Gary James' Interview With
When he first started, he was opening shows for the likes of Jan and Dean and The Beach Boys. Then he got into the record promotion business and made quite a name for himself, especially at RCA where he caught the attention of Elvis. His own hits in the 70s included "Trying To Beat The Morning Home" and "When Can We Do This Again". Named Best New Male Artist in 1976 by Cashbox, he went on to have ten consecutive number one songs, including "Only One You", "Party Time" and "War Is Hell (On The Homefront)".
The hits continued on in the 80s with Music City News calling him the "Most Promising Male Vocalist." In the 90s he was one of the original investors in a popular chain of Midwest nightclubs known as Guitars and Cadillacs. He also opened his own theatre in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains.
There is not much T.G. Sheppard hasn't done in the world of music, with a special emphasis on Country music. T.G. Sheppard talked with us recently about his life.
Q - You have your own record company, Destiny Row Records?
A - No. That wasn't mine. That was some friends of mine. I only did one project for them. I'm not affiliated with a record label right now, although I am in the midst of signing with another label. The ink hasn't dried yet. We're just going over the contracts. I'll be doing another Country album the later part of this year. It'll be a duet album. I already have Willie Nelson in the can and there will be other artists I'll be inviting in for that. That should be an exciting project.
Q - Does songwriting come easy for you?
A - Actually, it does. I think when you have to sit down and program yourself to write or when you say look, I'm gonna write next Tuesday at 2 o'clock, a lot of people can do that; those are the song crafters I call them. A lot of people do that. They pick times to write with each other. With me, songwriting just has to happen and I never know when that's going to happen. It could be right now! It's different with different people. But, songwriting when it does flow, comes easy for me. It comes very quickly. Songs usually can be written within an hour.
Q - How are you able to do that? Do you believe it's a God-given gift?
A - I think it's God-given first. Secondly I think it's just through doing something over and over a lot. You get to the point where it's easier to do. It comes to you easier through repetition. But, I think in the beginning yes, it's definitely a God-given talent. The ideas themselves come from God because where else to they come from? And experiences in life. Emotions that you feel about certain things in the past, present or future, are where your songs come from.
Q - In today's Country music world you almost have to write your own material to be successful in Nashville, don't you?
A - I think once you're established you don't have to. The new artists of today starting off and trying to build a career, they're looking for those type of artists that can write their own stuff, because record companies want to share in the revenue streams of publishing and writing and rightfully so because they have so much money invested into you, building your career in the beginning. I think more established artists can record whatever they want to record. If it's something that I write that I want to record, I will. If it's something that Vince Gill writes or Patricia Burke or whoever, I'm afforded that luxury of having been around long enough to where I can do that and get away with it. But, they're looking for the new artists that pen their own stuff 'cause it gives them their own style of music when you pen it yourself.
Q - You started your career off by using the name Brian Stacy.
A - You did your homework! (laughs) Oh, man.
Q - Where'd you come up with that name?
A - I don't know. That was back in my rock 'n' roll days, when you had Brian Hyland, Paul Anka and all these big names. Brian just rang my bell. Stacy just sounded right. (laughs) I don't know. I just sat there one day and thought that sounded OK.
Q - Did you record under that name?
A - Yeah. I had a Top 20 Pop record on Atco Records called "High School Days". It was a very big Pop record, a graduation song, back in the 60s. I'm dating myself, wow! (laughs) But, it was fun. It was a very innocent time of not knowing where I wanted to go musically. That's when I thought I was in Rock 'n' Roll. Later on I found my home in Country music in '74, through the encouragement of my dear friend Waylon Jennings. He encouraged me to go into Country music. So, it took me a while to figure out what kind of a singer, whether it be Rock 'n' Roll or Country, but I figured it out in '74.
Q - You opened for The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. How were you treated by these people?
