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Triple threat talent Tillis: singer-songwriter-comedian, passes (1932-2017)

NASHVILLE — Legendary singer-songwriter Mel Tillis, 85, died Nov. 19 at the Munroe Medical Center in Ocala, Fla. Following major surgery last year, the Country Music Hall of Famer never quite regained his full strength. Even before suffering colon cancer, Mel had experienced open-heart bypass surgery in 2014.
The man behind writing such songs as “Detroit City,” “I Ain’t Never,” “Heart Over Mind,” “Burning Memories,” “Honky Tonk Song,” “Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love To Town)” and “Honey, Open That Door,” also charted 77 Billboard singles himself, 36 at Top 10, six peaked #1, including “Good Woman Blues,” “I Believe In You” and “Coca-Cola Cowboy.” He recorded over 60 albums, though only two charted Billboard’s Top 10, “Sawmill” (#3, 1973), “Heart Healer” (#6, 1977), and one of his last being Atlantic’s colorful 1998 collaboration “Old Dogs” in which longtime pals Bobby Bare, Waylon Jennings and Jerry Reed shared the mic.
Even though his creations “The Violet And A Rose” or “All Right, I’ll Sign the Papers,” tug at the heartstrings, he also tickled the funny-bone with humorous anecdotes or self-effacing stuttering pronouncements. This writer first encountered Mel Tillis and his Statesiders band in Germany, entertaining lonesome GIs, whom he brought a sense of home via his composition “Detroit City,” with its haunting refrain “I wanna go home, I wanna go home . . .” in 1969.
During our last interview, this time at his lakeside home near Ashland City, Tenn., Mel mentioned being named Comedian of the Year from 1973-’78 by Music City News, a fan-voted award: “And would you believe, I’ve never done a comedy album? Go figure. Well, over the years I’ve recorded most of my shows and I’ve got enough material for a hundred albums. Most of the stuff is clean except for the one the cat peed on the matches . . . I did that in Vegas.”
Such showmanship earned him the Country Music Association’s prestigious Entertainer of the Year award in 1976, and national recognition in 2011, when President Barack Obama presented him the National Medal of Arts in the White House. Tillis, humbled by that honor, proclaimed, “I’ve truly been blessed in my career and still can’t believe I was chosen to receive this from my country. I was surprised to say the least.” He was indeed in high cotton, sharing the night with such fellow recipients as pianist Andre Watts, poet Rita Dove and actor Al Pacino.
Tillis has also made some acting attempts in movies, most of which Pacino’d probably pass on: “Cottonpickin’ Chicken Pickers” (1967), “W.W. & The Dixie Dancekings” (1975), “The Villain” (1979), “Smokey & The Bandit II” (1980), “Cannonball Run” (1981), “Uphill All The Way” (1986) and “Beer For My Horses” (2008). Tillis tunes have graced numerous film soundtracks, as well, most notably Clint Eastwood’s “Every Which Way But Loose” (1979), boasting a pair of Mel hits, “Send Me Down To Tucson” and “Coca-Cola Cowboy.” Other soundtrack films have included “Hamburger Hill” (1987), “The Help” (2011) and “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013).
In consideration of his 80-plus writer awards, Mel’s been hailed twice as BMI Songwriter of the Decade. Actually, Tillis was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Association International’s Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1976, and belatedly accorded WSM’s Grand Ole Opry cast membership status in 2007, in which daughter Pam was already a member.

Tommy Collins’ creation ‘New Patches’ earned BMI award for him and Mel, in 1984, seen above with BMI’s Frances Preston and Roger Sovine.

Not bad for poor boy Lonnie Melvin Tillis, born to Lonnie Lee and Burma Tillis at 2602 Morgan Street in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 8, 1932: “Yeah, I was born smack-dab in the middle of the Great Depression. My daddy was a baker, and we lived in and around Hillsborough County for about 10 years.” Lonnie senior also played guitar and harmonica, an early inspiration to Mel and brother Richard. At age 3, toddler Lonnie suffered a bout of malaria that left him stuttering. A testament to Tillis’ character and stamina was his ability to turn that handicap into an asset on life’s stage.
Mel’s biography, published in 1984 bears the title “Stuttering Boy,” co-written with journalist Walter Wager, whom Mel identifies thusly, “a Brooklyn boy – and he wrote like he was from Brooklyn.” During our 2005 chat, Tillis confided he was intent on producing a more thorough bio: “I’ve got about a hundred pages on a new one done already. I’m writing it myself, the way it was, and the way I talk, with all the colloquialisms intact, not the stutter. That is, if I ever get off the lake.”
Harking back to childhood, Mel pointed out, “Just about when World War II started, Daddy moved his family down to a little town called Pahokee on the banks of Lake Okeechobee. You know, it’s a wonder I ever did learn how to talk with all them names.”
Before graduating from Plant City High, Mel played football: “I was a running back, though I wanted to be a quarterback. But they said you had to be able to talk to do that. I said, ‘Just give me the ball and tell me which way to run.’ I was pretty fast, I guess, as they called me ‘Crazylegs’ (like fast football runner Elroy Hirsch, who earned that nickname).” Despite college offers to play football, Tillis passed them up, attending the University of Florida for about four months, but with the Korean War underway, would soon find himself in uniform.
Admittedly Tillis was bitten earlier by the music bug. “When I started school I didn’t know I stuttered, but found out in a hurry. When the teacher found I could sing without stuttering, she encouraged me to sing. She told everyone, ‘This little fella can’t talk, but he sings real good.’ I went around to different classes to sing for them . . . and from that time on I found I could mingle socially with other kids.”
Although in school he started playing drums, Mel recalled he had his eye on guitar as an instrument: “Then my brother (Richard) bought a guitar and he wouldn’t let me touch it. He messed around with it about a month, finally I said to him, ‘You wanna sell it?’ . . . So I mowed lawns, baby-sat, dug earthworms for fishermen and sold them, anything to earn the $25 he wanted for the guitar.”
From then on it was practice, practice, until finally learning some chords, but he credits guitar pickers Albert Snyder, Thomas Elliott and a preacher, who all got him to the point where he could play songs on it. He aimed to enter Pahokee’s Prince Theater music talent competition, which he first did at age 15: “I think I won that thing three years in a row. Anyway, they were happy to see me move on.”
After a stint at working in his father’s bakery with business booming in the postwar years, and going to college, Mel enlisted in the Air Force anxious to get away from the world of baking, and requested flight school but got turned down. Ironically, he was assigned to baker’s school in San Antonio, Texas, but eventually was reassigned overseas to Okinawa.
“But first, I had 30 days home leave and then went off to Camp Stoneman up in Pittsburgh, Calif. I was 19 and had a night off, so I went to this l’il old honky tonk that had a country band, I believe its name was the Brass Rail, but the bartender said ‘you can’t come in here, you’re not old enough’ . . . so I checked into a hotel above it and that damned band played all night long, playin’ and shakin’ them walls. I covered up my head with the pillows, trying to get some sleep, and years later, I wrote a song about it, ‘Honky Tonk Song,’ which Webb Pierce made a number one record!”
In Okinawa, Mel found himself baking for 150 Filipino construction workers engaged by the military: “I learned how to cook rice because that’s about all they’d eat.” Mel listened to the Far Eastern American Forces Radio Network (AFN) in Okinawa, which at one time told listeners they had a country band, The Westerners, then playing the NCO Club, but their lead singer was heading home. When Mel attempted to talk to the bandleader regarding the singer’s job vacancy, he stuttered, prompting the leader to retort, “Sing? Hell he can’t talk!” But when Tillis broke into song, he was hired. “I remember I did ‘Alabama Jubilee,’ which was a hit by Red Foley, one of my favorites; you know, he inspired me a lot. Well, when I got to singin’, they all got out there dancin’ and I ended up doing about 10 songs, and they hired me.”
The pay was $5 a night and all he could drink. That lasted about two years, mainly playing the Rocker NCO Club and the nearby Army enlisted Stateside Club, which later inspired Mel to write a song “Stateside.” It became a Top 20 single in ’66 and subsequently his touring band’s name, The Statesiders.
Following his discharge, Mel worked the Tampa area as an entertainer nights and weekends, while working as a fireman on the Atlantic Coastal Railroad Line: “I wrote some songs about that later. Charley Pride’s first record was ‘Atlantic Coastal Line’ and the flipside was ‘Snakes Crawl At Night,’ which I also wrote (and received ample airplay).”
That 1965 RCA cut by Charley failed to chart, but showed his promise as an artist to reckon with. Later, Tillis’ “No Love Have I” became unknown Gail Davies’ first chart song in 1978, while even earlier he had given Bobby Bare his first Top 10 country charter “Detroit City,” and taken Bill Phillips in hand, helping him place a Top 10 cut with then-superstar Webb Pierce – “Falling Back To You” – heard on the flipside of Tillis’ Webb Pierce smash “Tupelo County Jail.” At Columbia Records in 1959, Mel and Bill joined voices to cut back-to-back Tillis tunes “Sawmill” and “Georgia Town Blues,” helping to launch both their careers as recording artists.
During hungry days in Florida, Mel met A. R. (Buck) Peddy, a promoter whom he thought had good Nashville connections, so he signed a management pact with Peddy: “I wrote. He didn’t write, but I had to give him half my songs plus another 35%. I used my railroad pass to come from Tampa to Jacksonville and from there I’d get on the L&N Railway and could go to Nashville.”
Buck took him to Acuff-Rose Music where he met publisher Wesley Rose. “The first one to sit me down and who actually listened to my songs was Wes Rose. Afterwards, he said, ‘You sing real good, but we need songs, we need copyrights’ . . . I appreciated his honesty.”
Thanks to fiddler-friend Benny Martin, Mel met up with major star Ray Price, who listened to some of his demos and particularly liked “I’m Tired,” and unbeknownst to Tillis, his manager Peddy promised Price a third of the song. Although Ray had intentions of recording the ballad, he sang it on the Opry and Webb Pierce overhearing it, pleaded with Price to let him cut it at his next session. While Ray said, “I don’t know,” Webb memorized a verse and took it to Cedarwood, and got writer Wayne Walker to create two new verses and then did record it.
Back in Florida, Tillis was tuned into Smilin’ Eddie Hill’s 1957 late-night WSM trucker show, and heard the newly-recorded “I’m Tired.” According to Mel, “So Eddie started playing ‘I’m Tired’ and I thought hey, that’s my song! Then he got to the second verse and I said, ‘Well, that’s almost my song.’ And when the third verse played, I said, ‘Hell, that ain’t my song. They stole it!” Buck Peddy assured him it was still his song, however, he had to share co-writer credit with not only him but Ray Price. Then I told my mama, ‘I’m headin’ for Nashville. We’re gonna be rich!’ (though royalties had to be split between artist, writers and the B side by Wayne Walker).”
Aside from Pierce, Tillis scored a Top 20 cut in 1958 when Kitty Wells recorded his heartbreaker “He’s Lost His Love For Me,” and on the pop scene that year Mel’s “Five Feet Of Lovin’,” cut by Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps, became a rockabilly click.
Just before this, Mel married young girlfriend Doris Duckworth, who was soon expecting their first child Pamela, born July 24, 1957 in Plant City. On the heels of this blessed event, Mel and Doris made their move to his dream city in a 1949 Mercury with a busted windshield: “There were only three major publishing companies in town. Acuff-Rose was the biggest and Tree only had about five songs (but signed him on a $75 weekly draw). We had it all to ourselves. When I first came up here, there were a handful of writers – Vic McAlpin, Felice & Boudleaux Bryant, Jim Anglin, Danny Dill and Wayne Walker – that was just about it. Guys like Harlan (Howard) and Bill (Anderson) weren’t here yet.”
Another early cut for Mel was Faron Young’s “I’m a Poor, Poor Boy” which didn’t chart; however, Pierce’s take on “Honky Tonk Song” soared straight to the top on May 20, 1957, though Mel had to split royalties again with Peddy, the non-writer.
Cedarwood’s co-publishers were Jim Denny and Pierce, who no doubt helped get their writer Tillis signed to major label Columbia, where he first charted as a singer, under the direction of A&R chief Don Law. “I was there five or six years. I guess my biggest (and first) on Columbia was ‘The Violet And The Rose’ (#24, 1958).” Four years later, Jimmy Dickens made that  composition a Top 10, and Wanda Jackson took it to Top 40 in 1964.
Webb Pierce, who recorded some 35 Tillis tunes, followed up his “Honky Tonk Song” with a near chart-topper “Holiday For Love” (#3, 1957): “That’s a song I didn’t get none of, and I wrote the whole thing. (Seems) I had to give it up in a lawsuit in court . . . I never did get any royalties (off that).” Though queried, Tillis couldn’t remember details of that particular case, and according to BMI, Webb and Wayne Walker were also cited as co-writers of “Holiday For Love.” Other Tillis songs that scored Top 10 or better for Pierce include “Tupelo County Jail,” “A Thousand Miles Ago,” “No Love Have I,” “Crazy Wild Desire,” “Take Time” and “Finally,” which Webb sang as a duet with Kitty Wells.
“For awhile, he wouldn’t cut anything unless he put his name on it (as co-writer),” explained Tillis. “Finally, I told him, ‘I ain’t giving you no more Webb.’ He said ‘Lad, it’s not the money. I’ve got to keep my name out there.’ I said, ‘Well, when the money comes in, will you give it to me?’ He said, ‘We’ll see.’ But then he told me, ‘The only reason your songs are hits is because I record them.’ I said, ‘Is that right?’ So I walked outa their office and went on and wrote about 15 hits. I mean songs like ‘Detroit City,’ and ‘Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town.’ Later, Webb said, ‘Well, I can’t record ’em all.’ He was a real character, buddy, but I still loved him. When he died up in that hospital, in his mind he was still number one.”
While at Cedarwood, Mel got to know Wayne Walker and they became co-writers: “He was a good writer and taught me a lot about songwriting, especially about the tenses.” Wayne was a favorite of Kitty Wells, who in ’58 cut “He’s Lost His Love For Me,” “All The Time” and “I Can’t Help Wondering,” which Mel wrote solo, and that remained a favorite for her to perform on the road up into her 80’s. “Wayne and I became good friends. Owen Bradley (Decca honcho) used to call us Bones (Tillis) and Fluffo (Walker).”
Tillis liked an idea of Ramsey Kearney’s and they came up with “Emotions,” which Mel got to Carl Smith: “I got to listening to that song and called Ramsey to say, ‘Let me make some changes to that song and we may get us a Brenda Lee cut (in the more lucrative pop market).’ He said, ‘Help yourself.’ So I did and she recorded it (#7, 1961) and it didn’t even sound like the Carl Smith version. It was an altogether different song by then.” (Incidentally, Carl’s rendition became the B side to his 1957 #2 single “Why, Why,” so it too was a moneymaker.)
Columbia’s Don Law urged Tillis to tour, saying that’s where the money was for him as a performer: “Mainly, I had thought about just being a writer, but the Duke of Paducah (Whitey Ford) needed a singer. His vocalist, George Morgan (who would record Tillis’ memorable ‘Little Dutch Girl’ and ‘Alright, I’ll Sign the Papers’ ), had a bad eye and was goin’ into the hospital to get it straightened. Jim Denny said he had a singer. The Duke said he’d pick me up at the apartment Doris and I rented out there on Woodbine and Peach Tree streets. I went home and told Doris I had a gig for 10 days.”
Tillis smiled saying when he left the house he hoped to become nationally successful, but on his first tour out of Nashville, he primarily toured Florida, where he first started out: “Well, they picked me up and I left Doris home alone, 16 years old and pregnant. But a Mrs. Hightower was there and assured me she’d take care of her. When Duke picked me up, he was driving and they had a big bass fiddle in there, and up front was him and (bassist) Ken Marvin.
“Don Davis was on steel, Johnny Tona on fiddle, and that was the band, no drums or nothing. Danny Dill and Annie Lou (The Country Sweethearts) were also on the bill. Now I ain’t said nothin’ all the way to Chattanooga and then the Duke started asking me stuff and I couldn’t get nothin’ out. So when we stopped over in Ringgold, Ga., he called Jim Denny and asked, ‘What have you done to me? This guy can’t talk.’ Jim said, ‘You didn’t tell me you wanted a talker, you said you wanted a singer.’ But I did OK for them and made some good friends.”
Another comic he toured with in those early days was Minnie Pearl, along with fellow singer-songwriter Roger Miller: “I was in her band four months.” He credits Minnie with prompting him to talk more on stage to the crowd, noting, ‘Melvin (that’s what she called him), you’re gonna have to announce your songs, and also thank them for the applause.’ Man, I was just so scared of that large an audience, thinkin’ they’d laugh me off stage.” She pointed out that if indeed they did laugh, it wouldn’t be at him, but with him. Once he got some chuckles, he said, “that encouraged me to keep a’talkin’ and a’stutterin’ which really made them laugh. And that was fine by me.”
Aside from Bill Phillips, who sang with Mel on “Sawmill” and “Georgia Town Blues,” he helped musician Charlie McCoy step up the ladder of success: “I told Charlie to come up from Miami. He was 17 years old and played saxophone, bass, all kinds of instruments. Jim Denny told him, ‘We need a harmonica player. Everybody’s tired of Jimmy Riddle’s style.’ When that kid came back, he had a whole bagful of harmonicas you could play in every key. He’s been here ever since. (Now like Mel he’s also a Country Music Hall of Famer.)”
Tillis says McCoy’s guitar lick stands out on Bobby Bare’s classic cut of Mel and Danny Dill’s ‘Detroit City’ (#6, 1963). “What many people do not realize is that Bare’s record first charted pop (Top 20), June 29, 1963, before it started climbing the country list, July 6.”
Upon completion of writing that song, Mel tried to interest Webb to listen to it; however, Pierce was partying at a hotel with cronies and sent Tillis on his way. So he and Dill got Billy Grammer to cut the demo and “when he was startin’ to do it, he was tuning his guitar, and I said, ‘Let’s go and we’ll leave that tunin’ in there (mimicking the lick sound for us, which became a prominent part of the arrangement).’ Grammer liked it, too, and got Decca to let him record it.”
Billy used the chorus line as its title – “I Wanna Go Home” – and hearing it on the Opry, Mel heard him say he wrote it, but later told him, “You’re not getting any royalty on that.” By him calling it by its wrong name, Mel informed him, “That’s where you made your mistake!”
Meanwhile, RCA’s Chet Atkins was looking for a follow-up to Bare’s breakthrough disc “Shame On Me,” and as everyone knows, adds Mel, “That’s when ‘Detroit City’ took off!” (Using pretty much the same arrangement as Billy’s rendition.)
In 1963, Tillis left Columbia and signed with Bradley’s Decca label, cutting a novelty number with Webb, which he and Wayne Walker amusingly titled “How Come Your Dog Don’t Bite Nobody But Me?” (#25, 1963). That was short-lived, as Decca blamed Mel for allegedly having encouraged label-mate Red Foley to imbibe too heavily, thus Red missed an early morning recording session, so Tillis was canned, not Foley.
At the indie Kapp label, Mel scored his first Top 10 as an artist, “Who’s Julie,” in 1968. Hot on the heels of that success, he chalked up a trio of Top 10s: “These Lonely Hands Of Mine,” “She’ll Be Hangin’ Around Somewhere” and his own creation “Heart Over Mind.”
At Kapp, Tillis also did an album with legendary Bob Wills, “King Of Western Swing” (1967).
Next up, Jim Viennue signed Mel to MGM, once home to Hank Williams. Mel garnered 14 Top 10 tunes there, including the remake of “I Ain’t Never” (actually #1, 1972) and others like “Brand New Mister Me,” “Neon Rose,” “Sawmill” (his #2 solo version, 1972), “Midnight, Me & The Blues,” “Stomp Them Grapes” and “Memory Maker.”
Regarding “Ruby,” Mel said after it was written he had in mind pitching it to Roger Miller, but while on tour, his publisher gave it to The Omegas and it bombed. Johnny Darrell heard and liked it, and his cut hit (#9, 1967) for United Artists. Jimmy Bowen took a liking to it, and during a session with Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, they finished early, so he suggested Kenny cut it and the rest is history. In 2001, Mel learned the song had earned its third BMI MillionAire citation, indicating it had logged more than three million broadcast performances.
While recording for MGM, Tillis met Sherry Bryce, an unknown singer, giving her an opportunity to duet with him, which resulted in two 1971 Top 10s: “Take My Hand” and “Living and Learning.” In 1981, Mel ventured into another duet session, this time with pop singer Nancy Sinatra, “Mel & Nancy,” on Elektra, spawning a Top 20 single “Texas Cowboy Night.” Later, he did a duet with Glen Campbell –  “Slow Nights” – prophetically stalling slightly above Top 40 (1984). Mel was also a fan of comedian Jonathan Winters: “Man he goes on all the time; he never goes off!”

Mel & Nancy Sinatra, Frank’s daughter.

When and where did Tillis develop his knack for comedy? “When I was in school, I learned to ad lib and found it made people laugh. I didn’t stutter when I ad-libbed . . . All the way through school, I made ’em laugh.”
He was a frequent guest artist on national TV shows such as Johnny Carson’s Tonight, Dean Martin, Merv Griffin, Jimmy Dean, and ABC-TV even signed him and actress-singer Susan Anton for a summertime variety show in 1978, Mel & Susan Together. It was not a ratings success and folded after a short run.

“Time was goin’ by so fast and I was on the damn road all the time. I was flyin’ out to L.A. a lot, and so I bought my King Air airplane,” noted Tillis, who soon dropped the name of The Statesiders from the credits, but always remained proud of the loyalty and longevity he enjoyed with his bandsmen: “They’re like family . . . I still do about 100 shows a year.”
Through the years, the award-winning Statesiders had boasted some illustrious musicians, among them Buddy Cannon, Jerry Reed, Rob Hajacos, Kevin Grannt and Paul Franklin. Cannon later ran Tillis’ Sawgrass publishing house and even supplied the boss with a #1 Cannon composition “I Believe In You” in 1978.
“Later when I sold my company to PolyGram with my songs still in there (for some $6 million), part of the deal meant that PolyGram had to take him. I think he stayed there a year where, man, he had to wear ties and stuff, acting like an executive. Next thing I knew he started producing and suddenly was a millionaire (ha! ha!). But seriously, I’m proud of that and I’m proud of him.”
After 20 years together, the strain of Tillis’ business had its effects on his home-life. Doris, a talented painter, divorced Mel. Their youngest, Carrie, was barely of school age. Both remained close to their five children and then their grandchildren. In 1979, Mel married the former Judy Edwards, who joined him in his publishing empire and in handling his fan club, prior to their split. Their daughter Hannah wasn’t quite 2 when they nearly lost their lives in a log-home blaze on his estate: “I had been to L.A. and caught the red-eye plane home after doing Carson’s Tonight Show, and the Oak Ridge Boys were on that flight with us and we had a few Bloody Marys. So I was gettin’ pooped. Well, I got home that morning and my wife said, ‘I’ll have you a good meal about 3 o’clock. You go get some sleep. You can take the baby in with you, she’s tired.’
“I picked Hannah up and took her in the bedroom with me. Later, Judy put on some pork chops as she was gonna have ’em with turnip greens, potato salad and cornbread. Well, to begin with, she didn’t know how to cook. She had a Dutch oven that she filled almost to the top with grease and turned it on high. In the kitchen we had baskets with decorations around the top, and the logs were varnished and had sealer on them. She came and looked in on us and saw we were asleep, then on the way back through the living room, the phone rang and it was Larry Lee, who at that time was my manager.
“So they got to talkin’ and they talked and talked. Then Judy said she heard something pop, so she hung up and ran into the kitchen. The bottom of that cast iron oven had split. When it exploded, the hot grease hit all those baskets and decorations above, and they were afire! She ran into the bedroom and woke me. Still half asleep, I grabbed up the baby and ran to the kitchen to look. After seeing all that fire, I said, ‘We gotta get outa here and that ain’t no lie! . . . That fire was spreading so fast over them logs, it’s a wonder it hadn’t got us!”
The house burned down in less than an hour, taking with it all his personal mementos and awards.

“I lost a fiddle I had bought that was Tommy Jackson’s,” mused Mel, adding that most of the awards were replaced by the various organizations; however, “I lost a picture that ol’ Colonel Tom Parker had signed and sent me. He was my daddy’s cousin by marriage. He married cousin Marie from Tampa. I also lost all my guns – I had a big gun collection.”
Mel’s credits also include playing Branson, where he built and opened his own Mel Tillis Ozark Theater, and played every season before departing after the 13th year: “It got overbuilt. They got 40 theaters over there and more than a hundred other shows. Then all these ticket agencies moved in and cut deals. My payment on the theater was $158,000 a month and that didn’t include the 111 people I had workin’ for me, plus the lawsuits. Lord, I was beginning to have to go into my sock-drawer, so I said I’m gonna get outa here before it’s too late.”

Mel proved a popular attraction at Nashville’s annual Fan Fair event.

