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|Kyle Lehning -- one of the industry's top producers. He's been Randy Travis' producer from the very beginning, and recently won the CMA Song of the Year with "Three Wooden Crosses". From "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight", Dan Seals' "Bop", Neal McCoy's "The Shake", Randy's " and "On The Other Hand" to George Jones, Bryan White, Michelle Wright -- the list goes on. As a record executive, recording engineer, musician, producer, is impact on the music scene has been recognized and awarded many times over.|
NOTE: After this interview with SongBrokers.com, "Three Wooden Crosses" also won the Song of the Year Award for the internationally televised Academy of Country Music (ACM).
Q. First of all, congratulations on your latest success, "Three Wooden Crosses" by Randy Travis. It won the CMA song of the year, it's been a number one radio hit, on a gold selling album (Rise & Shine), number one on the Billboard, R&R and Music Row charts. You've produced Randy's hits for quite some time, and we'll talk about that in a moment, but how did you connect on this one?
Kyle: Blake Chancey and I were making a record for Michael Peterson for Sony, and near the end of that record, Michael, who's just a terrific guy, came in the studio one day and said "I just heard a wonderful song that I think would be great for Randy." He played "Three Wooden Crosses", and I completely agreed with him right away. We called Randy and sent it to him, and he really liked it, and, a long story short, we ended up getting to record it. It was because of Michael Peterson's generosity that we actually got the song.
Q. Did you have any sense that "Three Wooden Crosses" was going to have the phenomenal success that it has?
Kyle: I've had the same sense about that song that I've had about other songs that we've recorded, some of which have been hits and some of which haven't. I mean, I knew that it was just a great song. Kim Williams and Doug Johnson wrote a really wonderful song.
I liked it a lot. I felt it was intriguing and a compelling story - the kind of story that I knew Randy's voice could tell. You never know what is or isn't a hit. If I knew what a hit record was every time I made one or heard one, I'd be Clive Davis.
Q. Where was the track recorded?
Kyle: We recorded that at Seventeen Grand Studios here in Nashville.
|Our visit to Kyle Lehning's facility, known as "The Compound", was very informative and educational. Amidst all the activity, we sat and talked with him about the current state of the music business and what the future holds. He shared his opinions on technology, past and present projects, and stories about the many hits he's produced. Photo: Ed (SongBrokers.com) and Kyle Lehning.|
Q. Going back in time, you produced a tremendous album for England Dan and John Ford Coley. I don't think there's anyone who doesn't remember the hit single "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight". How did you team up with them, and how did the album come together?
Kyle: Oh gosh. I'll have to go all the way back in order to tell you accurately how that happened. I'd have to go all the way back to my first moving to Nashville. Here goes.
When I first came to Nashville, which was '71, there was just no way for me to get a job in town. I couldn't even get a job as an assistant anywhere, and I was hanging around Tom Paul Glaser's studio on 19th avenue, because my wife at the time worked there and she actually grew up next door to Tom Paul's house and so she was a singer and that's how she and I met. She was working as a receptionist and was singing demos for them. So, I would hang around the studio all the time, but there was just no way to get a job. I didn't know if I was going to be a piano player, an engineer, or what, but I ended up focusing on engineering because I finally had to admit to myself that I really wasn't a good enough keyboard player to cut it as a session player. And I always enjoyed making records and engineering and doing stuff like that.
Well, this is a long story and it's going to get longer.
Dave Harrison, who built Harrison's consoles, and Claude Hill had a company in town called Studio Supply Company, and they sold recording equipment in the early '70's, primarily MCI gear. There was a young guy named Leland Russell who was looking to buy a tape machine and open a studio in Jackson, Mississippi, and he was looking for a young, hungry engineer. So my wife and I and our 6 month old baby, Jason, packed up and moved to Jackson to go to work in the studio called Alpha Sound. Alpha Sound was a recording studio in the back of a nightclub in Jackson that was originally owned by BJ Thomas. It was a club called BJ's. By the time we got there, it was a place called Penelope's. So the studio was actually an API console and Sculley tape machines. This was like '72. Tom Hidley had designed it, so it was a pretty rockin' little studio back there.
Leland was managing some bands, and he owned a live sound company that was called "Alpha Sound" that was doing Loggins and Messina's live sound and Black Oak Arkansas. He had some good accounts, and he had a band called Zyder Zee that ended up recording for Columbia. But there was a songwriter, a young guy named Parker McGee who was literally living in a school bus. He and his wife, Allison, were living in a school bus behind the recording studio. There was an extension cord coming from the school bus into the studio so they could get some electricity. And Allison, who's just a sweetheart, was in there baking granola in their gas oven in the bus. Hippy kids, just the sweetest, nicest people, and Parker was a songwriter - a James "Tayloresque" kind of songwriter - and Parker and I sort of grew up together. He grew up as a songwriter, and I grew up as a producer. We teamed up - he'd sort of kick me in the teeth about my record production, and I'd tell him where his songs were weak. So, we hit it off and started to work together. We started working in Jackson.
