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Music City Beat – March 2018

Vince Gill shares painful, personal memory . . .

NASHVILLE — Grand Ole Opry favorite Vince Gill addressed his concern about child sexual abuse from a personal level during a Country Radio Seminar appearance, Feb. 6, where he performed “Forever Changed.” Gill, 61 (on April 12), confided that he had been a victim himself in a Norman, Okla. school: “I was in seventh grade and a young, dumb kid. I had a gym teacher that acted inappropriately toward me, and was trying to do things that I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I was just fortunate that I got up and I ran; I just jumped up and I ran. I don’t know why, and I don’t think I ever told anybody my whole life, but even what’s been going on has given me a little bit of courage to speak out, too.” It’s believed Vince wrote the song awhile back, but from a girl’s point of view, though his heartfelt presentation seemed apropos considering his own experience, prompting a standing ovation: “Too afraid to tell someone/You might as well have used a gun/She cries to Jesus to ease the pain/ Because of you/She’s forever changed . . .” The veteran vocalist mused, “I never really know where this song came from, other than we’re living in a time right now when finally people are having the courage to kinda speak out about being abused. I think that is beyond helpful, and beyond beautiful, to see people finally have a voice for being wronged.” That’s Vince (above right) with wife Amy (in a Patricia Presley photo).
     Law-less: In a Republican-controlled state assembly, Tennessee Democrats drafted a bill to discourage sexual harassment in the music industry. In the wake of singer Austin Rick’s recent disclosure of alleged abuse by a prominent Nashville promoter, and singer-songwriter Katie Armiger’s claim of sexual harassment as a teenage contractee with Cold River Records, state Senators Brenda Gilmore and Jeff Yarbro, both of Nashville, filed legislation to thwart regulatory restrictions on contractees, keeping them from suing over sexual misconduct. That bill, slated for a mid-March hearing, would expand the current state law that permits only employees of a company to file such lawsuits. Artists work in the industry on a contract basis. After Armiger spoke out about being harassed since age 15, while on promotional visits to country radio stations by some DJs and program directors, Cold Play filed a breach of contract suit against their artist. Now encouraged by the #MeToo Movement that took wing last fall, she and others are lashing out against such good ol’ boy gestures. Armiger, now 26, recalled as a teen being informed by her label she should dress sexy and be nice to radio staffers, because that’s how it’s done to get your record played and charted. In 2013, Katie scored finally with a Top 10 album “Fall Into Me,” but failed to garner higher than Top 40 on singles warranting better airplay, notably “Best Song Ever,” “Scream” and “Better In a Black Dress.” She was told by label staffers the way things were out in la la land: “It was typical to do a show, go out to dinner, go out somewhere afterwards and be like, ‘Hey, this person drinks a lot, watch out!’ or if they do touch you or do proposition you, you’re just supposed to laugh it off” but, of course, pick up the check. Yarbro has high hopes their bill will pass, as it shouldn’t be viewed as a partisan problem, revealing Republican Sen. Mark Green has agreed to sign on as co-sponsor. Gilmore added, “It’s time for us to stop blaming the victim and start taking the issue seriously.
     Bits & Pieces: Books now hitting stores that deal with country music, include hit songwriter Steve Dorff’s “I Wrote That One, Too: A Life in Songwriting From Willie to Whitney” (Dorff tunes: “I Just Fall In Love Again,” “Every Which Way But Loose,” “Through the Years”); and Moe Bandy’s “Lucky Me,” boasting a foreword by former President George W. Bush, puts the spotlight on the “Rodeo Clown’s” 40 years in showbiz, celebrating hits such as “It’s a Cheatin’ Situation” and “Barstool Mountain,” as well as a series of duets with Joe Stampley (“Just Good Ol’ Boys,” “Where’s the Dress”) . . . On the film scene, we find country names now and again, notably singer-actress Ashla Taylor playing Canadian superstar Shania Twain (“You’re Still the One”) in a documentary drama titled “The Price of Fame,” which depicts the artist’s heartfelt journey to becoming a top-selling country singer and five-time Grammy winner. According to Ashla: “She had always been my biggest inspiration, my greatest influence. I am so honored to portray such an incredible artist . . . I do hope that Shania gets to see the docu-drama and when she does, I hope she will love the way I portray her.  I have never met her, but if that day ever comes, you can bet I will be gushing over her and thanking her for being my driving inspiration.” The film “Price of Fame,” produced by AMS Pictures, initially premiered on satellite network REELZ, Feb. 18. Ashla’s self-penned single (with Sherrie Austin and Will Rambeaux) “Nothin’ About Love” debuted on country radio, Feb. 19 . . . Veteran vocalist John Berry sings the title track for feature film of faith “Beautifully Broken,” a Big Film Factory release, covering three fictional families, worlds apart, whose paths seem unlikely to cross. Each family faces a crisis beyond their control, forcing difficult decisions, and eventually their lives unexpectedly become intertwined. In this movie, shot on location in Port Alfred, South Africa, and Baton Rouge, La., the stars are Eric Roberts, Benjamin Onyango and Thomasina Atkins. Eric Welch (“DC Talk: Welcome To the Freak Show”) directed from a screenplay by Brad Allen (“I’m Not Ashamed”). Berry shared his feeling on the project: “I received a text from my friend, producer Chuck Howard saying, ‘I have a song you need to sing’ followed by a rough edit of the film ‘Beautifully Broken.’ I watched the film and was moved to tears. I told Chuck, ‘I’m sure the song is great and I look forward to hearing it, but regardless of the song, I want to be a part of this film any way he could use me; people need to see this film!’ Of course, the song is an amazing work in and of itself, but this song in this film, Wow! It was such an honor to sing and be a small part of this story.” “Beautifully Broken” is slated for national release later this year.
     Scene Stealers: Kristian Bush (Sugarland) recorded a song “Walk Tall” for his 2012 solo album “Southern Gravity,” mainly as a reminder to son Tucker, then 11, to always try and do the right thing. A fan, teacher Tracy Roberts at Dodson Elementary School in suburban Hermitage, liked his song well enough to use it in trying to teach her third graders the importance of helping others and acting on positive thoughts. Calling her program “Walk Tall,” she even urged them to sing and play the tune on percussion instruments, bought with money donated by the CMA. She had them write essays about any “Walk Tall” moments they experienced. These she hung on the wall, and having an inspirational idea, invited Bush to visit the class, which he did. After reading their testaments, the impressed entertainer told The Tennessean newspaper, “Listening to small children sing your song and talk to you about the meaning of your song, immediately reminds you . . . that not only is what you’re doing important, but it’s being listened to by young ears all the time.” Having him attend class provided a more memorable, teachable moment for her students, said Roberts. . . . Former Arkansas Gov. and ex-presidential candidate Mike Huckabee resigned from the Country Music Association’s Foundation Board a day after being made a member, following wide criticism from industry members and fans. The conservative TV host’s known for negative views on LGBT issues, boasts strong support of the NRA, as well as extremist political stances. One dissenter was Jason Owen, an executive both with Monument Records and Sandbox Entertainment, calling Huckabee’s election a “grossly offensive decision,” in e-mails to both Sarah Traherne, CMA chief, and Tiffany Kerns, Country Music Foundation executive. Owen, whose artist clients include Faith Hill, Little Big Town and Midland, made it clear they would withdraw their support, if he remained. Upon learning of Huckabee’s addition to the board, hundreds of country fans also voiced their opposition in e-mails, and suggested they would boycott both the CMA and the annual CMA Music Festival in protest. Huckabee’s resignation letter stated, in part, “I genuinely regret that some in the industry were so outraged by my appointment, that they bullied the CMA and Foundation with economic threats, and vowed to withhold support for the programs for students, if I remained . . . I’m somewhat flattered to be of such consequence when all I thought I was doing was voluntarily serving on a non-profit board, without pay, in my advocacy for the arts.”

