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

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

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

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

Mel & Nancy Sinatra, Frank’s daughter.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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




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Goodbye Glen . . .

Glen Campbell farewell . . . 1936-2017

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

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

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ARSC Award, cites Mac Wiseman bio

The 2016 ARSC Awards for Excellence
The Association for Recorded Sound Collections is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 ARSC Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research. The awards will be presented at a ceremony on May 13, 2017, during ARSC’s annual conference in San Antonio, TX. Additional information about the conference and the ARSC Awards for Excellence can be found at
Begun in 1991, the ARSC Awards are given to authors of books, articles or recording liner notes to recognize those publishing the very best work today in recorded sound research. In giving these awards, ARSC recognizes the contributions of these individuals and aims to encourage others to emulate their high standards and to promote readership of their work. Two awards are presented annually in each category, for best history and best discography, and several others are acknowledged with Certificates of Merit. Awards are presented to both the authors and publishers of winning publications.
Winners are chosen by a committee consisting of three elected judges representing specific fields of study, two judges-at-large, the review editor of the ARSC Journal and the President of ARSC. The 2016 ARSC Awards Committee consists of the following:
Dan Morgenstern (Jazz Music Judge); Jon Samuels (Classical Music Judge); Matthew Barton (Popular Music Judge); Cary Ginell (Judge-At-Large); Richard Spottswood (Judge-at-Large); James Farrington (Book Review Editor, ARSC Journal); Patrick Feaster (ARSC President); David N. “Uncle Dave” Lewis (Awards Committee Co-Chair), and Roberta Freund Schwartz (Awards Committee Co-Chair).
The 2016 Awards for Excellence honor books published in 2015.
The awardees are as follows.

Best History
Walt Trott, Mac Wiseman: All My Memories Fit For Print (Nova Books)
Best Discography
Gary B. Reid, The Music of the Stanley Brothers (University of Illinois Press)
Certificates of Merit
Tim Newby, Bluegrass in Baltimore (McFarland Press)
Ivan M. Tribe and Jacob L. Bapst, West Virginia’s Traditional Country Music (Arcadia Press)

Best History
Richard Martin, Anthology: The King of Comic Singers, 1894-1917 (Archeophone)
Best Discography
Daniel Lesueur, L’Argus DALIDA: Discographie Mondiale et Cotations (InfoDisc)
Certificate of Merit
Michaelangelo Matos, The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America (Dey Street Books)
Best History
Peter Guralnick, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll (Little, Brown & Company)
Certificates of Merit
Andy Babiuk, Beatles Gear (Hal Leonard)
Rick Shefchik, Everybody’s Heard about the Bird: The True Story of 1960s Rock ‘n’ Roll in Minnesota (University of Minnesota Press)
Best History
Peter Vacher, Swingin’ on Central Avenue: African-American Jazz in Los Angeles (Rowman & Littlefield)
Best Discography
George Hulme and Bert Whyatt, Bobby Hackett: His Life in Music (Hardinge Simpole)
Certificates of Merit
Monk Rowe, with Romy Britell, Jazz Tales from Jazz Legends: Oral Histories from the Fillius Jazz Archive at Hamilton College (Richard W. Couper Press)
Simon Spilett, The Long Shadow of the Little Giant: The Life, Work and Legacy of Tubby Hayes (Equinox Press)
Best History
Michael White, Popkiss: The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records (Bloomsbury Academic)
Best History
James P. Leary, Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937-1946 (University of Wisconsin Press and Dust to Digital, in collaboration with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and the Association for Cultural Equity/Alan Lomax Archive)
Funding for this project was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Brittingham Trust, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Graduate School with funding from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Scandinavian Studies’ Birgit Baldwin professorship, and the Finlandia Foundation.
Certificates of Merit
Clifford Murphy, Ola Belle Reed and Southern Mountain Music on the Mason-Dixon Line (Dust-to-Digital)
Richard Polenberg, Hear My Sad Story: The True Tales That Inspired “Stagolee,” “John Henry,” and Other Traditional American Folk Songs (Cornell University Press)
Best History
Ian Zach, Say No to the Devil: The Life and Musical Genius of Rev. Gary Davis (University of Chicago Press)
Certificates of Merit
Charles L. Hughes, Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South (University of North Carolina Press)
Robert Marovich, A City Called Heaven: Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music (University of Illinois Press)
Jas Obrecht, Early Blues: The First Stars of the Blues Guitar (University of Minnesota Press)
Best History
Walter Moskalew, Svetik: A Family Portrait of Sviatoslav Richter (Boydell and Brewer)
Best Discography
Richard A. Kaplan, The Philadelphia Orchestra: An Annotated Discography (Rowman & Littlefield)
Certificate of Merit
Paul Watt and Anne-Marie Forbes, Joseph Holbrooke: Composer, Critic, and Musical Patriot (Rowman & Littlefield)

Best History
Stephen Witt, How Music Got Free (Viking/Penguin)
Certificates of Merit
Michael Denning, Noise Uprising: The Audiopolitics of a World Musical Revolution (Verso)
Howard Massey, The Great British Recording Studios (Hal Leonard)
Erich Nunn, Sounding the Color Line: Music and Race in the Southern Imagination (University of Georgia Press)

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At the Nashville Palace, recent reviews

Tommy Cash back at the Palace . . .

NASHVILLE — Nostalgia ruled at the Nashville Palace as Tommy Cash sang his golden oldies, such as “Six White Horses,” “Rise and Shine” and “I’m Gonna Write a Song,” Sunday, Feb. 12. In fond remembrance, he covered big brother Johnny’s classics, including “Ring Of Fire” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” 
Nice show, with fine backing by pianist Willie Rainsford, guitarist Charlie Vaughan, steel guitarist Ron Elliott, drummer Dina Johnson, and bassist Larry Barnes, despite some technical problems with the sound system. It marked one of Tommy’s rare public appearances since the tragic death of his granddaughter Courtney, 23, some three years ago. (That’s Tommy at right, with bassist Larry Barnes.)
Tommy, 76, managed a few light-hearted quips, and made it even more special with his recollections of songs delivered, notably “Six White Horses,” a Top Five country click, simultaneously #1 on the Canadian chart (1969), and hit Billboard’s Hot 100 pop list, as well. Its composer Larry Murray wrote about America’s ill-fated 1960s’ political triumvirate – John and Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. – assassinated in the prime of life. Reflecting on its timeliness, Tommy noted, “I found that song, rushed in and recorded it the next week.”
Actually Cash kicked off his Sunday show with Johnny’s 1958 rouser “Big River,” after alerting patrons his manager-wife Marcie was in the audience (seated with Kitty Wells’ niece Jean Stromatt), and there would be a new CD come spring. Early in his career Tommy traveled with Johnny’s major arena touring shows and appeared on his network TV series.
When Tommy tackled the Ivory Joe Hunter #1 rocker “Since I Met You, Baby” (1957) – also a #1 country cut for Sonny James (1969) – Ron got in a good instrumental riff, complementing Willie’s piano vamp, making it a clear crowd favorite.
Cash has been big on tribute songs, recalling his brother and Waylon Jennings in “My Mother’s Other Son,” a duet with another brother Tommy, Jennings; and there was “The Greatest Voice Is Gone,” a salute to George Jones, which he recorded in 2013, shortly after the Hall of Famer’s passing. He dusted off this sentimental song for the show, recalling he and Jones did duets on “Some Kind of Woman,” included on Cash’s 2008 “Fade To Black” album, and another tip-of-the-Stetson song, “Hank and Lefty, George and Me.”
Introducing his next number, Tommy confided, “I was present when this song was recorded, and it was co-written by June Carter (with Merle Kilgore), who would be my sister-in-law.” Initially penned with June’s sister Anita in mind, she did record a terrific vocal version sans horns in 1962, which had all the ear-marks of a hit. There’s no mistaking that familial Cash sound, especially when singing one of his brother’s hits, like “Folsom Prison Blues,” which he did at the Palace (though Tommy was always careful not to be another sound-alike).
Before kicking off “The Way We’re Living,” an obscure ballad, Cash mused, “This one I wrote . . . ,” a commentary on life back then, that may well apply today. Picking up the tempo, Tommy chose Hank Williams’ lively “Jambalaya,” which the band seemed to relish. Among music pros on hand to cheer him were guitarists Lynn Owsley, Jerry Green, Billy Robinson, Johnny Moore, engineer Mike Figlio with wife Rita (who used to run the restaurant Figlio’s On The Row) and former rocker Gene Kennedy.
Another audience pleaser was the countrypolitan gospel song “Rise and Shine,” which he’d first heard while in Wisconsin (by Carl Perkins, who wrote it), and so became Tommy’s second Top 10 single (1970). Glenn Sutton, his producer at Epic, wrote a pair of Top 40 tunes for Tommy – “The Tears On Lincoln’s Face,” “You’re Everything” – and the upbeat tune that closed Cash’s Palace performance, “I’m Gonna Write a Song (The Whole Wide World Can Sing).” Incidentally, both Jody Miller and the ex-Mrs. Sutton, Lynn Anderson, covered Cash’s cut. Yeah, “It’s gonna be about love/The one thing the world needs a lot more of/I’m gonna write a song that the whole wide world can sing . . . ”
Hearing this, we felt like playing fan and calling for an encore, that is Tommy doing his Top 10 “One Song Away,” written by Don Reid (The Statlers), who also supplied Tommy his Top 20 “So This Is Love” (co-written with fellow Statler Lew DeWitt). Missing, too, were his excellent renditions on “Sounds of Goodbye,” Tommy’s breakthrough Top 40 from 1968, co-written by Eddie Rabbitt (covered by George Morgan); “Your Lovin’ Takes the Leavin’ Out Of Me,” also from Rabbitt; and “I Recall a Gypsy Woman,” his last Top 20 (covered by Don Williams) in 1973.
True, he’s had a good ear, selecting some smooth sounds, and while some will argue that if he hadn’t been in the shadow of such a famous brother, they would’ve been chart-toppers. We can rely on our own judgment, without reinforcement of radio statistics, and from our vantage-point, Tommy Cash has more than made his mark. This day at the Palace was all the better because it benefits the non-profit musicians organization, Reunion Of Professional Entertainers (ROPE). Anxious now to hear the new CD, Mr. Cash.  – WT

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At The Nashville Palace . . . recent reviews

Stoneman sisters score another win . . .


Roni, Donna and Charlie Vaughan.

NASHVILLE — Roni and Donna, stompin’ Stoneman survivors, succeeded in electrifying showgoers at the Nashville Palace, Aug. 21. The last of Country Music Hall of Famer Pop Stoneman’s 23 children, Roni and Donna resorted to footwork of sorts to enliven their performances: Roni stompin’ harder in prompting the band to up the tempo to match her lightnin’-like banjo pickin’, and Donna dazzling them with rhythmic dancing in accompaniment to her mandolin.
Although recent rumors had Donna, 82, in declining health, she dispelled such whimsy with fanciful footsteppin’ fans came to expect since The Stonemans won CMA’s first best group award (1967). Veronica, better known as Roni, demonstrated why she’s hailed as Queen of the Banjo, and between numbers bantered amusingly, as she did for decades on the popular Hee Haw TV series. Acting as emcee was Gene Kennedy, without his ’59 “doo wop” The Dons (“I’ll Still Be Loving You”).
Vocally, the sisters scored equally high marks, be it on the Davis Sisters #1 weeper “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know,” or Johnny Russell’s snapshot-in-time hit “Catfish John,” their sibling harmony melding together tightly (years of working with Pop, no doubt came into play). Superbly backed by veteran players Willie Rainsford, keyboards; Ron Elliott, steel guitar; Larry Barnes, bass; Charlie Vaughan, electric guitar; and drummer Eric Kaberle, who each got a solo spot, as the sisters stepped back, strumming along.
“Yeah, we’re all just old-timers,” joshed Roni, 78, “Hey, but I come back later with my Rap band!”
Following Steel Guitar Hall of Famer Elliott’s instrumental break, Roni quipped, “I just let him play in the band, ’cause he still owes me child support . . . Yeah, thanks Ron, for my one ugly child!”
Nobody in the audience laughed any louder than Leslie Elliott, Ron’s one and only spouse. She’s also executive director of co-sponsor ROPE (Reunion Of Professional Entertainers), a non-profit supporting musicians, and beneficiary of this “Sunday Social” gig. In the crowd, too, were singers Karen Jeglum (“A Thing Or Two On My Mind”) and Tommy Cash (“Six White Horses,” “Rise And Shine”), yet another staunch Stoneman fan.
Roni ad-libbed, “Tommy asked how I was doin’, and I said, ‘Other than diabetes of the blow-ho, I’m doin’ fine.’ Not really understanding, he replied, ‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ so I explained it’s an old saying Mommie always used, like when callin’ her boys in outta the snow, she’d yell, ‘Y’all better get in here or you’ll get diabetes of the blow’ho!’ . . . and they’d come a’runnin’.’ It don’t mean nothin’.”
Apparently a pair of instrumentals meant a lot to the Palace patrons, judging by the thunderous applause ensuing: Donna’s “Under the Double Eagle” mandolin solo (complete with tapping toes), and the “Deliverance” film theme known as “Dueling Banjos,” this time substituting a banjo with a mandolin.
When it comes to entertaining, it’s hard to beat the pros, especially Roni and Donna, who represent an Appalachian family music legacy spanning more than a century. Their dad Ernest Van Stoneman (1893-1968) was 10, when he started learning how to play Grandma’s autoharp, first tapping into the family roots to promote a musical dynasty that included his fiddle-playing wife Hattie (Frost). In September 1924, on a Victrola cylinder, he became the first to record with an autoharp, and among the earliest to cut a country hit, “(Sinking Of) The Titanic,” a million-selling song released in 1925 (competing with Vernon Dalhart’s multi-million-seller “The Prisoner’s Song,” recorded in August 1924).
Years later, Ernest toured with his youngsters as Pop Stoneman & His Little Pebbles during World War II and beyond. In the 1960s, Pop enjoyed a national comeback, recording this time in stereo for MGM, charting such singles as “Tupelo County Jail” and “The Five Little Johnson Girls,” co-hosting the syndicated Stoneman Family TV series, then winning the CMA trophy the year before his passing.
According to Roni, at the Palace, “I was in the fourth grade, before I knew the whole world didn’t pick and sing.” Fortunately for us, she and Donna sure did. – WT

Donna and Roni with writer Walt Trott.


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Holly Dunn succumbs in Santa Fe . . .

Holly Dunn succeeded as singer-songwriter . . . and visual artist

NASHVILLE — Enigmatic singer-songwriter Holly Dunn scored successes here over a 10-year span, then abruptly departed Music City, seemingly seeking solace elsewhere. Her untimely death in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Nov. 14, at age 59, stunned many music folk.
Reportedly Dunn, who had been suffering from ovarian cancer, died in Hospice care, surrounded by family. Meanwhile, according to June Keys, manager of her Pena-Dunn Gallery in Santa Fe, Holly’s paintings are currently on exhibit there. This is representative of her latter day career thrust.
Dunn, the pretty but saucy, hazel-eyed daughter of a Texas minister, found success as a songwriter for Louise Mandrell, Marie Osmond, Sylvia and The Whites. As a singer, her breakthrough disc was “Daddy’s Hands,” which earned her the Academy of Country Music’s best newcomer award in 1986, along with the CMA’s similar Horizon Award and a Grammy nod.
“It blows my mind sometimes when I think about the impact that song had on people,” Dunn later mused. She was far from a one-hit wonder, as she later racked up four #1 chart songs as an artist, supplied songs to other artists, earning Holly the sobriquet BMI Songwriter of the Year in 1988.
Holly Suzette Dunn was born Aug. 22, 1957 in San Antonio, Texas, daughter of Western landscape artist Yvonne and Frank Dunn, a Church of Christ minister. She was kid sister to Jerry, Rodney and Chris. “When I was 6 my folks bought me a little drum kit as a humane gesture to the pots and pans,” she recalled, but admittedly learned to play big brother’s guitar when he wasn’t around. That’s the instrument she turned to later in writing songs.
A bright child, at age 8 Holly appeared in her first show at Baskin Elementary and remembered it was in third grade that she also started writing poetry: “I was always a deep, introspective sort of kid, kinda serious.”
While her brothers were more into The Beatles, Holly was inspired by folk singers, especially Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez and Judy Collins. In high school, she became lead vocalist with The Freedom Folk Singers (1975), which had the honor of representing the Lone Star State in Bicentennial celebrations in concert, on TV and at the White House in ’76.
While attending Abilene Christian College, Holly joined The Hilltop Singers, which became a USO tour group: “When I was with them, all we played were small towns in places like Kansas. I quit, and they immediately left on a Mediterranean tour!”
On summer break from college, Holly visited brother Chris in Nashville. He was already an established songwriter, with hits like “Sexy Eyes” (Dr. Hook) and “In a New York Minute” (Ronnie McDowell), so she hung out at his employer’s publishing firm. The siblings tried their hand co-writing and created “Out Of Sight, Not Out Of Mind,” which indie artist Cristy Lane recorded. Excited over her first “cut,” Dunn decided to make the move to Music City, after earning a degree in advertising (and speech pathology) from Abilene Christian College.
Dunn credits the drum with giving her a true sense of rhythm: “I think I had a natural tendency to give my words meter, and the rhythm just seemed like a real, natural thing.” During days she struggled to support herself, so she could concentrate on writing evenings.
“I was a hostess at Spats’ Restaurant, a clerk in a Baptist bookstore and a travel agent briefly . . . ,” she grinned, adding, “But within 10 months after getting here, CBS Songs hired me. Chris came here three years before I did, and him being established as a writer helped me. I guess his credibility kinda rubbed off on me.”
Most likely her biggest success as a writer was Louise Mandrell’s single “I’m Not Through Loving You Yet” (#7, 1984), on which she collaborated with Chris and Tom Shapiro. A close second would be Sylvia’s version of her “True Blue,” which became the flip-side to “Fallin’ In Love” (#2, 1985). Also consigned to a B side was Holly’s co-write “That Old Devil Moon” on Marie Osmond’s 1986 Top Five “Read My Lips.” For Terri Gibbs, the co-writers furnished “An Old Friend.”
Upon hearing her crisp, clear vocals on demos being pitched to artists and producers, Tommy West, A&R honcho at MTM Records, determined she had artist potential, as well, signing her to a label pact. The first few singles didn’t do much to reassure his bosses, but a song written in 1984 as a Father’s Day salute to her dad, finally did the trick in the summer of ’86: “Daddy’s Hands.”
Incidentally, Sharon White heard Holly recording the demo for that song and decided it would work well on their next album, “Whole New World” (1985), and begged Dunn to let them cut it. Thus the Whites – Sharon, Cheryl, and daddy Buck – were the first to record “Daddy’s Hands,” which became the B side to their 1986 Top 40 single “Love Won’t Wait.”
Holly’s duet with Michael Martin Murphey for Warner Bros., “A Face In The Crowd,” took her into the Top Five for the first time (#4, 1987). It followed her amazing success with “Daddy’s Hands.”
A solo single next up was “Love Someone Like Me,” which proved another major success. Actually, Holly Dunn saw four of her creations reach #1, though two were on Billboard’s hot Country Sales chart: “Love Someone Like Me,” her co-write with Radney Foster, stalling at #2 on the regular Country Top 10 chart; and #1 “Only When I Love,” co-authored with Chris and Tom, ranking #4 on the regular chart, both released in 1987.  Of course, “Are You Ever Gonna Love Me,” again from the pens of Holly, Chris and Tom, hit #1 country Aug. 26, 1989; and their follow-up, “You Really Had Me Going,” scored #1 country for Dunn on Nov. 17, 1990.
In between those chart toppers, were strong entries, three released in 1988: “That’s What Your Love Does To Me” (#5), “Strangers Again” (#7), and “(It’s Always Gonna Be) Someday” (#11), the latter two Holly helped write; and “There Goes My Heart Again” (#4, 1989), was a Joe Diffie co-write.
Holly hit Billboard’s singles chart 21 times over a 10-year period (1985-1995), also charting six albums (all hit in the 20s), the best sales-wise being “Holly Dunn,” “Cornerstone,” “Across The Rio Grande” and in 1991 a greatest hits disc “Milestones,” which even cracked the top pop albums chart. “The Blue Rose of Texas” and “Heart Full of Love” ranked in or near Top 40.
On “Cornerstone,” she was pleased to share the mic with her hero Emmylou Harris for a ballad “Fewer Threads Than These.” Once Holly got a firmer foot-hold on the success ladder, she began co-producing her LPs, notably “Across the Rio Grande,” “Blue Rose of Texas” and “Heart Full of Love,” mainly with Chris. On “Blue Rose of Texas,” another of her heroes added vocals, Dolly Parton, enhancing the song “Most Of All, Why.”
Dunn said, “I know I looked to Dolly and people like Emmylou and Gail Davies for being kind of female pioneers,” having taken control of their discs, as she later did. “That’d be real flattering, if others thought of me that way.”
“That’s What Your Love Does To Me,” had been cut earlier by Michael Johnson, and The Forester Sisters. According to Dunn, “We knew the song had been covered, but hadn’t been out as a single. . . and we felt they hadn’t ‘hooked’ them.” At the time, she also pointed out that the title track of her album “Across the Rio Grande” had been recorded before by Reba McEntire, but Holly’s version added a Spanish language verse to the melodic Tex-Mex tune. She also had recorded a Spanish rendition of “Daddy’s Hands.”
The biggest lament for Holly with her success as a singer was how it cut into writing time, due to demands to hit the road and promote her recordings: “It’s been one of my biggest frustrations. I went from being totally a songwriter to being on the road almost all of the time. And I’m not one of those writers who can write well on the road. There’s not enough time or else I’m too tired or distracted.”
The difference she faced in writing for herself was another eye-opener: “When you write for other artists, you’re trying to appeal to a lot of different tastes, not necessarily your own. Once I had settled into what I wanted to be, I started writing a lot better and things sort of fell into place for me.”
Success also brought her an invitation to join WSM’s Grand Ole Opry cast in 1989. Then Kenny Rogers invited her to duet with him on “Maybe,” for his 1990 Reprise album “Something Inside So Strong,” which peaked Top 20 as a spin-off single. When upstart MTM folded, Dunn signed with Warner’s, where she hit with the chart-toppers “Are You Ever Gonna Love Me” and “You Really Had Me Going.” Her final Top 20 was a Kostas composition “Heart Full of Love” and a follow-up single, “Maybe I Mean Yes,” was charting fine until radio pointed out its politically incorrect message, in lieu of a slew of recent college date rape incidents.
It was in July 1991, Dunn’s “Maybe I Mean Yes” was being bandied about as potentially downplaying the seriousness of date rape, with lyrics like: “Nothin’s worth having, if it ain’t a little hard to get/When I say no, I mean maybe/Or maybe I mean yes . . . ” Regarding their co-write with Holly, Chris and Tom insisted it was mainly penned tongue-in-cheek and decidedly not created to stir up controversy. Dunn noted, “From the beginning, this song was written to be a lighthearted look at one couple’s attempt at dating, handled in an innocent, non-sexual, flirtatious way.”
Nonetheless, the disheartened diva took to the airwaves and requested DJs no longer play her single and asked TNN and CMT to stop beaming its music video, a first for any artist. From her 1992 album “Getting It Dunn,” Warners released consecutive singles: Mel Tillis’ “No Love Have I,” Holly-Chris-and-Tom’s “As Long As You Belong To Me” and Gretchen Peters-Sam Hogin’s “Golden Years,” none of which cracked Top 40.
Seeking a new start, she signed with River North, an indie label in Nashville, which released an album on her, “Life & Love & All The Stages,” from which her last charting – “I Am Who I Am” – which she co-wrote with Chris and Tom, made a statement of sorts: “You’ve tried to remake me, again and again/You can bend, but not break me . . . I’m taking a stand, I’m all I can be baby . . . I am who I am/No regrets, no apologies/I can’t be right for you, if it’s not right for me.”
River North followed up with another CD, “Leave One Bridge Standing,” released in April 1997, initially selling a disappointing 20,000 copies. In Dunn’s book that signaled time for a change. Taking a break from Nashville, she spent much of ’97 as morning co-anchor on WWWW-Detroit’s W-4 Country station. Suddenly prior to the holidays, she announced to listeners her DJ days were done, she would depart Detroit, Dec. 19, 1997.
Holly never married, and despite sharing the stage with some of the hottest hunks in country music, showed no interest in dating any of them. When asked by an inquiring reporter why she chose not to be part of country’s social scene, she claimed that she preferred her own company. Holly’s private life remained as much a mystery as the lady herself.
Dunn’s final album – “Full Circle” – was released in 2003, primarily featuring gospel sounds. Disillusioned with the business, Dunn quit in order to concentrate on more satisfying pursuits. Like her mother before her, Holly became a full-time painter: “I needed to put my creative energy into pursuing the field of fine arts. I also had a love affair with the Southwest, namely New Mexico. Yes, I had always wanted to live out there (in Santa Fe).”

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Multi-talented Leon Russell, singer-songwriter-pianist, and more

Leon RussellLeon Russell a.k.a. Hank Wilson dies . . .

NASHVILLE — Leon Russell’s legendary status could be attributed to his tearing up the rule-book while making music, culminating in his being inducted into both the Rock – and Songwriters’ Halls of Fame (2011). Sadly, we lost this phenomenal talent Nov. 13, which also meant losing his celebrated country alter ego Hank Wilson.
According to wife, Jan Bridges, Leon had been recovering from heart surgery since last July, and died in his sleep at their suburban Nashville home. The 74-year-old entertainer had been looking forward to performing again in March (with the Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Ryman Auditorium). Russell’s Southern boogie-styled piano playing inspired no less than Elton John and Joe Cocker, while his writing skill produced such songs as “A Song For You,” “This Masquerade,” “Delta Lady,” “Superstar,” “Lady Blue,” “Hummingbird” and “Shootout On the Plantation.”
Family, friends and fans assembled at Victory Baptist Church in nearby Mt. Juliet, Nov. 18, for a memorial service. In from L.A. came soul singer Claudia Lennear, who worked with Leon on “Mad Dogs & Englishmen,” “Leon Russell & The Shelter People” and George Harrison’s “Concert For Bangladesh.” The lady, who reportedly inspired The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” acknowledged she will “eternally be grateful for Leon, for his wonderful music, his great leadership.”  Earlier Claudia explained, “Leon is probably the most incredible musician on this planet. He’s not only just an incredible musician, he’s the most creative arranger and bandleader that I’ve ever met. Leon has a way of taking something old and recreating it and making it so current and so plausible to music listeners in the here and now. For example, his re-arrangement of (Dylan’s) ‘Girl From the North Country.’ It’s such a wonderful tribute, in my view, from Leon to Bob Dylan, to upgrade that song the way he did. They’re both beautiful tunes. I’m not discrediting Bob Dylan by any means. I think Leon’s version was funky. When I say funky, I mean it had a groove.”
She pointed out how groovy Leon’s rendition of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” had been, literally electrifying some 40,000 fans for “The Concert For Bangladesh,” aiding the UNICEF-sponsored benefit program for refugees from 1971 East Pakistan, at Madison Square Garden (prompted by Harrison and Ravi Shankar). Russell shared a ’72 best album Grammy for his participation.
Others at the local service commenting on links to Leon included Steve Ripley (The Tractors), an Okie who bought Russell’s The Church studio in Tulsa, Okla., recalling nostalgically, “Leon was the first person to record there. They brought him and took over. He loved being back in that old studio and having his friends drop by and say hello.”; and Dr. Jim Halsey, artist manager, who proclaimed, “Leon was a pure and true genius. Part of what he did was offer healing to the world.” Too bad more VIP pals didn’t attend, including Willie Nelson, John Cowan and Jackie DeShannon, though some sent messages to be read, primarily Sir Elton John, whose long-distance eulogy included the Pinterest, “I can’t imagine a world without Leon’s music,” adding with impact, “He was everything I wanted to be as a pianist, vocalist and writer.” Another funeral farewell took place Nov. 20 at Oral Roberts University’s Mabee Center in Tulsa, which longtime buddy Bruce Hornsby attended, after missing the Nov. 18 event .
Leon was born Claude Russell Bridges, April 2, 1942, in Lawton, Okla., suffering a birth injury to his vertebrae that resulted in a slight paralysis to his right side that affected his later stage style. In reference to his birth defect, he later mused, “It gave me a very strong sense of duality; it gave me an outlook into this plane that we live on, and if I hadn’t had that, I’d probably be selling cars in Paris, Texas.”
From age 4, the youngster began tinkling the piano keys, maybe getting a sense of the road that lay ahead. Underage and anxious to perform in Tulsa niters as a teen, he had an older friend get him a phony I.D., depicting “Leon” as the first name, which became part of his stage monicker (along with his middle name). Young Leon had his own band The Starlighters, and once opened for Jerry Lee Lewis in Tulsa’s Cain Ballroom. Reportedly, Lewis was so impressed he took the band on tour with him for over a year.
Following graduation from Will Rogers High, however, Leon lit out for Los Angeles, where he began hitting the club circuit and even studied guitar under James Burton. Soon, he worked his way into session playing, becoming fair-haired boy at A&M Records, eventually part of the elite Wrecking Crew. His keyboard’s heard on the discs of such notables as Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, The Byrds and The Ronettes. That’s Leon playing on Jan & Dean’s “Surf City,” Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash,” and The Beach Boys’ “California Girls.”
In 1965, Leon’s “Everybody’s Talking ’Bout the Young” marked his first solo single for Dot Records. By then, he was also expanding into production, including arranging the #1 “This Diamond Ring” for Gary Lewis & The Playboys, for whom he wrote the successful singles “Everybody Loves a Clown” and “She’s Just My Style.” He also toured with The Playboys and Leon’s credits would include a wide array of artists he performed with, among them Delaney & Bonnie, Doris Day, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles and The Rolling Stones.
A highlight for Russell was co-producing Joe Cocker’s self-titled second LP on which Joe sang Leon’s “Delta Lady.” That number also appears on Leon’s Shelter Records (which he co-founded with British music man Denny Cordell) debut album, “Leon Russell,” in 1970, along with “A Song For You” and “Hummingbird.” That same year, Leon served as bandleader for Cocker’s legendary “Mad Dogs & Englishmen’’ tour. Fans loved his colorful costumes, complete with top hats.
Artists who have recorded Russell songs include Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, B. B. King, The Carpenters, Neil Diamond, Rita Coolidge, Luther Vandross, Cher, Sonic Youth and The Motels. George Benson’s track of Leon’s “The Masquerade” won a Grammy as best recording in 1976, and earned kudos as the first song ever to occupy #1 spot on the jazz, pop, and R&B multiple charts.
Not known primarily for chart successes, Russell shared a #1 Billboard top country single with Willie Nelson on their revival of the Elvis Presley signature song “Heartbreak Hotel” (1979), off their #3-ranked LP “One For the Road,” which crossed into pop charts and earned CMA’s best album award. Nonetheless, Leon can claim chart accomplishments, notably his recording “Tight Rope” (#11, 1972), “Bluebird” (#14, 1975) and “Slipping Into Christmas” hitting #4 on Billboard’s Christmas chart (1972).  Four of Leon’s solo albums were certified Gold: 1971’s “Leon Russell & The Shelter People,” 1972’s “Carney” (which hit #2 on the pop chart), 1973’s three-disc set “Leon Live,” and in 1975 “Will O’ The Wisp.”
An Oklahoman, Russell had a natural feel for traditional country, having heard heroes like Bob Wills and Hank Thompson. In homage to all this, Russell released a 1973 album “Hank Wilson’s Back!,” featuring such fare as “A Six Pack To Go,” “Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone.” He engaged such Nashville troupers as Melba Montgomery, Billy Byrd, Charlie McCoy, Pete Drake and fellow Okie J. J. Cale, and garnered favorable reviews. It topped out at #15 country and crossed over as a #28 pop entry.
Sequels of sorts include the million-seller “One For the Road” with Willie Nelson, charting 40 weeks; and “Hank Wilson, Volume II” (1984), boasting tracks such as “Wabash Cannonball,” “Heartaches By the Number” and “I’m Movin’ On.” He also founded a new label Paradise Records, after a less than harmonious split with Denny Cordell. Among Paradise acts were The Tractors, but Leon also released his 1976 “Wedding Album,” made with then-wife Mary McCreary (Little Sister), co-produced with Bobby Womack on Paradise. (Mary and Leon were divorced in 1980).
Continuing into the ’90s, he released “Anything Can Happen,” produced by Leon and Bruce Hornsby in 1992 for Virgin Records. He followed that up with 1998’s “Hank Wilson, Vol. 3: Legend In My Time” and in 1999, “Face In The Crowd,” for which he penned every song.
In 2002, his (and Mary’s) son Teddy Jack released a self-titled album on dad’s new LRR label, as Leon produced his own “Moonlight & Love Songs,” with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
In 2006, Russell was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. T-Bone Burnett’s production “The Union” paired Elton John with his hero Russell, whose composition “If It Wasn’t For Bad” earned them a 2010 best pop collaboration Grammy nomination. The following March saw Russell honored by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and a few months later, come June 2011, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
In his sunset years, Leon’s opted for a mountain man image, sporting mustache, wild and wooly gray hair that fell down into his lengthy white beard, usually topped by a cowboy hat (or occasionally a knitted wool cap). The last Russell studio album we heard was “Life Journey,” executive-produced by Elton John and released in 2014, featuring the Grammy winner spanning several genres performance-wise with bone-chilling effect. In 2015, two re-releases were marketed: “Prince of Peace: Radio Broadcast 1970,” and “Riding The Northeast Trail: The New Jersey Broadcast 1979 (With Willie Nelson).” Then this year along came “The Homewood Sessions: Live & Pickling Fast (With The New Grass Revival,” which we’ve yet to hear.
Survivors include his wife of more than three decades, the former Janet Constantine, daughters Tina Rose, Sugaree Taloa Noel, Gianny, Honey and Coco Bridges, son Teddy Jack Bridges, and grandchildren Payton Goodner, China Rose Goodner and Tiger Lily Schindler. In Leon’s honor on Nov. 20, Tulsa’s mayor and city council had issued a proclamation which was presented to his family, while the widow hugged her loved ones, as the document was read, declaring that Sunday officially “Leon Russell Day.”

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Hall of Famer Jean Shepard remembered

JEAN SHEPARD, a fond farewell . . .

NASHVILLE – Country music lost one of its sauciest song stylists, when Jean Shepard, 82, slipped away Sept. 25, after suffering from Parkinson’s and heart disease. A week before she had entered Hospice for round-the-clock care. “Today is one of the hardest days of my life,” announced son Harold Hawkins, Jr. “Mom has been called home this morning and is now at peace. Please keep our family in your prayers during this tough time. Thank you everyone for your support.”
The Country Music Hall of Famer first debuted on Billboard’s charts in a big way with a 1953 #1 country cut “A ‘Dear John’ Letter,” that crossed over, becoming a pop Top Five. That number boasted a narration by Ferlin Husky, spawning an answer song – “Forgive Me, John” – that became a Top 20 pop favorite, while registering Top Five on the country chart that same year.
Not bad for a 19-year-old newcomer at Capitol Records. Well, Shepard also could proudly point to chalking up hits over three decades at the label, having hit Top Five in 1964 with her yodeling song “Second Fiddle (To An Old Guitar),” and scoring Top 10 with her ballad “Then He Touched Me” in 1970.
I remember our 2008 interview, one of several we had through the years, but on that occasion, she shared one of her big regrets, passing on 20th Century Fox’s request she dub vocals for Hollywood’s reigning sex symbol Marilyn Monroe in a heated Western flick co-starring Robert Mitchum. Of course, Marilyn could later thank Jean for passing up the opportunity, as she was asked by director Otto Preminger to try vocalizing the title tune “The River of No Return” herself, which gave the star her one and only Billboard charting (#30, 1954).
Why did Jean decline Fox’s offer? “They wanted me to be her voice, you know to overdub her singing ‘River of No Return,’ because she wasn’t known as a singer. Well, the thought of it scared me to death. I had only a couple records out at the time and she was such a big star . . . so I wouldn’t do it.”
Jean pointed out that Capitol label-mate Tennessee Ernie Ford sang the song for the movie’s credit-crawl and ended up with a Top 10 single (charting nine weeks). “I’m a dummy,” smiled Shepard. “I’d never done anything connected to a movie. Of course, they would’ve handled everything for me in the studio. Thinking back, I just can’t believe I didn’t do it! I’ve listened to it and feel I could have sung that song.”
She sang a bit of it: “There is a river called the River of No Return/Sometimes it’s peaceful and sometimes wild and free/Love is a traveler, on the River of No Return/Swept on forever, to be lost in the stormy sea . . .”
Shepard experienced her share of stormy seas, including two brief marriages, losing singer-husband Hawkshaw Hawkins, 41, in a fiery plane crash on March 5, 1963, just weeks before giving birth to their second son, Harold, Jr. Shortly after joining WSM’s Grand Ole Opry in 1955, she reportedly began a romance with Opry singer Doyle Wilburn, but rumor had it she rejected an offer of marriage due to his drinking. (He later wed singer Margie Bowes.)
She was born Ollie Imogene Shepard on Nov. 21, 1933 in Paul’s Valley, Okla., but in 1943, her parents Hoyt and Allie Mae (Isaacs) Shepard, made their keep-from-starving move out of the Dust Bowl to Visalia, Calif. Jean was one of 10 children born into the Shepard family.
“We would always sing together in church, and my mother played piano, so we’d gather round and sing,” she said. As a plucky teen, she had performed on KTNV-Porterville withthe Jelly Sanders Show, and formed an all-girl band The Melody Ranch Girls in 1948. “Yeah, we played the same place every weekend – Noble’s Melody Ranch – and had quite a following. Melody Ranch was a big dance-hall owned by Noble Fosburg. He became our manager and did our booking, so that’s where the name came in.”
During one engagement, they opened for Capitol Records’ star Hank Thompson, then nourishing a new number, “The Wild Side of Life,” which would become the biggest hit of 1952 (and a Grammy Hall of Fame record). Impressed by Jean’s dynamic vocals, Hank recommended Ken Nelson give a listen and sign her to their label, but she learned later that the A&R chief hesitated, telling Thompson women weren’t selling records in country music.
“Ken came to see me at one of our shows and it just mushroomed from there, thanks to Hank. But some of the others in the band got pissed because they felt Capitol was signing the group. I played bass and we weren’t all that great, but being all girls got us a lot of attention. Growing up, I played a little guitar and could accompany myself on the piano, but our band needed a bass player. So I got stuck playing that big ol’ upright bass, which my parents bought by hocking whatever they could find to get us the money for it. For years, the girls wouldn’t talk to me.”
Career-wise, Shepard’s is the story of a 1950s’ trailblazer who challenged the male-dominated music system, working towards equality for females. In doing so, she helped introduce the concept album via her 1956 LP “Songs of a Love Affair,” charted 45 Billboard singles, and earned two Grammy nominations through the years.
Nelson produced her first single “Cryin’ Steel Guitar Waltz,” but instead of promoting Jean on the disc, played up the name of Speedy West the guitarist. It did nothing sales-wise, and Decca’s Kitty Wells covered the song, which became the B side to her Top 10 “Paying For That Back Street Affair.” Jean remembered, “Ken felt there just wasn’t any place in country music for a woman, except as part of a band, thinking every band needs a girl singer . . . and he had turned down Kitty Wells when Johnnie Wright suggested he sign her.”
According to Ferlin Husky, who was responsible for Jean’s first hit, Ken asked him to help find some songs for his new signee: “Actually, I was a disc jockey and Bonnie Owens and Fuzzy Owen (no relation) had put (‘Dear John’) out on an indie label. It made the local jukeboxes and I got to thinkin’ it was a pretty good song, so I suggested that one.”
Husky also pointed out he didn’t want any billing on “A ‘Dear John’ Letter,” for he was irritated Capitol didn’t have faith enough to issue her first single as a solo effort, instead using a backup musician’s name on the imprint for “Cryin’ Steel Guitar Waltz.”
“I didn’t want any name on there, but Jean Shepard’s,” he insisted. “I didn’t want to take anything away from her. Well, when we got into the studio, and I was there to play bass, or maybe it was rhythm guitar, on the session, Ken said, ‘Who are we going to get to do the recitation?’ I said, ‘You, I guess.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ Anyhow, I was told to do the recitation, but in the end Ken said everybody wanted to know who was the guy talking, so he made the decision to use my name.”
Shepard added, “After the record sold a million or more copies, I asked Ken, ‘Do you still think there’s no place in country music for a woman?’ And we both laughed over it.” On Aug. 29, 1953, she became only the third country female to hit #1, just behind Kitty Wells’ “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” (Aug. 23, 1952) and Goldie Hill’s “I Let the Stars Get In My Eyes” (Feb. 27, 1953). Both were answer songs to Capitol hits: Kitty’s, ironically, to Thompson’s “Wild Side of Life”; and Goldie’s to Skeets McDonald’s “Don’t Let the Stars Get In Your Eyes.”
Mention of answer songs reminds us Jean wrote her own answer song “Forgive Me, John,” crediting Billy Barton as co-writer, a fall 1953 charting for her: “I didn’t sit down and co-write with Billy Barton, because I didn’t like him! He was an egotistical guy. Actually, truth is Billy (Hillbilly) Barton wrote ‘A Dear John Letter.’ Now I’m gonna tell you a story. In Bakersfield, (cousins) Lewis Tally and Fuzzy Owen had this old car (a 1947 Kaiser) they used to run back and forth to play two or three nightclubs out there, and to carry their equipment. Billy Barton was hanging around and he needed a car. So Lewis Talley and Fuzzy Owen heard the ‘Dear John Letter’ and said, ‘We’ll give you this car for the song.’
“Well, he said OK,” she continued. “So Billy went around Bakersfield laughing at the deal he made, saying ‘Look at what those silly guys gave me for my song!’ Bonnie and Fuzzy recorded it earlier (on Mar-Vel Records) and got a lot of airplay in Bakersfield on it, before Capitol recorded my version.”
Released in the post-Korean War era, she sang to a boyfriend overseas, “Dear John, oh how I hate to write/Dear John, I must let you know tonight/That my love for you has died/Away like grass upon the lawn/And tonight, I wed another, Dear John . . .”
Despite her disdain for Barton, Shepard insisted he be credited with her on “Forgive Me, John,” having originally conceived the song being responded to musically. She knew about being put down professionally.
“On my second session (Sept. 30, 1952), Cliffie Stone played bass, Billy Liebert played piano, Jimmy Bryant played pedal steel and Speedy West played lead guitar . . . Speedy could see I was a bit down, so he came out, put his arm around me and said, ‘Honey, just get up there and sing. Do what you know you can do, and we’ll handle the rest of it. Don’t worry about nothin’.’ That did give me some encouragement.”
After a few months had passed, Jean worried that the label would drop her: “I was lying on the bed, moaning that I knew they weren’t ever going to record me again. I’ll never forget what my mother told me, ‘Get up off that bed! Hush your crying! Now if you don’t have any confidence in yourself, how do you expect anybody else to.’ That was good advice from an ol’ country woman.”
Finally Ken came up with some songs for Shepard: “It had been about six months since I recorded. I was in San Luis Obispo working three nights a week with the all-girl band, when Ferlin came over and said they wanted me in L.A. to record the next week. So I went into record in a studio at Hollywood & Vine (streets, on Sept. 30, 19520).
“We recorded ‘A Dear John Letter,’ but Ken clearly didn’t have any faith in that song. He heard a song called ‘I’d Rather Die Young’ with The Hilltoppers, and told me, ‘You should do this, because it’s gonna be a big song.’ I said OK, and it was originally set as the A side of my next release. (It did hit Top 10 pop for The Hilltoppers.)
“Slim Willet, a DJ in Abilene, Texas, called Ken to say, ‘Hey, you’ve got a hit on your hands with Jean Shepard.’ Ken said, ‘Yeah, I figured‘I’d Rather Die Young’ would do well.’ Slim said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, because I mean the side that’s got that l’il ol’ boy doing the talking on it!’ Of course, that was ‘A Dear John Letter’ with me and Ferlin.”
She pointed out when it came time to hit the road to promote her hits, Nelson was concerned that Jean was not yet 21, and asked Husky to look after her on tour: “You know mommy and daddy had to sign for me to go on the road, because I was under age. So they agreed to let Ferlin be my guardian. When we got on the road and Ferlin started pulling his pranks, I thought, ‘God, what have mama and daddy turned me loose with?’”
In 1953, Shepard was voted most promising female vocalist in a trade poll. It was a couple years, however, before her next hit charting, “A Satisfied Mind,” which peaked at #4 on Billboard, on Aug. 27, 1955. “That’s a story in itself,” added Shepard. “When I was on the (ABC-TV) Ozark Jubilee, I spent a lot of time at KWTO-Springfield in the station’s library listening to songs. Well, I come across this song by Joe ‘Red’ Hayes (and Jack Rhodes) and thought, ‘Boy, that’s a really good song.’ So the next Saturday night, I sang ‘A Satisfied Mind’ on the Jubilee, all four verses. Then Porter came up and asked, ‘Are you going to record that song? Because I’d like to cut it.’ I said, ‘Yes, I am. Wait for me.’ A couple hours later, Red said he’d like to record it, again I told him, ‘Wait for me.’ But they didn’t and both cut it. Mine was the last to be released.” Trust no one, she learned, as Porter got his first #1 record off the song, while Red teamed with daughter Betty, to attain another Top Five.
Still, it remains one of her finest performances: “How many times have you heard someone say?/‘If I had his money, I could do things my way’/But little they know, it’s so hard to find/One rich man in 10, with a satisfied mind . . .”
Jack Rhodes also contributed her next Top Five single, “Beautiful Lies,” backed by another Top 10 success “I Thought Of You” (by Jimmy Rollins), both country blues. This gave Jean her only two-sided hit single, marking yet another banner year for her.
As a result, on her 1955 birthday, Shepard (concluding her tenure with the Jubilee telecast) became a cast member of WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. At the time, she was only the fourth female Opry star aboard, behind Minnie Pearl (1940), Martha Carson (spring 1952) and Kitty Wells (fall 1952), but became the longest tenured female with 60+ years.
For the next seven years, her chartings took a downward spiral, though she remained a major concert draw. She was the first major female country artist to travel single with male troupes. Kitty and Martha toured with husbands; and Goldie Hill first traveled with brother Tommy Hill and then hubby Carl Smith.