Daughter Connie Lynn stayed in Branson, working as a realtor. Of course, son Mel, Jr. (Sonny) and daughter Pam reside in the Nashville area, close to work. Pam, who won fame as a country singer, thanks to “Don’t Tell Me What To Do,” “Maybe It Was Memphis” and her own self-penned #1 “Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life),” also tried her hand in professional theater, co-starring in the Broadway show “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” Sonny co-wrote Jamie O’Neal’s #1 single “When I Think About Angels.” Another daughter Carrie carried on as an opera singer and got involved in theatrical productions for a time. “I had her on my show in Branson, and she just destroyed the people. They loved her voice, ” beamed Dad.
Back in the day, traditionalists frowned on some of the titles Tillis cut, such as “Commercial Affection,” “Let’s Go All the Way Tonight” and “I Got The Hoss,” as being sexually suggestive.
“I think the first one I sang was a Harlan Howard song ‘I Wish I Felt This Way At Home.’ I recorded that with Bob Wills and it was a pretty good record for us. Back when I was in Lincoln, Nebr. in the Air Force, I went into Omaha and met this girl in a bar. I thought she loved me, you know, but I found out it was only ‘commercial affection.’ Then there’s this writer Jerry House from Gordon, Ala., and he wrote a lot of songs for me, including ‘I Got The Hoss,’ and it’s still one of my most-requested songs. Oh yeah, we heard some complaints from the little old ladies. Later, I heard Dolly sang ‘What Did I Promise Her Last Night.’”
Reportedly some 600 of Tillis’ compositions have been recorded. “New Patches” by Tommy Collins is Mel’s last Top 10: “That’s a great song. I loved it. You know, with the money Tommy made off ‘New Patches,’ he bought that house he had over in Ashland City. I’ve still got a lot of his stuff, the funny ones.” (Collins died in 2000.) That same year, 1984, Ricky Skaggs’ version of Tillis’ “Honey (Open That Door)” hit #1.
In 1992, George Strait’s “Pure Country” cinematic soundtrack CD sold over six million units, and the film also boasted Tillis’ “Thoughts Of a Fool,” originally cut by Strait’s fellow Texan Ernest Tubb (#16, 1961).
Atlantic Records released the Tillis-Bobby Bare-Waylon Jennings-Jerry Reed collaboration “Old Dogs,” produced by Shel Silverstein, which earned a 1999 CMA nomination for best vocal event.
“I’ve lost another fishing buddy and a talented, talented brother,” Bare said upon hearing of Tillis’ death. “Without Mel and ‘Detroit City,’ I probably would not have had a career.”
In 2001, Pam and dad did a duet, “Waiting On The Wind,” for her “Thunder & Roses” album, as a bonus track. The following year, she released a tribute CD to dad, “It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis,” performing his songs.
Yet another old friend of Mel’s was Conway Twitty, whom he recalls attending his Branson show, before embarking on that fatal trip back to Nashville, during which the 59-year-old artist suffered a stomach aneurysm that claimed his life, while hospitalized in Springfield, Mo.
“Conway came backstage, where we talked a couple hours. We even got some pictures of him taken out in the audience, and they’re probably the last ever of Conway Twitty,” Mel said.
Taking into account all of the legal skirmishes resulting among Conway’s family, following his untimely passing in June 1993, Tillis took steps to put his own affairs in order: “Oh yeah, that’s all been taken care of. They’ll be a long time gettin’ mine though, I’m in too good a shape.”
Survivors include his longtime life-partner, Kathy DeMonaco; children: Pam, Connie, Cindy Shorey, Mel Tillis, Jr., Carrie April Tillis, and Hannah Puryear; six grandchildren; and a great-grandson; sister Linda Crosby; and brother Richard Tillis. The initial service scheduled for Tillis occurred at Ocklahwah Bridge Baptist Church, Silver Springs, Fla., Nov. 25; followed by a visitation at Sykes Funeral Home in Clarksville, Tenn., and public service at Mt. Hermon Baptist Church, preceding private burial, Nov. 27.

Tillis and Johnny Tillotson in Las Vegas together.
Tillis at his ranch with writer Walt Trott, 2005. (Photo by Patricia Presley.)

 

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Bluegrass female favorite inducted into Kentucky Hall of Fame . . .

Dale Ann Bradley dons another hat, performing with Sister Sadie . . .

NASHVILLE — Dale Ann Bradley breezed into town to prompt media to plug her new album, a follow-up to her first-production effort, the Grammy-nominated “Pocket Full of Keys.”       Thanks to publicist Vernell Hackett, we exchanged pleasantries and proceeded to play 20 Questions – all about Dale Ann – at Edley’s, a popular pizza parlor in East Nashville.
“When you make a record, you put your whole heart and soul on the line,” says Bradley, in her most charming Sweet Tea twang. “Everybody does, especially when you produce your own album. Fortunately, somebody liked that first one alright, and believe me, this ol’ girl was relieved and happy.”
Earlier Bradley collections were produced by such bluegrass enthusiasts as Sonny Osborne, Alison Brown, Tim Austin and Dan Tyminski, collaborations that helped ensure five International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) wins for her as that genre’s best female vocalist.
This year and last year, she and her all-girl band Sister Sadie were IBMA nominees, as was her 2016 premiere production CD, “Pocket Full of Keys,” in her first year as a solo artist for Pinecastle Records. Incidentally, Sister Sadie again nabbed a 2017 nominee as best emerging act (consisting of Tina Adair, Gena Britt, Beth Lawrence and Deanie Richardson), which we mistakenly thought was a one-year only category.
Not so coincidentally, the Dale Ann Bradley backup band’s heard on the new CD, which we concluded was a comfort factor for the artist-producer, who agrees, “Well that and because of the connection and love we have for one another in this configuration (Mike Sumner, banjo; Tim Dishman, bass; Scotty Powers, mandolin; Matt Leadbetter, guitar). So many musicians come into your band through the years, and I loved ’em all, but this particular group seems to really enjoy being part of the program and truly love what we’re doing creatively. And hey, they treat me like a queen!”
Aware the lady has umpteen albums to her credit, we wondered aloud why this specific CD was self-titled, something usually affixed to an artist’s first-time project? “I’ve added it all up and with all the bands I’ve been a part of, this was the 14th album, but this time I just wanted to say, ‘This is me – Dale Ann Bradley – and I hope you like it!’ I wrote a couple songs on it, I sing and play, and produced it,” so sink or swim, it’s D.A.B. all the way.
Seems self-penned “Southern Memories” or “Now and Then (Dreams Do Come True)” might have served the purpose equally well, particularly the latter title, which she co-wrote with Jon Weisberger. Nonetheless, Jon’s pleased by the news, “Dale Ann Bradley’s got a new album coming out, and she’s recorded a song that she and I wrote for my album, ‘I’ve Been Mostly Awake’ (2015, featuring her vocals). Excited to hear what she and her band have done with it!”
There’s also a much-touted duet on there – “I Just Think I’ll Go Away” – with superstar Vince Gill (now touring with an iconic, though reconstituted, vocal band The Eagles). So how did that old Carter Stanley song fit into the “D.A.B.” mix?
“Vince loves bluegrass and unashamedly says so and means it,” Bradley responds. “We first met at the Opry, and he likes to help anyone, he’s just that way. I opened a show for him in Chattanooga, and he said we ought to record together sometime. Well, ‘Pocket Full of Keys’ was underway and I invited him to sing on it, but the timing wasn’t right and it didn’t work out. Yet he said, ‘Remember me . . . call me.’ In fact, he ended up writing the liner notes for that album.”
Apparently Gill remembered, too, and added a guest vocal with Dale Ann for this album, and like her, loves to poke around in the attic for old treasures, coming up with their duet title, originally performed by the Stanley Brothers (and later Keith Whitley).
“We both love the Stanleys’ music. You may remember, Vince even performed, along with Ricky Skaggs and Patty Loveless, at Ralph’s funeral. Anyway, ‘I Just Think I’ll Go Away’ was a song we both loved, and was on my bucket list, so we were anxious to sink our teeth into it. I think it came out OK, don’t you?”
Indeed to these old ears, it’s one of the finest heart-felt vocal collaborations we’ve heard in too long a time. Both are at their best, sharing lead and harmonies, augmented by super pickin’ on such stanzas as the wistfully penned, “Somehow you wouldn’t let me love you/The plans we’ve made have gone astray/Instead of being blue and lonely . . . I just think I’ll go away.”
Bradley’s admiration for the Stanley Brothers comes across further on her disc, specifically via the tunes “Goin’ Back To Kentucky” and “Our Last Goodbye,” of which she proclaims: “That’s my favorite Stanley Brothers’ song.”
Dale Ann also invited others to assist in the studio for this CD, among them Sister Sadie’s Tina Adair, as well as Kim Fox, Steve and Debbie Gulley and Vic Graves. She also poked around the attic finding more golden oldies to dust off, including the Vince Matthews’ composition “This Is My Year For Mexico” (Crystal Gayle, 1975), Ben E. King’s a cappella “Stand By Me” (1961), Conway Twitty’s “If You Were Mine To Lose” and James Cleveland’s mid-1950s’ inspirational “One More River (To Cross),” giving each her unique bluegrass interpretation.
Dale Ann was born in Pineville, Ky., to Pearlie Ann and Roger Price, a primitive Baptist preacher who toiled, too, in the coal mines. Their home had no electricity until Dale Ann was a high school senior, and the church they attended never allowed instrumental music, so how did she develop such extraordinary pickin’ and singin’ skills?
“Growing up, I played whatever instrument I could get my hands on because instruments weren’t accessible to me,” explains Bradley. “Well, I had this great uncle who went to Detroit after World War II, to work for the Ford Motor Company, and was a big Porter and Dolly fan. He bought me an eight-track player that could run on batteries, and albums by them and Loretta Lynn (‘Hymns’). He would also get these music samplers, so people could listen to the car stereos, and gave me these, and that’s how I came to listen to a variety of artists like Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand, The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. My uncle, of course, also enjoyed the likes of Charley Pride and Flatt & Scruggs.
“What amazed me about The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac is they had Americana or acoustic sounds all through their songs, the writing, the stories, the harmonies, all similar attributes that are in bluegrass music,” muses Bradley.
As a result of her covers, Dale Ann has attracted attention outside the bluegrass genre with her interpretations of rockin’ hits such as Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze,” U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Over My Head.”
“I love Lindsey Buckingham and the way he would set up harmonies for Fleetwood Mac, and his whole approach (in producing),” adds Bradley. “I learned different things from all of my producers. Sonny (Osborne) taught me so much about keeping emotion in an album, which takes precedence over technical correctness. From Tim Austin, I learned about timing and putting the drive into the music. Dan, he’s the teddy bear of bluegrass music, and one of the most rhythmic of people on strings. Yes, he’s the whole package.
“Alison Brown also had all the elements, and she produced the three I did for Compass Records. We thought a lot alike. From her, I learned of little things you can add to an arrangement, which you’d think wouldn’t matter much, but truly does.”
That 2001 production collaboration with Tim and Dan on “Cumberland River Dreams,” also featured Tyminski chiming in on track, as he and Dale Ann blossomed into something of a mutual admiration society, with his compliment: “She is such a sweet person and I am a big fan of her singing. I think she is a natural singer, and she does not have to work at it. She can just naturally sing.”
Witnessing all of this behind-the-scenes polish and precision, Dale Ann thought it time to try her wings producing “Pocket Full of Keys,” which once she donned the hat, felt frightening. “Yes, I was scared to death that first time and it wasn’t any easier this time around,” though she should’ve been encouraged by the Grammy and IBMA recognition for that first endeavor. “That was great, but I never take the nominations for granted. I can’t even remember when I got my first IBMA nomination, but like I tell everybody, I’m just happy to be in there competing.”
We do recall her first win in 2007, for IBMA’s best vocalist trophy, and the next two years took home a second and third, along with ’09’s best recorded event, “Proud To Be a Daughter of Bluegrass,” shared with a star-studded cast. She also was voted best vocalist in ’11 and ’12.
There was a special fellow in Dale Ann’s youth, John Fitzgerald Bradley: “He and I kinda grew up together. I guess you could say we became childhood sweethearts.” While still a teen, she and John were wed. The next thing she knew, she followed her newly-enlisted sailor-hubby to Mayport Naval Station near Jacksonville, Fla., “I had my son during that time . . . and his father went out to sea duty.” That wasn’t unexpected, as they say “Join the Navy and see the world!”
Meanwhile, Dale Ann was missing her music, a love of which he didn’t share, and so she hadn’t performed for three years, before returning home. Actually, her father brought her back, and despite dad’s earlier reluctance against a music career, helped her make it all happen, she says.
“Once he saw how serious I was, he was supportive. He looked after my son from day one, and in retrospect, I couldn’t have done it without him.” She stressed that earlier her parents were apprehensive, both from a religious and social perspective, “then when my mother saw I was going to do it, I found out it was her long-ago dream, too. My dad always wanted to know where I was going, who I was seeing and was very protective of me. I’m glad about that today. Indeed my mother had a beautiful voice . . . but she died in 1999 at 53, my age now.”
A childhood friend of her mother’s was assigned to Dale Ann’s high school in her junior year as band director. It happened Mearl Risner and his wife Alpha sang that summer at Pine Mountain State Park in Pineville, and invited Pearlie Ann’s daughter to join them. As Dale Ann recalls, “He was so talented and I just wanted to learn everything.” It was from that experience that she formed her first backing band.
Dale Ann fondly remembers the band, Back Porch Grass, which after playing locally, she entered in a 1988 Marlboro Talent Roundup Contest in Lexington, where they made it into the finals but lost out, as did the New Coon Creek Girls. But it wasn’t a total loss, as Bradley was invited to play on John Lair’s legendary Renfro Valley Barn Dance program, and his all-girl bandleader Vicki Simmons remembered Dale Ann’s down home pure country vocals.
“Yes, I kept in contact with them, and Vicki wrote me when they were looking to replace Pam Perry (who formed a new band Wild Rose) . . . but mainly they wanted someone who played fiddle and mandolin. I could play mandolin, but not that good, and I didn’t play fiddle. Vicki said ‘If ever there comes a time we can support a vocalist, we’ll let you know.’ She did.”
So Bradley joined the New Coon Creek Girls in late 1991, along with banjoist Ramona Church. This collaboration resulted in such acclaimed albums as “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” and “Our Point of View.” When they disbanded in 1997, she headed up Bradley & her Coon Creek Band, releasing her first solo CD “East Kentucky Morning.”
Dale Ann doubles down in her appreciation of her tenure as a New Coon Creek Girl and especially being with the Renfro Valley Barn Dance show: “I had a five-year contract with Renfro, where I learned so much. It proved invaluable and I couldn’t have been better educated professionally, if I went to a university. I learned stage presence and connecting with an audience, to really know music, band situations and even recording. You know, I was a solo artist there for a couple years as well, and being at Renfro helped me support my son, John Fitzgerald Bradley, Jr. He was 7 when I divorced, and I raised him there mostly in Central Kentucky.”
She still calls him “Gerald,” a variation on his middle name, though he prefers being called John. “When he was attending Berea College, he asked me to not call him Gerald, saying it seemed too childish. You know he earned The Red Foley Award there in his senior year, and did the Opry with me (playing bass). Gerald obtained a master’s degree in Education, and never gave me a moment’s worry. But now he’s into a nursing program and selling cars,” adding with a grin, “I hope he lands pretty soon.”
When it comes to composing, Bradley confides that “nine times out of 10, the melody will motivate me first. You see the melody has always put me in the mood for the lyrics and story of a song.”
A rare exception was her co-write with country diva Pam Tillis, who contacted Dale Ann by e-mail inviting her to get together for a writing session: “I flew down to do so. Bluegrassers love Pam – and her dad Mel, as well – and particularly the way she sings. I mean she can sing anything. She was a sweetheart to write with. We did ‘Somewhere South of Crazy,’ which became the title tune to one of my Compass Records albums (2011), and Pam sang on that, too.”
Their co-op effort earned IBMA nods for both best song and best album that year.
The opening track on Bradley’s latest CD “Southern Memories” was co-written years ago when she was 14 (with Ronnie Miracle), shortly after buying her first guitar: “He was an old friend and probably about 16 or 17 at the time. It was our story together, about growing up geographically and religiously, there in Kentucky. It’s about a longing of the heart and remembering where your roots are. He passed away last year (Feb. 16 at age 54).”
In recognition of her faith, she often features inspirational songs on her albums, such as the current offerings “One More River” and “Stand By Me” (revived by Mickey Gilley as a #1 country cut in 1980). She says, “I like to include gospel songs that are uplifting and don’t want to do those that are preachy and judgmental, preferring ones that offer listeners hope instead.”
In 2003 Dale Ann was confronted with a new challenge, when diagnosed with Diabetes, that atop a severe sinus infection at the time. But despite the affliction, she pushes herself and with the help of her booking agent, Donna Sullivan, manages shows as both a solo act and with Sister Sadie.
“I get tired once in awhile, but it never stays,” she points out, adding that with her medicine and regular checkups, maintains a steady schedule, including attending the 2017 annual IBMA Raleigh convention in late September, which determines whether she’ll add more trophies to her mantel. (Editor’s note: Unfortunately, she didn’t enter the winner’s circle this year.)
Besides all the IBMA awards, Bradley learned she’s being honored by her home state with induction into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, Class of 2018, next May 11 in Somerset, Ky. Sharing the honor with her will be Billy Ray Cyrus, Jackie DeShannon, Jason Crabb, Bobby Lewis and the late David (Stringbean) Akeman, all Bluegrass State performers deemed to have made significant contributions to the industry. Dale Ann has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams, having already taken her bluegrass music to Canada and such far away places as Japan and Ireland.
“This award is so special,” smiles Bradley. “Kentucky has contributed to all styles and genres of music, and the artists from there, it seems like we’ve all come up hard scrabble, meaning being successful wasn’t easy. But by doing so, I think, you appreciate it even more when you do succeed.”

(Editor’s note: Dale Ann photos by Patricia Presley.)

Bradley band (1999) included (from left) Pete Kelly, banjo; Vicki Simmons, bass; Dale Ann; Jesse Brock, mandolin; and Michael Cleveland, fiddle.

 

 

 

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Music City Beat – November 2017

Assassin attacks 22,000 fans as singer Jason Aldean performs Oct. 1 in Las Vegas!

NASHVILLE — Country music suffered a blow, as did all America, when a lone gunman situated on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, opened fire on some 22,000 fans at an all-star concert headlined by Jason Aldean, Oct. 1. Besides assailant Stephen Paddock, who committed suicide following his shooting rampage, there were 58 known deaths and another 500 wounded. Artists and attendees alike scrambled, seeking safety at the outdoor Route 91 Country Harvest Festival, which offered scant space for cover. Paddock, 64, busted out two of the hotel’s secured windows with a hammer, enabling him to fire automatic assault weapons with telescopic sights down into the crowd, located some 400 yards below. Hotel reps said he had checked in Sept. 30. First responders were hampered somewhat by frightened fans trying to capture the melee with cell-phones, making it difficult for the police and rescue teams to determine where the shots came from. Assisting the county sheriff and local police were FBI agents, as victims were rushed to nearby hospitals for ER treatment. “Tonight has been beyond horrific,” tweeted Aldean, Oct. 1. “I still dont (sic) know what to say but wanted to let everyone know that Me and my Crew are safe. My Thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved tonight. It hurts my heart that this would happen to anyone who was just coming out to enjoy what should have been a fun night.” Reportedly Paddock was a regular visitor to the gambling capitol, and known as a high roller who bet many thousands of dollars. He met his girlfriend Marilu Danley, 62, a Filipino native, there where she had been a casino hostess. Police learned she had been in the Far East at the time of the shooting, traveling on an Australian passport, and allegedly had recently deposited $100,000 in a U.S. bank in The Philippines. She returned Stateside Oct. 4 as “a person of interest,” undergoing extensive questioning by officials, hoping to find out what may have set Paddock off, and perhaps why he had purchased more than 50 weapons in five states, including high-powered rifles and machine guns utilized in his Oct. 1 shooting spree, just prior to taking his own life. Younger brother Eric Paddock disclosed that through real estate sales and his gambling, Stephen was worth in excess of $2 million dollars and had been living with Danley in a Mesquite, Nev. retirement community some 60 miles from Vegas, but he also owned property in Reno, another gambling mecca. Although ISIS tried to take credit for the tragedy, authorities indicate it was a more likely a domestic terrorist act committed solely by Paddock. In 2012, he sued another Vegas casino after slipping on its floor, but a judge threw that suit out in 2014. As the shooting began, Aldean was the final act to perform, and was into his fifth song – “When She Says Baby” – as he heard the popping sounds, and scurried off-stage. On Instagram, Aldean, 40, father of two daughters and expecting a baby with new wife Brittany, sent the following message in part: “Over the last 24 hrs I have gone through lots of emotions. Scared, Anger, Heartache, Compassion and many others. I truely dont (sic) understand why a person would want to take the life of another . . . Something has changed in this country and in this world lately that is scary to see . . . At the end of the day we arent (sic) Democrats or Republicans, Whites or Blacks, Men or Women, we are all humans and we are all Americans and its (sic) time to start acting like it and stand together as ONE.”
Scene Stealers: Hurricane Irma did a number on Kenny Chesney’s estate on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, demolishing his home; however, the country singer says “That place and the people mean so much more to me than my house. And I’m going to do everything that I possibly can to try to relieve some stress from people that I’ve really grown to love over the years, who have meant so much to my life.” Regarding his house, he mused, “When you look through the window right now, as you can tell, it’s just devastation.” When the storm struck the island Sept. 7, he wasn’t at home, but says 20 people and pets sought shelter there and when the windows blew out, moved into a big closet. Meanwhile, the British Virgin Islands suffered significant damages and it was even worse for 3-1/2 million Americans residing in Puerto Rico, hit by Irma and 14 days later by Hurricane Maria. Aid for these residents has been much slower, and as of this writing many were without power and lacked necessities, particularly water and food . . . Luke Bryan has been invited to participate as a judge on the newly revived American Idol, which was canceled by Fox network in 2016. In a Twitter posting, Luke boasted, “I’ll be joined by the beautiful Ms. Katy Perry and my hero Lionel Richie. I can’t wait to be a part of the show and I’m so excited to see all the talent out there that America has. It’s going to be an exciting year. I’m so honored and we’re going to have some fun.” Reportedly Ryan Seacrest returns as host for the talent series being telecast by ABC as a Sunday night program, premiering in March 2018.
Bits & Pieces: Country singer Scotty McCreery just confided he’ll marry his former kindergarten classmate Gabi Dugal, currently a pediatric cardiac nurse at Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C. Scotty popped the question near Grandfather Mountain in their native North Carolina, getting down on his knees to do so: “I’ve been planning this moment for so long that it feels surreal for it to have finally happened. Gabi is the perfect girl and my true love, and I cannot wait to begin building our life together as husband and wife.” . . . Country queen Carrie Underwood is upset by the claim of Canadian songwriters Georgia Lyons and Ron McNeill that her hit “Something In the Water” was cribbed from their creation of the same title.
Reportedly, the pair had submitted their song for consideration through a Nashville promoter, and are now suing Underwood, her co-writers of the song she recorded, Brett James and Chris DeStefano, along with producer Mark Bright, their publishers and the label Sony Music, seeking “unspecified damages.” Carrie’s 2014 release reached Billboard’s #1 hot country songs and #1 Christian charts, and earned her a Grammy for best country solo performance. The artist says she’s “saddened” being accused of stealing the song, adding it was actually a  deeply personal number . . . Meanwhile, Carrie’s mate Mike Fisher, himself a Canadian, recently retired as captain of the Nashville hockey team The Predators, and can take heart in the fact it took not one but two players to succeed him as skipper. Roman Josi was voted initially to serve as Captain, however, for the first time ever, the Preds have added the title Associate Captain, elevating teammate Ryan Ellis into that position. It was in September 2016 that Fisher succeeded Shea Weber as team captain, becoming the seventh since 1998. But recently he decided to hang up his skates and spend more time with Carrie and son Isaiah . . . The Academy of Country Music’s current Entertainer of the Year, Jason Aldean has announced a new book for sale, “Family, Friends & Fans,” which he’s written with Tom Carter. Reportedly, it presents the people who helped shape him, including anecdotes and stories. Meantime, “Jason Aldean: Asphalt Cowboy,” a special exhibit currently honoring the hit-maker at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, wraps Nov. 7.
Honors: Superstar Keith Urban and veteran songwriter Bob DiPiero are slated to receive specialty awards at the 65th annual BMI Country Awards, Nov. 7. Urban’s will be the Broadcast Music Inc.’s Champion Award, recognizing his efforts on behalf of promising writers and his generosity towards music education programs. He’s currently hitting with his CD “Ripcord.” According to BMI Nashville chief Jody Williams, “Not only is Keith Urban one of the most talented and prolific songwriters in the industry, but he’s also a true humanitarian.” DiPiero will be named a BMI Icon that evening, acknowledging his profound influence on the music industry. DiPiero’s credits include such standards as “American Made,” “Blue Clear Sky,” “Wink” and “Little Rock.” . . . The Association For Recorded Sounds Collections (ARSC) has announced its winner of the best country book of the year is Bill Anderson’s biography “Whisperin’ Bill Anderson: An Unprecedented Life In Country Music,” co-written with Peter Cooper. Their award will be presented at a May 12, 2018 ceremony during ARSC’s annual conference. Congrats! . . . The  Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum now boasts Ray Stevens’ permanent exhibit “Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music.” The display celebrates Stevens’ 60 years in music – “Ray Stevens: Everything Is Beautiful” – and includes his Grammy awards, Nashville Songwriters Association International’s Hall of Fame Induction Award (1980) and his Spinet keyboard. Incidentally, Stevens’ CabaRay Nashville telecast on Public TV is now in its third season.
More Awards: Previously announced inductees into the 2017 International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame are pioneering artists Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, fiddler Bobby Hicks, and mandolinist Roland White, all honored at the 28th annual International Bluegrass Music Awards show, Sept. 28, in Duke Performing Arts Center, Raleigh, N.C. Winners cited include: Best Entertainer: The Earls of Leicester; Female Vocalist: Brooke Aldridge; Male Vocalist: Shawn Camp; Vocal Group: Flatt Lonesome; Instrumental Group: Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper; Emerging Act: Volume Five; Best Song: “I Am a Drifter,” Volume Five, co-writers Donna Ulisse and Marc Rossi; Best Album, “Mountain Voodoo,” Balsam Range; and as Best Songwriter: Tim Stafford. Winners in the following categories were: Best Bluegrass Event: “Pickin’ In Parsons,” Parsons, W. Va.; Best Gospel Performance (a tie): “I Found a Church Today,” The Gibson Brothers, with writers Eric & Leigh Gibson; and “Sacred Memories,” Joe Mullins & Radio Ramblers with artists Sharon White and Ricky Skaggs, and as writer Dolly Parton. Best Recorded Event: “I’ve Got a Message To You,” Bobby Osborne with guests Sierra Hull, Alison Brown, Rob Ickes, Stuart Duncan, Trey Hensley, Todd Phillips, Kenny Malone, Claire Lynch and Bryan McDowell, as produced by Alison Brown. Best Instrumental Recorded Event: “Fiddler’s Dream,” Michael Cleveland, artist, and writer Arthur Smith; and Molly Tuttle became the first female to win Best Guitarist. Other instrumental winners: Noam Pikelny, banjo; Alan Bartram, bass; Josh Swift, dobro; Patrick McAvinue, fiddle; and Sierra Hull, mandolin.
Ailing: Singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell has canceled his remaining gigs for 2017, to obtain treatment for a health problem. The artist, best known for such self-penned #1 singles as “I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried,” and Grammy-winning “After All This Time,” noted on Facebook: “An impressive team of doctors have confirmed what for the past year I’ve instinctively known: dealing with the root cause of my health issues requires complete rest . . . For the foreseeable future, with expert medical guidance, my work will consist of quietly encouraging my body to return to its natural state. I’m sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.” . . . Veteran Grand Ole Opry trouper Jesse McReynolds, 88, has suffered an aneurysm that sidelines the master mandolinist, who won fame with his late brother Jim McReynolds as Jim & Jesse, known for hits such as “Diesel On My Tail.”
Farewell Curtain: This past month saw the passing of country family members. Billie Christene (Doan) Gatlin, 88, died Sept. 15. She was Mom to entertainers Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers (Steve and Rudy), and daughter LaDonna Johnson. Survivors include her husband of 70 years William (Curley) Gatlin, four children, nine grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren (and one on the way).
Bobbye Jean Drusky, 87, widow of 1960s’ hitmaker Roy Drusky, Sept. 20, following a brief illness. Hubby, a longtime Grand Ole Opry star, was famed for such successes as “Another,” “Second Hand Rose” and “Yes, Mr. Peters.” Surviving are the couple’s three sons, Roy, Jr. (Twig), Tad and Tip; and four grandchildren. (Drusky died in 2004.)
Doris Shrode Loden, 86, widow of singer-songwriter Sonny James, died Sept. 23, in Nashville. The couple had no children, but she is survived by sisters Sally Ribble and Betty Harris. Sonny, born James Hugh Loden, enjoyed a string of #1 singles including “Young Love,” “Running Bear” and “When the Snow Is On the Roses.” (He died Feb. 22, 2016.)

