Designing Woman 

Terri Binion's weave of country and folk is well-suited for the rise in roots music;;Making it in the music business is as much about contacts and karma as it is about hard work and talent. Terri Binion is used to the work, has the talent and is picking up a few major-league contacts. The karma thing is all potential. Three out of four is not a bad thing when you start out on that long road to almost fame and semi-fortune.;;The potential for Binion to develop into a major songwriter, the kind that has people fighting to cover her tunes, is there. Just listen to her debut release on Shinola Records, "Leavin' This Town." It's all about wordplay wedded to melody, and bound together with a honeyed voice. If it had been released on a major label with a concerted push to give the album its due, then you'd be seeing her face all over lifestyle magazines and hearing her gorgeous songs on major market radio stations.;;Hearing one song, "Texas," was enough to impress Liberty DeVito, world-class percussionist and longtime drummer for Billy Joel, and "when I heard ‘And I Do' and ‘Nightingale,' I thought, 'This girl is really good,'" says DeVito. But that's getting ahead of the story.;;When Binion moved to Orlando in 1982 she joined the Disney Creative Costume Department, where she worked behind the scenes for seven years while honing her performing skills in area clubs and her writing skills at home. She recalls that she had been playing guitar since the age of 10, writing her own songs as early as age 11. "I lived out in the country and there was a little Baptist church down the road," she says. "It's hard to believe now, but my mom would let me walk down this road by myself as a 4-year-old." Absent music books around the house, when she at last did pick up an instrument, "just for quick inspiration I would open up the Bible and try to fit words from the Bible into a tempo." Today, she says, an overheard phrase may be all she needs to get started on a lyric. "A lot of the best ones come really quickly; it's just like a flood gate opens up." She adds of her songs, "They're really all very personal, but the trick is that they're not all broken-hearted love songs. People let you down in other ways, but as a songwriter you use those ideas as basic story lines to get you going." ;;It took her plenty of time to get going herself. As Central Florida became more of a magnet for the television and film industries, Binion struck out on her own as a freelance costume designer and supervisor. She also did some voiceover work on commercials, a less glamorous but generally more lucrative way of making money by singing. In the clubs, she sang the songs that people wanted to hear, but decided, "I just couldn't sit on a bar stool in a smoky bar and play those cover tunes any more." With no audience for the music that she wanted to play, she quit playing and writing for a long while. ;;The making of "Leavin' This Town" starts with Binion and John James, an area musician and studio owner who also had opted out of the active playing end of things -- in his case, for a career as an anesthesiologist.;;A 1991 trip to Europe led Binion to pick up her guitar again and return to writing. ("I was sad that I couldn't join folks on the streets who were playing guitar and singing songs," she says. "I just felt like a part of me was missing right then and there. I didn't have anything to share with them.") The result of that decision was a nine-song album which the friends recorded. Its sound fit right in with the burgeoning Americana radio format (a style heavy on folk and country- tinged stylings) but most of the tracks were propelled by digital percussion, not exactly the kind of thing one wants to hear in a roots-oriented idiom. Binion recalls that "we realized electronic drums were going to kill the record." It was then that James made a crucial, rather ballsy move to correct the problem.;;Liberty DeVito had just moved to the area from New York to escape the winters and was walking up the driveway to his home with a plate of ribs when James accosted him, slipping a tape of the album into DeVito's hands and urging him to give it a listen. Then came the pitch for DeVito to play drums on the tracks.;;According to Binion, DeVito "listened to it, went away on a (drum) clinic, came back to it and listened to it again. Liberty gave it to his wife to listen to. They both said, ‘Yeah, this is really good.' So he called John and we made an appointment to meet at the studio. We jammed and played and he agreed to play the drum track on ‘Texas.'";;He actually did more than that. DeVito is now president of the label the album is on, Shinola, and has taken what he calls the "cold Oriental plunge into the label thing." Familiar with the big-time performance aspect of the recording industry, DeVito is now learning the business of selling the music, which is where his decades of hobnobbing with label types comes in