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MTSU’s Spring Fed Records Has A New Manager In Paul Burch

In the 1990s, Paul Burch was among the pioneer artists who brought legit country music and old-school Music City values to Lower Broadway’s honky tonks. In the years since, he’s been an admired songwriter and performer while branching into scoring and production. Now he puts on yet another hat as he joins Middle Tennessee State University’s Center For Popular Music (CPM) as the manager of its non-profit, in-house label Spring Fed Records.

Spring Fed is a boutique outlet devoted to releasing traditional music from Tennessee and the South that’s been managed by MTSU for about ten years. Over its twenty year history, it’s released archival music by the Fairfield Four, Uncle Dave Macon, Mississippi John Hurt, John Hartford, and quite a few folk artists whose names are much less recognizable. Recently it’s leaned harder into recording and releasing new projects by contemporary artists, something likely to accelerate under Burch’s stewardship.

“It's a great label, and they have a great catalog. I already had quite a few of their titles,” Burch said in a phone call last week. “I love the music and thought I could lend a hand.”

Burch says he reached out when the position became available because as an independent artist in a revolutionary time for the music business, he’s acquired a wide variety of skills related to recording, production, releasing, publishing, distribution, and marketing.”The facility here is really incredible,” he notes, saying that between the extensive archives of the CPM and the talent pool in the region, “I think it's really kind of about to explode in wonderful ways.”

Burch takes over the label manager role from music archivist John Fabke, who moved to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum last fall after more than a decade at MTSU. The CPM is run by musicologist and musician Greg Reish, who says Burch’s varied background in the roots music business was one factor in making him the offer. “The second thing that stood out is Paul's reverence for traditional music, going back to pre-World War II recordings and field recordings, and across a range of different cultures and genres,” he said. “This is a guy who knows his stuff.”

In a statement last week, the CPM fleshed out Burch’s background: “Paul is a native of Washington, D.C. and received his B.A. from Purdue University. He recently served as Senior Editor of Epiphone and Gibson Instruments. Burch is also a recording artist, producer, and composer whose scoring credits include numerous albums, former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program, and films for HBO and Walt Disney. Paul's decades of experience in the music and entertainment industries, combined with his deep love and respect for traditional and roots music of all kinds, make him an ideal addition to the Spring Fed team.”

Spring Fed Records began about twenty years ago as an initiative of folklorist Evan Hatch at the Arts Center of Cannon County in Woodbury, TN. One release from that first iteration - John Work III: Recording Black Culture - won the Grammy Award for Best Album Notes (written by Bruce Nemerov) in 2008. Hatch worked with MTSU and CPM faculty over the years, so when the Arts Center decided to let go of the label, it found a long-term home at the CPM, where it’s kept a slow but steady tempo of reissues and new recordings, some of them cut with student assistance in the university's recording studio.

Recent releases include the debut recording by middle Tennessee’s Uncle Shuffelo & His Haint Hollow Hootenanny, an old-time ensemble in the lineage of Uncle Dave Macon and the Skillet Lickers. More typical of Spring Fed’s folkloric side is the ambitious seven-CD set Stole from the Throat of a Bird: The Complete Recordings of Ed and Ella Haley, made from 1940s home recordings by the highly influential fiddler and his wife. Spring Fed also acquired some time ago the 1970s era traditional label Davis Unlimited, and it is gradually putting those recordings back into circulation.

Reish says he’s been interested in widening what defines America and The South in Spring Fed’s framing of traditional music, especially as he’s pursued his scholarly focus on conjunto music from Texas and Mexico. “A goal that I have for the next several years within Middle Tennessee is to expand our conceptions of what traditional music here at home really includes,” he told me. “So for example, we have immigrant communities - Kurdish and Laotian communities - that have been here for a relatively long period. And people still might not think of those things as folk music of Middle Tennessee, because we tend to think of fiddles and banjos and gospel and things like that. But it's more than that now.”

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org