SEGUE 61: Keys to the Musical Highway
(Owen Bradley’s Vision Revisited)
Those who know me best say I am an INFORMED CONSUMER of music, with what is described as an unusual (unhealthy?) amount of information about and passion for a creative craft in which I was never a participant. It’s what likely armed me uniquely to help push Segue 61 to its starting line.
I’ve experienced more than 1,000 major live shows by virtually every artist who ever mattered to me, sat at the inductees’ table at the Songwriters Hall of Fame event, watched icons perform from side stage at The Ryman, Bonnaroo, and Merlefest, and been on the road w/Bruce. I’ve kept almost all the passes and tickets, including an un-torn one for an Allman Brothers show the week after Duane died.
The music I own, according to metrics in the cyber-library in which it lives, indicates I could start at AA and have enough woven-notes to listen non-stop to original music for more than three years, just beyond ZZ Top and Zappa. If I don’t sleep.
I’m not alone, I’m sure, in my level of love of music and those who create it. I have been blessed with myriad once-only events, where sound washed over me like a wave or my closeness to The Moment was Gump-like. It’s been an exceptional life journey which I view with an appropriate awe and wonder.
But one of my most indelible experiences involved no notes or lyrics, but rather the silent advice a statue whispered to me on Music Row. It was at a challenging time in the build-out of Segue 61 when I decided to walk up Nashville’s storied 17th Avenue to sit for a spell on the piano bench beside Owen Bradley, in the park that bears his name.
At the time, I had an office-space in the house in which Chet Atkins once ruled the country music kingdom that he, Mr. Bradley, and (later) Bob Johnston had cultivated. Clay Bradley, Owen’s grandson and an essential contributor to the construct of Segue 61, was starting his new agency from Chet’s old “boardroom” and saved me a corner to work in. Every morning . . . every morning I drove west down Edgehill toward 1013 17th Avenue South, I felt certain responsibility to respect that moment in time, particularly for someone never destined for a presence of any sort on Music Row.
My sense of history has always been both insatiable and indelible. Clay’s grandfather, a big-band leader with his brother Harold in post-World War 2 in Middle Tennessee, had a singularly creative vision that became the Nashville Sound, eventually transforming hillbilly music into a globally cherished art form. Every morning when I entered Chet’s old house, there was a gravitas for me, especially given the project at hand helping forge such a unique concept like Segue 61. A process that . . . required vision.
Clay Bradley was already decorated in his ever-more visible roles at Acuff-Rose, Sony, and BMI with career-changing support for stars like Kenny Chesney, George Strait, and Miranda Lambert. But his urge to find something unique and trend-altering drove him to leave his executive roles for uncharted professional water. That leap of faith . . . required vision.
Developing new genre-bending artists like Katie Pruett and Muddy Magnolias filled only part of Clay’s need. Segue 61’s mission to better arm elite aspirants to the music business with information delivered by those like himself, who make daily deals and demos and differences for artists also matched Bradley’s DNA decisively. He promised me his support, his connectivity to a somewhat-closed industry and his unfaltering friendship. And also that required vision . . .
I’ve never told Clay what I told his grandfather that Sunday afternoon, when all was quiet on Music Row and I walked out the front door of Chet’s place, down 17th to the entry-point of one of most significant 30 blocks in American Music.
You can sit right beside Owen on his piano bench, as his left arm offers a welcoming gesture to every driver who enters Music Row circle. He’s wearing his familiar hat, and details are so precise with the likeness of him and his Baldwin piano, that even the correct sheet music for Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams” and “Crazy” rest in front of him, ready to play. Together, he and Patsy changed music in this country. All music.
As I slid up beside him that day, I told him how proud he would be of his grandson, who was now offering his own guidance for both new artists that didn’t fit a predictable mold, but also for an education program we both hoped would change lives with its non-academic candor and connectivity. I told him when I’d gotten most discouraged with the atypical path it was requiring, Clay had offered consistent energy and optimism.
Through the silence that followed, I’m sure I heard Owen Bradley insist that all involved—including his beloved grandson and myself—“had the required vision” to get the job done. To follow the path to Segue 61’s starting point, however daunting. To not lose sight of our project’s worthy goal.
When I walked south down 16th Avenue in the setting sun, past the Quonset Hut location where the Bradleys and Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn first made musical history, I felt a wind behind the sail of Segue 61 that was not there before. It’s never easy to bring forth change or creative concept that goes against the flow.
Segue 61 is a unique program whose core group (including Clay Bradley) and 100+ current music industry professionals aspire to change the model in which students engage a difficult job landscape, arming them with enhanced relationship equity as well interpersonal and informational elements not available elsewhere. And a required vision . . . for their own path forward.
Read Bill Armour’s previous blog post, “A Perfect Metaphor.”
SEGUE 61 is a unique preparatory program in Nashville, Tennessee, that offers promising musicians, songwriters, producers/engineers, and music business hopefuls from all genres an advantage in launching their careers. The inaugural class of 10 elite students from six states began their real-world, hands-on training in early January with a roster of esteemed mentors currently active in all areas of the music industry, at Segue 61’s workshop/studio location in the creative Berry Hill community. The instructors range from Grammy-winning songwriters and producers to first-call musicians and career-crafting music business executives, as well as members of both the Songwriters and Rock & Roll Halls of Fame. Segue 61, a certificate program of Catawba College (NC), is currently accepting applications for its third class (starting January 9) now.
Nashville was chosen as the home for Segue 61 for definitive reasons: the city’s density of music industry activity is currently 20 to 30 times as great as that in New York and Los Angeles and the core employment in Nashville’s music industry [per 1,000 population/1,000 total employment] (4.19) and earning quotient (4.30) exceeds all other U.S cities including Los Angeles [1.61] and New York [1.13] by 2.5 to 4 times. Two years of focus group interviews with a myriad of Nashville influencers—as well as with young graduates struggling to establish themselves in the field—produced a consensus calling for a new form of practical career preparation:
- Many of those trying to enter the music industry lack the essential soft skills of communication, teamwork, problem-solving, professionalism, and tenacity.
- Gaining “street smarts” can take a heavy toll as individuals make costly mistakes that could have been avoided through proper mentoring.
- Gaps in job preparation are often found among university graduates who have studied popular music, engineering/production, and music business.
Segue 61 is distinct from, but complementary to, other higher education programs when it comes to addressing this instructional void. “Segue 61 is exactly the kind of program that I used to dream about experiencing when I was growing up studying music,” said Warner Brothers recording artist and Segue 61 mentor Charlie Worsham. “It doesn’t just rattle off a bunch of tips and facts for you to figure out on your own as you are launched into real-world business. Segue 61 integrates the same kind of true-to-form scenarios in which you find yourself when you move to Nashville. It also happens to be perfectly and uniquely crafted for the music industry of Nashville, centering its focus on the men and women who make the wheels go ’round every corner of the business here. You won’t find this opportunity anywhere else.”
Bill Armour is a member of the Give a Note Foundation Board.
Bill currently serves as Special Assistant to the President at Catawba College, a small private school in Salisbury, North Carolina, with an aggressive popular & traditional music curriculum. He also serves as Executive Director for Segue 61, a unique preparatory program based in Nashville, Tennessee, that offers promising musicians, songwriters, producers/engineers, and music business hopefuls from all music genres an advantage in accelerating their careers through a mentor-driven eight-month curricular structure. The program launched in January 2017 in its studio/workshop complex in the Berry Hill area of Nashville.