(Editor’s note: Jason Aldean band photo by Patricia Presley.)

 

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Music City Beat – Oct. 2017

Don Williams
Montgomery-Gentry

 

Death claims Gentry, Williams . . . . Wanda Jackson bio . . . Chris Young honored

 

NASHVILLE — Reportedly billionaire President Trump and First Lady Melania are donating a million dollars, targeted for Hurricane Harvey relief, but NFL Houston Texan football star J. J. Watt, 28, started small, creating a fund drive for victims of the disaster, setting a goal of $200,000. To the rugged defensive end’s amazement, that goal was surpassed almost immediately and has since logged some $20 million in pledges. Music members have also taken up the cause, with Willie Nelson joining music buddy Paul Simon, who with wife Edie Brickell, a Texan, matched the Trumps with their million dollar donation initially, but additionally plan charity concerts with Nelson, kicking off a benefit Sept. 22 in Austin. Incidentally, the Simons designated their personal donation for towns outside Houston, hard hit, too, by the storm. Cinema names also pledged million-dollar donations toward the Texas tragedy, notably Sandra Bullock, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tyler Perry. Back in 2005, Simon started the Children’s Health Fund, following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. New Opry star Chris Young chose to pledge $100,000 for the Harvey relief effort, noting in his Twitter post, “I have friends and family there, and I’m fairly positive my house down there may have to be torn down, as it was in one of the hardest hit areas by wind and flooding. But that’s the least of my concern. I’m worried about the people, like I said, my friends, family, neighbors, and I want to help.” Additionally, Young set up a GoFundMe account with a goal of $500,000, ear-marked for the Red Cross. Then there’s a four-city national telecast Sept. 12 – Hand In Hand: A Benefit For Hurricane Harvey Relief – a major simultaneous fund raiser from Los Angeles, New York, San Antonio and Nashville. Performers participating in Music City take the stage at the Grand Ole Opry House. Name country players set for the one-hour special include Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, George Strait, Lyle Lovett, Chris Stapleton, Robert Earl Keen, along with Hollywood elites like George Clooney, Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey, Barbra Streisand, Drake, Jamie Foxx, Beyonce, Justin Bieber and Oprah Winfrey. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott estimated cost of rebuilding the damaged state likely reaching $180 billion. Kip Moore and skateboard champ Tony Hawk joined talents to headline Harley-Davidson’s premier Music City Skate Jam, Sept. 10, in Nashville’s Walk of Fame Park downtown. Proceeds will benefit victims of Hurricane Harvey, along with Kip’s Kids Fund and Tony Hawk’s Foundation for needy young skaters. Moore shared this observation with the daily newspaper: “I’ve seen the impact my skate parks have had on the inner cities. I’ve seen the direct impact they’ve had on these kids. They are telling me it’s the first thing they’ve ever loved, and their parents are telling me it’s keeping them out of gangs.” Highlights of the Skate Jam were Hawk’s skating exhibition, followed by Moore’s concert. As this is being typed, Hurricane Irma looks likely to equal the Harvey damage in Florida, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands. So stay tuned for further fund-raisers.
Scene Stealers: Chris Young was stunned when Vince Gill issued an invitation to become a regular cast member of WSM’s Grand Ole Opry, Aug. 28. The husky vocalist then lifted Vince up high in excitement, before hunkering down to kiss the show’s revered Circle of Fame wooden cut-out upon which past legends performed on an earlier Opry stage. In reply to Gill’s invitation, Chris gave a resounding “Yes!,” capping 11 years of guestings on the historic show. Vince had teamed with Chris to produce their #1 collaboration, “Sober Saturday Night,” which earned Gold sales status. That same night, Young also accepted his first Platinum plaque indicative of more than a million sales of his CD “Neon.” . . . The annual Americana Music Festival commenced Sept. 12-17 at the new Westin-Nashville Hotel, with showcases being held at various venues across town, including Basement East, Station Inn, Family Wash and 3rd & Lindsley. Some 300 performers were scheduled, including the likes of Drive-By Truckers, Del McCoury, while Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale co-hosted the Americana awards presentations at the Ryman. Among artists appearing on that program are Van Morrison, Graham Nash, John Prine, Jason Isbell, Margo Price and Rodney Crowell. For further information on this event check out americanamusic.org

Bits & Pieces: Country legend John Anderson came through recent “medical procedures” with flying colors and just released a series of upcoming concerts scheduled, including the Poppy Mountain Bluegrass Festival, Morehead, Ky., Sept. 16, followed by stops in Dade City, Fla., Sept. 21; Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, Hurricane Mills, Tenn., Sept. 28; Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, Sept. 29; and the Burleson County Fair, Caldwell, Texas, Sept. 30. Anderson sent this message, “I am thankful for the outpouring of prayers from friends and fans. All medical procedures went great and we’ll plan on seeing you all real soon.” Nothing like hearing the original hit-maker singing “Wild and Blue” and “Swingin’.” . . . Wanda Jackson’s biography “Every Night Is Saturday Night,” co-authored by journalist Scott Bomar, is slated for a Nov. 14 release date. Jackson, mainly hailed as a rockabilly pioneer, first charted country with her Decca duet “You Can’t Have My Love” (with Billy Gray), a song co-written by Hank Thompson, but suffered a lengthy dry spell between hits until her 1961 comeback on Capitol with back-to-back, self-penned Top 10 country discs “Right Or Wrong,” “In the Middle Of a Heartache.” Thereafter, she scored with her band The Party Timers via rock-flavored tunes, and their LP “You’ll Always Have My Love” (#25, 1967). Come Dec. 2, Wanda will autograph her book for fans at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville . . . If you’re a country music fan and have $4.2 million, you can buy the house where Tammy Wynette and George Jones loved, which later became the home of Earl and Louise Scruggs. Once dubbed “First Lady Acres,” the historic eight acres is being sold by Scott Underwood (ex-drummer with rock band Train), whose current listing represents a drop from a previously-advertised $5.5 million. His near 10,000 square foot home boasts nine bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a theater room, gym, pool, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, storm shelter, three-car garage, cabana and helicopter pad.
Honors: The Country Music Association’s roster of potential award winners was especially surprising for the lack of recognition shown such hit-makers as Jason Aldean (ACM’s current Entertainer of the Year), Blake Shelton (whose ex garnered five this year, to his zero) and Dustin Lynch, who despite five successive #1 discs on the Country Airplay Chart, suffered the embarrassment of announcing CMA nominees on national TV, but didn’t rate a nod, unlike co-hosts Lauren Alaina and the Osborne Brothers. “We have six first-time nominees (such as Lauren Alaina, who turns 23 on the awards date),” says Sarah Trahern, CEO, citing diversity in nominees for the 51st annual awards gala, including non-country names Pink, Rhiannon Giddens and Taylor Swift. “Then you have people (like Reba and Willie) who have been nominated for tons of years. We want to honor and mold all of this into an amazing three-hour show, Nov. 8.” So here are the 2017 CMA nominations: Entertainer of the Year – Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Chris Stapleton and Keith Urban; Female Singer: Kelsea Ballerini, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Maren Morris and Carrie Underwood; Male: Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Thomas Rhett, Chris Stapleton and Keith Urban; Vocal Group: Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Old Dominion, Rascal Flatts and Zac Brown Band; Vocal Duo: Brothers Osborne, Dan+Shea, Florida Georgia Line, LoCASH and Maddie & Tae; New Artist: Lauren Alaina, Luke Combs, Old Dominion, Jon Pardi, Brett Young; Album: Jason Isbell’s “Nashville Sound”; Lady Antebellum’s “Heart Break”; Miranda Lambert’s “Weight of These Wings”; Little Big Town’s “The Breaker”; and Chris Stapleton’s “From a Room, Volume 1”; Single: Sam Hunt, “Body Like a Back Road”; Miranda Lambert, “Tin Man”; Little Big Town, “Better Man”; Jon Pardi, “Dirt On My Boots”; and Keith Urban, “Blue Ain’t Your Color”; Song (writers): “Better Man,” Taylor Swift; “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” Clint Lagerberg, Hillary Lindsey, Steven Lee Olsen; “Body Like a Bad Road,” Zach Crowell, Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne; “Dirt On My Boots,” Rhett Akins, Jesse Erasure, Ashley Gorley; “Tin Man,” Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall; Musician: Jerry Douglas, dobro; Paul Franklin, steel guitar; Dann Huff, guitar; Mac McAnally, guitar; and Derek Wells, guitar; Best Event: “Craving You,” Thomas Rhett, Maren Morris; “Funny How Time Slips Away,” Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson; “Kill a Word,” Eric Church, Rhiannon Giddens; “Setting the World On Fire,” Kenny Chesney, Pink; and “Speak To a Girl,” Faith Hill, Tim McGraw; Music Video (artists, directors): “Better Man,” Little Big Town, Becky Fluke, Reid Long; “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” Keith Urban, Carter Smith; “Craving You,” Thomas Rhett, Maren Morris, T.K. McKamy; “It Ain’t My Fault,” Brothers Osborne, Wes Edwards, Ryan Silver; and “Vice,” Miranda Lambert and Trey Fanjoy . . .  Little Big Town was further honored Sept. 14, with a star on the Music City Walk of Fame along with posthumous stars for 19th century riverboat captain Tom Ryman and Lula Neff, who for four decades booked shows into Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium, named in honor of Capt. Tom . . . A triple threat talent, Lyman C. “Mac” McAnally, Jr., became the latest Nashville Cat in the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum’s Sept. 9 program series, performing and interviewing with series host Bill Lloyd. Mac’s earned his spurs as songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, mandolin, piano), and had his first Top 20 single “Back Where I Come From” in 1990, and shared vocals with Kenny Chesney on “Down The Road” (#1, 2008). Now 60, he’s won CMA’s best musician eight times and is nominated again this year; was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 2007; and produced such acts as Sawyer Brown and Restless Heart. Other #1’s he crafted include Shenandoah’s “Two Dozen Roses” and Alabama’s “Old Flame.”
Ailing: Country vocalist Jo Dee Messina, 47, has been diagnosed with cancer, prompting this message on her website that she’s “working closely with a team to explore all options.” The feisty female CMA Horizon Award winner in 1999, is a native of Massachusetts, who began performing professionally in her mid-teens. She scored big in 1996 with a near-charttopper “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” followed by a Top 10 that year, “You’re Not in Kansas Anymore.” Among her six #1 titles are “I’m Alright,” “Bring On the Rain” and “My Give-A-Damn’s Busted.”
Final Curtain Call: Albert “Sonny” Burgess, leader of the 1950s’ Memphis rockabilly group The Pacers, died Aug. 18 at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock, Ark. He was age 88. Sonny started off in his native Arkansas, fronting the boogie band Rocky Road Ramblers. After an Army stint during the Korean Conflict, he returned home, a farmer. Nights and weekends he played guitar, for a time leading a dance band The Moonlighters. In 1955, he turned his full attention on to music, especially excited about the new sound emanating from Sun Records and a Bill Haley movie “Rock Around the Clock.” Inspired, Sonny’s new band The Pacers incorporated hip new sounds into their act, and while opening for newcomer Elvis Presley, was encouraged by the rockabilly pioneer to see Sam Phillips in Memphis. Sam signed them to Sun, releasing their 1956 debut disc “Red-Headed Woman,” with a flip-side featuring “We Wanna Boogie.” Additional Sun records by The Pacers included “Thunderbird,” “Ain’t Got a Thing” and “Sadie’s Back in Town.” In 1965, the band scored again via “The Short Squashed Texan” on Razorback Records. Fellow Pacers included Bobby Crafford, Jim Aldridge, Fred Douglas, Kern Kennedy and J. C. Caughron. Pacer LPs include “They Came From the South,” “Live In Sweden” and “Still Rockin’ and Rollin’.” In 2002, Sonny & The Pacers were inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Jackson, Tenn., and also The Arkansas Entertainers’ Hall of Fame in Pine Bluff. Burgess is survived by a son John Burgess. A memorial service was being planned.

Musician Leon Douglas, 78, died Aug. 18. A member of the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree in West Va. for 30 years, he also performed with Cousin Jody on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry starting in the 1960s. As an entertainer, Leon shared the stage with such other notables as Marty Robbins, Mel Tillis, Merle Haggard and George Jones. Survivors include wife Bonnie Douglas; daughters Darla Douglas, Dana McDowell, Mickey Bryan, Bretina Douglas; sons Kevin and Darryl Douglas; 12 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. A Celebration of Life service was conducted by Heath Picard at Spring Hill Funeral Home, Aug. 22.

Bluegrass veteran Jim Rollins, 54, died in a car crash after being struck in the rear by another vehicle speeding on I-385 in Greenville County, S.C. The banjoist’s car spun off the road, and Rollins was thrown out of the vehicle, hitting his head. According to the Greenville County Coroner, death was caused by blunt force trauma. In his younger days, Rollins toured with Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys and more recently with the West End String Band, based in North Carolina. Apart from his music, Rollins was a General Electric Company engineer, who lived in Simpsonville, S.C. Reportedly, the driver of the speeding car has been charged with felony DUI in connection with the untimely death of Rollins. There was no further information on survivors or funeral services.

Nashville was in shock, Sept. 8, upon learning of the deaths of vocalists Troy Gentry (MontgomeryGentry) and veteran singer-songwriter Don Williams.
Gentry, 50, died in a helicopter crash early that afternoon, along with the pilot James Evan Robinson, in Medford, N.J. Gentry was to perform a concert that night with vocal partner Eddie Montgomery and their band. According to Medford Police Chief Richard Meder, crews removed passenger Gentry from the wreckage, and he was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital; however, crews worked for hours to extricate the pilot from the mangled wreckage. A native of Meigs, Ga., Robinson was a pilot with Flying W Airport’s flight school. Montgomery and Gentry were slated to perform at the Flying A Resort there. Montgomery and bandsmen were at the airport when the crash occurred, allegedly due to a malfunction, prompting the pilot to radio a troubled warning. The helicopter crashed just short of the airport runway, in what was reportedly a woody and swampy site. Montgomery who allegedly has a fear of flying had been invited for a “joy ride,” but declined, while the more adventurous Gentry jumped at the opportunity. An investigation of the chopper crash is being conducted.
Gentry, who hails from Lexington, Ky., first became familiar with Eddie’s musical assets when both played in a band with the younger Montgomery brother: John Michael & Young Country. According to Eddie, he and John first played in their dad Harold’s band Kentucky River Express, and then the siblings started a group labeled Early Tymz, adapted from a whiskey name. Later, along came Gentry to join us, recalled Eddie: “We started right out of high school. I was playing drums, T-Roy (his nickname for Gentry) played acoustic guitar and John was up front.”
After John Boy graduated to the big time, Troy and Eddie partnered to play local Lexington bars and other gigs, their sound influenced by their Southern rock heroes Charlie Daniels, Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. They became regulars at clubs such as Austin City Saloon and The Grapevine, the latter club once owned by Gentry. “We just came up thru the ranks that way and everybody supported us,” Eddie recalled, adding, Troy left the act to try first as a solo and got top spot in a Jim Beam Whiskey talent contest in ’94, but that sort of fizzled out and he drifted back to Eddie and their vocal duo Deuce. Together, after three years playing the Kentucky club circuit, they attracted attention of Sony/Columbia Records and their first charting proved a success: “Hillbilly Shoes” (#13, 1999). It was quickly followed by “Lonely and Gone” (#5, 1999) and the Top 20 “Daddy Won’t Sell the Farm,” all on their debut album “Tattoos & Scars,” which sold over a million (Platinum), marking a nice start. Early awards were the American Music Awards trophy for favorite new country act; Academy of Country Music’s top new duo statuette; and in 2000, CMA voted M/G a  best duo award. Subsequently, the team totaled 16 Top 10’s, including five #1 discs: “If You Ever Stop Loving Me,” “Something To Be Proud Of,” “Lucky Man,” “Back When I Knew It All” and “Roll With Me.” Their testosterone-fueled tunes were welcomed by blue-collar fans nationally.
As Eddie told us in an interview way back when, “It’s wonderful to win these awards and to be recognized by your peers, but the main thing is the acceptance by the people (fans). We didn’t start out to try and win awards, we did it because we love it. We enjoy having people come out to see us, and that is definitely the biggest award of all.”
Both were bikers, who regularly rode their Harleys to the annual Bike Week near Sturgis, N.D., where Eddie pointed out, “We’ve made a lot of friends and seen some incredible custom motorcycles out there,” as Troy added, “Yeah, being there with real people is the best. I love talking to the extreme bikers, doctors, lawyers, school teachers and everybody else. It’s great fellowship.”
Gentry generated some unanticipated sour press with his so-called sport of hunting what turned out to be a captive black bear, roaming in a three-acre private site in November 2006. Subsequently he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of improperly tagging wildlife, and the following April, under a plea deal, was sentenced to three months probation, a $15,000 fine and forfeiture of the taxidermied bear, and bow used during the so-called hunt near Sandstone, Minn. Fortunately, most fans were forgiving of this, and Troy also agreed to stop hunting in Minnesota for five years.
Troy Gentry’s management group’s Shannon Houchins has issued the following: “I, along with everyone here at Average Joe’s, am devastated by the news of Troy’s passing. Personally, there are no words to express the sadness I feel for Troy’s family and for Eddie Montgomery.  Troy was an exceptional talent, an exceptional person and a good friend. We will all miss him greatly.” Montgomery Gentry re-signed with Average Joe’s Entertainment last year, and recently put the finishing touches on a new album for them.
Survivors include Troy’s wife, the former Angie McClure (whom he wed in a Hawaiian ceremony in 1999); their teen daughter Kaylee; and Taylor, child of his previous marriage. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Country Music Hall of Famer Don Williams, 78, died Sept. 8 at his home near Nashville. Hailed for 45 Top 10 singles, 17 of which went #1, two he wrote: “Till The Rivers All Run Dry” (1976) and “Love Me Over Again” (1980).
Donald Ray Williams was born May 27, 1939 in Floydada, Texas, but raised mainly in the Texas coastal city of Portland. At age 3, he won an alarm clock finishing first in a local talent contest. As a teen at Gregory-Portland High, he began learning to play guitar, primarily pickin’ songs heard on the radio. Among those artists who helped inspire him were Johnny Horton, Fats Domino and Buddy Holly. At 14, Don wrote his first song, “Walk It Off,” and his first musical payday was $25, performing for the 1957 grand opening of a gas station in Taft, Texas.
Don worked a variety of jobs to support his musical efforts, including laboring in the oil fields, driving a bread truck, working in a smelting plant and also as a bill collector. He also served a stint in the Army, and later worked with his father-in-law in a furniture building business. Meeting fellow musician Lofton Kline, the two hooked up as as a country-folk duo Strangers Two.
After years of struggling, in 1964 Don formed the Pozo-Seco Singers with Kline and Susan Taylor. The folk-pop trio, with Don its lead singer, finally hit the charts with “I Can Make It With You” (#32, 1966) and “Look What You’ve Done” (#32, 1967). Later, Don would return to the pop chart via his MCA crossover hit “I Believe In You” (#24, 1980). In 1981, he charted his sole duet hit, “If I Needed You,” with Emmylou Harris (Billboard #3), and a few years down the road, produced another artist, Barbara Fairchild, in the studio.
In a later chat with Don, we inquired what had become of his former pop music partners: “I haven’t seen or spoken with them for some years now. I really don’t know what Lofton does in Texas. Seems I heard he was performing around some, and that he was also a coach at one of the high schools there, but really I don’t have any idea what they’re doing now.”
It was in 1967 that Williams made the move to Nashville. He did studio session work and signed as a staff writer with Cowboy Jack Clement for publishing. Don guested in pal Burt Reynold’s movies “W.W. & The Dixie Dancekings” (1975) as Leroy, and “Smokey & The Bandit II” (1980), as himself singing his #1 “Tulsa Time.” During filming at 20th Century Fox, he was “gifted” with a battered cavalry hat, which Don donned for years. In fact, he was wearing it when we did our first interview in Wiesbaden, Germany, during his maiden 1970s’ European tour.
Over the years, he’d played all the major concert venues from Carnegie Hall in New York to the Royal Albert Hall in London. Williams maintained a special appreciation for UK audiences, noting, “Those people over there, as far as how they’ve been to me, it’s really unbelievable!” Little wonder, he was named Country Music Star of the Decade in England (1980) by Country Music People magazine.
Among his best-selling LPs are: #1 “Harmony” (1976); “Expressions” (#2, 1978), which charted 61 weeks; and “The Best Of Don Williams, Vol. II” (#7, 1979), charting an astounding 115 weeks. A lot of times in the studio he would call on members from his touring group, called the Scratch Band.
When asked decades later if he still wore that cavalry cap, Don chuckled, replying, “Now the one that I’ve worn the last twenty-some years, Stetson fashioned for me as near as possible to the original, and you know the original when I got it, was really old.”
It was in 1976 that Don joined WSM’s Grand Ole Opry.  While he does write some of his songs, including his breakthrough song “The Shelter Of Your Eyes” (#14, 1972), “Atta Way To Go,” “Till The Rivers All Run Dry,” “I’ve Got a Winner In You,” “Lay Down Beside Me” and “Love Me Over Again,” he was always on the lookout for good songs from writers like Wayland Holyfield and Roger Cook. Bob McDill, however, proved a truly good luck charm, writing such classic Williams’ singles as “Come Early Morning,” “Amanda” (both in 1973), “Love Me Tonight,” “Say It Again,” “She Never Knew Me,” “Rake and Ramblin’ Man,” “It Must Be Love,” “Good Ol’ Boys Like Me,” “Falling Again,” “If Hollywood Don’t Need You,” “Another Time, Another Place,” “I’ve Been Loved By the Best” and his final Billboard Top 10 “Lord, Have Mercy On a Country Boy” (#7, 1991).
As Don told a No Depression reporter, “When Bob writes one that really hits me, it really hits me. He has a different way of saying things that appeal to me and the way he put shorts together was real different for country music at that time. I dare say I would not have had very much of a career without Bob McDill.”
The  rangy, six-footer’s smooth baritone and easy-going manner earned him the sobriquet Gentle Giant, and made him something of a songwriter’s singer.  In 1978, Don’s “Tulsa Time” was voted best single by the Academy of Country Music, while the Country Music Association named him best vocalist of that year, and in 1981 honored his Platinum-selling “I Believe In You” as best album (which charted 86 weeks). He’s received eight more ACM nominations and several more CMA nominations, as well. In 2010, Williams was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He retired from the road several seasons back, sticking close to Ashland City, site of some 90 acres he calls home, to spend more time with wife Joy Bucher, whom he wed April 10, 1960. They have two sons: Gary and Tim.

