Country crooner T.G. Sheppard has served as best man only once before, but Saturday on Valentine's Day he gets to be the best man for 35 bridegrooms in a massive Las Vegas wedding ceremony.
"The only time I've been a best man before was for my brother," he said in a telephone interview from his Knoxville, Tenn. home.
To promote Mr. Sheppard's first single for MSH/Outwest Records, She's Getting The Rock, 35 couples were chosen as radio contest winners from across the nation. They will be flown to the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas for a three-day plunge into matrimony.
One bride will receive her own nice "rock," a diamond wedding ring worth $5,000.
Beside participating in the weddings, Mr. Sheppard also will spend the weekend performing at the Showboat Hotel in Las Vegas.
Stage performing is nothing new to Mr. Sheppard, but he is a bit rusty on recording, having been away from the studios for a decade.
Mr. Sheppard was hot on the charts in the 1970s and early 80s, earning 10 consecutive No. 1 songs.
His first hit, Devil In The Bottle from 1974, was followed by such big sellers as Finally, Party Time, Only One You, I Loved 'Em Everyone, Faking Love (a duet with Karen Brooks), Do You Wanna Go To Heaven? and I'll Be Coming Back For More.
His '80s hit War Is Hell On The Home Front, Too, about a young man bringing comfort to a lonely woman whose husband is away at war, was the forerunner of Garth Brooks' similar lonely wheat-farm story song, That Summer.
After his great 1985 hit ballad, (She Must Have A) Strong Heart, and 1986 hit, One For The Money, Mr. Sheppard stopped recording.
"I left the record industry 10 years ago by choice," Mr. Sheppard related. "I felt that I didn't have a lot to say with my music, and the country industry was changing to a more traditional sound with Randy Travis and Alan Jackson. I feel now is a good time to do another album, and I have something to say."
What Mr. Sheppard has to say is contained in the 12 songs on his new album, Nothin' On But The Radio. It is his 33rd release.
Longtime fans from the Sheppard flock will find his voice changed a great deal, with a lower range. One of the best songs is All Over Town. One of the most surprising is a remake of the old Hollies hit Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress.
Both also are among Mr. Sheppard's favorite songs on his new album.
The inclusion of Long Cool Woman is a good example of how far the business has changed since Mr. Sheppard last recorded. Band members started kicking the song around during a recording break, and it started clicking so good they began tracking the lyrics down.
They got the lyrics off the Internet, a technology that wasn't even in popular use when Mr. Sheppard last recorded. The song also was recorded for a compact disc, another technology rarely in use when Mr. Sheppard last recorded cassettes and vinyl 33 1/3 rpm albums.
"One of the most beautiful things about country music today is that the recording technology itself has so moved forward to where there are few bad records anymore," he said.
It's not to say the past 10 years haven't been fulfilling or busy for Mr. Sheppard.
In 1988, he opened up his 160-year-old log home atop Moon Mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains near Knoxville as a bed and breakfast retreat.
"I sold that when my aunt and uncle retired," he said. "They were running it. I also got married again about that time. We didn't need an 8,000-square- foot house with 10 bathrooms for just two people and two dogs."
For two years, Mr. Sheppard also owned his own theater in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., but recently sold it for Country Tonight, a show out of Branson, Mo.
"My theater was an incredible thing," he recalled of the place where he performed exclusively for eight months in 1995 and 1996. "We videotaped every show and recorded a live album there that I hope to release later this year."
Mr. Sheppard crossed paths in Pigeon Forge with his longtime friend, Dolly Parton, who owns Dollywood and other business ventures in the area.
Back in the early '70s, Mr. Sheppard was going by his real name, Bill Browder, and was on the promotional staff of RCA Records pushing singles and albums of RCA artists, including Miss Parton.
"We still remain in contact," Mr. Sheppard said. "Dolly is one of the few people in this business who is still so real and genuine. She wears her success very well."
Those who know him would say the same for Mr. Sheppard, who fortunately for his fans is back in the game of making records instead of just listening to them.
THOMPSON DATES CHANGED: Jay Barron, manager for The Thompson Brothers band, called to say the trio's shows at The Country Rock Cafe, 1720 Commerce Highway, in Athens, Ga., have been changed from 10 p.m. on Friday, March 6, and Saturday, March 7, to the next weekend, March 13-14. Call (706) 369-7625. He also said the taping of The Thompson Brothers' music video for Back On The Farm went extremely well in Los Angeles and should be out soon.
To hear part of All Over Town from T.G. Sheppard's album Nothin' On But The Radio, call INFOLINE at 442-4444 and press 8104. Out of the local dialing area, readers can access the line by first dialing area code 803.
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