Gary Allan, Drake Milligan, EmiSunshine — Country producer Tony Brown is back in business
The stars are out tonight as former MCA Nashville President Tony Brown embarks on his next production.
Image Credit: Tony Brown’s official Facebook
The Tony Brown Interview, Part Six
What projects are occupying your calendar these days? Now that I’m not working at a record label [i.e. RCA, MCA Nashville, or Universal South], it’s become such a young man’s world. I’m starting all over again, which is fine with me. In the beginning I had no idea that you could make real money producing records. That finally happened when George Strait’s Pure Country soundtrack sold six million and Wynonna’s self-titled debut sold five [both albums were issued in 1992 on MCA Nashville when Brown was quickly rising through the ranks on his way to assume CEO duties]. Vince Gill’s I Still Believe in You, When Love Finds You, and the best-of Souvenirs [1992–1995] were certified between 3 and 5x platinum. A handful of my albums with Reba McEntire — Rumor Has It, For My Broken Heart, It’s Your Call, Read My Mind, and Greatest Hits Volume Two [1990–1994] — shifted similar units. I’ve always wanted to be known as a producer. If somebody stops me on the street and goes, “Hey, did you do that record on Reba? That’s my favorite record on the radio!” It makes you feel like a million bucks, even better than money.
EmiSunshine [Hamilton] is from East Tennessee [Madisonville] and entered my orbit in the summer of 2017. She sings with her family and is a prodigy. She writes all her own songs. She’s like two of my past collaborators — Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle — that Americana left-of-center kinda artist. She doesn’t fit in any box. All the labels have told me, “Emi is awesome, but I don’t know what she is.” Déjà vu — Lyle Lovett. I remember when I signed Lyle the head of RCA’s A&R said, “Who’s gonna play that?” I said, “Somebody will.” The three albums I produced for Lyle [his self-titled debut, Pontiac, and Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, 1986–1989] flew into the C&W Top 20, with the latter two accomplishing gold certification [500,000 units sold]. “Cowboy Man” was a Top Ten single. I produced Emi’s sixth studio album Family Wars [credited to EmiSunshine and the Rain, 2019] without the support of a major label. Her dad Randall plays bass, her brother John supplies mandolin, and her uncle Bobby Hill rounds out the band on drums. Since then I’ve gone in and cut four sides on just Emi. I tried to make those songs more mainstream until I realized, ‘I can’t do this. I’ve gotta let Emi be who she is because she’s authentic.’ So I told her, “You know what? I’m gonna wait until you turn 18 [Hamilton was born on June 8, 2004]. Then you’ll know what you wanna do. If being an Americana superstar such as Brandi Carlile or Jason Isbell is your bag, that’s a career. Or if you wanna move toward the center and be like Kacey Musgraves or Miranda Lambert, that’s cool, too. It’s your call.” Another reason I’m biding my time is because Emi is the breadwinner for her family. If I were to pull her out now, I wouldn’t feel right. Emi fires me up, and I’m so inspired by her [In the meantime Hamilton auditioned for American Idol in season 19 and advanced to the Top 64 Showstopper Round. She fell shy of joining the Top 24 and was eliminated in March 2021].
It’s pretty difficult to name a better producer-musician combo than Tony Brown and EmiSunshine. The left image is circa October 29, 2019, only 11 days after the distribution of EmiSunshine and the Rain’s 11-track “Family Wars” album spearheaded by Brown, while the quarantined COVID-19 mask shot derives from June 29, 2020. Both Image Credits: Tony Brown’s official Facebook
Did you see the CMT miniseries Sun Records ? Drake Milligan played the young Elvis. He tried out for American Idol [Milligan disclosed on Instagram that “after my audition I decided that I wasn’t quite ready for that platform yet, and that it would be a better step for me to move to Nashville and focus on my music first…”]. I sent Drake to a vocal coach and landed him a deal with Broken Bow / Stoney Creek Records in early 2018. We cut a record [Milligan’s debut self-titled EP, accented by five songs acknowledging Rascal Flatts-Sam Hunt songwriter Brandon Hood as co-producer, was delayed until July 2021. In the summer of 2022 he competed on America’s Got Talent]. Drake is perfect. He’s 24 years old and single from Texas. He looks like Elvis, but he writes songs like Strait. Drake is traditional like Jon Pardi, Ashley McBryde, Midland and Luke Combs. Luke, in spite of resembling a fat redneck, sings his butt off and writes great songs. I love the fact whenever traditional cycles come back in, which reminds me of Randy Travis, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, and Strait storming the airwaves during the ’80s.
Brown and Drake Milligan are joined by multiple Grammy-winning guitar slinger Vince Gill [in the black T-shirt with hands leaning on the chair] and two unidentified studio crew members in Nashville during the recording sessions for Milligan’s debut self-titled EP courtesy of Broken Bow / Stoney Creek Records. Comment below if you know their identities.
