Longtime performer, television executive pens Music City memoir

Wednesday, June 10, 2009 at 12:00am

Stan Hitchcock cut his first gospel album in 1959, and three years later made the journey from the Ozark Mountains to Nashville. Since then he’s played a pivotal role in key changes and events in Music City, including the formation of Country Music Television in 1984, as well as appearing on the Grand Ole Opry numerous times and hosting two syndicated television shows from 1966-1983.

Now the CEO of the roots-based television network BlueHighways TV located in Hendersonville, Hitchcock has penned a new memoir about his five decades in the music and television business. He’ll read and discuss some of the many remarkable stories and unforgettable events detailed in At the Corner of Music Row and Memory Lane during book signings Friday at both Ernest Tubb Record Shops (1 and 4:30 p.m.).

“The world is certainly a different place today in so many ways from when I first came to town,” Hitchcock recalls. “But even then country music was going through changes, and I remember how gracious and supportive people like Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb were to newcomers like Bill Anderson and myself. They may not have personally liked everything that was happening at the time in terms of the music, but they went out of their way to welcome us into the fold and they helped us continue the evolution and growth of country music.”

Hitchcock’s book blends extremely funny and very serious tales, plus rare photographs of major stars. He describes sitting in Billy Sherrill’s office the day a thin blonde walked in with a tape and got a generally tepid reception until they put her self-produced cassette into a machine and were immediately astonished by what they heard. Her name was Tammy Wynette.

Though he had some success as a recording and touring artist and made a number of appearances on the Opry, television proved to be Hitchcock’s major vehicle. Both The Stan Hitchcock Show and Stan Hitchcock in the Ozarks were part of the country boom in syndicated shows during the ‘60s and ‘70s, and Hitchcock says that experience taught him the power of the medium and paved the way for CMT.

“I learned that television could be a major improvement on the whole process of growing your music,” Hitchcock said. “The television shows and later the videos enabled the fans to put a face with the music. Those programs went to places where people didn’t always have a chance to come and hear the performers, and they certainly helped expand country music and show that we really had a national following.”

When he became Senior Vice President of CMT in the early '80s, Hitchcock started another show called Stan Hitchcock’s Heart to Heart.

“It was the artists who really understood first the impact that videos could have,” Hitchcock said. “I remember Waylon [Jennings] coming to me and saying that people were coming up to him at autograph sessions and saying that they had just seen his new record, when they meant his new video. He told the label, and other artists began letting them know about the popularity of music videos, and we began getting flooded with videos, when before the labels looked at it as just another expense.”

While he acknowledges in the book his disappointment at the corporate maneuvers that resulted in CMT being sold in 1991 as he was out on location filming The CMT Roadshow with a then-emerging artist named Garth Brooks, Hitchcock says he has no bitterness about what eventually happened. He’s continued working in music television, first with the Americana Television Network and now BlueHighways TV.

“There are a lot of new artists whose music I enjoy,” Hitchcock said. “If I have any criticism it would be that there’s not the emphasis today on individual sound that there was in the ‘50s and ‘60s. People like Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb would tell young artists that it’s better to develop your own sound so people can recognize you rather than try and imitate someone else.

What: Author and television executive Stan Hitchcock reads from and signs copies of At the Corner of Music Row and Memory Lane
When: 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Ernest Tubb Record Shop, 417 Broadway (1 p.m.); Ernest Tubb Record Shop #2, 2416 Music Valley Drive (4:30 p.m.)
Cost: free and open to the public
Info: 255-7503, etrecordshop.com; 899-2474