Buddy Lee Attractions Shutters After 50-Plus Years; Garth Brooks, Industry Peers Comment

Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for BLA
– BLA 2014
Kevin Neal, Clare Dunn, Donna Lee and David Kiswiney celebrate 50 years of Buddy Lee Attractions at The Stage On Broadway in Nashville, Feb. 20, 2014. Lee, the company CEO, confirmed with Music Row Sept. 21 that Buddy Lee Attractions was closing up shop.
Once a premier Nashville booking agency, Buddy Lee Attractions closed up shop Sept. 21, ending a legacy of establishing artists like Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, George Strait, Hank Williams Jr., and Dixie Chicks.
The news of the closure broke via Nashville publication Music Row, which received a statement from agency CEO Donna Lee confirming the shuttering.
BLA originally opened in 1964 as Aud-Lee attractions, the same year founder Buddy Lee signed Hank Williams Jr. as a client. Four years later, Lee fully acquired the agency and renamed it.
Over the years Buddy Lee built the Nashville agency into a powerhouse that helped launch countless artists and helped Willie Nelson organize the first Farm Aid, according to an obituary by the Los Angeles Times after his passing in 1998.
“I wouldn’t have a career if it weren’t for Buddy Lee Attractions, in particular, Joe Harris,” Garth Brooks told Pollstar. Harris signed Brooks to BLA in 1988 and brought him over to William Morris in 1993. Harris was posthumously inducted into the IEBA Hall Of Fame with Brooks and his manager Bob Doyle and concert promoter Ben Farrell in 2016.
As major agencies made moves in Music City, the independent BLA fell on hard times and its role gradually became that of a boutique agency working with smaller acts.
The company was dealt a major blow with the passing of Karen Vogel, its GM, bookkeeper and “office mother,” in 2016.
Two years before that, Kevin Neal, Jason Aldean’s agent at the time, left his position as president of BLA to become a partner at WME. Jones remembered a number of artists leaving BLA after Neal’s departure and said while the closure had been rumored for some time, it was still sad.
Prior to that, former Buddy Lee Attractions CEO Joey Lee, who represents Miranda Lambert, joined WME as partner in 2010. That year Buddy Lee celebrated its 50th anniversary by expanding its offerings to include music artist development, music publishing, professional speaking and guest appearances.
When news of the closure broke, BLA was listing Naomi Judd, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Vanilla Fudge, Paul Revere’s Raiders, famed baseballer Pete Rose and many others as clients, though some or many were non-exclusive.  
It was unclear at press time where many of the agency’s clients would go, but many lamented the passing of an industry staple.
 “They were definitely a huge booking agency at one time,” Tommy Jones of Millstar Records, who worked with BLA on the band Outshyne, told Pollstar, saying that the closure had been rumored for some time, but it was still sad. “All those people were good people.”
When asked about the future of boutique agencies like the one Buddy Lee grew into, Brooks said their survival would likely depend on the artists those agencies choose to work with.
“The industry is debating whether the boutique agencies will survive or disappear, the answer for me is it is always up to how much the artist is willing to work,” Brooks told Pollstar. “The dream, whether a big agency or small, is to have an agent that knows what work is. To push you, as an artist, to build that fan base one person at a time. Find that agent who overworks his or her artists and then shock that agent by working ten times harder than he or she thought possible. Because in the end, success is up to the work ethic of the artist.”
Skyline Artists Agency, which is based in New Hampshire but has an office in Nashville, talked to Pollstar about existing as an independent agency in the current climate.
“There will always be challenges competing with the major agencies, but our clients come to us because they see the merit in working with a company where they won’t get lost and that is true in both the contemporary and legendary side of our roster.  Our roster isn’t small, but we purposefully keep it boutique,” James Leslie, who works out of Nashville told Pollstar. “Being an independent in Nashville, the biggest advantage is that the city is booming.  Every day, there are an uncountable amount of acts who deliberately move here to begin their career and there are also many valuable artist-friendly organizations — not to mention an unusually strong and supportive independent radio station in Lightning 100. If you make a concerted effort to have your ear to the ground, it is not all that challenging to find an act that is both truly talented yet largely unknown — which is often a nice recipe for a signing.  
“The challenge is that the major agencies in Nashville have that exact same advantage and, invariably, they can also take more risks on smaller acts than we can.  But, honestly, I don’t really notice our status as an independent. I firmly believe there is the ‘right play’ for an act and an agency has no influence as to what room makes most sense for an artist to be placed in. If an act comes to Skyline and we route them a show in Nashville, more often than not, they’re going to be booked in the exact same room a major agency would book them into.”
Steve Peck, who worked with BLA right up to the closure, announced the same day news of the closure broke that he would be bringing back his own agency, Diversified National Artists.
Peck, who brings decades of experience in the industry, enlisted fellow former BLA agent Jon Sayles to help with DNA out of Detroit and Paul Easton to support the Corporate & Special Events division.
Pollstar reached out to Buddy Lee Attractions leadership for comment on the closure but hadn’t heard back at press time.