Nelly Readies Country Music EP

Fifteen years after the release of his debut album, Country Grammar, Nelly is gearing up to record a proper country record. 

The news arrived earlier this week courtesy of the rapper's new manager, J. Erving, who announced Nelly's crossover plans during an interview with Billboard

"He's a free agent on the label side now," Erving explained, "and is working on a country-based Heartland EP, which should be really interesting. He may be one of the first hip-hop artists to jump into that space in an authentic way with Florida Georgia Line and Tim McGraw, so we think he has an opportunity to grow that base even more."

A native of St. Louis, Nelly has often mixed a drawling, rural twang with his hip-hop hooks, although he didn't fully embrace country music until 2004. That year, he scored an international hit with "Over and Over," a genre-bending collaboration with "Live Like You Were Dying"-era Tim McGraw. Nine years later, Nelly teamed up with Florida Georgia Line for a popular remix of "Cruise," whose sales helped the song become the top-selling digital country single of all time. 

Florida Georgia Line returned the favor by appearing on 2013's M.O., Nelly's last solo album. The record sold roughly 25,000 copies during its first month of release, though, making it a commercial flop by Nelly's usual standards. Earlier this month, the rapper ran afoul of the law in Putnam County, Tennessee, when marijuana, methamphetamines and numerous firearms were found aboard his tour bus, roughly 80 miles east of Nashville.

Dierks Bentley to Headline Unplugged Benefit

Since moving from October to June in 2012, the Stars for Second Harvest concert has become a summertime tradition in Nashville. This year, Dierks Bentley will headline the intimate songwriters' night at the Ryman Auditorium.

Related: ACM Party for a Cause 2015: Best Backstage & Onstage Photos

Set for June 9th — the unofficial kickoff to CMA Music Festival week — the Stars for Second Harvest benefit features some of Music Row's most gifted writers playing their popular hits. As he's done for the past 10 years, Craig Wiseman, the Grammy-winning songwriter behind 21 Number Ones, including Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying," hosts the evening. Along with Bentley, Nashville star Charles Esten and young sister duo (and Esten's TV costars) Lennon and Maisy Stella will also perform.

Wiseman says the timing is perfect for Bentley to headline — especially in light of his performance of "Riser" on the recent Academy of Country Music Awards. "On the heels of Dierks' emotional performance at the ACMs, we're thrilled that he's agreed to headline our show for the first time this year," he says. "The talent that takes the stage in support of Stars for Second Harvest continues to inspire and excite me and this year might be our best yet."

It's a bold statement for the famously outsized Wiseman, who is known in Nashville as much for his sartorial flair and one-liners as he is for his hits. Past Stars for Second Harvest lineups have included Florida Georgia Line, Jake Owen and rapper Nelly, who, coincidentally, is currently working on a country EP.

Tickets for the event, which range from $35 to a special "VIP Experience" for $250, are currently on sale. Proceeds from the show go to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. So far, Wiseman's concert has raised $750,000 for the charity.

Bentley, who launches his summer tour June 5th in Raleigh, is slated to perform at LP Field during CMA Music Fest.

Hear Alternate Version of Rolling Stones’ ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’

When the Rolling Stones gathered at London’s Olympic Studios in the summer of 1970 to work on Sticky Fingers, they'd already laid down several classics like "Brown Sugar" and "Dead Flowers"  in previous months. But they weren't out of steam yet. During a jam with Charlie Watts, Keith Richards started experimenting with open G guitar tuning and knew he had something special. "My fingers just landed in the right place and I discovered a few things about that tuning that I'd never been aware of," Richards said in 2002. "I think I realized that even as I was cutting the track."

The track, "Can’t You Hear Me Knocking," went on to become one of the most swaggering, defining Stones epics. On this bare-bones early version – premiered on Buzzfeed and set for release for the first time on the Sticky Fingers deluxe reissue June 9th – you can hear the magic start to take shape. Richards feels his way through the riff – and a few riffs that didn’t make the final cut – as Mick Jagger improvises. "It was smiles all around," Richards wrote of the session in 2010’s Life. "For a guitar player it's no big deal to play, the chopping, staccato bursts of chords, very direct and spare."

This early, loose version is only half as long as the final one, lacking the song's second movement with Mick Taylor's Santana-style solo. "We didn’t even know they were still taping," Richards once said of that section. "We thought we’d finished. We were just rambling and they kept the tape rolling. I figured we'd just fade it off. It was only when we heard the playback that we realized, 'Oh, they kept it going.' Basically we realized we had two bits of music. There’s the song and there’s the jam."

