Why don’t country stars record with their own band?

Hello fellow players,

Here is one of the most prolific questions I get when it comes to country music and recording in general. I have been getting this same question way before I ever started my store 28 years ago.


I hope this note finds you healthy and happy and want to say that I enjoy your letters very much. I was reading one of your older letters and you mentioned studio sessions and I cannot help but wonder why stars do not use their bands? This is not intended to down play studio musician’s ability or talent in any way, but as many country bands I have seen live and on television their talent is obvious also.. The star’s band must to reproduce what is recorded fairly closely on stage, so why doesn’t the star cut out the middle man and have their group play the session?

Thank you -Bruce Spencer

There are many reasons why musicians don’t record with the artist they are working for on the road and as you know there are a lot of musicians that will be working the road with one artist while they are recording with another artist, possibly even being a competitor of the artist they work for on the road.

I remember when I was working with Lynn Anderson, every once and awhile I would be not called for one of her sessions. This would perturb me greatly and is actually one of the reasons that I quit working for her at one time.

If I should go through all the hell of working the road with her, I figured I should at least get some of the gravy by working the sessions with her. However producers decide who they want to hire on a session. The artist has very little to say about it. It’s actually the producers responsibility. That’s why you call him the producer. He produces the end product which means he has much authority over the beginning product.

I’ll name some different artists now and tell you why I did these sessions with them or why I didn’t do sessions with them.

One of my first big artists to record with in Nashville was Jean Shepard. I recorded a song with her named Virginia. I really enjoyed this great session produced by Earl Ball for Capitol Records here in Nashville. Several years later I found out that Jean actually really liked my playing very much, but to be honest I was very shocked that I was on this session. Finding out that she liked my playing was a great extra bonus to being on it.

That actually opened up a door for me in Nashville as the producer and I turned out to be pretty good friends and as a session leader on other sessions working for other labels, I actually got to hire him on some good country sessions. But then after I went to work for Lynn Anderson many years later, I did not know the producer, her husband.

I was working the road many dates a year with her and lost doing the account with her because she found out I was doing some with Loretta Lynn. Not doing some sessions with Loretta Lynn later seemed to magically get me hired by Lynn’s producer. He and I turned out to be truly great friends so I managed to nose Lloyd Green out of a session, not on purpose but because Glenn and I turned out to be such great friends and we were until the day he died.

So as you can see here, politics plays a part in doing recording sessions here in Nashville. I loved working for Glenn no matter who he was producing. I remember having an appointment for lunch scheduled with him when I got the news that he had died. This hurt me very deeply.

So as you can see, if you want to do sessions in Nashville, you better be very nice to the producers and prove to them how well you can play. It has no where near as much to do with how well you play. This may be why the incredible fantastic Buddy Emmons is not doing the sessions he should be and could be doing today.

There are many sessions being worked in Nashville by star players that shouldn’t be working them because they don’t play necessarily well enough to do them and of course many great players have gotten great by working sessions and getting better and better each year because of doing a good job over time.

Of course, knowing when to go bowling with the producer or buy his wife’s abstract art and playing golf and just making the producers into great friends surely does not hurt a thing.

Many times the artist/singer will insist to his producer that he really wants his band to work the session, but gets turned down consistently. Personally I love just the old way when Ernest Tubb was king and he had this great road band recording with him. That meant that every time you heard Ernest Tubb, his sound was consistently what you saw in person, heard on the Opry and on the radio.

Every time you heard a new Ernest Tubb record come out, you would know that the steel player, either Buddy Charleton or Buddy Emmons, was going to have a new steel lick on it that was going to be copied by every steel player that ever heard the record. A pretty cool thing from yesteryear.

In this day and time, with a new country artist or even an old country artist, there may not even be any steel guitar on the record. I’m not talking about just steel guitar here either. There was great fiddle and some great guitar licks associated with many fantastic country singers that didn’t make it to all their recording hits.

However, when I was doing a lot of producing in Nashville, I found that many of the bands that the artists were using were not of studio quality. That’s because many of the musicians when they come to town, get their experience and seasoning on the road and then prove their worth for bigger and better things.

I remember Buddy Emmons working both studio and road jobs for everybody. This was probably a validation of what a great player he was.

One of my favorite producers in Nashville that produced for Capitol Records was Ray Baker. He produced many artists for different labels such as Hank Thompson, Merle Haggard, Charley Pride and so on. He never used anyone from the road band unless the artist had twisted his arm and talked him into it. His reason being that studio musicians were always in town and available when he needed them whereas road musicians were often out of town.

With the high dollar studios and tight budgets, he couldn’t hold up production waiting for a road musician to be back in town. By using studio musicians, he could produce the tracks even if the artist was on the road, then the artist could come in and overdub his vocals when he was available. It was a matter of efficiency. The show as they say, must go on.

I hope this gives you some insight.

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Your buddy,
Bobbe Seymour

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1 Response to Why don’t country stars record with their own band?

  1. Bobby Lee says:

    Very good article, Bobbe! Also in the pop music field, producers are using session players more today than in the ’70s and ’80s when rock was king. You see singers on SNL and Leno, for example, using road players who are chosen more for their appearance than for their musical talent.

    Of course, there are still plenty of rock bands who play their own instruments in the studio. The “alt country” acts record their own parts too, as a tribute to tradition.

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