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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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Music City Beat – June 2017

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

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

Billy Ray Cyrus photo, above, by Patricia Presley.

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Music City Beat – May 2017

Music City Beat – May 2017

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

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

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Music City Beat – April 2017

Nashville columnist creates new stage drama . . .

Ed Morris

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

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Music City Beat – March 2017

Randy Travis Day in Nashville . . .

NASHVILLE — Randy Travis, 57, can look back on a good year career-wise, having been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last fall, and honored at an all-star tribute concert in Bridgestone Arena here, Feb. 8. Nashville Mayor Megan Berry even proclaimed it Randy Travis Day! Among stellar players paying homage to the N.C. native during a Heroes & Friends (sub-titled 1 Night, 1 Place, 1 Time) gala were Garth Brooks, Kenny Rogers, Tanya Tucker, Jamey Johnson, Alison Krauss, Travis Tritt, Chris Janson, Wynonna, Alabama and the Bellamy Brothers, as well as comedian Jeff Foxworthy. Since a massive stroke in 2013, it all seemed downhill for the seemingly trouble-prone performer, whose 16 #1 singles include “On The Other Hand,” “Forever and Ever, Amen,” “Too Gone, Too Long” and “Three Wooden Crosses.” Randy’s last hit was a remake of an old Travis title “I Told You So,” done as a duet with Carrie Underwood (#2, 2009), upping his total Top 10 singles chartings to 30. His 19-year marriage to manager Lib Hatcher ended in late 2010, and after a few arrests involving alcohol in 2012, he attempted to get his life back in order, returning to filmmaking, portraying a dying singer in “The Price” in 2013. On July 7, 2013, however, Randy suffered respiratory infection, but while hospitalized had a massive stroke. It left him partially paralyzed with halting speech and seemingly forever bound to a wheelchair. On March 21, 2015, Randy married Mary Davis, former wife of his Dallas dentist Dr. Ritchie Beougher. Reportedly they had been engaged since before his stroke, and she stood beside him through three tracheotomies, two brain surgeries, three bouts of pneumonia and staff infections, giving him hope for recovery, despite doctors’ dour warnings. After two-and-a-half strenuous years in rehab, Randy could walk haltingly with a cane, and his speech improved enough that he stunned Country Hall of Fame attendees the night of his induction by briefly singing “Amazing Grace.” Mary did a cameo as his wife in Travis’ last film “The Price,” finally released in June 2015. Relative newcomer Chris Young told The Tennessean newspaper, “What doesn’t he mean to country music, especially to someone who grew up as a baritone singer in country music? I would just constantly sing his stuff. He means a whole lot to a lot of singers, not just me.” The salute closed with a singalong: “Amazing Grace” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Profits benefit in part both victims of stroke and cardiovascular diseases, through the new Randy Travis Foundation. The day had also been declared Stroke Awareness Day in Travis’ honor by Tenn. Gov. Bill Haslam, who attended the show.

Scene Stealers: Well we all knew country queen Loretta Lynn, 84, was throwing her support behind businessman-turned reality TV star Donald Trump, during his presidential campaign, insisting to anyone within earshot: “Trump’s the only one who’s gonna turn our country around!” Lately she’s been scolding all those putting down his actions against Muslims, or holding up his cabinet choices in congress, and particularly those females (and others) parading and protesting against him: “I think they oughta leave him alone, and let him do his job as President!” She told Rolling Stone magazine, “They need to help him, not hinder him. Everybody ought to pitch in and help, do everything they can to help the man.” The Coal Miner’s Daughter also took issue with the Women’s Marches (which Reuters estimated at nearly five million persons, rallying across the nation), saying “A march is fine . . . (but) they should’ve done it with more class. I thought that Madonna and Ashley Judd (Naomi’s daughter) . . . they got a little too far out. For God’s sake, march if you want to, but do it with class!” . . . Luke Bryan was invited to sing The National Anthem live prior to the kick-off of the annual Super Bowl football competition at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, Feb. 5, probably America’s biggest sport event. Bryan chose to do so a cappella, and admittedly practiced doing so around the house before heading to Houston: “I didn’t want the risk of not singing it great or negative criticism to outweigh my love for the ability to get up to honor my country and my veterans. That’s the way you have to go at it.” The country star was the first male in a decade to do the honors (since Billy Joel’s version in 2007). Little wonder his rendition was well-received, as Bryan’s scored 17 #1 singles and earned two CMA Entertainer of the Year trophies. Vying early on for the spotlight were Broadway spectacular “Hamilton’s” Schuyler Sisters, singing “America The Beautiful,” and fresh from hospitalization, former President George H.W. Bush and his First Lady, helped start Super Bowl 51 with his coin toss, won by the Atlanta Falcons, who nonetheless lost in overtime (34-28) to the rival New England Patriots team. Incidentally, a former National Anthem singer, Lady Gaga wowed the audience with her half-time performance.

Bits & Pieces: Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman and hubby Steve welcomed a newly-adopted baby daughter New Year’s Eve, only sharing the news via Instagram on Jan. 12, with a picture of the couple and daughter Daisy Pearl, 9, surrounding the family’s newcomer. Kimberly accompanied the shot with the inscription: “The New Year brought our family new love. We’re so excited to introduce you to Daisy’s little sister, Dolly Grace.” . . . Shane McAnally and Jason Owen have teamed up to resurrect Fred Foster’s old label Monument Records in partnership with Sony Music Entertainment, reports Sony’s CEO Doug Morris. “We’re proud to be their partners under the iconic Monument label and management executive who has played an important role in the careers of some of Nashville’s biggest stars and most exciting newcomers, and Shane is an incredibly accomplished songwriter and fantastic talent developer.” Already signed to the “new” label are Caitlin Smith and Walker Hayes. A press release stressed Monument is an imprint of SME and not Sony Music Nashville, and will employ a staff of “creative and innovation thinkers.” According to Morris, “It’s always an amazing opportunity to work with two people who are as talented and nice as Jason and Shane.” Owen has managed such stars as Faith Hill, Dan+Shay and Little Big Town, while McAnally is regarded as one of Music City’s top writers with hits like Keith Urban’s “John Cougar, John Deere, John: 3:16,” Miranda Lambert’s “Vice” and Kenny Chesney’s “Noise,” and has produced such as Kacey Musgraves, Jake Owen and Kelly Clarkson. Past Monument Records legends include Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Jeannie Seely and screen star Robert Mitchum . . . Nice to know Jessi Colter’s releasing her first album in nearly a dozen years, the inspirational “Psalms,” out March 24. Fans loved her self-penned successes “I’m Not Lisa,” “What’s Happened To Blue Eyes” and “Storms Never Last” (as did Dottsy in 1975). This latest effort was co-produced by Lenny Kaye, and sort of coincides with the singer’s autobiography “An Outlaw & A Lady: A Memoir of Music, Life With Waylon and The Faith That Brought Me Home,” published April 11. No doubt Colter, 73, will touch on her first marriage to guitar whiz Duane Eddy (1962-’68) in the days when she used her real name Miriam Johnson, and the couple had a daughter Jennifer. In 1969, she wed Waylon Jennings (with whom she has a son nicknamed Shooter) and cut hit duets with him as Jessi Colter, notably “Suspicious Minds” and “Wild Side of Life/It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” Jennings died in 2002 . . . Charlie McCoy, an original A Team session harmoni-cat, has completed his biography – “Fifty Cents & A Box Top: The Creative Life of Nashville Session Musician Charlie McCoy,” co-authored with Travis Stimeling, set for release by West Virginia University Press in June 2017. McCoy recalls as a youngster reading an ad promising a harmonica for 50-cents each, plus a cereal box top as proof of purchase, which he refers to in the book’s title. McCoy is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame . . . Jenny Gill, daughter of Vince Gill and Sweetheart of the Rodeo Janis Oliver, is promoting her debut EP, “The House Sessions,” released Feb. 17. “Every song on this project takes me to somewhere in my past,” says Jenny, who wrote five of the songs. “My favorite songs to write are those that reflect personal experiences instead of just telling a story.” Dad produced the session, which also offers a surprise vocal by Sheryl Crow. Jenny’s first video off the EP, “Lonely Lost Me,” boasts an appearance by her toddler son Wyatt . . . Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) has purchased country label BBR (Broken Bow Records) and subsidiaries, gaining its star catalog of such artists Jason Aldean, Trace Adkins, Randy Houser, and Dustin Lynch. Although BBR Music Group will still operate from Nashville, the agency’s 48 staffers transfer to BMG, but retain their positions. “We didn’t just buy artists contracts or their brand, we bought a family of people that have given life and value to those artists and the brand. This isn’t a tear-it-down, keep certain parts and make it jumbled and discombobulated,” explains Zach Katz, BMG president stateside. The transition to the German-based conglomerate could mean enhanced sales internationally, as well. BBR was initiated in 1997 by Benny Brown, who watched it develop from an indie into a major label producing platinum-selling albums and some 30-plus hit singles by eight artists with Craig Morgan being the first to deliver a #1, “That’s What I Love About Sunday.”

Honors: LeAnn Rimes received the Ally For Equality award at the Human Rights Campaign’s Nashville Equality Banquet, March 25 in the Renaissance Hotel downtown. According to Blake Brockway, co-chairman, “LeAnn Rimes is boldly using her influence in the music world to empower people to accept and be their true selves. An outspoken advocate (for the LGBTQ community), she is also making a difference in the lives of countless young people across the country by standing up for LGBTQ youth and speaking out against bullying.” The singer known best for “Blue,” “One Way Ticket” and “How Do I Live,” believes, “People should be able to love who they love,” noting, “I know how that feels to be judged and put down. So from the deepest part of my heart, I truly, truly support them.” . . . It’s worth noting, too, that Blake Shelton was the first country-oriented act to win best album overall in the annual People’s Choice awards, Jan. 18, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. His “If I’m Honest” surpassed tough competition: Rihanna’s “Anti,” Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” Drake’s “Views,” and Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman,” all pop entries. Recognizing the achievement, Shelton said, “These are artists that move the dial worldwide . . . I’m just going, ‘Golly, me? Really, me? I won?’ Of course, I don’t sell as many records . . . but it shows you the loyalty and energy of the country fan bases out there. This win means everything to me.” The Voice co-host also earned favorite country male star, while Carrie Underwood won best country female and Little Big Town scored as best country group . . . The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum played host to the following artists: Nashville Cats: Salute to Saxophonist Jim Horn, Feb. 25; and its Poets & Prophets: Salute to Songwriter Mike Reid, happened March 4.

