She never dreamed that she would get to actually see the star-spangled event.
Hearn had staked out a place along the rope line lining the red carpet, down which walked such stars as Toby Keith, members of “Alabama,” Mel Tillis, Doug Stone and John Berry. A huge crowd had gathered to watch these stars and other celebrities arrive to pay tribute to Haralson County native and Nashville country producer Harold Shedd.
The stars arrived at intervals, and to fill the time an emcee entertained the crowd with jokes and frequent distributions of T-shirts, coffee mugs and other souvenirs. None in the crowd had any hope of actually getting into the venue; the event had long since been sold out.
But when two guests had to cancel at the last minute, their tickets were suddenly up for grabs, almost literally. To decide who in the crowd should get them, the emcee first staged an impromptu line-dancing contest for one of the tickets, which was won by a little girl in the crowd. It was this little girl who got to choose which of the now-begging and pleading fans would win the second ticket – and it was Hearn who took the prize.
She was, to say the least, excited.
“Lord, I don’t even know what to say,” she said afterwards. “I’m just so proud. I love it, I love it, I LOVE it!”
By universal acclaim, last week’s event was the “biggest thing” ever to happen in Bremen. The concert was the capstone to a day-long series of events honoring Shedd, a one-time radio station owner who went on to launch the careers of “Alabama” and Keith, as well as play an important role in the careers of dozens of other performers.
Earlier, the section of U.S. 27 that passes through Haralson County was renamed the Harold Shedd Highway. Also, it was announced that the City of Bremen will partner with Mill Town to host a gallery of music industry memorabilia from Shedd, which will be located inside the 1,000-seat venue.
The event also raised funds to support a Music Business scholarship at Kennesaw State University and for the Tanner Medical Foundation’s Music Therapy Program.
For his part, Shedd described the emotional impact of the day as “better than a record deal.”
“I’m so happy to be part of it,” he said. “It’s a little bit overpowering. I never expected anything like this for just a hillbilly’s career. I’m happy to be here; it’s good to be back home.”
The arrival of Toby Keith was a surprise to the fans waiting outside the venue, who greeted him with very loud cheers and applause. Another surprise was to have been Billy Ray Cyrus, whose musical career was also launched by Shedd, but promoters said Cyrus was forced to cancel at the last minute due to travel complications.
The concert was headlined by an almost-reunion of the band “Alabama.” Founding member and lead guitarist Jeff Cook was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict. “Alabama” guitarist and vocalist Teddy Gentry also brought along his Rockit City band, which served as house band for the evening, backing up the other performers.
One of the standout performances of the evening was music legend Mel Tillis, who promoters said had not planned to perform at all, but who was persuaded to do so at the last minute.
Cyrus’ missing spot on the performance list was filled by songwriter and singer Don Von Tress, who wrote “Achy Breaky Heart,” the song that, in 1992, propelled Cyrus to superstardom.
Shedd’s partnership with “Alabama” both established his place in the Nashville music scene and launched the band on the path to greatness. During their association with Shedd, the band charted a remarkable 21 consecutive No. 1 hits.
“Harold’s a great guy; he’s a diamond in the rough,” said Gentry, who, along with his cousin Randy Owen and Cook, formed the band. “He’s a real laid-back guy; that’s his approach, and he was great for ‘Alabama.’”
Billboard Magazine reports that “Alabama” has sold more than 73 million records to date, and credits the group with more than 30 No. 1 country records, including the hits made with Shedd as producer.
Toby Keith had all but given up on a recording career, and had resigned himself to the honky tonk circuit in the early 1990s, when a friend passed along one of his demo tapes to Shedd. Impressed by what he heard, Shedd flew out to where Keith was performing and signed to former oil-field worker with Mercury Records.
“He’s more than a producer,” Keith said Thursday. “The reason there are so many artists here for this, (Shedd) was at a fork in our career. He fought for us. He always made sure that he fought (“The Suits”) for the music and stuff, and we remember it.”
Keith said that Shedd opened “the very first door” for him in the industry and that Shedd was the “foundation” of his whole career. “I could have stayed in anonymity forever in Oklahoma; thank God he showed up when he did.” Keith added that if Thursday’s event had been “just me and him and a phone booth, I would have been here.”
The event was organized by Bremen contractor Randall Redding, a longtime friend of Shedd’s who also opened Mill Town Music Hall.
“It means a lot for the community because of all that Harold has done for Country Music,” Redding said. “He’s made us all proud as a Bremenite. He’s never forgot where he came from. He loves the people of Haralson County and Bremen, and this is a way for us to bring Nashville here. He’s been up there, but this is Nashville in Bremen tonight.”
Local radio personality Warren “Rhubarb” Jones, also a longtime friend and Tallapoosa native, said Thursday’s event was “something that’s long overdue.”
“Harold Shedd has helped sell 300 million records; that is a marvelous number. If you sell 3 million that’s tremendous, but 300 million is phenomenal,” said Jones, who was host and emcee for the concert. “He was one of the most successful people on (Nashville’s) Music Row, but he’s always treated me like a first cousin, and I love him and I love his whole family.”
The red carpet walk was emceed by Orlando entertainer Carl Graddy, who greeted the other performers and got them to speak a few words to the crowd.
Doug Stone, of Newnan, who has charted 22 singles on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs, and who has one certified platinum album and two certified gold albums, said the event reminded him “of L.A.”
“This is L.A. in Bremen; that’s not ‘Lower Alabama,’ either,” he said. “I think it’s really cool. (Shedd) deserves all the accolades everybody can give him. He’s done so much with his life (and) for Country Music, so it’s just wonderful.”
John Berry, of Watkinsville, Ga., also has one platinum album and two gold albums on his resume, and has charted 19 titles on the Hot Country Song chart, including one No. 1 single.
“This is awesome. I really appreciate everybody coming out to support the show and (show) love for Harold, this is great,” said Berry, who also plugged his Christmas show at Mill Town and surprised his wife, Robin, with an a cappella version of “happy birthday.”
Others who walked down the red carpet Thursday were performer and Country Music songwriting legend Mel Tillis; Mitchell Fox, manager for The Kentucky Headhunters; Tallapoosa musician Harold McWhorter; Sacred Harp music legend Hugh McGraw; and Barry Switzer, one of only two head coaches to win both a college football national championship (Oklahoma, 1974, 75 and 85) and a Super Bowl (Dallas Cowboys, 1996).
Local celebrities to walk the carpet included Bremen Mayor Sharon Sewell; Haralson County Commission Chairman Allen Poole and commissioners Sammy Robinson and Jamie Bennett; U.S. Representative Lynn Westmoreland (R-Coweta County); and a host of Georgia legislators from across west Georgia and beyond.
Shedd was born in Haralson County and graduated from Buchanan High School in 1950. He played with a number of area bands until a radio job took him to Alabama. That led him eventually back to Haralson County, where he got a job as a DJ at what was then called WWCC (now WGMI.) He soon bought the station and honed his craft as a producer by using meager resources to create ads and jingles with professional-grade polish.
In 1972, Shedd sold the station and left for Nashville, where he and partners continued the same kind of production work, but on a larger scale. His career as a producer for country artists took off when he began working with a band called “Wildcountry,” which eventually became “Alabama.”
Shedd is credited with helping Reba McEntire break into stardom with the 1984 “New Traditionalism” album “My Kind of Country.” He was also instrumental in the careers of many other artists, including Glen Campbell, Shania Twain, Kathy Mattea and Louise Mandrell.