Success: Hard work pays off for Angie Russell
Remember that kid from Coalmont?
Shakamak graduate just landed a songwriting contract with a major
By Mark Bennett
Bob Burris had no idea his daughter
Yet, there was Angie, just a second-grader, walking up to the
microphone alone at the school Christmas program. And then he
heard her voice. Sitting with his wife Beverly amid all the other
parents, Bob was stunned.
"I was just blown away," he recalls. "She just
absolutely stole the show with that voice of hers."
Music had entered Angie's life for good.
Last week, that musical life got really good. That sweet-voiced
girl from Coalmont is now a fortysomething songwriter in Nashville,
Tenn. And Angie Russell, her name now, just signed a contract
with the successful publishing company Corlew Music Group.
"It's everything I've ever dreamed of," Russell says
of the deal. "This is where the big dogs play. I'm so excited,
I haven't slept for two days."
That's understandable. Corlew is a hot Nashville talent source,
freshly re-launched by former Academy of Country Music President
David Corlew. Already, its stable of songwriters has produced
the current No. 1 hit on the country charts - "Something
To Be Proud Of" by Montgomery Gentry - as well as tunes
on the latest albums by country stars Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley
and Craig Morgan. When "Something To Be Proud Of" reached
No. 1, Corlew said in a news release that also announced Russell's
signing, "Keep on the lookout, we have plenty more songs
where those came from."
And Russell may be the source of those future hits.
When she learned Corlew was looking for another songwriter, Russell
sent him CDs of two of her songs, performed by singer Joanna
Cotten. He listened to them in his car. Corlew reacted almost
like Bob Burris did at Angie's second-grade solo.
"He said, 'I had to pull off the road when I heard "Keep
My Faith" and "I'll Be The Wind.'' And he said, "We've
got to talk,"" Russell says of their first conversation.
Stars on 'Cowboy Bob'
Landing that songwriting contract was no overnight success story.
Her music career began soon after that Christmas program back
in Coalmont. Angie and her sisters Kim and Carrie, and their
multitalented brother Joe, formed an act called The Burris Family.
"I was the short, little blonde," Angie says.
Their musical ability, Bob insists, comes from Beverly, who can
"hit a high C that'll make the windows rattle." She
still gives piano and singing lessons in Dugger, where they run
Flowers and Gifts By Burris and Ward, a shop on Indiana 54. They've
been in the flower business since 1977.
Their venture into the music business, which began years earlier,
grew from humble seeds, too. Son Joe, who died in 1995, was just
5 when a Hank Williams TV show inspired him to tell his parents,
"That's what I want to be," Bob recalls.
So Beverly bought Joe a guitar, he taught himself to play, and
eventually the four kids were singing and playing instruments
together. Beverly called WTTV Channel 4 in Indianapolis to see
if they could audition for the "Cowboy Bob Show," a
children's variety program. The station agreed. But the auditions
were at a bar near an Indy shopping area.
Somehow, they made it inside to perform, backed by the house
band. And Angie, just 9 years old, was supposed to sing "Daddy
Was An Old-Time Preacher Man."
"But she said, 'Daddy, I can't sing a religious song in
a beer joint,'" Bob remembers. "So she did 'Rocky Top.'
And she just carried it off like she made the song herself."
The Burris Family became regulars on the "Cowboy Bob Show"
and fixtures on another popular Channel 4 program "They
K.Y. Curley Show." They'd continued to play summer festivals
and fairs around Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. "We played
for a lot of camper people," Bob says.
Angie went on to Shakamak High School and graduated in 1978.
By 22, she got a record development deal with Electra Asylum
Records. She kept writing songs, too, focusing on lyrics.
Eventually, her songs caught the
attention of publishers on Nashville's Music Row, and those showed
up on several Christian contemporary and country music albums
by John David Webster, Renee Austin, Clare Hyde and Linda Davis,
Davis chose "I Have Arrived" - a song Russell co-wrote
with Buffy Lawson and Eric Peterelli - as the title track of
her 2004 album. Its lyrics touched one well-known listener, paralyzed
actor Christopher Reeve. Just before he died on Oct. 11, 2004,
Reeve sent Davis a note, thanking her for recording such a powerful
song about surviving the trials of life without letting spirits
Now, in turn, Davis thanks Russell.
"Obviously, I have been lucky to have recorded a song that
can change hearts and lives," Davis tells the Tribune-Star.
"I've witnessed the sincere way this lyric moves people.
My voice is just the vehicle to share this message of hope."
The song begins with this passage
"For so many years, I've tasted tears, prayed for all the
pain to go away, and leave me alone. All that time, I was unaware
that love was all around me everywhere, but somehow I did not
know. And I've learned to live with things that I cannot change.
It took me so long to get to this place."
Russell got to this place, Nashville, 10 years ago. She writes
songs from her home there, where she and her husband - contractor
Jeff Commons - live. Russell's two grown daughters live in Nashville
also. Stephanie is a cosmetologist. Ashley owns Amax Talent and
has appeared in country music videos for Keith Anderson ("Pickin'
Wildflowers") and Alan Jackson ("That'd Be All Right"),
Indeed, music continues to run in Angie's family. Her nephews
- Kentz Ward and A.J. Boone - perform in Dugger-based rock band
Philpot that has become popular in New York, Florida and the
"This is the advice I gave my nephews: This is a hard, hard
road. But if it's something you love, you've got to do it,"
Russell says. "And isn't that what we all want to be doing
- something we love?"
Russell decided to stop commuting from Indiana to Music Row a
decade ago, and moved to Nashville initially as a singer. Bob
Burris remembers a moment after Angie had cut some demos and
gotten some performing offers, "She said it was going to
tear her family up too much and said, 'Dad, I'm just not going
to do that.'"
Russell says she still sings, mostly on Nashville Writers' Nights.
But she's focused on songwriting. And she's learned a lot.
"I thought that was just the easiest thing in the world,
to write a song, get a cut [on an album] and boom, boom, boom,"
It doesn't come easy
In reality, "the competition is tough" for a Nashville
songwriter, Russell adds. And as for the difficulty of landing
a contract like the one she just signed, she says, "I think
the chances of winning the Indiana lottery are stronger."
And it's gotten tougher lately, she adds. While country music
remains popular in its traditional hotbeds, Russell explains,
"Our market shares have really dropped [elsewhere]. And
when our market shares drop, [publishers] start cutting back.
And instead of 80 writers at, say, EMI, you might have 20."
Still, she's anxious and ready to deliver her work for the Corlew
Group. She keeps a notepad and tape recorder with her to preserve
her ideas. One popped up when her husband was dealing with a
difficult home buyer. "And I said, 'Man, she gives you something
to drink about,'" Russell says. "And I said, 'Hey,
that's a great [song] hook.'"
She has co-written songs with Gary Duffey, (who also wrote the
country hit "Paint Me A Birmingham"), Johnny Neel and
Cotten, and even added some lyrical enhancements to songs by
pop star Sheryl Crow, whose sister Kathy is a close friend of
Russell. Meanwhile, Russell also says she's surprised by the
number of young Nashville writers.
"It's all about a story," she says. "And I don't
know if you really become a storyteller until you get a little
dust on your boots.
"There's been times the last few years, I wished I was still
arranging flowers at the flower shop [in Dugger]," Russell
continues, before her voice perks back up. "But I had a
dream in my heart, and I came here 10 years ago and I've toughed
it out. And I'm hoping the fruit of my labor is about to pay
Mark Bennett can be
reached by telephone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 6, Ext. 377, by
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