How I Lost Half A Million Dollars

"Follow your dreams.
Except for the one where you're naked in church."

- Rev. David Ault

For reasons which will become clear, that's an especially apt quote to begin this little story about big money - or the lack thereof.

Back in 1984 I was living in Kansas City, slogging out a living playing cover songs in bars and clubs. It was just me and my trusty Ovation nylon string acoustic-electric guitar.

There was a certain sense of accomplishment in having worked hard to become good enough to make a living at these bar gigs. But as I sat there night after night, gazing out through the smoky, boozy haze, I was clearly able to discern that my long-term career path for this line of work was not unlike a Twilight Zone episode that ends in Dante's 5th ring of hell. It was what you could call a dim future. With a low ceiling.

And besides, what I really wanted was to be a professional songwriter. I loved writing songs. And you should do what you love, right? But there was a problem. I honestly hadn't written any very good ones. And not for lack of trying. I'd cranked out dozens of songs over the years, the best of them not even good enough for a Jimmy Dean sausage commercial. So I didn't have any confidence I could ever pull it off.

But as it happens, right about then I started dating a new girlfriend. (You knew there would be a woman involved.) Our regular topics of conversation included her too much caffeine jitters and perpetual bad boss blues. I'm not sure if those two things were related, but they gave me an idea for a happy, uptempo love song called (What I Got Is) Good For You.

Would you like to hear it?  You can in a minute. I mean, if you want to.

I Can See Clearly Now

You know how you can work hard at something - maybe for years - and finally one day make what feels like a breakthrough to another level? It seems like it happens fast but really it was the culmination of all that learning and effort.

Well this song was like that.

It was not only the best song I had written up till then, it was the first one I thought might actually be good enough to make some money. Meaning: get recorded by a famous recording artist and become a huge international hit! Or even just a small hit. Whatever. I felt a noticeable uptick in the self-esteem department.

So, armed with one good song and a couple of questionable ones, I packed up the little gray Honda and drove to Nashville. I got a cheap motel room, opened the yellow pages, looked up "music publishers" and started dialing.

Right here I need to interject that before I'd started singing in clubs, before I ever even worked up my courage to go audition someplace, I'd had numerous sales jobs: water softeners, encyclopedias, office artwork, advertising, and probably some other things I've forgotten. (If you lived in KC back then, I might have even sold you some stuff.) I was never great at it, but I always worked hard and paid attention to the training. The point is that all that sales experience had made me basically immune to rejection.

        * Tip: All artists who pitch their own stuff should get sales training.

So when I called those publishers and told them I was a songwriter from Kansas City, in town for a couple of days with a few good songs, and could I come by and play them, I wasn't crushed if they said no. I just went on to the next one. And it worked. I ended up getting 5 good appointments.

        * You could never do this today. The music business is too corporate.
          But back then there were a lot of small publishers, even mom and pop operators.

        ** Usually the mom and pop ones were the most fun.

Walking On Sunshine

To my astonishment and delight, I had two offers to publish Good For You and one offer for another song called Don't You Lie To Me, written for an earlier girlfriend who I wasn't seeing anymore for obvious reasons. I chose the more established publisher. It was not a big outfit, but the owner was a legendary Nashville name (Bradley), so I thought that might help.

If you're not sure how the music business works, a music publisher is like an agent for the song. It's his or her job to try and get the song recorded by an artist, or get it into movies or commercials. In other words, to make money with it. Typically you as the writer then split the royalties with the publisher.

It's also the publisher's job to make a demo recording (hereafter referred to as "The Demo") to pitch to record companies, producers, agents, and anybody else who might influence the artist to record the song, including the actual artist, if possible.

Having signed two songs, I drove back to KC feeling pretty darn good about it. I was a signed writer! I could literally call myself a professional. I was also, however, only marginally optimistic. As hard as it is to get a song published, I knew how much absurdly harder it is to get a song recorded and released.

Oh Happy Day

A few months went by. One day I got a package in the mail containing a cassette labeled "What I Got Is Good For You - Demo."

At this point you have to understand something. The quality of this Demo: the sound, the band, the vocals, literally everything about it was out of my control. I was at the mercy of my new publisher, whom I liked but barely knew. I had no idea what to expect.