      Negative News Items: We were stunned to see, via his Feb. 26 Tweet, that rising star Kane Brown, 24, was experiencing alleged discrimination from some Nashville songwriters. Hard to believe, since Brown is currently enjoying overdue recognition, thanks to his RCA #1 self-titled album, a #1 duet “What Ifs” with Lauren Alaina, and his Top Five solo single “Heaven.” His Tweet groused, “Damn, some people in Nashville, who have pub(lishing) deals, won’t write with me because I’m black! Aight . . . I’m still gonna do my thing 100 (percent)!” [Editor’s note: The Tweet has since been removed.] Two years back, the biracial singer-songwriter signed with SonyMusic, and soon became a social media sensation, sporting millions of followers. Since that time, he co-wrote with such writers as Allen Shambling, Tom Douglas and Jordan Schmidt. We hope now it’s only a misunderstanding and that writers welcome an opportunity to work with such a talented artist . . . Band Perry family members are crushed no doubt, due to the divorce looming between Kimberly Perry, 34, and ballplayer hubby Jonathan Paul (J. P.) Arencibia, 32, which she confirmed March 4 on their website: “Yes, sadly it’s true, my marriage has come to an end. I know that beauty will come from these ashes and as always, I want to thank you all for your love and support. I’ll be in touch soon.” Kim filed for divorce March 2 in Greene County, Tenn. Meantime, J. P. posted his own message, “Don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing is gonna be alright,” lyrics from Bob Marley’s tune “Three Little Birds.” No comment from sibling band members Neil, 27, or Reid Perry, 29, or whether they’ll take a bat to their departing brother-in-law, a former catcher with the Toronto Blue Jays, but who currently is an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee. The couple wed in June 2014. Band Perry hit singles include “You Lie,” “Better Dig Two” and “Done,” and they’re putting finishing touches to their next album, “My Bad Imagination.”
Touring Tips: Country fans will be pleased to hear two legendary bands are back and scheduling tours this year. Former front-man Marty Raybon and founding member Mike McGuire are hitting the road together with Shenandoah, marking their 30th anniversary and release of a new BMG album “Reloaded.” The CD promises their hits like “Church On Cumberland Road” and three new numbers, including new single “Noise,” produced by Jay DeMarcus. Coming out of retirement this year for a sort of command performance farewell tour is Country Music Hall of Fame band Alabama. Their Hits Tour 2018 commences March 23 in Grand Prairie, Texas, and continues through Sept. 8 in Brandon, Miss. “This year’s tour is for the lifelong fans, and also the younger generations just now discovering the music,” explains Randy Owen, who helped pen several of their 32 #1 hits, including “Tennessee River” and “Feels So Right.” Their last year’s holiday album, “American Christmas,” scored Top Five on that 2017 list . . . Aristo Media Group here is proud of its continuing connection with the Nashville Meets London Music Festival, coordinated with Peter Conway Management and Canary Wharf Events. The third annual NML Fest occurs with a weekend booking July 28-29 at Canary Wharf’s Canada Square Park, again hosted by Baylen Leonard, UK radio DJ. As long as such admired artists appear as 2017’s Russell Dickerson and Sam Outlaw, it will continue to be a welcome fan festival. The final all-star line-up will be announced soon . . . In this, the year of the woman, the Carolina Country Music Fest is boasting five female acts: Deana Carter, Runaway June, Stephanie Quayle, Kasey Tyndall and Kennedy Fitzsimmons, highlighting the 18-acre Myrtle, Beach, S.C. event, June 7-10. Fittingly announced on March 8, International Women’s Day, festival honcho Bob Durkin proclaimed, “On International Women’s Day and every day, CCMF strives to offer a platform for the many incredible female artists in the country genre.” But no doubt just to be sure and keep female fans attending, the promoter’s also booked Luke Bryan, Toby Keith, Zac Brown Band and Cole Swindell for the extravaganza, which trade weekly Billboard cites as one of the Top Five country festivals (and largest on the east coast) . . . Super songwriter Max T. Barnes launched his International Steamboat Tour abroad, March 8, with a preview at the famed Nashville Palace, featuring his All-American Band. There to wish him well were veteran vocalists Bobby Bare and Collin Raye, sharing the mic with Barnes, whose act will encompass not just his numbers, but those created by his Songwriters Hall of Fame father Max D. Barnes (who died in 2004). Following his Ireland and England tour, March 13- May 1, Max T. will bring his show back to the states, for final stops in Branson and Nashville. “It’s a lifelong dream to have my own band, traveling around the world,” Barnes exclaims! “I’m so excited I’m blinkin’ like a toad in a hail-storm.” Among the younger Barnes #1 hit compositions are Collin Raye’s “Love Me,” and Diamond Rio’s “How Your Love Makes Me Feel,” while Max D’s classics include George Jones’ “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” Vern Gosdin’s “Chiseled In Stone” and John Anderson’s “Let Go Of the Stone,” which he co-wrote with Max T. The two Maxes also co-wrote “Steamboat,” junior’s tour title, and which appears on Max T.’s new CD, “I Can Sleep When I’m Dead.” Together their songs have accounted for sales in excess of 70 million discs.
Honors: America’s Storyteller Tom T. Hall and “Miss Dixie,” his late wife of 46 years, are this year’s inductees for the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Hall of Fame, come Sept. 22, in Bean Blossom, Ind. The formal ceremony to be conducted during the 44th annual Hall of Fame & Uncle Pen Days Festival there, Sept. 19-22. Candidates for the Hall, housed in the Bill Monroe Museum at Bean Blossom, are chosen by a committee of 100 industry leaders via a three-ballot, anonymous vote. Kentucky-born Hall, 81, a member of both the Country Music Hall of Fame and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, was initially lauded for country compositions such as “Harper Valley PTA,” “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died” and “Watermelon Wine.” He also wasn’t one to co-write, but following retirement from the road, his wife, the former Iris Lawrence, urged him to write with her, mainly bluegrass songs. She was certainly an unlikely candidate to write in that genre or even to be nicknamed “Dixie,” having been raised in England’s West Midlands, near Manchester. At age 10, however, she won a BBC poetry contest with a verse about Canada. As a young woman, a chance encounter aboard an English train with pioneer film hero Tex Ritter had a major impact on her life. He engaged her to write about his music in the UK, and that effort subsequently led her to Nashville in 1961, where she linked up to Starday Records, and Mother Maybelle Carter. They became fast friends and even co-wrote together. As Dixie Dean she freelanced for Faron Young’s monthly Music City News, and soon became its editor. She developed a keen interest in bluegrass and reportedly wrote 500 commercially-recorded bluegrass-oriented songs, the most of any woman in bluegrass, but mainstream country artists such as Dave Dudley, Johnny Cash and Miranda Lambert also recorded her songs. Dixie, an animal rights activist, as well, died Jan. 16, 2015, at age 80. She was a Distinguished Achievement Award-winner from the International Bluegrass Music Association, and with Tom T. won the Grand Masters Gold prize from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America, after notching 10 straight SPBMA Songwriters of the Year awards. Tom T., confiding that he’d been a life-long fan of Monroe, Father of Bluegrass, and is pleased to be recognized with this honor bearing his name. As he had explained in a New York Times’ piece, “Y’know I was born in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, and spent my whole life trying to get out of there, (and) maybe our bluegrass songwriting works so well (together), because we have such different views of Appalachia. She can see the trees, while all I can see is the forest.” . . . Chris Stapleton led the list of Academy of Country Music award nominees, announced March 1st, with eight nods, including entertainer, male vocalist, album, single, and song of the year. Hot on his heels are Thomas Rhett with six nominations, Keith Urban and Shane McAnally with five, followed by female artists Miranda Lambert and Maren Morris, each with four. So here’s the list: Entertainer – Stapleton, Urban, Jason Aldean, Garth Brooks and Luke Bryan; Female Vocalist – Lambert, Morris, Kelsea Ballerini, Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood; Male Vocalist – Aldean, Rhett, Stapleton, Urban and Chris Young; Vocal Duo – Brothers Osborne, Dan+Shay, Florida Georgia Line, LoCASH, Faith Hill & Tim McGraw; Vocal Group – Lady Antebellum, LANCO, Little Big Town, Midland and Old Dominion. Best Album nominees – “Breaker,” Little Big Town; “California Sunrise,” Jon Pardi; “From A Room Vol. 1,” Stapleton; “Happy Endings,” Old Dominion; “Life Changes,” Rhett; Single – “Better Man,” Little Big Town; “Body Like A Back Road,” Sam Hunt; “Broken Halos,” Stapleton; “Drinkin’ Problem,” Midland; “I’ll Name The Dogs,” Blake Shelton; Best Song – “Body Like a Back Road,” by Sam Hunt, songwriters Hunt, Zach Crowell, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne; “Female,” Urban, songwriters Ross Copperman, Nicolle Galon and Shane McAnally; “Tin Man,” Lambert, writers Lambert, Jack Ingram, Jon Randall; “Whiskey And You,” Stapleton, writers Stapleton and Lee Thomas Miller. Best Songwriter – Rhett Akins, Ashley Gorley, Hillary Lindsey, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne. New Female Singer – Lauren Alaina, Danielle Bradbery, Carly Pearce, and Raelynn; New Male Singer – Kane Brown, Luke Combs, Devin Dawson, Russell Dickerson, Brett Young; New Duo or Group – High Valley, LANCO, LoCASH, Midland, and Runaway June. Vying for Best Video are “Black,” Dierks Bentley; “It Ain’t My Fault,” Brothers Osborne; “Legends,” Kelsea Ballerini; “Marry Me,” Thomas Rhett; “We Should Be Friends,” Miranda Lambert. Top Vocal Event – “Craving You,” Thomas Rhett and Maren Morris’ “Dear Hate,” Maren Morris and Vince Gill; “Funny (How Time Slips Away),” Glen Campbell and Willie Nelson; “The Fighter,” Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood; “What Ifs,” Kane Brown and Lauren Alaina. Hosting the ACM awards gala, April 15 in Las Vegas, will be Reba McEntire at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, telecast live on CBS . . . You gotta hand it to Dolly Parton, who has just partnered with the U.S. Library of Congress, as she presented her 100 millionth Imagination Library book – 2016’s “Coat Of Many Colors” – to that august institution, Feb. 27. According to Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden, this government agency is teaming up with la Parton in a collaboration that will include an Imagination Library story time on the last Friday of each month, from March to August, which will be live-streamed into libraries across the country. “I can’t tell you how excited we are, because today we are celebrating literacy, learning and reading, and we couldn’t ask for a better person or organization to collaborate with today,” stressed Hayden. Parton’s Imagination Library, since its inception in 1995, mails free books to children from birth to age 5 in participating communities in the states, the UK, Australia and Canada. It has increased from sending books to 2,000 children a month to about 1.1 million a month. “I always like to say that 100 million books have led to 100 million stories,” Parton said proudly. “I am so honored that our little program is now grown to such a point that we can partner with the Library of Congress to bring even more stories to children across the country.”
      Ailing: Jesse McReynolds, 88, is still recuperating from a near-death abdominal aneurysm suffered last September, when doctors gave him a 50 per cent chance of survival, prior to emergency surgery. Nonetheless, the future’s looking brighter now as the severe pain has lessened steadily, and Jesse has confided he’s hoping to return soon to a slot on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry, which he and brother Jim McReynolds joined 54 years ago as Jim & Jesse, a top bluegrass duo. Sadly, the brother duo ended with the death of Jim in 2002; however, Jesse and the Virginia Boys continued as an Opry act and today’s he’s the historic program’s senior songster. Rumor has it, he’s also seeking material, to go back into the studio.
      Final Curtain: Country Hall of Famer Maxine Brown, 85, has lost yet another beloved family member, son Tom Russell, an insurance agent in Payson, Ariz. Russell died March 2, after suffering from brain cancer. “My heart is broken and I am just numb to all of this,” said his mother, famed as a singer-songwriter with The Browns (“Lookin’ Back To See,” “The Three Bells”). “Our family has been put through so much in the recent few years with the passing of Jim Ed and Bonnie (who helped comprise the famed 1950s’ vocal trio). Now my son. I just thank everyone for always putting our family in their prayers and for showing us the love.” Cancer claimed both Bonnie and Jim Ed, who enjoyed a solo career, thanks to such successes as “Pop-A-Top” and “I Don’t Want To Have To Marry You.” Mr. Russell is survived by Mom and his wife Colleen, sister Alicia Short and brother James Brown Russell.

Nashville blues guitarist Nick Nixon, a friend of many country veterans, died Feb. 28 at age 76. Nick performed with such groups as King James & The Scepters, The New Imperials, and Past, Present & Future, and was involved with the young Jimi Hendrix and Billy Cox. Nick, and his song “Rising Sun Blues” were featured in the acclaimed 2010 film “Redemption Road,” co-starring Michael Clarke Duncan, Luke Perry and Tom Skerritt. His singles also included “Me, Myself and The Lord” and “No End To The Blues.” He was interested in young music enthusiasts and devoted time to the local Blues In the Schools educational program. He said, “Some people I teach can play, I think, better than me. But there’s something I’ve got that they want, and that’s the feel, the blues feel. Everybody’s got something that you can use.”

 

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Music City Beat – February 2018

Cancer claims country singer-songwriter Lari White . . . 