Ailing: There we were “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” in Bakersfield, Ca., upon learning legendary Willie Nelson was a no show for his Crystal Palace gigs, Feb. 6-8, due to an “undisclosed ailment.” We learned later that also meant earlier postponement of his Las Vegas shows, too. No word yet on whether it was flu or maybe something more serious; however, we can hardly wait until our 83-year-old hero’s back “On the Road Again.”

Final Curtain: Steel guitarist George Edwards, 79, died Dec. 29 in Nashville with his family at his side. Edwards worked with The Kitty Wells-Johnnie Wright Family Show 25 years, and also backed such legendary country stars as Faron Young, Patsy Cline, Porter Waggoner, Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, Willie Nelson and Hank Williams, Jr. He recorded with such as Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Rosemary Clooney, Vic Damone, Manhattan Transfer and Kitty Wells. Born George Dungan Edwards IV, on June 2, 1937, he grew up on the family farm in Feasterville, Pa.

George nourished a love of fishing, football and finally steel guitar. He actually began playing steel at age 12, and by manhood found himself playing in New Jersey and New York area house bands. Working in Kitty and Johnnie’s Family Show, he shared the stage with their son Bobby Wright of McHale’s Navy TV fame, singer-daughter Ruby Wright (“Dern Ya”) and singer Bill Phillips (“Put It Off Until Tomorrow”), plus a host of Nashville’s finest musicians. George suffered a debilitating stroke just weeks after Kitty and Johnnie’s 2000 farewell performance. Survivors include Sallie, his wife of 58 years; their children Sherie, Lori and George V; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Services were held at Hendersonville Funeral Home, Jan. 3, and in lieu of flowers participants were encouraged to donate to the Grand Ole Opry Trust Fund.

Country rocker Billy Joe Burnette, 76, who co-wrote Red Sovine’s #1 smash “Teddy Bear” (1976), died Dec. 29, outside his Port Orange, Fla., home, while planning his move back to Nashville. In 1990, he charted Billboard with his country single “Three Flags,” released on the independent Badger label. Born Billy Joe Barnette in Richmond, Va., he was given up for adoption and grew up in Roanoke. After meeting brothers Dorsey and Johnny Burnette, fellow rockabillies, in Los Angeles in 1964, he took their advice and changed Barnette to Burnette. It was back in Roanoke that he met Dr. A. J. Russo, with whom he co-wrote “Stomp, Shake and Twist,” which garnered national attention, no doubt due to the popularity of The Twist dance rage. Dick Clark of TV’s American Bandstand show helped by plugging Billy Joe’s disc “Marlene,” recorded on Philadelphia’s Parkway Records label. In the next decade he was working out of Nashville, where his weeper “Teddy Bear,” concerning a truck driver and a crippled boy, earned Grammy and CMA nominations, as well as a BMI writer award. In 2009, he released a double CD collection, “Virginia Rocks! The History of Rockabilly in the Commonwealth,” celebrated at Ferrum College’s annual Blue Ridge Folklife Festival, where Burnette was honored for his contribution to the state’s music history. He performed regularly while residing in Florida, at Crabby Joe’s Deck & Grill on an oceanside fishing pier. Among his more recent records were tearjerkers “What Heaven Has Sent,” and “The White House Boys” a la “Teddy Bear.”

Ace drummer Hayward S. Bishop, Jr., 71, died in a Nashville hospital Jan. 4, following a lengthy illness. Bishop was a veteran session player, performing on records of such acts as Alabama, Chet Atkins, Jackie DeShannon, Donna Fargo, Barbara Mandrell, Ronnie Milsap, Oak Ridge Boys, Jerry Reed, Sam & Dave, Billy Joe Shaver and Gary Stewart. He was also heard on commercials, TV and film soundtracks. A native of Norfolk, Va., Bishop is survived by daughter Amy Bishop-Kyker; and two granddaughters Julia and Lauren. Services were held Jan. 19 at Tulip Grove Baptist Church in Old Hickory, Tenn.

Guitarist Billy Sanford mourns the Jan. 10th death of singer-wife of 55 years Carol Williams, whom he met while performers on the KWKH-Shreveport Louisiana Hayride show. The couple and their two baby girls moved to Nashville in 1964. He has since enjoyed major success, touring or recording with such stars as Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Crystal Gayle, Ray Charles, The Monkees, Donna Fargo, Billy Joe Royal and George Jones. Survivors besides Billy include their two daughters Ginger and Lori; two granddaughters; and a great-granddaughter. Services were conducted Jan. 16 at Hermitage Funeral Home, with The Reverend Kenneth Butcher officiating, followed by interment in Hermitage Memorial Gardens.

Colorful Nashvillian Willie-Ann Weakley, 83, died Jan. 11, in Nashville. She was the daughter of Hattie (Tootsie) Bess, original owner of the touristy Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Lower Broad; step-daughter to Big Jeff Bess of WLAC’s Radio Playboys; and widow of WSM Grand Ole Opry staff drummer Harold Weakley. Predeceased by husband Harold and daughter Melissa, Willie-Ann is survived by sons Larry, Michael and Terry Weakley; nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. Services were held Jan. 14 at Woodbine Funeral Home, officiated by Wendell Byrd, followed by interment in Woodlawn Cemetery.

Americana artist Greg Trooper, 61, died from pancreatic cancer, Jan. 15, according to wife Claire Mullally: “I am heartbroken to tell you that Greg died in my arms this morning, with our son Jack hugging us both. It was merciful and tender . . . He gave us so much, but left us too soon.” A singer-songwriter, Greg’s career got a boost via his lyrical creations cut by others, like “Little Sister” (Steve Earle, off “The Devil’s Right Hand,” 2001) and “We Won’t Dance” (Vince Gill, on his Platinum-selling 1989 CD “When I Call Your Name”). Born in Neptune, N.J., Trooper hailed from the small Jersey town of Little Silver, and was influenced by a diverse trio of musical talents: Bob Dylan, Otis Redding and Hank Williams. He relished the Greenwich Village music scene in his younger days. In addition to playing acoustic guitar, Trooper also performed on harmonica, mandolin and piano. “We Won’t Dance” was the title of The Greg Trooper Band’s 1986 debut album. In reviewing Trooper, BBC-2 radio’s Bob Harris proclaimed, “Great stuff from one of the great American songwriters.” More recently, Trooper released his 13th album, “Live At The Rock Room,” recorded there in Austin, Texas, at a January 2015 performance. Insider fans included Americana icon Buddy Miller, who produced Greg’s acclaimed CD “Popular Demons” (1998, Koch Records), and songbirds Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash, each of whom furnished harmony for Greg’s sessions. Claire says a memorial celebration is in the works, to be announced later.

Drummer Clyde “Butch” Trucks, 69, who earned distinction with the Allman Brothers Band, reportedly shot himself Jan. 24 at his home in West Palm Beach, Fla. Trucks allegedly shot himself in the head in the presence of his startled wife, who summoned police. Born Clyde Hudson Trucks in Jacksonville, Fla., Butch began drumming in the eighth grade and the next year entered Englewood High School, where he not only played in the school band, but also the Vikings and Echoes bands locally, before graduation. Additionally, Butch played timpani in the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, and attended Florida State University. There he formed a unit he named the Bitter Ind. While playing in that group, Butch met Duane Allman, who would engage him for occasional gigs. Three years after that first meeting, the Allman Brothers Band was formed (1968) in Macon, Ga., and their self-titled debut LP produced the now-classic “Whipping Post.” Charter members also included Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Berry Oakley and Jai Johnny Johanson. In 1971, 24-year-old Duane died in a motorcycle accident, and only a year later Berry also perished in a cycle crash. “Ramblin’ Man” (off their #1 ’73 Brothers and Sisters LP) was a near chart-topper for the Capricorn label band. Their live 1971 double-album smash “At Fillmore East” sold platinum, followed by further successes, notably “Eat a Peach” (1972, released after Duane’s death), “Win, Lose or Draw” (1975) and “Enlightened Rogues” (1979, their final Top 10). The band broke up at least three times up to 2014, reforming and releasing further albums through 2016. Butch led his own group, as well, titled Butch Trucks & The Freight Train Band, which had bookings through spring ’17, and had Butch drumming his final gig with them Jan. 6. “I’m heartbroken,” noted Gregg Allman. “I’ve lost another brother and it hurts beyond words. Butch and I knew each other since we were teenagers and we were band-mates for over 45 years. He was a great man and a great drummer, and I’m gonna miss him forever. Rest In Peace Brother Butch.” A police investigation determined Truck’s death a suicide. Survivors include wife Melinda and children Melody and Vaylor Trucks, and a nephew, guitarist Derek Trucks, who also played with Gregg Allman’s band.

The Jan. 25th death of screen star Mary Tyler Moore, 80, reminds us that she was owner of country music label MTM Records (1984-1988), which celebrated such country artists as Judy Rodman (“Until I Met You,” #1, 1986), Holly Dunn (“Love Someone Like Me,” #2, 1986); Girls Next Door (“Slow Boat to China,” #8, 1986), SKO (“Baby’s Got a New Baby,” #1, 1987) and solo Paul Overstreet (“Love Helps Those,” #3, 1988). Lesser lights on MTM’s roster included Becky Hobbs (“Jones On the Jukebox,” #31, 1988) and Marty Haggard (“Trains Make Me Lonesome,” #59, 1988). Brooklyn-born Moore became a star in hit TV sitcoms, The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-’66) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-’77), but also scored on the big screen in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Ordinary People,” for which she received a 1980 best actress Oscar nomination. (Ironically, Moore lost to Sissy Spacek’s portrayal of Loretta Lynn in “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”) Her umbrella organization, MTM Enterprises, was purchased by Britain’s Television South PLC in July 1988, and subsequently much of MTM Records’ output was sold off to RCA-Nashville. A longtime diabetes sufferer, Moore died while hospitalized with pneumonia, and is survived by her physician husband Robert Levine.

