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STAR Views: Cody McCarver

By: Estella Pan

Photo used courtesy of Cody McCarver

A fan once described Cody McCarver to be somewhere between being a hippie and a redneck. When it comes to his music, however, there's no denying that it's country. His single "Red Flag" rings true to listeners all around the world. Each day, he is flooded with e-mails and MySpace messages from fans who continue to share their own red flag stories. Behind it and every subsequent song on his album is a man who is so deeply rooted in the country way of life that it would be hard-pressed for even a smidgen of his humble upbringing not to show up in his music.

Cody says that his musical beginning was really "a two-edged sword!" He explains, "One of them was forced upon me, because my mom forced me to learn how to play piano at age nine. I didn't want to do it, but she made me." Even so, he soon turned his ear toward and became interested in country music. "The first two things that turned me on to country music was David Allan Coe's "You Never Even Called Me By My Name" and Waylon's Outlaw album. I heard that as a kid, and I just thought it was really cool! And, my taste in music has never really changed. I went through a phase where I liked KISS and Bon Jovi – still do! – when I was in high school. But, I've always loved that Hank [Williams], Jr., Willie [Nelson], David Allan Coe kind of stuff." A few years later, Cody discovered that playing music might not be such a bad thing after all! He laughs, "I found out I could play in bars, pick up chicks, drink – and get paid for it!" He was instantly hooked, and through the years, Cody has honed his talent by playing in various bands, the most recent being Confederate Railroad. With his new solo album released to retail, plans are that he will begin touring on his own in support of Peace, Love & Coondawgs. "That would be my goal," he says. "If I can start doing that, then I can say that I've succeeded in this.”

Describing his musical style, Cody offers one word: "Cody." He continues, "Sure, I have influences of everything in my music, but that's just what I've picked up." He acknowledges that while "if you listen to my record, you'll go, 'That sounds like something [Lynyrd] Skynyrd would have done' or 'That sounds like something Merle Haggard would have done'," his intention is "not to recreate anything or anyone. I just try to be me.” Myriam Santos-Kayda, the photographer who shot all the photos for Peace, Love, & Coondawgs, understood that about him... although he does find it amusing that "many people think I look like a criminal!" Of course, it doesn't help that one of his photos looks like he is behind bars. About the said photo, he clarifies, "You know what that is? That's a stairwell! It looks like I’m in jail, but I'm not."

Photo used courtesy of Cody McCarver
Peace, love, and coondawgs!

Then, there's his album. He dishes the story behind his unique album title: "There was a girl who said to me, 'I can't figure out whether you're a redneck, hillbilly, or a rocker' – because my hair was real long then. She'd come out to the shows at the club I was playing at and always say to me, 'Peace, love, and coondawgs!' So, over the years, when I'd say goodbye to the crowd on stage, I'd say, 'Thank y'all. Peace, love, coondawgs!' It's also a, 'Hello! Peace, love, and coondawgs!' When I was working on the record, I was thinking, Man, it would be great if people in L.A. and New York might enjoy it as much as people in Dunlap, Tennessee, where I'm from." Cody believes he achieved his goal. "This record is for everybody. Even if you don't listen to or like country music, you'll still find something on there that you'll say, 'Well, that's cool!'"

With "Red Flag" impacting radio, it was only logical that he film a video to accompany the single. "Myriam directed it. It was her first video." She is the same woman behind all the artwork seen on and inside his album packaging. "She took the time to listen to my music. She didn't just say, 'I'm gonna shoot some pictures of this guy, and they're going to pay me.' She wanted to capture who I was, and we had a blast working with her! So, I went back to her later and told her, 'Look, we're going to do this video, and my budget's not huge. But, I'd like you to do my video.'" Cody continues, "She said, 'I've been asked to do countless videos with huge budgets, but I've never met anybody that I've wanted to work with. But, I'll do it for you.' I said, 'Cool!' and we went in and did it!" Upon arriving in L.A. to shoot the video, Cody experienced somewhat of a setback when the airport lost all his belongings, including his guitars he was toting along for the shoot. Several of his friends, however, pitched in to help. "Those were (actor) Billy Bob [Thorton]'s guitars in the video. I got there without guitars and Billy Bob was kind enough to loan his to me. Earl said he would, too! Everybody was so great in helping out. I had to go buy clothes for the video shoot – the whole bit." Turns out, that wasn't the only problem Cody faced! "I got in the night before, and I had to be at the shoot at 7 o'clock the next morning. So, I'm stuck in traffic with no guitars then the transmission starts coming out of the rental car! It was bad!"

