In 19 years of writing for Billboard, this has been my most difficult task. I’ve been interviewing people for more than three decades and trying to cull it down to the top ten most memorable is challenging. I’ve talked to a lot of great people over the years, among them Rob Thomas, Taylor Swift, Loretta Lynn, Garth Brooks, Avril Lavigne, Sandra Bullock, The Bellamy Brothers, Dave Stewart, Minnie Pearl, Brandon Heath, Skillet, Toto, Bret Michaels, Smokey Robinson, Jermaine Dupri, Eddie Van Halen, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan and many, many others. I’ve sat on Amy Grant’s front porch and had the most amazing conversations, and you can’t find a kinder, more gracious soul. I interviewed singer/songwriter John Brannon after rappelling down the tower at Fort Campbell Army base and earning my wings as an honorary Air Assault soldier. Hooah! I’ve interviewed John Anderson and Rodney Atkins in the dark during power outages. I’ve spent a lot of time backstage, on busses and the occasional private jet, including a trip I’ll never forget with the late George Jones and his wife Nancy. The very first major act I interviewed was the Oak Ridge Boys when I worked at KRMD radio in Shreveport and what a great way to start my career. Being a journalist is an amazing journey. Here are a few of my highlights…
|Via American Songwriter|
DON HENLEY // The first time I interviewed Henley was for an American Songwriter cover in 1994. I left the venue and phoned all my family and friends to tell them I’d just had an incredible chat with my favorite songwriter. I didn’t know it was going to get even better. The next day I got a call from someone saying he was Don Henley, and I thought it was my brother Bryan pranking me. When he kindly explained that he really WAS Don Henley, I nearly had a heart attack. He said if I had a few minutes, there were some things he would like to add to our interview. I was so impressed that he cared enough about our readers to give them even more information, and took the time to call and add to an already great interview. He shared some additional tips for aspiring songwriters and we talked about ethics in journalism. The things he said continue to inspire me and inform my work. On another occasion, I spoke to Henley not long after Billboard’s beloved editor-in-chief Tim White had died of a heart attack in 2002. He and Tim were close. Like so many people, I was really torn up over Tim’s death and I’ll always remember Henley’s warmth and kindness as we reminisced about Tim.
STEVEN CURTIS CHAPMAN // Songwriters have always been my favorite interviews. There’s just something so cool about hearing the origins of a song. The first time I interviewed Steven was in 1988. I had a broken leg and couldn’t drive so my mom dropped me at the record company. Steven and I hit it off and talked for three hours. When mom came back, everyone was gone and they had locked up the label and left us in the conference room, still talking. This was back in the days before cell phones and she had no idea where I was or what happened. I felt horrible for worrying her, but Steven and I had lost track of time. We’ve continued to do that a lot over the years. We’ve had some great conversations, but the most difficult was following the 2008 death of his five-year-old daughter Maria in a terrible accident. It was a phone interview a year later and I was writing the bio for his album “Beauty Will Rise,” which dealt with the tragedy. I cried during most of the interview. I couldn’t help it and he understood.
BRAD PAISLEY // There’s something about listening to great country music while riding in a pick up truck through the Tennessee countryside that makes for a memorable experience, and I have to thank Brad for a couple great rides. The first was prior to writing a 2011 Billboard cover on his “This is Country Music” album. Brad drove me around in his Chevy and played me the album well before just about anyone else had heard it. I loved every song and each time I hear “This is Country Music,” “Old Alabama” or any of the amazing songs on that album, I remember the first time I heard them and I can’t help but smile. We followed up with an interview at his Tennessee farm and Brad picked up his guitar and played me a song he’d been writing with Sheryl Crow. His passion for music is contagious and he’s always a great interview. He’s smart, funny and such a nice guy. He’s simply one of my favorite people on the planet.
CHARLIE DANIELS // Charlie is one of the artists I’ve been interviewing for many years and it’s always such a pleasure, but probably the most memorable was the interview I did with him for my new book “Country Faith” in which 56 country artists talk about their favorite Bible verse and why it means so much to them. Charlie chose Psalm 91, which is known as the psalm of protection. He shared a story about traveling to a remote base in Iraq to perform for the troops when the helicopter he was in came under enemy fire. He says he recited that psalm and trusted God’s promises. Charlie is one of the nicest guys in the business. He sent flowers when my son was born and in every interview he always asks about Trey. I remember when I told him Trey loved Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music and Charlie said, “You’re raising that boy right Debbie! You’re raising him right!”
|Via American Songwriter|
JON BON JOVI // The first time I interviewed Bon Jovi was for an American Songwriter cover in 1989 and it was my fourth wedding anniversary. He was so nice and kept apologizing that my hubby and I were spending our anniversary at a Bon Jovi concert. A little less than a year later, I was writing a Bon Jovi cover for Gig magazine when I went into labor and my husband took me to the hospital to have our son. This was back in the days before email and I remember telling the doctor I had to get to Fed Ex and send the disc with my story to the magazine. She said I wasn’t going anywhere and thankfully my best friend made the run to Fed Ex. Another note about Bon Jovi, a few years later during an interview for Billboard, I concluded by asking Jon if there was anything else Billboard readers should know and he responded, ‘Yes, tell them I wear briefs, not boxers.” I didn’t put it in the story, but did email a few girlfriends I knew would find that interesting.
