This site will include regular features, reviews, my personal musings and recommendations along with the first online publication of my biographies of all major performers, singers, writers and musicians involved in country music over the past eighty-odd years. I am also intending to add all the features that I contributed to Country Music People, Country Music Review, Country Music Round-up and Country Music International and various other publications including Record Mirror Sounds, Kent Evening Post, Kent Messenger and many others to the site.
I hope as the site builds and builds that it will grow into a first choice reference library for fellow passionate music lovers and will be of great value and interest to country, roots, bluegrass and Americana music lovers the world over…
A little more background about myself … you know I only got into all of this because I’m so passionate about the music. For me it’s all about introducing as many people as possible to good music they’d otherwise miss out on. That’s what continues to drive me. I have little or no time for radio that plays the same old hits; people of my age who harp on about music of today not being as good as the music they grew up with. I believe that the new should co-exist with the old; the young musicians and fans of today should be embraced and guided by us veterans who’ve hopefully got some good advice and encouragement to impart to them.
Over the years, I know that I’ve upset and offended some people with my somewhat outspoken, but always honest opinions. I’ve never followed the conventional way of doing things. I hate bureaucracy and time-wasting. If something needs to be done, make the decision, roll up your sleeves and get on with it. If you succeed all well and good, if it fails, dust yourself off and try again. But don’t spend precious time analysing what went wrong … learn from your mistakes and move on. I’ve always been something of a Maverick … one who thinks and acts in an independent way, never afraid to cross the line of conformity. But I believe that my somewhat unorthodox approach has generally been right … for me the maverick way has worked!
It was with this kind of mindset that in 1966 I published and edited two quite different magazines. I knew nothing about running a business. Didn’t have any capital to invest. Just knew that I needed to share my passion for music with others, and the best way with my background in print, was to produce my own magazines and hope that others would embrace my passion and enthusiasm.
Record Collector, initially a magazine covering all facets of popular music, soon became more focussed on detailed features on what was then termed traditional country music, with in-depth discographies. Country Record Exchange was a monthly country music magazine that after a few years was renamed Country Music Monthly. Both magazines gained readers around the world—Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America and behind the Iron Curtain.
At this time I was involved with the inauguration of the British Country Music Association and was responsible for producing the first BCMA Yearbook in March 1970 with Goff Greenwood and Jim Marshall. Previously I had produced a Jim Reeves Souvenir book and became recognised as an expert on the Reeves’ career and his music. In January 1970 I was asked to contribute a regular country music column for the Kent Evening Post. That column continued uninterrupted in various Kent Messenger publications until 2006.
I had also become involved with Roy Watson in promoting country music concerts and dances in Kent. It all began at Nettlestead Village Hall in early 1969 and led to a long association. I dubbed Nettlestead as the ‘Nashville of Kent’ and we also started to promote concerts at the Hazlitt Theatre, Maidstone in July 1970 and also at the Westerner Bar at the Hunting Lodge, Larkfield. Roy and myself also teamed up with Larry Adams in presenting Kent Country Scene on BBC Radio Medway (later to be known as BBC Radio Kent) in January 1971.
Goff Greenwood and myself jointly edited a quarterly magazine, simply titled Country Music, in 1969. Aimed at being the voice of the BCMA, it was to be a short-lived venture and in 1970 it was absorbed into Country Music People. I had been involved with both Country Music People and its predecessor, Opry magazine, from the very beginning in 1968. I assisted Larry Adams and Gordon Smith (Opry owners) in finding new printers following problems with their original printers in the summer of 1968 and for a few issues was responsible for the magazine’s layout and design whilst still working on my own publications. Later, in 1970, I was invited by Gordon Smith to take over as editor of Country Music People following the dismissal/resignation of Larry Adams. I declined the tempting offer as I didn’t feel that the magazine was financially stable and with a young family and mortgage I couldn’t take that risk.
Bob Powel was instated as editor and for the next 20 years I was a regular contributor to Country Music People. As I was offered a supervisory position at the Kent Messenger, I ceased publishing of both Record Collector and Country Music Monthly in 1971, though I continued writing about music in my spare time. Alongside my weekly country column for the Kent Evening Post, I was also asked to write pop music reviews for the Maidstone Times series in 1971 and for the next 25 years I reviewed all the latest releases for the Maidstone Times, Medway Times, Ashford times, etc which in the 1980s became known as Maidstone and Medway Extra series. I also wrote the odd features for Girl About Town, Record Mirror and Sounds.
