Named for 2021 Stetson Law Hall of Fame Inductee Paul Marshall May, known for his extraordinary efforts to evolve SLAA into the robust group it is today, this award recognizes alumni who have offered sustained support of Stetson Law through contribution of both time and gifts. Honoree Jason Turner is a Partner with Keller, Turner, Andrews & Ghanem in Nashville, Tennessee, where he practices entertainment and sports law. He is a member of the Stetson Law Board of Overseers, serving as Secretary of the Board and Chair of the Finance Committee. He has been extremely generous in his financial support of Stetson Law, where he endowed the LeRoy Y. Hooks Elder Law Scholarship and provided a significant matching gift to support the 2022 spring giving campaign.
BMI and ASCAP hosted a No. 1 celebration for Cody Johnson‘s hit single “’Til You Can’t” this week. Held at The Local, industry members gathered to celebrate Johnson and the song’s co-writers, Ben Stennis and Matt Rogers.
It was a momentous occasion, as “’Til You Can’t” marks the first No. 1 for Johnson and Stennis.
BMI’s Josh Tomlinson served as emcee for the party. He spoke about Johnson’s tenacity and heart. “Your willingness to put in the work to get here today has only been accomplished by a select few. We’re really grateful to be able to support you today,” he said.
Tomlinson also spoke on BMI writer Stennis. “I’ve watched him grow. He’s kept his head down and put the work in to get to this moment. It’s been a privilege to watch.”
ASCAP’s Mike Sistad was on hand to speak on Rogers. “He’s had songs recorded by Luke Bryan, Dustin Lynch, Brett Eldredge, Randy Houser, Chris Young, Lainey Wilson and many more,” Sistad said. “He just recently celebrated a No. 1 hit with Jimmie Allen and Brad Paisley for ‘Freedom Was A Highway.’”
Tim Wipperman, who was in the news last week, was the first publisher to speak. He recognized Young Guns Publishing’s Aubrey Rupe, who pitched the song to Durango Management’s Scott Gunter. He also put the praise on the songwriters.
“We get to stand up here and speak, but none of us would be here without living on the backs of the songwriters,” Wipperman said. “I’ve had a great life. I get to do what I love to do, but if it weren’t for all of you out there, none of us that are in the business end of it would be standing here on stage.”
Rupe, Stennis’ publisher, was next up to speak. She told the story of fiercely advocating for “‘Till You Can’t.”
“We’re finally here, guys,” she said to the writers. “This song was written in 2016 and we are just now getting to celebrate everything that this song has done. If that is not a testament to God’s timing, I don’t know what is.
“It’s also a testament that great songs always find a way. This song is one of those that changes people’s lives. I think we are all in this room because, at one point or another, songs have changed our lives, have been important to us, and have made us want to do what we are doing. This is one of those songs.”
Rupe is a day one Cody Johnson fan, having attended her first concert of his in 2013. “Country music needs Cody Johnson,” she said to a rousing applause.
Later, Warner Music Nashville’s Cris Lacy recognized Rupe for being a torch-bearer for Johnson. She said, “A few years ago, everyone in Texas knew [how great Johnson was]. A few people in Nashville knew. There were a few folks that I heard from every time I saw them about how great Cody Johnson was. Aubrey was one of those people. That’s not just plugging songs—that’s a real song person, that’s a champion, that’s a visionary. That is picking somebody that you truly believe in and going after it with the best that you have. I want to thank Aubrey for that.”
Lacy and her co-president Ben Kline spoke about Johnson’s incredible rise.
“Cody Johnson has been giving fans the same show for the 10 years that I’ve know him. From tiny bars in Texas, where we met, to selling out the Houston Rodeo at 70,000 fans. There is no stopping him,” Lacy said.
The WMN heads presented their artist with a Gold and Platinum plaque for “‘Til You Can’t,” as well as a plaque for the success of his documentary, Dear Rodeo: The Cody Johnson Story.
Chuck Aly from Country Aircheck and Pinnacle Bank’s David DeVaul also made presentations before it was time to hear from the songwriters.
“Everything I want to say is about being grateful,” Stennis said. “I’m thankful to be in this community, to be able to do what I do for a living, and for God blessing me with the ability to get up and write every day with my buddies. To be a part of a song that means something… My kids and wife can attest to this, we pray every night and we thank God for Cody.”
