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A Country Veteran and Teen Hopefuls Unite

March 04, 2001|STEVE HOCHMAN

There were giggles galore after teen country trio 3 of Hearts was booted out of Staples Center by a security guard during a Grammy rehearsal. The girls in the group had been there to do some radio interviews and just wanted to get a look at the stage.

"Don't worry," manager Ken Kragen told his Texas-reared charges. "Next year you'll be appearing on that stage during the show."

That's a strong boast about a group that is releasing its debut single this month, with an album not due until June. And coming from veteran manager Kragen, who has overseen the careers of such stars as Kenny Rogers, Trisha Yearwood and Lionel Richie (with whom he helped supervise the landmark 1984 charity recording "We Are the World"), it could sound like hype.

But Kragen is a true believer in this act. In fact, if it weren't for 3 of Hearts, he might have retired last month when Rogers fired him after 30 years together. It was the third major defection the L.A.-based manager suffered in five years, with Travis Tritt, Yearwood and then Rogers all moving to Nashville-headquartered ventures started by former Kragen associates.

Blaire Stroud, 17, Deserea Wasdin, 17, and Katie McNeill, 18, have a combined age 10 years younger than 62-year-old Rogers, and Kragen is rejuvenated.

"It's kept me focused not on what happened, but what's going to happen," says Kragen. "It's very fun and exciting when you have someone who's never experienced this before. It's like with my [10-year-old] daughter. With these girls, everything is new."

Best friends since grade school in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the three sang in church choir together before their parents suggested they form a harmony trio. One of their moms, a FedEx driver, passed a tape they made last year to a co-worker, who passed it on to a music promotions executive on his route. The exec sent copies to seven labels, four of which offered contracts, with RCA Nashville Chairman Joe Galante making the deal. Kragen, one of several managers pitched to handle their careers, flew to Texas and got the gig.

They recorded their album late last year, signed several sponsorship deals, and now have started visiting country radio stations in advance of the single and album. To top it off, they just signed a development deal for a TV series with a major studio.

"I'm fascinated with what Ken's doing with them," says Phyllis Stark, Nashville bureau chief of Country Airplay Monitor and Billboard. "For an act that hasn't even had a single out, it's amazing--the sponsorship and TV deals."

How will a teen girl group do in the country market? Despite the new rise of young acts (Jessica Andrews, boy band Marshall Dyllon, LeAnn Rimes, Lila McCann), country radio remains mostly adult territory. And 3 of Hearts' marketing is thus far clearly teen-targeted.

"If they and the other teen acts sell a lot of records, everyone will say the kids are the saviors of the format," Stark says. "If not, they'll say it serves them right for targeting teens."

ARTIFICIAL IRONY: Ministry, once the leading name in industrial rock, is without a label after parting ways with Warner Bros. Records last year. But it may have something better in terms of exposure for its music. The Chicago outfit, fronted by singer Al Jourgenson and programmer Paul Barker, was recruited by Steven Spielberg to provide some music and even appear in the film "A.I. Artificial Intelligence," the project the director took over from the late Stanley Kubrick.

"It's taken me time not to laugh every time the names Ministry and Spielberg are uttered in the same breath," says Barker. "But it was a great working experience."

The group recorded four pieces, three of which were accepted for the project--two instrumentals and one with a vocal. A video has been shot for the latter.

The movie's soundtrack album will be on--you guessed it--Warner Bros., which has released every Kubrick film soundtrack since "A Clockwork Orange."

Barker hopes the project, due in late June, will boost the act to its next record deal.

"We're working on new material for a Ministry record," he says. "It would be really wonderful if we could have something ready by the middle of spring so that we could capitalize on whatever the Spielberg fallout is."

THE BIG HURT: When Peter Case was 13, hearing the music of bluesman Mississippi John Hurt changed his life, the singer-songwriter says.

After a discussion with Vanguard Records executive Kevin Welk prompted Case to organize a Hurt tribute album, he found that he was hardly alone.

"I was amazed how many other people had gone through similar things with his music," Case says.

As a result, he put together a strong and varied cast for the project. Among those contributing are Beck, Lucinda Williams, John Hiatt, Case's ex-wife Victoria Williams, Ben Harper, Taj Mahal, Gillian Welch and Steve Earle. And Case teamed up with Dave Alvin on "Monday Morning Blues."

The album is planned for June. Meanwhile Case is working on several other projects, including a mostly acoustic album that will be available through his new Web site, http://www.petercase.com. He's also writing songs for his next album for Vanguard, which he expects to release early next year, and has started conducting a series of songwriting workshops at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica.

"I'm just trying to teach people to focus on creating better songs," he says. "And with writing another album, I have to listen to what I'm telling them."

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