10 Questions with ... Wally Wilson
April 5, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Wally Wilson is first and foremost an accomplished hit songwriter as well as a publisher, record producer, and musician. He has received numerous ASCAP and BMI awards and has written songs for and worked with legendary artists such as Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Joan Baez, Patty Loveless, and Joe Cocker. He began his musical adventure as a honky-tonk piano player in Texas and worked with many R&B stars such as Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley and Gatemouth Brown. He owns Skyline Music Publishing with his partner Paul Worley; and has also added the title of Executive Producer for "Skyville Live," a new and innovative online music series featuring collaborations of artists from all generations and music genres.
1) Wally, thanks for taking the time to chat with All Access! You've been in this business for many years and are experienced in many different facets of the industry. Most recently, you've created "Skyville Live." Can you explain to our readers the concept of "Skyville Live" and how you came up with it?
Skyville Live didn't begin with some grand scheme. It didn't begin as some big business plan. Paul Worley and I do artist development, and the artists that we work with needed a stage to perform on, and to practice their craft. We began taking our "baby" acts down to The Basement to showcase and get the new bands hours on stage. During that time, a guy hit me up to do a reality show on Skyville. I said hell no, but how about a live streaming show from here? I asked my brother-in-law, Raul Malo, to bring in his band the Mavericks, tried a little test run, got a great response, and began planning on making a bigger, better version of the first one. Thus, Skyville Live was born. Somewhere as we developed the show, it occurred to me that the basic "idea" of the show is to put very famous and very talented artists and musicians with some great up-and-coming artists and musicians and have them interact in a warm environment. It is also extremely important to me that the show not only look great, but sound great.
2) During "Skyville Live" artists of all genres collaborate. For example, in January, Martina McBride, Gladys Knight, and Estelle all collaborated for the series. Is there a thought process behind who you pair up together? Can you explain that process?
We want this to be a multi-generational, multi-genre event. Tisha Fein and I get together on a regular basis and dream up which acts fit together the best. The criteria is partly based on musical tastes, but mostly based on what we want to see and hear ourselves. I have always figured that when writing a song or producing a record -- or in this case, a TV show, if I don't like it myself then how can I expect anybody will?
3) The next "Skyville Live" episode will feature Kris Kristofferson, Lady Antebellum, and Jason Isbell on Tuesday, April 7th. Can you fill us on in on what we can expect from that show?
The April 7th show will be a tribute to songwriters everywhere, and Kris Kristofferson in particular. Besides Lady A, who are incredible writers on their own, and Jason Isbell, the new poet laureate of the new south, we also have Brandy Clark, CeCe Winans and other surprise guests to help us honor Kris.
4) "Skyville Live" is streamed live online to viewers around the world. Why was it important to you to open up this show to an international audience?
We wanted more folks than could fit in The Basement. :) Seriously, we want the whole world to experience this magic stuff that we are conjuring up. It's that simple.
5) You just launched "Skyville Live" at the beginning of this year and it's really taken off. What artists that haven't been on the show yet, would be your dream to book and who would you pair them with?
Well, we are talking to some of them and just looking for dates for them. Again, our executive producer, Tisha Fein, is brilliant at placing these acts at our disposal. But, let's see... a dream would be having Taylor Swift sing with her "sister" Caitlin Rose, and perhaps Joni Mitchell or their choice of another great older female artist along with them. But as far as dreams go, we are already talking about scheduling a lot of great artists -- everything from the greatest R&B acts to former Beatles to future Hall of Famers in every genre.
6) You began your Nashville career as a janitor at Tree Publishing and worked your way up. You now own your own publishing company, Skyville Music Publishing. How important do you think it is to "work your way up" in this business?
For me, it's the most humbling and gratifying thing. I have had so many friends who have helped me along the way, and that's another reason for Skyville Live. I want to give back to some great up-and-coming acts and give them an opportunity to perform with the best in the business before a live worldwide audience.
7) Staying focused on your career up to this point, you've worked with a lot of big name acts. Do you use your relationships to book talent for "Skyville Live," or do you go through a booking agent, etc?
Tisha Fein and I use every trick in the book, and then some. We aren't gonna give them all away either, or everybody'll start doing our show. :)
8) You worked with Lonestar when they were one of the biggest groups in the format. Is it any different to build a superstar act now than it was then? What conditions make it harder or easier?
We thought it was tough then, but really, looking back, it seemed so much easier than now. First, we had a band full of talented people, John Rich and Richie McDonald, as lead singers. Then we had Joe Galante driving RCA. And we were in the middle of the nineties, when radio was a lot more open to new material. But you still had to come up with great product, and I am proud to have been a part of the great Lonestar music making machine.
9) You've been at this a long time, so we feel you have a good perspective on this topic. A lot of people feel the music is coming back to the center to a more traditional sound. Do you see that happening, and why or why not?
My old friend Chick Rains once said, "We ain't never going back to nothing." I guess that's true. Styles come and go, but audiences have changed. Traditional country, as defined by Buck Owens, Merle Haggard or even earlier, was based on a rural audience that went through WWII or the Korean War and had very definite values and a way of life that is really no longer a part of the 21st Century. The country music that they listened to was modern to them. It spoke to them of their loves and lives and beliefs. So traditional country will now only be a niche sound, not unlike traditional blues or bebop jazz. However, a simpler, more song oriented country music will re-emerge, and I predict soon. When you get a Facebook post going around with a six-song mashup of Bro-Country songs, you know the end is near for that particular fad. Thank you very much -- next.
10) As we mentioned, you own your own publishing company, Skyville Music Publishing. With so many great songwriters in this town, what qualities do you look for when signing someone to your company?
The songwriting racket has changed a lot since Kix Brooks and Gary Nicholson and I all hunkered down at Tree Publishing in our little cubicles writing every day. The staff writers and the pluggers, and the pitching to the singers who traditionally didn't write, those days are pretty much gone. Today, if I were to sign a writer they would have to be an artist themselves.
1) You've written many songs for a lot of big name acts: Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Joe Cocker, just to name a few. If you were putting together a "Skyville Live" in honor of yourself; what songs of yours would you like to see artists perform?
"House of Love" for sure. It's my favorite. "Kentucky Bluebird." "Mr. Man in the Moon." "Powerful Stuff" ... maybe. I don't know, I really never think about the things I have created. I'm always looking forward and never backward. James Stroud once said, 'In this business you either make dust or eat dust.' I definitely have some more dust I want to make.