(Editor’s note: Montgomery-Gentry photo above by Patricia Presley.)

 

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Music City Beat – Sept. 2017

Carrie’s captain comes home . . . Dolly, a National Treasure

NASHVILLE — The Nashville Predators will bid adieu to its captain, Mike Fisher, who just announced he will retire and spend more time at home with singer-wife Carrie Underwood and their boy Isaiah. Mike, 37, scored 42 points last season, including one of the more spectacular power plays, scoring four points in the Stanley Cup Finals as the Preds battled Pittsburgh’s Penguins for the championship. Over 17 seasons, Fisher played 1,088 National Hockey League games with the Ottawa Senators and Predators. He skated with the latter team six-plus seasons, totaling 237 points in 413 games. The team’s center player in a page 1 write-up to Nashville’s daily newspaper The Tennessean, stated in part, “This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but I know I’ve made the right one. I’ve decided to retire from the NHL. I kept praying for peace about the next step in my life. A peace that said this is God’s will for your future. A peace that said whether or not this was the right time to walk away.” Despite losing to the Penguins, Mike could look back on their winning the Western Conference and bringing many more fans to Nashville hockey in the playoffs. Fisher added, “I believe that this team, that this city, is going to win a championship, and I’m going to be the biggest fan. No one will be happier than I will be to see it happen, because these fans, they deserve it.” Meanwhile, Mrs. Fisher on her Instagram account, wrote (along with a photo of her guy on the ice), “I sure am going to miss watching you play and cheering you on with the rest of Smashville, but I so look forward to seeing what God has in store for you in this next chapter of your life . . . Isaiah and I love you so much and are so excited to be able to have you home a lot more.”
Scene Stealers: Dolly Parton’s cited by Parade magazine as a National Treasure in its July 16, 2017 edition, claiming, “Besides her Grammy wins (8), songs she’s written (more than 5,000), #1 hits (25) and acting gigs (“9 To 5”), Parton’s top claim to fame may be her good works. Her Imagination Library (established in 1995) has sent more than 85 million books to kids in the U.S., Canada and the UK. Last year, after wildfires ripped through the Great Smoky Mountains, her Dollywood Foundation gave $1,000 a month for six months to every family (more than 900) that lost their home.” In addition, Dolly’s NBC film “Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love” just received a 2017 Emmy nod for Outstanding Television Movie. Winners will be announced Sept. 17 on CBS-TV. This is her third nomination . . . Rumors are flying regarding singers Miranda Lambert and Anderson East, indicating that Miranda popped that all-important question to Anderson: Will you marry me? And East said yes indeedy! Yet, for the record, neither has confirmed they are officially engaged. East, 29, is an R&B artist who hails from Athens, Ala., and is best known for his Top 20 single “Satisfy Me.” And as we write this, he’s performing at the Edmonton Folk Festival in Canada. Lambert, 33, split with hubby Blake Shelton two years ago when he co-starred with rocker Gwen Stefani on NBC’s The Voice. Miranda’s #1’s include “Over You” and “Somethin’ Bad” (with Carrie Underwood).
Bits & Pieces: As the 40th anniversary of the death of rock ‘n’ roll king Elvis Presley approached (he died Aug. 16, 1977), Presley Enterprises conducted a public auction of some 315 lots of Elvis items, including a grand piano, that netted some $1.5 million during the event at Graceland, Aug. 12, in Memphis . . . Former country star Taylor Swift testified in a Denver courtroom, Aug. 10, regarding an alleged groping incident by DJ David Mueller during a 2013 media appearance preceding her concert in the city’s Pepsi Center. When Swift’s camp reported to station KYGO-FM about Mueller’s action, management citing a morals clause in his contract, dismissed him. Two years later, Mueller filed a $3 million lawsuit against the singer claiming career damage, which prompted Swift to sue him over a “despicable, horrifying and shocking” encounter when the radio host reached under her skirt and grabbed the cheek of her derriere. On Aug. 11, District Court Judge tossed out Mueller’s lawsuit stating the singer could not be held liable since he failed to prove she set out to have him fired. In her counter-suit, she sought a symbolic $1 (one dollar) and the opportunity to stand up for other women experiencing similar humiliating acts. The jury has yet to rule on her claim . . . Reba McEntire’s former Wilson County 83-acre estate near Nashville was sold for $5 million to Paul Burch, who plans to build 15 new homes on a portion of the property. The proposed development’s called Cherokee Meadows, and is subject to approval by the county plans commission. The singer and her former husband, musician-manager Narvel Blackstock, separated in 2015, filing for divorce after 26 years of marriage. They have a son Shelby, 26 . . . A Jerry Lee Lewis tribute appearance at Skyville Live, Nashville, Aug. 24, featuring such stars as George Strait, Kris Kristofferson, Toby Keith, Lee Ann Womack and Chris Stapleton, was taped for later viewing by fans of “The Killer,” whose hits range from rock classics like “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” to country clicks such as “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous” and “Middle Age Crazy.” He turns 82 Sept. 29.
Honors: A pair of Lynns are among the latest female country icons being saluted at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville: That “Rose Garden” gal Lynn Anderson’s exhibit, which begins Sept. 15 and runs to June 24, 2018, is titled: “Lynn Anderson: Keep Me In Mind” (named after her 1973 #1 song). She died in 2015 at age 67.  (That’s Lynn’s photo on right.) “Anderson’s TV background and her ability to bring show business dynamism to recording and concert performances helped her achieve crossover success,” noted Kyle Young, museum CEO. The other display honors Loretta Lynn via “Blue Kentucky Girl” running from Aug. 25 to Aug. 5, 2018. Loretta, 85, recently suffered a stroke, but reportedly proclaimed, “I am so happy the Country Music Hall of Fame has asked me to be one of their main exhibits in 2017 . . . gonna show off my 50 some odd years in country music. They best have a big space, I have a lot of stuff! I’m so proud to share my life, and music with the Hall of Fame. Y’all come see us!” . . . Five names were added to the prestigious Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame this year: Walt Aldridge, Vern Gosdin, Jim McBride, Dewayne Blackwell and Tim Nichols. According to organization chairman Pat Alger, “The quality of the songs that emanate from the legendary songwriting community is most often the standard by which songwriters measure their success.” Aldridge hits include Earl Thomas Conley’s “Holding Her and Loving You,” while Gosdin’s known for classics like “Chiseled in Stone.” McBride collaborated with Alan Jackson on his “Chattahoochee” cut, and Nichols’ successes include Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying.” Blackwell’s responsible for such as “Make My Day” and “Friends In Low Places.” The five will officially be inducted at their annual songwriters gala, Oct. 23, at Music City Center . . . The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame will induct native talents of the Bluegrass State – (the late) David (Stringbean) Akeman, Dale Ann Bradley, Jason Crabb, Billy Ray Cyrus, Jackie DeShannon and Bobby Lewis – during its annual induction ceremony, May 11, 2018, in Somerset, Ky.
Final Curtain: Veteran guitarist Steve Chapman, 74, died July 29. He had been a regular with such bands as Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours and Bill Anderson’s Po’ Boys, as well as playing with such other artists, among them Roy Acuff, Charlie Louvin, Billy Walker and Mandy Barnett. While with the Po’ Boys, he performed on their instrumental LP “The Casual Country Feeling.” Chapman, a Virginia native, got his first taste of professional pickin’ on Reno & Smiley’s Top O’ The Mornin’ TV series on WDBJ-Roanoke. He earned his spurs as a Nashville studio musician, supporting such notables as Donna Fargo, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ronnie Milsap and George Strait, and was hailed as a great fingerpicker. Survivors include his wife Sue, and children Michele, Danny, Steven Jr., Tonia, Jennifer and Jason; and several grandchildren. A celebration of life service was conducted at Hermitage Funeral Home & Memorial Gardens, Aug. 4.
Steel Guitarist Kayton Roberts, 83, died July 13 in Nashville. For some 30 years, he played in Hank Snow’s Rainbow Ranch Boys, and was a member of the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in St. Louis, Mo. His unique guitar stylings are heard on such Snow LPs as “Snow in Hawaii,” Ricky Skaggs’ “Sings the Songs of Bill Monroe,” Randy Travis’ “Trail of Memories,” Hank Williams III’s “Lovesick, Broke & Driftin’,” Aaron Tippin’s “You’ve Got To Stand For Something,” Billy Joe Shaver’s “The Earth Rolls On” and his own “Valley Of the Roses.” His wife Iva Lou preceded him in death, and survivors include children Louie, Jan and Martin Roberts; and five grandchildren. Services were held at the Church of Grace Park, White House, Tenn., July 23.

 

 

 

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Music City Beat – August 2017

Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins and Bobby Cochran, newest Rockabilly Hall of Famers

NASHVILLE — The late Eddie Cochran was added to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Jackson, Tenn., July 1, 30 years after being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Sharing that Rockabilly honor posthumously are Carl (“Blue Suede Shoes”) Perkins, 57, and Eddie’s very-much-alive rockin’ nephew Bobby Cochran. Ironically, Perkins, who at 65 died in 1998, is a native of Jackson, home to the International Rockabilly Hall of Fame. In Memphis, after signing with Sun Records, Carl recorded his composition “Blue Suede Shoes,” which became Sun’s first rockabilly record to sell a million singles. It hit Billboard’s country, pop and R&B charts, even scoring Top 10 in the UK. A 1956 automobile accident sidelined Carl awhile and brother Jay later died from injuries suffered in that tragedy. Later Perkins’ successes included “Boppin’ the Blues,” “Matchbox,” and appearing in the movie “Jamboree.” Johnny Cash, who recorded Perkins’ #1 “Daddy Sang Bass,” featured Carl on his hit TV series and as a regular on tour. Perkins is also a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and recipient of a Grammy Hall of Fame award. Of course, Eddie Cochran departed the music scene in 1960, when his taxi overturned, en-route to London Airport, following a UK tour. He was 21 years old. A multi-instrumentalist, Eddie was Minnesota-born, but kicked off his career in California with a non-related entertainer Garland (Hank) Cochran as The Cochran Brothers (see above photo), whose associates included fellow country newcomers Harlan Howard and Bobby Bare, as the duo did appearances on such programs as KTTV’s Town Hall Party, and on tour supporting stars like Lefty Frizzell, before their split. Whereupon Eddie adopted a more rockabilly style, before it was even in vogue, scoring such teen-angst successes as “C’mon Everybody,” “Something Else,” “Twenty-Flight Rock” and “Summertime Blues.” A superb guitarist, Eddie helped define the 1950s’ rebel rock sound, inspiring such later legends as John Lennon, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page and Duane Allman. His hits were covered by rock acts like The Who, Blue Cheer and The Sex Pistols. Yet another guitarist who idolized Eddie was nephew Bobby Cochran, known for his mastery of the six-string. Like his uncle, Bobby was born in Albert Lea, Minn. (1950), and earned his session spurs backing such stalwarts as Steppenwolf, Leon Russell, The Flying Burrito Brothers, as well as his own band The Midnites and more recently The Rhythm Rockers. Apart from Eddie, his early influences were Chet Atkins, B.B. King and Duane Eddy. According to Bobby: “Duane’s style I could actually access. I got to meet him once and I told him how much he had influenced my playing. His tone and melody were amazing. He had a big impact on me as a young player.”
Scene Stealers: Singer Lacy J. Dalton (“16th Avenue”) is one artist who believes in giving back when you’ve gained success, and now does so via California’s Arts in Connection program. From September to June, she and bandleader Dale Poune participate in teaching songwriting, rap and guitar to interested inmates at High Desert State Prison in Susanville. This project is co-sponsored by the non-profits William James Association (in her hometown of Santa Cruz), and the California Lawyers For the Arts, as part of a $65,000 project to benefit incarcerated persons and the community at large. Actually, such programs have been launched at several state prisons with further funding from the National Endowment For the Arts (though President Trump has called for NEA defunding), California Arts Council and some private foundations. Dalton, whose country hits include several she co-wrote herself, such as “Hillbilly Girl With the Blues,” “Takin’ It Easy” and “Everybody Makes Mistakes” (which sort of represents her feeling here), insists that they teach more than country-style music: “Much of what has been written in the past two years that we have established the program, is far away from country music . . . For these people, being able to make a positive out of a negative situation, as they have done, is very meaningful . . . They have made their mistakes, and are paying the price for what they have done, but it doesn’t have to end there. It shouldn’t end there.” Lacy J., 70, feels that many of them, especially those who committed crime in their youth, deserve a rehabilitation chance, “To make a worthwhile contribution to society and re-establish their lives.” . . . Rory Feek, 52, returns to performing come September in his hometown of Pottsville, Tenn., for a charity concert to benefit the Music Health Alliance. Previously part of the Joey + Rory country duo, he hasn’t performed since before the death of his wife and vocal partner Joey, who succumbed to cancer in March 2016. According to Feek, Music Health Alliance is special to him because that nonprofit Nashville agency helped the family during her lengthy health battle. At a news conference, he confided, “I could not navigate the barrage of medical bills that were coming in. What is covered? What is not covered? What isn’t covered, but should be?” The duo, known for the hits “Cheater, Cheater” and “This Song’s For You,” won a best roots gospel album Grammy in Los Angeles last February. As writer, former Marine Rory penned hits like “A Little More Country Than That” (Easton Corbin), “Chain of Love” (Clay Walker) and “Some Beach” (Blake Shelton) . . . Charley Pride found a new fan in Oscar-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg, the night he accepted the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences’ Lifetime Achievement Grammy, July 11, at New York City’s Beacon Theatre. As The View host, Whoopi opened her July 12 telecast with a cheery “Good morning, Charley Pride!,” saying he watches the ABC show. She and Charley have seen one another on various occasions, but never really spoke until New York: “It was great to finally get to meet him after 30 years! I met him last night at the Grammy Legends ceremony. When you think about country music, he was the only man of color doing country music, followed next by Darius Rucker (of Hootie & The Blowfish), who has won a country Grammy. It’s kind of extraordinary and it’s an area of music that people don’t realize is very connected to people of color, because it’s country music and we all came from that country . . . I have not seen a ‘Sister’ doing country music.” Last December, Charley celebrated his 50th year of Billboard chartings, his first Top 10 being 1966’s “Just Between You and Me,” followed by 51 more Top 10s, 29 of which became #1 singles, earning three Grammys and induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame (2000). Ray Charles, of course, enjoyed a Top 10 duet with George Jones “We Didn’t See a Thing,” and a #1 “Seven Spanish Angels” with Willie Nelson, as well as adapting country classics to fit his R&B style earlier, scoring hits such as “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “You Are My Sunshine” and “Crying Time.” Less successful were full-time country men of color Big Al Downing, Stoney Edwards, O.B. McClinton and Cleve Francis, who came, garnered some media attention, then quietly disappeared. Women of color who made half-hearted attempts in the genre, included Shirley B. Adair, briefly signed to ABC-Paramount, and Ruby Falls, who co-wrote her only Top 40 single “You’ve Got To Mend This Heartache” (1977), but died at age 40 of a brain hemorrhage in 1986. The Pointer Sisters’ saw their composition “Fairytale” hit Top 40 (#13 pop), earning them a 1974 country (?) Grammy.
Bits & Pieces: Sorry boys, singer Maren Morris is now engaged to fellow singer-songwriter Ryan Hurd, who popped the question July 9. According to an Instagram posting, Maren’s photo says it all, depicting her upon Ryan’s lap, holding a Corona beer in her right hand, and sporting a new diamond ring on the left, as the caption says “Yes.” What timing! This same week her duet “Craving You” with Thomas Rhett hit the top of Billboard’s country airplay chart. This marks mi’lady’s first #1 (and Rhett’s eighth). Congrats! . . . Performance rights organization ASCAP has struck a deal with YouTube, regarding a joint music licensing agreement to improve royalties for songwriters. Publishers and writers alike have long criticized the YouTube steaming site for hosting illegal music videos, without obtaining proper permission of copyright holders. U.S. law requires publishers to identify such illegal posts and thereby request YouTube remove such violators from the site. The newly-announced agreement calls for both sides sharing information on writers and publishers, primarily to aid accuracy in supplying royalties. According to Elizabeth Matthews, ASCAP’s CEO, “The ultimate goal is to ensure that more money goes to the songwriters, composers and publishers, whose creative works fuel the digital music economy.” . . . Dolly Parton appears on pop princess Kesha’s new CD “Rainbow,” guesting with good reason on the diva’s revival of “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle To You” a song Parton took to #1 in 1980. That ballad was co-written by Pebe Sebert (Kesha’s mom) and Hugh Moffatt, appearing on Parton’s LP “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly.” Actually two years earlier, it was Joe Sun’s first country hit (#14, 1978), and yet another clever cover was sung by Brian Collins, less successfully. A little research reveals Kesha also included “Old Flames” on her “Deconstructed” set four years earlier. Her new album will be released Aug. 11 . . . By the way, Dolly Parton joins fellow East Tennessee native Kenny Chesney atop the latest Forbes magazine list of the World’s Highest Paid Country Music Stars, Chesney ($42.5 million) at #2 spot, while Parton ($37 million) ranked #4. According to the accompanying news release, “Perhaps the most surprising name on the list is Dolly Parton. The septuagenarian star grossed a healthy six figures per city across 63 dates, during our scoring period; she also cashes in on publishing paychecks and her Dollywood theme park.” Not unexpectedly, Garth Brooks is the highest earner ($60 million), while Luke Bryan’s third (with $42 million) and fifth place is tied between Toby Keith and Florida Georgia Line (each with $34.5 million) . . . Country newcomer Dylan Scott, 26, revealed on social media that he and his bride Blair anticipate their first baby this year. Of course, he’s not sure yet whether it’s a boy or if he’ll be revisiting his big hit “My Girl” to celebrate vocally . . . Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley for the 10th time will serve as hosts for the annual Country Music Association (CMA) awards show, scheduled Nov. 8, 2017 in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, broadcast live via ABC-TV. It’s the CMA’s 51st gala . . . Brad Paisley, incidentally, also hosts a comedy special premiering Aug. 15 via Netflix. Reportedly billed as Brad Paisley’s Comedy Rodeo, the show spotlights standup comics and other guests from among “Paisley’s famous friends.” Look for Paisley pals Reba and Baywatch star David Hasselhoff to appear. ’Nuff said . . . Banjoists Bela Fleck and wife Abigail Washburn have been announced as co-hosts of the 28th annual International Bluegrass Music Awards Show, Sept. 28 in Raleigh, N.C. It’s the highlight of the annual World of Bluegrass conference there from Sept. 26-30 . . . Bluegrass diva Alison Krauss embarks on a co-starring concert venture with British artist David Gray, which includes a two-day stop in Music City, Oct. 1-2, at the historic Ryman Auditorium. Krauss, a multiple Grammy winner, known for such high-lonesome hits as “When You Say Nothing At All,” usually tours with Union Station, while Gray’s popular platinum-selling CD “White Ladder” includes the song “Babylon.” . . . The Dixie Chicks’ DCZ MMSVI Tour turned into a concert documentary that three Nashville cinemas plan to screen Aug. 7. Actually the footage features their Nashville stop in August 2016 . . . Yet another live concert from last year, a John D. Loudermilk Tribute Show at nearby Franklin Theatre, March 26, saluted the songwriter with performances by such disciples as Rosanne Cash, Bobby Braddock, Emmylou Harris and John Jorgensen. Sadly, he died last September at age 82, but fortunately it was recorded in CD form as what else “A Tribute To John D. Loudermilk,” and is slated for release Sept. 15, 2017, followed at a later date by a PBS filmed special of that event. John D. wrote such classic as “A Rose & A Baby Ruth,” “Talk Back Trembling Lips,” “Tobacco Road,” “Indian Reservation,” “Amigo’s Guitar,” “Sad Movies” and “Abilene.” He’s a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Honors: Two exhibits to visit at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum are Shania Twain: Rock This Country and John Anderson, spotlighted in Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music. Shania, 51, hails from north of the border in Windsor, Canada, while John, 62, is a native of Apopka (Fla.), a Seminole term for “potato eating place.” . . . American Federation of Musicians’ Local 71 in Memphis, Tenn., is situated in a two-story 1960s’ brick building that has just been added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, taking into consideration its members included musicians who toiled at Sun Records, Stax Recording Studio, and helped foster Memphis blues and early rock sounds, in the process producing such legends as Rufus Thomas, B. B. King, Elvis Presley, Booker T & The MGs, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Charlie Rich, Isaac Hayes, Wilson Pickett, among others. Any questions?
Final Curtain: Grand Ole Opry star Steve Wariner is mourning the death of his father Roy, 88, who inspired his son’s pursuit of a music career. In an Instagram post, Steve wrote: “It is with great sadness I bring you the news of my father’s passing. Roy Monroe Wariner died peacefully Friday night, July 7, in Jamestown, Ky. Thank you all so much for your kindness and condolences. It is very much appreciated. He was certainly my hero and inspiration and will forever be missed.” Steve, who succeeded with 10 #1 country hits, three from his own pen – “You Can Dream of Me,” “Where Did I Go Wrong” “I Got Dreams” – actually launched his career playing guitar in his dad’s band. A native of Champaign, Ill., the senior Wariner served in the Navy, and in addition to being a musician was a music teacher. Another hero, Chet Atkins, felt pop taught Steve so well on guitar, that Chet designated Wariner a CGP (Certified Guitar Picker). Mr. Wariner’s funeral services were conducted July 11 in Russell Springs, Ky.

Behind-the-scenes music executive Bob Heatherly, 73, died June 19 after a brief illness. A native of Newport, Ark., Heatherly served in the U.S. Army. He began his career working at RCA Records’ branch in St. Louis in 1971. Later moves to New York and Nashville, found him working in promotion and marketing with additional labels, most notably Columbia and Atlantic Records. It was in 2001 that he joined forces with Country Music Hall of Famer Charley Pride to launch Music City Records, with Bob serving as its President and CEO. Away from Music Row, he enjoyed NASCAR and fine wine. He and wife Laura worked on behalf of the non-profit R. J. Martell Foundation, which promotes cancer research and treatment. Survivors include wife of 21 years, Laura Squair Heatherly, a son, Robert of Jonesboro, Ark., and two grandchildren, Trevor and Jennifer Hill, also of Jonesboro. Services were held June 24 at Remmel-McCall Cemetery with David Howard officiating.

Former blonde recording artist Donna Darlene Jackson, 78, died June 24 in Nashville. She was the widow of Steel Guitar Hall of Famer “Shot” Jackson, and was wed earlier to famed session fiddler Buddy Spicher and country star Doug Kershaw. Born in Kane, Pa., Nov. 29, 1938, Donna Darlene began her music career pickin’ and singin’ on such local stations as WXBI-St. Mary’s and WPXY-Punxsutawney, Pa., before landing a singing spot in 1955 on Dusty Owens & The Rodeo Boys’ program on WWVA-Wheeling, W. Va. She also made her first tour north of the border, playing Nova Scotia, Canada, where reportedly she married band member Spicher. While in West Virginia, Donna also recorded for Admiral Records, releasing her solo debut single “I’ll Hate Myself In the Morning.” Dusty invited her to duet on his regional cut “Once More” (1956), later covered by Roy Acuff (#8, 1958). Touring with Wheeling Jamboree cast members, she honed her talents opening shows for such stars as Mac Wiseman, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper and Cajun brother duo Rusty & Doug (Kershaw). In Nashville, Donna performed on the Armed Forces show Country Music Time, hosted by Jim Reeves (1958-’59), plugging such original singles as “There’s a Reason.” She also hit the Las Vegas circuit with an All-Girl Band, and recorded for Kapp Records, notably the singles “Best Years Of My Life” and “Gonna Be More Lovin’.” After her divorce from Kershaw, she married steel guitar whiz Harold (Shot) Jackson (who’d backed both country’s king and queen, Roy Acuff and Kitty Wells). A July 1965 accident on tour with Acuff, resulted in severe injuries for Shot, who was even briefly in a coma. Upon recovery, he began touring with Donna, visiting such foreign ports as Ireland, Germany, The Caribbean and Canada, where their Edison Theatre concert was recorded live by Arc Records. Other labels she recorded with include Stop Records, Charta, Top Spin, Marathon and Rural Rhythm. Among her albums are “The Hurtin’ Side of Me,” “Precious Memories” and “Girl On the Cover.” Two months after selling his Sho-Bud Steel Guitar Store (which he opened in 1965 with Buddy Emmons, and producing their seven-string resonator, The Sho-Bro), Shot suffered a stroke on Aug. 21, 1983. This curtailed Donna Darlene’s touring, and he had a second stroke in 1990, which left him severely handicapped, until his death Jan. 24, 1991 at 70. She released their LP “By Request” in 2000, which included the single “Hide & Go Cheat.” For many years thereafter, Donna (pictured below) attended the annual International Steel Guitar Convention in St. Louis in his honor. Following her recent open-heart surgery, she suffered a stroke that eventually caused her death. Survivors include her sons Doug Kershaw, Jr. and Victor Kershaw, and daughters Suzette (Spicher) Johnson and Shotsie (Jackson) West, six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Services were held at Hermitage Funeral Home, Old Hickory, Tenn., July 8, officiated by Wendell Poole.

