The Dark Side of Nashville's Music Business

ByABC News
October 9, 2003, 7:39 PM

N A S H V I L L E , Tenn., Nov. 10 -- Even if you're a country music fan, you may never have heard of Kevin Hughes. But along Nashville's music row, he's a fallen hero.

Hughes, 23, was shot to death on March 9, 1989, after coming out of a recording studio.

He was chased down by an assailant "firing shots at him as they're running down the street," said Nashville police detective Bill Pridemore.

"He fell facedown, the assailant walks over to him, stands over his head and points a gun and fires at least two more rounds," he said. Hughes was shot almost at point-blank range, said Pridemore.

The case remained unsolved for 13 years until this fall, when the life and death of Kevin Hughes became the talk of Nashville once again.

What He Wanted to Do

When Kevin Hughes arrived in Nashville, he was an innocent small town boy from Illinois who wanted to make it behind the scenes of the music business.

He got a job at Cash Box , the now-defunct trade journal that once dominated the country music industry.

"He was just excited to be there," said Hughes' brother, Kyle. "Because he was doing what he wanted to do. He loved it."

Hughes wasn't dealing with famous artists on major labels but with hopeful unknowns trying to break in. He managed the independent music charts, which kept track of the unknown artists and how often their songs were being played in the radio.

The Power of Payola

Radio airplay, key to the success of any newcomer, was the field where record promoters play hardball.

Promo kingpin Chuck Dixon and his partners knew all the tricks of the trade and one of them was to get disc jockeys to move his records up toward No. 1 on their playlists.

The playlists were supposed to reflect real airplay. But they never did, said promoter Gary Bradshaw, a former partner of Dixon's.

Bradshaw told ABCNEWS' Primetime he got the DJs to move these records through the age-old practice of payola. "You brought them to Nashville. They couldn't afford a hotel rooms and meals, and so we purchased that for them."