Both Image Credits: Tony Brown’s official Facebook
Mark Wright and I cut some of Gary Allan’s biggest records [e.g. “Right Where I Need to Be” from 1999’s Smoke Rings in the Dark and “The One” and “Man to Man” from 2001’s Alright Guy]. We went in and cut six more sides on Gary for his 10th studio album Ruthless [June 2021, MCA Nashville; Allan and Greg Droman churned out another half dozen, while Jay Joyce spearheaded a rendering of Jesse Winchester’s “Little Glass of Wine.” “Temptation” was dropped as a teaser a month prior to the LP’s launch, followed by lead A-side “Waste of a Whiskey Drink.” Demonstrating the label’s confidence in Brown’s proven hit streak, both bear his production credit]. I’ve got an act that actually has a record deal, a career, and a fan base [Allan]. Next, I have a brand new act poised to go mainstream like Drake. Last but not last, Emi is my left of center, artsy act. I’m back in business. I’m starting again, man. DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET! Tony Brown lent a helping hand to Lionel Richie on his career-reviving, all-star “Tuskegee” album in 2012. The duets-laden Nashville sessions sold over a million copies in the USA, by far the “American Idol” judge’s best showing since “Dancing on the Ceiling” almost 30 years earlier. The inside scoop is within reach below… Behind the scenes of Lionel Richie’s career-reviving ‘Tuskegee’ [PART SEVEN OF THE TONY BROWN INTERVIEW] Producer Tony Brown chews the fat about the killer country duets album that landed Richie on “American Idol” and sold… jeremylr.medium.com
The deluxe edition cover of Gary Allan’s third album “Smoke Rings in the Dark,” dropped on October 26, 1999. The first Allan LP to bear a Tony Brown production credit achieved platinum status. Photography by Tony Baker / Universal Music Group / Main Street Vinyl
Circa January 13, 2020, Tony Brown, with Gary Allan in the baseball cap directly behind him, cut “Temptation,” “Waste of a Whiskey Drink,” “Slide,” “SEX,” “Trouble Knows Trouble,” and “Ruthless,” the six songs that completed Allan’s 10th studio LP “Ruthless.” Image Credit: Tony Brown’s official Facebook
Drake Milligan and fellow Nashville singer-songwriter Justyna Kelley attend a pre-release party for his debut self-titled EP circa June 15, 2021, sponsored by Broken Bow Records. Milligan’s leather vest, white shirt, and blue jeans are a persuasive fashion statement. Image Credit: Justyna Kelley’s official Facebook
“He looks like Elvis, but he writes songs like Strait.” The arresting cover of the debut self-titled EP for Drake Milligan, dropped on July 23, 2021. The five-song tracklist, co-written by the rising Texas singer-songwriter, includes “Over Drinkin’ Under Thinkin’”, “Don’t Look Down,” “Kiss Goodbye All Night,” “She,” and “Sounds Like Somethin’ I’d Do” [in collaboration with frequent Brooks & Dunn hit tunesmith Terry McBride]. Photography by Jay Blakesberg / Broken Bow / Stoney Creek Records
Doghouse bassist Randall Hamilton, daughter-ukulelist Emilie Sunshine Hamilton, percussionist Bobby Hill, and son-mandolinist John Hamilton are EmiSunshine and the Rain. Presenting the retro-themed cover of “Family Wars,” co-produced by Tony Brown and EmiSunshine and unleashed independently on October 18, 2019. Image Credit: Amazon
“Sometimes it just feels good to sit down at the piano and play old gospel songs:” Tony Brown entered show biz as an accompanist for J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Elvis Presley. On June 22, 2020, Brown returns to his first love. Image Credit: Tony Brown’s official Facebook
Spunky nine-year-old EmiSunshine Hamilton from Madisonville, Tennessee, landed on NBC’s “Today Show” circa March 30, 2014, singing her original composition “Little Weeping Willow Tree” after a fan-shot video of her conveying Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel No. 6” went viral on YouTube.
Check out “The Ghost of Hank Williams,” a Tony Brown-produced song from EmiSunshine and the Rain’s 2019 album “Family Wars.”
On February 28, 2020, EmiSunshine and mentor Tony Brown sat down for an interview with the Coffee, Country, and Cody podcast broadcast from the renowned WSM Studios in Nashville.
Drake Milligan grants a video interview about his 2017–2018 interpretation of King of Rock ’n’ Roll Elvis Presley in the “Sun Records” CMT mini-series.
Catch Drake Milligan’s 2021 “American Idol” audition reel featuring George Strait’s “You Look So Good in Love,” also highlighting his previous co-starring turn in the 2017–2018 miniseries “Sun Records” on CMT.
See the official music video for “Waste of a Whiskey Drink,” produced by Tony Brown and Mark Wright and distributed as the title cut of Gary Allan’s 2021 MCA Nashville album.
The official audio video for “Temptation,” produced by Tony Brown and Mark Wright and distributed on Gary Allan’s 2021 “Ruthless” album.
In 2020 Tony Brown reunited with Reba McEntire to produce “Somehow You Do,” a Diane Warren-penned power ballad showcased in the drama “Four Good Days” starring Glenn Close and Mila Kunis. Check out McEntire’s official video.