Hubby Chuck Cannon embraces Lari White.
(Photo by Patricia Presley)

 

NASHVILLE — No one ever worked harder to promote their career than Marty Stuart has, and with such a talented better half as Connie Smith at home, the pressure mounts. She’s already a Country Music Hall of Famer. So now Stuart’s stepping up to open a combination museum and theater in his birthplace Philadelphia, Miss., that’ll house his vast collection of country music artifacts and promote live performances, when it opens in three years. Reportedly, the Magnolia State will ante up $2 million for the project, as Stuart seeks further private funding. Mississippi has produced some sterling stars on the music scene, including Jimmie Rodgers, Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty, Charley Pride, Tammy Wynette, B. B. King, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters. Marty, now nearing 60, toured in his youth with the likes of Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash, all the while developing a deep respect for roots music. This prompted a desire for “collecting” costumes, instruments, music and what-have-you, pieces now numbering some 20,000. His collection includes such mementos as Patsy Cline’s boots; Hank Williams’ handwritten lyrics; and a suit from Cash, The Man In Black. Stuart’s Sparkle & Twang collectibles have already been exhibited in museums like the Tennessee State Museum, Graceland in Memphis, and Cleveland, Ohio’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Initially, Cash’s Columbia label signed Marty in the mid-1980s, when mainly known as Johnny’s son-in-law (husband to Cindy Cash). After managing only a Top 20 tune “Arlene,” and five follow-ups that tanked, he found himself freshly divorced and out shopping another label. Thanks to MCA’s nibbling, Stuart scored high marks in the early ’90s, via singles “Hillbilly Rock,” “Little Things” and “Tempted,” enhanced by smash follow-up duets with Travis Tritt: “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’,” and “This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For a Long, Long Time).” There was another solo success, “Burn Me Down,” but come Christmas ’92, he found only coal in his stocking, as his year-end disc, “High On a Mountain Top,” couldn’t climb higher than #24. Thus, out of 33 charted Billboard entries, Stuart totaled six Top 10s. Nonetheless, he hung in there and over the next 25 years, kept his name in the news – not always favorably – while fronting an acclaimed band The Fabulous Superlatives, boasting “hillbilly” panache, balanced on a cutting edge. There were occasional albums, “The Marty Party Hit Pack,” “Honky Tonkin’s What I Do Best,” “Live At The Ryman,” tours, and besides being an archivist, he became a photographer of note, snapping shots of fellow craftsmen, images heightened by an insider’s insight. In recognition of multiple talents, Marty earned three Grammys, and in 1992 an invite to become a WSM Grand Ole Opry cast regular. In 2008, the RFD-TV network presented The Marty Stuart Show, a half-hour showcase spotlighting Smith, The Superlatives and Eddie Stubbs, emcee, for six seasons. Last summer, as Connie’s Top 10 best defines it, “Ain’t Love a Good Thing,” with her and Marty marking their 20th anniversary.
      Scene Stealers: Chris Janson took the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, Feb. 5, excited as all get out, for it was one of his two top goals, headlining in this historic venue, since his 2004 arrival, an unknown. He’d even slept in the alley that ran between the Ryman and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, shortly after driving into town at age 18. Like so many wannabes before him, his main wish was to be part of WSM’s Grand Ole Opry, where he’s guested numerous times. For that he can thank two near chart-toppers chalked up on Billboard’s Country Airplay list, Platinum-selling “Buy Me a Boat” and “Fix a Drink,” while awaiting the fan verdict on his current Top 40 “Drunk Girl.” During his Ryman gig, little did Chris suspect after he and buddy Keith Urban finished a hard-charging rendition of John Michael Montgomery’s “Sold (The Grundy County Auction),” the superstar would amble back to center stage, but there he was issuing Chris an invitation to join the Opry! Surprised doesn’t cover it, and while imitating a jumping bean at Urban’s invite, he suddenly saw Sally Williams, Opry manager, also on stage, confirming “My dream came true!” An official induction will occur months later . . . Former Ryman Auditorium manager Steve Buchanan, the man responsible for its resurgence as a national venue, who also revitalized WSM’s Opry, and produced the popular TV series Nashville, is movin’ on. Steve turned in his retirement notice as Opryland Entertainment Group chief, after 33 years with the conglomerate, having started in 1985 as marketing manager for historic Grand Ole Opry, a radio program first broadcast in 1925. Buchanan’s pride and joy, Nashville, previously a major network program, is now in its sixth and final season, saying bye-bye on the CMT cable network here. So now Steve wants to try his hand in TV production. According to Colin Reed, CEO of Ryman Hospitality Properties, “Steve wants to wind down a bit and smell the roses. The things I’ve come to respect about the guy is that he would constantly come and have ideas that were outside of the box ideas. Those creative moments are what I remember with Steve and that’s going to be a void for a period of time.” Buchanan told The Tennessean daily newspaper, “The Opry and the Ryman have been central passions in my life for over 33 years . . . I look at it as my attachment will never diminish, but there are other things I want to do and accomplish. I have a mix of loss, fear and excitement. But it feels like the time to make that leap.” Hello Hollywood? . . . Hockey hero Mike Fisher’s back on the Nashville ice, with the blessing of singer-wife Carrie Underwood, after several months’ retirement. The Predators management seems eager to re-sign the Canadian, before their Feb. 26 deadline. So at 37, Mike could be skating in time to help the team possibly win the coveted Stanley Cup (come June), as play-offs commence in April.
      Bits & Pieces: Publicist Sanford (Sandy) Brokaw has been subpoenaed to testify in court here, Feb. 20, regarding former client Glen Campbell’s competence at the time the singer signed his will that’s now in dispute. Glen died Aug. 8, 2017 at age 81, while suffering from Alzheimer’s, which allegedly started in 2011. The lawsuit filed by Glen’s son William Campbell, one of three children cut off from the singer-songwriter’s estimated $50 million estate, challenged the widow’s 13-page will. William’s attorney Christopher Fowler is taking exception to that 2006 will, and has also subpoenaed two other Campbell children, Kelli and Wesley, excluded from their dad’s estate and a related trust, to testify. Brokaw allegedly will be required to bring pertinent communications related to Campbell’s family and estate, and “provide proof of the decedent’s capacity since 2002.” The widow, Kimberly (Woollen) Campbell, whom he wed in 1982, helped Glen launch a farewell “Goodbye” tour shortly after being diagnosed with early onset of Alzheimer’s, with their final show-date being Nov. 30, 2012 in Napa, Calif. The entertainer was wed four times and fathered eight children, the final three – Cal, Shannon, Ashley – with Kimberly. They appeared with their dad, backing him on his farewell tour. Campbell became a born-again Chrisian in his final days, joining a Messianic Synagogue with Kim. Brokaw has declined to comment on the case . . . Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott and hubby Chris Tyrrell are proud parents of twin girls, Betsy Mack and Emory JoAnn, born Jan. 30. Equally proud is daughter Eisele, 4, and musical maternal grandparents Linda (“Some Things Are Meant To Be”) Davis and Lang Scott. Hillary says she’ll be ready to join Lady A’s Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood for their Summer Plays Tour with co-headliner Darius Rucker, beginning July 19 in Canada. Meantime, Lady A’s “Heart Break” is steadily moving up the charts . . . Former teen country star Jessica Andrew (#1 “Who I Am”) and singer-director husband Marcel Chagnon welcomed son Rockwell, her first baby, Feb. 6. On Instagram, Feb. 9, she posted the following: “How do you even figure out words to describe feelings that you didn’t know you could have? I’ll just say welcome to this world my beautiful baby boy,” accompanied by a picture of their newborn . . . Kenny Chesney signed a new recording pact with Warner Music, much to the chagrin of Sony Music Nashville. His singles will actually be released henceforth under his own imprint Blue Chair, now a subsidiary of Warner Records . . . The Steel Drivers, former band for Chris Stapleton, have announced the signing of Kelvin Damrell, a newcomer from historic country town of Berea, Ky., home to Berea College and once stomping grounds for Country Music Hall of Famer Red Foley. Damrell, a guitarist, will be the band’s new lead vocalist. Last year, Stapleton’s replacement Gary Nichols flew the coop, prompting the band to try-out potential successors, with Damrell being the final choice. Next up, SteelDrivers are studio bound to record a follow-up to their 2015 Grammy-winning “Muscle Shoals Sessions,” and hopefully have it out before year’s end . . . Grand Ole Opry member Eddie Montgomery has confided he hopes to continue the MontgomeryGentry sound, despite having lost partner Troy Gentry in a helicopter crash last Sept. 8. Eddie said their last studio album “Here’s To You,” wrapped two days before his untimely passing, and was released Feb. 2, reportedly their first in three years. He launched the 2018 tour they’d planned together, simultaneously to the CD release, sharing the bill with Halfway To Hazard. Next to Eddie on stage will be Troy’s guitar and mic stand. (So much for our idea that he might team up with brother John Michael.) . . . Spotted at the Grammys was Reba McEntire, who recently made news linking up with KFC’s Col. Sanders, complete in grey-beard and costume, to plug a new barbecue fried chicken; however, it wasn’t a Kentucky colonel on her arm. The fiery redhead introduced him saucily as her new beau, Skeeter Lasuzzo, but that’s all we know about him right now, just a name. She was a winner herself that night . . . Craig Morgan’s new reality show premiers on UP-TV March 1, titled Morgan Family Strong, features the Opry star and his wife Karen, daughter Alexandra and sons Kyle and Wyatt. Reportedly viewers will see the Morgans “juggling life at home and on the road, including opening a family store – The Gallery.” They won’t forget son Jerry, who lost his life in a tragic boating accident, as they come together in sharing that heartache. Jerry was featured regularly on the artist’s All Access Outdoors program, going into its ninth season on the Outdoor Channel. Morgan hits include “Almost Home,” “Redneck Yahct Club” and “That’s What I Love About Sunday.”
      Radio Friendly: As the New Faces’ annual showcase signed off Nashville’s Country Radio Seminar, Feb. 9, we’re satisfied country’s still in good hands. The 2018 line-up came across loud and clear: Lauren Alaina, Luke Combs, Midland, Carly Pearce and Michael Ray. Regular readers of CMP know CRS is a three-day industry conference of sorts usually covered, consisting of discussions, speeches, panels, lunches, showcases and more importantly, networking. For a final $600 registration rate, CRS chief Bill Mayne promised attendees the event “will empower you with an incredible array of new, innovating ideas to improve your skill sets and perspective to create sustainable results for your business. You will also experience more stellar country music performances than ever before!” Not so sure about that last sentence, but it was nice seeing singer Dierks Bentley earned the CRS Artist Humanitarian Award, courtesy Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Assuredly, the labels trotted out their stars throughout the week, among them Jason Aldean, Ashley McBryde, Chris Stapleton, Luke Bryan, Keith Urban, Little Big Town, Darius Rucker, Drake White, Brett Young, Sugarland and Brad Paisley. Since the New Faces gala was launched in 1970, it has emerged as one of the most sought-after showcases for rising stars to strut their stuff before a media mix of key radio and record honchos. Kicking off the New Faces Show was Kentucky high school dropout Pearce, piercing the silence with four cuts from her fall 2017 CD. At 16, Carly lit out for Pigeon Forge, Tenn., to perform regularly at Dollywood. No doubt that endeavor inspired her move to Nashville, where initially she signed with Sony Music, but had little luck there. Next, Scott Borchetta signed her to the Big Machine label, and last year Carly scored with a #1 Billboard Country Airplay debut, “Every Little Thing,” selling gold (500,000 units). Pearce proved once again, thanks to “Every Little Thing” and “Hide the Wine,” she’s truly an artist to watch. Back in Luke Combs’ Asheville, N.C. high school days, he was a football hero on campus. And he made many a maidens’ heart beat a little faster here, thanks