The band hadn't tackled the challenging song live for decades before the Licks tour in 2002, and they've played it on and off in tours since – but chances are they will play it this summer on their Zip Code tour. "We're floating the idea of playing the whole album," Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone earlier this month. "At the very least, we'll play the songs we don't normally play."

Hear Nate Ruess’ Epic ‘Grand Romantic’ Opener ‘AhHa’

Nate Ruess of fun. has shared the frenzied, multi-suite epic "AhHa," the opening track off his upcoming debut solo album Grand Romantic. The single's opening salvo is reminiscent of Ruess' foot-stomping, Queen-inspired fun. works, but the track soon blossoms into a touching tale about breaking free, struggling with depression and finding salvation in music.

The "AhHa" lyrics also reveal how Ruess plucked his album title Grand Romantic. "By the time I turned 25 / I was lost among the pavement / lower than the basement, and I couldn’t stand to smile / I thought of taking my own life, but mama don’t cry," Ruess sings. "I found songs among the tragic / hung my hat on sadness / Mom, I think they’re trying to keep the grand romantic in me."

"AhHa" follows Ruess' debut solo single "Nothing Without Love." Speaking to Rolling Stone, the fun. singer opened up about his upcoming album, set for release June 16th, which began with songs he penned for fun.'s Some Nights follow-up before deciding to keep the tunes for himself. "You get a little selfish about the songs that you write, and it's really hard to do that in a group setting, where there are two other people, and you have to think about everybody else's feelings," Ruess said. "I'm writing and singing these songs about myself. When you work with producers versus bandmates, that line becomes a lot less blurry."

Despite Ruess' solo LP and guitarist Jack Antonoff's Bleachers project, fun. have promised fans that the trio is not breaking up, but they are going on hiatus until they are "inspired" to reunite again. "One thing that has always been so special about fun. is that we exist as three individuals in music who come together to do something collaborative," the group said in a joint statement. "We make fun. records when we are super inspired to do so."

Lady Antebellum Preview Soaring ‘Wheels Up’ Tour

The big inspiration for Lady Antebellum's upcoming Wheels Up Tour? A certain British rock band with a penchant for lasers.

"We refer to Coldplay a lot," said Hillary Scott, talking to reporters after the trio gave a short preview of what their show will sound like (big hits) and look like (yes, lots of those lasers) when it hits the road in May. "They have an amazing ability to create moments."

Recreated for rehearsals inside a warehouse that, quite appropriately, looks like an airplane hanger, the Wheels Up Tour will be about highlighting the group's catalog of singles with a backdrop worthy of an arena rock band: a massive, oval-shaped stage truss and lots of spinning, darting lights. On Friday, they gave a taste of how it all will come together, running through a set of three songs plus a faux encore that included their breakthrough hit "Need You Now" and title track of their current LP, 747. On the screen behind them: a soaring plane.

"This is where you're supposed to lose your mind," Charles Kelley urged the small crowd — though he likely won't have to beg for any applause out on tour, which makes its first stop in Lubbock, Texas. Kelley recently played fan himself at Bob Seger's show in Nashville, which prompted him to reflect on his own band's potential for "Like a Rock"-style longevity.

"Seger is close to 70," Kelley said, "He hadn't toured in a while, but it was all the way up to the rafters and I was just sitting there thinking, 'Wow, could we ever get to that point where we're in our fifties and we take five years off — when we come back, will people still be interested?' Seger, man! I was just a fan. I tried not to over-analyze it, but more than anything, just watching an act that can still get up there and kill it, I only hope that we can do that."

The trio can't resist, though, taking mental notes when they find the rare free occasion to go to another artist's concert, and Kelley is a sucker for music documentaries. "Every plane we are on, I look over and Charles is watching the Eagles documentary [History of the Eagles]," Scott laughed — the classic band's famously tempestuous relationship is about as far from Lady Antebellum's peaceful, family-friendly, Lipton-swigging one as you can get. "Either that or Fleetwood Mac."

Though Scott does admit there are times when you just want to get out and enjoy the music. Case in point: a recent Justin Timberlake gig. "That was a girls' night," she admitted. "I had some tequila and I wasn't note-taking, I was dancing along."

She also caught a night of Sam Hunt's club tour while the band was on a European leg. The "Take Your Time" singer will be an opening act for Wheels Up along with Hunter Hayes. Now that Dave Haywood has fashioned a portable studio for the road, they're hopeful for a little creative synergy along the way.

