Deborah Evans Price is a respected media analyst and contributer to a number of music and entertainment outlets, including Billboard, AOL’s The Boot, and CMA Close Up. She has interviewed an enviable list of celebrities—from Ernest Tubb to Taylor Swift to Sandra Bullock.
In her latest project, Deborah takes readers behind the scenes at the CMA Awards, offering interviews and insights into 43 years of music tradition.
Many writers fall in love with the written word as a child. How old were you when you first knew you wanted to write? Which came first for you, “writing” or “journalism”?
I always loved to read as a child. I wasn’t into Nancy Drew or any of those books most young girls were interested in. I loved anything written about horses and read all of Walter Farley’s books, starting with “The Black Stallion.” My dad was in the Air Force, but was also a scuba instructor, so I also gravitated to anything about the ocean.
I think “journalism” really took precedence over “writing.” I’ve just always had an insatiable curiosity about people and events. I started writing for my junior high newspaper when I was in seventh grade in New Jersey. Due to dad’s Air Force career, we moved a lot and I went to four high schools in four years—moving from McGuire A.F.B. in New Jersey to Okinawa, Japan to Church Hill, TN to Bossier City, LA. I hated to leave my school in New Jersey and I remember my guidance counselor telling me if I wanted to be a writer, moving halfway around the world to Japan would be an experience that would make me a better writer, and he was right.
How did you break into entertainment journalism?
When I was attending Louisiana State University in Shreveport, one of my classmates worked for KRMD radio, and told me they were looking for part-time disc jockeys. I listened to that station and loved it, so I applied. The program director asked me why he should hire me when I had no radio experience. I told him I was familiar with the station from being an avid listener and that I would work really hard, and if he gave me a chance, he wouldn’t regret it. He liked my “can do” attitude and hired me. My PD, Tom Phifer, became like a second dad. I worked there four years, and when I moved to Nashville, he gave me a list of his friends up here that would look out for me, and they did. Bob Heatherly, who was at RCA at the time, would take me to lunch. Barbara Kelly would call every week just to make sure I was okay and didn’t give up and go home. Nick Hunter at Warner Bros. told me about an opening at R&R (Radio & Records), which became my first job on Music Row. While I was working at KRMD, I began interviewing artists and selling stories to the Shreveport Times and Shreveport Journal. The Oak Ridge Boys, Dottie West and Johnny Rodriguez were among my first celebrity interviews.
Who/what influenced your writing career the most?
When I was a senior in Bossier City, Louisiana, I was editor of the Panther’s Print at Parkway High School. Dale Bozeman, our journalism teacher/newspaper advisor, really gave me a great foundation and encouraged me to pursue a career in journalism. He went beyond teaching the “who, what, when, where and why” approach to really instill in his students the ethics and professionalism necessary to earn respect and trust. I’ll always be grateful to him.
After I moved to Nashville, Vernell Hackett became a close friend and mentor and still is to this day. She taught me how things worked on Music Row and she has a code of conduct that she instilled in me and all the writers she’s worked with over the years. She’s tough, fair and unflinchingly honest. I’m always calling to get her opinion on things. She has amazing insight.
Has God ever provided an unexpected “detour” in your life that turned out to be positive?
Oh yes, many times! One of the major examples is my departure from Billboard in November 2005. I had been with the magazine full-time for ten years and it was my dream job. I was devastated. The company was laying off people in Nashville, Washington D.C., New York and LA and eventually would close the Nashville office entirely. I remember coming home crying and my husband, Gary, saying “This is great!” I said “Didn’t you hear me? I lost my job.” He walked me out on the deck as the sun was setting and said, “You’ve been working so hard for so long. You’re never here to watch the sun set with me and now you will be. I’m not worried. God will take care of everything.”
And he was right! It’s been a wonderful detour. I’m still writing for Billboard, doing pretty much everything I did before—reviews, news and features on country, Christian and some rock acts. Plus I get to work from home and write for many other publications and websites. Back in November 2005, this would not have been the path I would have chosen, but God does truly know best and it’s been a divine detour that has become a marvelous way of life. Freelance work can ebb and flow, but I’ve been blessed to be busy and God has been faithful to take care of our family. I’ve learned to trust Him more and worry less.
Let’s talk about your new book, The Country Music Awards Vault (Whitman Publishing, September 2010). Please tell us about it.
I am so excited. Writing the book was one of the most challenging and exhilarating things I’ve ever done. I only had a little over four months to write it so it was pretty intense. The CMA provided me copies of all the previous shows on DVD, so I watched 41 years of CMA Awards. (The first awards in 1967 weren’t televised and they couldn’t find a copy of the 1969 show.) I’ve attended every show since 1984 except in 1999 when my grandmother passed away. However, most every year, I’ve been backstage working in the press room and even though there are monitors, you miss most of what is going on out front. So it was a real treat to be able to sit and enjoy all those shows, especially the ones from the 70s when I was a kid. I laughed and cried and loved every minute.
In writing the book, I wanted to give fans information they’d never read before. I conducted 43 interviews, talking with everyone from Jack Greene and Sonny James to Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn to Taylor Swift and Brad Paisley. Other than a couple quotes from a Nashville Banner article in the 60s, the book is all original content and fresh interviews. I got so many wonderful stories from Vince Gill, Jeannie Seely, Kathy Mattea, Carrie Underwood, Duane Allen, Trisha Yearwood, Randy Travis, Darius Rucker and so many other artists. It really was a labor of love.