in part to performing back-to-back Country Airplay #1’s “Hurricane” and “When It Rains It Pours.” The husky, bearded balladeer’s latest “One Number Away” is equally pleasing to the ears. Incidentally, Luke’s Columbia album “This One’s For You” also chalked up #1 status in 2017. Another media favorite is Midland, a colorful Texas band that burst forth on Billboard last year with their near chart-topping Big Machine CD “On The Rocks.” Comprising this hot unit are Jess Carson, Cameron Duddy and Mark Wystrach, who as Midland, spent time touring in ’17 as an opening act for Faith Hill-Tim McGraw’s Soul2Soul World Tour. Mesmerized by Midland’s musically musing “Drinkin’ Problem,” it’s understandable why it became an easy #1 last fall. Another in the TV reality contest competitors’ alumnae, Alaina Lauren, 23, late of American Idol’s 10th season, at least boasts two chart-toppers: “Road Less Traveled” and “What Ifs” (the latter guesting on Kane Brown’s disc). Hey, she’s also been on a motion picture screen – “Road Less Traveled” – and a music video about that same hit song earned her a CMT best breakthrough video nod. Lauren’s studio CD’s “Wildflower” and, of course, “Road Less Traveled” both became Top Five albums. It was apparent she was a clear favorite of a huge segment in the New Faces’ audience, with winning performances on “Three” and her new single “Doin’ Fine.” Bad boy Michael Ray, who got pulled over for driving under the influence over Christmas, is a roguish, romantic, radio-friendly crooner, who hit the ground running with his initial Warner tracks, “Kiss You In the Morning” and “Think a Little Less.” He delivered his newest offering “Her World Or Mine” in relatively fine fashion here . . . but only time will tell whether it’ll have the listener appeal of the previous hits. Overall, CRS’s talented New Faces seem to possess the staying power so requisite to showbiz achievement, and judging by their rousing reception from hundreds of country radio pros, the clock’s ticking in their favor.
      Awards: The national Songwriters Hall of Fame committee has announced its newest inductees into its Hall of Fame, among them country composers Bill Anderson and Alan Jackson, already members of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and all-genre writer Steve Dorff. A truly diverse writer, Dorff numbers include such songs as “Easy Love” for Dionne Warwick, “Miracle” for Celine Dion, and “Pirate” for Cher; however, he has supplied songs for country artists like Kenny Rogers, “Through the Years”; Eddie Rabbitt, “Every Which Way But Loose”; Anne Murray, “I Just Fall In Love Again”; Mel Tillis’ “Coca Cola Cowboy”; and George Strait’s “I Cross My Heart.” Anderson’s hits began in 1958, during his college years when he furnished Ray Price’s monster hit “City Lights,” and in the 1960s’ sang many of his own hits, including “Tips Of My Fingers,” “Mama Sang A Song,” “Still,” on into the 1970s with “Quits,” “Sometimes,” while also through the years supplying others a la Lefty Frizzell’s “Saginaw, Michigan,” Conway Twitty’s “I May Never Get To Heaven,” Kenny Chesney’s “A Lot of Things Different,” Brad Paisley-Alison Krauss’ “Whiskey Lullaby,” George Strait’s “Give It Away” and Sugarland’s “Joey.” Jackson, of course, penned his own, ranging from his 1990 breakthrough song “Here In the Real World,” onward to #1’s such as “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” “Chattahoochee,” “Where I Come From,” “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” “Drive” and “Remember When,” plus collaborating with others, notably Randy Travis’ #1 “Forever Together.” The inductees will be enshrined officially at the 49th annual Songwriters Hall of Fame banquet, in New York City’s Marriott Hotel, June 14 . . . The 60th annual Grammy Awards, Jan. 28, meant good news for country hitmaker Chris Stapleton, who won big: best country solo performance for “Either Way”; best song for “Broken Halos,” which he co-wrote with Mike Henderson; and best album, for “From a Room: Volume One,” co-produced by Chris and Dave Cobb. (Incidentally, Stapleton’s 2015 debut album “Traveller” also earned them a Grammy.) Little Big Town scored this year for best group performance, thanks to their single “Better Man,” penned by Taylor Swift and produced by Jay Joyce. Country diva Reba McEntire nabbed a Grammy for her album “Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope” in the Gospel Roots category. Bluegrass queen Rhonda Vincent added another win to her collection, for “All the Rage: In Concert, Vol. 1 (Live),” in a tie for best bluegrass album; the other winner being Infamous Stringdusters’ “Laws of Gravity.” Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit scored multiple wins in the Americana division: best Americana album for “The Nashville Sound,” produced by Dave Cobb, and best roots song for “If We Were Vampires,” both for the act and Jason as songwriter.
     Final Curtain: Steel guitarist Stu Basore, 80, died Feb. 5 in Madison, Tenn. A Life Member of the AFM Nashville Musicians Association, Local 257, Basore was equally adept on Dobro guitar. His keening steel is heard to good advantage on the Dolly Parton #1 singles “Jolene,” “I Will Always Love You,” “Love Is Like a Butterfly,” Mary McGregor’s classic “Torn Between Two Lovers,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “When Two Worlds Collide” and Jean Shepard’s “Slippin’ Away.” Stuart was born May 3, 1937 to Floyd C. & Grace (Ulrich) Basore at Fort Monroe, Va., where his father served at the time. As son of an Army Air Corps’ officer, Stu good-naturedly regarded himself as a “military brat,” but enjoyed their travels in both the U.S.A. and France. Eventually his family settled in Aurora, Colo., which he long regarded as home. At age 11, he began learning the steel guitar, essentially self-taught, though he did study at the Honolulu Conservatory of Music in Denver, Colo. Taking a cue from dad, Stu served in the U.S. Air Force from 1956-1960. In 1963, Stu settled in Nashville, where he was soon hired as a Tennessee Mountain Boy, the touring band for singer-songwriter Johnnie Wright (“Hello Vietnam”) and wife Kitty Wells, Queen of Country Music. Their act included singer-daughter Ruby Wright (“Dern Ya”) and fellow artist Bill Phillips (“Put It Off Until Tomorrow”). Basore also performed with such notable entertainers as Tex Ritter, Connie Smith, George Hamilton IV and Marie Osmond. Others backed in the studio include Louis Armstrong, Joan Baez, Doug Kershaw, Mel McDaniel, Joe Simon, Kitty Wells, Charley Pride, John Prine, Mother Maybelle Carter and Iris DeMent. Basore can also be heard on the movie cast albums for “Nashville,” “W.W. & The Dixie Dance Kings” and “J.W. Coop.” Besides performing on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry, his credits include The Waking Crew and The Porter Wagoner Show. He was in the show band backing Mandy Barnett in the stage musicals “Always, Patsy Cline” and “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline.” Stu was an avid golfer, reportedly hitting not one but two hole-in-one shots, as well as enjoying fishing and jammin’ with his musical buddies. In 2005, Stu was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from ROPE (Reunion of Professional Entertainers). Survivors include his wife of 52 years Marsha (Gray) Basore, daughters Kelly Milam and Rebecca Michelle Martin; and granddaughter Maggie Milam. Services were conducted Feb. 10 at Spring Hill Memorial Funeral Home & Cemetery, by Pastor Mark Caulk (of Stafford, Va.) in Nashville. The family respectfully suggested in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Local 257 Musicians Relief Fund, Box 120399, Nashville, TN 37212, or Alive Hospice, Nashville.
Guitarist George McCormick, 84, died Feb. 5 at Cookeville Regional Medical Center, Cookeville, Tenn. Born June 19, 1933 in Death Creek, Tenn., he began playing guitar at an early age. Early on, he cut his performing teeth with Big Jeff Bess & The Radio Playboys on WLAC-Nashville. Country-gospel star Martha Carson (“Satisfied”) heard and hired him in 1951 for her touring band, which gave him his debut on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. In 1953, he briefly landed an MGM artist development deal, but none of his singles clicked, mainly because some said he was mimicking the label’s legendary Hank Williams. During the mid-1950s, he was half of the George & Earl rockabilly duo, partnered with Earl Aycock, whom he met in Carson’s band. They were good enough that Mercury Records signed the act, recording several titles, such as “Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes,” “Cry Baby Cry,” but alas none of these caught on, and they split up. Aycock signed with MGM, while McCormick joined the Louvin Brothers. A celebrated picker, George also played bass fiddle and spent some 47 years with the Grand Ole Opry, backing a host of notables, like Grandpa Jones, Little Jimmy Dickens, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper and Jim Reeves instrumentally and on harmony vocals. In the studio, he supported such as Porter Wagoner, playing on his classic 1965 hit “Green, Green Grass of Home” and as part of his Wagonmasters band for years, both on Porter’s popular syndicated TV series, as well as out on the road. Survivors include wife Betty (Norrod) McCormick, daughters Teresa, Trilene, Mindi and Anita, and step-daughter Helen; eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Services were conducted Feb. 9 in Cookeville.
    Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Lari White, 52, died in Hospice care Feb. 23, after suffering peritoneal cancer, diagnosed as advanced last September. She’s best remembered for her Top 10 hits “That’s My Baby,” “That’s How You Know (When You’re In Love),” both co-written with hubby Chuck Cannon, and “Now I Know” all recorded in 1994 for her “Wishes” CD. Her Top 20 credits are: “Ready, Willing and Able,” her co-write “Stepping Stone” and a duet “Helping Me Get Over You” with Travis Tritt, that they co-wrote. Among others recording her compositions were Patti Page, Danny Gokey, Sarah Buxton, Pat Green and Lonestar. Lari also recorded a duet with Toby Keith (“Only God Could Stop Me Loving You”), and produced his 2005 album “White Trash With Money.” A year earlier she co-produced Billy Dean’s album “Let Them Be Little” and, of course, her own debut album “Lead Me Not” (with Rodney Crowell and Steuart Smith) back in 1993. She was born Lari Michele White, May 13, 1965 in Dunedin, Fla., to Yvonne & Larry White. When little more than a toddler she joined her parents and siblings Natasha and Torne on stage as part of The White Family Singers gospel group. Despite a childhood loss of a little finger, she learned to play piano and guitar. As she advanced in years, Lari performed in White Sound, a rock band. Following graduation from the University of Miami, where she studied music engineering and voice, Lari relocated to Nashville. In 1988, she competed in TNN’s talent competition You Can Be a Star, winning first place. Top prize was a Capitol Records’ contract, resulting in a single release “Flying Above the Rain,” before being dropped. She signed for music publishing with Ronnie Milsap’s company, landing cuts with such notables as Shelby Lynne (“What About The Love We Made”) and Tammy Wynette (“Where’s the Fire”). Lari also took acting lessons, and answered a call in 1991 for a backup singer with Rodney Crowell. The following year she landed another development deal, this time RCA’s, and subsequently her “Lead Me Not” album. But it was “Wishes” which made her a star, selling more than a half-million albums, thereby certified Gold and crossed into the pop market. When her follow-up album, “Don’t Fence Me In,” failed to chart more than six weeks, she was again a free-lancer, though RCA did distribute a third collection “The Best Of Lari White,” reprising her earlier singles. In 1998, White was on the Lyric Street label with a promising single “Stepping Stone,” peaking at #16, over 20 weeks, and garnering some pop airplay (#73), before dropping off the chart. Lyric Street produced an album on her, also titled “Stepping Stone.” White finally put those acting lessons to good use, appearing on Broadway in a country music-oriented 2006 production “Ring Of Fire,” plus in films: “XXX’s & OOO’s” (1994), “Cast Away,” “Big Eden” (both in 2000), “No Regrets” (2004) and “Country Strong” (2010). In 2007, Lari performed a cabaret act at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City, and commemorated it with a live soundtrack album “My First Affair,” which included two of her creations: “Minor Changes” and “Over And Over.” Her final effort, a double album, “Old Friends, New Loves” was released in 2017, on her indie label Skinny White Girl Records. It marked her 25th anniversary, featuring Lee Roy Parnell, Suzy Bogguss and Delbert McClinton as guest artists. White’s Grammy wins were all for gospel tracks: “Amazing Grace: A Country Salute To Gospel” 1996; “Amazing Grace . . . 2” 1998; and “The Apostle” soundtrack, 1999, on which she performed “There Is Power In the Blood.” Survivors include her husband of 23 years, Chuck Cannon; and their children M’Kenzy, Kyra Ciel and Jaxon.

