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