Nashville-based singer-songwriter Jimmy Smart, 85, co-host of TV series Smart Country and Nashville Video Showcase, died Feb. 5, after suffering Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), a brain disorder affecting mobility. Smart shared the stage with such notables as Whisperin’ Bill Anderson, Kitty Wells, Johnnie Wright, Jack Greene and Clinton Gregory. A native of Terrell, Texas, Jimmy won a 1958 Georgia Jubilee talent contest in East Point, Ga., prompting him to form a band and cut records. Smart initially charted Billboard with 1960 back-to-back Top 20 country discs “Broken Dream” and novelty number “Shorty.” He made his move to Nashville in ’87, where with singer-wife Lorraine formed JLS Productions, releasing such songs as “Tell Me What To Do About Today,” “Forget You,” “Tommy’s Heroes” and “Second Thoughts,” also co-hosting their Video Showcase series 13 years, as well as Smart Country, giving a helping hand to such future stars as Joe Diffie, Little River Band and Chris Young. In 2013, fiddler-guitarist Jimmy was diagnosed with PLS, which curtailed his own performing career. An Air Force veteran of the Korean War, upon discharge, Smart worked a day job with Delta Airlines out of Atlanta for many years. Predeceased by son Scott, he is survived by wife of 29 years Lorraine, daughters Lisa and Lori, sons Michael, Anthony and Terry, 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Services were conducted Feb. 8 at Hendersonville Funeral Home, with interment in nearby Memory Gardens.

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Music City Beat – February 2017

Music City Beat – February 2017

NASHVILLE — Randy Travis, 57, can look back on a good year career-wise, having been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last fall, and honored at an all-star tribute concert in Bridgestone Arena here, Feb. 8. Nashville Mayor Megan Berry even proclaimed it Randy Travis Day! Among stellar players paying homage to the N.C. native during a Heroes & Friends (sub-titled 1 Night, 1 Place, 1 Time) gala were Garth Brooks, Kenny Rogers, Tanya Tucker, Jamey Johnson, Alison Krauss, Travis Tritt, Chris Janson, Wynonna, Alabama and the Bellamy Brothers, as well as comedian Jeff Foxworthy. Since a massive stroke in 2013, it all seemed downhill for the seemingly trouble-prone performer, whose 16 #1 singles include “On The Other Hand,” “Forever and Ever, Amen,” “Too Gone, Too Long” and “Three Wooden Crosses.” Randy’s last hit was a remake of an old Travis title “I Told You So,” done as a duet with Carrie Underwood (#2, 2009), upping his total Top 10 singles chartings to 30. His 19-year marriage to manager Lib Hatcher ended in late 2010, and after a few arrests involving alcohol in 2012, he attempted to get his life back in order, returning to filmmaking, portraying a dying singer in “The Price” in 2013. On July 7, 2013, however, Randy suffered respiratory infection, but while hospitalized had a massive stroke. It left him partially paralyzed with halting speech and seemingly forever bound to a wheelchair. On March 21, 2015, Randy married Mary Davis, former wife of his Dallas dentist Dr. Ritchie Beougher. Reportedly they had been engaged since before his stroke, and she stood beside him through three tracheotomies, two brain surgeries, three bouts of pneumonia and staff infections, giving him hope for recovery, despite doctors’ dour warnings. After two-and-a-half strenuous years in rehab, Randy could walk haltingly with a cane, and his speech improved enough that he stunned Country Hall of Fame attendees the night of his induction by briefly singing “Amazing Grace.” Mary did a cameo as his wife in Travis’ last film “The Price,” finally released in June 2015. Relative newcomer Chris Young told The Tennessean newspaper, “What doesn’t he mean to country music, especially to someone who grew up as a baritone singer in country music? I would just constantly sing his stuff. He means a whole lot to a lot of singers, not just me.” The salute closed with a singalong: “Amazing Grace” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Profits benefit in part both victims of stroke and cardiovascular diseases, through the new Randy Travis Foundation. The day had also been declared Stroke Awareness Day in Travis’ honor by Gov. Bill Haslam, who attended the show.

      Scene Stealers: Well we all knew country queen Loretta Lynn was throwing her support behind business man-turned reality TV star Donald Trump, during his presidential campaign, insisting to anyone within earshot: “Trump’s the only one who’s gonna turn our country around!” Lately she’s been scolding all those putting down his actions against Muslims, holding up his cabinet choices in congress, and particularly those females and others parading and protesting against him: “I think they oughta leave him alone, and let him do his job as President!” She told Rolling Stone magazine, “They need to help him, not hinder him. Everybody ought to pitch in and help, do everything they can to help the man.” The Coal Miner’s Daughter also took issue with the Women’s Marches (which Reuters estimated at nearly five million persons rallying across the nation), saying “A march is fine . . . (but) they should’ve done it with more class. I thought that Madonna and Ashley Judd (Naomi’s daughter) . . . they got a little too far out. For God’s sake, march if you want to, but do it with class!” . . . Luke Bryan was invited to sing The National Anthem live prior to the kick-off of the annual Super Bowl football competition at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, Feb. 5, probably America’s biggest sport event. Bryan chose to do so a cappella, and admittedly practiced doing so around the house before heading to Houston: “I didn’t want the risk of not singing it great or negative criticism to outweigh my love for the ability to get up to honor my country and my veterans. That’s the way you have to go at it.” The country star was the first male in a decade to do the honors (since Billy Joel’s version in 2007). Little wonder his rendition was well-received, as Bryan’s scored 17 #1 singles and earning two CMA Entertainer of the Year trophies. Vying early on for the spotlight were Broadway spectacular “Hamilton’s” Schuyler Sisters, singing “America The Beautiful, and fresh from hospitalization, former President George H.W. Bush and his First Lady, helped start Super Bowl 51 with his coin toss, won by the Atlanta Falcons, who nonetheless lost in overtime (34-28) to the rival New England Patriots team. Incidentally, a former National Anthem singer, Lady Gaga wowed the audience with her half-time performance.

      Bits & Pieces: Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman and hubby Steve welcomed a newly-adopted baby daughter New Year’s Eve, only sharing the news via Instagram on Jan. 12, awith a picture of the couple and daughter Daisy Pearl, 9, surrounding the family’s newcomer. Kimberly accompanied the shot with the inscription: “The New Year brought our family new love. We’re so excited to introduce you to Daisy’s little sister, Dolly Grace.” . . . Shane McAnally and Jason Owen have teamed up to resurrect Fred Foster’s old label Monument Records in partnership with Sony Music Entertainment, reports Sony’s CEO Doug Morris. “We’re proud to e their partners under the iconic Monument label and management executive who has played an important role in the careers of some of Nashville’s biggest starts and most exciting newcomers, and Shane is an incredibly accomplished songwriter and fantastic talent developer.” Already signed to the “new” label are Caitlin Smith and Walker Hayes. A press release stressed Monument is an imprint of SME and not Sony Music Nashville, and will employ a staff of “creative and innovation thinkers.” According to Morris, “It’s always an amazing opportunity to work with two people who are as talented and nice as Jason and Shane.” Owen has managed such stars as Faith Hill, Dan+Shay and Little Big Town, while McAnally is regarded as one of Music City’s top writers with hits like Keith Urban’s “John Cougar, John Deere, John: 3:16,” Miranda Lambert’s “Vice” and Kenny Chesney’s “Noise,” and has produced such as Kacey Musgraves, Jake Owen and Kelly Clarkson. Past Monument Records legends include Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Jeannie Seely and screen star Robert Mitchum . . . Nice to know Jessi Colter’s releasing her first album in nearly a dozen years, the inspirational “Psalms,” due out March 24. Fans loved her self-penned successes “I’m Not Lisa,” “What’s Happened To Blue Eyes” and “Storms Never Last” (as did Dottsy in 1975). This latest effort was co-produced by Lenny Kaye, and sort of coincides with the singer’s autobiography “An Outlaw & A Lady: A Memoir of Music, Life With Waylon and The Faith That Brought Me Home,” being published April 11. No doubt Colter, 73, will touch on her first marriage to guitar whiz Duane Eddy (1962-’68) in the days when she used her real name Miriam Johnson, and the couple had a daughter Jennifer. In 1969, she wed Waylon Jennings, with whom she has a son nicknamed Shooter, and cut hit duets with Waylon as Jessi Colter, notably “Suspicious Minds” and “Wild Side of Life/It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” Jennings died in 2002 . . . Charlie McCoy, an original A Team session harmoni-cat, has completed his biography – “Fifty Cents & A Box Top: The Creative Life of Nashville Session Musician Charlie McCoy,” co-authored with Travis Stimeling, set for release by West Virginia University Press in June 2017. McCoy recalls as a youngster reading an ad promising a harmonica for 50-cents each, plus a cereal box top as proof of purchase, which he refers to in the book’s title. McCoy is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame . . . Jenny Gill, daughter of Vince Gill and Sweetheart of the Rodeo Janis Oliver, is promoting her debut EP, “The House Sessions,” released Feb. 17. “Every song on this project takes me to somewhere in my past,” says Jenny, who wrote five of the songs. “My favorite songs to write are those that reflect personal experiences instead of just telling a story.” Dad produced the session, which also offers a surprise vocal by Sheryl Crow. Jenny’s first video off the EP, “Lonely Lost Me,” boasts an appearance by her toddler son Wyatt . . . Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) has purchased country label BBR (Broken Bow Records) and subsidiaries, gaining its star catalog from such artists Jason Aldean, Trace Adkins, Randy Houser, and Dustin Lynch. Although BBR Music Group will still operate from Nashville, the agency’s 48 staffers transfer to BMG, but retaining their positions. “We didn’t just buy artists contracts or their brand, we bought a family of people that have given life and value to those artists and the brand. This isn’t a tear-it-down, keep certain parts and make it jumbled and discombobulated,” explains Zach Katz, BMG president stateside. The transition to the German-based conglomerate could mean enhanced sales internationally, as well. BBR was initiated in 1997 by Benny Brown, who watched it develop from an indie into a major label producing platinum-selling albums and some 30-plus singles by eight artists with Craig Morgan being the first to deliver a #1 single “That’s What I Love About Sunday.”

