A Conversation with Shaw Wilson of BR549 (continued)
PM: So congratulations on bringing a very important band back from what must have felt like the brink.
SW: Yeah. I could go into it, but I probably shouldn't. I mean, just personally, it affected me, because--
PM: I mean, just down for the count, and all of a sudden you guys get it back together. It's amazing.
SW: I almost quit back in the day when we were still at Robert's and Jay just started playing bass and Donnie wasn't even with us yet.
SW: And everybody told us, "You made a big mistake letting that bass player and that sax player go." And we were like, "No, we know what we're doing, and you're just going to have to come to the show." And so they'd come to the show, but Jay had never played bass before. And he's a great guitar player, but it's hard to play a standup bass, and he just wasn't quite getting it. We didn't gel as a rhythm section quite at that point. And I'd already had pneumonia six months earlier, and I just thought, "I'm dying here. Nothing is going to happen. I got to go home." I said, "I'm not going to die in Nashville, Tennessee." And I thought I was, then.
But Donnie gets a Greyhound from Vegas--quits the band he's in, gets in a Greyhound, comes and joins us, and blows the roof off the place. And then things really started happening. So I've already been revived more than once. That was what would have been the biggest mistake, because it was hard in the beginning. And it's hard from time to time. When Jay and Gary finally couldn't go anymore, I said it again, I'm like, "Great, it's January. I don't have any money. The heating bill is going to eat me alive. I'm not going to die in Nashville. I can't."
SW: So I got unemployment, and we went down and played for tips--kind of subsidized the income so I could get through the winter, and just change up the game plan. But it took years to do that. And in the meantime, we were always picking, because you got to do that or you are dead.
SW: It was just really, really rough, physically, mentally, and everything. We didn't know what we were going to do. And thanks to Chris and Goeff really having a strong ability and passion for it, they came in and gave us a reason, a really strong reason to keep going. And that's pretty much it, in a nutshell.
PM: People don't really realize, when they just buy the record and see the shows, what it takes to be musicians and what musicians go through just to do their thing. It's not pretty sometimes.
SW: Yeah, they think it's all just what they see in the movies or whatever. And even a movie like Pure Country--it's a pretty good movie, and they try to get the hard times, and when George Strait disappears and all that stuff--yeah, that stuff happens, but still, when I watch it now, it seems like a movie. And I suppose what you write and people read about will sound like a story or a tale. And if we ever made a movie, people would go, "It's still just a movie." But to me and all of us, it's like: you don't want to be in this movie. The rewards are incredible, but sometimes what it takes to receive those rewards is just crushing. And you can't recreate that in any form of art. But we do it for art, right?
SW: I guess.
PM: Yeah, we do it for the life.
PM: You do it because you got to do it, bottom line.
PM: What are Jay McDowell and Gary Bennett up to these days? Are they doing the family thing? And how are they living their lives?
SW: Well, Jay, he got the camera from Sony when we came on with Sony, so he had this top-of-the-line Sony digital movie camera. And he was documenting a lot of stuff there, I think, because we knew that he couldn't go on playing bass. He didn't really say anything at the time, but I kind of sensed it. And my position was "Don't just wig out. Just talk to me at some point and let's see if maybe we can find a solution." And the way things went down, I got pissed at him, and I was probably--well, of course I was upset. But it really wasn't like an ambush. They just finally realized that, everything that had happened, they couldn't fend it off anymore. So they just said, "We can't do it."
PM: And they kind of split together.
SW: Well, Jay had already decided he couldn't, and Gary was going to go with us, but then he realized that things just didn't seem to be going smoothly, and that the record company--Sony wasn't doing us right, or whatever.
PM: What a shock.
SW: Well, and then of course, not long after that, Sony dissolved. I mean, there's one person who works there now.
SW: And it's a whole different ball game. But we were there. I think it's hilarious, really, that we were one of the nails in the coffin of the old Music Row. Arista, we got on there, and Arista was doing great with Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn and all the others, and Pam Tillis, and on and on, with great success through the '80s and the '90s. And we come along, and phhht! Arista, gone! And so then we go to Sony, and they were suffering so badly, we didn't even know, and gone! Like we're the label killer or something. [laughs] And that was the end of the century, as well.
So going into the 21st century, now that everything is restructured, it makes a little more sense to us. Now we feel like we're a 21st century band, that we're just carrying what we can on into the new century, what we've learned from all of this.
And in very much the same way, Jay is doing that, because he formed a video production company with Flick, and he was learning how to edit and doing a little camera work, I think, on Nashville Star. So he works--he gets out of town sometimes to do documentary work, but he's pretty much staying at home with his wife.
And Gary is managing the Ernest Tubb Record Shop out at Opryland.
SW: And he's been producing songs in his own studio in his house, his own material and trying to pitch those around. That's really what Gary wanted to come to Nashville to do, so he's pretty much living the way he wanted to--with a slight sideline with us, for whatever it was, six years, seven. It was a seven-year-itch, is what it was. We reached about seven years, and then you either keep it together and go on or you split up, just like a marriage.
PM: Ain't that true. continue