Randy Travis Day in Nashville . . .
NASHVILLE — Randy Travis, 57, can look back on a good year career-wise, having been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last fall, and honored at an all-star tribute concert in Bridgestone Arena here, Feb. 8. Nashville Mayor Megan Berry even proclaimed it Randy Travis Day! Among stellar players paying homage to the N.C. native during a Heroes & Friends (sub-titled 1 Night, 1 Place, 1 Time) gala were Garth Brooks, Kenny Rogers, Tanya Tucker, Jamey Johnson, Alison Krauss, Travis Tritt, Chris Janson, Wynonna, Alabama and the Bellamy Brothers, as well as comedian Jeff Foxworthy. Since a massive stroke in 2013, it all seemed downhill for the seemingly trouble-prone performer, whose 16 #1 singles include “On The Other Hand,” “Forever and Ever, Amen,” “Too Gone, Too Long” and “Three Wooden Crosses.” Randy’s last hit was a remake of an old Travis title “I Told You So,” done as a duet with Carrie Underwood (#2, 2009), upping his total Top 10 singles chartings to 30. His 19-year marriage to manager Lib Hatcher ended in late 2010, and after a few arrests involving alcohol in 2012, he attempted to get his life back in order, returning to filmmaking, portraying a dying singer in “The Price” in 2013. On July 7, 2013, however, Randy suffered respiratory infection, but while hospitalized had a massive stroke. It left him partially paralyzed with halting speech and seemingly forever bound to a wheelchair. On March 21, 2015, Randy married Mary Davis, former wife of his Dallas dentist Dr. Ritchie Beougher. Reportedly they had been engaged since before his stroke, and she stood beside him through three tracheotomies, two brain surgeries, three bouts of pneumonia and staff infections, giving him hope for recovery, despite doctors’ dour warnings. After two-and-a-half strenuous years in rehab, Randy could walk haltingly with a cane, and his speech improved enough that he stunned Country Hall of Fame attendees the night of his induction by briefly singing “Amazing Grace.” Mary did a cameo as his wife in Travis’ last film “The Price,” finally released in June 2015. Relative newcomer Chris Young told The Tennessean newspaper, “What doesn’t he mean to country music, especially to someone who grew up as a baritone singer in country music? I would just constantly sing his stuff. He means a whole lot to a lot of singers, not just me.” The salute closed with a singalong: “Amazing Grace” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Profits benefit in part both victims of stroke and cardiovascular diseases, through the new Randy Travis Foundation. The day had also been declared Stroke Awareness Day in Travis’ honor by Tenn. Gov. Bill Haslam, who attended the show.
Scene Stealers: Well we all knew country queen Loretta Lynn, 84, was throwing her support behind businessman-turned reality TV star Donald Trump, during his presidential campaign, insisting to anyone within earshot: “Trump’s the only one who’s gonna turn our country around!” Lately she’s been scolding all those putting down his actions against Muslims, or holding up his cabinet choices in congress, and particularly those females (and others) parading and protesting against him: “I think they oughta leave him alone, and let him do his job as President!” She told Rolling Stone magazine, “They need to help him, not hinder him. Everybody ought to pitch in and help, do everything they can to help the man.” The Coal Miner’s Daughter also took issue with the Women’s Marches (which Reuters estimated at nearly five million persons, rallying across the nation), saying “A march is fine . . . (but) they should’ve done it with more class. I thought that Madonna and Ashley Judd (Naomi’s daughter) . . . they got a little too far out. For God’s sake, march if you want to, but do it with class!” . . . Luke Bryan was invited to sing The National Anthem live prior to the kick-off of the annual Super Bowl football competition at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, Feb. 5, probably America’s biggest sport event. Bryan chose to do so a cappella, and admittedly practiced doing so around the house before heading to Houston: “I didn’t want the risk of not singing it great or negative criticism to outweigh my love for the ability to get up to honor my country and my veterans. That’s the way you have to go at it.” The country star was the first male in a decade to do the honors (since Billy Joel’s version in 2007). Little wonder his rendition was well-received, as Bryan’s scored 17 #1 singles and earned two CMA Entertainer of the Year trophies. Vying early on for the spotlight were Broadway spectacular “Hamilton’s” Schuyler Sisters, singing “America The Beautiful,” and fresh from hospitalization, former President George H.W. Bush and his First Lady, helped start Super Bowl 51 with his coin toss, won by the Atlanta Falcons, who nonetheless lost in overtime (34-28) to the rival New England Patriots team. Incidentally, a former National Anthem singer, Lady Gaga wowed the audience with her half-time performance.