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Music City Beat – July 2017

Nova News – Hockey play-offs enhance Country Music Fest

NASHVILLE — We called it Hockey-Tonk Town, at least for the duration of the mix of the Stanley Cup NHL skating championship finals between Nashville’s Predators and Pittsburgh’s Penguins, amidst the annual influx of fans for the Country MusicFest (once dubbed Fan Fair). Apart from being a worrisome record assemblage of folk for security officials, considering worldwide terrorist attacks, Music City cheerfully welcomed both events, with musical talents participating in both happenings. Topping it off, just 60-some miles down the highway in Manchester, was the rockin’ Bonnaroo Festival, that annually attracts some 80,000 far-out fans, giving an idea of the over-crowded check-in at Nashville airport and on the highways, departing June 12. Actually, the National Hockey League anticipated 100,000 hockey-goers in town for the Game Six finale alone, as some coughed up $4,000 or more for a single seat, while nearby parking sites were charging $80 per car. Incidentally, some of these parking places owned by corporations with headquarters as far removed from Music City as London, England, ought to be censored for pure greed. Steve Bradford, 58, didn’t have a parking problem, being an elevator-installation supervisor, his car parked on site of his current downtown building project (and it’s a boom town of sorts nowadays), while participating in both events on Lower Broad Street, aglow with numerous bars, clubs and of course the Bridgestone Arena, home to the Predators. Steve, who hails from Johnson City, Tenn., even brought his Mrs. and granddaughter over to share the festive scene: “We love both country music and hockey! This was a real treat!” In addition to being Tennessee’s capitol city, Nashville is now the state’s biggest city, according to a 2016 Census report noting Nashville proper now boasts 660,388 persons, thanks to the current boom taking place here, displacing Memphis, which dropped to 652,717, falling nearly 8,000 short of title status. It certainly was wall-to-wall people downtown here, where some artists were even offering free performances, among them Alan Jackson, Keith Urban, Kip Moore, Sara Evans, Blake Shelton and Rodney Atkins, who held a “Music City Gives Back” tailgate party all afternoon before the Preds game got underway, inviting such talents as Grainger Smith, Cole Taylor and Brett Young, and Kip Moore closing the set. There were a number of so-called parties, notably Marty Stuart’s 16th annual Jam at the Ryman, where despite stellar vocalists like Wynonna Judd and Connie Smith, blues great Booker T. Jones literally stole the show, aided by Stuart’s Superlatives joining the classic artist for his show-stopping “Green Onions,” a favorite instrumental Jones & The MG’s cut way back in 1962. Then there was the Reunion Of Professional Entertainers’ annual ROPE Luncheon With the Stars, June 6, featuring traditional country headliners like Jody Miller, who scored a Grammy for her “Queen Of the House,” Rex Allen, Jr. of “Lonely Street” fame, Leona Williams, who hit with “The Bull & The Beaver,” among others were Mandy Barnett, Tim Atwood, Tommy Cash, Jeannie Seely and Bobby Marquez. Helping nightly to launch the Stanley Cup games were such singers as Dierks Bentley, Martina McBride, Carrie Underwood and Faith Hill, delivering “The National Anthem,” and Carrie, of course, is Predators’ captain Mike Fisher’s wife. (That’s Mike in above photo.) Although the Pittsburgh team succeeded in winning their second Stanley Cup trophy with Game Six, most Nashvillians remain proud of the home team, having won its first title ever, copping the Western Conference win . . . And there’s always next year, as Steve Bradford reminded us, as we dried our tears. Among headliners on the Opry during festival week were Blake Shelton, Scotty McCreery, Dustin Lynch and Eric Paslay. FYI, Darius Rucker raised another million dollars for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital fund with his benefit; Ty Herndon hosted another Love & Acceptance party at the Wildhorse Saloon, June 8, featuring a wealth of talent including Lorrie Morgan, Billy Gilman, Kree Harrison and Thompson Square, on behalf of the LGBTQ movement. Although not well-advertised, there was a gaming and music party across the Cumberland River in East Nashville, proving popular, sponsored by Pepsi, introducing its new cinnamon-fused cola Pepsi Fire. Unfortunately, we can’t be everywhere, so we leave it to others to cover the exciting Nissan Stadium nights with the likes of Kenny Rogers and Linda Davis duetting on “We’ve Got Tonight,” and additional star sets by Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Brett Eldridge and Tracy Lawrence, then across the river, up-and-comers such as Drake White holding forth on the Chevrolet Riverfront Stage. Busy Bryan also showed up on stage briefly at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge before Game Six, June 11, all in tune with the fans’ Watch Party viewing via portable TV screens set-up outside the arena on Lower Broad, before helping NBC kick-off its live broadcast of the game itself. Alan Jackson, seen performing free while playing his sticker-emblazoned guitar noting “Go Preds!” outside, explained, “The Preds asked us to come out here and play for y’all, and we’re just gonna try to have a good time before the big game tonight . . . I’m going to play some country music tonight. It’s just amazing to be down here in the middle of Broadway, Music City USA, where all this country music first started.”
AWARDS: The annual Country Music Television (CMT) Awards proved an exciting event, June 7, and an unofficial launch of this year’s Country MusicFest, with Keith Urban proving to be the night’s big winner. The Down Under native won best video and best male video, both for “Blue Ain’t Your Color”; best collaboration video for “The Fighter” with Carrie Underwood; and finally for one labeled Social Superstar of the Year. Others victorious include Little Big Town’s “Better Man,” best group video; Lauren Alaina’s “Road Less Traveled,” best breakthrough video; Florida Georgia Line’s “H.O.L.Y.” best duo video; while Carrie Underwood added to her big collection with “Church Bells,” ringing in as best female video, her 17th CMT award. Luke Bryan and Jason Derulo’s “Want To Want Me,” from CMT’s Crossroads series garnered the best performance video. Another highlight of CMT’s gala was a tribute to late Southern Rocker Gregg Allman, featuring former band member Derek Trucks aided and abetted by Jason Aldean, Darius Rucker and Charles Kelley (Lady Antebellum), rendering Gregg’s signature song “Midnight Rider.”
SCENE STEALERS: Mac Wiseman was pleased that his biography – “. . . All My Memories Fort For Print” (Nova Books) – won the Association of Recorded Sounds Collection (ARSC) award as best country history book, cited during the organization’s annual conference in San Antonio, Texas, May 13. Although the Country Music Hall of Famer was unable to attend, the book’s author Walt Trott accepted, simply reminding all of Mac’s theme song: “’Tis Sweet To Be Remembered.” Trott, incidentally, also recalled his first ARSC award for “The Johnnie & Jack Story” (Bear Family, 1992), as shared with collaborator Eddie Stubbs, noting since his awards came 25 years between books, he didn’t expect to be around for a third honor. Other authors honored at San Antonio via runner-up Certificates of Merit include Tim Newby’s “Bluegrass in Baltimore” (McFarland Press); Gary Reid’s “The Music of the Stanley Brothers” (University of Illinois Press), and the Ivan Tribe-Jacob Bapst book “West Virginia’s Traditional Country Music” (Arcadia Press). In other categories James P. Leary earned best Folk History award for “Folk Songs of Another America: Field Recordings From the Upper Midwest, 1937-1946” (University of Wisconsin Press); and Peter Guralnick for best Rock History, thanks to his “Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock & Roll” (Little, Brown & Company). Mac just got news, too, that he’s been inducted into the Blue Ridge Hall of Fame, June 10, in Wtilkesboro, N.C., in recognition of his contributions to bluegrass, country and American roots music through the years. Wiseman, hailed as “The Voice With a Heart,” isn’t resting on his laurels, as he’s not only plugging his award-winning bio, but also a new tribute album on Mountain Fever label, titled “I Sang The Song” (2017), sharing the mic with such fellow players as Alison Krauss, John Prine, Shawn Camp, Jim Lauderdale, Sierra Hull and The Isaacs. Not bad for a 92-year-old entertainer   . . . A May 29 report by Dave Paulson in claimed Eric Church’s “Holdin’ My Own” tour set an attendance record at Bridgestone Arena as it came to a close, with 19,020 passing through its doors for its final gig. Church chimed in that the night before, he set an attendance record, and the second night’s show broke it! Interestingly enough, his devoted fans are referred to as Church’s Choir . . . Florida Georgia Line has revealed they plan to launch a restaurant and lounge FGL House in downtown Nashville on Third Avenue off Lower Broadway Street, and plan an early summer opening. It’s in partnership with an Ohio-based restaurant group LRC Nashville LLC. Tyler Hubbard of FGL mused, “It was a cool opportunity in our hometown here in Nashville that we love – a place we could call our own and gather with our friends, our family and our fans and create a cool environment where people can make great memories.” . . . Vince Gill may take some time away from his Monday night gig with The Time Jumpers, as reports are circulating he’s considering joining The Eagles on tour, following the loss of the group’s co-founder Glenn Frey last year. The Los Angeles Times already indicated Glenn’s son Deacon, 24, will join their summer tour. As we recall, Gill started his chart success as a member of Pure Prairie League (1979-’83), which had the hits “Amie” and “That’ll Be the Day,” while Gill was lead vocalist and a helluva guitar slinger . . . Singer Darius Rucker handed two families keys to their new Habitat For Humanity homes in nearby Murfreesboro. As a project ambassador with Ply Gem Home For Good, Rucker noted, “I’ve heard so many stories of people who are homeless. Now they have a home with an affordable mortgage they can afford because of Habitat For Humanity, and I think that’s a great thing.” Rucker handed the keys to formerly homeless recipients Charles Russell and Shari Hinton, who will live next door now to one another, each a first-time home owner. It was explained that Ply Gem supplied more than one million dollars worth of supplies to help manufacture the houses. Russell said, “It’s beyond belief that I’m a home owner now, and Habitat For Humanity made my dream happen.”
BITS & PIECES: Among those anticipating “Sir Stork” are Brittany & Jason Aldean, which will mark her first Aldean baby, though hubby boasts two offspring – Kendyl & Keeley – from his first marriage. No date given, though Jason admitted, “Been hard to keep this secret, but we couldn’t be happier to add to our family. This year just gets better and better.” . . . Country rocker Brantley Gilbert and wife Amber expect a baby, too. Brantley likewise admits, “We’ve had such a hard time keeping (it) a secret.” They wed in 2015, and reportedly Amber was the inspiration for his hit “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do.” No word on delivery date or infant’s gender yet . . . We do know the baby born to singer Justin Moore and wife Kate, June 11, is a boy named Thomas South Moore (after the singer’s granddad). The newcomer weighed in at 7 lbs., 14 oz. and measures 20-inches long, in Little Rock, Ark., their hometown. The couple are already parents to three daughters, according to Justin: “We feel even more blessed to have a healthy baby boy now to add to our family. God has given us another wonderful gift, in him . . . his sisters are already obsessed with him, as we are of all of them. Thanks for all the well wishes and congratulations. Very much appreciated.” . . . Sara and Lee Brice’s third, daughter Trulee Nanette, was born a healthy bundle, weighing in at 7 lbs., 13 oz. and was 20-inches long, June 2, in Nashville. They have two boys. Sara says, “The boys were so sweet and tender, happy to each get a turn holding her. They both spoke in soft voices and treat her like the fragile little flower that she is. We are very proud of the love they displayed.” . . . Hank Williams, Jr. is returning to ESPN-TV to ring in Monday Night Football with his familiar anthem “All My Rowdy Friends Are Comin’ Over Tonight,” which kicks off with “Are you ready for some football?” Stephanie Druley, ESPN vice president, noted, “I think it’s a return to our past in that it’s such an iconic song associated with football.” Hank first performed his ball bit in 1989, during the 20th anniversary season of Monday Night Football, but was dropped from the line-up in 2011, after derogatory remarks he made in reference to a golfing game between then-President Obama and former House Speaker John Boehner. Reportedly Bocephus stated to Fox News, “It would be like Hitler playing golf with Benjamin Netanyahu (Israeli leader),” adding on the show that he regarded both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as “the enemy.” His first reappearance will occur with Sept. 11th’s game between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans’ Saints, during which Jason Derulo and Florida Georgia Line will also join Jr. Druley indicated she’s not concerned about any “backlash” to her re-engaging the singer for the Monday Night Football program. As the saying goes, that remains to be seen . . . The Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe and fellow Country Music Hall of Famer Little Jimmy Dickens have been “immortalized” in bronze, as statues of the pioneering pair were unveiled at the historic Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville. Monroe, who died in 1996, age 84, joined the WSM Grand Ole Opry in 1939, and was famous for such songs as “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Uncle Pen” and “Kentucky Waltz,” while the diminutive Dickens, noted for the novelty hits “Country Boy,” “Hillbilly Fever” and “May The Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose,” first joined the Opry in 1948, and died in 2015 at age 94.
HONORS: Jason Aldean is the subject of a new exhibit – “Jason Aldean: Asphalt Cowboy” – currently displaying at the downtown Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum through Nov. 5 . . . The Academy of Country Music has announced recognition of artists for special contributions, notably Dolly Parton’s humanitarian aid in relief efforts for victims of the recent Smoky Mountain wildfire, to the tune of more than $10 million, earning her their Lifting Lives Award. Others include Bob Kingsley & Reba McEntire sharing the Mae Axton Service Award; Willie Nelson (“Hello Walls,” “On the Road Again”), Toby Keith (“I Love This Bar,” “American Soldier”) and the late Shel Silverstein, who penned #1 hits for the likes of Bobby Bare (“Marie Laveau”), Johnny Cash (“A Boy Named Sue”) and Loretta Lynn (“One’s On the Way”), all cited for ACM’s Poet Award. Additionally, George Strait receives ACM’s Cliffie Stone Icon Award; Lori McKenna’s named Songwriter of the Year (a first for a female); and the CMT series Nashville nabs the Tex Ritter Film honor, then there’s Kelsea Ballerini and Eric Church, being acknowledged, all in ACM’s Special Awards program, taping Aug. 23 at the historic Ryman here, by CBS-TV, for a later telecast . . . The National Music Council has added a trio of names to its roster of musical giants with the Council’s prestigious American Eagle Award: Crystal Gayle, Patti Smith and Harry Shearer. Country star Gayle, known for such successes as her Grammy-winning “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” and “Cry,” is a member of WSM’s  Grand Ole Opry, while Rock Hall of Famer Smith recorded the hit albums “Horses,” “Easter” and “Gone Again,” and Saturday Night Live co-star-writer Shearer, also a musician, co-starred in Rob Reiner’s cinematic classic “This Is Spinal Tap” and lent his talents to The Simpsons hit TV series. Their honors become official during the organization’s 34th annual awards gala in Nashville’s Music City Center, July 13 . . . The National Academy of Arts & Sciences has announced it will honor country’s Charley Pride and the late Jimmie Rodgers during its 2017 Special Merits Award Ceremony, at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, July 11. Recognizing their significant Lifetime Achievements, along with popular music favorites Shirley Caesar, Ahmad Jamal, Nina Simone, Sly Stone and The Velvet Underground. In addition, the late Ralph Peer, famed for field recording pioneering music folk, was voted among this year’s Trustees Award recipients. Pride, of course, was the first major Black American breakthrough country star, celebrated for 29 #1 country singles (with 49 weeks in that position), 12 #1 albums, a Grand Ole Opry member since 1993, and an inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000. Blue Yodeler Jimmie Rodgers achieved such hits as “T For Texas,” “In the Jailhouse Now,” and “Waitin’ For a Train,” prior to his untimely death from TB in 1933 at age 35, and has since been hailed as the Father of Country Music, due to his heavy influence on such latter-day stars as Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Lefty Frizzell and Merle Haggard. He was also the first inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961, along with composer-producer Fred Rose, both belatedly.
AILING: Country Queen Loretta Lynn, 85, suffered a stroke May 4 at home in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., but was hospitalized in Nashville, and is currently in rehabilitation, with all scheduled dates canceled for the time being. A week later, younger sister Crystal Gayle said she is expected to make a full recovery. Gayle a recent inductee into WSM’s Grand Ole Opry cast, posted the following message regarding Lynn: Thank you for all the prayers and well wishes for Loretta. Keep them coming! We are lucky, in this day and age, to have wonderful doctors and nurses taking great care of her . . . Plus they have to put up with our dramatic and crazy family and friends.” Lynn, an Opry member since 1962, is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame (1988) . . . On a lesser scale, Chris Stapleton blamed a hand injury for postponing gigs in the near future, which included participation in the recent Country MusicFest. In a June 1st announcement, Stapleton said he had a broken bone and detached tendon in his right index fingers, preventing him from playing his guitar. “Right now, I can’t possibly give you guys the show you deserve. I always want to give you my very best. There is little in this world that I enjoy more than getting to make music with all of you night after night.” Meantime, he’s undergoing physical therapy and is hopeful he’ll be back pickin’ as good as ever real soon.
FAREWELL CURTAIN: Musician Corki Casey O’Dell died May 11, two days shy of 81. She is survived by her singer-songwriter husband Kenny O’Dell (“Let’s Shake Hands and Come Out Lovin’” (#9, 1978). Corki is a member of the Musicians Hall of Fame (2014), and in addition to session playing, performed with such talents as Duane Eddy, Lee Hazelwood and Sanford Clark. Vivian and Kenny were wed in 1969, and in 1973 he scored his Grammy Award-winning composition “Behind Closed Doors,” as recorded by Charlie Rich, which sold Platinum, became CMA Single of the Year and eventually was voted into the Grammy Record Hall of Fame. Corki was born Vivian Ray, May 13, 1936 in Bunch, Okla., but mainly raised in Phoenix, Ariz. In 1956, she played rhythm guitar on Sanfod Clark’s “The Fool,” a Top 10 disc. Thereafter she played rhythm guitar on Duane Eddy’s “Ramrod,” “Peter Gunn,” “Forty Miles of Bad Road,” and signature song, “Rebel-Rouser.” Corki’s guitar stylings on early records earned her the sobriquet First Rock & Roll Sidechick. Besides her husband, O’Dell is survived by their three children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. A visitation occurred at Nashville’s Woodbine Hickory Chapel, May 15, and the family suggested in lieu of flowers, mourners could donate to the Musicians Hall of Fame downtown.
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Country rock icon Gregg Allman, 69, died at home, May 27, while in declining health, in Savannah, Ga. The vocalist-keyboardist-songwriter scored his highest solo single “Midnight Rider” (#19, 1974), which he co-wrote with Robert Payne; however, prior to that the Allman Brothers Band, hit #2, 1973 on “Ramblin’ Man.” Gregg’s other writing credits include “Melissa,” “Black-Hearted Woman” and “Wasted Words.” His and brother Duane Allman’s trend-setting troupe pioneered the newly evolving 1970s’ Southern Rock, an amalgam relying on country, rock and R&B roots. Phil Walden and his newly-created Capricorn label saw its potential, signing the Allman band as his first act in 1969, initially impressed by Duane, a slide-guitarist, who proved himself playing session support for such Muscle Shoals’ talents as Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Delaney & Bonnie. Besides brother Gregg, he assembled such instrumental talents as guitarist Dickey Betts, bassist Berry Oakley, drummers Jai Johanny Johanson and Derrick (Butch) Trucks, hitting the big time with their LP “The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East” (1971), thanks in no small part to Gregg’s gritty vocals and organ playing. Sadly, Duane died at 24 in an October 1971 Macon motorcycle crash, during production of their LP “Eat a Peach,” but little more than a year later, Berry died in another cycle crash in the same vicinity (and was replaced by Lamar Williams). Some say the band never attained the luster of their original band, but Gregg and company trouped onward, adding Chuck Leavell on piano, hitting their stride with such collections as “Brothers & Sisters” (1973), “Enlightened Rogues” (1979), “I’m No Angel” (1987), and “Where It All Begins” (1993), and radio-friendly singles such as “Crazy Love” and “Straight From the Heart.” Gregg’s single “I’m No Angel” reached #1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks, and “Anything Goes” #3 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks. The Allman Brothers Band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. In 2011, Gregg’s “Low Country Blues” hit Billboard at #5, his highest CD charting. It’s reported that there’s yet another offering forthcoming: “Southern Blood.” Both brothers were born in Nashville, Gregory LeNoir Allman on Dec. 8, 1947; and Duane, Nov. 20, 1946. Their dad, a guitarist, was killed by a hitchhiker in 1949. In 1957, the boys family relocated to Daytona Beach, Fla., where Gregg graduated from Seabreeze High School (1965). It was in 1964, Duane and Gregg joined the House Rockers, an R&B group. When they formed their first band – The Shufflers – Gregg initially played guitar, but Duane convinced him to play Vox Organ and handle vocals. The boys cut their first record, a cover of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful” with their Allman Joys band in 1966. Subsequent bands were called Almanac, Hour Glass (which recorded briefly for Liberty in Hollywood). In 1969, after signing with Capricorn, they traveled to New York to record their first label album: “The Allman Brothers Band.” Through the years, Gregg suffered substance abuse, drugs and alcohol: “My roughest one was alcohol. It’s such a trap. I don’t know how many times I fell back.” After battling Hepatitis C, he underwent a liver transplant, “It’s the roughest thing I’ve ever been through. I’ve been in military school, through six divorces. This is worse than all that.” In 2014, Gregg did his final gig with the Allman Band. Regarding Gregg’s musical endeavors, his biographer Alan Light, who with Gregg co-wrote “My Cross To Bear” (2012), told USA Today newspaper, he feels the solo work will be revisited in time to come: “That’s kind of lost and it just didn’t have the same platform. I’ll be interested to see if people go back. I feel those are due for a certain level of rediscovery.” Allman’s marital history includes at least seven marriages, most famously to screen star Cher (1975-’79), mother of his son, singer Elijah Blue Allman, born July 10, 1946. Other children surviving Gregg are Delilah, Michael, Layla and Devon Allman. Reportedly, Gregg wed Shannon Williams in 2017. Charlie Daniels, upon hearing of Allman’s death, noted he had a feeling for the blues, “very few ever have . . . hard to believe that magnificent voice is stilled forever.”
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Legendary country-rockabilly vocalist Wanda Jackson is mourning the May 21 death of her husband-manager Wendell Goodman, following her gig at Club Saturn in Birmingham, Ala. The couple met while he was an IBM programmer in 1961. Insiders credit his guidance in prolonging her career, running Wanda Jackson Enterprises in Oklahoma City. Among his duties was packaging Wanda’s syndicated TV series Music Village. The pair became born-again Christians in 1971, releasing her premier gospel album “Praise the Lord,” she then signed with Myrrh Records, which released a trio of gospel discs on the star. Among her country cuts were the self-penned ballads “Right Or Wrong” (#9, 1961) and “In the Middle of a Heartache” (#6, 1962). Actually, her first country Top 10 occurred at age 16 via a Decca duet with Billy Gray, “You Can’t Have My Love” (#8, 1954), a song co-written by Gray and Hank Thompson, the man who introduced Jackson to Capitol Records. Inspired further by Elvis Presley, she began singing in rockabilly fashion, scoring a 1960 Top 40, via “Let’s Have a Party” (first recorded by Elvis). The Goodmans, parents to two children, marked their 50th wedding anniversary in 2011, the year rocker Jack White produced her comeback CD “The Party Ain’t Over.” She became a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Jackson, Tenn., and was officially cited as an influence in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Goodman’s funeral services were held at the Southern Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, May 26.
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Singer-songwriter Norro Wilson, 79, died June 8, following a lengthy illness. Although Norro attained greater success behind the scenes as producer and writer for stars such as David Houston, George Jones, Charley Pride, Charlie Rich, Margo Smith, Joe Stampley and Tammy Wynette, he charted 10 tunes himself, half of which he wrote, while a singer on Billboard’s 1970s’ country singles list, most notably the Top 20s “Do It To Someone You Love” and “Everybody Needs Loving.” His final vocal credit was a Warner’s duet with Margo Smith, “So Close Again,” a 1977 Top 40 they co-wrote. Far more rewarding financially were the David Houston cuts “Baby, Baby (I Know You’re a Lady)” (#1, 1969), “Wonders of the Wine” (#6, 1970); “After Closing Time” (#6, 1970), Charlie’s duet with Barbara Mandrell; “Soft, Sweet and Warm” (#8, 1972), “Good Things” (#2, 1972), “I Love You, I Love You,” again with Mandrell (#6, 1973), and “Can’t You Feel It” (#9, 1974); plus his later Margo Smith collaborations: “Take My Breath Away” (#7, 1976) and “Still a Woman” (#7, 1979). Of course, the Charlie Rich cuts “The Most Beautiful Girl” (#1, 1973), “A Very Special Love Song” (#1, 1974), “I Love My Friend” (#1, 1975) and “Beautiful Woman” (#10, 1978) were very special to Norro, as “ . . . Love Song” earned both artist and writers Grammy awards, and “Most Beautiful Girl” became a crossover hit (#1 pop), selling Gold, firsts for Norro. The George Jones hits were equally impressive, being “The Grand Tour” and “The Door,” both #1 releases (1974), plus the Top Five weeper “A Picture of Me Without You” back in 1972. Stampley’s rendition of Wilson songs included “If You Touch Me” (#9, 1972), “Soul Song” (#1, 1972), “Bring It On Home” (#7, 1973) and “Take Me Home To Somewhere” (#5, 1974). Tammy Wynette enjoyed enhanced success thanks to his contributions: “I’ll See Him Through” (#2, 1970), “He Loves Me All the Way” (#1, 1970), “My Man” (#1, 1972), “Another Lonely Song” (#1, 1973) and “(You Make Me Want To Be) A Mother” (#4, 1975). Charley Pride’s chart toppers “Never Been So Loved In All Of My Life” (1981) and “Night Games” (1983) were Wilson winners, too. Additionally, Tanya Tucker’s “Love’s the Answer” (#5 1972), Jody Miller’s “Good News” (#9, 1973) and Mickey Gilley’s “You’ve Got Something On Your Mind” (#10, 1985) also boasted the Norro touch. Numerous other artists also notched Billboard via Norro songs, among them Claude King, Bob Luman, Diana Trask and Keith Whitley. Norris Wilson was born April 4, 1938, son of Marietta & George Wilson, a barber, in Scottsville, Ky. In fact, Norro started singing in a Barbershop Quartet while in high school. After attending Western Kentucky State College, he began his career in earnest in 1957, with the Southlanders Gospel Quartet, which took him to Nashville, where in the 1960s he began working with Al Gallico Music as a writer and song-plugger, which he termed “street fighting.” At Gallico he met frequent co-writer Carmol Taylor, a true character, who in turn introduced him to future co-writers Billy Sherrill and George Richey. He and Carmol started up their own publishing company – Taylor & Wilson Music – a BMI affiliate. Their first two successes were Johnny Paycheck’s “Drinkin’ and Drivin’,” and John Anderson’s “1959,” in 1979 and 1980, respectively, both written by new young writer Gary Gentry. One of Wilson’s reminiscences concerned a trip with Carmol and Billy Sherrill to New York to pick up a new car Billy bought. At the airport Billy hired a chauffeured limousine to drive them to the pick-up point. Carmel rode in the front beside the driver, who explained some of the touristy sights en-route, one being Grant’s Tomb. Billy aware of Carmol’s absent mindedness, asked did he know who was buried in that tomb? After thinking a few minutes on it, Carmol seriously replied, “No! Who is buried there?” Wilson remembered he and Billy laughed so hard they nearly ended up on the floorboards. During Norro’s hitch as A&R chief at RCA Records, he signed newcomer Keith Whitley, producing his album “A Hard Act to Follow” (1984). In 1987, he headed up Merit Music, and finally formed Norro Productions in 1990, representing such acts as Sammy Kershaw, including production on Sammy’s subsequent albums. In tandem with fellow writer-producer Buddy Cannon (Bud-Ro Productions), in 1998, Norro worked with artists such as George Jones and Kenny Chesney. In 1996, his achievements were duly recognized by induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and a personal satisfaction was in being named to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame (2008). Wilson was a boating enthusiast, enjoying nothing more than reading, relaxing on his boat. He was also deeply devoted to his family. Surviving him are wife Patsy, daughter Christy Myers, son David Wilson, and a granddaughter. Services were scheduled at Westminster Presbyterian Church, June 15, during which attendees were encouraged to tell stories and share memories of Mr. Wilson, whom some affectionately called “Captain Marvel.” The family suggested in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to Alive Hospice.

