Groobees kind of love

The Groobees' Susan Gibson wrote the song that made the world sing. Well, at least fans of the Dixie Chicks.

Which brings us to yet another classic show-biz scenario: artist stands up to the powers-that-be and is eventually vindicated. Chicks co-producer and Sony exec Blake Chancey didn't want to cut "Wide Open Spaces." But Maines was adamant. "From my understanding," notes Gibson, "she was the one who pretty much drew the line in the sand, and said, 'Look, we've been playing this song live, we get a great response to it, people ask for it, it's us, we love singing it.' From the beginning they were pushing for it to be on there, and I am so glad."

The rest is, if not history, certainly finance. To date, "Wide Open Spaces" has earned some $600,000 in writer and publisher royalties from most of its chart-topping radio play and some but not yet all of the 10 million in record sales. Or in other words, it's bound to top out at somewhere around a cool million over the next year or so. Add to that the annual annuity from catalog record sales, golden oldie airplay and, one imagines, Muzak, and there's a healthy little chunk of cash to follow for years to come. If it ever gets sold for a TV commercial -- the number is a natural SUV theme -- there's the potential for yet another six-figure check, maybe more.

Or in other words, Susan Gibson has hit the jackpot. And she didn't even have to sit in a chair before countless TV viewers answering trivial questions to reap her million-buck windfall.

The Groobees swear singer Susan Gibson's (third from left) newfound wealth hasn't strained their relationship.
The Groobees swear singer Susan Gibson's (third from left) newfound wealth hasn't strained their relationship.

And here's where one might expect another of those same old stories: a singer in a band gets singled out for attention. Despite the group's all-for-one-and-one-for-all declarations, he or she eventually leaves the group behind, with bad feelings rippling in the wake. Will the Groobees conform to that age-old archetype? They protest not, vigorously and convincingly. But then again, to do so is part and parcel of that archetype. So when Melott insists that "what I love about it is that we are a band," his fellow members immediately take up the same tune.

Guitarist Gary Thomason chimes in with the old saw about how "we've played together for a long time, and it's like a family. I can't tell you how many bands we've played with, and the next time we come to town, it's a whole new line-up. It's like a revolving door for bands. I just love the fact that these same four people have played on all three albums; we've made $400 a month together..."

"Slept on the floor together," adds Melott.

"We've played the same crappy gigs together," notes Thomason.

"The proms..." interjects Gibson with a slight sneer.

"And I think that, in and of itself, creates some intangible thing," Thomason speculates. "In fact, when I look over at Scott and Susan, I've got all those years of playing with those guys at my side. I feel like everyone in the band is indispensable."

But for all the band-in-a-van clichés they offer, Gibson also points out some particulars in this group's interrelations that she values. "I know it wouldn't sound the same if it weren't for Gary's ears hearing his part, or Todd stretching out to bring a new sound to a new song. Because I'm definitely playing the same three chords over and over again. So it has to be these guys fluxing and shifting and changing that brings a little originality to our original material. Because otherwise, I get in ruts. And it's their musicianship that brings my material out to the edges."

It all sounds so positive, one really wants to believe it. And in the case of The Groobees, there's a key factor that actually generates some abiding faith in their words of esprit. "Wide Open Spaces" is published by Pie-Eyed Groobee Music, which is equally owned by all of the band members. Hence half of the royalties from the song flow into the band's coffers, which goes a long way toward easing the great financial divide between the haves and have-nots in this makeshift family.

Part of that is due to Lloyd Maines. While talking to him about producing an album for them, The Groobees were at the same time entertaining an offer to buy their publishing catalog to finance the recording. Maines urged them to hold on to their publishing. "And we're glad he did," says drummer Todd Hall.

As for Gibson, she seems happy to give credit and profit all around when it comes to her hit song. "It's bigger than what I wrote for sure, and I know that's from the collaborative effort of every single person who had a hand in it since it first got out there."

The Groobees had all but completed their first CD of what Melott calls "'60s-influenced modern rock" when Gibson initially came into the picture in 1995. Guitarist Thomason, who'd played folk gigs with her, suggested to his bandmates that they have her add some harmony vocals.

At first, the boys in the band were hesitant. "They were all kind of like, 'I dunno; we don't need a girl,'" recalls Thomason. "And then she came in, and she's reading the words for the first time as she's singing them and doing these awesome harmonies."

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