Gary James' Interview With

Country singer Sylvia released her first record in fourteen years on October 7th, 2016. Titled "It's All In The Family", the twelve song album was produced by Sylvia and her long time collaborator John Mock for her own record label, Red Pony Records. Sylvia collaborated with some of the top songwriters around today, including Thom Schuyler, Craig Brickhardt, Jeff Penny, Kate Campbell, Bobby Tomberlin and Mark Namore. Sylvia's second RCA album, "Just Sylvia" is when her career really started talking off. The single "Nobody" sold two million copies and was number one on all Country music charts. It was awarded BMI Song Of The Year for receiving the most radio air play in 1983. "Nobody" also reached number fifteen as a crossover hit on Billboard's Hot 100 chart and spent a total of fifty-two weeks on both charts. Recording for RCA until the end of 1987, Sylvia recorded six albums and garnered a total of thirteen Top Ten and number one songs, selling over four million records. In 1982 Sylvia was named Female Vocalist Of The Year by the Academy Of Country Music and was a Grammy nominee in the Best Female Country Vocal Performance category in 1983. Over an eight year period Sylvia criss-crossed America many times, performing over two hundred concerts a year and was a frequent guest on shows like The Today Show and Good Morning America, Dick Clark's American Bandstand and the Country Music Awards. In addition to her latest CD, Sylvia has released three other CDs, "The Real Story" in 1996, "Where In The World" in 2002, and "A Cradle In Bethlehem" in 2002. About her latest CD, "It's All In The Family", Sylvia said, "I have found there is no age limit on creativity. Your best work is ahead of you! I've felt like a kid again, making this record and I can hardly wait to share it with the world."

Q - Sylvia, you had such great success with RCA, yet you're releasing "It's All In The Family" on your own record label, Red Pony Records. Why would that be? Was it a business decision or was there something else involved?

A - I think every mainstream career, all artists have a beginning, a middle and an end of that era of their career. Then the labels move on to other artists, which is just the natural course of things because it's a business that's very much focused on the young artists coming along. When I signed with RCA I was like twenty-one or twenty-two. So, once you're about to hit thirty it's like, "Next!" (laughs) That's okay. At the time it was very hard to understand, but as time has gone by, I've understood it. That's just the nature of the machine of the music industry in its proper culture. The reason I record for my own label is that I want to continue to sing. I want to continue to record. When the major labels are no longer interested in you because they're focused on the young artists, you make a decision as I did. I still have a lot of music in me. I still have things to say. I still love to perform. I really enjoy songwriting, not to try and write songs for other artists but to try and figure out what I want to say when I'm up there on the stage. I want to be able to sing about things that I really care about, think about, and share it with others. So, that's why my own label, because I want to continue to record.

Q - How have you been promoting "It's All In The Family"?

A - Well, I hired a publicist, a really wonderful publicist, Webster And Associates.

Q - They are wonderful.

A - They are amazing. I decided I wanted to work with them. In fact, they reached out to me first. They asked me, "What are you doing? Are you still recording?" It was right as I was about to start a new recording project. It just made a lot of sense. I sat down with Kurt Webster and his team and I just really love how focused they are and how much they believe in artists like myself who continue to make music through the years beyond the big record label days. It's really touched me that there's a genuine interest and they believe artists like myself are very viable and have something to say in the culture. So, I'm grateful to be working with them. Webster And Associates is how I'm getting the word out primarily and through Social Media. I've done a lot of interacting with my fans, former and new fans on Facebook, some on Twitter and some on Instagram. Facebook is primarily the way I've been promoting my record.

Q - Do you have to hire someone else to get your CD on the radio?

A - Yes. I haven't made a record in fourteen years. The whole landscape of promoting even an independent record is very different than it was fourteen years ago. There's so much to learn, but as far as getting radio air play, it's pretty much known within the industry that the major radio stations, meaning the ones that report to Billboard magazine where you get on a Billboard chart, are pretty much determined by artists that are on major labels. So, what I would need to look at and have been talking to stations that are usually not Billboard reporting stations or that are syndicated radio shows or like Sirius XM, they have been very open to doing interviews with me and playing my music on their stations. That's been really heartening to hear. What people don't understand is there's probably a couple of hundred radio stations that report to Billboard, but there are probably two thousand radio stations that don't. So, the ability to get your music out there into the hinterlands of America are really pretty great, to get your music played on some of the smaller stations. Those stations reach a lot of people. That's kind of what I'm focusing on. I haven't really done a big radio promotion with the record yet, but I've done a a video on "Every Time A Train Goes By", the opening track on my new record, "It's All In The Family". That's getting some attention. It was featured on a couple of television shows called Country Classics and a video show that airs on Heartland TV. In fact, I hosted four of those shows and two of 'em they wanted to play my video on. So, it's getting exposure that way. I think that's the modern way independent artists are going to promote their records. There are hundreds of different sources rather than depending on a record label to kind of just move it through their pipeline and do it the traditional way.

