The Nashville Dreams Of Joe Couture (And How It All Went Awry)
Like many Appalachian musicians, Joe Couture had dreams of hitting it big in Nashville. Electopia host Jim Lange recently interviewed one his college friends about the highs and lows of his struggle to grab the brass ring on Music Row.
All musicians are dreamers in this sense: all of us have toyed with the idea of hitting it big or making it in the music industry. Especially when we first get the music bug, in our adolescence or teenage years, the fantasy is be the star of the imaginary show that we have seen through TV or magazines. For my generation (the cranky old people now), television and magazines brought the popular music stars to our homes.
Of all the musicians I have ever met during my college years, Joe Couture was the one guy I thought would surely end up as a studio session player. He's brilliant on guitar, all the saxes and clarinets and a good singer as well. Visualizing him in a studio playing jingles or backing some Nashville star was easy.
Joe was a music major at West Liberty State College (now West Liberty University) at the same time as me - late '70s to early 80's. All the guitar majors were studying with the late Dr. Nels Leonard, Jr., and we got to be fast friends.
"I always wanted to play live music and knew that it would be a struggle, but I couldn't live with myself if I hadn't tried." - Joe Couture
From the get-go, what made Joe different from the other students was not only his multi-instrumental skills, but his broad knowledge base. In music theory, aural skills and stylistic knowledge, he was advanced in every way. Light years ahead of me, for sure.
Joe "graduated" in the fall of 1982 and moved to Nashville in the spring of the next year.
Sounds like a great plan, right? Wrong!
VH1's Behind the Music always had that fateful narration: "Then it all went horribly wrong." That's not quite Joe's story, but from my perspective, it's pretty close.
Joe's big plan was rife with issues from the start. He had "a hundred dollars and a van full of equipment." He split gas with a friend, who already had a job lined up with Opry Land, and so arrived in the golden land of musical opportunity with fifty bucks to his name.
Eventually, Joe went down to Music Row, watched a few great bands, and then onto a pawn shop where he was looking at a guitar which he "obviously wasn't going to buy." A man came up, made small talk, and then asked, "Hey, do you want to help me move a refrigerator?" Joe, being a helpful amiable sort, said yes; as he "didn't have anything else to do."
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Fast forward to meeting this man's friends, forming a band and doing Bible study with them. The group would watch videos that were produced by the church. At some point, Joe realized that he had joined The Way International - a cult. The band had the dubious idea to play secular music in bars and then witness to the people. "Not only that this idea almost never works," but the blatant hypocrisy was that the band members were not just witnessing to people, but going home with them.
After the cult band broke up, Joe did a recording session and which resulted in an audition to back Kitty Twitty - Conway Twitty's daughter. He didn't get that gig, but got an offer to go overseas with a touring band for the Department of Defense. Great!
When they landed in Europe, the band realized that half of their equipment had been stolen. Therefore, any equipment would have to be borrowed from the base. Joe remembers a gig where he played Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" on clarinet.
Returning to the States, he was asked to join a fronting band - a band that opens before the main act. Ricky Skaggs and Barbara Mandrell were among the lineup. Minnie Pearl was one of the artists that he backed. At this time, Joe thought that he "was on his way."
But after tour ended, 26-year-old Joe Couture found himelf working at a Hot Stop - a convenience store. This is when Joe met, as he puts it, "The Crazy Lady." In short, she was a con artist-thief with many shady secrets and spurious stories. It's truly surreal and you'll have to listen to the interview.
Despite all the things that went awry, Joe is not bitter nor does he have regrets about his time in Nashville. He wanted to go into a highly competitive, professional music environment because he needed to "take a shot."
All the music heard in this interview was composed and performed by Jim Lange.
Grady Martin heard this solo and being the gracious man he was, commented, "I never thought about playing that fast." Is it overplaying? In country music in the early '80s - yes. But Joe said he was thinking about Steely Dan when he played this. I think it's wonderful.