Blue Steel’s Lathan Moore – From the Illinois Coal Mines to Music Row and Country Radio

Blue Steel Records' Lathan Moore

In order to make the money to follow his dreams from the small Illinois town of Harrisburg to Music City, Lathan Moore took a high-paying job in one of the most dangerous industries in the world -coal mining.

“My Dad’s worked in the mines for years, and he’s actually still working there today,” Moore says in a phone conversation as he and his family headed back to Illinois from Nashville for their July 4 vacation. “They had me on straight midnights for a year and a half.

“I felt like I wasn’t human, especially underground where it’s dark,” he continues. “Then when you come out of the ground, it’s all daylight. The only reason I worked there was that my goal was to get to Nashville.”

He accomplished that dream in 2005, working the Lower Broadway honky-tonks like the Stage and Legends for years. He’s now come much further than that, with a label deal on independent label Blue Steel Records, the home to Burns & Poe and Anna Garrott, and with an album in the works being co-produced by Norro Wilson, the legendary songwriter and producer who co-produced many of Kenny Chesney’s early hits with Buddy Cannon.

But back home in Illinois, the first music that really moved Lathan was Gospel, courtesy of an appearance at his church by the famed Southern Gospel family band the Hinsons.

The Hinsons began singing together in 1967, and in that original lineup featured four siblings, Ronny, Kenny, Larry, and Yvonne Hinson.

“When I was 10 or 11 they came to my church. By then they were called the New Hinsons,” Moore says. “Watching Bo Hinson perform, I was just hooked. It was as country as it gets, but it’s Gospel.”

Lathon’s wife Bethany eventually introduced Lathon to Kenny Hinson, and Lathon was so impressed with Kenny’s singing that some fans feel their vocals and stylings are nearly identical. Moore also spent a great deal of time singing in Gospel quartets, which helped develop his own sound, versatility, and vocal confidence.

Part of his introduction to country came during a period spent at Wayland Baptist College in Texas. All of Lathon’s roommates were from the Lone Star State, and so each morning when he woke up he would hear Texas musical heroes like Bob Wills and Willie Nelson. He loved their music and songwriting too.

But Moore wasn’t cut out for school, since he was so focused on coming to Nashville. Then he went back home and worked the mines so he could afford to move here.

Like so many artists, he’s gone thru the ups and downs of the Row. He recently told some Nashville newcomers, “y’all just plan on staying. Plan on all those doors being opened and you get so excited, but don’t expect it to always work out because most of the times you go through a lot of loopholes.”

A key musical ally is the piano player Phil Redmond, who worked for Craig Morgan for many years and was influenced by such legendary Row keyboard stars as Floyd Cramer and Pig Robbins. They met when Lathon was working on Lower Broadway, and are now best friends.

Redmond started playing Lathon’s music for some folks, and in time that led to Rick Holt and Norro Wilson producing his album. Steve Pope is the label’s highly creative and innovative CEO, and Jimmy White and Vicky Carey the co-owners of Blue Steel.

“Pope’s new approach at an old game,” the label tells us, “is promoting Blue Steel’s artists by blending the industry’s traditional techniques with new technological marketing strategies such as a viral marketing campaign.”

Lathon is thrilled to be working with Norro Wilson.


“Oh man, it’s a learning experience,” he says. “It was really cool to sit back and listen to advice, knowing how many artists Norro has looked through the glass at and sat behind the board. I was very fortunate.”

Moore is very excited about his upcoming album. He and his creative team are in the difficult, intense song selection process now.

“We’re picking out the songs right now,” he says. “We’ve got a few picked. A couple of them I’ve written, including a song called `I Fall.’ We’re definitely looking for that knockout single for our radio tour.”

This summer, Lathon will be appearing at several benefits, including an upcoming show with Burns & Poe in September at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the home to a pair of NASCAR’s most prestigious races every year. NASCAR and country music have been close business partners for years, with country artists often singing the national anthem before NASCAR Nextel Cup Series events.

One Row legend, the late Marty Robbins, raced in several dozen NASCAR events himself, often at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway which has received a new lease on life this year. There were times Marty played Saturday Opry shows early enough that he could scoot over to Fairgrounds to compete in a night race.

“When I play in Atlanta, it will just be guitar vocal,” Lathon said. “And lots of the benefits I’m playing will be in and around Nashville.”

One of the fun features of Lathon Moore shows is the fact he seems to be so completely at ease on stage, and always seems to be having a good time performing and working the crowd.

“I’m very comfortable even in a guitar vocal situation. I’m always worried more about my vocals than anything else,” he says. “I can kind of strum around on guitar now, I was kind of green when I started out on Lower Broadway.”

The first Lower Broad room Lathon played regularly was Legends. But which is his favorite?

“I like the Stage,” he says. “Both vocally and instrument-wise.”

He’s also played numerous shows with a good-sized band at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, more often upstairs than downstairs.

Lathon’s songwriting influences include the Kentucky-born pure country singer and songwriter Marty Brown, who Moore first heard at a writers’ night in the Hotel Preston hosted by Tommy Barnes, who’s co-written some huge hits himself including Tim McGraw’s “Indian Outlaw” and Little Texas’s only Billboard No. 1, “My Love.”

“I went out to the Preston that night with a friend of mine, Roger West,” Moore recalls. “Marty stood on a stool and sang one of his songs called ‘Cornfield Cadillac.’ I fell in love with the song immediately. I held on to that song for five or six years, and every time I saw Marty around town he’d say, `have you cut my song yet?’ ”

Finally, one day the answer was yes, and Marty was able to be there at the session when Lathon Moore cut the song with Norro producing.

There’s something else that separates this guy from just about every other country singer in the business: Lathan Moore is a winemaker.

Moore met a neighbor near his home in the Ashland City area who had made his own wine a few years ago, but hadn’t done so in a while. The two became fast friends, and Lathan says, “he’s 65, and it’s like looking at myself when I get older. All my friends are over age 58 and I’m only like 30.”

Soon the older friend began showing Lathan how to make wine, and Moore read several books on the process himself.

“Before you know it,” he says with a smile, “I didn’t have to buy any more Christmas gifts. I make both white and red wine. The last batch was last summer.”

On a drive near home, Lathan discovered another beautiful vineyard. Turns out the owner of that one was also in the music business. It was Sonny Tillis, whose father is the Country Music Hall of Famer Mel Tillis.

“We were talking about wine, and Sonny grows some really expensive white grapes out there,” Lathon says. “Sonny said that instead of selling those grapes to wineries, he’d teach me. So he had 190 pounds of wine grapes, and my buddy and I split it. I can make wine out of anything – persimmons, for instance – and some turned out and some didn’t. If you add sugar, water, and yeast, it will make some kind of alcohol. It’s a good hobby.”

Winemaking is also a nice break from the hectic world of Music Row and country radio, and come to think of it the Row and radio are very nice breaks from the coal mines.

For Blue Steel artist Lathon Moore, the journey that began in a church in Harrisburg, Illinois and made its way from the dark, scary underground of the graveyard shift in an underground coal mine to the bright lights of Music City, the road ahead looks even brighter.

As he records and completes his new album and continues a busy schedule of live appearances both in Nashville and on the road, the exciting next step will be the radio tour for the album’s first single. After all he’s been through to get to Nashville, that tour figures to be a very smooth road.


By Phil Sweetland

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