The Kentucky native Chris Caskey’s development deal at Mercury Nashville was in the late 1990s, a very different time at the label and in the industry.
Those years were a period of explosive growth for Mercury, thanks primarily to Shania Twain, whose 1997 album “Come On Over” became the only 20-Million selling record ever by a female country artist.
Music Row was a boom town in those days, and Chris got signed to a development deal and began working with Carson Chamberlain, a top producer and songwriter who co-wrote George Strait’s “The Best Day” (with Dean Dillon) and Alan Jackson’s “Between The Devil And Me” (with Harley Allen).
Like many development deals, Caskey’s resulted in Mercury cutting a handful of sides on him but nothing ever got released to radio or on an album.
“My worst point,” he said in early January, “was when I lost what I had with Mercury. Oh yeah, there were times I felt like quitting. For a couple months, I was in complete despair after that.”
He stuck around Nashville for several years, working as a session singer with a rich, soulful baritone that sounds as if it was born for country radio and the Opry stage. But it wasn’t until he moved home to Kentucky that things really started picking up.
“I hadn’t been back in Kentucky no more than a month and then all of a sudden Sony and Universal South wanted me to sing for them,” Chris says. “I did an office showcase for Mark Wright.”
Meanwhile, he was working in several bands in the Bluegrass State, and one day in the summer of 2009 he was performing at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame when he met Corey Frizzell, the nephew of the legendary Lefty Frizzell and son of country Gospel standout Allen Frizzell.
Corey is a man of many talents himself, one of which is drawing greatly admired portraits of country, bluegrass, and Gospel artists. It turned out that Chris also knew a great deal about Lefty Frizzell, and was delighted to find out that Corey was Lefty’s nephew.
Chris and Corey quickly struck up a friendship and would work together again on a benefit concert Frizzell co-produced with the Keith Whitley Association at the world famous Nashville Palace to raise funds for the medical expenses of Lyric Frizzell, Corey’s adorable little girl who suffers from a rare form of Leukemia.
After the benefit, itching to work with Chris, Frizzell took the helm as manager and began working in Nashville to put together a Caskey project. By November of this year Frizzell successfully attained investment introduced Chris to the highly successful Oklahoma entrepreneur Randy Matthews, whom bought the Nashville Music Guide in early 2010 and soon thereafter founded TCM Records.
Matthews befriended both Frizzell and Caskey and quickly signed Chris to the new label, which Matthews describes as “the first Social Network music label.”
Chris’s debut single, “God’s Pocket,” is being released in January, with radio promotion handled by the leading country and Gospel promotional company, Double E Promotions, whom most recently promoted former Statler Brother, Jimmy Fortune to number one on the national Christian Voice Country & Gospel Top 100 Chart for December of 2010. The Grammy-winning producer Randy Kohrs handled the recording at Slack Key Studio.
Chris first recorded the song in the late 1990s for Mercury, and it has always had a special significance for his family.
“My grandmother – my Mom’s mom – is a really spiritual person,” Caskey says. “I was playing a couple of my songs at a family function. When ‘God’s Pocket’ came on, my grandmother perked up.”
She said, “Chris, if you put that song on the radio, you’ll be somebody.”
Now, at long last, Caskey is finally getting that chance.
“In this new version, my voice has matured somewhat more in the last 12 years, so we took it down a half step,” Chris says. “The original had steel on it, but Randy Kohrs is an amazing Dobro player so we replaced the steel with Dobro.”
So after years of near-misses and frustration, Chris Caskey is one of the happiest guys on Music Row these days. Thanks to the vision and support of folks like Randy Matthews, Corey Frizzell, and Carson Chamberlain, Caskey is getting his second crack at radio and Web success.
And the timing couldn’t be better.
By Phil Sweetland | firstname.lastname@example.org