By Ron Simpson
Orrin Hatch made the cover of Billboard Magazine.
Maybe that’s not as great as being on the cover of Rolling Stone, the goal Dr. Hook sang about on his 1973 hit (“Gonna see my picture on the cover / Gonna buy five copies for my mother”), but Utah’s songwriting senator made the cover of Billboard-a close second by any music insider’s reckoning.
Yet it wasn’t the senator’s music that got him the Billboard coverage (Sept. 20, 2003), it was his leadership on a suddenly-hot issue: the widespread illegal downloading of music files. Hatch, whose seniority has given him the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is a frequently-quoted ally of the music industry on this issue, which seems a remote one to some of his Utah constituents, who know him and vote for him as simply a conservative. They seem baffled by his stands on complex national issues such as this one, and he recently confessed that “the amount of public backlash to his comments [on this issue] ranked among the highest in his career.” (SL Tribune, Oct 5, 2003)
Perhaps some of those who complain don’t realize that Orrin Hatch has had a long standing and sincere love affair with music and the business that drives it: he played music as a young boy; and his folks scraped money together so young Orrin could attend concerts of the Pittsburgh Symphony. As a student at BYU, Hatch discovered a talent for writing poems, which would later be a natural springboard into the world of song lyrics.
The Sons of Mosiah
I first met Orrin Hatch when he was a young Salt Lake lawyer and I was a media composer and music entrepreneur. It was about 1969 and Utah had just spawned what might have been its first-ever Mormon-rock showband. Called The Sons of Mosiah, the band featured strong local-name personalities of the time such as Lynn Bryson and Alan Cherry and captured the imagination of large numbers of Mormon youth. With dreams of bigger things, the band retained a Salt Lake manager who also had dreams of bigger things, and felt that The Sons of Mosiah might be a good vehicle to propel both him and the band.
The manager was Orrin Hatch. While he and the band had a good ride together, Hatch’s burgeoning law career and the lure of politics began to consume his attention.
For me, consulting with Orrin Hatch about The Sons of Mosiah and their possible chances for major-label success clarified one thing and defined my relationship with him from that day forward: he really understood the music industry and he seemed to love it.
The positions he would later take as a senator with respect to music issues would not be due to any inordinate grandstanding or selling out to big interests, they would be informed, responsible positions. And Orrin Hatch was also very well aware-almost ahead of those of us who were already in it-that there was a growing creative music and arts community in Utah just beginning to reach maturity. It would, he believed, have huge potential. Hatch’s awareness dawned well before the Osmonds’ highly-publicized return to Utah.
Fast forward to 1992. Senator Orrin Hatch is now an experienced politician with enviable seniority, and he is an oft-quoted source in a hot and turbulent period in the arts and the entertainment industry. He is invited to give a speech to the School of Music at BYU. Continued federal funding of the arts is in jeopardy, and censorship of rock and rap lyrics is being debated in the press and in the living room. (Remember Tipper Gore?) Many think the National Endowment of the Arts should be dismantled.
For that 1992 appearance at BYU, Sen. Hatch strode to the podium armed with a prepared speech relating to the political issues and the limits on freedoms being proposed and discussed at that time. But then he paused for a moment, set his text aside, and just talked, revealing a lot about himself, his working-class upbringing, his introduction to classical music, and other factors which form the backdrop from which he both views the arts and positions himself on arts-related issues. Then he went on to deliver a condensed version of his prepared material, which was received generously by a diverse audience with varied opinions and political predispositions.
His Music Move
Just a few years later Orrin Hatch made his music move. I checked my calendar, and it was in March, 1997 that I bumped into Steven Kapp Perry, and he told me they were recording an album by new songwriting collaborators Janice Kapp Perry and Orrin Hatch. When I heard him say Randy Cox had flown out from Nashville for the sessions, I couldn’t believe it. Cox was a contact I had long courted, the head of the Christian music division of Tree Music, for some years the largest independent publisher on Music Row in Nashville. Somewhere in the 90s, Tree Music was sold by founder Buddy Killen to Sony, accelerating the “corporatization” of the folksy Nashville music scene. Knowing Tree and Randy Cox, and the perpetual chill that exists between the Christian music establishment and anything Mormon, it just didn’t make sense that Cox would be sitting in the control room of a Provo, Utah studio, encouraging these two Mormon song partners, the veteran melodist (Jan Perry) and the rookie lyricist (Orrin Hatch).
It didn’t make sense because I didn’t know the whole story.
John Perry, who runs the business side of Janice Kapp Perry’s catalog and also manages Orrin Hatch’s music sales, points out that a year earlier, in 1996, his mother heard about Orrin’s poetry and approached him about writing with her. Sen. Hatch felt complimented, but didn’t take the offer seriously until four months later when they bumped into each other again, and Perry renewed her request. In a rush of creativity, he sat down that weekend and wrote lyrics for ten songs for her. Those ten songs were the foundation of their My God Is Love album.
And there was another development in 1996: Hatch was contacted by singer/songwriter Billy Hinsche, a Beach Boy since 1974, and a front line member of the 60’s group Dino Desi And Billy before that. Billy Hinsche, well connected in the music publishing world, wanted to co-write with Sen. Hatch.
Following their sixth song, legendary lyricist Marilyn Bergman, by now an officer of ASCAP, the performance-rights royalty organization, contacted Orrin to suggest that his songs had great potential and that she was passing them on to Donna Hilley, head of Sony/ATV Tree in Nashville. She felt Donna was in a better position to advise Orrin about the future of his songs.
Orrin Hatch reports that he received a phone call from Ms. Hilley, offering publishing on two of his newly-created songs. “We would like to demo them for you. Would you be interested in coming down to see how we do it?”
Hatch was on his way, and it was Randy Cox who produced the demo sessions. And so, the following March, when I heard that Randy Cox was in Utah, I didn’t realize the contact had been made by Orrin Hatch at Sony/Tree in Nashville the year before. For a beginning songwriter, a storybook start indeed.
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Orrin Hatch and Janice Kapp Perry have continued to be a prolific team through the 90s and into the new millennium. Their catalog can be found at hatchmusic.com or at janicekappperry.com. Thinking back on the Hatch/Perry music I’ve heard, I decided I might single out “Heal Our Land” as a personal favorite and a likely standout in the catalog. I asked Steve Perry if this were an accurate assessment.
“Yes,” he said, with obvious family pride. “It’s been performed at Robert Schuler’s Crystal Cathedral [radio and television shows emanating from Costa Mesa, CA], and Senator Hatch was even invited to ‘witness,’ or bear his testimony on the show.
“And then the reverend Windley Phipps, a 7th Day Adventist and a friend of Sen. Hatch, sang “Heal Our Land” on Oprah, and put it on one of his own albums.” (This is a favorite rendition of mine. Rev. Phipps has a deep, warm, baritone not unlike Paul Robeson.)
“Yes,” echoed John Perry, when the same question was put to him. “It’s even been sung by the Tabernacle Choir, definitely one of the most successful individual songs.”
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As you’ve possibly heard, Orrin Hatch picked up the humanitarian award at the most recent Pearl Awards in Salt Lake City. Well deserved.
He is a thinking, scrapping, well-respected representative of the people of Utah-including those in the creative community, with whom he walks side by side as a colleague and the co-writer of the songs on nine CDs.
And as a Utah-based musician, I must confess it feels good to be from a small, mostly- rural state which is represented by a senator who not only has some seniority and a reputation for legislative muscle, but also gets his photo on the cover of Billboard Magazine.
All photos courtesy of John Perry.
2003 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.