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Striking a chord in Nashville

by Wayne Newton | May 6, 2014

Nashville HR
Brian Ferriman in downtown Nashville. (Photo by Tom Griscom)

If reason had won out over passion, then maybe Brian Ferriman would have been a lawyer practising in his hometown of London, Ont.

But then who would have helped launch the careers of Canadian country music stars Michelle Wright, Terry Carisse and Gary Fjellgaard?

Ferriman, BA’72 (English), rejected law school after graduating from Western and instead joined two partners to open a recording studio called Springfield Sound Studio in a former schoolhouse near Aylmer, Ont.

“I took pre-business at first at Western, but I was captivated by the profs and the material in the English department, and so after my first year I switched over to English and Criticism,” Ferriman, 63, said. “The criticism was a good thing to have. Both English and Criticism have served me well over the years, surprisingly, not necessarily to my bank account but from a critical standpoint. Working with both English and Criticism gave me a sense of the communication process and that was a really helpful thing to have.”

Despite a passion for performing and having worked his way through Western playing in a local rock band called Every One of Us, Ferriman decided early on his future in the music business was behind the scenes.

“The first decision I made when I graduated from university was, apart from not wanting to go into grad school or law school, that I thought I was a better business person than a musician,” he said. “So, my future lay on the business side of music, working with artists, maybe as a producer, maybe as a manager, maybe at a record label. But all of those things held more interest for me.”

Turns out he did all of the above. Springfield Sound Studio recorded many regional and national acts, including Cape Breton country-blues singer Matt Minglewood and country artist Terry Sumsion.

When running a recording studio in rural Ontario proved not viable, Ferriman and his wife, fellow Western graduate Susan (Kramer), BA’72 (Mathematics), moved to Mississauga and formed Savannah Records. Together, they manage a growing roster of Canadian country music talent, including The Good Brothers and Gary Fjellgaard.

Ferriman soon looked south to make inroads for his artists and himself.

On the flight home from his first trip to Nashville in 1983, he met Terry Carisse, who under Ferriman’s management became a six-time winner of the Canadian Country Music Association Male Vocalist of the Year Award.

Ten years later, Brian and Susan and their two children left Mississauga for Brentwood, Tenn., a bedroom community outside Nashville, where Brian now runs Savannah Music.

Singer Michelle Wright may be his most successful artist and Ferriman remembers well the first time he heard Wright’s audition tape in 1985.

“I thought, ‘What an interesting voice. I hope she looks good, is an interesting person and can support that sound,’” he said of the singer he’s managed for more than 25 years. “At the time, Willie Nelson was big with a signature voice and Michelle had that with her smoky alto.” Wright moved to Nashville the same year as the Ferrimans and was among the first country artists signed to Clive Davis’ Arista label.

Her most recent album, titled Strong, was released in 2013. Ferriman calls it one of her best.

“Music is a youth-oriented industry, so the nature of opportunities changes,” he said. “It takes strategy, insight and patience to transcend initial success. I have a couple of aphorisms: The harder you work, the luckier you get. Overnight sensations take 10 years to make. Loretta Lynn said you have to be first, better and different to succeed in country music.”

While he’s lived in Tennessee for over two decades, Canada hasn’t forgotten Ferriman’s contributions to growing the careers of some of its finest country music performers.

He was inducted to the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008 and is an eight-time winner of the CCMA’s Manager of the year and four-time winner of Record Industry Person of the Year. Not bad for a guy who turned his back on law school.

This article appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of Alumni Gazette
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