TAXI Member Elliott Park Scores #1 Hit with 'I Loved Her First.'

By Timothy Riordan
taxi member success park
When TAXI founder Michael Laskow had the idea for his company in late 1991, he knew that there had to be a better way for the music industry to find new talent and songs. Prior to TAXI, most artists that landed on industry desks found their way there through the normal channels of music attorneys and managers. Songwriters had even fewer options.

Thousands of writers and artists have been "discovered" via TAXI's efforts during the last 15 years, but, when a song from an unknown songwriter named Elliott Park from Baird, Texas, hit his desk more than three years ago, Laskow knew there was something special about Park and his music. "I couldn't listen to his songs 'Cotton Dyed Grey' or 'Rusty Red Wagon' without tearing up. He has an incredible ability to paint pictures with his words. He makes you feel like you know the people and places he's writing about."

On his next trip to Nashville, Laskow brought Elliott's songs with him. His first meeting on that trip was with the Vice President of A&R at RCA Records. "It was the first time I had ever seen an A&R person try to conceal his tears," Laskow recounts. When the song finished, the A&R guy said, "Where is this guy?"

"A little town in Texas if I'm not mistaken," Laskow replied. "Well, you better get his butt on a plane and get him here to Nashville, because this guy is the real deal," replied the teary-eyed A&R music business veteran.

Laskow called Elliott, and they agreed to meet in Nashville two weeks later. Along with TAXI's Nashville consultant at that time, Shane Barrett, Laskow set up more than 20 meetings with many of the top publishers in Country music. Within days, it seemed as though everybody in town knew about Elliott. Several publishers expressed strong interest in him, and he eventually signed a deal with the Extreme Writers Group, a small, but potent publishing company with a solid track record.

"I decided to sign with them because one of the owners, Michael Martin, was also from a small town in Texas and I felt a connection with him," recalls Elliott. Over the next two and half years, Extreme diligently hawked Elliott's songs, and got several of them placed on "hold," meaning they were in the running for albums by top artists like Diamond Rio and Tim McGraw.

But patience would prove to be a virtue for Elliott. Time and time again, his songs were the bridesmaids, but never the bride. He kept working on his song craft, and continued to live in Baird (population, 1,600). Most songwriters would jump at the chance to move to Nashville and network with all the talented writers that call it home, but not Elliott. He didn't relish the thought of leaving his extended family behind, and the concept of collaborating with other writers was foreign to him.

Foreign that is, until he was introduced to veteran songwriter and producer, Walt Aldridge. The meeting went well, and they began to write together. One of the songs that resulted from their collaboration was called, "I Loved her First."

At first glance, the title might make you might think the song is about one man telling another to keep his hands off his girlfriend or wife – familiar territory for Country music. As you listen further, it soon becomes obvious that the song is really from a father's perspective, telling his son-in-law to be, to take good care of his daughter.

The song was cut by the group Heartland on Indie label, Lofton Creek Records, and it began to get spins on radio stations. As it did, more and more brides wanted to play it on their wedding day, and "I Loved Her First," seemed to take on a life of its own – a Cinderella story of sorts.

"Elliott and I started keeping in touch more often, as we watched the downloads on Apple's iTunes site start to increase. The customer reviews on iTunes all seemed to mention that the song made them cry. That was no surprise to me. Most of Elliott's songs make me reach for the Kleenex," said Laskow.

Over the next few weeks, the song hit the charts and continued to gain momentum until it reached the coveted # 1 spot on both the Billboard and Radio and Records Country Singles charts in mid-October.

"How good do my demos have to be?"

"If you're talking about the quality of your songwriting, the answer is 'good enough to knock somebody else out of the number one spot,'" muses TAXI CEO, Michael Laskow. "If you're wondering about how much equipment you need in your home studio, then take a look at what Elliott Park used to land his publishing deal!"

(Excerpted from a previous article about Park, written shortly after he signed his publishing deal.)

"I use a Technics Digital Piano hooked up to a Boss 4-track Digital Recorder. I usually do my own vocals, including harmony. When I need a female vocalist I have a couple of very talented friends who help me out."

"I don't really have an acoustically controlled environment. I mean, I've seriously had to redo vocal takes because my dogs started barking at a skunk outside. But a good mic and a little reverb added (on my 4-track) makes a good demo. I never worry about padded walls and all that — a room with a carpet works fine for me. The main thing is the song."

"It was a weird. I pretty much knew a couple of days before the official charts came out because that's the way the numbers were shaping up. We were watching them pretty closely. On Tuesday, when the R&R chart came out, it was like being at the top of Mount Everest. It was very strange knowing that for that moment our song was getting more airplay than anybody else in Country music. It was really special. That night, I slept better than I had in two months. Seriously," Elliott said.

Ironically, there was another song that went to #1 on the Country charts several years before, and it has a few things in common with Elliott's hit: it was also written by two unknown writers, they were also from a small town, it was also on an Indie label, and the writers were also "discovered" by TAXI. The song was "Buy Me a Rose," written by Erik Hickenlooper and Jim Funk, and it became a #1 hit for Country superstar, Kenny Rogers.

"At the time, there were plenty of people who were eager to tell me it was a fluke that a couple of unknown writers from a small town had a number one hit because they joined TAXI. Watching Elliott and Walt's song go to #1 proved that it wasn't. A great song can come from anywhere — even Baird, Texas!" proclaims Laskow like a proud father.

"TAXI was that first step. I'm a Christian and I believe my God had/has a destiny for me. TAXI was a part of that road and will always be. I thank God for all the relationships I have made, for my friends, Michael Martin and Jason Houser at Extreme, Walt Aldridge, Heartland, and so many others. Here I am sounding like I'm accepting an award, but seriously... I owe God the most thanks, but Michael Laskow and TAXI are definitely in the running for second," Elliott said.

"Elliott is very humble guy who truly loves his family and his little home-town. He has his head screwed on really straight, and has worked hard to become an excellent songwriter. I hope his success inspires other writers who live in small towns," reflects Laskow. "A hit song can truly come from anywhere, and that's why I started TAXI."

See How TAXI Works

"Your dedication and hard work never ceases to amaze me."
—Jimmy Clark,
TAXI Member

"I enjoyed and benefited from my TAXI membership for the last year, so I renewed for another."
— Robert Shulze,
TAXI Member

"Atlantic records is keeping my tape for further consideration . . . others have claimed to have 'connections,' you are the only ones to deliver."
— Rob Goodman,
TAXI Member

"As writer/artists from another country, we see TAXI as the single best opportunity we have for direct exposure to the US music industry."
— Peter Martin,
TAXI Member

"I was cynical at first, but my wife convinced me to join and I'm very impressed."
— L.A. Van Fleet,
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