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.”