Honors: LeAnn Rimes will receive the Ally For Equality Award at the Human Rights Campaign’s Nashville Equality Banquet, March 25 in the Renaissance Hotel downtown. According to Blake Brockway, co-chairman, “LeAnn Rimes is boldly using her influence in the music world to empower people to accept and be their true selves. An outspoken advocate (for the LGBTQ community), she is also making a difference in the lives of countless young people across the country by standing up for LGBTQ youth and speaking out against bullying.” The singer known best for “Blue,” “One Way Ticket” and “How Do I Live,” believes, “People should be able to love who they love,” noting, “I know how that feels to be judged and put down. So from the deepest part of my heart, I truly, truly support them.” . . . It’s worth noting, too, that Blake Shelton is the first country-oriented act to win best album overall in the annual People’s Choice awards, Jan. 18, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. His “If I’m Honest” surpassed tough competition: Rihanna’s “Anti,” Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” Drake’s “Views,” and Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman,” all pop entries. Recognizing the achievement, Shelton said, “These are artists that move the dial worldwide . . . I’m just going, ‘Golly, me? Really, me? I won?’ Of course, I don’t sell as many records . . . but it shows you the loyalty and energy of the country fan bases out there. This win means everything to me.” The Voice co-host also earned favorite country male star, while Carrie Underwood won best country female and Little Big Town scored as best country group . . . The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum play host to the following artists: Nashville Cats: Salute to Saxophonist Jim Horn, Feb. 25; and its Poets & Prophets: Salute to Songwriter Mike Reid, March 4.

        Ailing: There we were “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” in Bakersfield, Ca., upon learning legendary Willie Nelson was a no show for his Crystal Palace gigs, Feb. 6-8, due to an “undisclosed ailment.” We learned later that also meant earlier postponement of his Las Vegas shows, too. No word yet on whether it was flu or maybe something more serious; however, we can hardly wait until our 83-year-old hero’s back “On the Road Again.”

Final Curtain: Steel guitarist George Edwards, 79, died Dec. 29 in Nashville with his family at his side. Edwards worked with The Kitty Wells-Johnnie Wright Family Show 25 years, and also backed such legendary country stars as Faron Young, Patsy Cline, Porter Waggoner, Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, Willie Nelson and Hank Williams, Jr. He recorded with such as Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Rosemary Clooney, Vic Damone, Manhattan Transfer and Kitty Wells. Born George Dungan Edwards IV, on June 2, 1937, he grew up on the family farm in Feasterville, Pa. George nourished a love of fishing, football and finally steel guitar. He actually began playing steel at age 12, and by manhood found himself playing in New Jersey and New York area house bands. Working in Kitty and Johnnie’s Family Show, he shared the stage with their son Bobby Wright of McHale’s Navy TV fame, singer-daughter Ruby Wright (“Dern Ya”) and singer Bill Phillips (“Put It Off Until Tomorrow”), plus a host of Nashville’s finest musicians. George suffered a debilitating stroke just weeks after Kitty and Johnnie’s 2000 farewell performance. Survivors include Sallie, his wife of 58 years; their children Sherie, Lori and George V; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Services were held at Hendersonville Funeral Home, Jan. 3, and in lieu of flowers participants were encouraged to donate to the Grand Ole Opry Trust Fund.

Country rocker Billy Joe Burnette, 76, who co-wrote Red Sovine’s #1 smash “Teddy Bear” (1976), died Dec. 29, outside his Port Orange, Fla., home, while planning his move back to Nashville. In 1990, he charted Billboard with his country single “Three Flags,” released on the independent Badger label. Born Billy Joe Barnette in Richmond, Va., he was given up for adoption and grew up in Roanoke. After meeting brothers Dorsey and Johnny Burnette, fellow rockabillies, in Los Angeles in 1964, he took their advice and changed Barnette to Burnette. It was back in Roanoke that he met Dr. A. J. Russo, with whom he co-wrote “Stomp, Shake and Twist, which garnered national attention, no doubt due to the popularity of The Twist dance rage. Dick Clark of TV’s American Bandstand show helped by plugging Billy Joe’s disc “Marlene,” recorded on Philadelphia’s Parkway Records label. In the next decade he was working out of Nashville, where his “Teddy Bear,” concerning a truck driver and a crippled boy, earned Grammy and CMA nominations, as well as a BMI writer award. In 2009, he released a double CD collection, “Virginia Rocks! The History of Rockabilly in the Commonwealth,” which was celebrated at Ferrum College’s annual Blue Ridge Folklife Festival, where Burnette was honored for his contribution to the state’s music history. He performed regularly while residing in Florida, at Crabby Joe’s Deck & Grill on an oceanside fishing pier. Among his more recent records were “What Heaven Has Sent,” and “The White House Boys,” both weepers a la “Teddy Bear.”
Ace drummer Hayward S. Bishop, Jr., 71, died in a Nashville hospital Jan. 4, following a lengthy illness. Bishop was a veteran session player, performing on records of such acts as Alabama, Chet Atkins, Jackie DeShannon, Donna Fargo, Barbara Mandrell, Ronnie Milsap, Oak Ridge Boys, Jerry Reed, Sam & Dave, Billy Joe Shaver and Gary Stewart. He was also heard on commercials, TV and film soundtracks. A native of Norfolk, Va., Bishop is survived by daughter Amy Bishop-Kyker; and two granddaughters Julia and Lauren. Services were held Jan. 19 at Tulip Grove Baptist Church in Old Hickory, Tenn.
Guitarist Billy Sanford mourns the Jan. 10th death of singer-wife of 55 years Carol Williams, whom he met while performers on the KWKH-Shreveport Louisiana Hayride show. The couple and their two baby girls moved to Nashville in 1964. He has since enjoyed major success, touring or recording with such stars as Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Crystal Gayle, Ray Charles, The Monkees, Donna Fargo, Billy Joe Royal and George Jones. Survivors besides Billy include their two daughters Ginger and Lori; two granddaughters; and a great-granddaughter. Services were conducted Jan. 16 at Hermitage Funeral Home, with The Reverend Kenneth Butcher officiating, followed by interment in Hermitage Memorial Gardens.
Colorful Nashvillian Willie-Ann Weakley, 83, died Jan. 11, in Nashville. She was the daughter of Hattie (Tootsie) Bess, original owner of the touristy Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Lower Broad; step-daughter to Big Jeff Bess of WLAC’s Radio Playboys; and widow of WSM Grand Ole Opry staff drummer Harold Weakley. Predeceased by husband Harold and daughter Melissa, Willie-Ann is survived by sons Larry, Michael and Terry Weakley; nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. Services were held Jan. 14 at Woodbine Funeral Home, officiated by Wendell Byrd, followed by interment in Woodlawn Cemetery.
Americana artist Greg Trooper, 61, died from pancreatic cancer, Jan. 15, according to wife Claire Mullally: “I am heartbroken to tell you that Greg died in my arms this morning, with our son Jack hugging us both. It was merciful and tender . . . He gave us so much, but left us too soon.” A singer-songwriter, Greg’s career got a boost via his lyrical creations cut by others, like “Little Sister” (Steve Earle, off “The Devil’s Right Hand,” 2001) and “We Won’t Dance” (Vince Gill, on his Platinum-selling 1989 CD “When I Call Your Name”). Born in Neptune, N.J., Trooper hailed from the small Jersey town of Little Silver, and was influenced by a diverse trio of musical talents: Bob Dylan, Otis Redding and Hank Williams. He relished the Greenwich Village music scene in his younger days. In addition to playing acoustic guitar, Trooper also performed on harmonica, mandolin and piano. “We Won’t Dance” was the title of The Greg Trooper Band’s 1986 debut album. In reviewing Trooper, BBC-2 radio’s Bob Harris proclaimed, “Great stuff from one of the great American songwriters.” More recently, Trooper released his 13th album, “Live At The Rock Room,” recorded there in Austin, Texas, at a January 2015 performance. Insider fans included Americana icon Buddy Miller, who produced Greg’s acclaimed CD “Popular Demons” (1998, Koch Records), and songbirds Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash, each of whom furnished harmony for Greg’s sessions. Claire says a memorial celebration is in the works, to be announced later.
Drummer Clyde “Butch” Trucks, 69, who earned distinction with the Allman Brothers Band, reportedly shot himself Jan. 24 at his home in West Palm Beach, Fla. Trucks allegedly shot himself in the head in the presence of his startled wife, who summoned police. Born Clyde Hudson Trucks in Jacksonville, Fla., Butch began drumming in the eighth grade and the next year entered Englewood High School, where he not only played in the school band, but also the Vikings and Echoes bands locally, before graduation. Additionally, Butch played timpani in the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, and attended Florida State University. There he formed a unit he named the Bitter Ind. While playing in that group, Butch met Duane Allman, who would engage him for occasional gigs. Three years after that first meeting, the Allman Brothers Band was formed (1968) in Macon, Ga., and their self-titled debut LP produced the now-classic “Whipping Post.” Charter members also included Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Berry Oakley and Jai Johnny Johanson. In 1971, 24-year-old Duane died in a motorcycle accident, and only a year later Berry also perished in a cycle crash. “Ramblin’ Man” (off their #1 ’73 Brothers and Sisters LP) was a near chart-topper for the Capricorn label band. Their live 1971 double-album smash At Fillmore East sold platinum, followed by further successes, notably “Eat a Peach” (1972, released after Duane’s death), “Win, Lose or Draw” (1975) and “Enlightened Rogues” (1979, their final Top 10). The band broke up at least three times up to 2014, reforming and releasing further albums through 2016. Butch led his own group, as well, titled Butch Trucks & The Freight Train Band, which had bookings through spring ’17, and had Butch drumming his final gig with them Jan. 6. “I’m heartbroken,” noted Gregg Allman. “I’ve lost another brother and it hurts beyond words. Butch and I knew each other since we were teenagers and we were band-mates for over 45 years. He was a great man and a great drummer, and I’m gonna miss him forever. Rest In Peace Brother Butch.” A police investigation determined Truck’s death a suicide. Survivors include wife Melinda and children Melody and Vaylor Trucks, and a nephew, guitarist Derek Trucks, who also played with Gregg Allman’s band.
The Jan. 25th death of screen star Mary Tyler Moore, 80, reminds us that she was owner of country music label MTM Records (1984-1988), which celebrated such country artists as Judy Rodman (“Until I Met You,” #1, 1986), Holly Dunn (“Love Someone Like Me,” #2, 1986); Girls Next Door (“Slow Boat to China,” #8, 1986), SKO (“Baby’s Got a New Baby,” #1, 1987) and solo Paul Overstreet (“Love Helps Those,” #3, 1988). Lesser lights on MTM’s roster included Becky Hobbs (“Jones On the Jukebox,” #31, 1988) and Marty Haggard (“Trains Make Me Lonesome,” #59, 1988). Brooklyn-born Moore became a star in hit TV sitcoms, The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-’66) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-’77), but also scored on the big screen in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Ordinary People,” for which she received a 1980 best actress nomination. (Ironically, Moore lost to Sissy Spacek’s portrayal of Loretta Lynn in “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”) Her umbrella organization, MTM Enterprises, was purchased by Britain’s Television South PLC in July 1988, and subsequently much of MTM Records’ output was sold off to RCA-Nashville. A longtime diabetes sufferer, Moore died while hospitalized with pneumonia, and is survived by her physician husband Robert Levine.
Nashville-based singer-songwriter Jimmy Smart, 85, co-host of TV series Smart Country and Nashville Video Showcase, died Feb. 5, after suffering Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), a brain disorder affecting mobility. Smart shared the stage with such notables as Whisperin’ Bill Anderson, Kitty Wells, Johnnie Wright, Jack Greene and Clinton Gregory. A native of Terrell, Texas, Jimmy won a 1958 Georgia Jubilee talent contest in East Point, Ga., prompting him to form a band and cut records. Smart initially charted Billboard with 1960 back-to-back Top 20 country discs “Broken Dream” and novelty number “Shorty.” He made his move to Nashville in ’87, where with singer-wife Lorraine formed JLS Productions, releasing such songs as “Tell Me What To Do About Today,” “Forget You,” “Tommy’s Heroes” and “Second Thoughts,” also co-hosting their Video Showcase series 13 years, as well as Smart Country, giving a helping hand to such future stars as Joe Diffie, Little River Band and Chris Young. In 2013, fiddler-guitarist Jimmy was diagnosed with PLS, which curtailed his own performing career. An Air Force veteran of the Korean War, upon discharge, Smart worked a day job with Delta Airlines out of Atlanta for many years. Predeceased by son Scott, he is survived by wife of 29 years Lorraine, daughters Lisa and Lori, sons Michael, Anthony and Terry, 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Services were conducted Feb. 8 at Hendersonville Funeral Home, with interment in nearby Memory Gardens.

