With over 20 Hits on the Country Charts, multiple ACM and CMA Nominations and his album Sweet Memories named one of the “Top 10 Country Albums of 2004″ by CMT.com, Con Hunley has given all lovers of deep-down, soulful music something to believe in throughout his prestigious musical career. On the verge of his brand new album Lost and Found: The MCA/Capitol Years set to release February 1, 2011, I sat down with Con to discuss his relationship with Sevier County, the new album, and how he continues to keep us all wanting more from “The Smoky Mountain Blue-Eyed Darlin’.”
Obviously for me this is an amazing opportunity, especially after all of these years being around you and your music and being able to experience so many of your outstanding performances. I have to admit…every time I hear you live behind the keys it’s like hearing you again for the very first time. Your vocal and playing styles are musical genius. For those who might not know, tell us a little bit about how your career started as a recording artist with Warner Bros. Records…
Thanks Denver. I was invited by my friend Bobby Denton at WIVK Radio to participate with him at the Acuff-Rose Publishing Company Golf Tournament in Nashville. After the first day of the tournament the golfer-slash-musicians, who were some of the biggest names in country music, had a “guitar pull.” When the guitar came around to me, I tried to pass it on because I was so much in awe of the others in the room, but Bobby and others persuaded me to sing. A few days later, the phones started ringing and I had offers from five major labels. So I ended up signing with Warner Brothers.
Do you have a personal role model that has influenced you throughout your career?
My father. He was always a patient man and had a lot of common sense. He was very respectful of people, no matter their standing in life.
What about musical influences…who has helped shape you as a recording artist?
In the beginning, I wanted to be a thumb style guitar player. My heroes were Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, and Jerry Reed. After hearing Ray Charles’ intro to “What’d I Say” on the piano in the early to mid-60’s, that song just kind of gobbled me up and I started learning to play the piano by picking out that intro.
Looking back at the beginning of your career, is there anything that you would’ve done differently…knowing what you know now?
I choose not to live on Hindsight Lane. [Laughs] As I look back, probably if I had moved to Nashville early in my career and had some strong management representation, things might have been different. But I’m pretty happy where I am now, being that I can write, choose, and produce my own music as I feel it.
In 2004 you released your album Sweet Memories, which was recognized by CMT.com as one of the top-10 country albums of the year. How important is that album to you now looking back on it?
Having been away from the industry for a number of years, I was a little apprehensive about how my music might be received. So I just went in and recorded the best songs I could find, did it my way, and fortunately for me, I got some great reviews from both fans and critics. Having that validation inspired me to continue my recording career, and it just keeps getting bigger and better.
I have to ask you about it because it’s one of my favorites to hear you play live, on your follow-up to Sweet Memories, you paid tribute to Ray Charles with your own version of “Georgia on My Mind,” on your album Shoot From the Heart…why is this particular song so meaningful to you as an artist?
I just remember listening to it over and over again when Ray Charles did this song, and every time I heard him perform it live, he always conveyed such deep emotion. So that’s why it’s so meaningful to me – I want to also project that kind of emotion as an artist. And speaking of Ray Charles, I am very proud of the fact that I was able to not only meet him, but also opened a show for him on two different occasions.
I’m honored to be one of the first to sit down and talk with you about your brand new album Lost and Found: The MCA/Capitol Years. What is the background of this project and what brought it about?
Lost and Found is a compilation of songs that I originally recorded in the ‘80s on MCA and Capitol Records. Some of them were released as singles but didn’t make it onto an album, so they’ve never been available for fans to own.
You produced this album alongside the legendary Norro Wilson, tell us about the recording process and how you put this album together…
My current label, IMMI Records, researched the old MCA/Capitol catalog and found the titles to all the songs I had cut during this period. When we found the songs and listened to them, we realized that they were as good today as they were twenty years ago. And my longtime producer, Norro Wilson, was really excited to be able to work with me on this project because he loved the material.
Why re-record these songs now?
We tried to get a licensing agreement with MCA and Capitol to no avail. After further research, we found that after a period of seven years, an artist could re-record any of his previous material. The fans kept asking for them, so we just went back into the studio and updated them.
Apart from yourself, who was involved instrumentally on this album?
It was a thrill for me to go into the studio with my road band for this project. They are all very talented studio musicians whom I have had the pleasure of working with for quite a long time. What really makes it great is that we have been together so long that they understand me from a creative standpoint. They can actually tell when I’m going to phrase something one way or the other. They also play off my emotions in the songs and feel it much the same way I do.
Which of these songs did well on the charts?
“Blue Suede Blues,” “Quittin’ Time” and “What Am I Going To Do About You” all did well on the charts. “What Am I Going To Do About You” later was a big hit for Reba. Many of these songs were never released at all.
Which song on the album was your favorite to re-record? Was there something different this time around?
“Nobody Ever Gets Enough Love” is probably my favorite but I really enjoyed re-recording all of them. I think the reason this song is my favorite is that as you get older, the words to this song just had so much more depth and meaning to me.
What I have found is that it is difficult to say which song will be a fan favorite, because just as the songs are all different, so are the tastes of my fans.
“Once You Get The Feel Of It” was very controversial in its day. Can you talk about that? What do you think is different now?
The suggestive title and the lyrics were pretty racy in this record’s day, although it probably wouldn’t create much controversy now. At that time though, there were fathers and preachers calling into the radio stations, threatening to boycott the station if they continued to play the song.
What’s next for you as an artist? Do you plan on following the release of this album with a tour?
Right now I am concentrating on radio play and promotions and doing interviews and publicity for this album. I am in discussions with a couple of booking agents in Nashville to talk about a possible tour to support this CD, but we’ll have to see what comes of it.
I know that you and I’ve talked about this before…but I still think that we as a group of Knoxville musicians should rally to bring back the Corner Lounge to Knoxville and make it a historic site. The Corner Lounge has so much musical history and I know it played an important role in the early part of your career. Any thoughts on the history of the Corner Lounge?
The Corner Lounge is history – the Corner’s new incarnation is that of a bookstore. It was the place to be from about 1969 to 1979 in Knoxville. Many folks, both famous and infamous, enjoyed that 10-year period when “the Corner” was “The Home of Con Hunley,” but those days are . . . history.
Country music started out as “hillbilly music” and that came out of the mountains, in the hills and hollers of little places like Sevier County. And of course, Sevier County is the home of Dolly and Dollywood. Ralph Emery gave me the nickname of “The Smoky Mountain Blue-Eyed Darlin’,’’ so I guess you could say growing up in East Tennessee around the Smoky Mountains has influenced me to some extent.
Also, for 21 years we had a huge party for thousands of people in Sevier County on New Years’ Eve. I managed to make a lot of friends in Sevier County, not only through my New Years’ Eve shows, but also during my three-year stint at Eagle Mountain Theater.
The official release date of the new album Lost and Found: The MCA/Capitol Years is February 1…where can we go to get a copy of the new album?
It will be available at Wal-Mart and on the web at conhunley.com, iTunes, Amazon, and the usual online places, as well as some local and regional music retailers such as Disc Exchange and Ernest Tubb Record store.
Any parting words of enlightenment?
Believe in yourself, believe in what you do, have joy in your life and give joy.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT CON HUNLEY AND TO PURCHASE HIS BRAND NEW ALBUM “LOST AND FOUND:THE MCA/CAPITOL YEARS” GO TO: