Jules, you had success in Canada at an early age. Can you tell us how all that came to be?
It’s funny, when I recorded my first tracks back in the early 1980’s I had no intention of releasing a record or becoming a star. I really just wanted a keepsake of my voice on tape. I was enjoying performing in the area with my great friend and mentor, Billy Drouillard, and never dreamed of having hit records and performing on the Tommy Hunter Show or moving to Nashville. Then I saw an ad in a magazine called Country Music News. It was for the Mercey Brothers studios. I called and spoke with Larry Mercey, who was eventually nominated for Best Country Male Vocalist at the Juno Awards in 1991 and 1993, and drove up to Elmira, Ontario, to meet with him. Short story is, I recorded two songs, which ended up being my two Canadian hits, at a top studio in Toronto called Eastern Sound where Gordon Lightfoot recorded his albums. After we mixed those tracks Larry suggested, and very strongly I might add, that we get those songs out to radio. It wasn’t long before he released “A Place in the Shade” on his MBS (Mercey Brothers Studios) label and big radio stations like London’s BX93 were adding it and quickly putting the record in heavy rotation. Within a month I had a top-5 hit. A few months after that we released “Two Hearts in a Lonely State of Mind” and that song hit the top-3 spot.
You were invited to perform on the iconic Tommy Hunter Show in 1986. Tell us what that experience was like?
The Tommy Hunter Show was on air for 32 years in Canada and was syndicated on the American cable giant, The Nashville Network (TNN). Artists like Garth Brooks, The Judds and Shania Twain and many of country music’s giants did that show so it was quite an honour for me to be asked. Tommy is known as “Canada’s Country Gentleman” and for good reason. He was very kind to me as the ‘new kid on the block’ and his band did a fabulous job backing me up on “A Place in the Shade.” You can see a video of that performance on my site: http://legacy.julesonline.com/the-performances/
What was great about that exposure is that it led to things like my appearance on Opry North which was a live, national radio show and an invitation from the Johnson Sisters to perform at Fan Fair in Nashville, which I did in 1986. The Johnson Sisters were country music promoters back in the day and were known for founding the first Loretta Lynn fan club in 1963. I eventually met Loretta at the Grand Ole Opry because of them and my appearance at Fan Fair.
You moved to Nashville right after the success of your first two records and were able to network you way up to the top of the music food chain very quickly. How did that happen, Jules?
I was very determined to get known in Music City and eventually get a major label deal. One of the first people I hooked up with was J. Martin Johnson who had written some hit songs and who I ended up writing with. Jimmy introduced me to one of the founding members of the Grammy Award winning Amazing Rhythm Aces, Barry Byrd Burton, who wanted to produce some tracks on me. See, when I was recording my first songs in Toronto I met Gordon Lightfoot who advised me to keep recording and putting out fresh songs every few months, so I soon found myself in studios in Nashville recording with Byrd. It was this group of new songs along with “A Place in the Shade” and “Two Hearts in a Lonely State of Mind” that comprised my first album called “Jules.”
Before I lived in my condo in Nashville I stayed at a hotel called The Hermitage. It was on the property of the historic site that was once the home of President Andrew Jackson. I pulled into the parking lot one day to find the guy who wrote the hit, “From the Bar Room to the Bedroom” for Eddie Eastman, waiting to meet me. Gilles Godard had heard my records and wanted to sign me to his RCA-distributed label, Bookshop Records, which I eventually signed with for Canada. Gilles, who had four Juno nominations and many awards, came with a large network of well-established music friends and I was introduced to people like House of David studio owner and Elvis’ piano man, David Briggs. David had a special underground studio entrance made just for Elvis because fans would somehow hear he was recording there and would swamp the area. He also built special sleeping quarters for “The King” on the top floor. The last songs I recorded in Nashville were done at David’s studio. I also got to know and hang out with Manuel Cuevas who was the main image guy in Nashville at the time. Manuel designed clothing for the Beatles and Rolling Stones and was the guy who put Elvis into a jumpsuit prior to moving to Nashville in 1991. Anyhow, if Manuel liked you, you got an invitation to an open house at his hacienda on the outskirts of Nashville on a given Sunday. If he really liked you that invitation was extended to every Sunday. At one of those star-filled gatherings I met Trisha Yearwood who was then the face of Revlon as well as many other stars. I even jammed in Manuel’s living room with the then up and coming group, The Mavericks. I met Garth Brooks and many other stars and star-makers as well while living there and have too many fond memories to even mention.
Jules, you worked with many of Nashville’s premier studio musicians. What was that experience like?
Well, as a musician myself, I’ve always appreciated the great gift musicians are blessed with and bring to the world. We are perhaps the most misunderstood people on the planet. My experience working with the top musicians who played for so many of the biggest country music artists was always nothing short of awesome, and humbling. To a talent, they were not only brilliantly creative, but totally giving. I’ll never forget those last sessions at the House of David, playing the raw songs on my guitar for them and how they loved the tunes and although they had music charts to guide them, just discussing how to capture the feel I wanted before they even laid eyes on those charts. Then, when they started running down each song, the back and forth and give and take during the sessions. I remember they went into overtime during the last session and declined extra payment. This is the great thing about artists. It’s never work when you love what you do and these guys certainly loved what they did. And I believe that love shines through on my new release, Legacy, which contains those last Nashville sessions.
You didn’t really know Rick Beneteau in1992 when you contacted him. Explain why you got in touch with him?
That’s right, I didn’t know Rick personally. I just knew of him as a songwriter who was making solid inroads in the pop music world in the U.S. I had come home from Nashville in 1992 and was pretty frustrated. I mean I had planted myself well within the music community down there but still hadn’t got a label deal. While I was enjoying my success in Canada he had sent me some of his songs. I never replied or even got to thank him for that until I called him six years later suggesting we get together. We both knew after that meeting that we would be working together to try and get that deal. He was in the throes of an ugly divorce and during our second meeting his lawyer called and informed him that he was going to be served with papers that would remove him from his home which contained his recording studio. Although we both knew we were destined to become great friends, it was at that second meeting after only knowing him for a few hours that I informed him he was coming to live with me and my beautiful wife, Maggie. He somehow knew that was the right move and we began writing songs and making a basic plan to return to Nashville to record them and get that elusive record deal.
How did you get to meet Harlan Howard?
Great story. One of the restaurants Maggie and I (and Rick, later on) used to frequent was called Nicoletta’s. We were having lunch one day near the end of my stay in Nashville and I spotted Harlan, who in my opinion was one of the greatest songwriters ever having written standards like “I Fall to Pieces”, having a drink at the bar. I’ll never forget walking up to him and saying, “Harland Howard!” and he replied, “And who have I got?” I told him my name and he came back with, “I know who you are.” In true Nashville form I let him know I had a cassette with the five songs Rick and I had just recorded at the House of David and he agreed to listen. He told me to meet him back at Nicoletta’s in a week. He then led me out to his Cadillac and played me some songs of his that he thought would be good for Canadian star, Michelle Wright, who I knew. I don’t recall what I said after listening but this I’ll never forget him emphatically stating, “They’ll eat you up and spit you out.” When I replied, “They’ve already done that to me a couple of times.” He closed the conversation with, “What, are you a slow learner?” It was at our second meeting the next week, after hearing my five songs that he told me the brutal truth about Nashville, “Kid, you’ve got a big heart and three top-10 records here, but they’re never going to sign you in this town.”
Jules, you must have realized at this point that you weren’t going to get a major label deal in Nashville. Can you tell us why you think a proven Canadian talent with ‘top-10 records’ as Harlan had said wasn’t enough to get you a deal? And, did you see this as a failure?
That’s a great but loaded question. Harlan’s “slow learner” comment will play into my answer here. What I eventually learned was something that remains true to this very day. There was and always will be no shortage of good singers out there trying to get record deals. What there is a shortage of is good singers with multi-million dollar investment packages. Money that eliminates the risk the record labels would have to take signing a new artist. It’s the same deal for entities like NASCAR. There are plenty of great race car drivers but only those who bring major sponsorship with them get to race in the big leagues. Add to that Nashville wasn’t really smiling on Canadian artists at the time, and you get the picture. Although I brought everything to the table that got me instant success in my own country I didn’t bring an investment package to seal the deal in Nashville. Failure is a pretty finite word and although an objective of mine was never fully realized I didn’t fail. I was disheartened for sure. I also knew on a higher level I was now going to devote the rest of my life and God-given gifts to making peoples’ lives better although I didn’t know what that looked like at the time.
You are indeed living that life of higher service. Jules, tell us about the past two decades helping families in your community at the worst possible times of their lives – at the death of a loved one.
After having shared the gift of music with families at thousands of funerals, or ‘celebrations of life’ as I like to call them, I remain more humbled than ever about the positive impact it makes in the lives of grieving families. Every once in a while Maggie and I file the letters and emails received and more often than not, they bring me to tears. What I know now is that any record deal I may have gotten would pale in comparison to the love that has been expressed in those messages. To see someone many years after being with them at a service, it is most heart-warming to hear they remember the exact songs that were played and often that is all they remember from the service. I’ve done services for famous hockey players, champion boxers, a trophy winning NASCAR mechanic, the first police constable murdered in the line duty in Windsor, Ontario at which 7,000 thousand members of nationwide services attended where the service was broadcasted across the country, and it has been such an unexplainably spiritual journey that words fail me. To try to explain the impact of sitting across from the mother and father of a 6 year old twin girl who was suddenly taken and her sister staring back at me for any kind of hope would leave an indelible mark on any human heart. To try to bring 25 years of life altering experiences out in words escapes me.
You didn’t stop writing and recording music the past 20 years. Tell us about that music.
That’s right. I recorded four spiritual CD’s. Two of my own songs called His Call and His Will and two with some of the world’s most loved hymns. I also recorded a “live off the floor” CD of love songs called Rendezvous and some of my personal favorite songs are on that CD. My great friend, Billy, who I mentioned at the beginning of this interview, wrote some great songs for this record. And Rick was present on some of those projects engineering the sessions.
About 12 years ago you performed at the Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral in California. That must have been quite an honor. Tell us how that performance came about?
It was an honor indeed and my good friend, the late Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, was the catalyst for that. Charlie and I had become friends after meeting him in Windsor at one of his talks to raise funds for our hospice. Tom Lavin, a hometown realtor, had made this possible. After that meeting, I began to think about networking with Charlie, and in thinking so I decided to record a second spiritual album and include some of Charlie’s lyrical thoughts. When I presented this, he said, “Wow, you’re going to make me a songwriter?” Shortly thereafter, Maggie and I travelled to Harrisburg PA to visit with Charlie and his wife Gloria. Without my knowing, Charlie submitted both spiritual albums to Reverend Schuller and I was invited to Garden Grove to sing.
Tell us how you teamed up with the Windsor Firefighters and are heavily involved in supporting ‘Sparky’s Toy Drive’ this year.
It’s really cool how this all came to be. Rick and I had just got our Legacy CD put together when the idea my beautiful wife, Maggie, had for many years, finally made sense because of modern day technology. In September of this year, Rick spent a few days with me in my home on the Puce River and we recorded 24 of the world’s most beloved Christmas songs. The CD is called The Peace of Christmas. As Rick had founded what was the Internet’s very first online toy drive in 2001 working directly with the Vice President of the U.S. Marine’s Toys for Tots charity, and had NFL superstar Drew Bledsoe as his sponsor for a decade, his wheels were already spinning. He suggested we tie into Sparky’s Toy Drive to make sure every child in these parts would get at least one toy to open up on Christmas morning. Of course, I was all over this idea and now we’re hunkered down with the dedicated people behind this awesome charity and donating $5.00 for every CD sold to make that goal a reality. I’ll be attending this year’s Chilifest, on November 13th, signing CD’s and handing Sparky many crisp $5.00 bills. I’d also like to mention that I’m offering great package prices on CD’s for businesses in this area so they can include The Peace of Christmas with their employee bonuses and I’ll be donating 25% of those proceeds to the toy drive. I’m expecting the allotment of CD’s I ordered for this purpose to run out pretty fast so I’d suggest that if any businesses out there are interested to contact me right away via my website at http://legacy.julesonline.com/contact/ or call my toll-free line at 1-888-447-9455.
Jules, is there anything you’d like to add before we wrap things up?
Sure. I’ve thought a lot more about certain things ever since Rick and I started working together again. Although many might say that not getting a record deal in Nashville was a dream that never came true, that might be accurate on one level. But on another and more important level, I discovered that sometimes what appears to be the biggest setback in your life can serve as the awakening to a higher calling. That was certainly true in my life as I am living what I feel is my highest purpose today. I’ve even started writing my own quotations as Rick has done for years. One of those is “Currency achieved cannot ever compare to the legacy you leave.” Of course, after hearing Rick’s spoken-word Legacy You Leave, and deciding that should be the closing piece on Legacy, you’ll also see why I called my new album by that title. I think one of Rick’s quotations would be appropriate as my closing thought for this interview: “If you have a song in your heart it’s your duty to have the world hear it.”
©2015 Jules Gouin and Rick Beneteau. All rights reserved.