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Music City Beat – January 2017

Music City Beat – January 2017

      NASHVILLE — Bluegrass duo Daily & Vincent (Jamie and Darrin, that is) are scheduled to be the latest artists inducted as regular cast members in WSM’s Grand Ole Opry, come March 11, 2017. Now in their 10th year as an act, D&V were guesting on the 90-year-old broadcast, Dec. 30, when member Marty Stuart issued their invitation. Attesting to their delight with the honor, Jamie said it’s indeed “One of the most special things that has ever happened to us!” That includes being a triple winner of the coveted Bluegrass Entertainer of the Year award. Still, one can’t help but wonder what the cast criteria is, considering Darrin’s sister Rhonda Vincent has been both a country and bluegrass recording artist since 1990 (and started him off in her band), and she’s scored five #1 bluegrass albums, earned seven successive IBMA best vocalist awards (four more later), six Entertainer of the Year trophies, five Grammy nods and in 2000 The Wall Street Journal proclaimed her “Queen of Bluegrass.” In 2014, The Society For the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America named the Missouri diva to its prestigious Bluegrass Hall of Greats. Here’s what country queen Dolly Parton, a cast member since 1969, proclaims: “Rhonda Vincent: What a talent! What a beauty! What a special human being.” But she’s still not an Opry member.
Legal Tip: Detective Sgt. Jim Vaughn has reported there will be no charges filed against musician Benny Birchfield, 79, in the shooting death of Travis Sanders, 21, in Birchfield’s Hendersonville residence, early Dec. 17, determining it a “self-defense.” Birchfield, widower of Opry star Jean Shepard, heard an alleged altercation between Sanders and Benny’s step-granddaughter Icie-Mae Hawkins, 18, went downstairs to investigate, and was confronted by Sanders wielding a knife with a 10-inch blade. Seeing the girl’s wounds, and was himself attacked, prompted Benny to arm himself with his .38 caliber handgun. Subsequently, to stop the attacks, Birchfield shot Sanders (five times). When police arrived at Birchfield’s home at 3 a.m., Benny was in the front yard with deep cuts to his neck and head. Inside, police found Hawkins, suffering from upper body injuries, plus apparent self-defense wounds, and Sanders’ body. Hawkins and Birchfield were rushed to the hospital, though the teen’s wounds proved fatal, and she died enroute. Benny who also suffers from COPD, received emergency surgery and released Dec. 18, into the care of his elder son (by a previous marriage). Hawkins was granddaughter of Shepard and her late singer-husband Harold (Hawkshaw) Hawkins, who died in a 1963 plane crash that also claimed the lives of fellow Opry stars Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas. Icie-Mae moved into the home to assist Shepard, who died Sept. 25 from Parkinson’s Disease, according to Velvet Sloan, Icie-Mae’s mom, and stayed on to help Birchfield with housekeeping chores. “She was a beautiful sweet girl,” said Sloan. “She loved so many people.” She was also the daughter of Don Robin Hawkins. Reportedly, Icie-Mae began dating Sanders early in 2016, but broke off with him, after claiming he stole money from her. Police continue to investigate the deaths, added Vaughn, “This is still an active and ongoing investigation. It’s going to take some time. In order to find a motive, we’re going to have to interview a lot of friends and family.” Birchfield earlier played in bluegrass bands such as The Osborne Brothers, before devoting himself to guiding the career of Shepard, his wife of 47 years, and longest-tenured Opry star with nearly 61 years, and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Following services at Long Hollow Baptist Church, Icie-Mae was buried next to Hawkshaw, her biological granddad, in Goodlettsville, Dec. 23.
Bits & Pieces: Look for Reba McEntire to return to TV in a projected dramatic series, as yet untitled, created by Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives), reports The Hollywood Reporter (trade magazine). It’s briefly described as having a sort of “Southern gothic” storyline, dealing with a Kentucky sheriff (Reba) and FBI agent seeking terrorists. No stranger to series, she starred in the popular sitcom Reba and later briefly co-starred with Lily Tomlin in Malibu Country; meantime, she’s also booked in Vegas with Brooks & Dunn through next December. Busy lady . . . A new film about Nashville with actor Stephen Dorff in the title role of aspiring singer “Wheeler,” is slated for national release Feb. 3. Co-starring are Kris Kristofferson, who knows a lot about being a struggling artist in Music City, with young singer-songwriters Audrey Spillman and Bobby Tomberlin. The soundtrack’s notable due to its lead single “Pour Me Out Of This Town,” which Stephen co-wrote with younger brother Andrew, who died unexpectedly Dec. 19. Their dad, Steve Sr.’s, also a country composer, who supplied songs for such movie soundtracks as “Honkytonk Man,” “Pure Country” and to artists such as Clay Walker and George Strait . . . Movie legend John Wayne’s granddaughter Jennifer Wayne of the Runaway June trio (think “Lipstick”) is engaged to new country singer William Michael Morgan (“I Met a Girl”). She’s also co-writer of Eric Paslay’s “She Don’t Love You.” . . . Country singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves is also sporting a new diamond, marking her engagement to songwriter Ruston Kelly, his Christmas present. The romantic gift prompted her to write on Instagram that he “got down on one knee in my little pink childhood home” in Texas, and she exclaimed, “I didn’t say yes . . . I said, Hell Yes!” . . . Yet another country chirp Kelsea Ballerina became engaged over the holidays. Her groom-to-be is Morgan Evans, an Australian country singer, who alerted social media with this Tweet: “When you know, you know . . . she’s perfect #ultimatedibs.” Meanwhile, the red-hot East Tennessee native is up for best new artist in the upcoming 59th Grammy Awards being telecast Feb. 12 via CBS-TV . . . In this new year, we learned Sam Hunt proposed to girlfriend Hannah Lee Fowler, whom he saluted in song in 2014, via his multi-platinum album “Montevallo,” named after her Alabama hometown. According to his current single “Drinkin’ Too Much,” Hannah didn’t welcome the unwanted attention it brought her, and parted with him, as his lyrics reveal: “I know you want your privacy/And you’ve got nothin’ to say to me/But I wish you’d let me pay off your student loans/With these songs you gave to me . . .”  Strangely enough, none of the couples have yet disclosed wedding dates . . . Singer-songwriter Lee Brice has confided he and wife Sara are anticipating a third baby this year, to join brothers Ryker Mobley, 3, and Takoda, 8 . . . Another country couple, Austin Webb and wife Melanie, expect their first baby in June, noting, “We’re trading our silent nights for a bundle of joy.” . . . Likewise on Christmas day, Ashley Monroe and hubby John Danks told the world they’re looking forward to their first baby this year, as well . . . Stephen Barker Liles (of Love & Theft) and wife Jenna anticipate their second child, a girl, as a playmate for brother Jett . . . Mo Pitney and bride Emily expect daughter Evelyne Nadine in February . . . Cadillac Three’s Jaren Johnston and wife Evyn anticipate a baby come April.
Scene Stealers: Big & Rich (John Rich and Kenny Alphin) filled the vacuum suffered by the Donald Trump Inauguration committee, in its failed attempt to attract big name pop talents to entertain at the new president’s celebration in Washington, D.C. The duo agreed to entertain at the Great America Alliance Inaugural Gala, Jan. 19, the night prior to Trump’s official taking of the oath. Rich, of course, participated in The Donald’s 2011 Celebrity Apprentice series, and in 2008 penned John McCain’s presidential campaign song “Raising McCain.” . . . Yet another conservative artist, Gary LeVox (Rascal Flatts), entertains for the Veterans Inaugural Bally; singer-songwriters Neil Thrasher and Wendell Mobley accompanied Gary. As of press time, they’re the primary country names joining Trump’s troupe of entertainers, after country king Garth Brooks reportedly nixed an invitation to entertain . . . Blake Shelton, in collaboration with Ryman Hospitality Properties (RHP), is opening a pair of honky tonks, one down on Lower Broad in Nashville, the other in Tishomingo, Okla, his hometown, both titled Ole Red (yes, after his 2002 story-song “Ol’ Red”). At a Jan. 5 press conference here, Shelton and Colin Reed, RHP chief executive, jointly disclosed details about the sites with a cost of $20 million-plus, pointing out the Okla. bar opens this year, and Music City’s site in 2018 . . . WSM Grand Ole Opry manager of 17 years Pete Fisher steps up to head the Academy of Country Music, starting Jan. 30 in Los Angeles. He succeeds temporary CEO Tiffany Moon, who accepted the role following Steve Romeo’s departure last May. In a prepared statement, Fisher acknowledged, in part: “I want to thank the officers and Board for giving me this exciting opportunity to lead the Academy into a new era. I look forward to collaborating with them and our passionate and talented staff, charting an exciting course into the future.” . . . Dolly Parton became that rare person to earn The Tennessean newspaper’s accolade top “Tennessean of the Year,” twice: first in 2006 (mainly for her Imagination Library), and again in 2016. The Country Music Hall of Famer easily copped the honor this time in recognition of her action to create a My People charity at year’s end, donating funds from her Dollywood Foundation, pledging $1,000 a month for six months to those who lost their homes (884 families); while simultaneously launching a Dec. 13 TV telethon to help raise some nine million dollars, to benefit the victims of a massive wildfire in the Great Smoky Mountains that engulfed her native Sevier County and surrounding communities in East Tennessee. Reportedly, 14 died, 191 injured, while more than 17,000 acres burned, including 2,460 structures damaged, resulting in an estimated $500 million loss. Parton, hailed as their Patron Saint, said in part, “Mountain people are tough. If you look back and see what they had to do to settle this area, you know they are tough. We have always relied on one another and God to bring us through, and with the help of the My People fund, we will endure . . .”
