published Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Dalton Roberts: Pimps, thieves, good folks

by Dalton Roberts

Hunter S. Thompson said, "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. Then there's the negative side."

When I lived and worked as a songwriter in Nashville, I found this to be true. But I also found some creative and fascinating aspects to the town and some beautiful, honest people.

A very prominent songwriter stole one of my songs and it was scheduled for an Eddy Arnold session at RCA. An honest publisher for whom I had once played the song recognized it as mine and alerted me to the thievery afoot. On one little song I saw the "cruel and shallow money trench" of Nashville and also one of its "beautiful, honest people."

I had a top 20 hit with Nat Stuckey titled "Don't Pay the Ransom." I was understandably excited when a friend called and told me the song had been re-released. However, I discovered it had just been reworked and I was so certain they had infringed my copyright that I sent the new song to the legal department of my big publisher. An attorney called and said there was no doubt about it -- they had illegally used my lyric and melody and they would be suing. Later the attorney called and said, "We made a business decision not to sue because the song didn't rise high enough in the charts to make a lawsuit pay off."

Even though the song didn't become a hit again, whatever it made would have been mine. It was just one of those cruel facts of the music business.

The main thing I dislike about Nashville is not the "cruel and shallow money trench" but the way they periodically change the way they operate and allow no creative deviations from their norm. Everyone in town becomes hypnotized to the new way of doing things.

I had an opportunity to write for Warner Music but they wanted me to move to Nashville. Their songwriters are assigned to shifts and rooms and even to specific writing partners. This would stifle my creativity. I think it explains the "sameness" we hear in country music today. I once told someone, "It sounds like it all comes out of the same pipe" and he said, "Well, it does! Same writers and musicians. But it's successful so why change it?"

All I can say is that we always have an unlimited number of ways to do business. Just because one way works does not mean it is the best way. Surely there is a place where good songs from non-Nashville songwriters can be heard, especially when they have had hits.

Yet, I cannot say Hunter Thompson is right. I met too many good people in Nashville. People like John Denny, Joe Talbot (three-time president of the Country Music Association), and Ted Harris, who wrote "Crystal Chandeliers" and got me my first two songs by major artists.

Once Talbot spent days running me down to give me a $6.33 royalty check on a Charlie Louvin cut. I said, "Why did you spend so much to deliver such a small check?" He said, "Son, if I owe it to you, you're gonna get it."

So much for pimps and thieves.

Contact Dalton Roberts at

about Dalton Roberts...


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