The studio really couldn't quite make it, so I ended up moving back to Nashville, and an opportunity did open up at the Glaser studio. I came back to work there as the chief engineer. It was an incredible break for me.
When I was in Jackson in '72, I met some wonderful people. The guys at Malaco - Wolf Stevenson and Tommy Couch and those guys - but I also met Paul Davis and James Stroud. So, I've known James probably as long as I've known anybody in this town.
It was a great time and an exciting time on the early '70's there.
But we moved back to Nashville, and Parker moved up here too. Parker was, and still is, a member of the B'hai faith, which is a very special form of religion with a sensible and unique kind of approach to spirituality, and so were Seals and Crofts. Parker felt that if he sent his music out to Seals and Crofts, something good might happen with it. So we made these demos and sent them out there, and sure enough, the folks out in L.A. at the Seals and Crofts company, which was a company called "Dawn Break", did like Parker's songs, and they signed him to a little publishing deal. So, I would produce his demos and we would send the stuff out there and they'd try to figure out what to with it.
Well, one day Parker - we were working together a little more than a year, I guess - he walked in the studio one day and said "You know, I'm tired of messing around with all of this 'Art' stuff. I really want to write some hits." He said that he'd figured out ten things that every hit record has to have, and he said "From now on, I'm going to have at least six of them in everything I do." I said that's great. You know, I emailed him just about a month ago and asked him if he still had that list. He said that he didn't have it, couldn't find it, and could only remember little bits and pieces. But I sure wish I had the list!
So, I can cut you off in your next question? I don't know what that list is.
He just shifted. In that period of time he wrote "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight", "Nights Are Forever Without You", a song called "Goodbye Old Buddies" that Seals and Crofts actually recorded, another song that Gene Cotton had a pop hit with called "You Got Me Runnin'", and a couple of others. Barry Manilow cut one of Parker's tunes. It was just kind of wacky the way he walked in and said "Gee, I'm going to shift this." and the next thing you know everything started clicking.
So, I did a demo of "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight", and we sent that to LA. Jimmy Seals' (Seals and Crofts) brother is Dan Seals, and they had a group called "England Dan and John Ford Coley". They had made a couple of records on A&M with Louie Shelton producing, a wonderful guitarist, and who produced all the great Seals and Crofts records. They had gotten dropped. They just didn't have the kind of success they needed. I think they had done two or three albums on A&M, and it just hadn't clicked. And they heard this song. They were being managed by a young woman by the name of Susan Joseph at the time, and Susan thought the song might work really well for Dan and John.
The original demo was sung by a female artist, a singer in Nashville by the name of Sherry Huffman who was a really good singer. Anyway, they heard the song, and Louie Shelton did a little record with them on the song. Susan took it to Bob Greenberg who was then Vice President of Atlantic in LA, and played it for Bob in his office. He kind of liked it, but he passed on it. But in the next office was a guy named Doug Morris, and he owned Big Tree records at the time, which was distributed by Atlantic. Doug literally heard the song through the wall. When Susan walked out of the office, Doug stepped out of his office and said to Bob, "That was pretty neat, Bob. Are you going to do anything with that?" and Bob said, "No, I think I'm going to pass." And Doug said, "Would you mind maybe if I did it?" and Bob said "No, that'd be fine."
So, Doug was ready to sign the record right then and there, but Susan, to my undying gratitude, said to Doug that she thought it was a good record, but thought there was a better record for it that could be made. He said "whatever", and she said, "There's this young guy in Nashville named Kyle Lehning that did the demo, and I promise you the demo has something that this doesn't have." I can't imagine that Louie's record of that would have been bad at all - it had to be great - but thanks to Susan.
By this time I was recording at Lee Hazen's "Studio By The Pond". I had left the Glaser Brothers studio, trying to set out on my own to do independent production and engineering. So, off we went to record the single. They gave us some money to record the single, and we did. The rest is history. It went up the charts. It was number two for seven or eight weeks right behind "Don't Go Breakin' My Heart" by Elton John and Kikki Dee.
|Kyle (left) and Lee Hazen reminisce about their experiences. Lee owns the famous "Studio By Pond" recording facility where Kyle recorded the England Dan and John Ford Coley hits, "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight" and "The Nights Are Forever Without You".|
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