A - Incredibly well. I'm still friends with Mike Love of The Beach Boys. We're still very, very dear friends. We visit together quite often, at least twice a year. I was treated very well because back then a lot of the Country artists were really big Pop stars too. You had Guy Mitchell...other people that had crossed over to the Pop charts from Country. Marty Robbins was a huge Pop act with "White Sport Coat" and "El Paso" and records like that. Back then there wasn't as much of a division then as there is now. We were more accepted back then. I think we're just as accepted today because Country music has a lot of Pop overtones to it, but we were accepted just as well back then.
Q - I would say quite a few Country artists sound Pop today.
A - They do. And there's a lot of huge Pop acts that are making the move into Country. I have a very good friend, Barry Gibb of The Bee Gees, who has just moved to Nashville and is going into Country. I just thoroughly hail it. I'm just telling Barry, Hey c'mon, c'mon. You got so much to offer. So he's excited about moving here and doing some Country music. It's a very exciting time in music. I'm glad to see the intertwining of Pop and Country 'cause we're going to come up with some interesting things in the next few years.
Q - There was criticism in the Country music world when the Pop influence started to come into play.
A - Anytime there's a changing of the guard, there's gonna be repercussions. When I came along in the late 70s, early 80s, when we were in our real hot years, I got the same backlash from the industry and from other artists in the industry who thought I was going to kill Country music because I was bringing something new to the table. So, every few years there comes a purging of the industry. And the people that can change with times, who don't refuse to change, can stay. If you're not able to adapt to what's coming into the industry, either technically or in the way music is changing, you can get left behind. Anytime there's a changing of the guard, which is every few years and there's a new direction, there's always a backlash. I got it back then. But, I think it's healthy what's happening in Country music. I still think there's a market there for Classic Country which I'm one of, and we don't need to forget that genre of music because there's a lot of people that still want to hear Haggard and Jones and hopefully T.G. Sheppard and Kenny Rogers and the Oak Ridge Boys and Larry Gatlin. I'm hoping there's space now for everyone there. I see that happening, which is great.
Q - Why did you enjoy such a great reputation as a record promoter?
A - Very simple, because I was dedicated to it. I tried to be a Rock 'n' Roll act in the 60s, early 70s. Like so many artists, I failed at it. I couldn't make it. When I realized I wasn't going to be able to fulfill what I thought was my destiny, what I thought was my faith of being an entertainer in Pop music, I did the closest thing to that, which is to help develop the careers of other people and live my dreams through their careers. I was so dedicated to building the careers and giving other artists hit records, that was living their dream with them. If I couldn't have it myself, I was closely enough related to it that it was incredible enough for me to see John Denver take off or Waylon Jennings or The Guess Who or Randy Bachman...friends like that. It was exciting to see their careers flourish because I was getting a chance to live it with them, although I wasn't on that stage. So, that's why I think the reputation as being a good promoter was there because I was so dedicated to it, not only because it was a job to me, it was my passion to build careers. Then low and behold I got a chance to come back to Country music as a performer and have my own career.
Q - You were promoting records for R.C.A. when you met Elvis?
A - No. I met Elvis as a kid. I met Elvis in 1961.
Q - Where'd you meet him?
A - I met him at a skating rink in Memphis. Of course, he got out of the Service a few months earlier. This was the early part of '61. He got out in '60. He was very young. I was a kid. I went skating one night and I was leaving the skating rink and Elvis pulls up in his Cadillac with eight or ten of the Memphis Mafia in cars following and he asked me where I was going. I said I was going home. No, he said, I need your help. What do you need? I was dumbfounded. My God! I was talking to Elvis Presley! (laughs) He said we're short a man on our team. I said what do you mean, team? This is a skating rink. He said, no, we're playing a game called Kill. What is that Mr. Presley? He said, don't ever call me Mr. Presley. My dad is Mr. Presley. I'm Elvis. I said OK Elvis. I said what are you playing? He said, we're playing Kill. It's football on skates. They suited up like football players. They absolutely mashed each other to death that night. We became friends and it's lasted forever. But then a few years later, I went to work for R.C.A. in my early twenties and then he became my artist and I promoted him. Then in '74, I became an artist myself and we became friends, artist to artist. So, I had three different timelines in my relationship with Elvis, my friendship there just as a teenage kid, meeting him when he was very young and his career was still being formed. Then as a record executive and then as an artist. So, I've been on an incredible journey my whole life.