Q - You took fourteen years off to pursue your dream as a life coach. What is a life coach?

A - Well, life and career coaching has been around since the middle '80s. It's a fairly new profession in that sense. It was born out of big corporate America, one corporation buying out another corporation and needing to integrate the two work forces. What was born out of that, and I think it was really pretty much the insurance departments out of those companies realizing they needed to coach people through that transition. And so, coaching as a profession became a real thing. Now there are hundreds of schools across the country that are accredited to the International Coach Federation and I went to one of those schools called the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, California. You train and get your certification as a life and career coach. It's really a set of skills that you learn and it's based on being very present with people, deep listening skills. What you do is you nurture a sense of curiosity so that you're helping someone find out their own answers. As a coach, I'm not a consultant. Consultants have information that they divulge to you and help you in that way. Not that there's not a piece of what I do that might be a little bit like that, but mainly what I do is listen and help people feel heard and then help them get in touch with their own inner wisdom so that they can make choices that are conscious choices about what they want to do next and how they want to proceed in their life.

Q - Are you talking to groups of people or is it one person at a time?

A - It's usually one person at a time. I work with people individually, but I also do workshops and seminars. So, sometimes it's really helpful to work with people in groups so they can learn from one another and feel the support of a group if they're moving through a particular kind of challenge.

Q - You've said, "I have found that, there is no age limit on creativity." The idea that many people in the music business burn out must be due to the stresses of being on the road?

A - Well, I think there's a lot of different reasons that we don't feel creative and certainly one of them is road life. It's not for everyone. You may love to sing. You may love to write, but I've known many people over the years who've said, "Boy, the road is hard." It is hard. Luckily for me personally, I'm a Gypsy at heart. (laughs) So, I love waking up in a different town every day. I especially loved it back in my twenties 'cause I had more energy than I have now, but I still love it. I love the travel. I love people. I just enjoy so much meeting people. For me, road life is just a much meeting up with the fans that want to come by the CD table and talk and take pictures with their cell phones. I enjoy singing on stage. To me, that's what it's all about. It's connecting. It's the music. The passion to write and record music is to try and say something that feels real and genuine and take that out. In effect it's like having a conversation with people. It's bringing those ideas and those thoughts out there so people might be able to say, "Oh, yeah. I've felt that way too and I've never heard it said quite that way. Yeah, I really resonate with that idea your saying there." It creates a way to have dialogue in a sense. So, that's what it's about for me. It's about genuinely connecting.

Q - You must have loved it because for eight years you doing over two hundred gigs a year. That's a lot of road work.

A - Yeah, it was. I could never withstand that kind of pace now at this point in my life, but I'm really glad that I did it. It was so exciting. It was a place for me to learn how to connect with people. In the beginning I had the passion to sing, but I didn't have very much life experience of getting out there and singing in front of thousands of people sometimes. When I look back over my life now I have even a greater appreciation for the things that happened, and the things I got to do back in the '80s.

Q - Before you arrived in Nashville on December 26th, 1975, what were you doing? Were you in a band?

A - I sang along with the radio. I didn't really have any experience. I think I got up with a band a couple of time impromptu, no rehearsals. "Come up and sing 'Help Me Make It Through The Night'." When I lived in Nashville, the only experience I had was singing along with the radio. Immediately when I got to town I started doing demos for publishers. My main experience before my RCA days was studio experience.

Q - After arriving in Nashville you got a job with record producer, song publisher Tom Collins in a secretarial position?

A - Yes.

Q - How long did it take you to get that job?

A - About a month. I actually worked for another fly-by-night record label that didn't pay me for a month. Then I started working with Tom Collins' office about a month later.

Q - You knew that to get a career started in Nashville you needed to work for a producer and song publisher. You had to be right in the center of the music business.

A - And you know, not just any publisher. Not just any producer. It was the spot to be in the '80s. I look back on it now and think, "How could I have planned it any better?" The publishing company that Tom Collins ran had some of the biggest hits of the decade. In fact, "Nobody" was one of the biggest hits. It sold two million singles. Before that, Ronnie Milsap was recording and being produced by Tom Collins. Barbara Mandrell, Jim Ed Brown, Helen Cornelius, Steve Wariner, on and on. All these people that Tom Collins, who ran the publishing company, also produced these artists. He was having tremendous success with his song writers there on staff. Charley Pride was recording songs from that publishing company. In fact, Charley Pride co-owned the company with Tom Collins. So, it was just the perfect place for me to learn about the music industry and be around really good song writers. I couldn't have been in a better spot and it wasn't planned on my part. It's like life really came to my assistance in placing me in a place where I could learn from the very best.

Q - How did you know to walk into Tom Collins' office? Was there an ad in the paper for help?