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Goodbye Glen . . .

Glen Campbell farewell . . . 1936-2017

NASHVILLE — “I’m not a country singer per se, I’m a country boy who sings,” claimed superstar Glen Campbell, who on Aug. 8, at 81, succumbed to Alzheimer’s, following a lengthy fight with that disease. Famed for crossover successes such as “Wichita Lineman,” “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights,” Campbell was also hailed as a first-rate guitarist, backing such legendary stars as Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra. He even toured as a Beach Boy when member Brian Wilson bowed out.
We first met during his early 1970s European tour, backstage at the Jahrhunderthalle concert venue in Frankfurt, Germany, where newcomer Anne Murray was sharing the bill. I was in his dressing room prior to our interview (with my wife), when he emerged from the shower wearing nothing but a towel around his waist. (He soon slipped into a robe and my Mrs. hastily departed.) He was a character, but a good interview, always upfront and obviously pleased by his success.
Following his Grammy award-winning 1967 breakthrough hit “Gentle On My Mind,” he hosted the Emmy-nominated Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour (CBS-TV, 1969-1972), and appeared opposite John Wayne in the ’69 Oscar-winning film “True Grit,” which earned Glen a Golden Globe nomination, and he starred in “Norwood,” both adapted from Charles Portis’ novels. Glen recorded over 70 albums, nine at #1, including Platinum-selling “Gentle On My Mind,” “By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.” His last #1 was “Southern Nights” (1977), though he went on to score Top 10s or better including “Any Which Way You Can” (heard in the Clint Eastwood movie of that title), “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” (with Steve Wariner) and his final hit, “She’s Gone, Gone Gone” (#6, 1989).
Glen Travis Campbell was born April 22, 1936 in Delight, Ark. (near the family farm in Billstown). He was the seventh son in a family of eight boys and four girls, who all sang and played guitar. Glen began pickin’ the strings at age 4, and a year later was gifted with his very own guitar. Among his inspirations growing up were the artists on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry, and recordings by Barney Kessel and Django Reinhardt. A natural evolvement was Glen’s singing in the Church of Christ choir.
As a teenager, he drifted off to Houston, Texas, landing a stint in a three-piece band, before gravitating to his uncle Dick Bills’ country band in Albuquerque, which toured the Southwest honky tonk circuit (1954-’58). He was only 17 when he married first wife Diane Kirk, 15, who gave birth to their first baby, who died. Before divorcing, they had a daughter, Debby.
At 24, Glen moved to Los Angeles, soon writing commercials and recording demos, while also occasionally touring with The Champs, a pop troupe famed for their single “Tequila.” His “in” with L.A.’s Wrecking Crew session players, made him a much in-demand guitarist, as well as backup vocalist, for the distinguished likes of Ricky Nelson, Merle Haggard and The Mamas & Papas.
Glen’s indie recording of Jerry Capehart’s “Turn Around, Look At Me” garnered attention enough to convince Capitol Records to sign the promising talent. The song was later covered by such acts as The Lettermen, The BeeGees, The Vogues and Esther Phillips. First, Glen was “featured” on an album “Big Bluegrass Special,” headlining the Green River Boys (1962), which boasted a Top 20 single “Kentucky Means Paradise” (written by Merle Travis, another of his pickin’ heroes).
Finally five years later, Glen scored a Top 20 solo with his revival of Jack Scott’s classic “Burning Bridges,” which gave full advantage to his dynamic vocals. Months later, he hit the jackpot with John Hartford’s effusive ballad “Gentle On My Mind,” earning both Glen and the song Grammy awards. Amazingly enough, the single peaked out at only Top 40 pop and #30 country, but spawned his #1 best-selling LP of that title, charting Billboard 88 weeks, selling Platinum. Not bad for a new name, who soon had #1 singles “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” and “I Wanna Live” to boast about, as well as Country Music Association honors for best male vocalist and entertainer of the year (both in ’68).
Much thanks for his early success goes to music veteran Al DeLory’s exceptional arrangements as Campbell’s producer-conductor (and fellow multiple award winner). Glen was selected to co-star with the Duke himself, John Wayne, in “True Grit,” for which Wayne won an Oscar as best actor. Another newcomer in that 1969 flick was Kim Darby, also Glen’s co-star in “Norwood,” a music-drama about an inspiring young country singer’s goal to play KWKH-Shreveport’s show Louisiana Hayride (1970).
Glen’s second (16-year) marriage to beautician Billie Jean Nunley produced three children: Kelli, Travis and Kane. It was she who suggested their divorce (1976). On a personal level, Glen’s romantic life was rocky at best, some say due to his abuse of drugs, often linking him to the supermarket tabloids. Initially there was Sarah (Barg) Davis, who supposedly divorced singer Mac Davis to wed Glen (who denied that). They later divorced, but not before their only child, Dillon, was born just three weeks prior to the decree (1980). Then there was the much-publicized affair with half-his-age singer Tanya Tucker in the early 1980s, though they split without having wed.
According to Tucker’s publicist Scott Adkins, upon learning of Campbell’s death she released the following statement: “I’m just devastated. Absolutely devastated. It’s been so hard these past several years knowing what he’s been going through. My heart just breaks. Glen and I shared some incredible, precious memories together for a long time. There were some ups and downs and, of course, all the downs were played out in the press. We both got past all that. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing. It’s why I’m releasing ‘Forever Loving You,’ in memory of Glen and for all those who are losing or have lost someone they love. I’ll forever love you, Glen.”
She co-wrote the song with Michael Lynn Rogers and Rusty Crowe, a Tennessee state senator who co-sponsored the Campbell-Falk Act, a law protecting communication rights for those who become wards of the state or who have conservators over their financial and living situations. She and Glen recorded a number of duets together, the most successful of which was “Dream Lover,” and her latest effort, a tribute to him, will benefit the national Alzheimer’s Foundation.
Campbell also recorded successfully with Bobbie Gentry, including their #1 LP “Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell,” which sold Gold in 1968, as well as their Top 10 single “All I Have To Do Is Dream” (1970); and with Anne Murray, “I Say a Little Prayer/By the Time I Get To Phoenix” (#40, 1971). Other solo Campbell clicks were “Dreams Of the Everyday Housewife” (#3, 1968), “True Grit” (#9, 1969), “Try a Little Kindness” (#2, 1969), “Honey, Come Back” (#2, 1970) and “Everything a Man Could Ever Need” (#5, 1970), ironically written by Mac Davis. His take on “Country Boy” (#3, 1975) became a classic. He’s also done well with revivals, among them “It’s Only Make Believe” (#3, 1970), “Dream Baby” (#7, 1971), “Bonaparte’s Retreat” (#3, 1974), the medley “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye/Don’t Pull Your Love” (#4, 1976) and “It’s Just a Matter of Time” (#7, 1985).
On Oct. 25, 1983, he married the former Kimberly Diane Woollen in Phoenix. They have three children: Cal, Shannon and Ashley.
In 1994, author Tom Carter’s candid Campbell bio “Rhinestone Cowboy” was published by Villard Books, which covered his abuse of cocaine and alcohol before coming over to religion. Regarding this conversion, the entertainer stated boldly: “How could I find God? He wasn’t lost. He found me. I simply let him . . . God has forgiven me, and I have forgiven myself.” Son Kane credits stepmom Kim for changing his dad from hell-raiser to happy homebody, which he was until struck by Alzheimer’s. Despite being born Baptist, he also converted to her Jewish faith, and they marked major Jewish holidays together, including Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah, until his illness.
In 2005, Campbell was inducted into the Country Music Association’s Hall of Fame, and chief among his 10 Academy of Country Music awards are his best male vocalist (1968-69) wins, as well as induction into ACM’s Pioneer Award members, and a Career Achievement honor presented on his behalf in 2016.
Campbell’s last big screen effort was the Roy Clark-Mel Tillis comedy “Uphill All the Way” (1986) with Burl Ives and Trish Van Devere, which saw little action at the box office, but did OK sales-wise via video. He also lent his voice to the 1991 animated film “Rock-A-Doodle.” There were two TV specials: “Glen Campbell: Rhinestone Cowboy” (2013) and “I’ll Be Me” (2014), the latter dealing with his final tour prompted by Alzheimer’s, and it earned him an Oscar nomination for best original song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” co-written with Julian Raymond (though losing to Common and John Legend’s “Glory” from the Civil Rights film “Selma”).
Raymond, who now lives in Nashville, noted his pleasure at the time, “I don’t know how to describe it, other then ‘Wow, what a dream!’ . . . Unfortunately for Glen, he wouldn’t be aware of it (alluding to the fact Campbell was by then residing in a Nashville memory-care facility). He wouldn’t understand it. I was lucky enough to be music director for (his) Grammys’ tribute (2012), too. I was so pleased that the Grammys gave him a Lifetime Achievement award when he could still understand and appreciate it.”
Julian also produced Campbell’s final albums, including “Ghost On the Canvas” (2011) just before Glen’s goodbye tour, which also boasted daughter Ashley Campbell as an opening act. (Incidentally, Raymond produced Ashley for Big Machine, a Nashville label noted for signees such as Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line.) Raymond disclosed a Campbell movie reportedly in the works by filmmaker James Keach, whose credits include the Campbell “I’ll Be Me” documentary and Johnny Cash movie “Walk The Line.” Meantime, Glen’s track “Southern Nights” is currently being heard in the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2.” Survivors include wife Kim, children Debby, Kelli, Travis, Kane, Dillon, Cal, Shannon and Ashley; 10 grandchildren; great-and-great-great grandchildren. Burial was in Delight, Ark. A memorial service will be scheduled later.

Above photo of Glen with daughter Debby and wife Kim by Patricia Presley.

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Chuck Berry left lasting legacy

Nova special report – March 2017

 

NASHVILLE — Musician par excellence Chuck Berry, 90, died March 18, and while not known as a country artist, his songs were recorded by such stars of the genre as Ernest Tubb (“30 Days To Come Back Home”), Buck Owens (“Johnny B. Goode”), and Emmylou Harris (“You Never Can Tell, C’est La Vie”). Primarily hailed as a pioneer of rock and roll, and attesting to his impressive credentials, no less than Beatle John Lennon once proclaimed, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.”
Reportedly St. Louis native Chuck died of natural causes at his home in suburban Wentzville. During his debut performance in high school, he sang Jay McShann’s country-flavored song “Confessin’ The Blues,” receiving a well-remembered standing ovation, and when he learned to play guitar from friend Ira Harris, he incorporated a lot of country riffs in his playing.
In 1952, Chuck started off in a club band, playing a mix of songs, then the following year was in a combo called Sir John’s Trio (with pianist Johnnie Johnson and drummer Ebby Hardy), performing regularly in East St. Louis’s Cosmopolitan and Imperial Clubs. Recalling those club days, Berry said, “Curiosity provoked me to lay a lot of our country stuff on our predominantly black audience, and some began whispering, ‘who is that black hillbilly at the Cosmos?’ After they laughed at me a few times, they began requesting the hillbilly stuff and enjoyed dancing to it.”
Admittedly, Berry fashioned his 1955 breakthrough hit “Maybelline” after an old country tune he learned to play early on, “Ida Red.” Personally, I was in his corner from the first time I heard a Marine Corps soul buddy from Baltimore, playing his uptempo tunes, notably “Maybelline” (#1), “Wee, Wee Hours” (#10, 1955) and “No Money Down” (#8, 1956). Yet, never imagined I would someday meet up with this icon, in of all places, Germany.
“From childhood, I was already a country music devotee of the three Hanks – Williams, Snow, and Thompson – but thanks to that fellow Leatherneck, was soon hooked on the likes of Johnny Ace (“Pledging My Love”), Elvis Presley (“I Forgot To Remember To Forget”), The Drifters (“Honey Love”) and Berry, another solid addition to a growing list of musical heroes.
It wasn’t until the next decade that I learned of his growing up in The Ville, a segregated district in north St. Louis, and attending all-black Sumner High School, from which activist-comic Dick Gregory graduated six years after Berry. He was actually born Oct. 18, 1926, in San Jose, Calif., as Charles Edward Anderson Berry, son of Baptist deacon-carpenter Henry and his schoolteacher-wife Martha Berry, who moved to St. Louis when he was a year old (Chuck also had two brothers and three sisters). Later, reviewing his childhood, he insisted, “I wasn’t like Muddy Waters, people who really had it hard. In our house, we had food on the table. We were doing well compared to many.”
A youthful string of robberies in Kansas, however, got Chuck some hard time (1944-’47), and despite subsequent success as an entertainer, he spent 1962-’63 behind bars for misconduct with an under-aged Apache Indian prostitute, but claimed he was not all that guilty. In 1979, after pleading guilty to a $200,000 tax evasion charge, he was sentenced to four months in jail.
We met in July 1973, when as  European Stars & Stripes entertainment editor (and weekly Variety stringer), I was covering Frankfurt’s 2nd Annual Summer Rock Festival at the outdoor Radstadium, courtesy of MaMa Management. MaMa’s youthful founder Marek Lieberberg was sponsoring the two-day event on a shoestring budget. Word was out that the fledgling promoter was short on capital and thus advertised name acts such as Sly & The Family Stone, Black Sabbath, Canned Heat, Rory Gallagher, Faces (with Rod Stewart), and Curved Air threatened cancelling (see original poster). Lieberberg sought out Paul McCartney & Wings (who declined), and Chuck Berry (who had been touring in the UK), hoping to beef up his headliners, though still certainof the Spencer Davis Group, Curved Air, Gentle Giant, Marsha Hunt and Jon Hiseman’s Tempest, along with such then non-super groups Back Door, Heavy Metal Kids, Blue, Hardin-York and Fumble, a little known British band that had recently opened for Berry at London’s Rainbow Theatre.
Many of the near-20,000 tickets sold were to American service members stationed in Deutschland, who read about the two-day event in the Stars & Stripes daily newspaper. Despite all the last-minute line-up changes, the GIs would be pleased seeing Berry, then enjoying a career resurgence, thanks to his 1972 sexy #1 comeback single “My Ding-A-Ling” (his all-time best seller).
Seems the American singer-songwriter-guitarist was at Radstadium, but had heard about the iffy pay situation, and was not going on stage. In panic mode, Marek approached me to see if I could talk to a fellow American and convince him to go on, so as not disappoint the crowd. Went backstage seeking Berry, but was told he was underneath the structure, refusing to see any German reps. Hearing he was pretty hot under the collar, I was rather reluctant to approach him; however, I ventured below and upon introducing myself as a Stripes reporter, he shook my hand. The moody, mustachioed entertainer seemed really tall, and rather uptight right then, as I looked down, noting his fist and fingers were huge. But he smiled slightly.
Asking did he plan to perform, he replied in a low, but adamant voice, only if paid his fee in full first. Apparently offered a portion via check, with the balance to be paid upon completion of the assignment, Berry opted for cash only. Knowing Lieberberg, an ex-singer in a local ’60s rock band Mike Lee & The Sound of Rangers, I was aware he was new to the concert business and still struggling. His dream was to establish rock festivals in Germany, a la our famed Woodstock, later confiding: “I believed that festivals were a way of liberating society. Besides from that, I hoped that they would be successful and I could make a living out of it.” (Original MaMa Management promo poster in Frankfurt, Germany.)
Chuck recalled only weeks earlier running into the same set-up in England, when the promoter started to write a check, counting on coming up with the balance from the box office receipts. “I told him ‘no thanks.’ I want mine in cash now, all of it!” As the agent hesitated, Berry said he grabbed his guitar case and was about to head for the exit, but the promoter begged him to wait, while he sought the sum promised. Again, he was ready to put the outdoor arena in the rear view mirror and taxi back to his hotel, but I assured him I would repeat his terms to Marek. Like the British agency, MaMa managed to come up with the money requested and on went the slightly delayed program, but the audience apparently forgot their impatience, giving Mr. Rock & Roll a rousing reception, thanks to “Sweet Little 16” and his signature squatting for his famed duck-walk across the stage. Garbed in red-striped pants, pockets bulging with the bills he’d been paid up front (trusting no one), he was suddenly all showman.
Glancing at Marek, it was plain to see he, too, was pleased to see the legendary rocker giving his all, despite using a pick-up band (comprised, incidentally, of the Fumble musicians, who had previously opened his London gig). They did fine for the most part. Incidentally, in the decades that followed, Marek became one of the top five international concert promoters.
That was the last time I saw Berry up close. In an earlier life, Chuck had worked as a janitor in an automobile assembly plant, a freelance photographer and as a hairdresser, being a bona fide graduate of the St. Louis-based Poro School of Cosmetology. By the way, his “Maybelline” was named after a cosmetic.
Now, rightly so, he’s regarded as a founding father of rock, excelling equally well as singer, guitarist and songwriter. So it’s not too surprising that country newcomer Marty Robbins liked and covered Berry’s #1 R&B classic (which also hit Top Five on Billboard’s pop chart), turning “Maybelline” into an easy 1955 country Top 10. At the tail end of ’55, Texas Troubadour Ernest Tubb covered yet another Berry success “30 Days To Come Back Home,” peaking #7 country. Two decades later, George Jones also took on “Maybelline,” in a duet with Johnny Paycheck, giving the duo a 1978 (#7) hit.
Wonder how many recall that Chuck also penned a rockin’ tribute tune in 1961, titled “Brenda Lee,” which changed her actual Madison High School to the fictional Central, lyric-wise: “Brenda Lee, she’s a beauty/She came in with a handsome guy/She sang songs, she entertained/Then waved her alma mater, goodbye/And had reporters taking pictures of her/Walkin’ out of Central High . . . ” It was featured on his Chess album “St. Louis To Liverpool.”
In 1964, Berry toured Britain for the first time, and there recorded “Two Great Guitars” with another yank, Bo Diddley. Although married to the former Themetta Suggs since October 1947, he seldom took her on the road, and despite his diversions, she remained loyal to their marital vows.
During 1969, Bakersfield cowboy Buck Owens performed Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” live in concert, released it as a single and scored yet another country #1 for himself, also garnering some pop radio airplay as a bonus. Later that year, Waylon Jennings, figuring he also fit the role, recorded Chuck’s “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” taking it up to #3 on Billboard’s country list.
Atlanta native Freddy Weller, who enjoyed earlier fame with the rockin’ Paul Revere & The Raiders, switched to country, and in 1970 recorded Berry’s “Promised Land” (#3), then chalked up a Top 10 on Chuck’s “Too Much Monkey Business” (’73), and Top 40 with Berry’s “Nadine (Is It You?)” in 1979. Elvis also cut “Promised Land” (#14 pop, 1974).
Jerry Lee Lewis (with sis Linda Gail) dusted off Berry’s spirited “Roll Over Beethoven” in 1971, as did Narvel Felts in 1982, though neither record was really a radio hit. Emmylou gave a new interpretation of “You Never Can Tell,” landing herself another hit (#6, 1977). Harris’ friend Linda Ronstadt, meantime, dusted off Chuck’s “Back In the USA” (1978), adding a Top 40 to her country repertoire, and it also crossed over pop as a stronger Top 20 entry.
Obviously, other pop figures also recorded Berry’s creations, among them Johnny Rivers, Lonnie Mack, AC/DC, The Beatles and The Who. Instrumentally, Berry was a master, and those who followed marveled at his opening guitar solo on “Johnny B. Goode,” where he utilizes double stops, an innovative technique that required playing two notes at the same time! The 1987 film documentary “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which chronicled Berry’s 60th birthday concert in St. Louis, in particular captured that on-stage magic.
For him, St. Louis represented a love-hate relationship. Despite put-downs by some there, he remained loyal to his hometown, and in 1957 purchased acreage on the outskirts where he opened his Club Bandstand, a venue open to all races, but when pressure was put on by the police, Berry shut it down. Later, he also started up Berry Park, probably modeled on early Disneyland, though it never enjoyed the theme park success he’d envisioned.
Like many black entertainers, Berry encountered discrimination on tours, particularly in the South, but didn’t let that deter him from making music for all. Still, he seemed suspicious and somewhat embittered of his treatment by some in the white community.
In 1993 and again in 1997, however, he was invited to entertain during Bill Clinton’s presidential inaugurals, and could take heart in knowing that his rockin’ “Johnny B. Goode” was aboard Voyager I, launched in 1997 by NASA. He would also share the Playbill with such later superstars as The Grateful Dead, Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band.
Up until 2014, Berry performed monthly in St. Louis in Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room, a 340-capacity club, named after his signature scoot across stages around the world. A particular joy was sharing the stage there with daughter Ingrid and son Chuck, Jr. Among books about his life, are his self-penned “Chuck Berry: The Autobiography” (Faber & Faber Publishing, 2001); “Chuck Berry: The Biography” by John Collis (2004, Aurum Press); and “Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life & Hard Times of Chuck Berry” by Bruce Pegg (Routledge Press, 2005). As an artist he was appropriately lauded, three of his songs are in the Rock & Roll Record Hall of Fame – “Maybelline,” “Johnny B. Goode” and “Rock & Roll Music” – and he was among the first named to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (1986), fittingly inducted by Keith Richards. In an earlier quote, Keith had acknowledged how much Berry inspired him: “I don’t even know if Chuck realizes what he did. I don’t think he does . . . It was just such a total thing, a great sound, a great rhythm coming off the needle of all of Chuck’s records. It’s when I knew what I wanted to do.” Nonetheless, Keith also recognized Chuck’s faults, citing him as “a bitch sometimes. More headaches than Jagger.”

Hailed as the “First Poet Laureate of Rock & Roll,” Berry was inducted into the National Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1986. He was also the recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors (2000), along with fellow honorees Angela Lansbury, Placido Domingo, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Clint Eastwood. The Rhythm & Blues Foundation presented him its Pioneer Award, as well. A statue of the Rock Hall of Famer was dedicated to him in St. Louis (see right).

Oddly enough, his actual funeral, attracting a thousand mourners or more, was held three weeks after his passing, on Sunday, April 9, at The Pageant, a performance site, just a few miles from the neighborhood where Chuck was raised. The Rev. Alex Peterson welcomed the crowd, saying, “We are going to celebrate him in Rock & Roll style. We’re not going to sit here and be sad.” Kiss’s Gene Simmons wearing his trademark sunglasses was among the attendees, and spontaneously walked up to the podium, offering a tearful eulogy: “I wasn’t planning on saying anything. These shades are going to help me a lot. But there are real tears behind them . . . Rock & Roll was started by a guy, who just wanted to make people feel better.”

Longtime friend Joe Edwards attended to details at the funeral, allowing an open casket for folks to pass by, and look upon his famous red electric guitar bolted inside, with Berry wearing a white suit, sequined purple shirt and his familiar yachting cap. A standout among the floral displays was a guitar-shaped white bloom of flowers ordered by the Rolling Stones. “Thanks for the inspiration,” read its card, and an accompanying message from the legendary band was read to the congregation: “The Rolling Stones are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Chuck Berry. He was a true pioneer of Rock ’n’ Roll and a massive influence on us. Chuck was not only a brilliant guitarist, singer, and performer, but most importantly, he was a master craftsman as a songwriter. His songs will live forever.” In addition, that day the Stone’s Keith Richards tweeted, “One of my big lights has gone out.” Beatle Ringo Starr tweeted, as well: “R.I.P. And Peace & Love Chuck Berry, Mr. Rock & Roll Music.” A laudatory letter from Beatle Paul McCartney was read aloud, “As you know, Chuck was a huge influence on me and my companions.”

