Dustin Lynch Producer Mickey Jack Cones Talks Studio Tricks, Motley Crue Drama
When Mickey Jack Cones moved to Nashville in 1996, he was a twentysomething Texan who’d already spent more than half his life onstage. As a pre-teen, he had landed a gig playing guitar in his mom’s vocal group, opening for bands like the Platters along the way. Later, he became the leader of his own group, as well as a bar band that played George Strait and Coolio covers on the Texas dancehall circuit. It was a good gig, but Cones eventually decided to focus on a different skill — studio work — by leaving town, heading to Tennessee and enrolling in Belmont University’s production program.
The day he registered for classes, Cones grabbed lunch at Planet Hollywood, which had opened up its short-lived Nashville location earlier that summer. He walked inside, ordered a burger and made small talk with his waiter, another twentysomething musician named Will Hoge.
“Will was in a band at the time called Spoonful,” Cones remembers. “We started talking and I told him I was looking for work. He was like, ‘Wait, you need a job, man?’ and brought me upstairs to talk to his manager, who gave me the job on the spot. So I waited tables at Planet Hollywood while finishing up college at Belmont.”
By the time Planet Hollywood closed its Nashville doors for good in 2001, Cones had ditched the waiting job and made a name for himself as an up-and-coming studio wiz. He was a meticulous engineer, but he also knew how to sing, which meant he could occupy the no-man’s land that sometimes existed between musicians and the people who recorded them. If a vocalist wasn’t nailing the right harmonies, Cones didn’t just tell them to try it again — he showed them what he was looking for.
More than a decade later, he’s racked up a handful of Number 1 hits that straddle the line between country’s traditionalist roots and new-school upgrades. Between recording sessions for Joe Nichols’ new record, Cones found time to talk with Rolling Stone Country about crashing at Steven Tyler’s place in Maui, sneaking a slide ukulele solo into one of the year’s biggest country songs and working with a particularly testy Mötley Crüe.