Susan Nadler and Evelyn Shriver have pretty much seen it all, and they aren’t afraid to talk about it. Over their decades in the music industry, the two women have been publicists, managers, authors and record company executives working with some of the most successful artists in the business, including George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson and Randy Travis. The longtime friends recount their experiences with wit and wisdom in their signature fearless style on their podcast Shady Ladies of Music City.
“They were some unbelievable times,” Nadler tells Sounds Like Nashville, sitting backstage in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater just before taping the final podcast of their first season with Monument Records co-presidents Jason Owen and Shane McAnally. “Tammy [Wynette] was without a doubt the most gracious and sweet. She had people to her house for lunches and dinners and she cooked. I brought my girlfriend Julia Reed to interview her, who was from Vogue, and she cooked biscuits and gravy for everybody. It was a different world.”
Shriver and Nadler met in Nashville at a Marlboro Country Music event and forged a lasting friendship. Shady Ladies spotlights their crazy experiences with candor and an abundance of humor. These women have smoked weed with Willie, roller skated with Cher, and have been in both the White House and a Mexican jail. This isn’t your usual music business podcast.
Both Nadler and Shriver credit Owen, a Nashville manager/record company executive whose clients include Kacey Musgraves, Little Big Town, Dan + Shay and Midland, with coaxing them out of retirement to do the podcast. “Retirement is something that you really want to do and it’s good for a while and all of a sudden you realize you have nothing to do,” says Shriver, “because we were always busy and there was never a time to have hobbies. I don’t play golf or tennis and it was getting a bit tiring sitting around doing nothing. I wouldn’t want to go back to working, but the podcast is a fun thing. People had been telling me for years, ‘Oh you should write a book! You should write a book,’ but most people have the attention span of a gnat and 30-minute podcasts are great. It’s stories and there’s no filter, but there is a filter in that we don’t want to hurt anybody or be sued.”
Before easing into retirement, Shriver and Nadler built impressive resumes during their four decades in the business. Shriver moved to Nashville from New York in the 80s and launched a successful public relations firm. Nadler was an author living in Key West who moved to Music City because her husband at the time was a songwriter. Both fell in love with Nashville and began to shake up the boys club on Music Row. Shriver became the first female president of a major country label when she took over Asylum Records in 1998. Nadler became Asylum’s executive VP/A&R. After Asylum was absorbed into Warner Bros. Records in 2002, Shriver and Nadler formed Bandit Records in 2003 and signed George Jones.
Over the years, there were obvious career triumphs, but there were also really challenging days. “We had decided to do the Asylum thing, so I was closing up my company and becoming the president of Asylum and Tammy Wynette died,” Shriver recalls. “All of that went down within about 48 hours and it was very, very intense. The first day we were supposed to be at Asylum we were dealing with all the Tammy fallout and just told our boss, Sylvia Rhone at Electra, that we just had to start the day after because we had to do this huge funeral. It was very emotional trying to write the press release, trying to deal with the people, trying to deal with the family and the new gig and the new staff.”
“It was the end of an era when Tammy died,” Nadler adds, “for us professionally, personally and for Nashville.”
Both women played a role in taking country music places it hadn’t been before. “When I got Randy Travis on SNL [Saturday Night Live], that was a pretty rare occurrence,” Shriver says. “I think only Dolly or Willie had ever done the show before that time and the same thing with getting Randy a Vanity Fair story. That was a big achievement. I had a lot of great and proud moments, anytime at Farm Aid with Willie was just a great thing. Some of those meetings Willie would have with the farmers on the bus, you would just have tears run down your face because they were willing to work so hard for so little and still do.”
Shriver and Nadler’s careers are populated with impressive highlights. “I think the Common Thread album with the Eagles is a proud thing for everybody,” Shriver says of the Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles, a 1993 tribute album featuring Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Tanya Tucker, Lorrie Morgan and John Anderson, among others. Travis Tritt’s video for “Take It Easy” featured the Eagles, marking the first time the group had appeared together in 13 years.
“Working with Don Henley was a dream come true,” Nadler says of the experience. “Irving Azoff was pretty spectacular to work with too, very knowledgeable, very nice and considerate, and very helpful to me and Evelyn.”
The Shady Ladies podcast gives Nadler and Shriver a platform to share their insights and experiences, and the duo are enjoying the opportunity. Their first episode was titled “Most of Our Clients are Dead” and spotlights their work with Wynette and Jones. Another episode titled “Scammers We Have Known (And Loved)” talks about some of the shady characters in the industry that they’ve had an affinity for despite their dubious reputations.
The first season of Shady Ladies of Music City recently wrapped, but episodes can be listened to online. Shriver and Nadler plan to continue working with Monument’s Owen and McAnally to launch the second season of the podcast next year. “I think the new season will launch in the Spring. I’d like to get a head start on it in the winter,” Shriver says. “It’s a lot more effort than I thought it would. You just don’t sit there for half an hour. You put a lot of thought into it.”
Though a lot of people bemoan the fact that the music industry has changed so much, Nadler still finds it fun and exciting. “You can always still have fun. You have to look for the fun in the situation,” says Nadler, definitely the more gregarious member of the duo. Her advice to those getting in the business today is simple: “Get to know people really well. Chose the people you want to deal with. It’s a whole different world.”
Check out the Shady Ladies of Music City podcast here.