Dallas County Line

Country Group Richard Scrushy

Lived in Birmingham, AL

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame


 

Image:Richard Scrushy mug shot.jpg

The way Macey Taylor remembers it, he and other members of Dallas County Line, the country band Richard Scrushy fronted and formed with a mix of HealthSouth employees and Nashville pros, traveled like stars.

Most of the time, the gigs were HealthSouth conferences or company meetings -- events that would make the use of company aircraft acceptable, Taylor remembers.

Dallas County Line was invited to sing -- lip-sync, actually -- on a cerebral palsy telethon in Los Angeles hosted by sitcom stars John Ritter and Henry Winkler. The jet flew from Birmingham to Nashville to pick up the rest of the band and then to LA, where Taylor recalls they stayed in the same hotel the Golden Globe Awards show was taking place.

This was HealthSouth's heyday in the mid-1990s, before the company's culture of fraud was exposed, before anyone asked hard questions about how the firm spent its cash on nonbusiness activities such as Scrushy's country band.

But that spending is getting new scrutiny in a Jefferson County Circuit Court civil trial that will enter its second week on Monday.

The centerpiece of a shareholder suit seeking $2.6 billion in damages against Scrushy is that he directed an long-running accounting fraud that almost torpedoed the Birmingham company before being exposed in 2003. A parallel contention is that he operated HealthSouth like his own piggybank, using the company's fleet of jets to whisk friends and family members around the country and sponsoring a girl band called 3rd Faze whose members got breast implants paid for by the company.

In his defense

Scrushy's lawyers have pointed out that the former CEO reimbursed the company $800,000 for his personal use of corporate jets and that he was acquitted in Birmingham federal court in 2005 on scores of criminal fraud charges. Scrushy and his attorneys also have said many of his entertainment ventures were designed to promote HealthSouth and were initially considered savvy marketing ploys.

Scrushy himself is expected to testify this week. Back in 1996, he told a reporter that he would never let the band get in the way of his real job at HealthSouth.

His involvement in Dallas County Line -- named for the Selma native's home county -- resurfaced this week when plaintiff's lawyers played a video of the band's best-known song, "Honk If You Love To Honky Tonk," to chuckles in the courtroom. [Sample, and purchase, music from the Scrushy band on Amazon]

Scrushy's efforts to achieve stardom with Dallas County Line have always represented a fascinating footnote in his rags-to-riches story, even though it may never be established that company money was diverted to its operation. Scrushy himself was wealthy enough to fund the band, having collected total compensation of $106 million in 1997 alone.

Taylor, who has not testified in the civil case, was there for the band's early years. From the start, the lifelong musician was impressed with the band's equipment and Scrushy's drive to succeed. At Dallas County Line's first gig at the Birmingham Country Club, Taylor remembers being blown away.

"There was enough PA equipment there, you could have played Boutwell Auditorium," Taylor said.

In the band's rehearsal space, a HealthSouth-owned building on Birmingham's Southside, Taylor remembers cameras that were fixed on Scrushy so he could watch himself perform on a video screen.

2 jobs at once

Taylor joined the band in the fall of 1994 after Scrushy had trouble playing the piano parts Nashville session musicians played for the demos of Dallas County Line's first album, called "Rich Man's Dream."

After he joined the band, Taylor said, Scrushy also invited him to work for HealthSouth. Taylor was working in video production for a Birmingham advertising agency at the time, but was told he was in luck because the health care company needed a video production expert.

When the person hiring Taylor asked how much he expected for his annual salary, he gave a figure below $50,000. But he soon realized he should have asked for more, because he might have gotten it. A few months later, he told Scrushy he would like a raise, and Scrushy said he would take care of it in the new year. When Taylor broached the subject again at a company Christmas party, Scrushy erupted, telling Taylor he couldn't give everybody a raise.

Taylor wasn't the only HealthSouth employee toiling away in the band. The drummer was Bill Owens, who became the company's finance chief and a key player in the fraud at the company. The imprisoned Owens testified via video deposition last week in the civil trial.

Ken Livesay, once an assistant controller who helped engineer the company's accounting fraud, played guitar for the band. Livesay was put on probation after confessing to fraud-related charges.

The HealthSouth band members got treated differently from the Nashville pros, Taylor soon learned.

During one photo shoot, Scrushy directed the HealthSouth band members out of the frame after a few pictures. He and the Nashville musicians continued to pose for dozens of more photos, Taylor remembers. Later that night, Taylor asked Scrushy why the rest of the band wasn't included.

"Macey, are you famous?" he remembers Scrushy saying.

Taylor said there were times when the Nashville band members would fly in to Birmingham for practice or a gig and then take limousines over to Scrushy's Vestavia Hills mansion for steak cook-outs -- with only the Nashville band members invited.

High notes, low flights

Taylor also remembers another aspect to the airplane rides to Nashville. He said after flying in a HealthSouth jet to record tracks for an album, Scrushy became convinced that his inability to sing the high notes was due to the high altitudes he experienced in his frequent plane trips.