I played the cassette. I couldn't believe it. I danced around the room like Steve Martin on SNL. I was in total shock, and at the same time endorphins were exploding. The song sounded great. The demo was perfect. I loved it. The publisher had chosen a soulful (not country) singer named Jimmy Stewart whose voice I really liked. Also, the great blind blues singer Johnny Neal did the keyboards, the arrangement, and backup vocals. I loved it. Did I say that? I really loved it. This was maybe my happiest day ever. I mean it.

Would you like to hear it? Okay. Patience, grasshopper. It's coming...

Good Luck Charm

Meanwhile the publisher was doing his job. He was pitching the song. In almost no time, it was picked up by a lovely country artist named Becky Hobbs. Becky is an Oklahoma gal, cute as all get out, a talented swing-rockin' piano player/singer, full of energy. She loved the song and recorded it for her new Capitol Records album.

Holy Moly. Now I had a song recorded by a major-label recording artist for an upcoming release! Jeepers.

Would you like to hear it? You can hear her version too. It's a LOT different than the Demo. Okay, not much longer now, grasshopper....

Don't Be Cruel

Nashville, we have a problem. Capitol Records decided to release Becky from her recording contract for reasons that were never explained to me (and absolutely should have been, don't you think?). This relegated her recently recorded album (with my song on it) to Capitol's Basement Vault of Broken Dreams. (Dylan fans: this is a totally different kind of basement tapes. They are never heard from again.)

But wait...all was not lost! Becky really liked my song. She generously suggested to my publisher (whose name is Glenn Middleworth and I should have mentioned that way before now) that he pitch it to a new artist on RCA records who had been paired with a hot young producer.

Who was the artist? Have you heard of Reba McEntire

Well....it was not her.

It was her brother, Pake McEntire. Pake's real name is Del Stanley McEntire, but everybody calls him Pake. Presumably for the Pecos River. But I don't know. That's just what I heard.

So this was good news, right? Being Reba's brother (she was already famous at this point) he'd get a good look and listen from the industry. This hot young producer, Mark Wright, had a lot of buzz too. So thanks to Becky and Glenn the song got pitched to Mark Wright for Pake McEntire, and.....they liked it. They recorded it for his debut album.

Oh boy.

By the way, Pake's version is totally different from Becky's version, which is totally different from the Demo.

Would you like to hear it? You can hear his version too if you like.

Patience, grasshopper. We're almost there. Honest.

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Meanwhile, back in Kansas City, I had a decision to make. I was the only "novice" songwriter on this Pake McEntire album. All the other songwriters were well known, even famous. If I lived in Nashville, that would give me some really good, door-opening street cred. But I wasn't there. If I wanted to get serious about this songwriting-as-a-career thing, I needed to think about moving.

So I made the decision to go.

As soon as I made that decision - I mean the very moment I made it - I felt a strange sensation. Eventually it dawned on me that this was my inner self jumping for joy because I absolutely knew (maybe for the first time ever) I was doing the right thing.

It took a few months to save some money and get organized. My friend Jerry Vandiver had offered me a small studio apartment in Nashville. It didn't hold much, but it was great of him, and now I had a place to land. It seemed like everything was unfolding for me.

Meanwhile RCA started releasing singles from Pake's album. The first single did well, got to about #20 on the country charts. The second single did even better, Top 10.

Incredibly, Glenn informed me that MY SONG had been chosen to be the 4th single. Wow.

Why is a single a big deal? Because it's promoted to radio with a huge push. Radio stations pay "airplay royalties" to the publisher and songwriter. (This is different from "mechanical royalties" from sales of physical albums: vinyl, CD, cassette.) Airplay royalties for a hit single can be humongous.

Finally, shortly after Pake's 3rd single was released, I hit the road. I got to Nashville, settled in, and started using my "upcoming-single street cred" to try and wrangle a staff songwriter job from Glenn and some other publishers.

Meanwhile Pake's 3rd single was doing well too. Not quite as hot as his 2nd, but moving up the charts.

Don't Let Me Down

Right about here this story takes a bizarre turn.

After a month or so in Music City, I had an opportunity to attend an all day meet-and-greet with music industry bigwigs. This was a chance for little industry peons like myself to get up close and personal with record company presidents, publishing company CEOs, producers, and other Very Important Persons.

Each of them had their own round table in a big ballroom full of tables. People like myself could then (for a fee) circulate among the tables and politely inflict ourselves on whomever we wanted to. Ideally we'd get to ask questions and become enlightened at the feet of these country music business gurus.