St. Louis soprano Marlissa Hudson sang “Ave Maria,” before Berry musician Billy Peek picked out the melody of Berry’s historic “Johnny B. Goode” on guitar, then astounded the crowd mimicking Chuck’s deep-squat strut, a.k.a. his signature duck walk. Two of Berry’s grandchildren sang “Summertime.”
Edwards, who owns both The Pageant and Blueberry Hill, earlier founded the St. Louis Walk of Fame, featuring bronze stars in the sidewalk outside the Blueberry, honoring St. Louis’ favorite sons and daughters, including poet T. S. Eliot, dancer Josephine Baker, singer Tina Turner, actor John Goodman and baseball greats Stan Musial and Ozzie Smith. It was Berry’s star that was the first installed, and finally it was at Blueberry Hill he performed for 18 years. At the Sunday service, Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) also read a statement from Clinton praising Chuck as a uniter: “He drew from many different traditions, yet his music was innovative in spirit and he spoke of the joy, hopes and dreams we all have in common. Hillary and I both grew up listening to his music.”

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Music City Beat – June 2017

Billy Ray and Don Von Tress update their ‘Achy, Breaky’ hit tune . . .

NASHVILLE — Billy Ray Cyrus’ only chart-topping single “Achy Breaky Heart” proved to be a phenomenal 1992 star-maker, selling platinum, clinging to #1 country spot five weeks, spawning a #1 album “Some Gave All,” which sold nine million, charting 134 weeks, 34 in top spot and crossed over to #1 pop. Not bad for a novelty number penned by unknown writer Don Von Tress, who celebrated its #1 chart anniversary year – April 30 – co-producing a new version with Cyrus at Muscle Shoals, Ala. Cyrus can thank the tune for further successes at Mercury, including two additional ’92 singles:  “Could’ve Been Me” (#2) and “She’s Not Cryin’ Anymore” (#6), co-writing the latter. In 1993, Cyrus scored singles “In the Heart Of a Woman” (#3) and “Somebody New” (#9), heard on his sophomore CD “It Won’t Be the Last” (#1 five weeks of 51 charted), a platinum seller that also hit #3 pop. Indeed it was his last at #1 to date. The third album, “Storms In the Heartland,” peaked at #11, 1994, charting 31 weeks. Still, Cyrus’ good-looks and sexy mullet landed him the lead in an indie Pax-TV series Doc, (2002-2004), portraying rugged Montana Dr. Clint Cassidy, who relocates to NYC. He spent another five years in daughter Miley Cyrus’ Disney series Hannah Montana, and now at 55 is seen top-lining the indie CMT series Still The King. Cyrus’ big screen credits include “Radical Jack,” “Mulholland Drive” and “Death And Texas.” His last solo Top Five single was “Busy Man” (1998), though the duet “Ready Set, Don’t Go” in 2007 with daughter Miley,  peaked at #4, after faltering as a solo Top 40 entry from his Top Five Disney album “Home At Last.” According to Von Tress, the new “Achy Breaky Heart” boasts no less than Ronnie Milsap on keyboards! Reportedly, the latest, 327 Muscle Shoals mix, more closely resembles Vietnam vet Don’s original demo: “Billy really loved the demo all those years ago . . . so we kind of did that, but with some new twists. The song is so simple – two chords and some nursery rhyme verses really – so we created something again we both just really love, and it’s just fun to have the opportunity to put this song out again . . . I really hope they love it as much as the first time!”
Scene Stealers: Faith Hill could hardly believe her ears, at the Scott Trade Center in St. Louis, April 27, as the crowd started booing her! The blonde vocalist was in town with hubby Tim McGraw on their Soul2Soul Tour, also the first day of the NFL Draft, a touchy topic with local football fans. Inexplicably, Faith decided to share some backstage data with the audience, confiding, “I have to confess something. Do you know what I was watching before I came out here? The NFL Draft.” That comment didn’t set too well with St. Louis sports enthusiasts, still irate over their ex-home team – The Rams – shifting their base to Los Angeles. In fact, earlier that month, the city filed suit against the team for its 2016 relocation to L.A. The stunned singer called out, “What? You’re booing me? What the heck?” Fortunately, performing partner Tim, being a sport fan, caught on right away, and hailed the city’s MLB and NHL teams, while explaining the crowd’s contemptuous outburst to his unsuspecting wife. Suddenly all was well with their fans again . . . and a good time was had by all  . . . That “Mississippi Girl” Faith Hill’s forthcoming TV talk show, not yet titled, will debut this fall, distributed by Disney-ABC Home Entertainment Network, with younger country star Kellie Pickler and New York City newsman Ben Aaron helping to co-host the series. Co-created by Hill, with Lisa Erspamer (producer of The Oprah Winfrey Show) and Jason Owen (Sandbox Entertainment CEO), the show proclaims it will cover wide-ranging topics, including news, home-design, fashion, cooking, gardening and interviews. According to Hill’s media statement, “We will bring a little bit of Southern charm and inspiration to our viewers, alongside insights from top taste-makers and experts in many areas  . . . Kellie is very much Southern while Ben is everything New York, complete opposites, but together their chemistry is magic and our viewers are going to love them.” . . . Yet another country beauty, Shania Twain, joined NBC’s The Voice coaches – Blake Shelton (being the other), Gwen Stefani, Adam Levine, Alicia Keyes – April 24, offering advice and critiques to the 12 competing acts. She seemed very much at ease and as a result the viewers expressed their admiration. BTW Shania’s slated to release her first new studio album come September, but in the meantime, her next single “Life’s About To Get Good” hits the market in June . . . Veteran vocalist John Berry (“Standing On the Edge Of Goodbye”) is yet another artist boasting a new TV series, Songs & Stories, which will pair him with fellow singer-songwriters during the new 30-minute syndicated series to beam on Heartland TV, The Family Channel, The Angel Two Network, The Country Network, AMG-TV and the VTN Network, commencing in July. Featured guests will include Jason Crabb, Billy Dean, Suzy Bogguss, Craig Morgan, Billy Ray Cyrus and Clay Walker. Berry, whose #1 breakthrough single was the 1994 “Your Love Amazes Me,” the same year he underwent brain surgery, following an earlier motorcycle crash. Tapings began May 15-18 at the Douglas Corner Club here . . . Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs helped kick off the new Gallery of Iconic Guitars’ museum at Belmont University, April 25, thanks in part to a generous donation of over 500 vintage instruments from the collection of the late Steven Kern Shaw. Among those being displayed initially are iconic acoustic guitars from Martin, electric Fender models, and a  special exhibit depicting the evolution of the mandolin, including 1920s’ Lloyd Loar-designed models. Reportedly, Shaw was the grandson of American composer Jerome Kern, and son of clarinetist-bandleader Artie Shaw (who was married to Kern’s daughter Betty, plus seven other women, including actresses Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Doris Dowling, Evelyn Keyes and “Forever Amber” author Kathleen Winsor). The estimated value of Shaw’s gift to the school is $10.5 million. Granddaddy Kern’s memorable music includes such songs as “Old Man River,” “Lovely To Look At” and “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” while son-in-law Shaw was acclaimed for the 1930s’ recordings “Begin the Beguine,” “Stardust” and “Moonglow.” . . . Congrats to singer-pilot Dierks Bentley on being selected to serve on the Metro Nashville Airport Authority directors’ board by Mayor Megan Barry. Their job is to oversee the Nashville International Airport’s $1.2  billion investment in the MNA facilities. Despite the fact Michigan native Bentley once had a playful single “Drunk On An Airplane” (#3, 2014), he is indeed a licensed pilot, who will lend his expertise to the 10-member board. Mayor Berry stated, “I am grateful for Dierks Bentley’s willingness to serve the Nashville community . . . As a leader in the Nashville music industry and as a pilot himself, Dierks brings a unique perspective to the board, having flown into hundreds of airports worldwide.” The Metro Council will give a final vote on the Mayor’s nomination for this voluntary position at their next meeting. Bentley’s eight #1 singles include “What Was I Thinkin’,” and “Every Mile a Memory.” “I am honored for the opportunity to serve on the Airport Authority board,” says Bentley. “I love Nashville and I love aviation. There are many big changes happening in our city right now as it continues to grow so rapidly. I am very excited to get a chance to be involved in facilitating and managing that growth as it pertains to our airports and aviation services.”
Bits & Pieces: The annual Country Music Festival (once known as Fan Fair), which last year generated $59.5 million for Nashville, occurs June 8-11, and boasts a star-studded lineup of artists, including Lady Antebellum, Trace Adkins, Keith Urban, John Anderson, Kelsea Ballerini, Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Brett Eldredge, Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Tracy Lawrence, Little Big Town, Maren Morris, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, Kenny Rogers, Darius Rucker, Chris Stapleton, Cole Swindell, Thomas Rhett, Chris Young and that’s at the stadium! Meanwhile, Riverfront Stage’s scheduled acts include Lauren Alaina, Bobby Bones & The Raging Idiots, Brothers Osborne, Kane Brown, Chase Bryant, Cam, Brandy Clark, Luke Combs, Easton Corbin, Russell Dickerson, Drake White & Big Fire, Eli Young Band, Home Free, Chris Janson, Jana Kramer, Chris Lane, Maddie & Tae, Neal McCoy, Scotty McCreery, William Michael Morgan, Joe Nichols, Jon Pardi, Parmalee, Eric Paslay, Kellie Pickler, Chase Rice, Canaan Smith, Corey Smith, Granger Smith, Josh Turner, Aaron Watson and Brett Young. Traditional country devotees may wish to attend the annual Reunion Of Professional Entertainers (ROPE) luncheon, 11 a.m. June 6, at the Nashville Palace. Among entertainers holding forth will be Rex Allen, Jr., Mandy Barnett, Tim Atwood, Bobby Marquez and Jody Miller. Meet and Greeters on hand include Tommy Cash, Jeannie Seely, Mac Wiseman, Leona Williams and Bobby Lewis . . . Sara Evans joined Cassadee Pope, Post Monroe and Desmond Child for a George Michaels tribute concert, May 2, in Nashville’s City Winery, benefitting child victims of slavery, via his charity Unlikely Heroes, hosted here by Savannah Chrisley. (Michaels, 53, died last Christmas.) Evans told The Tennessean newspaper, “I’ve been familiar with Unlikely Heroes for the past few years, and the amazing work they’re doing around the world to try and stop slavery . . . I’m more than happy to contribute my small part to help a great organization continue their life-saving efforts.”. . . Mark Barger Elliott’s documentary “The Last Songwriter,” screened April 27 at the annual Nashville Film Festival, focuses on the troubled times songwriters currently encounter due to modern technology. Among Nashville hyphenates – singer-songwriters – voicing their concerns cinematically were Emmylou Harris, Jason Isbell and Garth Brooks. A major problem has been the streaming services of such websites as Spotify and Pandora, paying reduced rates to play music, as compared to radio. Superstar Brooks fought the trend, keeping his songs off streaming services a few years, until Amazon negotiated better terms last year. As Garth grouses in the film, “If we don’t have songwriters, there’s not going to be a music business.” . . . Restless Heart singer-pianist Dave Innis put his talents to work for son Isom’s wedding to actress Carlson Young (MTV’s Scream), April 29, in Fort Worth, Texas, performing “At Last” in accompaniment with Young’s friend Whitney Davis. Isom, keyboardist-music director for the group Foster The People, proposed to Carlson in Iceland. “I have never been more proud as a father than to watch my son marry the love of his life. Carlson is his match and equal in every way. We wish them all the love and blessings in the world,” speaking on behalf of himself and wife Adrienne. Hmm, “Say What’s In Your Heart” ranks among Restless Heart’s popular hit ballads . . . The Nashville Convention Center & Chamber of Commerce reports the fall 2016 Americana Conference & Music Festival brought in some $8 million to Music City coffers, thanks to the meet and appearances by such notables as Margo Price, The Lumineers, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, attracting nearly 30,000 attendees. (Aggregate attendance during the six-day event totaled 48,000 at various concerts, clubs and sessions.) Producer Garth Fundis, who serves on the Americana board,  noted its beginnings in the early 1990s: “Americana was thought to be something that had to be centered in Nashville. But, it’s a part of Nashville in a very serious and meaningful way. It’s not just country anymore. Over these years, it’s nice to see it blossom into what it is today.” . . .  Classic songwriter Jimmy Webb has written his biography, “The Cake & The Rain,” and while participating in the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum’s Poets & Prophets series, April 29, discussed his memoirs as well as his musical creations. Among his greatest hits, of course, are “MacArthur Park,” “By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Highwayman” and “Honey, Come Back.” . . . Cheers to Miley Cyrus, 24, who tells Billboard, the trade weekly, “I haven’t smoked weed in three weeks, which is the longest I’ve ever gone without it. I’m not doing drugs, I’m not drinking, I’m completely clean right now! That was just something that I wanted to do.” She insists her upcoming album (from which she’s just released her first single “Malibu”) will take her back to her country roots, being the daughter of Billy Ray, among other things: “I’ve got a tattoo of Johnny Cash’s autograph he gave me when I was a little girl that says, ‘I’m in your corner.’ Dolly Parton is my f- – -king godmother. The fact that country music fans are scared of me, that hurts me . . . All the nipple pastie s- -t, that’s what I did because I felt it was part of my political movement, and that got me to where I am now. I’m evolving.” Incidentally, Miley reportedly wrote “Malibu” about her recent romance with Aussie actor Liam Hemsworth, who starred in Zack Brown’s “Colder Weather” music video and four “Hunger Games” movies. (Their liaison went kaput!)
Honors: Word is out that bluegrass stalwart Russell Moore (IIIrd Tyme Out) will be honored with the annual Uncle Dave Macon Days’ Heritage Award, slated July 7-8 at Cannonsburg Pioneer Village in Murfreesboro, Tenn., according to festival director Ben Wilson. Taking home the Dave Macon Trailblazer Award will be The Grascals and Billy Hinson. This event pays homage to 1920s Grand Ole Opry singer-bandleader-banjoist Dave Macon (1870-1952), a.k.a. The Dixie Dewdrop . . .  Jeannie Seely, 76, was honored as a favorite daughter, in her home state Pennsylvania, recently with House Resolution 259, co-sponsored by Representative Kathy Rapp and Speaker of the House Mike Turzai. The legislative branch recognized the Titusville, Pa. native’s successes in the country music world, both as singer and songwriter, and as a 50-year member of WSM’s historic Grand Ole Opry. In addition to her own hits such as the Grammy-winning “Don’t Touch Me,” she wrote additional songs for fellow artists like Faron Young (“Leavin’ and Sayin’ Goodbye”), and a novelty number, “Farm In Pennsyltucky,” in homage to her childhood. Seely: “Never have I been more proud of my heritage than I was today. It is my hope that I will always represent Pennsylvania in a manner that would make them proud of their native daughter, and I thank them for this distinguished honor.” Incidentally, she recently released a new album, “Written In Song,” a compilation of songs she wrote . . . Yet another country great, Leroy Van Dyke, of “Walk On By” fame, has been honored by his home state – Missouri – with a road now bearing his name (a portion of Highway 50). Among dignitaries attending the unveiling at Sedalia’s Liberty Center were Mayor Steve Galliher, Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, plus state Representatives Steve Cookson, Nathan Beard and Dean Dohrman. “This is a humbling event and my thanks to all who made it possible. I’ve always been proud of Sedalia and always will be,” said Van Dyke, 87. Other Leroy hits include “The Auctioneer” and “If a Woman Answers (Hang Up the Phone).” . . . Congrats to Keith Urban, whose 2016 CD “Ripcord” has earned Platinum status, marking his ninth solo album to sell Platinum, that is, more than a million discs each. Adding frosting to the cake, “Ripcord” contains four #1 singles, thus far: “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16,” “Break On Me,” “Wasted Time” and “Blue Ain’t Your Color.” Meantime, its fifth single, “The Fighter” duet with Carrie Underwood, is steadily climbing, it’s now #5 on the Billboard Hot Country Chart.
Ailing: Gregg Allman, 69, wanted to set it straight that he’s not under hospice care, as reported elsewhere. The Southern rocker issued this statement April 24: “Hey everyone, I just wanted y’all to know that I’m currently home in Savannah, resting on my doctor’s orders . . . I want to thank you for all the love that you are sending. Looking forward to seeing everyone again. Keep rockin’.” Nashville was like a second home, as he and his late brother Duane spent part of their childhood growing up here at grandma’s house [Editor’s postscript: Sadly, Allman passed on May 27]  . . . Tommy Long, Carolina Road rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist, was diagnosed in March with throat cancer, requiring expensive treatments, including chemotherapy, so Lorraine Jordan and fellow band members are coming to the rescue. A concert to benefit Tommy was booked May 21 at Fisher River Park in Dobson, N.C., featuring such bluegrassers as Junior Sisk, Salt & Light, Country Grass, Wood Family Tradition, Garrett Newton Band, Mickey Galyean & Cullen Bridge, and, of course, Jordan’s Carolina Road, all donating their talents. Long, a North Carolina native, joined Carolina Road in 2010. The award-winning group, now in its 18th year, recently scored back-to-back #1 charters: “A Light In the Window Again” and “That’s Kentucky.” Tommy, who just celebrated the birth of his first grandchild (Lucas), is currently unable to talk or eat (relying on a feeding tube insertion). Lorraine says if anyone desires to make a contribution, but can’t attend the show, there’s a GoFundMe page on-line (which accepts credit cards) or: The Tommy Long Fund, 101 Timber Pointe Lane, Garner, NC 27529. Tommy adds, “I would like to thank Lorraine Jordan for all she has done for me, and continues to do, and all the guys in the band for their concern and support. These are some of the best people I know. I will try to keep you updated as I progress through these treatments . . . Thanks to everyone who believes and supports me. I love y’all.”
Final Curtain: Robert Wootton, who spent nearly three decades backing Johnny Cash (The Tennessee Three), died April 9 at age 75 in Gallatin, Tenn. He played behind Cash on Bob Dylan’s historic “Nashville Skyline” album. “Bob” was also wed briefly to Johnny’s sister-in-law Anita Carter (1974-’80). Robert Clifton Wootton arrived March 4, 1942 in Red Branch near Paris, Ark., one of eight children born to coal miner Rubin and Noma Wootton. In 1950, the Wootton clan moved to Taft, Calif., near Bakersfield. Bob’s dad taught him to play guitar and soon the boy became heavily influenced by guitar stylings of Merle Travis and Billy Byrd (of Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours). In 1958, the family moved to Tulsa, Okla. Following his 1960 high school graduation, Bob served three years in the Army, including a stint in Korea, where he headed up a GI band, The Ramrods. Upon discharge, he settled in Oklahoma, truck-driving, playing music and bartending. In 1966, he caught Cash’s act at the Cain Ballroom in Tulsa, and soon was imitating his guitarist’s licks in his own band The Comancheros. He learned of Luther Perkins’ death in a home-fire in August 1968, so come September hooked up with Cash in Fayetteville, Ark., filling in for his guitarist Carl Perkins, delayed due to a storm along with Marshall Grant, while en route to the gig. Shortly afterwards, Cash invited Wootton to become his new lead guitarist in The Tennessee Three. As Grant recalled, “Bob was a Godsend.” Subsequently, he played on Cash discs including “Johnny Cash At San Quentin,” “One Piece At a Time,” was a regular on ABC-TV’s Johnny Cash Show (1969-1971), and doubled for Cash in films. After The Man In Black’s retirement in 1997, Bob drove a tour bus (notably for The Smashing Pumpkins), and also performed with Cash bandsmen from time to time, notably drummer W. S. “Fluke” Holland, including dates in Canada and overseas. In 2006, the remnants of Cash’s band released a tribute CD, “The Sound Must Go On.” From 2008, Bob also did shows with his wife (whom he wed in 1983) and their musician-daughters. In 2012, Wootton released an album “Guaranteed Cash,” with a Rochester, Minn.-based band, Six Mile Grove, an alternative country band hailed for their “good all-American boy” sound. Bob is also a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame (2006). Survivors include Vicky, his wife  of 33 years, daughters Scarlett Keen and Montana Burgess. Services were held at Cornerstone Church, Madison, with burial in Hendersonville Memorial Gardens, Tenn., April 13.

Billy Ray Cyrus photo, above, by Patricia Presley.

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Music City Beat – May 2017

Music City Beat – May 2017

NASHVILLE — During a recent press tour, Lily Tomlin, whom we first interviewed in 1978 (regarding her “Moment By Moment” film flop with John Travolta), was in good spirits, plugging her current acting venture, the Netflix series “Grace & Frankie.” Accompanied by co-star Jane Fonda, the pair reminisced on a much earlier shared classic, “9 To 5,” as well as their just renewed series. Asked when they first decided their secretarial satire would be a success, Tomlin smiled, thinking back on their collaboration which exposed sexism on the job, “Dolly (Parton) came in and said ‘I think I’ve got a song for our movie,’ and literally began making the melody with those long acrylic fingernails and then started singing the entire song to us. Then we were excited.” Of course, it was a stroke of genius for Dolly, doing her first film, as her song was nominated for a best song Oscar, earned her two Grammy awards (best performance and best song), charted #1 (both pop and country), spawned a #1 album (and later was adapted as a TV series and Broadway musical). Fonda, whose IPC company produced their screen comedy, became interested in Parton upon hearing her on the car radio, thinking “how great it would be to have her in this film.” Tomlin was her first casting choice, after seeing her solo in a Broadway show (“Appearing Nitely”). The ladies volunteered there was some thought about a “9 To 5” reunion flick, but added “Dolly’s just been so involved in that Smoky Mountain fire tragedy project . . . she has such a good heart.” Meantime, Parton’s good-natured concern is they’re all past retirement age now!
Bits & Pieces: Dolly Parton represents really big business these days. According to her Dollywood Company president, the result of a 2017 impact study shows their income is topping $1.5 billion. Craig Ross, who noted the study was accomplished by the University of Tennessee, continued, “As we looked at where we were a number of years ago, recognizing that strong position that we had on entertainment, we also felt like we had the opportunity to really own a strong position on attractions, and by that I mean rides and things other than the richness of the entertainment offerings. So in 2013, we said that we could invest $300 million over the course of the next 10 years to carry Dollywood to the next level and to evolve from a local theme park with strong entertainment to a more full-fledged family destination.” The firm now employs in excess of 19,000 East Tennesseans . . . Carrie Underwood, no longer on Sony Music’s roster, just signed with Capitol Records (in the Universal Music Group). According to UMG chief Lucian Grainge, “As a talented writer, recording artist, performer and actor, Carrie is that exceptionally rare artist who can do it all. I know I speak on behalf of our teams around the world, when I say that we look forward to executing her creative vision and bringing her musical career to the next level.” (Executing?) . . . Cast members are cheering being picked up for a sixth season of their Nashville series, marking its second with CMT, after being dumped by ABC last year due to low ratings. Of course, it helps that local governments are subsidizing the show, despite the departure of popular star Connie Britton, who’s moving on to try other things. Meantime, CMT’s eight-part former Million Dollar Quartet series was retitled Sun Records, and Billy Ray Cyrus’s Still The King series adds a new cast member, Ben Savage, this summer . . . There’s a new Madame Tussaud’s in Nashville, but unlike its original British museum operation, concentration will be on Music City’s historic figures, among them Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, Minnie Pearl, Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Little Jimmy Dickens, Blake Shelton, Reba McEntire, Waylon Jennings, Darius Rucker, and yes, Taylor Swift. Situated in Opry Mills, it officially opened April 14, and reportedly marks the wax attraction’s seventh U.S. site and 22nd globally . . . Publicist Martha Moore has shared with us that there’s now a Hank Cochran Pen Fund, co-founded by his daughter Booth and his widow Suzi, to aid cancer-stricken members of the Nashville songwriting community. Hank, who gave us such classic songs as “Make the World Go Away,” “A Little Bitty Tear” and “I Fall To Pieces,” also suffered from the dreaded disease which claimed his life in 2010. His Pen Fund planned an April 25 benefit boasting such star writers as Dean Dillon, Buddy Cannon and Roger’s son Dean Miller, at 3rd & Lindsley in Nashville. Suzi says, the fund is a much-needed aid, “We do everything from paying rent to assisting with household chores. We were fortunate enough to not need help when Hank became ill. That’s not true for many others.” . . . American artists are crossing their fingers that the newly introduced Fair Play, Fair Pay Act passes Congress, which would force broadcasters to pay artists and labels, when playing their songs. Part of a broader bill on copyrights being proposed by bipartisan congressmen Darrell Issa, R-Calif. and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., it would ensure royalties be paid to singers and companies as well. Current law dictates broadcasters ante up for songwriters and their music publishers. Radio honchos contend the artists and labels enjoy substantial promotional value when their tunes air, and announcers also plug records and upcoming concert tours on their behalf. Currently, internet radio and streaming sites such as Pandora, Apple and Spotify do pay labels if their songs are performed. Singers and musicians rightfully grouse that non-paying broadcasters profit from their talents without offering any compensation. Meantime, the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA) has signaled its support of the Issa-Deutch proposal, and as CEO Cary Sherman stated, in part, “We look forward to working with the chairman, Rep. Deutch, and their colleagues on finally resolving the performance rights loophole.”
Scene Stealers: Hot balladeer Frankie Ballard, 34 (“Helluva Life,” “Young & Crazy”) said he wed Christina Murphy, at a ranch near Austin, Texas, March 12. Fans learned of their nuptials when Frankie posted: “Someday baby, you’ll accomp’ny me . . . and that day is today!” Of course, the Battle Creek, Mich. native was referring in part to his latest single, Bob Seger’s “You’ll Accomp’ny Me.” . . . Maybe Charlie Daniels got the writer’s bug after penning the Foreword for his boyhood heroe’s bio, “Mac Wiseman: All My Memories Fit For Print,” because now he’s heavily involved in his own memoir, “Never Look At The Empty Seats,” for W Publishing, an imprint of Nashville’s Thomas Nelson Group. It’s slated for an Oct. 24 release in hardback. No doubt Charlie’s got quite a story to tell, having a career that’s spanned some six decades, harking back to his musician days at studio sessions for such stalwarts as Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. A rockin’ crossover artist, Daniels scored his own hit singles like “Uneasy Rider,” “Long-Haired Country Boy” and Grammy-winning signature song, “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” (1979). More recently, he’s become a cast member of WSM’s Grand Ole Opry (2008) and an inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame (2016). Charlie’s suffered cancer, strokes and has a heart-pacemaker; however, he’s still a strong supporter of the troops, entertaining and raising funds for his Journey Home Project, assisting returning vets to find their way in civilian life. An outspoken right-wing Republican, he’s expressed his raw viewpoints in a 2003 book, “Ain’t No Rag: Freedom, Family & The Flag,” and regularly via an internet blog: CharlieDaniels.com . . . Dierks Bentley’s wife Cassidy ran in the April 17 Boston Marathon, in an effort to enrich favorite charity Safe Haven, which targets the homeless of Nashville. A mom to daughters Jordan, Evie and son Knox, she began running for fitness, 10 years ago, and has since participated in her first Boston Marathon and yet another run, in her home-state Arizona, held in Phoenix. For this second 26-plus mile race in Boston, she decided to call on family and friends to donate on her behalf to benefit the Safe Haven charity. (Those interested could donate on line via CassRunsBoston17.com) . . . Former Nashville resident Gregg Allman, 69, canceled the remainder of his 2017 tours, without offering media any explanation, but those close to him know that he’s recently suffered health issues. Last summer, he journeyed to the Mayo Clinic undergoing medical care, postponing shows, finally returning to perform in October. Like the late Martha Carson, Gregg said he’s went on to perform while suffering health-wise, but once that spotlight hits and you soak up the audience energy, you bounce back. Currently a bachelor, he’s been divorced five times (once from Cher), and is father to five. His successful singles include “Midnight Rider,” “I’m No Angel” and “Can’t Get Over You.” His recent CD’s “Gregg Allman Live: Back to Macon, Ga.”
Honors: The 52nd Academy of Country Music awards proved a ratings winner for CBS, televised live from Las Vegas, April 2, with Miranda Lambert, Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line emerging double winners. Although Keith Urban led in number of nominations (seven), his take-home tally was zip. Jason Aldean eclipsed him as well for the night’s top trophy Entertainer of the Year, repeating last year’s win of that prize. Seemingly surprised, Jason blurted, out “You guys don’t know how much I love getting up and doing what I do every day!” Then in a respectful salute to losing nominees Urban, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and Carrie Underwood, he added, “I have nothing but respect for all you guys. Such an amazing group of artists, I’m just glad to get to be a part of it.” Here are the the other winners: Lambert, best female vocalist; Rhett, best male vocalist; The Brothers Osborne, best vocal duo; Little Big Town, best group; Lambert’s “Weight of These Wings,” best album; Rhett’s “Die a Happy Man,” best song (shared with co-writers Sean Douglas, Joe Spargur); Florida Georgia Line’s “H.O.L.Y.,” best single; Florida Georgia Line’s “May We All” with Tim McGraw, best vocal event; and “Forever Country,” Artists of Then, Now & Forever (project), won director Joseph Kahn, best video award. Oh, the best new singers are: Maren Morris, female; and Jon Pardi, male. Big closer for the telecast was the 1990s’ pop-rock group Backstreet Boys’ collaboration with Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley. The latter pair amazed front-row onlookers like Tim McGraw, by accurately rendering Backstreet Boys’ intricate dance moves, following their “God, Your Mama and Me” and the boy band’s classic “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” as all seven executed BB’s dance steps making for an exciting super-finale . . . The Country Music Hall of Fame just added a trio of names to its illustrious roster of the genre’s finest talents: Alan Jackson, Don Schlitz and the late Jerry Reed, each in his particular category. Jackson and Reed are both Georgia natives, while songwriter Schlitz, 64, hails from North Carolina. He’s also a member of the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, thanks to such stellar songs as “The Gambler” (which he charted first for Capitol in ’78), a #1 for Kenny Rogers; “When You Say Nothing At All,” a #1 for Keith Whitley; and “Forever & Ever, Amen,” a #1 for Randy Travis. Either Jackson, modern era, or Reed, veteran era, could qualify in the songwriter category, as each has also written hits. Jackson, 58, co-wrote Travis’ #1 “Forever Together,” and for himself penned such as “Here In the Real World,” “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” “Chattahoochie” and “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” citing the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Reed, of course, was renowned for penning such successes as “Amos Moses,” “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” and “East Bound, And Down,” heard in his movie “Smokey & The Bandit” with Burt Reynolds. Reed, husband of singer Priscilla Mitchell (“Yes, Mr. Peters”), died in 2008 at age 71. The official Medallion Ceremony for the new inductees will occur in October 2017. (That’s Alan Jackson in the following photo.)