"I hope to do some [writing] with Hunter and Sam," Kelley said. "They're such amazing writers, and we just wrote a song that Hunter cut. I want to have those moments before sound check that's like, 'Hey Hunter, come check out this idea.' We might write the next big hit."

"Ideas come at any moment," added Haywood. "I'd hate for us not to have a way to put them down."

Soon it will be their tenth anniversary together, and they're putting a lot of thought into their legacy — what the future will bring, what their goals are (Scott wants to become a member of the Grand Old Opry), when they might be able to take a little time off. But one thing will remain constant: There will be no ugly fights or violent breakups.

"Our documentary," said Scott, "would be the opposite of the Eagles."

Billy Corgan Signs On as Senior Producer for TNA Wrestling

Billy Corgan has recently hinted at the demise of the Smashing Pumpkins, and if the Siamese Dream really is winding down, the frontman has already found a new line of work: Senior Producer, Creative and Talent Development for TNA Wrestling. Corgan will begin his new role effective immediately. As part of his job, Corgan will "develop characters and create story lines" for TNA's flagship program Impact Wrestling, which airs Friday nights on Destination America, according to a press release.

"Saying I'm humbled and honored by this opportunity to be part of TNA, a world-class wrestling organization, is an understatement and a dream come true," Corgan said in a statement. "What's great is the entire TNA organization stands in full support of my music life with the Smashing Pumpkins. In return, I'm fully committed to using my 30 years of entertainment experience, along with my deep-rooted passion for pro wrestling, to take on the thrilling challenge of creatively contributing to Impact Wrestling, finding and developing new talent, and working eye-to-eye with the best-of-the-best. For as cultures currently evolve at great speed, so must pro wrestling meet and supersede such expectations to thrive."

In an interview with Variety, Corgan said he hoped to move away from the generic, age-old good guys vs. bad guys plot lines and mine some new ground in terms of professional wrestling storytelling, including characters who explore race and transgender issues. "There is a tremendous opportunity to go into really fresh, new directions," Corgan said. "There are ways to explore those themes in ways that are productive, create new stars and show that value-based 'babyfaces,' no matter what their background, no matter where they come from, can draw new audiences and inspire people in new ways."

Corgan has long professed an admiration for professional wrestling, going back to when he penned the track "G.L.O.W." – an acronym for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling – for the Pumpkins in 2008. Corgan then founded his own Chicago-based wrestling league Resistance Pro in 2011. In June 2012, Corgan was attached to his own reality series dedicated to the Resistance Pro league; AMC Network eventually aligned itself with the project. However, the series never went to air as AMC decided to veer away from the unscripted programs that they had in development, and Corgan ultimately severed his ties with the award-winning Resistance Pro in November 2014.

"I've known Billy for years and have always been blown away by his musical artistry, as well as his knowledge and understanding of professional wrestling," TNA President Dixie Carter said in a statement. "He has always impressed me with his creativity and passion for our business. Billy is truly gifted and understands the emotion tied to the psychology of connecting with an audience."

Corgan can perhaps sketch out some TNA storylines when the Smashing Pumpkins hit the road this summer on a joint jaunt with Marilyn Manson and their own first ever acoustic trek.

Despite Opposition, Elvis Presley’s Private Planes Will Remain at Graceland

Elvis Presley's custom-designed airplanes – the Lisa Marie and the Hound Dog II – will remain permanent fixtures at Graceland. The late singer's Memphis estate issued a statement on Sunday confirming the plans – a change from previous arrangements to relocate Presley's tricked-out private jets to a nearby lot, The Associated Press reports. 

The Lisa Marie, a Convair 880 named after the rock legend's daughter, features a red-white-and-blue exterior, gold-plated bathroom fixtures, a stereo system, a conference room and bed. According to a Julien's auction listing from January, Presley bought the jet from Delta Air Lines for $250,000 in April 1975; refurbishing brought the total to over $600,000, and he first boarded the craft in November of that year. Presley purchased The Hound Dog II, a Lockheed JetStar, in 1975 for around $900,000 as he awaited renovations for the Lisa Marie. 

After changing hands following Presley's death in 1977, the planes ended up in the care of OKC Partnership, who agreed in the mid-Eighties to display the planes at Graceland in exchange for a cut of ticket sales. But the situation became complicated in April 2014, when Elvis Presley Enterprises sent a letter to OKC asking the company to "make arrangements for the removal of the airplanes and the restoration of the site on or shortly after April 26, 2015."