Rogers was also filled with gratitude. He dedicated the song to his mother. “The bridge of this song talks about calling your mom. My mother has always been the biggest fan of my music. She had a stroke in 2018 and it changed the dynamic of our relationship, so when I hear the bridge now, it takes on a different meaning for me,” Rogers said. “And it’s her birthday today, so this one is for Betsy Rogers.”
When it came time for Johnson to speak, he was stoic and sincere.
“When I started coming to Nashville, I wanted to be you guys,” Johnson said to the songwriters. “I wanted to be Tony Lane, I wanted to be Jeffrey Steele, Wynn Varble, and a lot of other people. I wanted to be a songwriter and I wanted to know what it was like to put my life down on paper and have somebody turn it into something special. And here I am getting to sit on the other side of it.
“Thank you for writing it,” he said. “There’s thousands of people out there that it’s changed. I realize that I got to be the microphone for it, but it’s changed me. It changed who I am at my core, the way I view my stress, the way I view my anxiety or whatever is going on in my career.”
Johnson closed with a challenge to the industry members in the room. “The story that I want all of you to walk away with is not all the stats that they’ve said about me and the records; walk away with ”Till You Can’t.’ Take ”Till You Can’t’ and ingrain it into your heart, into your work ethic and into your life. That’s what country music should do for people that want to listen to country music. It should change your life. It should make you want to be better. We have these two men right here to thank for it.”
The “My Music Row Story” weekly column features notable members of the Nashville music industry selected by the MusicRow editorial team. These individuals serve in key roles that help advance and promote the success of our industry. This column spotlights the invaluable people that keep the wheels rolling and the music playing.
Jason Turner is Partner at the boutique entertainment and sports law firm, Keller Turner Andrews & Ghanem, PLLC. Turner has nearly 25 years of music industry experience, and represents many of Nashville’s top songwriters, executives, managers, and independent publishing companies, as well as the three-time Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning, among others. He has been named to Billboard‘s Power Players and Attorneys of Note, as well as Super Lawyers for the past decade. He focuses a significant portion of his practice negotiating the sale of catalogs on behalf of songwriters and publishers.
MusicRow: Where did you grow up? Were you musical as a child?
I grew up in a very small town in northwest Illinois. It was about a hundred miles west of Chicago, a town of about 2,000 people.
At some point, for some reason, my parents bought a piano. It was in the same room as the stereo that we used to have back in the day. I would listen to music and I would sit at the piano. My feet couldn’t even touch the pedals, and I would start playing by ear. Pretty quickly thereafter, my parents hooked me up with the music teacher in our school system. It was the same person for elementary, middle and high school since it was such a small town. I took piano lessons and ended up being the pianist for the middle school and high school choirs in town.
What was the plan for after high school?
Going into my senior year of high school, I was actually already signed up to go to Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University out in Arizona to be a pilot. I wanted to be a commercial pilot. I’ve always been fascinated with airplanes. The night before I left Illinois to go to Arizona for a preview week at the school, a music group that was signed to Polydor Records at the time here in Nashville played our small town summer festival. They were managed by Starstruck, they were on a major label, and they had already had their first hit. I wanted to meet them, so I connected with the lady in town who was in charge of the festival to figure out how can I finagle my way in. The group was called 4 Runner. It was a quartet produced by Buddy Cannon and managed by Narvel Blackstock. That night I ended up selling their merch. I ended up going out with them several more dates later that summer because they were so kind to me. They connected me up with people in the industry. That was truly the moment that I found out that there was this thing called “the music business.”
The next day, I fly out to this flight camp for a week and every night as I’m calling back home to talk to my parents, I wasn’t talking about the flight camp. I was talking about my experience with 4 Runner and how excited I was about that. I ended up talking with people that they worked with, found out about Belmont, and did a complete 180 out of going to flight school and ended up going to Belmont for the music business program.
What did you get into at Belmont?
I immediately jumped in. I was still playing piano and, with Belmont being Belmont, I started playing in various bands. By my sophomore year of college, I was working at Warner Brothers.