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Music City Beat – January 2018

Ray Stevens opens new Nashville nightclub . . .

Ray Stevens, here with assistant Shirley Welch, to open nitespot.

 

NASHVILLE — Pop-country star Ray Stevens, 79, is at it again, mixing music and mirth for fans here, much as he did a quarter century ago in Branson. The versatile entertainer opened CabaRay, his own nightspot Jan. 18, bringing back Ahab The Arab, Gitarzan, The Shriners Convention, Mississippi Squirrels Revival and his hysterical “Don’t look, Ethel,” it’s The Streak, to mark his return. Nashville Mayor Barry proclaimed Jan. 10 – the day media and VIPs enjoyed an advance peek at the 35,000 square-foot “state of the art” venue – Ray Stevens Day. Singer-songwriter Stevens stated, “I am deeply grateful to the Honorable Megan Barry and the people of Nashville for giving me my very own day. It’s especially meaningful that it’s on the day I’m sharing my CabaRay Showroom with family and friends in the music industry for the first time.” Ray will perform for guests weekly at the supper club (at 5724 River Road), which seats some 700 and offers free parking. Currently on public television, he hosts Ray Stevens’ CabaRay-Nashville, a half hour weekly music and talk show. Ray also co-starred on the big screen in the 2014 comedy “Campin’ Buddies” with Tom Lester. Currently, the CMA-Hall of Fame Museum’s “Sing Me Back Home” series is celebrating the multi-talented Georgia native’s 60-year career, encompassing a #1 mix of musical parodies such as “The Streak” with beautiful love songs like “Everything Is Beautiful,” both of which he wrote. The latter in 1970, and in 1975 his bluegrass-influenced arrangement on “Misty,” both earned him Grammy Awards. In 1980, Ray was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Association International’s Hall of Fame in recognition of such successes. Among his platinum-selling albums are “He Thinks He’s Ray Stevens,” “I Have Returned” and “Ray Stevens’ Greatest Hits.” Besides switching easily from novelty to love songs, Stevens is a multi-instrumentalist, who has sold in excess of 40 million discs. Little wonder “Everything Is Beautiful” for this legendary star.
     Scene Stealers: Husband-wife team Faith Hill and Tim McGraw have been named in a plagiarism lawsuit by Australian songwriters Sean Carey and Beau Golden, along with Sony/ATV Music, its co-writers Ed Sheeran, Johnny McDaid, Amy Wadge and Steve Mac, pluas several associated publishers. Subject of the suit filed Jan. 10 in New York Federal Court by Carey and Golden is the Hill-McGraw hit “The Rest Of Our Life,” which the Aussies claim “blatantly copied” their 2014 composition “When I Found You,” a success Down Under by Jasmine Rae. According to the court filing, “The copying is, in many instances, verbatim, note-for-note copying of original elements of the Song (‘When I Found You’), and is obvious to the ordinary observer,” and the plaintiffs are seeking $5 million in damages, along with an injunction to block its further release. Their attorney, Richard Busch, is no stranger to Sheeran, who was named in an earlier $20 million suit Busch filed over the song “Photograph,” sounding too much like another, titled “Amazing,” which was settled, with the correct writers being added to the credits. Reportedly, in this latest dispute, Tom Holland, an Australian Sony staffer, is named and though he’s co-writer Jasmine’s boyfriend, she is not involved in the case. The suit says Holland presented Rae’s recording to Sony, allegedly trying to gain international exposure for her. Apparently unaware of the Australian single, Faith and Tim recorded the tune, featuring it on their first-ever collaborative album via Arista Records last fall. Beside damages, Carey and Golden seek a percentage of profits in addition to a running royalty rate, plus payment of court costs and legal fees. Stay tuned . . . Entrepreneur John Rich of the Big & Rich duo is on a roll, having just launched Redneck Riviera Whiskey in partnership with Eastside Distillery, officially Jan. 6, he and vocal partner “Big” Kenny Alphin announced Jan. 12, their brand new GIT Big $ Rich Casino game, created in collaboration with Proxima Brands, available in digital app stores and free downloads. Redneck Riviera is a copyright title of Rich, and consists of footwear, apparel and beach accessories, plus two honky-tonks: Redneck Riviera Vegas, on the strip near Bally’s Las Vegas, and the upcoming Redneck Riviera Nashville, slated for a spring opening on Lower Broad. Among their biggest charters are “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” and “Lost in This Moment.” Their new casino-style game offers loyalty points players can cash in for Big & Rich product and a brand prize of a VIP visit to one of their concerts. As Alphin says, “Let’s play. We are excited about the debut of our casino game and want everyone to GIT Big $ Rich coins that will have you playing our game for hours and hours. We look forward to meeting the player that winds the ‘Meet Big & Rich’ contest, too. Now, go get this sucker and let’s rock that spin button.” Eastside, a Tennessee LLC, will manage Redneck Riviera Whiskey, promote sales and any follow-up products. Initially they will focus on the Southeast, with a roll-out across the country in time to come. For further information, check out www.redneckriviera.com.
     Honors: Reba McEntire’s legendary life and career have earned the artist a 2018 award, honoring her by the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans. The Oklahoma native, who shot to fame initially on Mercury Records 40 years ago, with the Top 20 ballad “Three Sheets In the Wind” (with Jacky Ward), followed by 1980s solo successes “(You Lift Me) Up To Heaven,” “I’m Not That Lonely Yet” and back-to-back #1 singles “Can’t Even Get the Blues” and “You’re the First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving.” McEntire’s label switch to MCA assured another 22 Billboard chart-toppers, including “Somebody Should Leave,” “Whoever’s In New England” and “Turn On the Radio.” The Grand Ole Opry star’s sitcom series Reba ran from 2001-2007; she starred in films like “The Gambler Returns”; won two Grammys; and in 2011 was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. She just extended her engagement with Brooks & Dunn in Las Vegas, thanks to nightly SRO shows. She acknowledged this latest award: “I always say you need three things to succeed in life: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone. These qualities have served me well in every part of my life, and I have no doubt my fellow honorees would agree. I am honored to be inducted into the Horatio Alger Association, and can’t wait to meet our 2018 scholars and help them in any way I can to reach their own dreams.” . . . Chris Stapleton out-distanced fellow players in Nielsen’s year-end rankings, thanks to 1.8 million albums, streaming on-demand and other downloads data. During 2017, he had the two top albums: “From a Room: Volume I,” in first place, followed by his album “Traveller” (first issued in 2015). Luke Bryan’s 1.1+ million sales, downloads and streams, garnered second; Thomas Rhett (994,000), third; Blake Shelton (984,000), fourth; and Kenny Chesney (955,000) fifth . . . Newly-named recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Emmylou Harris is also being honored by the Americana Music Association’s all-star fete, “A Salute To Emmylou Harris,” Jan. 27, at City Winery in New York City. Among those paying tribute to the veteran vocalist will be Rodney Crowell, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Steve Earle, Jack Ingram, Brandi Carlile and the Secret Sisters. A winner of 13 Grammy awards, the Salute is being co-sponsored by contributors such as ASCAP, Middle Tennessee State University, Nashville Music City and Tennessee Tourism . . . A Mel Tillis Memorial has been scheduled at the Ryman Auditorium, Jan. 31, honoring the Country Music Hall of Famer who died Nov. 19 at age 85. Tillis, also a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. During the public celebration, he will be remembered in stories and song by associates such as Larry Gatlin, Ray Stevens, Ricky Skaggs, Lorrie Morgan, Jamey Johnson, Brenda Lee, Collin Raye, Alison Krauss, Ira Dean, Daryle Singletary and his children Carrie April Tillis, Sonny Tillis and Pam Tillis. Mel’s band The Statesiders survivors will play as well.
     Bits & Pieces: Russell Moore has announced IIIrd Tyme Out fiddler Justen Haynes has left the bluegrass band after a 12-year stint, playing his last show Jan. 6 at the Fairview Ruritan Club, Galax, Va. “Over the holidays, Justen and his family came to the conclusion that it was time for him to stay home more and concentrate on their new business (Haus Luc K9, a dog breeding and training site in Milford),” said bandleader Moore, who will name a new fiddler soon, in time to resume their touring come February . . . Nashville, currently produced by LionsGate Television Group, is in its final season on the CMT cable network. This marks its sixth season, since the nighttime drama’s 2012 debut on ABC-TV. Nashville was initially successful, but by 2016, the network canceled it due to declining viewership. Nonetheless, enough fans fought to save the prime-time drama and music program, prompting CMT to pick up the scuttled show. The final season kicked off Jan. 4, promising 16 episodes, reportedly with the final segment slated in summer 2018. Lionsgate executive Kevin Beggs, expressed the network’s belief “that creatively it is time for the series to come to its triumphant close at the end of the upcoming season.” . . . Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush reunited as award presenters for the Nov. 8 CMA awards gala, then resurfaced for the annual Dick Clark New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, special with Ryan Seacrest on ABC-TV. The duo has a new single, “Still the Same,” which sounds prophetic, since Sugarland (after a five-year split to pursue solo projects) has scheduled show-dates across the nation, hitting 48 cities, starting in May with gigs in Oklahoma, Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona, thru Sept. 4 in Newark, N.J., with a special homecoming show in Nashville, Aug. 2.
     Ailing: Veteran vocalist Mickey Gilley, 81, suffered injuries, Jan. 3, when his vehicle crashed and rolled off the Interstate, following a Texas gig, while enroute to Branson, Mo. Reportedly, Gilley sustained a fractured ankle, fractured right shoulder, along with various bumps and bruises. His son also suffered minor injuries in the accident. According to Gilley on Facebook: “We rolled a car about three times over . . . I am having a hard time walking, because I have a big boot on my left leg. But other than that, I’m doing pretty good . . . it’s kinda tough sometimes on the old man, but I don’t intend to retire. I will be out there on the road and I’ll see you real soon.” He hoped to resume touring by Jan. 20, appearing at the Orange Blossom Opry in Weirsdale, Fla. Gilley enjoyed his 16th and 17th #1 singles in 1983: “Fool For Your Love” and “Paradise Tonight” (duet with Charly McClain) . . . Loretta Lynn, 85, suffered a fall in her home shortly after the New Year arrived, that’s left her nursing a broken hip. Younger sister singer Crystal Gayle posted an Instagram citing the fall, asking “everyone send love and prayers” to the Country Hall of Famer. Gayle added, “ I was with Loretta yesterday. She is in good spirits and is doing as well as can be expected with this type of injury.” Last May, Loretta suffered a stroke and seemed well on her way to recovery before this latest mishap . . . Carrie Underwood, 34, sent a New Year’s Day message to her fan club that the November fall she suffered outside her home, which required wrist surgery, also prompted numerous facial stitches. In disclosing the extent of her injuries, she tweeted, “In addition to breaking my wrist, I somehow managed to injure my face as well. I’ll spare the the gruesome details, but when I came out of surgery the night of my fall, the doctor told Mike (her hubby) that he had put between 40 and 50 stitches in.” Although she said they’re healing, her mirror tells her she’s “not quite looking the same.” The star celebrated the release of her second concert DVD, Nov. 17, “The Storyteller Tour: Live From Madison Square Garden.”