Honors: Charley Pride and the late Jimmie Rodgers were selected to receive the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences’ prestigious Lifetime Grammy Achievement Award in recognition of their vast contributions to the music scene. Both are Mississippi natives and members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Rodgers died of TB, May 26, 1933, at age 35, following such successes as “Soldier’s Sweetheart,” “T For Texas” and “I’m In the Jailhouse Now.” As country’s first African-American superstar, Pride broke the color barrier in a big way with 29 #1 discs, including “Kiss An Angel Good Morning,” “Hope You’re Feelin’ Me” and “You’re My Jamaica.” Their names join such early recipients as Roy Acuff, Hank Williams, Kitty Wells and Elvis Presley . . . Moderator Scott Goldman helped salute one of Nashville’s top singer-songwriters, Jan. 23 via An Evening With Rodney Crowell, co-sponsored by the Americana Music Association and Grammy Museum, in the museum’s Clive Davis Theater in Los Angeles. The Grammy Award-winning artist was interviewed by Goldman, v.p. of the Grammy Foundation and MusiCares, which aids musicians in need, prior to his performance. “We are so excited to welcome Rodney Crowell to our theater for the first program of the year in our Americana Series,” said Lynne Sheridan, director of the series p.r. program. “Aside from being an incredibly talented songwriter and musician, Crowell’s contributions to the music community and Americana genre are unmatched.” Among Crowell’s #1 chartings are “I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried,” “She’s Crazy For Leaving” and his Grammy winner “After All This Time,” all of which he wrote. He also penned his and ex-wife Rosanne Cash’s chart-topping duet, “It’s Such a Small World.” Early in his career, he was a guitarist in Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band and later was with The Notorious Cherry Bombs (also featuring Tony Brown and Vince Gill) . . . Zac Brown will receive the Country Radio Seminar’s 2017 Artist Humanitarian award at the broadcasters annual convention which kicks off Feb. 22. Brown, whose Grammy Award-winning Zac Brown Band has chalked up 15 #1 radio singles, created his ongoing Camp Southern Ground in Georgia to benefit children with disabilities. He’s also supportive of the Grammys’ MusiCares, aiding musicians in need, and other charitable organizations like the Robin Hood Foundation and the USO . . . Billboard announced Chris Stapleton was its top country artist of 2016, over all, based on the trade weekly’s Hot Country Songs charts, which covers sales, airplay and streaming, as well as touring totals, and ringtone sales. Hot on his tail were Blake Shelton, Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett and Carrie Underwood, making them country’s Top Five acts of the year.
Ailing: Country Music Hall of Famer Mel Tillis, 84, is currently recuperating from colon surgery in Nashville, at his home in Ocala, Fla. According to a new report from publicist Don Murry Grubbs, “His vitals are good and his senses of humor is very much intact. He is trying to get stronger and we are hopeful that will be the case now that he’s back at home. He misses all his loyal fans and is beyond thankful for all of the well wishes. Your continued thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated.” Tillis took 36 songs into the Top 10, including six #1 singles, among them “I Ain’t Never,” “Good Woman Blues” and “Coca Cola Cowboy.”
Final Curtain: Tragically, singer-songwriter Andrew Dorff, 40, died Dec.19, in Miami, Fla., of an as yet undisclosed cause. Among his #1 country airplay clicks are Blake Shelton’s “My Eyes” (with Gwen Sebastian) and “Neon Light,” Hunter Hayes’ “Somebody’s Heartbreak” and Kenny Chesney’s “Save It For a Rainy Day.” His father’s country pianist-songwriter Steve Dorff (Eddie Rabbitt’s “Every Which Way But Loose,” Kenny Rogers’ “Through The Years”), and he’s brother to film actor Stephen Dorff (“Shadowboxer,” “Cold Creek Manor”). Dorff spent several years as an artist himself, singing in Los Angeles and touring, before making his move to Nashville in 2003, to concentrate on composing. There he’d sign a writer’s pact with Universal Music Group. Success wasn’t instant, as “Andy’s” first hit was Martina McBride’s “Ride” (#11, 2008), and more recently he contributed “Missing” to newcomer William Michael Morgan (with a writing assist from Mark Irwin and Josh Kear). “Our songwriting community is small and close, and this loss will hurt us all deeply,” stated Lee Thomas Miller, president, Nashville Songwriters Association, Inc. “Andrew was a good man and a good friend. He was an elite songwriter at the peak of his life and career. Our sincerest prayers go out to his family. May we all hug each other a little tighter this week and remember that life is fragile.” The lady whose vocals helped him launch his career in country, Martina McBride, Twitted,  “So very sad to hear about @endorffin . . . Thanks for caring enough to write with me and for ‘Ride’ #shinewhileyouhavethechancetoshine #sweetsoul.” During a chat in MusicRow, Andy had concluded: “I’ve been fortunate the artists that have cut my songs are some of the great artists. So those songs are going to live on.” Blake Shelton also penned his thoughts via Twitter, “Sad to be finding out about Andrew Dorff passing away . . . Terrible tragedy. Prayers to his family.”
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Musician Joe M. Wright, 79, died Jan. 3, 2017, with his family by his side. A resident of suburban Gallatin, Wright began professionally playing lead guitar in Marty Robbins’ Teardrops country band at age 18. He went on to become a talent manager and songwriter until the early 1970s. Wright was president of GrayStone Productions, Nashville. A favorite sideline was playing pool, winning numerous tournaments. Survivors include his wife of 48 years, Betty, daughter Betsy Stanford, sons Brett and Kevin; and granddaughters Jessica and Katie Stanford. Services were conducted by Cole & Garrett Funeral Home, Goodlettsville, Tenn., Jan. 5.
Veteran producer Sam Lovullo, 88, died at his Encino home in Los Angeles, Jan. 5. He was the co-creator and producer of the CBS-TV variety show Hee Haw, which began in 1969 and continued in syndication for a quarter of a century due to its popularity with country fans. Lovullo noted it was inspired by the TV comedy sensation Laugh In, co-hosted by Dick Martin and Dan Rowan. In addition to its star co-hosts Roy Clark and Buck Owens, Lovullo helped make household names of such talents as Roni Stoneman, Buck Trent, Gunilla Hutton, Misty Rowe, Gailard Sartain, Linda Thompson, The Hager Twins, Lulu Roman, Junior Samples, Marianne Gordon, Kenny Price, Barbi Benton, George Lindsay, Cathy Baker and Gordie Tapp (who died Dec. 18). Additionally, he helped reinvigorate veteran players’ careers, notably Roy Acuff, Grandpa Jones, Minnie Pearl, Archie Campbell, Don Harron and Chet Atkins, while providing another small screen spotlight for guests such as Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, Kitty Wells, Bobby Bare, Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson among many others, visiting the program’s fictional Kornfield Kounty. Prior to Hee Haw, Sam worked with the CBS comedy series The Jonathan Winters Show (1967-’69), and later became producer and casting director, for such TV shows as Swing Out, Sweet Land (1970), Hee Haw Honeys (1978) and The Nashville Palace (1980). Sam, a Buffalo, N.Y. native, penned his biography, “Life In the Kornfield – My 25 Years At Hee Haw” (with Marc Eliot, 1996). His son Torey, a former pro baseball player with the Oakland Athletics and California Angels, currently manages the Arizona Diamondbacks. Survivors also include wife Grace and three other children.
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Author-musician Ruth White, 87, died from cancer Dec. 30 in hospice care with daughter Kathleen by her side. A multi-faceted music veteran, Ruth Bland White was born in Nashville, graduated from East High School, and initially played in a seven-piece area band fronted by Bill Williams. She continued her education as a music major at Ward-Belmont College in Nashville, while playing piano and selling sheet music for Strobel’s downtown, before joining WSM’s music library, clearing songs for its Grand Ole Opry and Waking Crew broadcasts for stage manager Vito Pellettieri. Later, she was office manager for Porter Wagoner, coordinating the Opry star’s multiple enterprises; also administered her and husband Howard White’s Locomotive Music publishing;  later co-managed Henry Strzelecki’s October Records, an independent label sponsored by Pepsi-Cola; handled publishing for Reed Music, Inc.; and Sherman Ford’s Country International Records. Ruth became the go-to gal concerning music publishing and copyright matters, for song stalwarts such as Carmol Taylor, Norro Wilson, Charly McClain, Gary Gentry, Sonny James, Bill Pursell, Phil Baugh, Joe Stampley, Hargus (Pig) Robbins, Buddy Emmons and Terry McMillan. In 1990, already past 60, Ruth wrote her first book, “Every Highway Out Of Nashville,” compiled from hubby Howard’s road stories and their personal experiences behind the scenes on Music Row. She was production coordinator on albums involving Canadian vocalist Lucille Starr; Howard White’s gospel collection; and a music CD for The Hermitage popular tourist site. Subsequently, her expertise earned White the coveted 2010 SOURCE Award, in recognition of her many accomplishments. Indeed the author has met many of her subjects through the years, which lends authenticity to her writings, including White’s latest book, “Knoxville’s ‘Merry- Go-Round,’ Ciderville and . . . The East Tennessee Country Music Scene.” Colorful characters covered in this literary effort are Roy Acuff, Carl Smith, Lowell Blanchard, Archie Campbell, Bill and Cliff Carlisle, Kitty Wells, Johnnie & Jack, Martha Carson, Chet Atkins, Stoney Stonecipher, Arthur Q. Smith, Bonnie Lou & Buster, Lois Johnson, Pee Wee King, Molly O’Day, Homer & Jethro, Don Gibson and Ciderville’s David West.  Obviously, her books focus mainly on music, be it country – “The Original Goober,” the story of (Wagonmaster) James Buchanan, Nova Books (2004); “Nashville Steeler,” a biography on steel guitarist Don Davis, Schiffer Books (2012) – or R&B: “You Can Make It If You Try,” the life of R&B icon Ted Jarrett, Hillsboro Press/CMA Foundation (2005). Additionally, White authored the historical tome “Mecklenburg: The Life & Times Of A Proud People” (in North Carolina), JM Productions/Picker’s Rest (1992). After a brief teen marriage to band drummer Murrey (Buddy) Harman, who became an original A Team session player for the likes of Elvis Presley and Patsy Cline, she wed musician Bob Kirkham. He was brother to session drummer, Doug, whose wife Millie Kirkham was a renowned studio soprano. Following her divorce, she met “soul mate” Howard, steel guitarist to such stars as Cowboy Copas, George Morgan, Hank Snow and Hank Williams, Jr. Ruth confided it was Howard who convinced her, in part, to undertake the last project: “My late husband Howard literally began his professional career in Knoxville, playing in the ’53 band of (future superstar) Don Gibson, working both WNOX’s ‘Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round’ and ‘Tennessee Barn Dance’ programs. He loved to make me laugh with tales about the music and people in his life during this period. Through Howard, I developed a fascination with the culture, music and beauty of the East Tennessee city.” According to Kathleen, her mother requested cremation and no service. Ruth is also survived by son, Robert Kirkham, Jr.