I came up with the idea of publishing a series of books on major country artists and started work on the first one, Jim Reeves & Friends. Published in early 1973, the 48pp magazine-type publication featured Chet Atkins, Bill Anderson, Leon Payne, Cindy Walker and others, all of whom were associated with the Reeves career. Printed by the Kent Messenger, I had pre-sale orders of 2,000 and it eventually sold in excess of 4,000 copies, which was way above my expectations. In 1974 I was invited by Bryan Chalker to contribute to Country Music Review magazine. As I was still very much a major writer for Country Music People, I decided to use the pseudonym Adrian Cooke.
Throughout the 1970s I continued to promote concerts and gigs on a regular basis across Kent in such venues as the Hazlitt Theatre, Maidstone; Elizabethan Barn, Tunbridge Wells; Maidstone United FC Social Club; Queens Theatre, Sittingbourne; Central Hall, Chatham; Woodville Halls, Gravesend; Staplehurst Village Hall; Mote Park Pavilion, Maidstone; Granville Theatre, Ramsgate; Leas Cliff Hall, Folkestone and Greenways, Wrotham.
In 1975 I came up with the brand name Good’n’Country and produced a logo like a branding iron motif that became synonymous with me and all of my concerts for more than 30 years. Alongside local outfits such as the Country Cousins, Reg Haynes Outfit, Ned Porridge, the Levins, and the Mavericks, I introduced outside British acts to Kent including the Hillsiders, Brian Golbey, Ann & Ray Brett, the Duffy Brothers, Strange Blend, Harmony & Slyde, Frank Jennings Syndicate. Kelvin Henderson, Jeannie Denver and Frank Yonco & the Everglades. During this period I also featured many foreign acts in my shows including Johnny Bond, Mac Wiseman, Gene Watson, Jimmy Payne, Billy Armstrong, Dick Damron, Jimmie Driftwood, Dave Dudley, the Mercey Brothers, George Hamilton IV, Joe Sun and the Moody Brothers.
All of this promotion continued alongside my writing for the local newspapers, Country Music People and Country Music Review plus holding down a full-time position at the Kent Messenger. I didn’t learn to drive until 1979, so I relied heavily on public transport and friends to not only get me to the gigs, but also with setting up and making arrangements at the venues.
In the early 1980s I was appointed pre-press night manager at the Kent Messenger, which entailed extra responsibilities and longer working hours which meant a cut-back on my concerts, though I continued with the regular Good’n’Country concerts at the Hazlitt Theatre. My writing continued unabated. I also began writing video reviews for the Maidstone Times series. Initially it was just music videos but rapidly grew to include film reviews.
Then in April 1985 my world was turned upside down. There was a dispute at the Kent Messenger with the print unions, of which I was a fully paid-up member. Being on the management team I was torn between the two factions. I’d always been a staunch union member and supporter. Without the Trade Union movement workers would not have the rights that today we take for granted including paid holidays, statutory sick pay, workers pension schemes, the National Health service and many other benefits too numerous to list here. Unfortunately, some unions were infiltrated by extremists who had little in common with the rank-and-file members and were following their own agendas. This is what happened at the Kent Messenger, and the Father of the Chapel took the suicidal decision to call all the union members to walk out, rather than sit down and thrash out an agreement.
I disagreed with this decision and stood apart from my work colleagues and continued to report to work on the day shift. To maintain my future livelihood I negotiated a new contract of employment that guaranteed my continued employment or a redundancy payment if the union members were reinstated thus making it impossible for me to work alongside them. The dispute continued for ten months during which myself and my family were subjected to intolerable treatment by my ex-work colleagues including non-stop phone calls night-and-day, stones thrown at the house, verbal and physical attacks and the ordering of various mail-order items and garden turf.
The strikers lost out at the industrial tribunal and were never re-employed by the Kent Messenger. During this period I was working 16-18 hour days, having to run the gauntlet of the picket lines twice-a-day to get in and out of work. After two years if this I had become quite ill and had cut-back considerably on my contributions to Country Music People, though I was still writing my weekly columns for the Kent Messenger publications.