A - No. This was another thing that happened that was pretty incredible. Right before I moved to Nashville, two or three months, I had gotten an appointment to meet with a staff producer at Mercury Records. This is me in Kokomo, Indiana, making phone calls, cold calls to people. A sweet woman who worked at Mercury Records was the receptionist. I listened to Ralph Emery's radio show and I took notes. I made notes on who the producers were and who ran what label. So, I called Mercury Records and I asked to talk to another producer on staff there that was well-known. She said, "Well, I'm going to be honest with you. You're never going to get in to see him. He's so busy. But, we have this other producer on staff. His name is Glen Keener and he would be able to see you." I couldn't believe it because I made all these cold calls and nobody would ever make an appointment for me. And so I said, "Oh, sure. Yeah. I'll meet with him." Long story short, my parents bring me down to Music Row. I go to this appointment. It was like a six hour drive and I meet with Glen Keener. I brought this reel-to-reel tape recorder of me singing Patsy Cline songs. He said, "Well, I really can't hear anything from that." He picked up a guitar from behind his desk and said, "Sing me something." I sang a Patsy Cline song. I think I sang "I Fall To Pieces", and he said, "Put the guitar down." He picked up the phone and he called Tom Collins. He said, "There's this little girl here that I think you ought to hear." He sent me over to Tom Collins' office and that's how I connected with him. About three months later, I moved down and walked into Tom Collins' office and they said, "Oh, are you back down for another visit?" "Oh, no. I've moved down!" There was dead silence. (laughs) They were like, "Oh, my gosh. This green kid off the streets." So that's how it happened. Tom Collins' secretary, Carolyn Honea, I owe a debt of gratitude to her. She was like a mother hen. She immediately swooped in and took me under her wing and kept in touch with me. When that very first job wasn't paying me, she called me when Janie Frickie was answering the phone there and got her deal with Columbia (Records) and was leaving. She said, "Do you want this job?" I said, "You know I do!" That's how I ended up at Tom Collins' publishing company. I really owe it to Carolyn. She really was the saving grace there. She saw something in me and just wanted to be sure I was okay.

Q - Did she also find a place for you to stay?

A - No. My parents actually helped me get set up in an apartment. It was an unfurnished apartment. We went down on Broadway, which was very seedy at the time, but there were a lot of furniture stores down there. They bought me a black, patent leather chair and a dinette set that was very flimsy, but it did the job. I slept, I think on a mattress and box springs on the floor because they didn't have very much money to help me get set up. They bought me a car and got me set up in that apartment and then they went back to Kokomo. They opened a bank account and I had enough money to pay for my next month's rent and that was it. I was on my own. (laughs)

Q - You had to succeed or else.

A - I had no doubt that I would. It's the funniest thing. I just felt so sure that it was just going to be okay.

Q - You performed for President Ronald Reagan.

A - Yes, I did. It was part of a TV special that came on annually. It was something at the Ford Theatre. There were huge people on the show. They would pick artists from all these genres of the arts and I was the Country music artists that they chose.

Q - Tell me a little about this Country Music Cruise you're going to be a part of.

A - It's going to be Charley Pride, The Oak Ridge Boys, Lee Greenwood, Tanya Tucker. There's just a huge bevy of artists. Moe Bandy. Just a huge bunch of Country stars.

Q - Are you going to be singing songs from your new CD? Are you going to mix it up?

A - Oh, I'll mix it up. I wouldn't want to disappoint people. (laughs) It's definitely going to be weaving the two (past and present) together. Music they recognize from the '80s and introducing new music from the CD "It's All In The Family".

Q - Do you have a band that travels with you?

A - I'm doing a very small combo. It's myself, John Mock and Matt McGhee. Matt plays bass. John Mock is a multi-instrumentalist. He plays several different instruments. He's my co-producer on "It's All In The Family". He'll be with me as well. The three of us are touring together and we'll be doing the cruise together.

Q - How long did it take you to record "It's All In The Family"?

A - It took about eight months. What's interesting about this process is we were writing and recording the songs as we went. So, there wasn't a big over all "Let's choose the songs and go into the studio and record," which has been the way I've always done it. It's very organic in the sense that I was writing with some incredible people. John Mock put the music to six of the songs on the record and I've worked with John for twenty-five years and this is really the first time we've done a record that way. Then my friend Tom Schuyler and I got together and wrote lyrics to his music on several of his songs and then Bobby Tomberlin, a friend of mine; he's a wonderful writer. He wrote big hit songs like "One More Day" for Diamond Rio. He's had songs recorded by Vince Gill and Reba McEntire and Barbra Streisand and all kinds of people, Blake Shelton. So, he and I co-wrote four other songs on the record. But it all happened as we all went along during that, I guess it was an eight to ten month period, but maybe it was more like ten months from start to finish. So, it's definitely not your typical singer/songwriter record. It is absolutely without a doubt the best record I've ever made and the accolades that have been coming in about it have just floored me. People are loving it! (laughs) I've just been overwhelmed. You do this from you heart and you have no idea how it's going to be received. When the record is being made, you're not thinking about that. You're just thinking about making the best record and record the songs the best way they seem to want to be recorded. So, it's just been a beautiful experience here so far. People have received it so well.

Official Website:

© Gary James. All rights reserved.