Interview with T. G. Sheppard – By David Meade
Classic Country Legend T. G. Sheppard has been in the music business for more than 50 years. During that time he went from being a fan of many of the country music greats, to working with and becoming friends with them.
Leaving his home in Humboldt, Tennessee, at the age of 15, he went to Memphis to begin his career. He became friends with Elvis. He started as a performer, then became a successful record promotion executive with the ability to pick a hit song and promote it.
But Sheppard kept thinking of his own career in music, which led him back to being a singer/entertainer, eventually having 21 number one hits.
Using the name Brian Stacy, he released his first record, “High School Days”, which was on the pop charts in 1966 and led to being an opening act for some of the biggest acts in America at the time.
At about this time he also went back to his given name of Bill Browder and became one of the industry’s most successful record promoters.
He knew Bobby David’s “Devil In The Bottle” could be a hit, but after being turned down by eight record labels in 18 months, Sheppard decided to record the song himself in 1974.
Heading to Nashville, he was signed to the R&B label Mowtown as it was trying to establish a presence in country music.
Sheppard formed a close personal and professional relationship with Elvis Presley and Elvis gave him his first tour bus in 1976.
During his first year on the road he scored numerous hits with the Motown imprints of Melodyland and Hitsville, including “Trying To Beat The Morning Home” and “When Can We Do This Again”.
Named “Best New Male Artist” in 1976 by CASH BOX, T.G. signed with Warner Bros. when Motown decided to get out of country music.
He had 14 consecutive number one songs, including such classics as “Only One You”, “Party Time”, and “War Is Hell (On The Homefront)”. In 1982, following this impressive “debut”, T.G. was honored as Music City News “Most Promising Male Vocalist”.
In 1985, T.G. signed with Columbia Records, where he again found himself at the top of the charts with songs like “Fooled Around And Fell In Love”, “Strong Heart”, and “One For The Money”.
Since then he took some time off and has recently begun performing again.
The Journal interviews T. G. Sheppard
Question – After 50 years in the music business and taking some time off, what is it like to be back on the road doing shows?
“I’m out there every week,” the country legend said. “I’m a weekend warrior.”
Sheppard said he is performing at theaters, fairs and festivals, is on the phone or the bus, doing benefits in Nashville, and performing at the Grand Ole Opry.
“I’m living the dream after 40 years,” he said.
You have been a songwriter and promoter with a string of number one songs. Are you still writing songs?
“I’ve written number one songs,” Sheppard said. “Not so much anymore. There is such an influx of great writers and great songs, such great songwriters. I do want to record a great song, no matter where it comes from.”
“I’ve known the feeling of writing number one songs. Now I’m an entertainer and performer, more of a singer than a song writer. I’ve had 40 years on the radio,” he said.
Do you play guitar?
“I never was a musician,” he said. “I got into the record business as a record promotion executive. It prepared me a lot for what I’m doing now. It helped me learn how to promote my own records.”
There are so many different ways for people to listen to music now, MP3, ITunes, internet downloads. How is it different now than back in the day?
“I miss the days of vinyl. I miss taking a record out of the sleeve and putting the needle on. Everything has to change in life,” he said. “Technology has to change.”
On that change –
“Being able to download a particular song instead of a whole album has been good and social media has enabled artists to meet masses of audience, through facebook and instagram.”
“You can do it instantly now, with the push of a button,” Sheppard said. “Before it took months. People like Taylor Swift , it made her career. I wish we had social media,” he said. “It would have been great to reach so many people instantly.”
On performing and recording with most of the classic country legends –
“Anytime you get a chance to record with your mentors, it is frosting on the cake,” Sheppard said.
“It is a feeling of accomplishment. I have accomplished something. I have arrived. When sharing the stage with one of your mentors, someone you have been a huge fan for years, and then to become a friend, have a relationship with, to become a friend rather than as a fan.”
“I really am very blessed to be able to record with these people and be able to call them a friend.”
Some of those he most recently recorded with include Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, Kelly Lang, Ricky Skaggs, The Oak Ridge Boys, Lorrie Morgan, Crystal Gayle, Mickey Gilley, and others.
“Being able to come full circle and enjoy it now more that when I first started out.”
On being friends with Elvis –
“Growing up as a kid who didn’t love Elvis?”
“I told my mom as a kid, one day I will meet Elvis and he will become my friend. It is going to happen.”
“ I met him and he brought me under his wing, at age 15 he befriended me. It was an incredible friendship.”
“He bought my first tour bus,” Sheppard said. “It really and truly gave me the confidence to really go forward and make my mark. If Elvis believes in me enough to give me a tour bus, maybe I do have something. It was an incredible time, to be able to meet him and become a friend.”
On changing his name –
“I was working as a record executive with RCA/Victor Records. Working as a record promo rep and motown was getting into country,” he said. “I can’t record under my real name while drawing a check from RCA and Motown. It would be a conflict of interest, so I better pick a name where no one knows my name.
“I like Sheppard and T. G. sounded good so I put out the record and never looked back.”
“I had two number one records before anyone knew T. G. Sheppard was Bill Browder.”
Did you work with or perform with any of the Motown artists while on the label?
Sheppard said he became friends with and worked with some of the artists on the label at the time. He had a changed to be around a lot of the Mowtown artists.
He said he is still good friends with Lionel Richey and has stayed friends with him more than anyone else. Also with Diana Ross. He had several songs in her movies.
Sheppard said he was also friends with Michael Jackson and did a TV show with him. He is still friends with Smokey Robinson.
On wearing cowboy hats –
“I still wear (a cowboy hat) when I’m working somewhere or doing a show somewhere out west, or in a barn,” he said “It was kind of a fad at the time, I kinda quit wearing them. When outside or playing under hot lights at night I would take my hat off to wipe the sweat from my brow. After a while I quit wearing them. I still wear one occassionally.”
On performing at the Spring Water Festival –
“I am blessed to be able to do what I do. I hope everyone will come out and see us at the show.”
Sheppard will be doing a meet and greet and signing autographs after his show Saturday in Williamston.