Newlyweds Jean and Hawk.

Although the blonde singer kept her personal life private, there was a brief marriage on the West Coast. Jean was an established star when she met lanky Hawkshaw Hawkins, who would change her mind about musicians: “I knew enough about musicians that I felt I didn’t want one for a husband.”  While at the Ozark Jubilee, she came to know Hawkins: “He was married when I first met him . . . and 12 years older than me. We dated about a year, and I didn’t really fall all that hard at first. Hawk was a man’s man, a very friendly outgoing person, who liked to hunt and fish. He was 6’6” tall, but with boots on was more like 6’9” – I could walk under his arm (being 5’1” tall).”  After Hawk’s divorce, he and Jean were married on stage, Nov. 26, 1960 in Wichita, Kan., and booker Hap Peebles gave the bride away, while some 3,500 people witnessed. Thereafter, book one, you got the other. Hawk, newly-signed to Columbia Records, had several Top 10s under his belt, notably “Pan American,” “Dog House Boogie” and “Slow Poke.” Shepard matched him hit for hit, one a #1 (which Hawkins would achieve posthumously, with “Lonesome 7-7203”). Their happiness was short-lived, ending with that plane crash near Camden, Tenn., in which all four occupants died: Hawk, Cowboy Copas, Patsy Cline and pilot Randy Hughes.

