Country songs are often about overcoming adversity and seemingly impossibly odds. That same storyline applies in real life to Dennis Money, who has recently produced sessions and albums for artists including Dolly Parton, Wayne Newton, Moe Bandy, and Bill Anderson, and scored a No. 1 single in Texas with Rio Grand’s “Beckett’s Back Forty.”
Pretty dang amazing for a guy who was diagnosed with Diabetes at age 4 and went totally blind before he turned 30.
Every doctor in Money’s home region of East Tennessee told Dennis he’d never see again, after a laser operation on his eyes left him completely blind when he was 29.
“Every time they said that, I’d say, `yes, I will,’ ” Money recalls.
It was a brutally hard climb back. The first 20 surgeries were unsuccessful. He lost 75 pounds, and was forced at the time to sell all of his precious musical and studio equipment to pay medical bills. He even traded a vintage Martin guitar to a famous eye surgeon for an operation. Eventually, seemingly miraculously and with the help of prayer and faith, his vision began returning.
His eyes are now back to normal, to go along with two of the finest ears on the Row and at country radio.
One powerhouse session Dennis oversaw was for the Las Vegas quartet MJ2, a group of two sets of beautiful identical twins who will be featured on a Larry King Prime Time special on CNN at 8 p.m. on May 1, with four more airings to follow. Leeza Gibbons and Maria Shriver are also on the program.
MJ2 & Celebrity Friends recorded “You Can’t Say Love Enough” with Dennis producing, to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Those friends included Parton, Newton, Bandy, Mark Collie, Steve Wariner, and others.
Money did the recording both at his Row studio, SweetSong Nashville, and in the case of Wayne Newton, in Las Vegas.
He has become the producer of choice for countless top vocalists.
“One thing that makes recording vocals work,” he says in a late March phone conversation, “is that I’m still the one that thinks you gotta learn how to sing it right here in the studio. Everyone is into fixing so many things with Pro Tools nowadays, but if you’re off key here you’ll be off key every night when you perform these songs on the road.”
Getting the song in the perfect key on every song for each vocalist is crucial, he says. Dennis plays 4 or 5 instruments himself, which also helps when he works with the singers.
“We do a lot of pre-production,” he says.
Rio Grand, the Texas trio on Curb Nashville, had never scored a No. 1 on the Texas Regional Radio Report until “Beckett’s Back Forty,” co-produced by Dennis and longtime business partner Herb Graham of Graham Entertainment, took the top spot last summer.
Graham owns the Graham Central chain of clubs, both in Tennessee and Texas, and has decades of top-level experience on the Row and at country radio.
Moe Bandy, who charted over 50 Billboard country singles between 1974 and 1989, has been using Dennis exclusively for years, on albums including the Gospel “Songs My Mama Sang” and a new 2-album live set Money recorded in Texas at one of Graham’s venues.
Whether Dennis is working with veteran stars like Bandy or a brand-new artist who’s stepping into the studio for the very first time, he applies the same philosophy on vocals: “We always wanna make sure they’re ready to go into the studio,” Dennis says. “Then I tell them we’re not gonna quit till we get it right, and if we have to stay a week we’re gonna stay at it.”
By Phil Sweetland