 

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Music City Beat – December 2016

Music City Beat – December 2016

NASHVILLE — Naomi Judd, half of country music’s dynamic mother-daughter duo The Judds, has been recuperating from a struggle with mental illness, as bared in her new book about that experience, published Dec. 6 – “River of Time: My Descent Into Depression And How I Emerged With Hope” (Center Street Publishers). She and co-writer Marcia Wilkie feel bringing it out in the open may help others suffering from this severe malady. Of course, Naomi, now 70, and Wynonna, 52, scored 20 Top 10 duet singles – 14 of which went #1 from 1984-1991 and earned four Grammys. During a recent ABC-TV Good Morning, America chat with co-host Robin Roberts, Naomi’s appearance was anything but normal, as her face was swollen, her eyes puffy and hands still shaky. Fans know following a breakup of her marriage to Michael Ciminella, Naomi worked to put herself through nursing school, while raising two young daughters. When Wynonna was in her teens, the two formed The Judds and were soon signed by RCA, where they hit with such songs as “Mama, He’s Crazy,” “Why Not Me,” “Grandpa” and “Change of Heart” (which Naomi wrote). The singer alluded to the fact that the duet team’s breakup was due in part to her chronic Hepatitis C, but also to an estrangement developing between her and Wynonna. Since that split, she has been battling depression and confides she even became suicidal, “I would come home and not leave the house for three weeks . . . it was really bad.” Last August, she and musician-husband of 27 years Larry Strickland were divorced, when she charged him with adultery. Naomi credits film actress-daughter Ashley with being a wall of support, especially since the finale of her reality TV series The Judds in 2011. According to Ashley, “In our family, my mother has a well-earned reputation for being thoughtful and caring. Even as a small girl, I’m told, she remembered every relative’s birthday when most kids know (and are concerned with!) only their own. This book is another iteration of her longing for connection and belonging. Our greatest need is to be known in our experience, to be witnessed and accepted as we are in this moment. In ‘River of Time,’ she shares her journey through a harrowing tempest of treatment-resistant depression. Perhaps the details differ, but you may recognize yourself, or someone you love, in her battle. Depression is an epidemic in our country, a profound financial and emotional public health burden. The toll on us, the loved ones, must be addressed, too. As I watched Mom and Pop wade through the sucking mire of depression, I was deeply thankful that there was also help for us family members. May this book serve you in the way my brave mother hopes it may.”
BITS & PIECES: Singer Luke Bryan did what a lot of entertainers, past and present, would’ve liked to have done while performing on stage, and an unruly fan got out of hand: Luke without missing a beat, guitar in hand, stepped off stage, struck the antagonist on his head, hopped back on stage and finished singing his hit “Move.” A fellow heckler was carrying a sign saying, “We can see your camel toe,” acknowledging Bryan’s familiar too-tight jeans. This occurred during Charlie Daniels’ Volunteer Jam in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, Nov. 30, where security staffers soon ushered the wiseacre (who had made an obscene gesture towards the star) out onto the street. Of course, such a demonstration could also incite assault charges and a possible lawsuit, so it’s always best to cool it guys. A representative for the artist explained, “A man in front row was making crude hand gestures toward Luke . . . it was insulting not only to him, but more importantly to the men, women and families sitting around him who were there to support and celebrate Charlie Daniels and the efforts of raising money for the military veterans – some of whom were in the audience.”  . . .  Veteran vocalist Crystal Gayle got a huge surprise during a guest shot Nov. 15 on WSM’s iconic Grand Ole Opry, when member Carrie Underwood gushed would she like to join the cast? Carrie added, “You’re amazing, and you are beautiful, and you are incredibly talented, and just an inspiration to so many of us,” Without hesitation, Crystal replied, “I would love it!” Initially Crystal expected Carrie to come out merely to join her in singing Gayle’s signature song “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” Gayle had her first Top 10 single “The Wrong Road Again” in 1974,  and went on to chalk up 18 #1 records including “I’ll Get Over You,” “Till I Gain Control Again” and “Cry.” Famed, too, for her ankle-length dark hair, she is the younger sister of Loretta Lynn who joined the Opry 54 years ago  and scored 16 #1 singles (two less than sis). Gayle said, “I always felt like I was a member of the family, and this is just so special. Thank you!” It’s odd that the Opry management didn’t issue this legendary lady an earlier invitation, rather than waiting until her autumn years (she’ll be 66 come Jan. 9). Her “induction” will occur Jan. 21. Of course, that was true of the Opry induction of the late Ralph Stanley and more recently Charlie Daniels, long after Opry manager Pete Fisher supposedly said he wanted all grey-hairs off the Opry, but the irony of that is without grey-hairs in the audience, the lovers of traditional country, the show would suffer an economic set-back . . . Meanwhile, Brooks & Dunn have re-signed for an another year co-starring with country queen Reba McEntire at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, where they attracted more than 130,000 fans a night into CP’s Colosseum venue this past year. This teaming initially prompted the reconciliation of Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks, who had split six years ago. It was in June 2015 that “Reba, Brooks & Dun: Together in Vegas” kicked off, and now appears will continue through December 2017 . . . Speaking of country queens, Dolly Parton stepped up to offer $1,000 a month for six months to families in her home county – Sevier – who lost their homes in the recent fires that savaged the Great Smokies in early December to the tune of multi-million dollars in damages. Additionally, the “Coat of Many Colors” singer-songwriter’s Dollywood Foundation has launched a My People Fund in support of those hurt by the wildfires, reportedly started by two unnamed teen-agers in the Great Smoky Mountain woods near famed tourist sites of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Dolly’s hometown Sevierville. A known 14 lives were lost, though this may not be the final figure, pending completion of an extensive investigation into the blaze. Dolly’s three-hour telethon – “Smoky Moutains Rise: A Benefit For The My People Fund” – Dec, 13, features an all-star entertainment extravaganza with Dolly, Kenny Rogers, Reba McEntire, Alison Krauss, Chris Young, Big & Rich, Chris Stapleton, Michael W. Smith, Montgomery-Gentry, Amy Grant, LoCash and Chris Janson. In separate donations to the cause, pop star Taylor Swift pledged $100,000, while the Country Music Association in affiliation with Kenny Chesney (another East Tennessee native) have donated $500,000 for relief efforts. Chesney confided: “Growing up in East Tennessee, the only thing greater than the beauty of the region is the heart of the people who live there. It is devastating to think of what’s been lost in terms of the fire, but overwhelming for the families facing rebuilding their lives – in many cases – from scratch. I’m appreciative that CMA shares my hope that these families can feel our love at a time of such tragedy.” . . . Country music acts Chris Stapleton, Three Doors Down, Darryl Worley and 38 Special were co-sponsoring the annual Christmas4Kids tour bus program in Hendersonville, Tenn., Dec. 12. The artists’ bus drivers bring their tour buses to the shopping area, perform, and the funds raised benefit some 400 local school kids. Other artists participating in the event included T. G. Sheppard, Kelly Lang, Shenandoah, Guy Gilchrist, Ray Scott and James Robert Webb. The following day, those same tour buses will take the children from school, treat them to dinner, and a party hosted by Santa Claus. The day will conclude with a shopping spree at the local Wal-Mart store, with each youngster receiving a new coat and $150 spending money . . . David McCormick’s WSM Midnite Jamboree show returned to its downtown Ernest Tubb Record Shop site, Nov. 26, after years being broadcast out at the Texas Troubadour Theater on Music Valley Drive. The free Lower Broad show included performances by Leona Williams and Bradley Walker with special guests. In 2017, the broadcast marks its 70th anniversary and, of course, began with Country Music Hall of Famer Ernest Tubb hosting the late night program. According to McCormick this was a one-time event and future shows will be back at the Texas Troubadour Theatre . . . Due to its popularity, the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum has extended its Johnny Cash-Bob Dylan exhibit another year, through December 2017.