As it happened, the head of RCA records, Joe Gallante, was one of the people with a table. At some point I wandered over to his table and sat down. When there was a lull in the conversation, I asked him how - at RCA Records - they decided which songs were going to be released as singles.

To be clear, this guy did not know me from Garth Brooks (who did not yet then exist in his current form). I was just some plebe asking questions.

Joe Gallante's response was not what I expected. He said that choosing singles was a team effort, with opinions from all the departments weighing in. But that the final decision was always his. Then he said, "Let me give you an example. We have this new artist, Pake McEntire. His first three singles have all been fun, uptempo songs. The scheduled fourth single was in the same vein, an uptempo swing tune, but this week I decided to make a change and release a ballad as the fourth single. It's a sad duet with his sister Reba."

Rich Man, Poor Man

And that, my friends, is how I found out I lost a potential hit single and possibly half a million dollars in royalties.

As the only writer on the song, all of the writer's royalties would have come to me. Even if it had not been a big hit, just something like a top 25 single (the minimum Pake had achieved so far), the money still would have been considerable. For me, at that time, it would have been life-changing.

        * The duet with Reba they released as the 4th single stalled at about #25 on the country chart.
          Obviously they should have released my song instead!

        ** The writer of that sad duet, Don Henry, later became a friend of mine.

I should add here that it's not unusual for a record company to change its mind about what songs become singles. What's unique about this story is the record company president telling me himself, and not having a clue that I was the songwriter!

I know what you're thinking. Did I tell him that I was the songwriter he just skewered through the heart with a dull lance? Nah. What would have been the point? But I've often thought that if I had, he probably would have remembered me.

"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. There's also a negative side."

- Hunter S. Thompson

The Grand Design

I'm not as cynical as Hunter Thompson, but as you can clearly see, in the music business the songwriter is at the bottom of the food chain. As my friend Jana Stanfield says, it's like playing a slot machine in Vegas. Except that instead of inserting your coins, you're constantly, endlessly depositing your talent. With no idea if there will ever be a payoff.

What I wonder now is, had I come into all that money way back then, how much longer would it have taken me to figure that out? Would that much money have kept me tied to the music biz for a lot longer? Would I ever have gone out on my own as an independent artist, writing songs for me, recording them for you, and making friends all over the world?

Would I have wound up performing (among other places) in centers of spirituality where I frequently and metaphorically (contrary to my friend David Ault's advice) get naked in church?

It's hard to say.

But I'm glad I made the leap when I did. It's been a great career so far, and somehow I'm still getting away with it. The best part is meeting all of you. I look forward to seeing you again after Covid, and sharing atoms in person.

Good For You

Finally, The Demo, Becky Hobbs, and Pake McEntire, are not the only versions of (What I Got Is) Good For You. You can also listen to my version, and all four are right here.

As you'll hear, they're all very different from each other, which I thought you might find interesting.

You can also download them, for a small fee.

I mean, if you want to.

Thanks for reading, thanks for listening!

© 2020 Greg Tamblyn.

NOTE: you do NOT have to login or register to comment below. Feel free to comment if you like. I always enjoy hearing your thoughts.

 

20 comments

  • Beth
    Beth Dayton, Ohio
    Thanks for sharing! Openness and honesty are very admirable traits especially in spirit led worlds. I’m a long time enjoyer of your humor and talent. Fond memories of a retreat with you and Karen Taylor Good at Unity Village many years ago. From one of the Belly Dancing Cows!

    Thanks for sharing! Openness and honesty are very admirable traits especially in spirit led worlds. I’m a long time enjoyer of your humor and talent. Fond memories of a retreat with you and Karen Taylor Good at Unity Village many years ago.
    From one of the Belly Dancing Cows!

  • Christie Lynch
    Christie Lynch Cape Carteret, NC
    NO GREG....The BEST PART is that we all got to KNOW YOU!! And to listen to your records, (especially when I'm feeling a little down), and to attend your concerts... HINT - Crystal Coast Unity finally has it's own church in Atlantic Beach, NC with 2 great ministers, and when Covid decides to move on out, I'd sure love to see you again. BTW, I've been sending out one or two songs to about 40 people EVERY morning for 6 straight months to help keep spirits up during these chaotic times, and MANY have been yours!