Friends such as musicians Kitty and Smiley Wilson took her under their wing, getting her through the birth of Harold, Jr., which occurred April 8, 1963. Her first boy, Don Robin, was born Dec. 7, 1961, and 16 months old at the time of dad’s death. Jean’s first charting following her return was the upbeat “Second Fiddle (To An Old Guitar),” which at 24 weeks, charted a week longer than “A ‘Dear John’ Letter,” peaked at #5 and earned a best vocalist Grammy nod.
It’s been said that Jean had another brief marriage after the tragedy, to a cop, but never discussed that in any of our chats. Next thing she knew, her label paired her with newcomer Ray Pillow: “That happened after the Grand Ole Opry promoted a Pet Milk talent contest. Margie Bowes won it in 1959 and got a Hickory Records contract, and Ray won and got a Capitol contract. So Capitol decided to team him up with somebody, and I was the choice. But we did get a Top 10 duet ‘I’ll Take the Dog’ (1966) out of it.”
That same year, Jean took Don Wayne’s song “If Teardrops Were Silver” into the Top 10. Her take on Ned Miller’s “We Did All That We Could” was a near-Top 10 in 1967, preceding another dry spell.
In 1968, Jean fell in love again, this time with bluegrass musician Benny Birchfield, then playing in the Osborne Brothers’ band. They were wed on her birthday, Nov. 21, 1968.
“Right after we were married, my friend Teddy Wilburn came up to me and he said, ‘It ain’t gonna last!’ . . . About 15 years later, Teddy told me, ‘I owe you an apology.’ Well, it’s been 40 years now and if we ever make it to 50, we might exchange vows again.” The couple also had a son, Corey, born in 1969.
“A year ago this past April, he had a motorcycle wreck and is lucky to be alive,” she confided. “He completely disabled his right arm. Corey was really a good rock and roll guitar player. Now he’s able to move his fingers a bit, but he can’t hold his arm up for long. Fortunately, he was only riding about 40-mph. If he had been going about 80, he wouldn’t be here today.”
Just when they were counting Shepard out again, she cut another comeback track written by Norro Wilson and George Richey, “Then He Touched Me” (#8, 1970), earning her second Grammy nod. What was to be her last success on Capitol, “Another Lonely Night” (#12, 1970), was co-written by Jerry Crutchfield and Larry Butler. It was the latter, later as A&R chief at United Artists, who invited Jean to switch labels.
“I was between hits and tired of getting lost in the shuffle,” says Shepard, regarding her departure from Capitol after 20 years. “Buck Owens and Merle Haggard were big and I had two years to go on my contract. So I called Ken and said, ‘I want a release.’ There was complete silence on his end and I asked, ‘Ken, are you there?’ He said yes, and asked, ‘Are you sure?,’ and I told him I had given it a lot of thought, and he said he’d take it up with the board . . . I had been in touch with Larry Butler, and he got me a good check to sign with United Artists.”
The first U/A single out of the chute was Bill Anderson’s composition “Slippin’ Away” (#4, 1973), though Jean admitted she wasn’t initially big on it: “I didn’t really care about that song. I did a love song on the session called ‘I Want You Free.’ Jerry Reed played guitar on it and Henry Strzelecki played bass on it and just blew my hat in the creek!”
Benny, after hearing the songs, told Larry that “Slippin’ Away” was the hit, and Larry agreed. Jean couldn’t argue with success, and was a big fan of Anderson’s writing. In fact Shepard’s appreciation of Anderson’s writing skills, prompted her to cut an album of his songs (1976). Among Bill’s songs she’s recorded are “At the Time,” “Poor Sweet Baby” and “The Tip of My Fingers.” The latter charted in 1975, her last Top 20 single.
Like many of the Opry greats, she still did the occasional tour, and one of her favorite troupes was The Grand Ladies of Country Music, usually in Branson, featuring fellow veterans like Jeannie Seely and Jan Howard. In 1986, Jean tried something a bit farther afield for her, playing Jeannie Seely’s mom, while Lorrie Morgan played Seely’s daughter, in a local stage production for a 1986 country musical, “Takin’ It Home.”
One of Shepard’s favorite venues abroad was the Wembley Stadium in London, explaining a fond memory there: “They love country music and the more country it is, the better they like it. You know the last time we did the Wembley Festival, years ago, I went back on stage and took three or four bows because the people were just rantin’ and ravin’ over our set. Then during intermission, they set up the stage for Emmylou Harris and it took over an hour to tear down all the sound equipment to let her set up. The people booed her for that.”
Outspoken as always, Shepard recalled her own displeasure with how the Opry seemed to cater to contemporary divas. During a telecast of the Opry birthday some years back, Jean chose to pass, rather than be relegated to supporting status.
“I told (manager) Pete Fisher I wouldn’t be on it, and he said, ‘Oh, you’ve got to.’ I said I’d prefer not to. So the next week, he called to say, ‘Jean, please be on the TV show for me.’ But I declined, and he called me like three more times.”
By then Jean was the senior female artist on the program, approaching her half-century mark. Minnie Pearl, who died in 1996, still a member, had 56 years on the show.
“Finally Pete says, ‘Now c’mon, tell me why you won’t be on it?’ I said, ‘All right, I’m going to tell you like it is. I’m not mad or anything, but I’m not going out there and play second fiddle to somebody like Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton, artists like that. I’d rather not go on than be embarrassed.’ Pete said, ‘I’ll tell you what, if you’ll be on it, I promise you’ll be in the front row.’ I told him, be careful what you promise, if you can’t deliver, and he said, ‘You’ll be on the front row.’
“Come rehearsal, they had me way over on the side as we sang the opening number. Well, I did it and then turned around to the other artists, ‘Y’all can hang around this crap if you want to, but I’m taking my butt outa here!’ Vince Gill grabbed my arm and said, ‘Jean, you can’t do that.’ I said, ‘Just watch me, Vincie baby, I’m going home!’ Meantime, I didn’t know it then, but they had gone to get Pete and Steve Buchanan (president). When I got as far as the water-cooler (backstage), Steve Wariner caught up to me, probably to slow me down. I love Steve, but when he said, ‘You can’t do like this,’ I told him ‘I’m gone.’
“As I walked by that last hallway, they were waiting. Pete told me to come into the office that we had to talk. I wasn’t going to, but then Jeanne Pruett came up and said, ‘Shep, go on in and listen to what they have to say.’ Of course, I knew what they had to say, I’d been listening to it for 15 years and I was sick of it.
“Well, I did go into the office and after his spiel, I reminded Pete, ‘You know what you promised me!’ He said, ‘Yes I do, and I’m sorry, but Reba (McEntire) called to say she wanted Connie Smith on the front row with her.’ I laughed and said, ‘Pete, listen to yourself. Here’s a woman who’s been a member maybe 10 years and has only been here when the TV cameras are on, and she’s dictating what you’re gonna do! B.S.!’
“I was simply tired of being pushed into the background, and I said, ‘I’ll tell you when I got something to say, and I’ll say it to your face, not behind your back.’ Steve Buchanan never said a thing. He didn’t open his mouth, only shook his head when I said something. I didn’t go on the Opry for a couple weeks, but I had the pleasure of telling them what I thought. You know what? Pete’s been very good to me since.”

2011 Hall of Famers Jean, Bobby Braddock and Reba McEntire.

In 1995, Bear Family in Germany produced a five-disc musical retrospective box-set titled “Melody Ranch Girl,” boasting 151 tracks Shepard recorded for Capitol between 1952-1964. There’s also a 36-page booklet written by Chris Skinker included.
Asked what her greatest memories are, she paused then proceeded, “I have worked with the greats in country music, and I’m so proud to have known people like Roy Acuff, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Don Gibson, Marty Robbins, Carl Smith and Webb Pierce. These are the people who made country music and sadly, you hardly hear their records anymore.” Among females, who did she most admire: “Kitty Wells and Tammy Wynette. I love them so much, because they sing country.” She wishes more of the new breed would sing real country and singled out Chris Young as one of her new favorites: “I had the pleasure of introducing him on the Opry for the first time.”
In 2010, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.
In 2011, she was finally named to the Country Music Hall of Fame, along with Reba McEntire and songwriter Bobby Braddock.
In 2014, Jean’s candid biography, “Down Through The Years” was published and heavily promoted via RFD-TV. She even made numerous guest appearances on shows sponsored by Springer Mountain Farms Chickens, one of her backers. Sadly, as her illness progressed, she appeared less and less.
When asked how she would like to be remembered, the Opry’s Grande Dame murmured, “I love what I do, and I do what I love; I just want to be known as a good person, who was good for country music.”
Survivors include husband Benny Birchfield, sons Don, Harold and Corey, brothers Sonny and Jerry Shepard; sisters Frances Bullock and Carolyn Shepard; 25 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Among those spotted in her Sept. 30 service overflow were fellow Opry artists John Conlee, Jan Howard, Jeannie Seely, Connie Smith, The Whites, Jeanne Pruett, Ranger Doug, Bill Anderson and former Opry manager Jerry Strobel, as well as Mandy Barnett, Kelly Lang (Sheppard), David Frizzell, Jeannie Bare, Casey Anderson, Billy Linneman, and . . . WSM announcer Eddie Stubbs delivered the eulogy, after her pastor The Reverend Larry Gilmore, opened the service, reminding attendees to silence cell phones: “Jean won’t be taking any calls today.”
Nonetheless, Terri Clark (“Girls Lie, Too”) tweeted, “R.I.P. Jean Shepard. You were a pistol and I adored you. Thank you for blazing a trail for us . . .”                                  Jean & Kitty Wells.

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Rock guitar god Scotty Moore dies . . .

Elvis sideman Scotty Moore, 84, passes  . . .

NASHVILLE — Scotty Moore, the guy some say invented rock ’n’ roll guitar, died June 28, at his home in Nashville at age 84. Rock fans recall it was Moore, who with bassist Bill Black and “the kid with the strange name, Elvis” first performed “That’s Alright, Mama” in Sam Phillips’ historic Sun Records Memphis studio, July 5, 1954. They became known as The Blue Moon Boys, thanks to their hip revival of Bill Monroe’s classic “Blue Moon Of Kentucky,” and later that year were playing KWKH-Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride.
Moore, a member of both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, had been suffering from ill health in recent months, including heart and liver disease. He was highly rated among guitarists, among those claiming his playing influenced them were Beatle George Harrison, Stray Cats’ Brian Setzer, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Rolling Stone Keith Richards. For Page, it was the Elvis hit “Baby, Let’s Play House,” and listening to Scotty on guitar, that encouraged him to play. Keith told an interviewer that when most people heard Presley’s “That’s Alright, Mama,” they wanted to be Elvis, “but I wanted to be Scotty!”

Scotty Moore and longtime pal Wanda Jackson-1
Scotty and longtime friend Wanda Jackson.

