of people at the stadium act tours. But for me and my preference in songwriting I prefer the old school. I'm not meaning to sound old-fashioned, but I think things were crafted a bit more. If you're talking about writing, the most phenomenal lyrics with a three minute period of time, the song "Middle Age Crazy" by Jerry Lee Lewis, I personally think is the most well crafted song ever written. Every line in the song is just so well thought out. It's not a repeated coming of this chorus. It's not a chant kind of thing of what's going on right now. It took a well crafted artist to put that song together and I don't feel there's that any more. It seems like everything sounds a little bit alike now, not that there's some I don't like. It just seems like nobody stands out like George Jones or a Merle Haggard anymore. You can't tell who they are on the radio. I can't tell them apart.

Q - What do you have to do to get your music in front of Country music audiences today?

A - This going to sound really strange, but that's not a big passion for me. I just do what I do and if somebody hears it, they hear it. People like yourself search me out and they see something there they want to know about and that thrills me, but it's not a big passion for me to have my music heard all over the world. If it happens, it happens. Great. It's not something I pursue or push. I don't know why that's that way with me. Fame is something that comes along with things that you do successfully. I don't crave fame. So that's not a big thrill for me. Isn't that weird? (laughs)

Q - It is. In today's world everybody wants to be famous.

A - Fame is not what it's cracked up to be.

Q - And you would know that because you've been surrounded by all these famous people.

A - Yeah, they're just people. I know the most famous people in the world. I truly do. You can't name be any bigger than Barry Gibb or Olivia Newton-John or Marie Osmond. But the things I truly love about my friends have nothing to do with fame. They're all insecure in a way. They all have sadness or tragedy in their life. It doesn't motivate me by their fame. I know that's probably an odd answer for you but I'm in this life to hopefully touch one person's heart with what I've been offered the opportunity to write. If I've done that, then that's my pay-off.

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