Bits & Pieces: Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman and hubby Steve welcomed a newly-adopted baby daughter New Year’s Eve, only sharing the news via Instagram on Jan. 12, with a picture of the couple and daughter Daisy Pearl, 9, surrounding the family’s newcomer. Kimberly accompanied the shot with the inscription: “The New Year brought our family new love. We’re so excited to introduce you to Daisy’s little sister, Dolly Grace.” . . . Shane McAnally and Jason Owen have teamed up to resurrect Fred Foster’s old label Monument Records in partnership with Sony Music Entertainment, reports Sony’s CEO Doug Morris. “We’re proud to be their partners under the iconic Monument label and management executive who has played an important role in the careers of some of Nashville’s biggest stars and most exciting newcomers, and Shane is an incredibly accomplished songwriter and fantastic talent developer.” Already signed to the “new” label are Caitlin Smith and Walker Hayes. A press release stressed Monument is an imprint of SME and not Sony Music Nashville, and will employ a staff of “creative and innovation thinkers.” According to Morris, “It’s always an amazing opportunity to work with two people who are as talented and nice as Jason and Shane.” Owen has managed such stars as Faith Hill, Dan+Shay and Little Big Town, while McAnally is regarded as one of Music City’s top writers with hits like Keith Urban’s “John Cougar, John Deere, John: 3:16,” Miranda Lambert’s “Vice” and Kenny Chesney’s “Noise,” and has produced such as Kacey Musgraves, Jake Owen and Kelly Clarkson. Past Monument Records legends include Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Jeannie Seely and screen star Robert Mitchum . . . Nice to know Jessi Colter’s releasing her first album in nearly a dozen years, the inspirational “Psalms,” out March 24. Fans loved her self-penned successes “I’m Not Lisa,” “What’s Happened To Blue Eyes” and “Storms Never Last” (as did Dottsy in 1975). This latest effort was co-produced by Lenny Kaye, and sort of coincides with the singer’s autobiography “An Outlaw & A Lady: A Memoir of Music, Life With Waylon and The Faith That Brought Me Home,” published April 11. No doubt Colter, 73, will touch on her first marriage to guitar whiz Duane Eddy (1962-’68) in the days when she used her real name Miriam Johnson, and the couple had a daughter Jennifer. In 1969, she wed Waylon Jennings (with whom she has a son nicknamed Shooter) and cut hit duets with him as Jessi Colter, notably “Suspicious Minds” and “Wild Side of Life/It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” Jennings died in 2002 . . . Charlie McCoy, an original A Team session harmoni-cat, has completed his biography – “Fifty Cents & A Box Top: The Creative Life of Nashville Session Musician Charlie McCoy,” co-authored with Travis Stimeling, set for release by West Virginia University Press in June 2017. McCoy recalls as a youngster reading an ad promising a harmonica for 50-cents each, plus a cereal box top as proof of purchase, which he refers to in the book’s title. McCoy is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame . . . Jenny Gill, daughter of Vince Gill and Sweetheart of the Rodeo Janis Oliver, is promoting her debut EP, “The House Sessions,” released Feb. 17. “Every song on this project takes me to somewhere in my past,” says Jenny, who wrote five of the songs. “My favorite songs to write are those that reflect personal experiences instead of just telling a story.” Dad produced the session, which also offers a surprise vocal by Sheryl Crow. Jenny’s first video off the EP, “Lonely Lost Me,” boasts an appearance by her toddler son Wyatt . . . Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) has purchased country label BBR (Broken Bow Records) and subsidiaries, gaining its star catalog of such artists Jason Aldean, Trace Adkins, Randy Houser, and Dustin Lynch. Although BBR Music Group will still operate from Nashville, the agency’s 48 staffers transfer to BMG, but retain their positions. “We didn’t just buy artists contracts or their brand, we bought a family of people that have given life and value to those artists and the brand. This isn’t a tear-it-down, keep certain parts and make it jumbled and discombobulated,” explains Zach Katz, BMG president stateside. The transition to the German-based conglomerate could mean enhanced sales internationally, as well. BBR was initiated in 1997 by Benny Brown, who watched it develop from an indie into a major label producing platinum-selling albums and some 30-plus hit singles by eight artists with Craig Morgan being the first to deliver a #1, “That’s What I Love About Sunday.”
Honors: LeAnn Rimes received the Ally For Equality award at the Human Rights Campaign’s Nashville Equality Banquet, March 25 in the Renaissance Hotel downtown. According to Blake Brockway, co-chairman, “LeAnn Rimes is boldly using her influence in the music world to empower people to accept and be their true selves. An outspoken advocate (for the LGBTQ community), she is also making a difference in the lives of countless young people across the country by standing up for LGBTQ youth and speaking out against bullying.” The singer known best for “Blue,” “One Way Ticket” and “How Do I Live,” believes, “People should be able to love who they love,” noting, “I know how that feels to be judged and put down. So from the deepest part of my heart, I truly, truly support them.” . . . It’s worth noting, too, that Blake Shelton was the first country-oriented act to win best album overall in the annual People’s Choice awards, Jan. 18, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. His “If I’m Honest” surpassed tough competition: Rihanna’s “Anti,” Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” Drake’s “Views,” and Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman,” all pop entries. Recognizing the achievement, Shelton said, “These are artists that move the dial worldwide . . . I’m just going, ‘Golly, me? Really, me? I won?’ Of course, I don’t sell as many records . . . but it shows you the loyalty and energy of the country fan bases out there. This win means everything to me.” The Voice co-host also earned favorite country male star, while Carrie Underwood won best country female and Little Big Town scored as best country group . . . The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum played host to the following artists: Nashville Cats: Salute to Saxophonist Jim Horn, Feb. 25; and its Poets & Prophets: Salute to Songwriter Mike Reid, happened March 4.