How long did it take to research? Was there one thing that stood out, something that surprised and/or especially touched you about the history of the awards show?
The CMA approached me about doing the book in November 2009 and the first chapter was due in January 2010 with the balance of the book due April 1, so it all came together pretty fast. Watching all the years of shows was time consuming, but essential to writing the kind of book I wanted it to be. Also doing so many interviews took a long time, especially trying to schedule interviews with busy artists, but it all came together. I’ll always be grateful to the artists who gave their time.
I think the one thing that stood out—something that most artists stressed—was how much they enjoy the camaraderie of that night and how much it means to get to hang out with their peers.
Also it was interesting to see how much the CMA Awards reflected what was happening in American culture during the different decades. Country music has always been a barometer reflecting the times.
Besides providing entertainment, what is the one thing you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope it will remind people that dreams do come true. When Trisha Yearwood won her first female vocalist award, in her acceptance speech, she recalled seeing Reba McEntire win and telling the audience that “dreams do come true.” Trisha said, “I believed you Miss Reba and here I am.” I would hope that no matter what a person’s dream is, they would never give up on seeing God make it a reality.
What outlets do you write for in your current freelance career?
In addition to Billboard, I write for AOL’s country site The Boot, Country Weekly, Gospel Music Channel.com, HomeLife, FIRST, CMA Close Up, Nashville Arts & Entertainment, PEOPLE, DevoZine and a few others. I write a lot of artist bios for record companies and also write liner notes for CDs and DVDs.
Is there a dream interview you haven’t done yet?
I would love to interview Mikhail Baryshnikov. I love dance and think he’s had a fascinating life. It would be amazing to talk to him about his defection from the former Soviet Union and his impact on ballet in our country.
A few fun questions…
What do you like to read when kicking back with a good book?
I love to read biographies. I’m always interested in people. Gene Simmons from KISS is one of the most interesting I’ve read. His mother is a holocaust survivor and he was born in Israel. He’s led an interesting life.
I also like to read devotional books. There’s nothing like scripture and some uplifting insights to brighten any day.
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re relaxing with the radio or an mp3 player?
I listen to a LOT of different music. I love country music and can’t get enough Brad Paisley, Oak Ridge Boys, Bellamy Brothers, Trisha Yearwood, Charlie Daniels, Miranda Lambert, and a new guy from Texas named Darren Kozelsky. He’s amazing! I love classic rock and can’t imagine a road trip without the Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bob Seger. My son, Trey, and I also listen to 3 Doors Down (lead singer Brad Arnold is one of the nicest guys on the planet), Daughtry, Bon Jovi, Bowling for Soup, matchbox twenty and Christian artists such as Amy Grant, Third Day, Casting Crowns, Tenth Avenue North and Newsboys. I also love bluegrass and Native American music, Bill Miller in particular. My tastes are all over the place and I love that Trey has really diverse taste in music too.
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
When the words aren’t flowing, I always say a little prayer. I see my job as helping people tell their stories and I take that privilege and responsibility very seriously. I always want the reader to feel like they had that conversation with the subject themselves. As far as comfort food, my husband and son both make great sweet tea and I’d never have gotten the book done without it. Gary also makes incredible mac ‘n cheese and the best chocolate cake on the planet! The afternoon I got my first copy of the book in the mail, I sat down and celebrated by having a piece of cake and cold milk.
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
A slow, sweet country love song laced with fiddle and a sighing steel guitar.
Are you a major or a minor chord?
Perhaps a bit of both, depending on the day : )
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
That’s a tough question. I think like most women, I’m a little of all those characters, but if I had to pick one, I’d say the girl next door. I think people feel comfortable around me and that’s why they open up and I get such great interviews.
Please tell us about your pets, your hobbies, your family, etc.
I’ve been married 25 years to Gary Price. We met on prom night. We were both with our dates, but ended up sitting at the same table and chatting. We didn’t start going out until two years later. He heard me on KRMD and called to ask me out. I love him more every day. He’s an amazing man and always knows how to make me laugh when I’m stressed. We have a 20-year-old son, Trey, who is in college and studying to be a physical therapist. He’s a wonderful young man and we couldn’t be more proud of him. Plus he’s just fun to be around. We sing and laugh together often. I’m so blessed!
As far as pets, we have an adorable black and white fox terrier named Lily and a rabbit named Snuggles, who I believe is the sweetest, smartest animal on the planet. And my brother, Mike, just got Gary 20 baby chicks for his birthday, so we are looking forward to fresh eggs. Our house is on a hilltop and we have ten acres so I love watching the deer, hawks, chipmunks and other wildlife.
As far as hobbies, I love the beach and try to slip down to the Gulf whenever possible. Trey and I love going to concerts and Gary and I are on a bowling team. I’m terrible and he’s super bowler. He even had a 300 last year—a perfect score—all strikes. How incredible!
Thanks, Deborah! It’s a highlight to have you at DivineDetour!
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To order The Country Music Awards Vault, logon to Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Country-Music-Awards-Vault/dp/0794830838.