Marge and Mac Wiseman.

     Final Curtain:  Marjory May (Brennan) Wiseman, 76, died Nov. 11 in Nashville. For 54 years she was Mrs. Mac Wiseman. Their initial meeting occurred while the singer was on tour in Canada. As Mac recalled, “I met her on a show up there. Actually, it was a package show headlining George Morgan as set up by Vic Lewis, a big promoter and very active, the sort who would be sure everything was in place for you. For some reason, George couldn’t make it, so Vic called me to see if I could put a band together and fill in. I remember I got Hillous Butrum (former Drifting Cowboy) and I can’t recall who else, except I’m sure a lot of them had recorded for me. “The first show was in Brantford, Ontario, where Marge lived. In fact, the concert was in a high school she had attended,” adds the member of both the Bluegrass and Country Music Halls of Fame. “Anyway, she caught my eye, this little gal who came from a family of 10, which included seven brothers. Come to find out, her family members were fans of mine. Brantford is a pleasant place on the Grand River, which had a few factories, and it’s known as Telephone City, because it’s where Alexander Graham Bell lived while inventing the telephone. We dated a while before we got married, so we got to know each other pretty well.” Thus Mac and Marge were wed April 29, 1962. Marjory cherished the life she had been blessed with, especially their children, daughter Maxine and son Scott Wiseman. Survivors also include brothers Jim, Floyd and George Brennan; and a sister, Dorothy Barton. Private arrangements were handled by Spring Hill Funeral Home & Cemetery, in Nashville.
Iconic music producer Rick Hall, 85, died from cancer at his home in Muscle Shoals, Ala., Jan. 2. Hall, as an itinerant musician played in the bands Country Pals and the rock and roll Fairlanes, but won lasting renown for work at his FAME Studios, founded in 1959, in Florence (with FAME meaning Florence, Alabama Music Enterprises), partnering with Billy Sherrill and Tom Stafford. Two years later, Rick relocated it to Muscle Shoals, as sole owner, hosting legendary names of pop, soul, country, rock, including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Brenda Lee, Clarence Carter, Etta James, Otis Redding, Duane Allman, The Osmonds, Mac Davis, Paul Anka, Keith Richards and country band Shenandoah. Back then, Rick was able to bring black and white musicians alike in to record in segregated Alabama, situated in the Deep South. As he once wrote of the 1960s, “It was a dangerous time, but the studio was a safe haven, where blacks and whites could work together in musical harmony.” Conway Twitty, anxious to discard his rock status, came aboard to record country style in his mid-1960s’ effort to convince Decca Records’ Owen Bradley he could score in that genre. Obviously he proved his point, going on to cut 40 #1 country discs, including duets with Loretta Lynn. Actually a native of neighboring Forest Grove, Miss., Hall made his mark so well, he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame (1985) and was recipient of a 2014 Grammy Trustees Award. A multi-instrumentalist, he earned plaudits as producer, songwriter (with cuts by Roy Orbison, George Jones and Brenda Lee) and publisher. A 2013 music film documentary “Muscle Shoals” depicted his achievements, as did his memoirs “The Man From Muscle Shoals: My Journey From Shame to Fame,” published in 2015. In that book, Hall explained, “Black music helped broaden my musical horizons and open my eyes and ears to the widespread appeal of the so-called ‘race’ music that later became known as Rhythm & Blues.” Survivors include wife Linda Kay Hall, sons Rick, Jr., Mark and Rodney, and five grandchildren.
    Patricia Diane Frakes, 80, daughter of pioneer studio drummer Farris Coursey (“There Stands The Glass,” Webb Pierce; “Fraulein,” Bobby Helms) died Jan. 3. She had been a dental assistant to her brother-in-law Dr. Grady Bryant. A devoted member of the First Baptist Church, Goodlettsville. Survivors include daughter Karen Thompson, son Farris Scott Frakes, and two grandchildren Talon and Caitlin. Services were conducted Jan. 8 by Cole & Garrett Funeral Home, with graveside prayer at Forest Lawn Cemetery.
     Tennessee Radio Hall of Famer Hairl Hensley, 81, died Dec. 31 in Mt. Juliet, Tenn. Known as “Dean of the Grand Ole Opry announcers,” Hensley was an East Tennessee native, who moved to Nashville after working at WNOX-Knoxville, hosting the Tennessee Barn Dance, to DJ in Music City, first at WKDA and WMAK before being engaged as WLAC program director. In 1972, he was hired by WSM, where he served 35 years as Opry announcer, and hosting the station’s Orange Possum Special bluegrass program, and announcing The Porter Wagoner Show. In 1995, Hairl was inducted into the DJ Hall of Fame, and into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame in 2014. Additional honors include CMA DJ of the Year in 1975; and the 2000 Voice Award Personality of the Year. Preceded in death by wife Paula Jones Hensley, survivors include children Lisa Metzel, Hairl Scott Hensley, and Bronie Victory, plus stepchildren Susan Cowden and Robert Kennedy; and numerous grandchildren. Services were conducted Jan. 5 by Spring Hill Funeral Home & Cemetery.
     Bluegrass Hall of Famer Curly Seckler, 98, died in his sleep, Dec. 27. Seckler and wife Eloise Warren Seckler (formerly widowed by fiddler Paul Warren) celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary Dec. 26, the day after his 98th birthday. Seckler, like pal Mac Wiseman, was one of the original Flatt & Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys, working on and off for the duo from 1949 to 1962, appearing with them on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. Curly’s distinctive tenor’s best heard on Flatt & Scruggs’ “Salty Dog Blues,” “Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and “I’ll Go Steppin’, Too.” He had earlier performed with Charlie Monroe’s Kentucky Pardners, and later Mac Wiseman’s Country Boys, the Stanley Brothers’ Clinch Mountain Boys, Jim & Jesse’s Virginia Boys, and lastly Lester Flatt’s Nashville Grass, assuming role of bandleader upon Flatt’s 1979 death.
Born John Ray Sechler on Christmas Day 1919, to Carrie and Calvin Sechler in China Grove, N.C., he later changed the spelling to Seckler, thinking it easier to pronounce. Curly became best known for his rhythm mandolin pickin’ and tenor harmony vocals in duets and such, heard to good effect on Flatt & Scruggs’ 1949 “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and Jim & Jesse’s 1952 ballad “Are You Missing Me?” His musical talents evolved from his father who played harmonica, autoharp and fiddle, while mom played guitar and organ. It was she who taught him and brothers George and Duard the basics of pickin’ and singin’. Curly purchased a tenor banjo from local musician Happy Trexler, who would engage the siblings for his band. As another brother grew old enough, they began a family band, The Yodeling Rangers. Before long, the boys were performing daily on a radio program in Salisbury, N.C., and a short time later, they became The Trail Riders. At 19, Curly joined nationally-known Charlie Monroe’s band (after his split from brother Bill Monroe), performing on WBIG-Greensboro, N.C. Curly was just 19. In 1941, he bought his first mandolin.
Although he dropped out of school after the sixth grade to work in a local cotton mill, Curly was a quick learner, and even got to writing songs, among these were “That Old Book of Mine,” “Purple Heart,” “No Mother Or Dad” and “I’ll Never Shed Another Tear,” the latter two recorded by Flatt & Scruggs. After leaving the duo in 1962, he took time off from touring until Lester called on him to join his new band Nashville Grass in 1973. Seckler stepped away from the band in 1994, when he opted for retirement, though he continued to record, four albums, including “60 Years of Bluegrass With My Friends,” “Bluegrass, Don’t You Know,” and performed at special events as the occasion rose.
The International Bluegrass Music Association presented him a Distinguished Achievement Award in 1996, and inducted him into their prestigious Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2010, he was honored by his home state with induction into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. In 2016, Penny Parsons authored his biography “Foggy Mountain Troubadour: The Life & Music of Curly Seckler.” Survivors include wife Eloise, sons Ray and Monnie Seckler, stepchildren Gary and Johnny Warren and Debra Frazier; six grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and two great-great grandchildren. Funeral services were held at Spring Hill Funeral Home with interment in Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens, Jan. 1.

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Music City Beat – December 2017

‘The Gambler,’ Kenny Rogers, Holds a Winning Hand!