Honors: The nominations for the 59th annual Grammy Awards Dec. 6 brought much good news for Nashville-based musicians, especially Sturgill Simpson, whose country album “A Sailor’s Guide To Earth” competes with pop CDs by Adele, Beyonce, Justin Bieber and Drake. The country newcomer seemed shock on hearing the news he’s in such rich company, but chuckled: “I’m sure there’s probably a lot of ‘Who the hell is Sturgill Simpson?’ going on right now!” Others sharing in pop Grammy categories are Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris against The Chainsmokers, Chance The Rapper and Anderson.Paak for best new artist; while Kelly Clarkson’s version of “Piece By Piece” versus pop performance songs by Adele, Beyonce, Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. Veteran vocalist Willie Nelson is up for the best traditional pop vocal category with “Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin.” Morris is nominated also for best country solo performance for her song “My Church” against Brandy Clark’s “Love Can Go To Hell,” Miranda Lambert’s “Vice,” Carrie Underwood’s “Church Bells” and Keith Urban’s “Blue Ain’t Your Color.”  Competing for best country duo or group are: “Different For Girls,” Dierks Bentley and Elle King; “21 Summer,” Brothers Osborne; “Setting the World On Fire,” Kenny Chesney & Pink; “Jolene,” Pentatonix with Dolly Parton; and “Think Of You,” featuring Chris Young & Cassadee Pope.” Brandy Clark’s “Big Day In a Small Town’s” nominated best country album, along with Loretta Lynn’s “Full Circle,” Maren Morris’s “Hero,” Simpson’s “A Sailor’s Guide To Earth” and Keith Urban’s “Ripcord.” Urban’s hit “Blue Ain’t Your Color” co-authored by Hillary Lindsey, Clint Lagerberg & Steven Lee Olsen, nominated for best country song, competing against Thomas Rhett’s “Die A Happy Man,” co-written by Sean Douglas, Joe Spargur and Rhett; Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind,” written by Lori McKenna; Maren Morris’ “My Church,” co-written with busbee; and “Vice” which Miranda wrote with Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne. Sierra Hull garnered her first nomination for her album “Weighted Mind” in the folk category, along with Sarah Jarosz’s “Undercurrent” and CDs by July Collins & Ari Hest, Robbie Fulks and Rhiannon Giddens. Other categories produced nominations for Nashville artists include best contemporary Christian performance song “Thy Will” by Hillary Scott & The Scott Family, co-written by Bernie Herms, Emily Weisband and Hillary Scott, whose album “Love Remains” also garnered an album Grammy nod. Lori McKenna’s “Wreck You” was nominated as best Americana roots music performance, and best Americana roots song, competing in the latter against Vince Gill’s “Kid Sister,” performed by his group The TimeJumpers. Gill’s TimeJumpers also were cited for their “Kid Sister” in the best Americana album category, competing with Kris Kristofferson’s “Cedar Creek Sessions” and Lori McKenna’s “The Bird & The Rifle.” Vying in the best bluegrass album class are Blue Highway’s “Original Traditional,” Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver’s “Burden Bearer,” Laure Lewis & The Right Hands’ “The Hazel Sessions,” Claire Lynch’s “North & South,” and Mark O’Connor’s Band CD “Coming Home.” Winners will be announced live Feb. 12, 2017.
Final Curtain: Songwriter-producer Mentor Williams, 70, died of lung cancer Nov. 16 in Taos, New Mexico, where he had resided with his girlfriend, the late singer Lynn Anderson prior to her death in July 2015. Williams co-wrote such country hits as Alabama’s “When We Make Love” (1984), Eddy Raven’s “She’s Gonna Win Your Heart” (1984) and the Randy Travis and George Jones’ duet “A Few Ole Country Boys” (1990), but his biggest success was “Drift Away,” for R&B singer Dobie Gray (#5, 1973), and hit again when Gray revived it three decades later with Uncle Kracker (#9, 2003). That classic cut with it’s haunting refrain “Give me the beat boys/And free my soul/I wanna get lost in your rock and roll . . . And drift away!” has been recorded by an array of legendary artists including Ray Charles, Waylon Jennings, Rod Stewart, Roy Orbison and Michael Bolton. It was also in 1973 that Narvel Felts first enjoyed a Top 10 country single via “Drift Away.” Mentor also produced for the A&M, MCA and Columbia Records labels, and worked on the soundtrack for “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid” (1969) and engineered post-production on “The Muppet Movie” (1979). Williams was the brother of singer-songwriter-actor Paul Williams, who serves as president and board chairman of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), a performance rights agency. Paul shared his thoughts, “It seemed the closer we got to his death the more absolute joy he claimed to feel. He was an amazingly kind, big-hearted cowboy.” According to Paul, memorial services for Mentor Williams in Taos and Nashville will be announced at a later date.
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America’s first Native American songstress to attain international fame was Kay Starr, whose bombastic vocals earned acclaim in jazz, country, pop and rock and roll via such songs as “The Wheel of Fortune,” “Side By Side” and “The Rock & Roll Waltz.” The legendary artist, who suffered Alzheimer’s disease in recent years, died at her Los Angeles home, Nov. 3, at age 94. Kay once described herself as a “hillbilly singer,” when Capitol Records teamed her with Tennessee Ernie Ford for a Top Five double-sided country-pop crossover: “Ain’t Nobody’s Business But My Own” (#3) and “I’ll Never Be Free” (#4).  According to Starr, “Ernie sang the kind of music I grew up on. He talked the way I did and phrased a song the way I did.”
Though born in Dougherty, Okla., to an Iroquois chief and his Irish-American wife, she also claimed Cherokee and Choctaw Indian heritage in her family lineage. Her real name was Katherine Laverne Starks, but she selected Starr as a stage name after radio announcers and fans mispronounced Starks. Kay made her radio debut at 7, and before long landed her own 15-minute broadcast twice weekly at $3 a pop. Fibbing about her age, she began singing professionally in her teens, decorating the bandstand with her dark good looks for such bands as violinist Joe Venuti’s in Memphis, before Glenn Miller engaged her for a brief hiatus, when his main vocalist Marion Hutton became ill. With Miller, she recorded her first session songs, “Baby Me” and “Love With a Capital You,” neither of which were hits. Starr was only 16, but recalls the arrangements were in a key too high, making her sound like a “jazzed-up Alfalfa,” referring to the film’s comedic Our Gang kid, famed for singing off-key. After relocating to Los Angeles she found work in trumpeter Wingy Manone’s orchestra and later saxophonist Charlie Barnet’s band. Starr also entertained troops during World War II, and in the post-war years signed with Capitol Records. The vivacious vocalist’s first charting was a Top 20 “You Were Only Fooling” in late 1948, but her next was a pop Top 10, “So Tired.” It was the novelty number “Hoop-Dee-Doo” (#2, 1950) that made her a star, followed by a series of hits: Pee Wee King’s “Bonaparte’s Retreat” (#4, 1950), “Oh, Babe!” (#7, 1950) and those country-pop duets with Ford. Her recording of the 1952 multi-million-selling “Wheel Of Fortune” spent 25 weeks on Billboard’s list, 10 in #1 spot, and became her signature song. Other major singles include “Come On-A-My House,” her Top 10 cover of the Rosemary Clooney hit; “Comes Along A Love” (#9, 1952, and reportedly #1 in the UK); “Side By Side” (#3, 1953); “Half a Photograph” (#7, ’53); “Changing Partners” (#7, 1953); and another two-sided single success in ’54: “The Man Upstairs” (#7) and “If You Love Me (Really Love Me)” (#4). In 1956, she enjoyed a six-week second #1, “Rock & Roll Waltz,” which topped all four Billboard music charts: Hot 100, Jukebox, Best Seller & DJ. In 1957, sultry-voiced Starr achieved her final Top 10 single “My Heart Reminds Me.” As her chartings declined, she chalked it up to changing times, noting “When they brought in rock, hard rock and acid rock, I thought God was trying to tell me it was my turn to get off the stage,” but this talented trouper didn’t take the hint and continued to tour for decades, delighting in the devoted fans who turned out for her shows in Vegas and Atlantic City. During the 1980s, she also performed on tour with a show titled “4Girls4,” featuring her and such former Big Band singers as Helen O’Connell, Rosemary Clooney, Kaye Ballard, Rose Marie and Margaret Whiting, when available. In 2001, she recorded a duet with Tony Bennett for his album “Playin’ With My Friends: Bennett Sings The Blues.” Starr once told an interviewer: “I am a firm believer that a singer is no more than an actor or an actress set to music. They learn the story, they tell the story, and if they don’t tell the story right, people are not going to like it no matter what the melody is.” Reportedly, Kay was married six times, once in ’53 to bandleader Vic Schoen (who later wed Marion Hutton), but is survived by only a daughter, Katherine Yardley.
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Singer-songwriter-pianist Mark Gray, 64, died Dec. 2 in Lebanon, Tenn. He was initially a member of the group Exile (1979-1982) of “Kiss Me All Over” fame, and with fellow member J.P. Pennington co-wrote #1 songs for Alabama: “Take Me Down” and “The Closer You Get.” He also co-wrote the #1 Janie Fricke 1982 cut, “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy,” and Gary Morris’ #7 single “Second Hand Heart”  (1984). Pop singer Melissa Manchester also scored with his creation “Nice Girls.” Prompted by producer Bob Montgomery, Gray went solo, charting Columbia hits such as the Top 10s “Left Side of the Bed,” “If All the Magic Is Gone” and “Diamond In the Dust,” all in 1984. Then came his iconic duet with Tammy Wynette: “Sometimes When We Touch” (#6, 1985), followed by his solo single “Please Be Love” (#7, 1985). Although his own solo Columbia successes stopped with the Top 20 “Back When Love Was Enough,” in 1986, he continued to chart until 1988 on the indie 615 label. Gray released three Top 40 albums including “Magic” and “This Ol’ Piano”in 1984, and “That Feeling Inside” (1986). A native of Vicksburg, Miss., Gray was the youngest of seven children, and later said, “I’ve been told before I could talk, I was singing . . . and I’ve been making up songs all my life. My brothers and sisters have tapes of me as a child singing songs that I’d made up along the way. So you might say that I didn’t pick music as a profession, it chose me.” He first started singing gospel songs with his aunt and cousins, “who traveled all over, and ever since I can remember,  I was traveling with them singing in churches and city auditoriums. I didn’t do anything but gospel until I was probably 20 years old.” While singing with The Revelations, a group he formed in 1972, they opened for the Oak Ridge Boys, who admired Mark’s writing talent and invited him to join their publishing company in Nashville. He toured several years in their troupe, as well. “I scanned material for their publishing company. That’s where I really learned to write and to play in something besides F sharp and B natural,” mused Mark.
At one point, Gray, whose Nashville hero was Floyd Cramer, became a finalist on the TV series Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour.
“I love all kinds of music, but country is where I want to be, because it isn’t fake music for me,” Mark confided in an early interview. “I feel it. For me,  country music is that line between gospel and R&B and that’s where I am.” Others who recorded Gray compositions include Engelbert Humperdinck (“Till You And Your Lover Are Lovers Again”), Ray Stevens (“This Ole Piano”) and George Jones (“Nightspell”). Services for Mark Gray were observed at Sellars Funeral Home in Lebanon, Dec. 5, with interment arranged in Learned, Miss.