Winfield Scott Moore III was born Dec. 27, 1931 on a farm half way between Gadsden and Humboldt, Tenn., the youngest in a family of boys, all of whom played an instrument. At 8, “Scotty” began pickin’ on the guitar which an older brother provided. Among his own influences were Merle Travis, B. B. King and later Chet Atkins: “I loved the playing of Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, but I didn’t even know their names back then . . . I’ve always said if you can’t play a little blues in any kind of song, it ain’t worth the paper it’s written on.”
Anxious to see the world, in 1948 he lied about his age (being just under the legal enlisting age of 17) to join the Navy. That service found him sailing aboard the ships USS Kent County and USS Valley Forge, to places like Korea and China, before receiving his January 1952 discharge.
Returning to Memphis, he worked at various jobs and was a hatter when he hooked up with Doug Poindexter & The Starlite Wranglers, playing guitar and handling bookings. In early 1954, he decided they needed a record to give them a more professional appeal, accomplishing that at Sun Records: “My Kind Of Carrying On.” Little came of their single, but Sam liked Scotty and engaged him for other projects. In June, Sam suggested Scotty give a listen to a youngster, who had cut a birthday disc for his mom a year earlier, named Elvis Presley. He did just that at his home, inviting Starlite Wrangler bassist Black to sit in on the lad’s July 4th “audition.”
“So he came over, and he had the pink shirt, pink pants on, with the typical ducktail haircut of that time, white shoes, which, well maybe he was ahead of his time, the way he was dressed, which didn’t bother me one way or the other, because I was interested in what he sounded like singing,” recalled Moore, adding neither he nor Black were terribly impressed with the teen singer-guitarist. Still, they thought with the right song, he might sound a lot better, for he was young “. . . and he sang in key.”
Based on their assumption, Sam set up a session right after the Independence Day holiday, for two songs: “Harbor Lights” and “I Love You Because.” During a session break, a bored Elvis began horsing around, pickin’ and singin’ R&B veteran Arthur (Big Boy) Crudup’s “That’s Alright, Mama,” quickly joined by Bill and then Scotty, caught up in their antics. A bewildered Phillips asked what they were up to, and they explained, but to their surprise, Sam said he liked what he was hearing, something new and fresh, so another number was added to the July 5 line-up. The two records created some interest, especially with local DJ Dewey Phillips (unrelated to Sam), particularly “That’s Alright, Mama,” backed by “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Based on airplay garnered, they began making personal appearances throughout the area, with Moore managing and booking the act. On Oct. 16, 1954 the Blue Moon Boys were strutting their stuff for KWKH-Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride audiences, which led to a year’s contract on the weekly program. Earlier, they had bombed at WSM, where an Opry official told Presley he had best go back to driving truck, his former day job.
It was in August ’55 that drummer D. J. Fontana joined the Blue Moon Boys, while on a Louisiana Hayride troupe tour. By then, Memphis booker Bob Neal was managing the act, landing them opening slots with such country stars as Roy Acuff, Martha Carson, Faron Young, Ferlin Husky, Kitty Wells, Johnnie & Jack, and Slim Whitman, none of whom quite knew what to make of this phenomenon in the wild attire, who attracted screaming teen-age girls and proved a tough act to follow. One such star Hank Snow decided to mentor Elvis and assigned his personal manager Tom Parker to promote the budding star, who had his first #1 single “I Forgot To Remember To Forget,” backed by another hit “Mystery Train” in 1955. Little did Snow or the Blue Moon Boys realize how drastically  “The Colonel” would change their star attraction, after signing Elvis to a personal management pact – much to Hank’s chagrin – while securing a lucrative RCA recording contract (Hank’s label) with Steve Sholes in November 1955. The first release “Heartbreak Hotel” stunned the industry, selling in excess of two million singles, hitting #1 on both Billboard’s country and pop charts early in 1956. To the amazement of all, Elvis added three more #1 songs to his country and pop resume that same year: “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” Amazingly, the latter two also topped the R&B chart, a first for a country artist.
Meanwhile, musicians Moore, Black and Fontana were caught up in the action, performing on those initial hits, but without sharing in the profits (as Elvis had promised, if they made it big). In fact, the Colonel cut them off from their previous camaraderie with their chief Blue Moon Boy, creating diversions that kept Elvis from them, while convincing RCA chief Sholes to consider veteran session players at studio time. Parker put their salaries at $200 weekly when performing with Presley, and $100 weekly, when sitting out shows; however, with major guest shots on Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan and Frank Sinatra telecasts, Elvis was much in demand. Yet, he was calling less and less on his Boys, prompting Moore and Black to tender their resignation in writing (September 1957), since being denied access to the star of the show. Subsequently, they discussed their dilemma with an inquiring reporter, which infuriated the Colonel, enough so that Presley accepted their offer to quit. But fortunately that was short-lived and the boys returned for a time to backing their buddy, both in the studio and in films like “Loving You,” “Jailhouse Rock” (1957), “King Creole” (1958) and later “GI Blues”  (1960). As the world knows, Presley was drafted into the Army in 1958, taking him far from Memphis and Hollywood for two years.
As a result, Bill formed the Bill Black Combo, recording for Hi Records, scoring such pop hits as “White Silver Sands,” “Josephine” and “Blue Tango,” until his death of a brain tumor in 1965 at age 39. Behind the scenes, Scotty invested in and became vice president of Fernwood Records, and personally produced the 1959 Top Five pop hit “Tragedy,” recorded by Thomas Wayne (Perkins), brother to Johnny Cash guitarist Luther Perkins.
Upon Presley’s 1960 discharge, Moore commenced recording sessions with Elvis at RCA, and also served as production manager at Sam Phillips’ Recording Service, which involved supervising all aspects of that operation.
In 1964, Moore recorded his own instrumental LP titled “The Guitar That Changed The World,” with producer Billy Sherrill for Epic, prompting a seemingly jealous Sam to fire him. Scotty relocated to Nashville, starting up Music City Recorders, a studio just off Music Row, and also initiated Belle Meade Records. Finally, in 1968, Moore reunited with Presley for his NBC-TV Elvis: Comeback Special in Hollywood, for what would be Scotty’s last recorded event with The King of Rock & Roll.
In 1970, Scotty engineered Beatle Ringo Starr’s recording “Beaucoup Of Blues,” an Apple release, cut at his Music City Recorders. Finally, in 1973, he sold his interest in the company and began independent engineering, primarily at Monument Studios. In 1975, Moore recorded with longtime friend Carl Perkins on his “EP Express,” a Mercury Records release. Ever the businessman, Scotty bought the building housing Monument Studios and opened his Independent Producers Corporation, a tape duplication firm, though continuing to handle free-lance engineering projects. From the mid-1970s to early 1980s, he engineered numerous TV shows for Opryland Productions, headlining players like Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Minnie Pearl, Bob Hope, Perry Como, Ann-Margret and Carol Burnett. Incidentally, we first chatted with Scotty at We Make Tapes, a retail recording duplication business he launched in 1979, just off Music Row, which good friend Gail Pollock helped run. (At the time, we were wrapping a Dick Curless album.)
In 1992, Scotty did another Carl Perkins session – “706 ReUnion: A Sentimental Journey” – released on his Belle Meade Records. A highlight in August that year, was a live gig with Perkins, part of their “Good Rockin’ Tonight” program, boasting the celebrated Sun Rhythm section, featuring James Burton, D. J. Fontana, Ronnie McDowell and The Jordanaires, a project prompting a tour in England. Not necessarily known for writing, among songs Moore co-penned are “My Kind Of Carrying On,” “Now She Cares No More” and the instrumental “Have Guitar, Will Travel.” In 1997, Moore collaborated with James Dickerson to write his memoirs, “That’s Alright, Elvis,” at the urging of Scotty’s daughter Vicki, for Schermer Books. That year, too, Moore and D.J. Fontana recorded a tribute album “All the King’s Men,” which included such guest artists as Keith Richards, Ron Wood, Jeff Beck, Levon Helm, Jim Weider, Rick Neilson.
Another United Kingdom tour occurred in April 1999 with Fontana, which saw Scotty meeting fellow guitarists George Harrison and Robert Plant. Come July that year, he was honored in a gathering of British guitar greats in Sir George Martins Studio, where Gibson Guitars introduced the limited production guitar Scotty Moore Signature ES-295.
Scotty was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a sideman in 2000. He was invited in 2003 to record with Alvin Lee, “Ten Years After,” sharing studio time with Fontana, Pete Prichard, bass, and Willie Rainsford, keyboards. (That album was mixed at Alvin’s Space Studio in England and released in May 2004.)
In April 2003, Moore, along with Fontana and the late Bill Black, became one of the first recipients of NARAS’ Memphis Music Heroes Awards. That year he also underwent brain surgery to treat a subdural hematoma on Dec. 5, which proved successful for the veteran player.
During December 2004, Moore was honored by top UK artists Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, David Gilmour, Ron Wood, Bill Wyman and Albert Lee collectively, during an Abbey Road Studio celebration in London. That event was recorded and filmed, and released on DVD.
It was in August 2005 that Scotty made a tour in Norway and the UK, performing what he called his “swan song” abroad at the London Jazz Cafe (Aug. 15). Periodically, Scotty would still tour with such acts as The Mike Eldred Trio, Lee Rocker, Ronnie McDowell and The Jordanaires.
The Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville recognized The Blue Moon Boys, Nov. 26, 2007, with induction, co-sponsored by the Nashville Musicians Association, of which he was a Lifetime Member (AFM Local 257). In 2013, Moore and Dickerson published another bio, “Scotty & Elvis: Aboard the Mystery Train” (Mississippi University Press).
Yet another accolade came Moore’s way in October 2015, induction into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, with Keith Richards accepting on his behalf, being too ill to attend.
Less lucky in love, Moore’s three marriages ended in divorce. His longtime companion, Gail Pollock, died in November 2015.  Survivors include five children and several grandchildren. Moore was buried June 30, beside his parents in Humboldt, following a private ceremony.                                                                     – Walt Trott

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Ralph Stanley, pioneer bluegrass legend . . .

Ralph Stanley up close and personal‘O Death’ Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley dies . . .

NASHVILLE — On June 23, the Grand Ole Opry lost its senior member Ralph Stanley, 89, when the bluegrass icon died, following treatment for skin cancer at his Sandy Ridge, Va. home, says musician-grandson Nathan. Following participation in the 2000 blockbuster film “O Brother Where Art Thou,” Stanley won a 2001 Grammy award for his a cappella soundtrack performance of the song “O Death” and was invited to join WSM’s Opry cast after years of only guest shots. Amusingly, Stanley insisted on using the term “Doctor” with his name for news releases and advertising, having received that 1976 honorary designation from Lincoln Memorial University in East Tennessee, where the average class size is 13.
“Ralph Stanley was elemental. His voice was freshwater, wind, sky, and stone,” stated Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum. “Dr. Ralph is revered by Bob Dylan, Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, Gillian Welch, Ricky Skaggs, and most anyone else equipped to handle the unfiltered truth.”
Stanley was a featured artist in D. A. Pennebaker’s acclaimed documentary “Down From The Mountain” (2000); and, of course, “The Ralph Stanley Story,” yet another film documentary, directed by Herb Smith, that same year.
Born Ralph Edmund, Feb. 25, 1927 in rural Dickenson County, Va., to Lucy Jane (Rakes) and sawmill operator Lee Stanley, both were musicians, who survived previous mates. “I was borned way back in the hills,” Ralph recalled for a reporter. Of all Lucy and Lee’s children, only Ralph and Carter (two years his senior) showed musical talent, as she taught Ralph to play banjo from age 10, clawhammer style, while Dad guided Carter on guitar. Indeed, the boys once performed together on WNVA-Norton, Va. Following Ralph’s high school graduation in 1945, that same month he enlisted in the military. Upon discharge in 1946, he and Carter began the Stanley Brothers, forming their first Clinch Mountain Boys band.
Despite a slow start, they hosted the WCYB-Bristol, Va., Farm & Fun Time show for free, but promoted show dates on air, and toured briefly with fellow newcomer Mac Wiseman. When Mac and Carter fell out, due to Lee Stanley’s suspect arrangements as manager and booker, the siblings traveled solo. Signing with local label Rich-R-Tone in ’48, they recorded “Molly & Tenbrooks” as their first

Ralph Stanley Jr., senior and Vern Gosdin-1
Vern Gosdin with Ralph II and Ralph Sr. backstage.

