For The Nashville City Paper
An influential group of Music Row executives are leading an effort to re-invigorate the Democratic Party.
The group called “Music Row Democrats” met for the first time last week to begin organizing. Among those at the gathering, hosted by Sony Music producer/writer Don Cook, were Tim DuBois, senior partner at Universal South; Luke Lewis, chairman of Universal Music Group; Mike Duncan, president and CEO of Capitol Nashville; songwriter Bobby Braddock, coauthor of He Stopped Loving Her Today; and Randy Goodrum, author of You Needed Me.
Cook and Bill Carter, executive producer of the Gaither Gospel videos, sent out a call to all Music Row democrats and got back, they said, a response they did not expect.
“We bought some pizza and some 40-odd people showed up,” said Cook. “There were label heads all around the table. There were writers of some of the most substantial copyrights in the history of this community. All of a sudden not only is this table surrounded by people who wield a lot of power in the music business, but at the table were some of the greatest creative forces that we have in this town.”
After he and Carter held fundraisers for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and former Vice President Al Gore, Democratic activities seemed to begin to revolve around them, according to Carter who said they sent the word out not only to top-level executives but to all members of the music industry.
“We’re interested in better government. The interesting thing about this group is that nobody wants anything,” Carter said.
“There are no members of this group that are looking for any kind of special favors from government, because we don’t need them. We are in a business that just relies on its own creative force,” Cook added.
He said all members of the music industry are welcome to join. The group, he noted, is already a mix of conservative, middle-of-the-road and liberal Democrats.
“It’s about choosing good people with integrity,” Carter said. “And good people tend to make better decisions.”
Cook said the level of commitment was unexpected.
“It just turned out that rather than mid-level management people the heads of companies came. It really got Johnny Hayes and Charles Bone fired up,” he said. “For every label head that was there, there were three more that wanted to be there but couldn’t get there because we put it together so fast.”
Hayes is Gore’s longtime fundraiser. Bone is a well-known local Democratic activist/attorney. Cook and Carter approached them to help facilitate the launch of the group. Carter said he and Cook are in the process of creating a database and would shortly have a Web site in operation. He said the effort is not just about the presidential primary but also about supporting Gov. Phil Bredesen, other state lawmakers and local Democrats.
“Don has been after people over the years,” Carter said. “He’s a yellow dog Democrat. He had been saying that we needed to get the people in the music industry together united so we can have more of an impact. After the Kerry meeting, Tim Dubois and other executives in the music business were saying ‘Hey we want to be more involved. We can make a contribution.’”
Cook said there are a lot of Democrats on Music Row as well as Republicans, the difference being that the Republicans are better organized.
“We decided that by God we would sit down and create a database, get everybody’s name from the places of most authority to the lowliest Music Row person but mainly the music community in this town, executives, artists and songwriters,” said Cook.
Hayes said he and Bone were chosen to help facilitate because of their respective histories in the Democratic Party. “Charles and I were invited to help with the organization having been lifelong Democrats in fundraising,” said Hayes. “But this is their show.”
Cook said the issue of the Dixie Chicks’ fracas with the press came up and that some members of the group said they “felt ashamed” that no one spoke up in support of their right to speak out. Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines criticized President Bush’s plans for the war in Iraq, and it cost the group radio airplay.
“And we all feel that way. And you know why we didn’t?” said Cook “We didn’t have any organization.”
By COLLEEN CREAMER
For The City Paper