handy.;;Binion thinks that "Liberty is learning a lot about the business, going through this process with me and Shinola Records because he's never really had to ‘work it' like he's had to ‘work it' with this project. He always had the record company working it for him." Says DeVito, "You kind of try to save the people that you knew along the line (and choose when) you want to cash in all your favors. I thought with Terry this would be worth it.";;Binion, James and DeVito are all looking for that distribution deal that will put her music out into the marketplace. As DeVito says, "We would like to be leased by someone else. It's insane. It's just money going out at this point, but big labels don't want to know you unless you've sold twenty-five hundred copies of the CD. A company like Sony (Billy Joel's label) or somebody like that does not know how to break a new artist because they don't do artist development anymore. So private labels, independent labels have become the A&R (artist & repertoire) ears for the big labels.";;Shinola is already receiving queries from a few interested labels based on good reviews of Binion's album in The Gavin Report, an industry tip sheet. According to DeVito, one of the companies courting Shinola told him that "Leavin' This Town" was "almost too far ahead of the game. We're on 62 (radio) stations in the country and they said it's hard to take something back and then put it out again.";;One of those stations is New York City's WNEW, a longtime powerhouse in what is arguably the most important radio market in the country. While the station's overall format is geared towards classic rock, Vin Scelsa's Sunday night program "Idiot's Delight" is a free-form romp geared toward whatever Scelsa feels like playing that evening. He also posts the kind of ratings that make his program important to a developing artist like Binion.;;While hanging out at a New Jersey studio Scelsa happened to hear Binion's album being mastered and fell in love with it. This lead to him playing the album on his show, an invitation for Binion to appear at one of New York's legendary clubs, the Bottom Line, and a concert appearance on Scelsa's program -- evidence, says Bionion, that things for her are moving "miraculously fast.";;Getting airplay is crucial for sales and the future of the album, but so too is touring. If an artist playing the kind of stuff Binion creates isn't out there on the road, plugging their material in clubs and other venues, then you can just about kiss that recording career good-bye. Even as the folks at Shinola plan their marketing strategies to get "Leavin' This Town" onto the radio and in retail outlets, they aren't forgetting the concert component. As DeVito says, "There's a lot of gigs for her to do, it's just a matter of getting someone to set up a tour.";;Touring is something that Binion actually looks forward to, especially since she has a new iron in the fire. She says she's always enjoyed performing, though it always gives her the jitters "and I can't wait to get better at it as I tour." She adds, "There's an opportunity for me to try and make something happen with this player out of Johnson City, Tenn. His name's Ed Snodderly and he's on the Sugar Hill label with a group called the Brother Boys. Ed is a great songwriter, plays a lot of instruments and sings like an angel. If we make this happen it'll be a really good thing.";;One of her plans for the summer is to get a little road action going with Snodderly. "We may do a little tour together. He's toured around quite a bit so a lot of it would be based upon what venues he could get to hire us back, based upon his past business with them. If all goes as I have planned in my head, we'll hit a few gigs together." She's also heard from "major folk acts who just want to help me out," she says. "I think that there may be opportunities for me to open up for some pretty major artists.";;Binion knows it will be tough. "It's like going from where people cheer and yell and rave about you to going someplace where nobody really knows who you are. You're having to introduce yourself and talk about your music a little bit so you can brief 'em on it while trying to get a rapport with your audience so that they have a nice time, hoping that they at least knew enough to anticipate what sort of music you were going to play.";;This might give her a shot at checking out some of her own favorite places. "I love to walk into a store with a wooden floor and lots of acoustic instruments hanging on the walls that aren't just new but have been played for many years (with) an array of mandolins and fiddles and dobros and dulcimers and guitars of all sorts. I love that." ;;Terri Binion performs 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 26 at McRae on the Lake artists' studio, 2016 Alden Road, as part of the Arts in April Extravaganza; 896-6350.

More by Garaud MacTaggart


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