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Bucking the Trend

Former Houstonian Chris Cagle hits the charts at a time when Nashville prefers not to see new faces

A 1987 graduate of Ross S. Sterling High School in Baytown, Cagle enrolled at the University of Texas at Arlington, but music quickly won out over classes. He began performing all over the Arlington-Fort Worth area, playing what he calls the Metroplex "B-spot" clubs. In 1994 Cagle moved to Nashville. He spent the next five years waiting tables and tending bar, while polishing his songwriting skills. His skills vastly improved after he met the legendary Harlan Howard, who taught Cagle how to compose a true country song.

Cagle has learned his craft well. Because here's the thing about Play It Loud: Nearly every one of the ten songs could be a hit.

"A song is a bag of attention," says Cagle, quoting a Nashville industry maxim of sorts. "If you have a hole in the bag, you lose the attention."

Chris Cagle: His Play It Loud is not a product of the usual Nashville assembly line.
Russ Harrington
Chris Cagle: His Play It Loud is not a product of the usual Nashville assembly line.

Virgin Nashville is making sure its star pupil doesn't lose anyone's attention. The label has him on a tour of 140 radio stations across the country. A typical itinerary includes 25 stations in four or five days. It's all part of Hendricks's plan to bring Cagle to the people, not vice versa. It's part marketing and part old-fashioned campaigning.

"We do listener-appreciation shows and talk to drive-time jocks," says Cagle. "I play acoustic guitar in the studio. I'm not a flat picker like Ricky Skaggs, but I can play with nearly anybody."

Now that Cagle is on the track to stardom, he has some advice for those who want to succeed in Nashville:

"I would not sing cover tunes in clubs, so I would be forced to sound like everyone else," he offers. "Shut up and watch. Learn as much as you can by other people's mistakes and experiences. Keep honing your craft. Write. Sing a strong 45 to 60 minutes a day. Exercise. One day you're going to be at a party. They are going to pass a guitar around. When it gets into your hands, you better be ready to play the best song you have at the time, because somebody there is going to be from Mercury Records. Everybody is in the music business here."

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