Photo used courtesy of Cody McCarver
This skit was Cody's idea

Photo used courtesy of Cody McCarver
Actor Earl Brown gets caught in the action!

No pain, no gain, so Cody pressed on, and once under way, filming for "Red Flag" wrapped without another hitch. Dennis Haskins – who you might recognize from his days as Principal Belding on Saved by the Bell – was part of the eclectic cast characters appearing in the clip. Cody says, "Dennis I have known for a good number of years. Every time I would fly out to Los Angeles for the recording process, I'd always call him. When he's in Chattanooga, TN, he'll always call me. We don't get to see much of each other, but we do try. So, I called him and said I was coming to L.A. he asked what I was coming to L.A. for, and I told him I was shooting the video for my single, 'Red Flag.' He said, 'Man, put me in the video!'" Others joining Cody and Dennis were: "Earl Brown (he's the biker-looking guy who grabs the waitress' behind as she walks by) is from the HBO series, Deadwood. He was also in the movie Something About Mary, starring Cameron Diaz. Then, there is Spider, who is from the huge hard rock band Powerman 5000."

Photo used courtesy of Cody McCarver
Cody's "Red Flag" friends (l to r): Dennis, Earl, and Spider

Photo used courtesy of Cody McCarver
Amanda's an aspiring singer

Photo used courtesy of Cody McCarver
The "Calvin Klein" sequence

Balancing out the "interesting cast of red flags" is the female lead character in the video, Amanda Henkel, who is an up-and-coming singer herself. She is the gal you see dancing with Cody at the end. Aside from his starring role, Cody also got to incorporate his own ideas into the treatment of the video. "The skit with Dennis at the beginning was my idea. That, and what I call the 'Calvin Klein' part – the black and white footage where Amanda and I are dancing. I said that I wanted it to end that way and I wanted it to look like a Calvin Klein commercial. The rest of it was all Myriam." By the way, the airport did recover what was lost. "I did finally get my stuff back, but not in time for what I needed to do." Nonetheless, the "Red Flag" video turned out really well! "Oh, the video turned out fantastic! I'm very well pleased with it!" But, don't take Cody's word for it! The fans have spoken – and voted! – and the result is that "Red Flag" continues to hold within the top two video spots on CMT's Pure 12 Pack Countdown for several weeks and counting! And, for anyone who is wondering if Cody himself totes a red flag, here's your answer: "Am I a red flag? For sure!" He points out, "My favorite line in the song is, When he calls just to say, 'I called, how come you didn't call me back??' You'll hear me laughing when I sing, '...yeah, that's a red flag!’ because, I'm thinking, Man, I've done that a thousand times!"

The Internet community known as MySpace has been contributory in helping Cody spread the word about his music. He reports, "MySpace is a great thing!" He spends long hours maintaining his page himself, issuing several bulletins each week, and reading messages and comments sent to his page – all done on a dial-up connection because "I live way out there; I can't get DSL cable out where I am." You won't find Cody complaining, though, because when it comes to the fans, he'll always go the extra mile. "It may take me a long time to get through them, but I read every last one of those messages and comments I get on there." [NOTE: You can check out Cody's MySpace for yourself at: http://www.myspace.com/codymccarver.]

With more and more people hearing his music, Cody has attracted quite a large fan following, and he's happy to oblige in autograph signing or photo opportunities for anyone who cares to ask. "It's like Willie Nelson said, 'I spent my whole life trying to get people to ask for my autograph – I ain't gonna turn them down now!'" As grateful as he is that fans have taken to his music, his heart belongs to his daughter. "You know, I've never been married. Fortunately, my daughter has the best mother she could ever ask for. She's a great mother and loves her more than anything; they're best friends. If it wasn't for her mother, I wouldn't be able to do this – because I wouldn't leave my daughter without knowing she's properly cared for." This devoted father makes his daughter his world, and she is the reason he continues to do what he does. "I've got times where I'm home with my daughter a lot. Summer, I'm gone two or three months. But, when my feet hit the ground and I head home from the road, I'm looking for her. Winter, I'm home a lot. So, if you average it out, I'm actually getting to spend a lot of time with her, probably more so than someone who maybe has to work at the factory." It might get tricky at times, but Cody does the best he can. "I always tell everybody, I have three careers: Confederate Railroad, Peace, Love, & Coondawgs, and being a daddy!"