    NO GREG....The BEST PART is that we all got to KNOW YOU!! And to listen to your records, (especially when I'm feeling a little down), and to attend your concerts...
    HINT - Crystal Coast Unity finally has it's own church in Atlantic Beach, NC with 2 great ministers, and when Covid decides to move on out, I'd sure love to see you again. BTW, I've been sending out one or two songs to about 40 people EVERY morning for 6 straight months to help keep spirits up during these chaotic times, and MANY have been yours!

  • Ellen Swanson
    Ellen Swanson MPLS, MN
    I listened to all four recordings of "Good for You". The best one was the fourth one by a guy named Greg Tamblyn. If you know him, I'd get him to record all your songs!! ;^)

    I listened to all four recordings of "Good for You". The best one was the fourth one by a guy named Greg Tamblyn. If you know him, I'd get him to record all your songs!! ;^)

  • Meryl Ann
    Meryl Ann Norfolk VA
    Wow, what a great song! I agree with Ellen, that Tamblyn guy does it best ;-)

    Wow, what a great song! I agree with Ellen, that Tamblyn guy does it best ;-)

  • Shira Nahari
    Shira Nahari Everson, WA
    Yo, Ramblyn your story kept me on the edge of my seat, waiting to see where the lost moolah comes in. I also was relieved to read that you had not actually OWNED the 500 K, but rather it was a broken dream. And that greedy hogs had not run off with your britches containing a wallet with the $ 1/2 million in it... I am still so very pleased & honored after all these years of knowing you to share atoms with you. My complete collection of Greg Tamblyn CD's is my pride & joy. Big virtual hug and infinite love & blessings, Shira

    Yo, Ramblyn your story kept me on the edge of my seat, waiting to see where the lost moolah comes in. I also was relieved to read that you had not actually OWNED the 500 K, but rather it was a broken dream. And that greedy hogs had not run off with your britches containing a wallet with the $ 1/2 million in it...
    I am still so very pleased & honored after all these years of knowing you to share atoms with you. My complete collection of Greg Tamblyn CD's is my pride & joy.
    Big virtual hug and infinite love & blessings, Shira

  • Sharon Box
    Sharon Box Atlanta
    So glad you ventured out on your own! I met you at avery low point in my life and your songs and personality lifted me up. Love your music and take every opportunity to hear you, even if its just online. Take care, love you!

    So glad you ventured out on your own! I met you at avery low point in my life and your songs and personality lifted me up. Love your music and take every opportunity to hear you, even if its just online. Take care, love you!

  • gregtamblyn.com
    gregtamblyn.com
    Big Thanks to all six of you ladies: Beth, Christie, Ellen, Meryl Ann, Shira, Sharon. Means more than I can tell you. Many blessings!

    Big Thanks to all six of you ladies: Beth, Christie, Ellen, Meryl Ann, Shira, Sharon.
    Means more than I can tell you. Many blessings!

  • Ginny Roll
    Ginny Roll Virginia Beach
    Greg, What I've always admired about you is your humor and the exceptional way your humorous comments are used as a backdrop to the music. For years you have made us laugh, made us ponder, made us wake up to a unique way of looking at life! When you do what you love, everyday is magical, musical, and alive with new possibilities. You knew that already! Abundant joy and laughter, Ginny

    Greg, What I've always admired about you is your humor and the exceptional way your humorous comments are used as a backdrop to the music. For years you have made us laugh, made us ponder, made us wake up to a unique way of looking at life! When you do what you love, everyday is magical, musical, and alive with new possibilities. You knew that already! Abundant joy and laughter, Ginny

  • Elizabeth Keith
    Elizabeth Keith San Francisco
    That was really enjoyable to read, a bit long for these days but I was really glad I read it and I enjoyed all the different versions of your song as well. Love & Light!

    That was really enjoyable to read, a bit long for these days but I was really glad I read it and I enjoyed all the different versions of your song as well. Love & Light!

  • gregtamblyn.com
    gregtamblyn.com
    Ginny, can I quote you? Can I hire you to do my PR? You always make me smile. Thanks so much! Elizabeth, so great to hear from you and thanks for your kind words. I know it was a long one - appreciate you hanging in there till the end! I hope we can connect and catch up one of these days. Big hugs.

    Ginny, can I quote you? Can I hire you to do my PR? You always make me smile. Thanks so much!