track, a year ahead of Bill Monroe’s classic cut. It was at WCYB that Ralph developed his famed rolling three-finger banjo style.  In 1949, the Stanleys signed with Monroe’s label Columbia, causing an irate “Father of Bluegrass to switch to Decca, feeling they stole his songs and bluegrass style. Stanley successes there included “White Dive,” “Pretty Polly” and “Man Of Constant Sorrow,” and they began performing farther afield, thanks to radio stops in Maryland, Louisiana, North Carolina, Florida, West Virginia and Virginia, but believed Bill Monroe was their main barrier at prestigious WSM. At Mercury (from 1953-’57), the brothers recorded such songs as Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” their original “Dickenson County Breakdown,” “Big Tilda” and “Lonesome and Blue.” In the late 1950s, the boys signed with Syd Nathan’s King Records in Cincinnati, Ohio, recording such as “How Mountain Girls Can Love,” “Midnight Ramble” and Ruby Rakes’ “How Far To Little Rock,” charting 12 weeks (#17, 1960), their only Billboard country singles charting. (Ruby Rakes was yet another pen name for Carter Stanley.)
Ralph, admittedly not the prolific writer Carter was, did pen some songs, including “The Fields Have Turned Brown,” “Gonna Paint the Town” and “Clinch Mountain Backstep,” a lively banjo tune. He had a wry sense of humor, and didn’t cotton to the idiom bluegrass, preferring instead mountain music.
As rock and roll came onto the scene in the mid-1950s, the Stanleys started struggling, even down some say to accepting $50 gigs. At one point, Ralph augmented his income toiling as a welder in Detroit; however, by the later ’50s, they rebounded nicely, due to a trend towards folk and old-time music styles, putting them in demand on college campuses and at outdoor folk and bluegrass festivals. Among their more requested songs of the day were “Man Of Constant Sorrow,” “Angel Band,” “Little Maggie” and “The Lonesome River.”
Sadly, Carter’s penchant for hard liquor created friction on tour and caused a downturn in his health, leading to a sudden and early death Dec. 1, 1966, at age 41. It was a devastating loss to Ralph, whose keening tenor provided a distinctive touch to the gritty lead vocals of Carter, who was a charismatic front-man for the duo, and chief songwriter. Nonetheless, Ralph chose that old adage, the show must go on, stepping into the spotlight vacated by Carter. Striving to overcome an innate shyness, he assembled some of the finest young players for the band, including such future notables as Larry Sparks, Roy Lee Centers, Curly Ray Cline, Jack Cooke, Melvin Goins, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Charlie Sizemore and Sammy Adkins, to assure entertainment value. Meanwhile, he was steadily perfecting his own lead vocals.
In 1970, Stanley even began hosting an annual Hills Of Home music festival near Coeburn, Va., close to his old home turf. Unlike many country and bluegrass acts, Ralph didn’t migrate to Nashville, sticking instead to his Blue Ridge Mountain country roots. That may be part of the reason the Stanleys weren’t invited to join the Opry cast, though belatedly Ralph became a member at age 73, following the “O Brother Where Art Thou” flick, and its soundtrack album, which reportedly sold seven million. A runaway hit, it not only topped Billboard’s 200 chart, but also the trade weekly’s country album and soundtrack charts.
In 2004, the Ralph Stanley Museum & Traditional Mountain Music Center opened in Clintwood, Va. A year later, Ralph underwent triple bypass heart surgery at age 78, but following rehab treatment, hit the highway again, taking his music to fans across the country.
Soon Ralph was also collaborating with journalist Eddie Dean for his biography, “Man Of Constant Sorrow: The Life & Times of a Music Legend” (Gotham Books, 2009), which generated one of the biggest monetary advances ever for a bluegrass artist.
James Alan Shelton, then Clinch Mountain Boys’ lead guitarist and road manager, exclaimed, “He’s the man! And it makes me proud that he is getting recognition that is long overdue . . . and the thing is, he still sounds great.”
Besides Shelton, Ralph Stanley has influenced such notables as Skaggs, Whitley, Dwight Yoakum, Jerry Garcia, Patty Loveless and Bob Dylan. Stanley’s son Ralph II, who some say has vocals and guitar chops more reminiscent of Uncle Carter, played with his pop, before going solo, earning Grammy nods of his own. Reportedly, he’ll now assume leadership of the Clinch Mountain Boys to keep the show on the road, much as dad did back in 1966. And then there’s grandson Nathan Stanley, who has been performing with granddad several years.
In retrospect, Ralph could look back on numerous achievements, including the 1984 National Heritage Award given by President Ronald Reagan; a 1992 induction of the Stanley Brothers into the Bluegrass Hall of Honor; multiple Grammys, including one for best country male singer (2001), citing “O Death,” a musical dialogue with the Grim Reaper; another in 2002 for best bluegrass album, “Lost In The Lonesome Pines” (Jim Lauderdale, Ralph and the Clinch Mountain Boys); and also that year, IBMA’s best recorded event for his “Clinch Mountain Sweethearts,” cut with various female stars including Loveless. In 2006, Ralph was honored with a National Folk Medal of the Arts by President George Bush, despite being an avowed Democrat, who previously participated in the inaugurations of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
Survivors include Jimmi, his wife of 47 years; daughters Lisa Joy and Tonya; sons Tim and Ralph II; seven grandchildren; and a great-grandchild. A service, open to the public, was held June 28 at Hills of Home Park, State Route 654, a.k.a. Carter Stanley Highway, between Coeburn and McClure, conducted by Mullins Funeral Home. Pallbearers included Ralph II and Nathan. Honorary Pallbearers: Clinch Mountain Boys bandsmen, plus Jim Lauderdale, Josh Turner, Dewey Brown, Ralph Murphy, Bobby Hammons and Ricky Skaggs. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Shriner’s Hospital and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Ralph Stanley’s honor.                                                                              – Walt Trott

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Iconic music maker Moman . . .

 Versatile ‘Chips’ Moman produced rockabilly, R&B, country hits

     NASHVILLE — A man for all seasons of music, songwriter-producer Chips Moman died June 13 at a hospice in LaGrange, Ga., where he had been battling lung disease. A musical maverick, Moman’s best known for producing hits on Waylon Jennings, Aretha Franklin, B. J. Thomas and, of course, Elvis Presley. Moman copped a 1976 Grammy for his country co-write “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” (with Larry Butler), a #1 for B.J. Thomas. Born June 12, 1937 in LaGrange, he began playing guitar as a youngster. At 14, he ran away from home, hitchhiking to Memphis, where he obtained work on his cousin’s paint crew. While strumming his guitar in a drugstore, country singer Warren Smith (“Odds and Ends”) heard and offered him a job with his road show. Soon he was touring with rockabilly acts Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps (“Be-Bop-A-Lula”), and Johnny Burnette (“You’re 16”). In an interview later, Moman pointed out that all three of those artists died at a relatively young age.
While fresh out of his teens, he spent time in Los Angeles, trying to make his way as a studio musician at Gold Star Studio. During the early 1960s, however, Moman returned to Memphis, hitching his star to the indie Satellite Records, primarily a country label as an engineer, but when that didn’t pan out, started concentrating on producing soul singers. The label’s first regional success was Carla Thomas’ “Gee Whiz” in 1960, which Atlantic picked up, turning it into a national Top Five R&B single (and a crossover pop Top 10).
Moman, who liked to gamble, garnered the nickname “Chips.” Less of a gamble was aligning himself with the Stax label, bringing in Carla’s dad Rufus Thomas, who scored with “Walking The Dog.” Chips produced some of the now legendary label’s early soul hits, notably “Last Night” by The Mar-Keys and “You Don’t Miss Your Water” by William Bell. In a huff, Moman departed Stax in 1964, regarding payments for Booker T. & The MGs’ mega hit “Green Onions.”
Chips then organized The Memphis Boys, session bandsmen, who helped define the earthy Memphis Sound of the 1960s, and founded his American Sound Studio (with Don Crews) in ’67. There 120-plus hits were produced for such notables as The Gentrys, B. J. Thomas, Dusty Springfield and Neil Diamond. Chip’s most successful sessions, however, were with Elvis Presley, starting in January 1969, when the king of rock and roll turned to him to resuscitate his flagging recording career, cutting “Suspicious Minds” and “In The Ghetto,” for starters. Their collaboration resulted in the iconic studio album “From Elvis In Memphis” (1969), representing Presley’s first Memphis session since his mid-1950s Sun days. A year later, they reunited for Elvis’ “Back In Memphis.”
The innovative Chips also developed a talent for writing, including pairing with Dan Penn on the soulful “Dark End Of The Street” a hit for James Carr, and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” for Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin. He left Memphis in 1972, played sessions at Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals, Ala., and then moved north to Nashville. Among artists he worked with tin Music City were Jennings, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, producing such successes as “Luckenbach, Texas,” “The Wurlitzer Prize” (both of which he wrote), “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” “Pancho & Lefty” and Nelson’s 1982 cover of “Always On My Mind,” earning Willie a Grammy for best country vocal, plus best single and best song. Speaking of Grammys, Chips encouraged Willie, Waylon, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash in 1985 to do “The Highwayman,” which earned that prize as best song.
Moman and Memphis merged again, when in September 1985, Chips produced the “Class of ’55” session reuniting former Sun Records artists Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison, prompting a documentary by Dick Clark Productions, tracking their historic get-together from start to finish. Initially it was coupled with the album and marketed as a TV product. Further, John Fogerty contributed the album’s song finale “Big Train (From Memphis),” which blended the vocals of John, Dave Edmunds, Ricky Nelson, The Judds, June Carter Cash and Sam Phillips, Sun’s founder. A sideline to the event was another recording, “Interviews From The Class of ’55 Recording Sessions,” which earned the performers and Moman a shared 1987 Grammy for Best Spoken Word.
Other compositions credited to Chips include “This Time,” recorded by Troy Shondell; “Love Looks Good On You,” cut by David Houston; and “So Much Like My Dad,” recorded by George Strait. Among other country artists cutting his songs were Johnny Lee, Barbara Mandrell, Archie Campbell & Lorene Mann. Moman, a member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame since 1990, was previously wed to songwriter Toni Wine (who wrote “A Groovy Kind of Love,” “Candida” and “Black Pearl.”
In the early ’90s, Chips relocated to West Point, Ga., not far from LaGrange, where for a time he continued to produce and record until ill health set in. Survivors include his wife Jane, daughter Monique and son Casey. Funeral arrangements were not completed at the time of writing.