This month, OKC received approval from the Shelby County land use board and Memphis City Council to move the planes to a nearby lot, where they'd be displayed outdoors as a tourist museum. But Graceland's latest comments seem to nullify those plans. "Graceland is pleased that an agreement has been reached for Elvis' two airplanes, the Lisa Marie and Hound Dog II, to remain at Elvis Presley's Graceland in Memphis permanently," the estate said in a statement.

OKC Partnership declined an immediate comment from AP. But Lisa Marie Presley appeared to confirm the news on her Twitter account: "Exciting news:I wanted 2 b the first to tell U: The Planes will remain at Graceland 4 ever!" she wrote. "We own them and have fun plans 4 them as well :)"

Winehouse Family ‘Disassociates’ From ‘Amy’ Documentary

Amy Winehouse's family have slammed the upcoming documentary Amy, saying they consider the film to be "misleading" and biased against the family. "The Winehouse family would like to disassociate themselves from the forthcoming film about their much missed and beloved Amy," a spokesperson for the Winehouse family said in a statement.

"They feel that the film is a missed opportunity to celebrate her life and talent and that it is both misleading and contains some basic untruths," the statement continued. "There are specific allegations made against family and management that are unfounded and unbalanced." Amy is set to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Speaking to The Sun on Sunday, Amy's father Mitch Winehouse said of seeing the film, "I felt sick when I watched it for the first time. Amy would be furious. This is not what she would have wanted." As seen in the film's trailer, the Asif Kapadia-directed documentary uses archival footage, interviews and previously unseen recordings to reconstruct Winehouse's rise to fame and eventual descent.

"We came on board with the full backing of the Winehouse family, and we approached the project with total objectivity," a documentary spokesperson said in a statement. "We conducted in the region of 100 interviews with people that knew Amy. The story that the film tells is a reflection of our findings from these interviews."

In the family's statement, the Winehouse family also accuses filmmakers of only interviewing "a narrow sample" of the singer's associates, "many of whom had nothing to do with her in the last years." The family was reportedly upset that the filmmakers interviewed Blake Fielder-Civil, Winehouse's ex-husband who her family feels enabled the singer. In the film, Fielder-Civil blames Winehouse's addictions on her father.

"Blake is saying in the film that the reason Amy was like that was because of me — not because he gave her crack and heroin and because he completely manipulated and coerced her into Class A drugs," Mitch Winehouse said. "If the real truth came out about Blake, he wouldn't be able to walk down the street, so how they can allow him to make that claim about me is so hurtful and beyond belief."

"Fundamentally, the Winehouse family believes that the film does a disservice to individuals and families suffering from the complicated affliction of addiction," the Winehouse family statement read. "By misunderstanding the condition and its treatment, the film suggests for instance that not enough was done for Amy, that her family and management pushed her into performing or did not do enough to help her."

Despite not having the family's approval, Mitch Winehouse admitted there isn't much he can do to prevent the film from heading to movie theaters; the U.K. release is scheduled for July. However, he did threaten legal action against Amy's producers. "We can't stop it, but when the film does come out, we can sue for libel or slander. Our lawyers will view the film and reserve the right to do that and see whether there are any grounds," Mitch Winehouse said.

Read the entire Winehouse family statement below:

"The Winehouse family would like to disassociate themselves from the forthcoming film about their much missed and beloved Amy. The documentary about her life will be released this summer and receive its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

They feel that the film is a missed opportunity to celebrate her life and talent and that it is both misleading and contains some basic untruths. There are specific allegations made against family and management that are unfounded and unbalanced. The narrative is formed by the testimony of a narrow sample of Amy’s associates, many of whom had nothing to do with her in the last years of her life. Counter views expressed to the filmmakers did not make the final cut.

Fundamentally, the Winehouse family believes that the film does a disservice to individuals and families suffering from the complicated affliction of addiction. By misunderstanding the condition and its treatment, the film suggests for instance that not enough was done for Amy, that her family and management pushed her into performing or did not do enough to help her. In reality, the filmmakers were told of a huge effort from all concerned to help Amy at all stages of her illness and their constant presence in her life throughout, as well as that of many excellent medical professionals.

As many families know, addiction cannot begin to be treated properly until the individual helps themselves and there is no 'one size fits all' solution. Furthermore, Amy was an adult who could never be told what she could and could not do. Through their work with the Amy Winehouse Foundation, Amy's family have met many others enduring through the same struggle that they endured and have helped hundreds of disadvantaged young people in Amy's name. They will continue to do so and hope their work creates more understanding of a terrible illness."