More Honors: Grand Ole Opry diva Jeannie Seely, 76, has been honored by the state of Tennessee, with a House of Representatives Resolution marking her countless contributions to music and her 50th year as an Opry cast member. Seely, of course, earned a 1966 Grammy Award for rendering ex-hubby Hank Cochran’s weeper “Don’t Touch Me,” and went on to score with Top 10s like “I’ll Love You More” and “Wish I Didn’t Have To Miss You” (with Jack Greene), earning her the sobriquet Miss Country Soul . . . Marty Robbins’ classic 1959 C&W concept album “Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs” was selected for addition to the National Recording Registry, March 29, as the National Library’s Carla Hayden (official Librarian) noted, “This year’s exciting list gives us a full range of sound experiences . . these sounds of the past enrich our understanding of the nation’s cultural history, and our history in general.” Other genre choices were country gospel group The Chuck Wagon Gang’s 1948 “I’ll Fly Away” LP; Big Mama Thornton’s 1953 #1 “Hound Dog”; and Judy Garland’s iconic “Over The Rainbow” from MGM’s movie soundtrack “The Wizard of Oz.”
Ailing: Multi-instrumentalist Jeff Cook, 67, has disclosed that his Parkinson’s Disease affliction (affecting the nervous system) is causing him to bow out of future Alabama gigs, starting April 29. “This disease robs you of your coordination, your balance and causes tremors,” explained Jeff, in a written statement released to media. “For me, this has made it extremely frustrating to try and play guitar, fiddle or sing. I’ve tried not to burden anyone with with the details of my condition because I do not want the music to stop or the party to end, and that won’t change, no matter what. Let me say, I’m not calling it quits, but sometimes our bodies dictate what we have to do, and mine is telling me it’s time to take a break and heal.” He cited two exceptions, hoping to be on hand for pre-arranged shows, the first in Florida in May, and the other, a fan-oriented stint here in June. Alabama members say his mic will still be on stage in acknowledgment, even if he doesn’t appear. The Country Music Hall of Fame group logged 33 #1 Billboard chart singles, which boast Cook, his cousins Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry, and drummer Mark Herndon, plus another 19 additional Top 10 hits. Their last chart-topper was “Old Alabama” with Brad Paisley (2011). Among earlier singles were: “Feels So Right,” “Mountain Music” and “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down.”
Final Curtain Call: Ben Speer, 86, a musical member of the famed Speer Family Singers, died April 7. He was also a music publisher, record executive and music director of the Bill Gaither Homecoming programs. Born June 26, 1930 in Double Springs, Ala., he was the youngest of Lena and George Speer’s children. Most of his career was spent singing with the renowned Speer Family, and as a member he was inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame (1995), Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame (1998) and recognized by the Southern Gospel Piano Roll of Honor in 2002. Survivors include wife Rebekah (Long) Speer, children Stephen, Darin and Rosa Nell Speer-Powell, and several grandchildren. Services were held April 11 at First Church of the Nazarene, Nashville, with interment in Woodlawn Memorial Park.
Steel-guitarist Don Warden, 87, died March 12. He earned prominence performing with country greats Porter Wagoner (including as part of Porter’s trio) and Dolly Parton (whom he managed from 1974 onward). Fans remember him as an integral member of Wagoner’s long-running Porter Wagoner telecasts. Donald Charles Warden was born March 27, 1929, son of The Rev. Charles and Eva Jane Warden, in Mountain Grove, Mo. Following service with Army Intelligence, he started his career in music, succeeding in playing on The Ozark Jubilee and Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride. Among artists he performed with earlier were Red Sovine, Norma Jean and The Wilburn Brothers. Don was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 2008, the same year he last shared the stage with Parton, who said in a press release, “He was like a father, a brother, a partner and one of my best friends. I feel like a piece of my heart is missing today. Certainly a huge piece of my life is gone.” Survivors include wife Lois (Bybee) Warren, son Charles, and grandchildren Courtney Barlar and Chase Warden. Honorary Pallbearers are members of the Nashville Musicians Union (AFM Local 257). Funeral services were conducted in Christ Church, March 16, with interment at Christ Church Memorial Gardens.

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Music City Beat – April 2017

Nashville columnist creates new stage drama . . .

Ed Morris

NASHVILLE — Ed Morris, longtime Billboard trade magazine writer-reviewer, premiered his one-act play “The Passion of Ethel Roseberg,” a one-woman drama-with-music, starring Keri Pagetta and directed by Carolyn German, at the Atmalogy Celebrate Cafe on West End, March 2. Convicted of espionage in the post WW-II era, Ethel and husband Julius were executed in the electric chair June 19, 1953, reportedly for supplying Atomic bomb data to the Soviets. Morris, who currently contributes to CMT.com, won the 1993 Journalist of the Year award from the International Bluegrass Music Association. This topic veers off course for Morris, a West Virginia native, who previously authored the books “Garth Brooks: Platinum Cowboy” (1992), “Ed Morris’ Complete Guide to Country Music Videos” (2010), and “At Carter Stanley’s Grave” (2011). Performed in the round, “Passion . . .” explores housewife Ethel’s imagined personal feelings and frustrations stemming from her situation, including exasperation with her mother’s pleading with her to provide prosecutorial evidence against husband and friends, to save herself for the future of her sons, just as her brother David did, by pointing his finger at the Rosenbergs to obtain a lighter sentence. A former actress and singer, Ethel ponders the injustice of sentences meted out to other American women then accused of treason, specifically Axis Sally – Portland, Maine native Mildred Sisk – who broadcast pleas to U.S. fighting men to abandon battle in Europe, receiving a maximum sentence of 30 years, but was freed in 1961; or Tokyo Rose – a.k.a. Iva D’Aquino from Los Angeles – broadcasting for the Japanese, who served six years of a 10-year sentence (and in 1977 was exonerated by President Gerald Ford, allegedly based on perjured testimony used against her). Morris’ play proved riveting throughout, with both actress and author receiving well-deserved standing ovations. Today, Ethel’s sons Robert and Michael continue to seek exoneration for their mother, who they contend was wrongly convicted, citing circumstantial evidence and witnesses sorely lacking credibility. Subsequently, the Rosenbergs were the only American civilians executed for espionage-related activity during the Cold War. William Rogers, U.S. deputy attorney general, later noted, regarding her death sentence that admittedly was imposed initially to extract a full confession from Julius, supposedly stated, “She called our bluff.”
Scene Stealers: Movie and TV actor Kiefer Sutherland is celebrating the critically-acclaimed single and video re his latest release, “I’ll Do Anything,” notably in Rolling Stone Country: “Sutherland’s unvarnished vocals blend with the song’s impassioned, take-me-as-I-am message, delivering a sweet, romantic Valentine that’s all about finding the perfect love in the last place you’d think to look.” It’s also an aptly titled tune, considering he’s labored hard to become a triple-threat artist in films, TV and now on the music scene. He’s fit in guest spots on such U.S. shows as The View and Jimmy Kimmel Live!, while also maintaining a rigorous schedule via his Not Enough Whiskey Tour, named after his first music video, which like “I’ll Do Anything” is off his current album “Down In a Hole.” Kiefer’s earlier big screen successes like “Lost Boys” and “Flatliners,” preceded his hit TV series’ 24 (nine years) and new Designated Survivor . . . Another showbiz veteran Larry Gatlin has disclosed that “Quanah,” a new musical play he wrote, premieres in the Irving Art Center’s Carpenter Performance Hall in Dallas, Texas, April 28-May 7. The Grammy-winning country singer-songwriter also co-stars as Old Ranger in the Lyric Stage production, while fellow Grammy winner David Phelps plays dual parts, the title character and his father, sharing the stage with among others, Lauren Scott and Brett Warner. “For almost 30 years,” recalls Gatlin, “I’ve been working on a musical about Quanah Parker, the last Comanche chief. It is the story of Quanah, his mother Cynthia Ann Parker, and the Parker family’s settling in Texas, and the survival and ascendancy of the great Comanche people.  It is, in part, a tragic, sad, heartbreaking story – a story of war, bloodshed, death and heartbreak – but it is, more importantly, a story celebrating the strength and power of the human spirit.” (Gatlin’s been hailed for writing hit songs such as “Broken Lady” and “All the Gold In California,” but this marks his first venture as a playwright.)  That’s Gatlin with reporter Walt Trott (right) . . . Chuck Mead (of BR5-49) served as music director for the CMT Sun Records series, spotlighting Drake Milligan as Elvis Presley, Kevin Fonteyne as Johnny Cash, Dustin Ingram as Carl Perkins, and Christian Lees as Jerry Lee Lewis. Incidentally, Christian’s brother Jonah Lees portrays Jerry Lee’s cousin Jimmy Swaggart, and Chad Michael Murray plays Sam Phillips, who founded Sun, credited as the birthplace of rock and roll. Mead had earlier served in that capacity for the stage musical, “Million Dollar Quartet,” based on Sun musical talents Presley, Perkins, Cash and Lee . . . Rory Feek has been a widower a year, since his partner in life and music Joey Feek died of cancer (March 4, 2016), but he’s stayed busy promoting his wife’s legacy. Although primarily known thru their act Joey+Rory, he has collaborated with Gaither Music Group to release her first solo album, the 12-track “If Not For You” accompanied by a 48-page insert, on April 7. Rory reprised the music from a limited edition studio session “Strong Enough To Cry” (2005), which he produced and was only available at their shows: “It’s one of the greatest joys of my life to dust these songs off and bring them to life again. Not just the songs but also the stories and the life of the special woman that these songs represent.” The couple earned a 2017 Grammy roots gospel award for their CD “Hymns That Are Important To Us.”
Bits & Pieces: Highlight of this year’s Country Radio Seminar, its 47th, and as is often the case, was the final night’s presentation of the annual New Faces set, showcasing Maren Morris (“80s Mercedes”), the sole female, plus Drake White (“Livin’ the Dream”), Granger Smith (“Backroad Song”), William Michael Morgan (“I Met a Girl”) and Jon Pardi (“Dirt On My Boots”), during the Basement East line-up. Initially, the New Faces concept was a way to introduce radio programmers and DJs to struggling wannabes anxious for a chance to grab the carousel’s brass ring. Primarily, this year’s batch have already made names for themselves via hit singles, with Morris recently winning a Grammy, while Pardi not only has notched a #1 with “Head Over Boots,” he’s likely to land a second chart topper with “Dirt On My Boots.” At the event, Smith surprises scribes, by re-introducing himself as Earl Dibbles, Jr. (an alter ego), singing “The Country Boy Song” . . . Husband and wife duo Faith Hill and Tim McGraw have announced they’re joining up with Sony Music Entertainment, which concludes her 20-plus years with Warner Music, while McGraw had previously penned with Curb and Big Machine Records. Listen up in the new Octavia Spencer flick “The Shack,” co-starring McGraw, and you can hear the couple singing “Keep Your Eyes On Me.” He just shared a Grammy for best new country song, thanks to his recording of “Humble & Kind,” penned by Lori McKenna. Meanwhile, the McGraws kick off their Soul2Soul world tour April 7. Incidentally, daughter Gracie, 19, is being encouraged to record by proud papa: “She’s a unique stylist, writer and singer . . . I think she should make an album.” . . . Country artists Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris and Jason Isbell are participants in Mark Elliott’s new film “The Last Songwriter,” concerning a struggling writer’s effort to make a living in the internet streaming era. Elliott’s flick has its world premiere at the 48th annual Nashville Film Festival here, April 20-29 . . . Not to be outdone cinematically, Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts Rudy Gatlin of the Gatlin Brothers, and husband-wife duo Vince Gill and Amy Grant are seen in the new Henry Cho faith-based film “Saving Faith” screened here Feb. 26. Directed by Chip Rosetti the Cho movie centers on a woman and her uncle attempting to preserve a town’s theater . . . Merle Kilgore’s grandson Mark Rickert has penned a biography, “Merle Kilgore: These Are My People,” delving into the late singer-songwriter’s life and career, covering his self-penned 1960 Top 10 Billboard charting “Love Has Made You Beautiful,” and his #1 compositions Webb Pierce’s “More and More,” Claude King’s “Wolverton Mountain” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” In the final analysis, he devoted more than two decades managing the career of Hank Williams, Jr., who charted two of Merle’s songs: “Something To Think About” and “I’m Not Responsible.” Kilgore died in 2005 . . . Scott Brochetta of the Nashville-based Big Machine label and Toronto-based Bell Media groups are teaming up to find music’s next big superstar. You may recall Borchetta coached contestants on the reality TV series American Idol and his label is a musical home for artists in the CMT series Nashville, and such stalwarts as Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett. Bell Media’s an umbrella organization for major participants in TV, broadcasting and digital sites. Scott says, “Bell Media has a track record of success in live music production, extensive platforms and leading promotion of homegrown talent in many areas. Together, our strengths make us strong partners to lift this global project off the ground.” . . . Singer Thomas Rhett and wife Lauren, who are anticipating the adoption of a baby from Africa soon, just learned that she is pregnant, and due in August. As Rhett surmised, “I was in complete and utter shock! . . . No one is ever prepared for something like that. It is almost like we suddenly had twins.”
Honors: Country artists Billy Dean, 55, Jim Stafford, 73, and The Eagles’ Don Felder joined poet Lee Bennett Hopkins as inductees into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in a ceremony in the Thomas Center For the Arts in Gainesville, Feb. 23. Dean, best known for his self-penned hits “Only Here For a Little While” and “Billy The Kid,” is a native of Quincy; while singer-comedian Stafford scored with his novelty number “Spiders and Snakes” (co-written with David Bellamy) and was wed to singer-songwriter Bobbie Gentry (“Ode To Billie Jo”). Felder who joined the Eagles in 1975, is already a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (1998), thanks to hits like “Lyin’ Eyes” and “New Kid in Town.” . . . Kenny Rogers accepted the 2017 Texas Medal of Arts award, Feb. 22 in Austin at the Texas Performing Arts Center. Aiding in the presentation of his Lifetime Achievement honor musically were Vikki Carr, Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers, performing such Rogers million sellers as “Islands In the Stream” and “Lady.” Yet another country medal recipient was singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson, best known as writer of such classics as “Me & Bobby McGee,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” and starring in such movies as “A Star Is Born” and “Stagecoach.” . . . Little Big Town became the first act to begin residency at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, Feb. 24, with shows scheduled through September, where no doubt they will perform tracks from their latest CD “The Breaker,” which charted #1 on both the U.S. and UK charts, and their spin-off single “Better Man” equaled that on U.S. and Canadian country charts, as well . . . Twenty of Music City’s best writers were honored with Triple Play statuettes at the eighth annual CMA Songwriters awards luncheon here at Marathon Music Works, Feb. 15, recognizing writers who had three #1 songs in a year. Actually, Ross Copperman received two trophies, recognizing six #1 songs, quite a feat. They were: “Break On Me,” “Drunk On Your Love,” “Confession,” American Country Love Song,” “Setting the World On Fire” and “I Knew Somebody.” According to Ross, “I know there are a lot of people here with a dream like I had, and I’m thankful it’s turned into a career. For fans to drive these songs to number one and then to receive this recognition from CMA is such an honor.” Incidentally, he now has four such awards on his mantle. Others cited that evening were Rhett Akins, Zac Brown, Luke Bryan, Rodney Clawson, Zach Crowell, Dallas Davidson, Brett Eldredge, Jesse Frasure, Ashley Gorley, Matt Jenkins, Luke Laird, Hillary Lindsey, Shane McAnally, Niko Moon, Shay Mooney, Jon Nite, Cole Swindle, Carrie Underwood and Craig Wiseman. For the record, first time recipients are: Eldredge, Frasure, Jenkins, Moon and Mooney. At the ceremony it was announced the Irving Waugh Award of Excellence was won posthumously by Donna Hilley, late CEO of Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
Prime Property: Country rocker Dusty Hill (ZZ Top bassist-lead vocalist) bought Sheryl Crow’s 50-acre estate in Williamson County, Tennessee, three years ago, but now has it on the market at double the price he paid. Hill claims he’s made improvements to justify the current $7 million he’s asking for the property, which includes a three-story main residence (with elevator) in College Grove, only a short drive from Nashville. Included are the 10,433 square foot solar-powered house, complete with generator, plus a full apartment on the lower level, and a separate, three-bedroom guest house with two-car garage, plus two storage buildings, a 14-stall barn and outdoor riding arena, says his realty agent Christy Reed . . . Mom Upchurch’s old boarding house on Boscobel Street in East Nashville is up for sale at a meager $389,000, but it boasts the ghosts of such legendary country stars who got their start in music staying there, among them Pee Wee King, Faron Young, Carl Smith, Stonewall Jackson, Grandpa Jones and for a short time June Carter. The century-old home is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Among many musicians who bunked there were Shorty Boyd, Don Davis, Ray Edenton, Howard White, Dale Potter, Grady Martin, Gordon Terry, Lightnin’ Chance, Harold Morrison, Shorty Lavender, George McCormick, Walter Haynes, Hank Garland, Buddy Spicher, Butterball Paige, Darrell McCall, Lloyd Green, Joe Edwards, Hank Cochran and Stan Hitchcock. That’s some line-up! . . . Kelly Clarkson’s selling her three-story 2007 mansion covering 20,000 square feet in Hendersonville for $8.75 million, so she and hubby Brandon Blackstock and their kiddos can move to farmhouse near Nashville. Her property boasts an up-front fountain, two spas, a saltwater pool, theater, volleyball court and is available thru Parks Realty here . . . Dorothy, mom to Blake Shelton, is selling the Oklahoma home he was raised in for $250,000. Mary Terry Real Estate has listed the remodeled 1973-built house, that sits on 3,140 square feet, and has three bedrooms, 2-1/2 baths and a nice back patio for entertaining. Mary calls it, “a lot of house for the money, and a fair price for the area.” . . . Kid Rock, who has scored a couple country chartings, including his 2002 #1 sales song “Picture” (with Sheryl Crow and Allison Moorer), is selling his own “American Badass” charcoal grill, which he claims is “100% made in the USA!” Kid (Robert Ritchie) puts down products bearing “Made in China” seal, even producing videos depicting him firing weapons at foreign made grills,” adding, “If I have an opportunity to create something I believe in and get it made in American, by God, that’s what I’m gonna do!”
Farewell Curtain: Session singer Hurshel Wayne Wiginton, 79, died March 6, following a lengthy illness. A founding member of the prolific Nashville Edition choral group, heard on such classic country cuts as Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors,” Dottie West’s “Country Sunshine,” Charley Pride’s “My Eyes Can Only See As Far As You” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” he had earlier sung background vocals at Muscle Shoals, Ala., with such R&B greats as Percy Sledge, notably on his smash “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Among the vocal talents in the Nashville Edition were “Cowboy” Jack Babcock, Dolores Dinning Edgin (of the famed 1940s’ Dinning Sisters), Ricki Page and Wendy Suits-Johnson. Reportedly, his fellow songsters weren’t thrilled about a regular spot on the new 1969 Hee Haw country comedy telecast, but Hurshel convinced them it could be a potential hit series, and indeed did last some two decades. The durable quartet was the subject of a tribute at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum during which curator John Rumble credited them with more than 12,000 studio sessions, mainly with contemporary country stars of the day such as Eddy Arnold, Lynn Anderson, Bobby Bare, Freddie Hart, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Ronnie Milsap, Marty Robbins, Tanya Tucker and Hank Williams, Jr. However, NE had also supported such singers in other genres as Ann-Margret, Bobby Goldsboro, Elvis Presley, Nancy Sinatra and Bobby Vinton. Among their awards was the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences’ prestigious Super Pickers statuette, earned in 1975, ’76 and ’78. Wiginton hailed from Hamilton, Ala., and first sang gospel professionally. He migrated to Memphis, where he also worked in the studio before coming to Nashville in the 1960s. He teamed with Babcock, Edgin and Page to form a quartet they called Town & Country, but due to some copyright matters soon morphed into The First Edition. At their peak, they were performing for four sessions daily, backing such stalwarts as Brenda Lee, Tom T. Hall, Barbara Mandrell and Henry Mancini. The Nashville Edition toiled quickly, figuring out their parts on the spot. Cowboy Joe praised Wiginton for “having what I think was the best bass voice in town,” adding “Hurshel was very creative, he was known as ‘Commercial Hershel.’ I wrote out all our charts, but everybody in the group contributed to the arrangements.” Survivors include former wife Doris Wilson, daughters Dana Jo Stafford, Tina Woodrow, Anna Wiginton; son Barry; two grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. Funeral arrangements to be announced.