George Ducas checked a lot of the boxes an industry insider would look for when he arrived on the country music scene in the 1990s. He was a great songwriter, a great vocalist, brought “it” on stage, and had an undeniable passion for music.
He released two albums and six singles to country radio in the 90s, including the top 10 hit, “Lipstick Promises.”
After parting ways with Capitol Records two albums into his career, it was sixteen years before fans would hear a new George Ducas full-length album, however, they weren’t done hearing his words on the radio.
Ducas co-wrote several hits for artists such as Sara Evans, Garth Brooks, and Eli Young Band during this span, but Ducas always knew he wanted his voice to be heard again.
Ducas, who is preparing to release “Yellow Rose Motel,” his first album since 2013, got his start in music at an early age.
“I probably got the bug to make music at around age 12, performing every chance I was asked to,” says Ducas. “I didn’t really realize it could become a career until I was forced to consider what I was going to do with my life around age 21.”
Drawing from influences that range from Willie Nelson to John Lee Hooker to KISS, Ducas initially went to school and received a degree in economics and took a job at a bank; a job which he would leave less than a year later, after deciding to focus on music full-time.
“I would define the internal pressure I felt at the time more as a ‘drive’ or a ‘calling;’ I really felt a burning desire to go for it – that it was my calling. It was the only pursuit that made me feel that way,” says Ducas. “I did feel external pressure, imagined or otherwise, to build a successful career for myself. I knew, for instance, my dad wouldn’t understand my career choice, unless and until it became something tangible that he could see.”
Ducas began writing songs and “intensively studying” the traditional honky tonk and Bakersfield movements. These studies would lead to his first big break; co-writing “Just Call Me Lonesome” with Radney Foster; Foster’s debut single, which became a top ten hit.
“The day I walked into write ‘Just Call Me Lonesome,’ my first words to Radney were, ‘Man, do you have the Buck Owens box set? You gotta hear it!’” says Ducas. Foster, a Buck Owens fan in his own right, had heard it, and the two used that inspiration to write the song.
“I still think ‘Just Call Me Lonesome’ sounds like a tune that Buck would have rendered himself,” says Ducas. “To this day, I believe it came from him.”
Ducas was also breaking down doors of his own, as he would come on to the radar of Liberty/Capitol Records after some time performing on the Nashville club scene.
“When I moved to Nashville, I was determined to make my living performing and writing songs – no ‘day gigs’ or anything else that could conceivably sidetrack me,” says Ducas. “I played a couple; sometimes three nights a week, just me and my guitar, one SM-58 microphone and just one speaker/amplifier that ran both my guitar and my vocal.”
He became a Friday night regular at a club called Amie’s, which is where he would get his next big break.
“A young intern named John Allen was there regularly, probably more to play pool and drink some beers. It all started with John, who went on to become a successful Music Row publishing executive,” says Ducas. This would get the ball rolling towards his eventual signing with Liberty/Capitol Records
Reneé Bell, the head of artist and repertoire (A&R) at Liberty/Capitol at the time, would also play a big role of Ducas’s signing. She saw Ducas’s potential during his live set.
“George was so dynamic on stage, he had so much charisma,” says Bell. “His songwriting was so fresh and different, and he had an edge to him that set him apart.”
Richard Bennett was brought in to produce Ducas’s self-titled debut album in 1994, but was already well-aware of George at the time.
“I first heard George several years prior to recording with him, in a little underground cellar kind of club in West Nashville,” says Bennett. “He was playing around town solo; playing songs he’d written and covers. I liked what I heard.”
The album was released in September of 1994. The lead single, “Teardrops,” would serve as the first time Ducas heard his own voice on the radio, his second in all after “Just Call Me Lonesome.”
“Both songs brought me a lot of fulfillment – stylistically, the two songs are really honky tonk cousins or even siblings; both were big hits, and both garnered a lot of attention for me professionally,” says Ducas. “That said, ‘Teardrops’ was more fulfilling in some ways, because it was the lead-off single for me on a much broader body of work that had my name on it.”
It was the album’s second single, “Lipstick Promises,” that saw Ducas achieve his greatest solo success to date; peaking at number six on the country charts.
“I had the song title sitting around for quite some time, probably a year or more,” says Ducas. “I didn’t know ‘Lipstick’ was a hit when I wrote it, I just write songs to be as strong as they can be.”
Bennett says it was the song’s uniqueness that allowed it to catch on with a larger audience.
“It was certainly unusual from anything else going at the time,” says Bennett. “In the end, it always comes down to the song and if it resonates with people.”
After the four singles from Ducas’s debut album were released, Bell says she was proud of what Ducas and Bennett had created.
“I think what Richard and George did was amazing and timeless,” says Bell. “They created a sound for George that set him apart.”
Ducas released his second album, “Where I Stand,” in January of 1997, allowing more of his influences to come through, citing his sophomore effort as a more rock-influenced record, similar to The Beatles, with hints of Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. The album did not lack in “stone-cold country moments” either, with the songs “I’m Pretending,” and the standout “The Invisible Man,” featuring backing vocals from Vince Gill, creating a nice, well-rounded album.
Though well received, neither of the sophomore effort’s singles achieved top 50 status, and things began to come unglued at Capitol Records.
