Stage Three Music has signed the No. 3 Billboard Hot Country Songwriter for 2006, Brett James, to a long-term worldwide co-publishing agreement. The deal includes the acquisition of a co-publishing interest in James' back catalog and the formation of a joint-venture publishing company.

Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel," co-written by James and included under the deal, is nominated for this year's Grammy Awards for song of the year and best country song. Also included under the deal are Kenny Chesney's "When the Sun Goes Down," "You Save Me" and "Keg in the Closet;" Rascal Flatts' "Love You Out Loud;" Tim McGraw's "Drugs or Jesus;" and Wynonna's "What the World Needs," among others written or co-written by James.

Stage Three's joint venture with James is intended to broaden the publisher's A&R base, calling on James' A&R and songwriting expertise to sign and develop songwriters, according to the publisher. James may also write with some of the selected writers.

Stage Three's Nashville creative team of Tim Hunze and Missy Roberts will work the country songs, while the publisher's team in the rest of the world will work songs in other genres.

"We see Brett as potentially far more than the hugely successful country writer he already is," says Steve Lewis, founder/CEO of Stage Three. "Brett's first writing trip to Europe is scheduled for February, and we're confident that his songs will in future appear on albums by top American, European and British artists."

ASCAP named James songwriter of the year and "Jesus Take the Wheel" song of the year at its Country Music Awards last October.

"Brett's decision to simultaneously make three deals with Stage Three is of great significance to our plans to make the company a leading player in the U.S. market," says Lionel Conway, president of Stage Three Music. "As well as adding a world class songwriter to our roster, we have strengthened our catalog with the acquisition of Brett's and broadened our A&R base with the joint venture."

"I am thrilled to be working with such legendary music business talents as Steve Lewis and Lionel Conway," James says. "I look forward not only to working with [Stage Three Nashville GM] Tim Hunze and expanding upon the success of the Nashville office, but also to extending the reach of my songwriting internationally, and Stage Three is the perfect partner for me to do so."