Despite his 24 years of age, Brad Turcotte, the founder of Houston's brand-new Compadre Records, is already something of a music-business veteran. He's a local representative of the new breed of music-biz pro, trained in classrooms and armed with several years of internships, a few high-profile jobs (radio promotion for Cory Morrow, among others) and the connections that come with same.
Compadre's first release, Texas Road Trip, is a themed collection of works by Lone Star State country artists about, well, you guessed it, driving. While the concept is not the most original, Turcotte scores some points by scratching deeper in the Robert Earl Keen catalog than "The Road Goes On Forever" and coming up with "Swerving in My Lane," as well as unleashing unreleased material by Jack Ingram, Clay Blaker, Rodney Hayden and Kevin Fowler. The theme also could be interpreted as a personal one for Turcotte, as the album dwells at the end of a five-year journey from lonely music-loving teenager to twentysomething label head.
While a freshman at Baylor, the San Marcos native knew he had made a mistake. Waco was "a downer." The young roots music fanatic couldn't interest his classmates in going to concerts with him, either in Waco or on the road. He was forced to go it alone, and lonesome at one such event, he had an epiphany.
"I saw Lee Roy Parnell and had a revelation," he says. "It was like a power of light hit me from the stage."
Turcotte knew that music was to be his life. Accepting that his musical skills were limited, he decided to get in the biz side. The very next day Turcotte applied to Middle Tennessee State University's music-business program. On arrival at MTSU, however, Turcotte got the hebegeebees. Murfreesboro, Tennessee, offered even less in the way of city lights than the Waco metro area. So Turcotte headed the 30 or so miles up I-24 to Nashville, more on a sightseeing trip than anything. There, he discovered that Belmont University, a small Baptist college housed around an old plantation on a magnolia-fragrant hilltop near Music Row, also offered a music-business program.
He applied and was accepted, with a scant two weeks to go before the semester started. Belmont's proximity to the Row afforded Turcotte ample opportunity for internships, of which he took full advantage. His time in Nashville taught him one big lesson and many smaller ones -- the major lesson being the one about "who you know" vs. "what you know."
"But then when you get back to a place like Houston, it comes full-circle again," he says. "It's more what you know down here, and that's what helped me to get this record out, you know, knowing who to call, what to give 'em and what to say."
On account of his age, Turcotte was timid even to make the acquaintance of many of the artists he would be releasing on Texas Road Trip. "I was afraid to meet the guys until I had the contracts signed. A lot of these guys have been around and are kinda sour on the business, and I was afraid that at 24, they would just see me as some kid who didn't know what he was doing."
While the scope of Texas Road Trip suggests that Compadre will be just another Texas music label, Turcotte's label's motto boasts otherwise. "Defining roots music" is the banner under which Turcotte marches, and he is among the dwindling few here in the Lone Star State who remember that roots music is more than just non-Nashville country.
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For starters, it bothers him that what we have come to know as "Texas music" is just country that Nashville has passed over. Turcotte remembers a time -- not so long ago, in fact -- when Texas music, like Americana, was also composed of blues, zydeco, conjunto, jazz, rock and many other genres. In addition to being a devotee of Texas country's bluesier side (Parnell, Delbert, et al.), Turcotte is "really into folk," he says. "I like John Gorka. I'm looking for someone who's gonna be like John Gorka, someone I can send on World Cafe. I'm more into -- I hate to say Americana, because Americana covers everything -- but folk, certainly."
Compadre has started small. The budget for Texas Road Trip was tiny, and Turcotte is running the whole operation out of his Galleria-area town home. Neither can he afford to devote the time that he would like; he's also attending South Texas College of Law. But as Lao-Tzu once said, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." A great many would-be record execs stumble on that first step, but something tells us that Turcotte will be around for the long haul.
Sonny Boy Terry will be hosting two big events this month. The first is his own birthday, No. 42 for the Ohio-born blues harp ace. On Saturday, September 8, Terry and friends will throw down at Cosmos Cafe, and you know Terry is a man with a lot of friends. On his last album, last year's Breakfast Dance, Terry was joined by Harry Sheppard, Grady Gaines, Joe Hughes, Adam Burchfield, Allison Fisher, Roberto Zenteno and "Snit" Fitzpatrick, among many other Bayou City luminaries. So if even a few of the above show up, expect an all-star revue of Houston blues and jazz. Terry's other event is the rescheduled Gulf Coast Harmonica Rumble, which nearly met its end at the hands of Tropical Storm Allison. (For an extremely erroneous weather forecast, along with the lineup for the show, see Playbill, by Aaron Howard, June 6.) This one, barring another grand deluge, will be at Dan Electro's on September 21 London jungle explorer and drum 'n' bass pioneer L.T.J. Bukem will be ambiently rat-a-tat-tatting away at Club Hyperia on September 12 Jesse Dayton's long, long, really long-awaited Hey Nashvegas! will hit the racks on September 25. In contrast to his cowboy jazzy album (Raisin' Cain) and his self-described "too many words" album (Tall Texas Tales), this is Jesse's all-star-cast CD. Jim Lauderdale, the Dixie Chicks, Flaco Jimenez, Mickey Raphael and Mandy Barnett all dropped in on these mid- to late-'90s Nashville and Austin sessions Sugar Hill Records has dusted off the Gourds' 1990s EP Gogityershinebox, slapped on five new cuts (covers and traditional tunes) and renamed the finished project Shinebox, due in stores September 11. Among the covers are tunes by Townes Van Zandt ("Two Girls"), Billy Joe Shaver ("Omaha") and David Bowie ("Ziggy Stardust"), which figures to rival their take on "Gin and Juice" (also included on Shinebox) in the sonic adventure department Last week in this space, we reported on the encroachment of bluegrass and other traditional Appalachian styles on the Billboard country charts, and if anything, those observations should be amplified. Of the Top 30 albums, six can be described as either bluegrass, pure Appalachian or Appalachian-informed, supplemented by five more in the rest of the Top 75. Two of the top three (the O Brother soundtrack and Allison Krauss's New Favorite) are as Smoky Mountains as corn likker. Bear in mind that, in contrast to the singles chart, which measures airplay, the album chart represents sales. The singles chart finds only two of the aforementioned among its number (the Dixie Chicks, whom we know are a stretch, and Nickel Creek), so perhaps some country radio hotshots should consider playing a little more of what their listeners are buying.