Putting together an album of collaborations can be a long process. Country legend T.G. Sheppard knows that fact better than anyone. On Oct. 30, the singer will release Legendary Friends & Country Duets, a collection that features many of the singer’s favorite performers. Sheppard told Billboard that recording a set like this takes some time — for a lot of reasons.
“When you’re doing a project like this, there is a lot more that goes into it other than just the recording,” he said. “You’ve got schedules of so many different performers — they’re either on the road or they are working another project. Then, you have to pick the right key to sing in, because everyone’s vocal range is different. We had a big puzzle to put together, but it all did.”
Trying to figure out the intricacies of the music business is nothing new to the singer. Sheppard — under his real name of Bill Browder — worked as a record promotion man at RCA for many years in the 1970s. He said that job was a learning experience.
“I was so green,” he admitted. “I was learning the business and was so glad that I had the chance be a record guy first, because it gave me the insight for when I became an artist of what has to be there in an artists’ life and career for it to truly happen. The chances of it happening are so astronomically small — and I knew what the odds were. Being a promotion man helped me to learn that the song is what makes the career. A great song will always find its way. At RCA, I got a chance to work with a lot of artists who were incredible song people, like Waylon Jennings and Charley Pride. That afforded me a way to learn the business before I started to record.”
Sheppard definitely had fond memories of working with Jennings during his time at RCA, though he said Jennings did things his way: “With Waylon, he was one of those individuals who really inspired me. I remember I was sitting on the edge of the bed at the Ramada Inn during the Disc Jockey Convention in Nashville. He had his old red box guitar out and he and Jessi were singing. I started singing along and he looked at me and said ‘Hoss, you need to be singing Country Music.’ I took his advice and about three months later, I went into the studio and cut ‘Devil in the Bottle.’ Waylon and I butted heads a few times because he marched to his own drum — which I always respected about him. You weren’t going to tell Waylon Jennings what do to. The business didn’t run him. He ran his business. He dictated what he was going to do. I always had the utmost respect for him.”
Sheppard was equally eloquent when discussing other artists on Legendary Friends & Country Duets. Read on as he explains some of the LP’s favorite collaborators.
Jimmy Fortune and BJ Thomas – “100% Chance of Pain”
“What two greater singers to work with. I’ve been a fan of BJ Thomas since ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.’ I thought it was incredible and also loved ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,’ ‘Hooked On A Feeling,’ and all those great songs and what can you say about Jimmy Fortune? He’s one of the greatest voices I’ve ever heard and such a great and sincere heart. When he walks up to you and says ‘I love you, man and I really miss ya,’ you really believe it when he says it.”
Jerry Lee Lewis – “The Killer”
“I was intimidated. At least, I thought I was going to be. We wrote the song — Jerry Lee, Bobby Tomberlin, my wife Kelly Lang and myself — about his life. I asked him where he wanted to cut it and he said ‘Let’s do it in Memphis. Let’s go to Sun. Let’s go to Sam’s place.’ I told him I would meet him there. He comes in and I didn’t know what to expect. We had toured before and were friends, but I had never recorded with him. He’s one of the reasons I wanted to be a singer. We were in the studio for five hours. We sang for about thirty minutes, but the rest of the time, we just visited and he told me stories. It was an incredible evening, one that I will never forget.”
George Jones – “It’s A Man Thing”
“I never take for granted when I am in the presence of people I admire. I had done many concerts with him over the years, but I was so much in awe of him from the moment he pulled up to the studio. That was something that I’ll never forget, because it was one of the last times I had some one on one time with him and I’ll never forget the conversations we had that day. I think of his song ‘Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes.’ I don’t believe anyone ever will.”
Ricky Skaggs & The Whites – “If You Knew”
“Kelly did such a great job writing this one. It tells a story that we all know so well about our moms and our dads and we were able to put it down on paper. I thought about who would be the perfect duet partner for it — someone who had the same values and feelings about family, God and country. It had to be Ricky Skaggs and the Whites. I played it for him and he liked it. He was reluctant at first and wanted to study the song for awhile. After he did, he said, ‘Man, I would be tickled to do that song.’ He’s always been there for me as a friend in ways that are not even related to music. Put him with The Whites on a song that is as heartfelt as it is and you’re going to have a great record. If you’re not careful, the song will bring a tear to your eye.”
Willie Nelson – “In Texas”
“When I heard the song, I was impressed. I was on the bus with Willie one day and asked him if he would consider doing a duet with me. He didn’t hesitate. He asked me when. Working with him on that song was incredible, because it talks about the great state of Texas and when you’re singing a song like that with Willie Nelson, then you’ve got magic,” he said, while adding that being in the studio with the singer made for a memorable day.I met him in Memphis where we did the track. It was an exciting day. When he hit the studio door, he wasn’t in a hurry. He graciously gave me all the time that was needed. It only took two or three takes. I worked around his phrasing, but I’ve always loved that about him — so it wasn’t that hard,”