Les Butler has seen a lot in the 45 years he’s been in the record business. Over that time, he’s had bluegrass acts signed to his Family Music Group Bluegrass label, and others with a more spiritual orientation have released music on his Real Southern Gospel Music label. Throughout the decades, Butler has produced some of the top names in music, with a list that includes notables such as Earl Scruggs, Larry Gatlin, and The Easter Brothers. He’s also got his radio show, where he spins tunes that lift spirits.
Right now, Butler is working with several bluegrass artists he’s signed to one of his labels. His acts include Heaven’s Mountain Band. The McBride Family. The Marksmen Quartet.
“I get to be very picky,” Butler said. “I get to choose who I get to work with. How real are they? Is it about earning a paycheck, or does the music ooze out of them, whether they get paid for it or not?” He laughed. “But…we help them get paid for it.”
Being selective is a luxury that comes with having longevity in the business; after 45 years, he can seek out artists who have “their music intertwined with their life” in ways that go beyond.
He explained that he was “very broad” in his scope early on. Over time, that narrowed significantly. For instance, he’s only interested in tradition for his Real Southern Gospel label. “Contemporary” or “progressive” music doesn’t interest him much. He only gets excited about stuff that’s “very rootsy, very folksy.”
Butler’s voice might be familiar to listeners across the country due to his work in broadcasting. He’s been on the radio in one way or another for years. One of his programs even won a March of Dimes Achievement in Radio (AIR) Award for “Best Locally Produced Weekend Show” in the Nashville market, beating out even notables such as the Grand Ole Opry in that category.
“I have a one-hour nationally syndicated show, Les Butler & Friends,” he said.
When not helping his talent put out records – or when not creating content as a DJ for both terrestrial and online radio formats – Butler is looking for new ways to serve music fans. His latest idea was a bit of music tourism, a bus tour combined with a live performance. He seems quite pleased with how gospel fans received this organized event.
“I put together a tour of some of the greats of Southern Gospel music that have died,” he said. The bus tour brought participants to gravesites, and Butler shared “personal stories and personal memorabilia from people I have worked with.”
He said the tour helps fans remember and understand gospel artists laid to rest in Butler’s region of Tennessee, including late performers such as Dottie Rambo, members of The Speer Family, and J.D. Sumner, who had a close relationship with Elvis Presley. Although they aren’t really part of the gospel world, the tour also briefly stopped to pay tribute to artists interred nearby, George Jones and Tammy Wynette.
Butler said the group sang songs on the bus. A catered meal was included, and a highlight was a live performance.
“The artist that was featured is a bluegrass artist, the Primitive Quartet,” He said. “They are on their retirement tour.” His Honoring the Trailblazers of Southern Gospel Music bus tour was “a huge success,” and he plans to repeat it.
While it will mainly be a Southern Gospel tour, Butler said, “there will be a bluegrass thread,” wherein he will try to include as much bluegrass as possible.
“It was a huge success,” he said, excited about the prospects of doing it again and again.