Ron “Snake” Reynolds

Today’s newsletter is from Ron “Snake” Reynolds. Snake is one of the most successful behind-the-scenes people who make the Nashville music business work so you’re going to get a very unique perspective. We’re going to let Snake take it over here to explain who he is and what he does.

My name is Ron Reynolds but everybody calls me “Snake”. I got that nickname in 1980 from an engineer friend of mine named Ken Laxton who was engineering a project on myself as an artist. I played guitar in Rock n Roll bands from 1963 until about 1980 and I was so thin and limber I looked like a snake going across the stage. Let’s face it, “Snake” is much sexier than Ron.

So any of my album credits before 1980 are listed as Ronnie Reynolds, that is when they gave album credits. Back in those days, they sometimes didn’t give musicians and engineers credit.

In 1965, I signed an artist development deal and writer’s contract with Fred Carter Jr’s label Nugget Records. Fred was a well-known Nashville guitar player who also played on a lot of the early Simon and Garfunkel hits. It was Fred playing the gut string guitar on “The Boxer” which was one of their biggest hits.

Nugget Records had their own recording studio. After signing the deal and hanging around the studio so long doing my projects, I fell in love with the recording end of the business and was given the opportunity to engineer full-time for Fred.

In my early years at Nugget, I had the privilege of working with some of the greatest songwriters of the time like Harlan Howard and Bobby Bare. I also recorded some of the big country music artists of the time as well as rocker J.J. Cale.

In 1972 I got a job offer from Columbia Recording Studios to become a staff engineer and immediately jumped at the chance. In the first year or two at Columbia, I started working with legendary record producer Billy Sherrill and artists like George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, Johnny Paycheck, Johnny Rodriguez and many more.

I remained with Columbia Records as a full time recording engineer until 1982 when they closed their recording studios. In that time period, I recorded almost every country music star in the business and some pop artists as well such as Dave Loggins Please Come To Boston and Elvis Costello.

I also recorded a ton of jingles, television specials, a couple of movies like “Take This Job and Shove It”, one of the great movies of all time LOL. I also worked with Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, David Allan Coe and lots more.

When Columbia closed in 1982 I became a free-lance engineer where I continued to work with Billy Sherrill until he retired. I also worked with legendary record producers Randy Scruggs, Nelson Larkin, Ray Baker and many others.

Some of my favorite projects were done in this time period. For instance, Tanya Tucker’s album that Jerry Crutchfield produced which contained the hit single “Two Sparrows in a Hurricane”, Ray Baker’s production of Merle Haggard’s album “That’s The Way Love Goes” which won a Grammy.

Also Randy Scruggs’ productions of many of the early Sawyer Brown hits and the Grammy winning “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” volumes two and three and Nelson Larkin’s productions on Earl Thomas Conley.

During the period from 1980 to 1990, Earl had more number one singles a row, 18 in total, than any other artist in any genre of music. Earl was also the first artist of any genre of music to have four consecutive number one singles off of a single album.

Also during the eighties and nineties, I had the privilege to do three albums on Ray Charles, who was the most soulful, truly musical genius that I’ve ever worked with.

I can’t list everyone here, but I should mention Shania Twain’s “The Woman In Me” album which has sold over 16 million copies world-wide. I should also mention Toby Keith. I engineered his first several albums as well as co-wrote four songs with him. I did several cuts on Keith Urban’s first album “The Ranch”. I worked with Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt and so on.

So you can see I’ve had an extremely exciting career, and still doing it.

Some of the most fun has been working with some of the greatest producers, musicians, singers and songwriters in the world. I’ve recorded over 600 Billboard Top 40 chart records including 60 number ones, 9 Grammy winners and been Engineer of the Year twice. How lucky can one man be?

One of the questions I’m always asked is about how the music business has changed. Obviously, the technology has changed. But the technology is just a tool. Songs are still pretty much written the same. All the melodies and chord structures have been written because there are only so many notes and there is only so much musical range that a singer can sing in. A singer can only sing two octaves if they’re lucky.

The biggest change is in the number of major recording labels which has decreased, the number of records released which has decreased, the number of major recording artists which has decreased, and therefore the number of songs needed and the number of musicians needed and the amount of studio time needed has severely diminished.

Most singers today write their own material or at least part of it whereas twenty years ago, most artists did not write their own material. So the need for songs from independent writers was tremendous then. Also, twenty or thirty years ago, each artist recorded two albums a year, sometimes three if they did a Christmas album.

During Nashville’s peak time of the eighties and nineties, there were almost 200 commercial studios in Nashville and most of them were booked three or four sessions a day. So the studio musician could barely keep up with the amount of sessions.

Also the speed of the business today is much slower than it was twenty years ago. Now it takes two years to get a record out once it’s recorded whereas twenty or thirty years ago, I would cut a record at 10 AM in the morning on George Jones and Billy Sherrill would say, “That song is the single. Mix that.”

I would mix it on the 2 PM session. They would send it down and have a dub cut on the mastering lathe, send it over to WSIX radio station and that night, I would hear what I had cut that morning played on the radio while driving home.

Also, songwriter’s demos back then were mostly just guitar/vocals or piano/vocals and would be brought to the session at the last minute whereas now, songwriter’s demos have to sound like a finished record. It was a much more fast paced, exciting time in the business.

I still enjoy the process, especially working with the musicians and songwriters and helping new artists achieve their goals which is why I started my new website at www.snakereynoldsproductions.com

As difficult as it was, the way you used to break into the music business in Nashville was to go around to the different record labels and drop off recordings of things that you had recorded and hope that the A&R people would listen to your project.

Now, since the openings are fewer at the major labels, you’re better off as, an aspiring artist, to play the local venues such as the Bluebird Café and do showcases on yourself as well as approach publishers who have now become what the A&R people at record labels used to be in hopes of getting a publisher to develop you as a writer/artist.

With modern technology, you can actually put out a record on yourself and sell it on the internet and at your shows, sometimes with great success. You have to work hard at it. It takes a lot of dedication but it’s being done by more and more people.

Independent labels are popping up daily because the internet has leveled the playing field to give all artists a chance that has been, until now, limited to a select few.

With the inception of ProTools and home studios, the cost of recording a project has come down and has made the recording of a project much more affordable to a larger range of people.

The bottom line is still talent. To give yourself the best chance of success, study the history of the profession, perfect your talent, seek of advice of professionals who have a track record you admire and surround yourself with the best people you can find.

You have to believe in yourself. The great car manufacturer Henry Ford once said, “No matter if you think you can, or if you think you can’t, either way you’re right.” The main thing is, don’t give up.

P.S. If you have any questions you’d like to ask Snake, reply to this newsletter and if we get enough questions, we’ll have him back again.

This will be our last Monday newsletter. Henceforth, there will only be a newsletter on Thursday until Bobbe is able to come back and write the newsletters again.

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