Indy labels come and go along Music Row, but Average Joes ain’t your average label. These guys and their company are clearly here for the long run.
Several key moves that label co-founders Colt Ford and Shannon Houchins have made in recent months have opened eyes across the Row and at radio, proof positive that Average Joes is very, very different from so many startup labels that have made a stab at Nashville in recent years.
The first big news came last Thanksgiving, when Tom Baldrica, one of the most powerful and respected radio promotion pros in country music joined the team after decades of work at Sony BMG, RCA Label Group, and Sony Music Nashville helping to bring the smash hits of artists like Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Martina McBride, and others to country radio.
“Tom looked at some opportunities, including one at a really big label,” Ford says in a conversation in late March at the office of his publicist, Ebie McFarland of Essential Broadcast Media.
“We got the call the day before Thanksgiving, and Tom said, `you know what? I’ve thought about this and I think the only way I’m gonna be happy is with you guys,’ ”
Ford continued. “Tom was really a part of the build over there at Sony, and he goes, `man, I’ve got one more build in me.’ ”
Then Average Joes announced a major signing: Montgomery Gentry, the Kentucky duo whose Columbia Nashville career included 14 Top 10 Billboard country singles and four No. 1s, had joined the Average Joes artist roster.
When Houchins and Ford first came to the Row in 2007, their talk about starting an important new label often was greeted with cynicism, or fell on deaf ears. No more.
“It takes a while. The problem with here is that nobody knows what’s goin’ on outside of here,” Colt says of the Row. “There’s actually another whole world – New York and LA and all these places – that are doing things that really don’t care what y’all say. It’s been exciting, and to have Tom there is a big deal.”
It hasn’t taken them long to partner with some other exciting acts. Warner Nashville signee, Ty Stone, who is being executive produced by Kid Rock, is a management client of Average Joes.
Ford himself is a fascinating character, singer, and songwriter. He attended the University of Georgia and was an All-American golfer there, played several years on satellite PGA Tours and competed in some PGA tournaments. He remains close buds with Tour stars including Kentucky’s popular Boo Weekley.
And like Zac Brown and Ty Stone, Colt is a larger-than-life talent and man who looks and sounds nothing like the squeaky-clean, reality-show contestants so many Row labels obsessed over the last few years.
“You can’t lie to these people,” Colt says of the fans. “The kids today, it’s really simple. If we don’t get back to making kick-ass music, you’re gonna have a lot more people not having gigs.”
Colt is also a huge Zac fan. “Going to watch Zac’s shows, you’re gonna see as good singing and musicianship as there is out there,” Ford says.
He shares their fierce work ethic, having played some 210 shows the last year. Colt’s songs often feature spoken-word recitations, along the lines of Charlie Daniels’, “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” and Jerry Reed’s, “Amos Moses.”
His own sports background – Colt was also an outstanding baseball player – has helped him create music used at various sports organizations, including the Professional Bull Riders Association’s “Buck ‘Em” and the Outdoor Channel’s “Huntin’ The World.”
And for Colt, who describes himself as “a walking, talking, 300-pound celebration of country music and country living,” his 2010 debut on the Grand Ole Opry was a very special moment for his career and for his fast-growing army of fans from coast to coast.
The signing of prestige artists like Montgomery Gentry to the label also makes it exciting for everyone concerned.
“Michael Knox is going to produce their record. They actually started in the studio yesterday,” Ford says. “Both those guys are friends of mine, and when that opportunity came available, they were talking about making some changes and I said, `listen, we would love to have you and I think Average Joes is a good place for you. If you want to once again make `Tattoos And Scars’ and `Hillbilly Shoes,’ if you want to make THAT kind of record, then this is where you need to be.’ ”
Colt and many other of the gifted Georgia products and songwriters in his circle of friends are scoring loads of cuts with other artists, as well as doing their own recording and tours.
“I love Waylon and Willie, but I also loved (hip-hop pioneers) Run-D.M.C. and I love Journey and Foreigner and Prince,” Colt said. “I literally grew up listening to all of that.”
Now his music and his label are combining influences and biz lessons from all of those, and writing their own new radio and Row models as they go.
By Phil Sweetland