Q - Did you ever go to Graceland?
A - I lived at Graceland for years.
Q - When did you live there?
A - Oh, God...early '68 through '72, '74, until I became an artist. I was there almost every day.
Q - Did he have different rooms for all the people who stayed at Graceland?
A - Well, you'd sack out on the couch or you'd grab one of the bedrooms and take a nap. I have a home in Nashville, so I was able to go home a lot, but I was there every day and every evening. I was married at the time with my own family. But, I spent most of my time at Graceland because I was working for R.C.A. and assigned to Elvis and I had to be there. I was needed to do whatever. Of course I had a chance to work with Elvis, do the tours with him. It was just an incredible time in my life.
Q - Do you remember the records you were promoting for him?
A - Oh, gosh..."Suspicious Minds"...oh wow...all the records that Chips Moman had cut at American Studios, I promoted.
Q - Back in the late 1980s, I did an interview with author Gail Brewer Giorgio, (Is Elvis Alive?) and she told me there are three people who know that Elvis is alive...Muhammad Ali, Johnny Cash and T.G. Sheppard. Did Elvis fake his death? Is Elvis alive?
A - (laughs) Yeah, he's living in my basement right now. As a matter of fact, I'm rushing home right now to slip his food underneath the door.
Q - I almost believe that!
A - (laughs) I can only tell you this: If he was alive I would know it. That's a new one on me. I never heard that. That's a new one on me. The last one I heard like that was Paul McCartney was staying at my house when he was on tour recently. It got out that he was in my house and it was wild. I'm going, where does this stuff come from? No, he (Elvis) is not here. Oh, God, I wish he was. I wish I could say he's living on some island somewhere in the Bahamas or he's living in the North Pole, but he is not. Elvis loved life too much and was too much of a force that if he was here, you'd still be able to feel that force. Even if he wasn't ever seen in public, you'd still be able to feel that force 'cause it was a force to be reckoned with. It was phenomenal, his Karma and his aura. We could be in a room somewhere, a huge room with hundreds of people and I could have my back to the door and I could almost tell you to the second he walked in the door. You could feel it. So, I think if he was here, we'd be able to feel his presence.
Q - People talk about Frank Sinatra that way too.
A - Absolutely. You know what? There have been several people in our lifetime that were like that. I'll tell you who they were. One of 'em was Rudolph Valentino...huge with his female following. Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley. There's been few people like that, that you could feel their presence.
Q - And John Lennon.
A - I agree. Well, I get the same feeling when I'm around Paul McCartney or Barry Gibb. Trust me, if Elvis was alive, I would have felt his presence somewhere on this earth.
Q - You sang a duet with Clint Eastwood?
A - Yeah.
Q - How would you rate him as a singer?
A - Clint Eastwood was a phenomenal guy. A big fan of music. He is just the kind of guy that when I got the phone call, I thought somebody was kidding me. I'm like anybody else. I'm a big Clint Eastwood fan. I was playing in Lake Tahoe at Harrah's. Mickey Gilley and I were playing there with the Urban Cowboy Tour. I get the phone call. I said OK, who is this? I thought it was one of the guys in my crew or my band. After a few minutes I said, this is really you! He said, Yeah. (laughs) I said wow! He asked me if I'd fly to L.A. and do this duet. He said I just did a movie called Sudden Impact and there's a catch phrase in it..."Make My Day." Would you record with me? I said, would I! (laughs) Yeah. He sent a plane for me and I flew to L.A. the next morning and we spent the whole day recording and it was great. He's not a great singer, no, but he's a great stylist. He loves Country music and as I say, all kinds of music. When you hear his voice, you know it's Clint Eastwood. What a great memory I made that day and what a great person he was, and still is. He's just a great guy. I really had a ball doing that, recording with him.
Q - I almost forgot to ask you...what does the T.G. in your name stand for? Is your first name Tommy?
A - You know what? It actually doesn't stand for anything. I can only say that I've been T.G. Sheppard for thirty-one years now. So, I have assumed the identity.
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