ALAN JACKSON // Alan is known to be a man of few words, but I’ve always had terrific interviews with him. I remember his former publicist setting up an interview for a 2010 Billboard cover story just before the release of his Freight Train album. I was told I’d have 15 minutes and she asked that I call afterward to let her know how it had gone. When I called her back an hour and a half later to let her know I’d just gotten off the phone and we’d had a great interview, she sounded surprised, but thrilled. I love talking to Alan. There’s something about it that feels like family. We always cover the music, but also usually get in a good chat about cars, boats and fishing. His wife Denise is a bestselling author and is also one of my favorite interviews. They are lovely people.
MAC POWELL (lead singer of Third Day) // I met Mac when I first started writing the Christian music column Higher Ground for Billboard in 1994. We’ve had some great interviews over the years, but probably the most memorable took place in comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s cabin deep in the Georgia woods. Mac had gathered Laura Story, Jason Hoard, Shane & Shane, David Nasser, Trevor Morgan, Shawn Lewis and Bethany Dillon to write and record songs for “Glory Revealed II: The Word of God In Worship,” the follow up to the Dove Award-winning “Glory Revealed” album. Powell and Foxworthy are friends and he volunteered his hunting lodge for the sessions. Spending a few days in that cabin, watching those amazing artists write and record that record is one of the highlights of my career. I even got recruited to sing background on the tune “Praise the Lord.” I can’t sing so the fact that I have BGV credit on a Dove Award-winning album amazes me. Thanks Mac!
BILLIE RICHARDSON (Jason Crabb’s grandmother) // Two years ago I had the pleasure of hosting a documentary on Grammy winning Christian artist Jason Crabb. In filming “Jason Crabb: My Journey,” I interviewed Barbara Mandrell and others associated with Jason’s life and career and of course, spoke at length with Jason himself, but my favorite interview was with his grandmother Billie. We sat under a huge oak tree in the front yard of her home in Beaver Dam, Ky. She and Jason’s mom, Terry, shared stories about his childhood and the things that shaped his life and career. Both women were wonderful and I left feeling like I’d made two new friends. That night we attended the tiny country church Jason grew up in, and the whole trip was such a moving experience. Journalists these days rarely have that kind of access into a subject’s life and it gave me amazing insight into one of my favorite artists. After meeting those two women, it’s easy to see how Jason Crabb became the incredible man he is today.
JIMMY WAYNE // Working on my new book, “Country Faith,” was such a rewarding experience, and one of my favorite interviews for the project was with country singer/songwriter Jimmy Wayne. (Remember the No. 1 hit “Do You Believe Me Now?”) His favorite verse is James 1:27, which states: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. The day I interviewed Jimmy for the book, he invited me to meet him at Nashville’s Monroe Harding Children’s Home where he was giving guitars to the boys. Jimmy grew up in and out of foster care and was homeless as a teen. In 2010 he walked from Nashville to Phoenix, AZ to raise awareness of the plight of children aging out of the foster care system. Seeing Jimmy speak that day about his childhood and the obstacles he’d overcome was very powerful and I’m sure it was life-changing for those boys. I’ll never forget seeing Jimmy put his favorite scripture into action. It’s something he does every day, and it challenges me to be a better person.
THE ROBERTSON FAMILY From DUCK DYNASTY // I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Willie, Korie, Jase and Missy Robertson from A&E’s hit reality series “Duck Dynasty” for the Country Music Association’s CMA Close Up magazine. The Robertson clan has recorded a Christmas album for EMI Records Nashville titled “Duck the Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas” and I love the record. As a fan of the TV show, the album blends the same humor and heart that make the show so appealing. And I have to confess, I can’t quit singing “Hairy Christmas,” a duet with Willie and Luke Bryan that is hilarious and totally reminds me of my dad and his pals in Louisiana. Each member of the family I interviewed was terrific, some of the nicest, most down to earth folks I’ve talked to and with a multi-million dollar, multi-faceted company, there’s no denying their business savvy. This was definitely one of my favorite interviews ever!