Watch Jason Isbell Pay Tribute to Warren Zevon on ‘Letterman’

With a new, "celebratory" album hitting stores in July and a baby due by early fall, there's about to be a lot of noise in Jason Isbell's life. Maybe that's why he chose to dial things back for his performance on the Late Show With Dave Letterman Friday night, hitting the Ed Sullivan Theater's stage with just an acoustic guitar and a two-piece band.

The song? A stripped-down version of Warren Zevon's "Mutineer," one of the two cover tunes from Isbell's new EP, Sea Songs

Zevon, a frequent musical guest on Letterman's program during his lifetime, had performed the song himself during a Late Show appearance on October 30, 2002, less than a year before losing a battle with lung cancer. It was his final public appearance ever. More than a decade later, Isbell's performance helps bring the song full circle, hitting the airwaves during the final stages of another acclaimed career: David Letterman's tenure as the longest-running late-night host in TV history.

In the performance, Isbell trades harmonies and sideways glances with wife Amanda Shires, while Willie Nelson's harmonica wiz kid, Mickey Raphael, sweeps in and out of the mix. It's a tender, toned-down performance, one that emphasizes the punch of Zevon's lyrics and the connection between two of Americana's biggest sweethearts rather than the usual swagger of Isbell's backup band, the 400 Unit. When the song concludes, a genuinely moved Letterman, whose last Late Show episode is less than a month away, says, "Jason, I can't thank you enough for everything. You've been great to us. Thank you."

Something More Than Free, Isbell's fifth album since leaving the Drive-By Truckers, is due out July 17th.

Jay Z Defends Tidal: ‘We Are Here for the Long Haul’

"Stream of consciousness coming in 5, 4, 3, 2…," Jay Z's rarely used Twitter warned before the rapper unloaded a 15-minute, 14-tweet defense of his oft-criticized Tidal, the high-quality audio streaming service the rapper recently acquired and relaunched. Amid the recent departure of the company's CEO, a significant drop in Tidal app downloads and disapproval from some of his artist peers, Jay Z tweeted, "Tidal is doing just fine. We have over 770,000 [subscriptions]. We have been in business less than one month."

After a surge in popularity following the service's star-studded launch party in late March, Tidal has reportedly already spiraled out of the Apple app store's top 750 downloads. Despite the drop, Jay Z remains optimistic about the service. "The iTunes Store wasn't built in a day. It took Spotify 9 years to be successful," the rapper tweeted. "We are here for the long haul. Please give us a chance to grow & get better."

Because of the high-profile status of the artists Jay Z invited to join him in the Tidal venture – Kanye West, Rihanna, Madonna, Jack White, etc. – the service was viewed as a way for the wealthy artists to get even wealthier. "I think they totally blew it by bringing out a bunch of millionaires and billionaires and propping them up onstage and then having them all complain about not being paid," Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard lamented about Tidal.

Mumford & Sons' Marcus Mumford was also critical of the service. "We wouldn't have joined it anyway, even if they had asked. We don't want to be tribal," Mumford said. "A band of our size shouldn't be complaining. And when they say it's artist-owned, it's owned by those rich, wealthy artists.

However, Jay Z promised that Tidal is beneficial to all artists, not just the platinum-selling ones. "Tidal pays 75% royalty rate to ALL artists, writers and producers - not just the founding members on stage," he tweeted. "Rich getting richer? Equity values... YouTube $390 billion. Apple $760 billion. Spotify $8 billion. Tidal $60 million."

Jay Z reminded skeptical artists that the streaming service has the technology to allow musicians to see which subscribers are listening to their music and how often. That transparency made it possible for Jay Z and Jack White to personally call their Tidal-subscribing fans to thank them for using the service. "We have Tidal X - it supports artists by giving them a platform to connect with their most loyal fans. Tidal is for all," Jay Z tweeted.

The rapper also targeted unnamed rival companies "that are spending millions on a smear campaign." "We are not anti-anyone, we are pro-artist & fan," Jay Z tweeted. "We made Tidal for fans. We have more than just music. We have video, exclusive concerts, tickets for events early, live sports! Tidal is where artists can give their fans more without the middlemen."

"Our actions will speak louder than words. We made Tidal to bring people the best experiences and to help artists give that to their fans over and over again," Jay Z wrote in conclusion. "We are human (even Daft Punk ha). We aren't perfect - but we are determined."

The Roc Nation mogul closed out his Tidal defense by reminding followers that Jack White's North Dakota concert Sunday night would stream live exclusively on the service.