These days, Cody has also jumped on the opportunity to use his celebrity for the bettering of his community. The inspiration for his latest project comes straight from his personal life. "My dad's in prison for life. I'm getting ready to record a live DVD project at the prison where he is. It's going to be called What Are You In For?" The idea behind this concert/documentary is centered around "what are you in prison for and what are you in for if you don't straighten up. It's going to be a positive reflection on my dad and my family. But, there's going to be a negative reflection on what he and others did to get in there, and how they wish they had not done those things. We've got the state of Tennessee interested in putting it in all the school systems." Cody promises that "one minute you're going to laugh and be listening to some cool music. The next minute, you're going to think, Wow, that guy really did that?" He's hoping people who watch it will think twice before committing any detrimental wrongdoing, after realizing, Wow, I'm not ever going to do that! I don't ever want to be there.

Photo used courtesy of Cody McCarver
Cody's on a stairwell, NOT in jail!

He picks up the previous discussed "criminal" photo and reflects on some of his past experiences, "Most people who see this photo go, 'Whoa, that's some scary looking dude!' But, I'm a real fun, good-hearted guy. I'm not a judgmental character of anybody. I don't have any bad feelings against you whether you're white, black, gay, straight – so what?" He admits, "I had a bunch of people judging me because of my dad. They were like, 'Oh, my gosh, you're that guy!'" He's quick to set the record straight, "No, I'm not that guy."

"That guy" went from growing up in a one-stoplight town to touring the country, and you could say that Cody has adjusted fairly well. Alas, some things just never change. "I'm used to it now, where one day I'm in Los Angeles and the next day, I'm in Dunlap, Tennessee. [No matter where I go], I can't wait to get home to Dunlap, because I'm a small town boy. I like the bright lights and the big cities – all of that is fun for a minute. But then, it's like, Man, I want to go home and sit on my porch!" Cody takes a moment to contemplate just how far his journey has taken him. "For a while, I was just playing regionally. Well, the first time I was exposed to being on the road, we were on a bus when I went to work for Lynn Anderson. The bus picked me up from in front of my house and we were going to Dallas to play a show for thousands of people. That was a HUGE culture shock! And, that was just Dallas, and probably just as country as where I come from." He continues, "But then, I flew for the first time to Europe. So, we got to the airport and Lynn said, 'Yeah, you're my road manager, go check these bags.' I had never even seen an airplane except for up [in the air], let alone been on an airplane. I was scared to death! So, I was thinking, Check bags, I've got to check bags. How do I do this??" Not one to sweat it, Cody quickly devised a solution and got the job done. "I went to go find the guy who works there and he helped me through it. So, that was like a huge culture shock from where I came from to where I am now." Cody says, "I wish I could sit at home everyday. But then, there'd be no place for me to do what I love to do. As much as I love it, I can’t really make a living there because it is such a small town." Just how small is Dunlap, you ask? "We just got a new WalMart that opened up there in January."

Having big dreams allowed Cody to see some very big places, and he's thankful for every step he's had to take to get to where he is today. It all started with one very simple realization: "If you live in a small town and you have big dreams, you've got to go outside of the small town." And so, the journey continues.

STAR Country!

Photo used courtesy of Cody McCarver

Which song on Peace, Love & Coondawgs would you say describes you the best? And, which song is your favorite?
Cody: "Should've Been Me" would be the one that describes me the best. The song that probably touches my heart the most is "Look What You've Done." Everybody thinks it's about a girl. But, it's actually about my daughter.

In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception people have about the music business?
Cody: Everybody thinks you cut a record, then you go out and sing those songs. Well, that's not true. You cut a record, then you become a businessman for a few months. Then, maybe, if you're good enough of a businessman, you might be able to go out and sing your songs! That's just the way it is. Getting on a stage and singing is cool, but it costs a lot of money to put a band on a bus to go out and play a show. So, you've got to make that money. I knew a friend once who had a single out, and I asked him, "Dude, how come you're not out playing some shows?" He said, "I'm not ever going to sing again until I have a hit." I thought that was kind of odd. I mean, you're not going to get a hit if you don't go out and work for it!'"

Outside of family, friends, and other musicians, who do you think is your biggest fan?
Cody: A gal by the name of Austine. She's from Chattanooga (Tennessee). She'd drive a million miles to hear me sing one song! So, there you go, it's her.

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