The Virgin King
Scott Hendricks talks about life after Garth
By Beverly Keel
APRIL 26, 1999: On a rainy Wednesday morning, a relaxed, denim-clad Scott Hendricks eases into his morning of interviews and phone calls. To call the president of Virgin Records Nashville press-shy might be an understatement--he has yet to meet a reporter he wouldn't rather avoid. Even so, he has agreed to meet with the press to discuss the debut album by Julie Reeves--which is also the 8-month-old label's first musical release.
Now settled into his new post, Hendricks is enjoying the calm after the storm of Hurricane Garth, which blew him out of his position as president of Capitol Nashville Records, sister label to Virgin under the EMI umbrella. The two men's working relationship started off bumpy in 1995, and it went downhill from there. Brooks blamed Hendricks for what he considered to be lackluster sales of the 4 million-selling Fresh Horses album. Then, when the time came for Brooks to release Sevens, he refused to turn in the project until his hand-picked management team was in place.
In a startling power play, Hendricks was replaced in November 1997 by then-executive vice president/general manager Pat Quigley. Overnight, Hendricks became the martyr of Music Row--a sacrifice to the cold corporate forces of the music biz. Now, more than a year later, Hendricks is ready to move forward, yet he speaks candidly about the past.
"[EMI Recorded Music Chairman] Ken Berry believed in me and what we were doing at Capitol and didn't want to cut that off," the 42-year-old Hendricks says. "He wanted that to continue, and since Garth got the label he wanted, it gave us the opportunity to start Virgin. And basically [my] philosophy here is no different than what I had when I was at Capitol: If you get the right music out there, you will have a successful label." As proof, he points to the successes he had at Capitol with Deana Carter and Trace Adkins.
After his ouster, Hendricks received several offers from labels and even considered returning to independent production, but he ultimately decided to remain with the company that, to all appearances, had unceremoniously dumped him. "I never for a second felt betrayed by Ken Berry," he says. "He could not have been more supportive.
"You have to put yourself in Ken Berry's shoes, and I tried to do that. You have to look at it from a lot of different levels. A decision had to be made, and I was part of that decision in a roundabout way. This wasn't [a situation where] I got the call one day saying, 'You are out.' "
One of the main reasons Hendricks remained with EMI was his loyalty to the Capitol staffers who had also been dismissed--Doug Baker, Mark Brown, Donna Duarte, Susan Levy, and Lorie Lytle. Their livelihoods were in his hands, as were the fates of Julie Reeves and River Road, acts he had signed at Capitol but not yet released. During the nine months he spent deciding his next move, Hendricks' dismissal became the hot topic on Music Row.
Amidst all the talk, he admits it was difficult to remain silent. "It was hard not to defend myself--it's hard now--but I don't want to get down on that level. Naively or not, I believe the truth will prevail."
Ironically, Hendricks had every reason to think that he and Brooks might get along. "I mistakenly believed that there was something common there because we grew up 50 miles from each other," he remembers. "We used to play each other's high school in sports, and we went to the same agricultural college.
"My first meeting with Garth, I said, 'I'll never lie to you or kick you under the table. I want to be able to have the kind of relationship where we can be truthful with each other.' I found he didn't like for me to be truthful." Brooks also didn't like taking any share of the blame when it came to figuring out why he'd failed to reach his sales goals for Fresh Horses. "There was a lot of hoopla about Garth and the marketing plan, but the reality is, he signed that marketing plan. He agreed with it wholeheartedly, and we executed it to a tee."
Even though Hendricks' tenure at Capitol will always be marked by his rift with Garth Brooks, he helped to turn the label around at a crucial point. When he arrived, new acts and song pluggers were bypassing Capitol because they figured they'd just be ignored, overshadowed by Brooks. "We finally got the boat going in the right direction," Hendricks recalls, "and all of a sudden we had more than one artist on that label."
In the months since his departure, Hendricks has had to watch Adkins' and Carter's careers lose steady momentum. (The two could possibly change over to Virgin if they so chose.) He's also remained quiet in the face of criticism from Quigley, who has suggested that Tanya Tucker, John Berry, Suzy Bogguss, and Billy Dean were all poorly treated at Capitol under Hendricks' tenure. And yet, ever since Quigley took over, all four acts have left the label. "Go ask them why [they left]," Hendricks asks rhetorically.
In spite of his candor, Hendricks remains reluctant to talk about his time at Capitol. Instead, he prefers to look ahead to the future of his current enterprise. Located in Rising Tide's former offices on 16th Avenue South, Virgin has 18 employees, about half of whom followed Hendricks from Capitol. "We can do it again," he says. "This team has proven itself twice in the two years we were at Capitol with Trace and Deana, and it's the same team for the most part. It's a matter of being patient and getting the right song with the right artist at the right time."
But Hendricks could not have picked a more difficult time to reenter the country arena. Sales are down for everyone but the Top 5 acts, and labels have begun slicing staffs and budgets. Even in the short time he was on leave from the music business, the gatekeepers at radio tightened their playlists, making it even more difficult to get new music on the air. "Our industry right now is definitely struggling, and there are so many changes in retail and radio," he says. "I still believe if the music is right, it won't matter what the climate is outside; I may be stupid for believing it.
"I do see where promotion and marketing dollars have elevated some artists way beyond their [talent], and I see where radio buys into that. I think that is a large part of why we are down a little bit. We have successfully marketed artists that aren't quite at a level that they need to be." That said, Hendricks is fully confident in the abilities of Julie Reeves, the only female singer he signed while at Capitol. "I looked at hundreds, but there was something in her voice that the others don't have," he says.
Hendricks has also signed comedian Roy D. Mercer, the band River Road, and traditional country singer Jerry Kilgore, who will release an album this summer. He plans to keep his roster small. "I know people are going to come and go, and we can't operate on fear. If we focus on what we are trying to do, we have just as much opportunity to win this race as [anyone] out there.
"There is definitely a burning desire to prove ourselves here, but it's not for the wrong reasons. It's the same burning desire that I and everyone else here have always had: to break new artists. I don't have a burning desire to be vindictive toward Garth or Capitol or Quigley. I don't have to prove myself. I feel comfortable [with my] accomplishments, and I feel like there are a lot more to come."
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