    Elizabeth, so great to hear from you and thanks for your kind words. I know it was a long one - appreciate you hanging in there till the end! I hope we can connect and catch up one of these days. Big hugs.

  • Rick Chael
    Rick Chael Kansas City
    Greg. I remember playing this song with you and purchasing the Pake McIntyre album.....yes a vinyl album.... to help support the cause. Thanks For the great story. Keep up the good work......oh and p s Greg.....your version is the best.

    Greg. I remember playing this song with you and purchasing the Pake McIntyre album.....yes a vinyl album....
    to help support the cause. Thanks For the great story. Keep up the good work......oh and p s Greg.....your version is the best.

  • gregtamblyn.com
    gregtamblyn.com
    Thanks Rick - on all counts. Appreciate the support and good memories!

    Thanks Rick - on all counts. Appreciate the support and good memories!

  • CK
    CK Bonney Lake WA
    Great story, with maybe a sad ending, or maybe a good ending, depending on which ending you consider. I like to think of it as a great ending because it propelled you to where you are now. Btw, great upbeat song, and I like your voice on the song best, followed by Becky. It’s too bad she lost out because I think she sounded great on it!

    Great story, with maybe a sad ending, or maybe a good ending, depending on which ending you consider. I like to think of it as a great ending because it propelled you to where you are now. Btw, great upbeat song, and I like your voice on the song best, followed by Becky. It’s too bad she lost out because I think she sounded great on it!

  • Rosemarie Rossetti
    Rosemarie Rossetti Columbus, OH
    Greg, you kept my attention as you told your story! What a tough business you are in. Your tenacity is shining through. As you continue to network with others in this profession and write more songs you will have more successes. You are a talented musician.

    Greg, you kept my attention as you told your story! What a tough business you are in. Your tenacity is shining through. As you continue to network with others in this profession and write more songs you will have more successes. You are a talented musician.

  • Sonny Bayes
    Sonny Bayes Asheville NC
    Hi, Greg, I can relate to most of your story here after having banged my head against the Nashville wall for 6 or seven years. So many times going down there with great inspiration from a new song, only to be shot down, over and over. It’s a very tough nut to crack. Anyway, looking very forward to meeting you.

    Hi, Greg, I can relate to most of your story here after having banged my head against the Nashville wall for 6 or seven years. So many times going down there with great inspiration from a new song, only to be shot down, over and over. It’s a very tough nut to crack. Anyway, looking very forward to meeting you.

  • Rosalind Sedacca
    Rosalind Sedacca West Palm Beach, zFL
    Greg, I love the way you write and engage us in your stories. So sorry to hear what you went through but totally agree you took the right path into our lives. We are all blessed by your music and your messages. Looking forward to hearing your songs!

    Greg, I love the way you write and engage us in your stories. So sorry to hear what you went through but totally agree you took the right path into our lives. We are all blessed by your music and your messages. Looking forward to hearing your songs!

  • Dana Agnellini
    Dana Agnellini Virginia
    This story helps me justify my decisions in life. Thank you.

    This story helps me justify my decisions in life. Thank you.

  • gregtamblyn.com
    gregtamblyn.com
    CK, Rosemarie, Sonny, Rosalind, Dana: big thanks for reading, listening, feeding back, and support! Means more than you know. It's been a long and winding road, and it's led me to all of you which has made me a rich man indeed. 😀

    CK, Rosemarie, Sonny, Rosalind, Dana: big thanks for reading, listening, feeding back, and support! Means more than you know. It's been a long and winding road, and it's led me to all of you which has made me a rich man indeed. 😀

  • Beth
    Beth Conroe, Tx
    I met your music in a class for self healing. I fell in love with your music then and bet a CD. I loved all the versions of this missed song of it but liked yours the best. My favorite song of yours is Just A Little Soul Hanging Out In Space. You rock! Yeah, pretty sure I did something similar. *shakes head*

    I met your music in a class for self healing. I fell in love with your music then and bet a CD. I loved all the versions of this missed song of it but liked yours the best. My favorite song of yours is Just A Little Soul Hanging Out In Space. You rock! Yeah, pretty sure I did something similar. *shakes head*

  • gregtamblyn.com
    gregtamblyn.com
    Thanks Beth, from one “little soul” to another! 😊💕

    Thanks Beth, from one “little soul” to another! 😊💕

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