T. Roberson : Musician/producer

by Kenny Kerner

Inspiration comes from strange places. For Denny Earnest, it was the swiveling hips of Elvis Presley that turned him on to playing guitar and the music business in general. But when The King went into the Army, Earnest's inspiration went AWOL.

Denny's career in music was put on hold until the Fab Four rekindled the spirit of rock & roll in him and our Passenger Profile subject made a determined effort to learn how to play seriously.

"Listening to the radio and watching the Ed Sullivan Show did the trick for me. But when Elvis went into the Army, I kinda got bored until the Beatles came around and I got started again. I was about 14 when the Beatles came and that's when I decided to learn how to play for real."

Denny went through the usual scenario of playing in local bands back in Ohio, but nothing really came of it. He was offered a deal with a small label when he was 18, but it fell through. "I was playing out of Cleveland, Ohio, at that point," Denny revealed, "we were in a blues band and we opened for BB King, Jeff Beck, Albert King, John Mayall and other national acts. We went from playing teen dance halls to venues with 4,000-5,000 people."

Name: Denny Earnest
Residence: Paradise Valley, Montana  
Age: 52
Occupation: Musician/Music Teacher
Joined Taxi: 1994
Songs Forwarded:   100
Deals: 6
Though Earnest got a taste of the good stuff, the record deal still eluded him. He made some indie records and kept playing with a band called Deadly Earnest. "We released our first album ourselves and some Cleveland DJ who went out to Los Angeles, took it with him and played it for ex-Monkee Mike Nesmith who had his own record label, Pacific Arts. Mike loved it and signed us to his label through Warner Bros."

Deadly Earnest toured for many years and released a total of three western swing albums on the Pacific Arts label, but record sales were not very encouraging and the band finally broke up. "We went from being a local band to a national band and played TV and better venues but the band broke up in 1984."

With no band to support him, Denny was left to his own devices and turned to serious songwriting as a means of jumpstarting his career. "For about the next 10 years, I kept flying to Nashville a few times a year and kept knocking on doors. I went to publishers with my songs. It was a very sobering experience. I played lots of different instruments--from pedal steel guitar to dobro to mandolin. I learned how to solicit and ask nicely of publishers and producers to get my music listened to. It was an expensive process. I learned what the commercial side of the industry was like. I took these really produced demos but they would all get rejected because they would have "my flavor on them."

Denny soon learned that Nashville was looking for sparsely recorded demos that gave the producer an opportunity to put his production stamp and his vision on the song. "They just wanted to hear the bare song and that taught me about how to make Nashville demos. It was hard to sit in publishers offices and watch them hit the pause button after 30-seconds."

One day, while reading one of the many music magazines, Denny came across an ad for TAXI and figured he'd give it a shot. "I never thought it was suspicious at all. How could you go wrong for this price? For the first year, I got some forwards but nothing really happened. Then, after about 18 months, things started falling into place."

Denny has been a TAXI member for some 8 years and still works with many of the companies that made deals with him back in the mid-Nineties. "I got a call from a company called Abaco/Pro Music, a music library. They loved the bluegrass /dobro background music stuff I sent them and to this day I think I've done about one full CD every year or so. I've got about 100 songs in their library now. It's been a great contact."

Earnest has also made deals with DSM and a handful of other companies thanks to TAXI. Now that he has established several industry connections, he continues to use the indie A+R company to his advantage:

"You can be in this business for 20 years and still need TAXI to get your foot in the door. Just because you had a relationship with someone before, doesn't mean that it's going to get you in the door today. That's how I'm using TAXI. I'd rather be fishing up here in the Yellowstone River than knocking on doors in Nashville or New York."

I've got a strong feeling that as long as Denny sticks with TAXI, the fish will be biting!


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"I've had several meetings at Dreamworks Records and made several new contacts as a result of belonging to TAXI."
— John Scott,
TAXI Member

"Nothing bad can come from belonging to this unbelievable organization that has definitely allowed my songs to be stronger than ever."
— Justine Kaye,
TAXI Member