By: Andrew Vaughan
They don’t call Nashville "Music City" for nothing. It's home to literally thousand of singers, songwriters, musicians, and industry folks. Music Row is filled with huge record companies and state of the art recording studios, but that’s not where music city really lives and breathes. All over town, in basements and attics, bars and converted houses; musicians, artists, and producers make music. Some of it filters to the very top, much of it bubbles around—good or bad.
Every now and then, a good producer with an ear for talent picks up on a new artist, works with them in those formative early stages, and helps propel the next big act to stardom.
You may not be immediately familiar with a producer/writer/artist named Tommy Collier, but he’s played a significant role in kick-starting the careers of several names, including someone not necessarily associated with Nashville, Tennessee at all—Katy Perry.
When you worked with Katy Perry she was still Katy Hudson and pretty young.
She was sixteen I think—seventeen when the record came out; and I toured with her a little bit.
Collier, originally from Greenville, Mississippi, (home of the blues) started out as a hot-shot young guitarist, playing with blues greats like Son Thomas.
He made a record deal of this, then a band in the mid 90s. He then considered moving to Nashville, and after witnessing the shenanigans of major label politics, Collier recognized the power in life behind the scenes and signed a writing deal with an entertainment company, Pamplin.
The organization started a record label named Red Hill Records and signed a very young Katy Hudson.
“I met her through that and we wrote a couple of songs. I think I had the only single that the radio played on that record—'Search Me'," Collier described, “And I played on that record and produced it. I helped her develop her guitar skills. She was kind of limited on guitar at that time and I showed a few more things, and stuff like that.”
Never mind Katy’s rudimentary guitar skills (which would improve rapidly with Collier’s guidance) it was her songwriting and vocals that caught Collier’s attention.
“I thought she had some good ideas as a writer, but raw. She wasn’t a finished writer at that point. She was getting into writing. She had good ideas—a good starter, but not a good finisher."
“And I loved the jazzy element in her voice. She had a Sarah McLachlan kind of texture. I knew she was a diamond in the rough. She had a texture to her voice and something about her that I figured she was going to do something.”
One important aspect of the young Katy’s personality that struck Collier was the speed at which she picked things up.
“She was a sponge. I think I introduced her to the Beatles, the white album—she was smart, she learned how to fingerpick 'Blackbird'. We actually played that at a gig or two. We did a radio show one time and we were at Starstruck studios and we did a live performance and she played 'Blackbird'. That’s not easy at all, so she picked up on things real quick.”
Aside from setting Katy Perry on the right track, Collier has worked with several acts who made the big time in Nashville—notably Steve Azar and Kimberley Perry who hit it big with The Band Perry. He recently set up his own production company with a partner called Indiecove. “We are developing quite a few indie artists from country to r&b, rock, pop...and sometimes we pitch them to the major labels if they choose that route—or [if] they choose to stay hip and indie.”
Collier thinks he’s found another diamond in the rough, and she’s about the same age as Katy Perry was when she was Katy Hudson. “She’s amazing. She has that thing that Katy had. She’s got it. Her name is Neveah (heaven backwards) Burnett—she's great.
Collier, despite his altruistic efforts has also been working on his own solo album. “It’s a modern rock record—good songs, sounds great, and we’re shipping it now to major labels and getting a good response. It’s going to be called Fights and Wars.”
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