"Richard had the pilot fly much lower than usual in order to protect his voice," Taylor said.

Despite all the efforts, Dallas County Line called it quits after two albums and a music video for "Honk If You Love to Honky Tonk." That song came out in 1995.

Taylor left the same year, one year after joining both the band and the company. He is still a musician-for-hire and has his own television production company, Taylor Broadcast Services, in Birmingham.

He doesn't miss the HealthSouth days and is not fond of his time in Dallas County Line. He once had two denim jackets -- one black and one blue -- emblazoned with "Dallas County Line" on the back.

"A carpet layer came to my house and saw something related to Dallas County Line and said he was a big fan of the band," Taylor said. "I gave him those jackets because I didn't want them anymore. He seemed happy."

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.....While expanding his company, Scrushy was also attending to his other passion—music. Those who knew him say he craved the applause almost as much as he craved financial success. His band, Proxy, would often perform at company and local functions. Before performances, employees were often asked to attend to fill out the halls. The practice became known as "purchased applause." In the early 1990s Scrushy started another band called Dallas County Line and stocked it with professional musicians from the Oak Ridge Boys and Sawyer Brown. Dallas County Line released a CD and an accompanying video that featured Scrushy in an all-black outfit and cowboy hat singing "Honk if you Love to Honky Tonk."
Not content to merely perform, Scrushy also wanted to be a music entrepreneur. He spent $1 million of HealthSouth's money to bankroll a band of female singers called 3rd Faze, which at one time opened for Britney Spears. The Health-South board approved a grant of 250,000 stock options to the head of Sony Records, Tommy Mottola, who subsequently signed the band. Scrushy even accompanied the women of 3rd Faze to the Grammy Awards.....
Source: Richard M. Scrushy 1952— Biography - Blue-collar beginnings, Starting healthsouth, A new business venture, Rockn roll lifestyle.


2009-05-28  Commentary-Character Is Destiny
A Chronicle of Birmingham's decline.
By David Pelfrey
May 28, 2009
Don't be distracted by the recent coverage of yet another Richard Scrushy court case; sometimes a single image from the past is far more informative. Recently, the Birmingham News ran a large color photo of Scrushy that captured, perhaps inadvertently, the tragicomic nature of what Alabama's most notorious former CEO probably remembers as his glory days. The image was not a shot of your basic suit-and-tie corporate giant. This was Scrushy as would-be country music star, circa 1995, posing as front man for a vanity project called Dallas County Line.
It wasn't actually a pose on Scrushy's part, because it really was his group. In fact, the multimillionaire bumpkin had hired talented sidemen to the extent that Dallas County Line was known as the best band money could buy. At that point, it was a small matter for Scrushy to presume his role as vocalist, or to strut onto the stage in an absurd black Stetson and a denim shirt with the sleeves cut out. Everything you needed to know about the aesthetic values of well-moneyed hicks—and far more than anyone wanted to know about Short Man syndrome—was right there in one redneck package.
Like Richard Scrushy, Larry Langford is not a guy you want to be in the same room with when he encounters some minor disappointment.
If my take on the country & western CEO turned convict sounds harsh, then consider that a random Google entry for Dallas County Line reads: "a video of the band with Scrushy as lead singer, prompting laughter in the courtroom."
Read in passing, that damning little phrase might easily be mistaken for a haiku poem about the entire Richard Scrushy saga. Yet apart from its elegance, the entry urges us to recall that, via Dallas County Line, early hints about Scrushy's true character were on display for anyone who bothered to notice.
Sometimes you didn't have to bother. Let's say you were behind the scenes at the Dallas County Line performance on the HealthSouth Stage at City Stages in 1995. It was not a good time or place to disappoint, disagree with, or otherwise thwart Scrushy. The HealthSouth CEO gave everyone the "full Ted Turner," i.e, "Last time I checked, this was my stage."
When Black & White published a readers' poll that year, it turned out that Scrushy was the punchline to several of the poll's funnier responses. Refusing to believe that he could possibly be an object of nearly universal derision, Scrushy (or someone from among his legion of flunkies) contacted prominent sports talk show host Paul Finebaum about the matter, at which time Finebaum and his sidekick offered a rather inept on-air critique of "this new local rag." They suggested that the poll was a sham, written entirely by Black & White's publisher.
Based on those events and similar ones, casual observers began to imagine what the world might be like if Richard Scrushy were in charge. Other observers considered what HealthSouth might be like if Scrushy remained in charge. Now that the CEO's spectacular demise is a national story, anyone outside the state probably envisions him today as a typical corporate baron or Wall Street hustler busted for playing fast and loose with facts and money. I hate it when outsiders get a distorted picture like that. Scrushy has never been anything other than a hillbilly bully with a desperate sense of entitlement and a monstrously inflated self-regard. Given sufficient wealth and power, it was inevitable that he would cross all kinds of legal and ethical lines. Character is destiny; a close look at one is a reliably accurate glimpse of the other.


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