It was in late 1986 that I started planning the first Good’n’Country Festival. I’d been contacted by Scribes Writing Services who wanted to put together a country music festival to raise monies for charity. I rapidly became the driving force and despite somewhat inclement weather, the initial festival at Allan Firmin’s Farm near Maidstone in June 1987 was a great success and starred George Hamilton IV, Sonny Curtis, Kelvin Henderson, Frank Jennings Syndicate, the Jonny Young Band and several other acts.
Buoyed by this success, the festival moved in 1988 to the Whitbread Hop Farm. At the time, this was not a major tourist attraction. It was still managed by the farm managers, who had limited marketing skills. Dealing with the local council over sound levels, health and safety issues, parking and traffic and crowd management turned out to be a nightmare. The council had never dealt with a major music festival and were somewhat over-zealous with their demands and rules and regulations.
Despite this, it all came together, and on the day ran smoothly with 18 acts on one stage between 11am and 11pm all running to time in front of almost 5,000 dedicated country music fans. The festival continued at the Whitbread Hop Farm for the next three years with in excess of 10,000 attending on a hot July day in 1989 with praise for the sound quality, great organisation and superb line-up of talent. The 1990 Festival had an ambitious line-up of Bobby Bare, Red Steagall, Joe Sun and the cream of UK acts, but the weather proved to be unkind with driving rain and 50mph winds gusting across the site. Although pre-sales had been good, the Festival relied on on-the-day sales and these were well-down due to the weather and a sizeable loss was made. Despite inclement weather insurance, they refused to pay out stating that we should have cancelled, in order to make the claim.
I decided that it was time to move on from being a Festival promoter and battling against Britain’s unpredictable weather. I continued with promoting concerts throughout the 1990s at the Hazlitt Theatre, Maidstone, Woodville Halls, Gravesend, the Orchard Theatre, Dartford and Marlowe Theatre Canterbury, along with weekly gigs at the Woodlands Inn, Charing.
I had ceased writing for Country Music People magazine in 1990 having found it hard to work with Craig Baguley, the new editor/owner. That same year I started writing for Country Music Roundup on the basis that I had total freedom to write on whatever subject I felt passionate about. It was a good arrangement, but it coincided with when I was asked to update and completely revise the Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Country Music. It became a major project, as since the last update much had happened with country music in America with the emergence of such major new acts as Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Brooks & Dunn and many others.
Shortly after I completed work on the encyclopaedia I was contacted by Andrew Vaughan, a journalist I vaguely knew, who was setting up a new country music magazine for Link House Publishing. He wanted me on board as a main features writer. Initially I declined, but he was persistent so I agreed on the basis that I had total freedom to choose who and what I wrote about and sourced my own interviews and CDs for review. He agreed that we could go ahead on that basis and so began an exciting period of writing for Country Music International.
During this period I interviewed many major stars, both in-person and on the phone. It was a great time to be involved with country music with CMT Television and so many great new and talented young acts coming through. I was in my element and though I was in a good position at the Kent Messenger, I was getting itchy feet. I had been promoted to Production Manager and felt that the extra pressure and responsibility was interfering with my passion for music. It was at this time that I got into artist management looking after the Haley Sisters and Janette Somers.
In the summer of 1996 I advised the Kent Messenger that I was intending to leave. It was in the midst of the transition to full electronic page make-up that I’d been in charge of implementing, so I agreed to stay on for a further twelve months, but on a part-time basis so that I could start planning my full-time involvement in music.
I set up my own PR Company—AFC Publicity—and began doing tour and CD PR and promotion for various artists including Derrick Mehaffey, Paul Overstreet, Victoria Shaw, Penny Jo Pullus, Cindy Kalmenson, Toe Sucking Cowgirls, Victoria Boland, Tamara Stewart, Sally Barris, Far From Home, Karen Lynne, Kim Dickinson, Okeh Wranglers, Judy Wright, Alan McCulloch, Annie B, Karen Flynn, etc.
I also set up tours for several of those artists, often driving them up and down the country to gigs and radio stations for live sessions and interviews. In early 1999 I was contacted by 16-year-old Nicola Yeowart from Leeds, Yorkshire asking for my help in her quest to become a country singer. I was taken aback by the quality and power of her voice and so began yet another exciting and challenging time. I knew that she had what it took to become a star and so I put 100% effort into making that happen. With help from Gail Davies, I took Niki Dean (the stage name we came up with) to Nashville where she auditioned for Joe Galante (RCA) and Bob Saporiti (Warner Bros). Both were keen, but recommended a move to Nashville for possible development deals.