NASHVILLE — For the finale, Kenny Rogers took the spotlight as Nashville hitmakers paid tribute to the Country Music Hall of Famer during an “All In For The Gambler” tribute in the Bridgestone Arena here, Oct. 25. Among those coming to town to salute the veteran entertainer was ex-duet partner Dolly Parton, who declared, “I know I’m artificial but I like to think my heart is real, and I have a spot there for you that’s never ever going to be touched by anybody else,” then serenaded him with her self-penned classic “I Will Always Love You.” Rogers announced in 2015 he’ll retire upon completion of his world tour, which concludes in December. Opening the show was the Oak Ridge Boys recreating Rogers’ “Love Or Something Like It,” and also taking the stage in tribute throughout were luminaries like Kris Kristofferson, Lionel Richie, Lady Antebellum, Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town. The day before, Rogers was feted with induction into the Music City Walk of Fame by way of a cement star bearing his name implanted on the pathway, across the street from the downtown Country Hall of Fame. As most fans are aware, Rogers first scored career-wise with his First Edition group (mainly featuring former members of The New Christy Minstrels), hitting the charts with such late 1960s’ classics as “I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” and “Reuben James.” Solo he chalked up country-pop crossover cuts like “Lucille,” “She Believes In Me,” “Coward Of the County,” “Lady” (which Lionel Richie wrote), million sellers all, and the 1983 platinum single “Islands In the Stream” (with Parton). Other famed duet partners he recorded with include the late Dottie West, Kim Carnes, Sheena Easton and Ronnie Milsap. Rogers’ 1978 monster hit “The Gambler,” spawned a series of films, one featuring Reba McEntire, who paid her respects here singing “Reuben James.” Other Rogers’ films include “Six Pack,” “Coward Of the County” and “Rio Diablo.” Wynonna dedicated “You Turn the Light On” to Kenny, then beckoned mom Naomi join in for “Back To The Well,” marking a momentary reuniting of The Judds. The prize for traveling the longest distance goes to Richie, winging his way from Australia, to sing “Lady.” Producer Keith Wortman deserves a tip of the Stetson for conceiving and casting the farewell show, during most of which Kenny and wife Wanda viewed from the sidelines. Rogers, 79, seemed a bit shaky taking the stage to participate with Parton for their “mic drop” finale, and mainly sat on a stool beside her as she spoke of their long association, before reprising their greatest hit “Islands In the Stream” (penned by BeeGees’ siblings Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb). At its conclusion, Dolly suggested to Kenny, “How about me and you going out like rock stars?,” as they held out their microphones, then dropped them before sauntering off stage together. It was a memorable night for the artists and the audience.
      Scene Stealers: Kris Kristofferson came back to Nashville to help promote the release of a concert film “The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson,” comprised of footage from a March 2017 all-star tribute at the Bridgestone Arena. Following a telecast Oct. 27 on the CMT cable network, the video will be available in stores nationwide. Kris, 81, was not only born into a military family in Brownsville, Texas, but went on to serve as an Army helicopter pilot reaching the rank of captain before being honorably discharged, much to the chagrin of his dad, who retired from the Army Air Corps a two-star general (and Kris’ Swedish granddad had also been an officer in the Swedish army). A Pomona College graduate, in 1960, Kris obtained a Ph.D in English literature and earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University in the UK. Anxious to jumpstart his music career, primarily as a songwriter, he relocated to Nashville, where to feed an empty stomach, he took a job as janitor sweeping floors at Columbia Records, until Dave Dudley gave him his first success singing his “Vietnam Blues” (#12, 1966), followed by Roy Drusky’s smooth vocal on “Jody & The Kid,” a 1968 Top 20, Roger Miller’s “Me & Bobby McGee” (#12, 1969), and Faron Young’s “Your Time’s Coming” (#3, 1969), though 1970 was the year that sealed his fate as writer, when Jerry Lee Lewis had a near chart-topper with Kris’ “Once More With Feeling,” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (Johnny Cash), “For the Good Times” (Ray Price) and “Help Me Make It Through The Night” (Sammi Smith) all hit #1, earning him beaucoup best writer awards. The rest is history, with him attaining his first #1 disc that he recorded, “Why Me” in 1973, and starring in a succession of movies, notably “Cisco Pike,” “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” and “A Star Is Born.” Currently, he suffers from Lyme Disease, yet continues to make appearances on stage and in films, most recently playing himself in Stephen Dorff’s 2017 release “Wheeler,” directed by Ryan Ross. Kris was named to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the National Songwriters Hall of Fame and inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2004.
        Bits & Pieces: Looks like Lee Thomas Miller’s been taking his recent visits to lobby on behalf of songwriters in Washington, D.C., to heart, as rumor has it he’s filed the proper papers enabling him to seek the seat being vacated by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). She’s planning to run for the U.S. Senate seat Bob Corker’s retiring from in 2018. Miller, president of Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), is a veteran tunesmith himself, having penned seven #1 songs including Joe Nichols’ “The Impossible,” Brad Paisley’s “I’m Still a Guy,” and Terri Clark’s “I Just Wanna Be Mad.”  . . . An Oct. 27 shooting suspect faced aggravated assault charges in Tupelo, Miss., for wounding a man in the chest, following a Jason Aldean concert. Steven Michael Hulbert, 22, allegedly pulled out his pistol during an argument, firing a half-dozen shots, wounding a victim and damaging vehicles in the arena parking lot. The victim, who was not identified, was subsequently treated and released from North Mississippi Medical Center. Reportedly, he alerted police that the suspect was attempting to flee in his car, and he was apprehended and taken to Lee County Jail. Patrons still inside the arena were held, pending a police all-clear signal. Hulbert was held in Lee County Jail, pending $100,000 bond, paid the next day, and awaits a scheduled court hearing. Ironically, during the gig, Aldean lamented the recent assault gun massacre in Las Vegas, Oct. 1, where Stephen Paddock killed 57, wounded close to 500 other fans, and took his own life, in country music’s worst shooting on record . . . Apparently due to gun control sympathies, following the Oct. 1 Vegas disaster, perpetrated by Stephen Paddock, armed with an assault weapon, killing 57 people, NRA Country has since erased Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett from its website. In 2010, they were among the first welcomed with open arms into the National Rifle Association’s then-new program NRA Country, and even earned star of the month status. Obviously, it seemed a perfect fit for the conservative association (which lobbies congress with a heavy hand, dissing any gun control proposals), and Nashville’s down-home country community boasting such gun-friendly folk as Hank Williams, Jr. (“Gonna Go Huntin’ Tonight”) and Toby Keith (“Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue, The Angry American”). Politically, it’s true country has long favored far-right Republicans, proving just that in 2003, when liberal ladies – The Dixie Chicks – criticized President George W. Bush abroad, only to return stateside to find a major industry-wide boycott of their music, for speaking out against Bush policies . . . Carrie Underwood’s hubby Mike Fisher has been invited to serve as Grand Marshal of Nashville’s 64th annual Christmas Parade, sponsored by Piedmont National Gas, slated Dec. 2 downtown. It’s likely the first time a hockey hero has been invited to do the honors, but Mike’s glad to take on the challenge, noting a portion of the proceeds from the event will benefit the   Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt

     Honors: Yet another country music icon’s being celebrated on Lower Broad, this time it’s Bakersfield Sound specialist Merle Haggard. According to Bill & Shannon Miller, the Country Music Hall of Famer’s museum will also include Merle’s Meat & Three Saloon, with a Summer 2018 scheduled opening at 121 Third Avenue South, next to Miller’s Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash museums. Reportedly, the site will exhibit awards, instruments, costumes and other memorabilia of the man who was as famous for his songwriting as for his unique vocals, thanks to such songs as “Swinging Doors,” “Mama Tried,” “Okie From Muskogee” and “The Fightin’ Side of Me.” (The Hag died on his 79th birthday, April, 6, 2016.) . . . Incidentally, Merle Haggard was posthumously presented the Country Music Association’s Joe Talbot Award, Oct. 30, by CMA’s Sarah Trahern, chief executive officer, which was accepted by his widow Theresa. The award goes to those who foster “outstanding leadership and contributions to the preservation and advancement of country music’s values and traditions.” Joe Talbot, a steel guitarist, spent his later life working behind the scenes advancing the interests of the country music business community and served as Lifetime Director for the CMA, prior to his passing in 2003 . . .  Alan Jackson accepted his Fame medal, Oct. 22, officially acknowledging his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, home to many of his heroes, including newly inducted Jerry Reed, who died in 2008, and ace songwriter Don Schlitz, who stated, “It’s overwhelming . . . It means I’m a part of something that’s bigger than me, and that’s a great thing, to be a part of, something that’s bigger than yourself.” Undoubtedly, each has earned the honor of being enshrined as the Class of 2017, and all three could claim credit as songwriter, as Jackson, 59, wrote his first seven Billboard chartings, including “Here In the Real World,” “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow,” “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” and “Someday.” Jerry Reed, like Jackson scored as a recording artist, but wrote his 1967 breakthrough song “Guitar Man,” reflecting his expertise on the instrument, and his first #1 “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” and co-wrote “East Bound and Down,” heard in the Burt Reynolds’ film “Smokey & The Bandit,” in which he played. Other film roles Reed contributed include “Gator,” “What Comes Around” and “The Waterboy.” Schlitz, 65, provided songs for a variety of artists, including “The Gambler” (Kenny Rogers), which Don himself first cut for Capitol in 1978, “Forever & Ever, Amen” (Randy Travis), “Old School” (John Conlee) and “Strong Enough To Bend” (Tanya Tucker) . . . The Nashville Songwriters Association International conducted its 47th annual Hall of Fame gala, inducting five composers into its prestigious hall of honor, Oct. 23: Walt Aldridge, Dewayne Blackwell, Jim McBride, Tim Nichols and the late Vern Gosdin. Accepting on behalf of Gosdin, who died in April 2009, was former co-writer-producer Buddy Cannon. Known mostly as “The Voice,” Gosdin co-wrote some of his greatest hits, among them “If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong, Do It Right,” “Do You Believe Me Now,” “Set ‘Em Up, Joe” and “I’m Still Crazy” (co-authored by Cannon). Aldridge’s credits include “No Getting Over Me” (Ronnie Milsap), “Holding Her and Loving You” (Earl Thomas Conley) and “Modern Day Bonnie & Clyde” (Travis Tritt). Among Blackwell’s best are “Mr. Blue” (The Fleetwoods), “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino To Decorate Our Home” (David Frizzell) and “Friends In Low Places” (Garth Brooks). Jim McBride wrote such standards as “A Bridge That Just Won’t Burn” (Conway Twitty),  “Bet Your Heart On Me” (Johnny Lee), and “Chattahoochee” (Alan Jackson). Tim Nichols hit pay-dirt with such as “I’m Over You” (Keith Whitley), “Live Like You Were Dyin’” (Tim McGraw) and “I’ll Think Of a Reason Later” (Lee Ann Womack). At the same ceremony, NSAI awarded the Keith Urban single “Blue Ain’t Your Color” its Song of the Year trophy to writers Clint Lagerberg, Hillary Lindsey and Steven Lee Olsen. Ashley Gorley was voted Songwriter of the Year, his third, for supplying hits like “Today” to Brad Paisley, Jon Pardi’s “Dirt on My Boots,” and Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road.” Luke Bryan emerged with NSAI artist-songwriter of the year, having helped pen “Light It Up” and “What Makes You Country.”
     More Awards: CMA’s 51st annual awards celebration again was co-hosted (for the 10th time) by Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley, though this time they had to walk a fine line to balance humor with tragedy, notably the sad Las Vegas shooting incident that occurred only weeks earlier. Eric Church started the show with an amazing a capella rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Kicking off the evening’s entertainment, Underwood and Paisley picked on politics by parodying Carrie’s hit “Before He Cheats,” changing the topic to “Before He Tweets,” taking aim at the President, with the altered lyric “And it’s fun to watch/Yeah, that’s for sure/’Til little Rocket Man, starts a nuclear war . . . And then maybe he’ll think before he Tweets!” In addition to paying homage to the lives lost in the chaotic country concert in Vegas, scene of America’s deadliest shooting spree,  the show recognized major names lost this past year, among them Glen Campbell, Greg Allman, Don Williams, Troy Gentry, CMA’s Jo Walker-Meador, Norro Wilson, Billy Mize, and in memoriam Carrie performed a touching version of “Softly and Tenderly.” Those in the 2017 winner’s circle were Garth Brooks taking home his sixth Entertainer of the Year award; Miranda Lambert was voted best female vocalist; Chris Stapleton, male vocalist; Little Big Town, vocal group; The Brothers Osborne, vocal duo; Jon Pardi, best new artist; and Mac McAnally, guitarist, top musician. Taylor Swift’s “Better Man” by Little Big Town, earned song of the year; Keith Urban’s “Blue Ain’t Your Color” voted best single (co-produced by Keith and Dann Huff); “From a Room, Volume 1,” by Chris Stapleton, as produced by Chris and Dave Cobb, won best album; while the Glen Campbell-Willie Nelson collaboration “Funny How Time Slips Away” garnered best event; and Brothers Osborne’s video “It Ain’t My Fault,” directed by Wes Edwards & Ryan Silver, was voted tops. Days later, welcome news for the CMA and ABC-TV disclosed that the show scored a win in that night’s TV ratings, doubling its number from the year before. According to a press release, social listening impressions attained 4.56 billion, whatever, and ABC “delivered the highest rating for any network on any night this season with entertainment programming.” . . . As for the three royalty rights organizations during this Country Music Week in Nashville – SESAC, ASCAP and BMI – its members also celebrated in fine style. Justin Ebach got his premier #1 cut in January 2017 with “Sleep Without You,” which near year’s end earned him SESAC’s Songwriter of the Year honor. Brett Young took Ebach’s song to the top of the chart, and acknowledged it was co-written with Brett and Kelly Archer. Best Song of 2017 winner, however, was Billy Currington’s single “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To,” co-written with Cary Barlowe and Shy Carter. Lady Antebellum singer Hillary Scott received SESAC’s Humanitarian Award for philanthropic work with her group’s LadyAID Fund; and Kenny Rogers was presented SESAC’s Legacy Award for his music contributions. W.B.M. Music was named Publisher of the Year, all this on Nov. 5 . . . At ASCAP’s 55th annual awards night, Nov. 6, Ashley Gorley was named best songwriter, marking his fifth win in that category. This year’s Gorley output includes Brad Paisley’s “Today,” Jon Pardi’s “Dirt on My Boots,” and Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road.” Old Dominion’s Matthew Ramsey was voted Best Artist-Songwriter, thanks in part to “No Such Thing As a Broken Heart” and “Written In the Sand.” Kelsea Ballerina earned ASCAP’s Vanguard award “for those who help shape the future of American music.” Receiving the organization’s Founder’s Award was veteran singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, an honor reserved for those who not only have made contributions to the art form, but also inspire and influence fellow music creators. A touching tribute to the late Glen Campbell included writer Jimmy Webb performing his hit “By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” which Glen recorded, making it a classic . . . BMI’s main men at its 2017 awards presentation proved to be Bob DiPiero and Keith Urban, Nov. 7, at its headquarters on Music Row. DiPiero received the organization’s Icon Award in recognition for his lengthy list of contributions to the industry, including songs such as George Strait’s “Clear Blue Sky,” John Anderson’s “Money In the Bank” and Brooks & Dunn’s “Daddy’s Money,” all of which were performed during the reception by various artists. Urban was honored with BMI’s Champion Award for support to up-and-coming songwriters and musicians in the business. Among his philanthropic activities was helping to raise nearly $6 million for the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum via All For The Hall charity concerts, while also supporting music in the schools. According to Mike O’Neill, BMI president, “Your career is what dreams are made of . . . Through your philanthropy you are inspiring children across America with the same dreams.” In accepting the award, Urban insisted he was far from being a perfect person, but noted, “I’m a very flawed individual who has been given many chances over and over again to get my (life) together and I have people who have stood by me . . . I have been in this town 25 years now, and in that 25 years, I’ve been in three rehabs. I have people who have stood by me, because they believed in me and that gave me the chance to give back. I just love playing music. I love writing songs. I love making records.” And he’s also quite a guitarist. Ross Copperman won the best songwriter of 2017 trophy, his second, thanks to such songs as “I Know Somebody” (LoCash), “Noise” (Kenny Chesney) and “Wanna Be That Song” (Brett Eldredge). “H.O.L.Y.,” by Nate Cyphert, William Larsen and Mike Busbee was voted song of the year, as recorded by Florida Georgia Line. Another award went to Sony/ATV voted publisher of the year.
       Ailing: Bluegrass pioneer Bobby Osborne, 86, suffered a fall in his home and was rushed to a hospital, Nov. 27. The artist was still there when word came that he had been nominated for a Grammy award for his “Original” solo album in the bluegrass category. Earlier nods came for his contribution to a Rhonda Vincent collaboration and, of course, an effort with brother Sonny as The Osborne Brothers. After learning of his latest achievement, Bobby said, “It was such a surprise for me to hear, especially in here!” Days later he was released, and expected to return to the Opry with his Rocky Top X-Press band. Fifty-two years ago, The Osborne Brothers became Opry regulars, and their recordings “Rocky Top” and “Kentucky” each became official state songs. Bobby, noted for both his high tenor lead vocals and skilled mandolin playing, was wounded in the 1950s’ Korean War, during Marine Corps service, earning a Purple Heart . . . Singer Carrie Underwood, 34, also suffered a fall on the steps outside her home in mid-November, which required surgery on her wrist. She soon Tweeted, “I just wanted to let everyone know that I’m doing great. Had surgery on my wrist yesterday and all went well . . . even though I’ll be setting off airport metal detectors from now on.” The star celebrated the release of her second concert DVD, Nov. 17, “The Storyteller Tour: Live From Madison Square Garden.”
      Final Curtain: Ex-Texas Troubadour lead guitarist Leon Rhodes, 85, succumbed to a heart attack the morning of Dec. 9, 2017, at his Donelson neighborhood home here. The Texan had also been a WSM Grand Ole Opry staff band member (1966-1999), as well as a band regular on the syndicated Hee Haw TV series some 20years. Born March 10, 1932, son of Mary and James Rhodes, Leon first learned to play on his older brother’s guitar, and by age 16 was appearing on his hometown’s Big D Jamboree on KRLD-Dallas, playing guitar or drums, as needed. Leon had already recorded with such later legends as Lefty Frizzell and Ray Price, when “Texas Troubadour” Ernest Tubb engaged him for his renowned Troubadour band (1959-1966). Troubadour bandsmen Buddy Emmons and Jack Drake first heard Leon, and recommended E.T. hire him to succeed departing Billy Byrd. Besides Opry appearances and touring, Tubb utilized Rhodes on records, including “Waltz Across Texas,” and can be heard on vinyl calling out, “Take it away, Leon!” He worked the road with such players as Cal Smith and Jack Greene, and in sessions for such names as Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, George Strait, Reba McEntire and John Denver. Upon hearing of Rhodes’ passing, acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Chris Davies Scruggs wrote on Instagram: “In my opinion, Leon was one of the greatest country guitarists of all time, and one of the finest jazz men to ever take the stage in a cowboy suit.” He also worked behind-the-scenes as a musicians’ union official and board member. Survivors include Judi, his wife of 52 years; children Diane, Leon, Tonja, Todd, Tag, Tara, Tammy and Tandy; 25 grandchildren; and 17 great-grandchildren. Services were conducted at Hermitage Funeral Home & Gardens, here, Dec. 12.
     Ventriloquist and country comic Walter Alexander Houston, 85, died Oct. 28 at his home in Nashville with wife Sherry by his side. “Alex” learned to throw his voice at age 3, much to the amazement of his parents John and Mary Jo Houston, as he had only begun to talk a bit earlier. Initially, Alex toured the U.S., Japan and Europe with his dad’s dance troupe The Echo Inn Cloggers, while winning national championships. This developed his desire to perform, and with his dummy “Elmer” entertained for many years, culminating in a regular role for the duo on CBS-TV’s The Jimmy Dean Show (1957-’58). Following a move to Nashville, he hosted his own local variety program The Alex & Elmer Show three years, which led to guest spots on Hee Haw, and invitations to tour as opening act for such country artists as Alabama, Ronnie Milsap, Barbara Mandrell, Johnny Cash, Charley Pride, Conway Twitty, over a 30-year career, and even guesting on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. In later years, Alex performed with friends Jimmy & Emma Smith, as well as playing community venues in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. A celebration of life will be held March 17, 2018 at Life Changer’s Church, Pigeon Forge. Besides wife Sherry and “buddy” Elmer, survivors include daughters Laurie Canham, Bonnie Solomon, Cindy Hazen and Jennifer Sidham; sons Matthew and Sam Sidham; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
    Musician Terry Alan Elam, 66, of Brentwood, Tenn., died Oct. 11, following a brief illness. At 19 years old, Terry began working as a musician, but later veered off into artist representation, including co-managing artists such as Vince Gill, during 28 years with Fitzgerald-Hartley Management in Nashville. “My dad was a great guy who touched a lot of lives in the Nashville music business,” recalled son Brett Elam. Survivors include Donna, his wife of 42 years; daughter Erica Elam; sons Brett, Matthew and Scott Elam; mother Helen Elam Horne and four grandchildren

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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.