Royce Risser was the first label person that I ever met even before I moved here. He was super kind to meet with me and my parents before I even committed to Belmont. So [while at Belmont], I went to Royce and talked to him about an internship. At the same time I went to Warner Brothers and talked to them about an internship. Warner Brothers was very open with me and basically said, “We’re going to turn you loose. If there’s something you see that you have a passion for, we’re going to let you do it.” As fate would have it, they didn’t have anybody at that time handling secondary radio promotions within their promotion department. So within a week or two, I was starting to call radio programmers and working the records for the Warner Brothers roster. I was shifting around my school schedule to accommodate the call times of all of the programmers for all of these radio stations. I did that for a little over two years and loved it. That was the first Tim McGraw and Faith Hill tour, and when Travis Tritt came back after taking a break. I got to work a George Jones record, which was just crazy to me.
How did you change lanes to being an entertainment attorney?
During that time—again, I’m still at Belmont—Time Warner merged with AOL. So at the age of 19 or 20, I got my first inside look at corporate mergers and what that means. (Laughs) To speak generically, it set off a light bulb in my head. I love the music industry. I love the creative side. I don’t love that somebody 2,000 miles away has the power to decide whether or not I have a job tomorrow. The other thing that kept ringing in my head was virtually anytime I would spend with artists, I almost felt like a therapist because they would start opening up about issues they were having. “I’m stuck in a management deal and I can’t stand my manager,” or “I’ve been signed to the label for eight years and still don’t have an album out,” and so on. I couldn’t help, but think, “Gosh, every single one of these scenarios seems somewhat predictable and more importantly, preventable. Why wasn’t this dealt with in your agreements? Why aren’t you protected in these various ways that seem predictable and protectable?” I was driving back to my apartment at Belmont one day and a light bulb went off in my head. I thought, “I want to be the guy who can help people like this when they’re doing their contracts.” As soon as Belmont was done, I went down to law school in Florida.
I stayed in contact with everybody that I worked with [while in law school]. In typical music industry fashion, they all spread out to different places. When I came back in 2006, I immediately hit the ground running to meet with all of those people and say, “Hey, I’m back. This is what I’m doing. I would love it if you would keep me in mind, if you need anything.” It’s so humbling to me that I’m sitting here in 2022 and some of my clients are the same guys who either hired me or were mentoring me 25 years ago.
Now you’re a partner at the law firm you started with Jordan Keller in 2011. When do you feel most fulfilled in what you do?
I get the most joy seeing my clients succeed. I know that sounds cliche, but just last week I had four clients experience their very first No. 1 song. Technically it was three clients [who got their first No. 1], for the fourth client, it was his second No. 1 as a writer. It was for the Cody Johnson song “‘Til You Can’t.” I represent both of the writers. For Ben Stennis, it’s his very first No. 1 and that guy has been busting his tail for over a decade in this town. It’s the very first No. 1 for the publisher, Young Guns, as well as Trent Willmon, the producer of the song. Matt Rogers was the other writer, and it was his second No. 1. To get to see all of those individuals experience that, let alone on the same song in the same week, it truly was a reminder to me how lucky I am to get to do what I do with who I get to do it with. That’s why I do it every day.
Who have been some of your mentors along the way?
I hate to confess it was this long ago, but 24 years ago, a very young Jon Loba [was a mentor of mine]. Jon was very young, he was a promo coordinator at the time, but he really empowered me. So did Bill Mayne, who was GM of Reprise at the time, and Bob Saporiti, who was GM of Warner Brothers at the time. Those guys truly empowered me to take the whole secondary radio thing and run with it. Ken Tucker is another guy. He was the national director of promotion at the time and he would spend time teaching me what the charts meant and what the different strategies were.
Jerry Duncan was Warner’s outside indie promoter for the secondary market stations when I was there, so he and I worked records together. He was one of the kindest people to me back in the day when it came to showing me the ropes of working with programmers and music directors. We had a ton of fun, and success, working records together on people like Faith Hill, Chad Brock, George Jones, and more.
What makes a successful person in business or in life?
I’m going to sound like a cheesy Hallmark movie, but I firmly believe what I’m about to say: work hard, do better than you think your best is, and treat others with kindness and humility. We all make mistakes. I’m speaking specifically as a lawyer right now—if somebody on the other side of you made a mistake, guess what? That may be you tomorrow. Remember that. We’re all just trying to do the best we can.
There’s always something to learn. I always tell my clients, whether they’re an artist, a songwriter or a business owner, continue to surround yourself with people who are better at your craft than you are. That’s what’s going to make you better at what you’re doing.