This was not a feasible option, as Niki in Nashville alone would not be able to cope and I couldn’t afford to up sticks and move there to look after and develop her career. We decided that the best option was to establish Niki in the UK. So we recorded an album in the famed Curb Studios in Nashville and released it in the UK on her 17th birthday. At the same time I got Niki on the Don Williams May 2000 UK tour – 29 shows in 31 days. Two years after I started working with Niki a big-shot manager came on the scene making all kinds of promises that I couldn’t match financially, so with my blessing Niki moved on. She never made it big as a country music singer, though for the past few years she’s been a major star on the West End stage in such musicals as Wicked, Grease, Hairspray and Jersey Boys.
In early 2001 I was approached by Nick Barraclough and asked if I could write the biographies of major country music artists past and present for the BBC website. In total I wrote just over 200 in three months … from the Carter Family to Brooks & Dunn, Allison Moorer to Loretta Lynn and the Stoneman Family to the Mavericks. It was a major undertaken that I thrived on.
Around this time, unbeknown to me, Country Music International was experiencing financial problems. Link House Publishing had leased the magazine to Alan Walsh, a man I vaguely knew from when the Kent Messenger printed Record Mirror in the 1970s. Alan had taken over as editor and I was the magazine’s senior writer—though in effect I was advising Alan as to what to include in the magazine as his knowledge of the music was minimal. In December 2001 he phoned me up to tell me that the latest issue I’d just finished work on, wouldn’t be printed, as he was closing the magazine down forthwith.
There was no money left in the pot so he wouldn’t be able to pay me for that issue, or the previous two that I had worked on or the following issue which I had half-completed. I was owed several thousand pounds, and being self-employed was suddenly thrown into a financial meltdown. Rather than panicking, I looked at how I could move on and decided that my greatest strength was my knowledge and passion for music and the ability to be able to write about it, and so I explored ways of launching a new magazine.
I decided that what was needed was a fresh approach to country music, and set about planning a glossy coffee-table magazine that took country music seriously, with informed writing about all the genres of country music from the 1920s through to the present day. Following discussions with several possible investors, the final one pulling out just 3 weeks prior to the announced publication date of the first issue of Maverick in June 2002, I decided to go ahead and be damned and hope for the best. Flying by the seat of my pants and some financial help from an anonymous benefactor, I grew Maverick magazine into a highly credible and informative magazine that was quite different to all the other country music magazines that had gone before.
Alongside Maverick, I also started regular Maverick music nights at the Soul Café in Maidstone. These proved highly successful and over the years I was able to book some of my favourite acts as well as introducing exciting new acts on the scene. It seems unbelievable that such performers as Beth Neilsen Chapman, Gretchen Peters, Chip Taylor, BR549, Kevin Montgomery, Allison Moorer, Slaid Cleaves, Eve Selis, Gail Davies and so many others played there. Following refurbishment the Soul Café become unsuitable for live gigs so I moved on firstly to the nearby Zebra Bar and then to the Breeze Bar. I also promoted concerts at the Hazlitt Theatre and Exchange Studio in Maidstone and the Brook Theatre, Chatham starring such performers as Suzy Bogguss, Dar Williams, Raul Malo, Tim O’Brien and Carlene Carter.
I can’t remember when it was that I first became involved in compiling CD track listings and writing the liner notes, but believe it was possibly around 1998 when I put together a series of albums for Castle Music titled Famous Country Music Makers. These were either single or double CD sets of mainly vintage country acts ranging from Jimmie Rodgers through Lefty Frizzell and Hank Snow to Vern Gosdin and Conway Twitty. In total I believe there were around 100 titles.
A few years later I became involved with Jo and Ian Ashbridge at Wrasse Records, advising them on which country titles to be released on HumpHead Records from the vast Universal Music catalogue. Not only did they release brand new titles by Reba McEntire, George Strait and Vince Gill, but also 2on1 releases that I suggested and also wrote the liner notes. Then I was commissioned to put together compilations that included Gene Watson, Merle Haggard, Sammy Kershaw and Chely Wright. More recently I’ve worked on a series of 2-CD Definitive sets, again wide-ranging including Joe Ely, Jimmy Buffett, Bill Anderson, Tom T. Hall and Bobbie Gentry.