“Capitol Records was going through a lot of Garth Brooks-related power struggles and changes during the release and promotion of “Where I Stand” – changes that led to three different label presidents and the loss of my team of believers in the building; including Jimmy Bowen (then owner), Reneé Bell and all of those who worked with her,” says Ducas. “I became kind of a redheaded step-kid. The label even publicly admitted to ‘blowing it’ on ‘Every Time She Passes By,’ which was the first single off of the album – to the extent that they even re-released it a second time. Anyway, it wasn’t a pretty time – and that goes for most of the artists on the roster at that time.”
Ducas was dropped from the label, something both Bennett and Bell feared when the shakeups at Capitol began.
“I left [Capitol] to join RCA (now Sony) as the head of A&R for the next 17 years,” says Bell. “When the CEO and head of A&R leave a label, there is always a chance the act will not survive as the new regime will have their own vision musically for their label.”
“I was very disappointed but not terribly surprised,” says Bennett. “I remember a tension that wasn’t there when we made the first record, sort of ‘us vs. them.’ That never bodes well, and Capitol did nothing to promote the record. What did surprise me was George wasn’t immediately picked up by some other label.”
Ducas wasn’t terribly surprised by his dropping either, but admits that it was a hard time.
“It was tough, but necessary and a natural consequence of change,” says Ducas. “The label was a complete and total mess, so I shouldn’t have taken it personally – but of course you do. All of the people who were originally vested in my career had been ousted or moved on.”
While Ducas would be out of the “artist” limelight for a bit, his music was still heard through the voices of his peers, including hits with Garth Brooks and George Jones, Eli Young Band, and Sara Evans, who took Ducas and Radney Foster’s song, “A Real Fine Place to Start,” to number one on the charts.
“It was a thrill for both of us to watch it climb the charts,” says Ducas. “Going out on the road touring along with Sara following the hit was a great experience as well; we had a great time out there.”
Oftentimes, this is where the story ends for 90s country stars; a few hits, successful touring, losing a record deal, becoming a songwriter, and sometimes even leaving music altogether.
That’s not how George Ducas’s story ends. In fact, he has reached a “new beginning” of sorts.
After sixteen years without releasing a new full-length studio album, Ducas released his third album, “4340” in October of 2013.
He always had the itch to make his own music again, and took full advantage when the opportunity arose.
“I really did miss recording and performing, blazing my own trail – so I started back home down in Texas, touring with a small regional release of a 6-song EP, some of which then became a part of ‘4340’ and back to somewhat of a more national presence with a focus back home in Texas,” says Ducas. The singles “Breakin’ Stuff” and “CowTown” were top 10 hits on Texas radio, while “All Kinds of Crazy” and “LoveStruck” were top 40 hits on national charts.
This gave Ducas a gratification he hadn’t felt as a solo artist in a while, and opened even more doors for him.
“It was really gratifying to see people gravitate towards my music again so enthusiastically and readily,” says Ducas. “Although I still toured on occasion while I wasn’t recording – mostly in Europe when asked, like festivals in Brazil, France, England, and other countries such as Switzerland during that time – I felt the itch to record; and really missed touring.”
Ducas has been hard at work in the studio, and has finished “Yellow Rose Motel,” his next album, which does not have a set release date at this time.
The album features a variety of different sounds and influences, and a sense of sincerity; everything you would expect from a George Ducas record.
“I hope – and believe – that for many music listeners, there’s still some value in the music being genuine, and for me, a large part of that comes from writing the songs,” says Ducas. “I’m really excited about ‘Yellow Rose Motel’ – it’s an open book – probably my most honest effort to date – it’s got it all. Love, hope, loneliness, gratitude, regret, even a little sarcasm (the humorous track “Country Badass” being a prime example) – with a backdrop of the pursuit of great American romance.”
The title track of the new album may be the most interesting track of the bunch, building almost like a Led Zeppelin song with a great southern rock lyric over top.
“I thought it was a strong choice for the title track – an intriguing title and an intriguing song,” says Ducas. “Definitely a departure for me – looking back, it’s kind of my ode to and my take on Willie Nelson’s ‘Red Headed Stranger’ album, and maybe (though not definitively) a launching point for a broadening of my musical horizon in the future.”
He hopes to add many of the songs from “Yellow Rose Motel” to his live show; and he has maintained the same philosophy with his performances that led Reneé Bell to sign him over 20 years ago.
“I aim to create my live shows so that they are like listening to an album top to bottom, much like so many of the live records I grew up admiring as a kid,” says Ducas. “Like I tell my band on the road, I have a ‘no dead air’ policy – we always keep it moving; I like the show to be a non-stop musical journey, of both my hits and recordings past and present.”
Below: “Eastwood” live, which will be released on “Yellow Rose Motel”
Looking back, Bell, who still loves listening to “Lipstick Promises,” is proud of George’s success, both past and present.
“I am so proud of what George accomplished,” says Bell. “He is an amazing writer and performer. That was a great time for all of us.”
Richard Bennett is also proud of what he and George accomplished on his records.
“Occasionally I’ll think of something George and I did together, dig it out and give it a listen,” says Bennett. “I’m very proud of those records. They still hold water and have aged well.”
As for Ducas, looking back is not an option, as his “new beginning” is leading him towards new success.
“I’m not looking back,” says Ducas. “It ain’t over yet.”
*George Ducas images courtesy of official Facebook page
Visit George Ducas’s official website: http://georgeducas.com