Alongside those, I was commissioned by Sony Music to put together a ‘Pink’ Dolly Parton 4-CD box set with many rare tracks and extensive liner notes. I’ve since compiled CDs for Hux Records and written the liner notes and also worked extensively with United Producers on a series of compilations for SPV that again included 2on1 reissues and special compilations for which I was responsible for the track listing and writing the liner notes. I’m not entirely sure, but I believe that I’ve compiled and written liner notes for almost 250 CDs.
After more than thirty years, I returned to regular radio work when I was invited by Steve Cherelle to co-host with veteran dj Roger Day, the weekly country music show on BBC Radio South. I was given complete freedom to play my own choice of music, and rather surprisingly, I found that I took to this like a duck to water. My approach was that the programme should entertain and educate, so rather than just playing the well-known classics, I introduced listeners to a wide variety of artists and music. I soon developed an easy-going rapport with Roger Day who appreciated my extensive knowledge of not just country music, but also classic pop and rock’n’roll.
In the autumn of 2007 I had a meeting with Paul Spencer, a Maverick reader, who explained that he was thinking of staging an Americana music festival in Suffolk and wanted to know if I had any objection to him calling it the Maverick Festival. I found Paul to be very honest and straightforward and gave him my blessing, on the understanding that the festival was well organised, booked good quality acts and was financially sound, so as not to bring any bad publicity to bear on Maverick magazine. We had a hand-shake agreement that I would help and advise on acts to be booked and would provide gratis publicity and advertising space within the pages of Maverick and I would have space at the Festival to sell and promote the magazine.
The first Maverick Festival took place at the Easton Farm Park on August 30 2008 and was an unqualified success. I’ve remained very much a part of the festival in the ensuing years, mainly in an advisory capacity plus of course providing publicity and exposure via Maverick magazine as the Maverick Festival has grown to become one the very best ‘small’ music festivals in the UK.
In early 2008 CMA presented me with the 2007 Wesley Rose Foreign Media Achievement Award in recognition of ‘outstanding contributions to the advancement and promotion of country music internationally.’ For my peers in the country music industry to acknowledge my endeavours was quite humbling and unexpected.
The financial meltdown of 2008/2009 brought on by greedy and unscrupulous bankers had a serious adverse effect firstly on Maverick magazine and then subsequently on the live music gigs. Though Maverick maintained its regular subscriptions, the casual retail sales dropped alarmingly and also the magazine suffered with several big advertisers not paying and then subsequently going into liquidation. Unable to sustain the huge print and postage bills, in early 2011 I turned Maverick into an electronic magazine.
Despite upsetting some of the long-time subscribers, this was working extremely well and with income finally above the magazine’s expenditure, I was able to substantially reduce the print bill still owing. Laura Bethell, who had been working with me since 2007 in admin and layout, left in August to take up a new position as a designer at Hand Media. Though this was a blow, I was able to continue producing the magazine and to substantially further reduce my costs.
Following meetings with David Rossiter, the owner of Hand Media, I agreed that his company should take over Maverick and re-instate it as a print magazine in January 2012. I would be retained as editor on a low salary to give Hand Media the opportunity to re-establish Maverick on the newsstands. I have to say my working relationship with Hand Media was difficult to say the least. Perhaps it was because I’d been my own boss for too long, but I found their working practices somewhat chaotic and at times verging on unprofessional.
In the summer of 2013 I realised that trying to work with them was becoming intolerable and so I offered my resignation, agreeing to stay on until the end of the year and being involved in the appointment of the new editor. Continually frustrated by their treatment of me, led to a massive fall-out in October resulting in me having no further involvement with Maverick magazine or Hand Media.
I never got involved in music for fame or fortune, it’s always been about the passion for good music that touches me emotionally. I’ve always endeavoured to make music that I believe in more popular and widely accepted. It grieves me that country music doesn’t have a larger and wider audience in the UK and that we still have to put up with outdated stereotypes, especially from the mass media. Though I’ve not achieved my aims and objectives in the way that I would have hoped for, I do believe that I’ve made a difference. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to hear from a music lover that something I’ve written about an artist has urged them to seek out that particular act’s music for themselves.