Ailing: There we were “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” in Bakersfield, Ca., upon learning legendary Willie Nelson was a no show for his Crystal Palace gigs, Feb. 6-8, due to an “undisclosed ailment.” We learned later that also meant earlier postponement of his Las Vegas shows, too. No word yet on whether it was flu or maybe something more serious; however, we can hardly wait until our 83-year-old hero’s back “On the Road Again.”
Final Curtain: Steel guitarist George Edwards, 79, died Dec. 29 in Nashville with his family at his side. Edwards worked with The Kitty Wells-Johnnie Wright Family Show 25 years, and also backed such legendary country stars as Faron Young, Patsy Cline, Porter Waggoner, Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, Willie Nelson and Hank Williams, Jr. He recorded with such as Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Rosemary Clooney, Vic Damone, Manhattan Transfer and Kitty Wells. Born George Dungan Edwards IV, on June 2, 1937, he grew up on the family farm in Feasterville, Pa.
George nourished a love of fishing, football and finally steel guitar. He actually began playing steel at age 12, and by manhood found himself playing in New Jersey and New York area house bands. Working in Kitty and Johnnie’s Family Show, he shared the stage with their son Bobby Wright of McHale’s Navy TV fame, singer-daughter Ruby Wright (“Dern Ya”) and singer Bill Phillips (“Put It Off Until Tomorrow”), plus a host of Nashville’s finest musicians. George suffered a debilitating stroke just weeks after Kitty and Johnnie’s 2000 farewell performance. Survivors include Sallie, his wife of 58 years; their children Sherie, Lori and George V; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Services were held at Hendersonville Funeral Home, Jan. 3, and in lieu of flowers participants were encouraged to donate to the Grand Ole Opry Trust Fund.
Country rocker Billy Joe Burnette, 76, who co-wrote Red Sovine’s #1 smash “Teddy Bear” (1976), died Dec. 29, outside his Port Orange, Fla., home, while planning his move back to Nashville. In 1990, he charted Billboard with his country single “Three Flags,” released on the independent Badger label. Born Billy Joe Barnette in Richmond, Va., he was given up for adoption and grew up in Roanoke. After meeting brothers Dorsey and Johnny Burnette, fellow rockabillies, in Los Angeles in 1964, he took their advice and changed Barnette to Burnette. It was back in Roanoke that he met Dr. A. J. Russo, with whom he co-wrote “Stomp, Shake and Twist,” which garnered national attention, no doubt due to the popularity of The Twist dance rage. Dick Clark of TV’s American Bandstand show helped by plugging Billy Joe’s disc “Marlene,” recorded on Philadelphia’s Parkway Records label. In the next decade he was working out of Nashville, where his weeper “Teddy Bear,” concerning a truck driver and a crippled boy, earned Grammy and CMA nominations, as well as a BMI writer award. In 2009, he released a double CD collection, “Virginia Rocks! The History of Rockabilly in the Commonwealth,” celebrated at Ferrum College’s annual Blue Ridge Folklife Festival, where Burnette was honored for his contribution to the state’s music history. He performed regularly while residing in Florida, at Crabby Joe’s Deck & Grill on an oceanside fishing pier. Among his more recent records were tearjerkers “What Heaven Has Sent,” and “The White House Boys” a la “Teddy Bear.”
Ace drummer Hayward S. Bishop, Jr., 71, died in a Nashville hospital Jan. 4, following a lengthy illness. Bishop was a veteran session player, performing on records of such acts as Alabama, Chet Atkins, Jackie DeShannon, Donna Fargo, Barbara Mandrell, Ronnie Milsap, Oak Ridge Boys, Jerry Reed, Sam & Dave, Billy Joe Shaver and Gary Stewart. He was also heard on commercials, TV and film soundtracks. A native of Norfolk, Va., Bishop is survived by daughter Amy Bishop-Kyker; and two granddaughters Julia and Lauren. Services were held Jan. 19 at Tulip Grove Baptist Church in Old Hickory, Tenn.
Guitarist Billy Sanford mourns the Jan. 10th death of singer-wife of 55 years Carol Williams, whom he met while performers on the KWKH-Shreveport Louisiana Hayride show. The couple and their two baby girls moved to Nashville in 1964. He has since enjoyed major success, touring or recording with such stars as Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Crystal Gayle, Ray Charles, The Monkees, Donna Fargo, Billy Joe Royal and George Jones. Survivors besides Billy include their two daughters Ginger and Lori; two granddaughters; and a great-granddaughter. Services were conducted Jan. 16 at Hermitage Funeral Home, with The Reverend Kenneth Butcher officiating, followed by interment in Hermitage Memorial Gardens.
Colorful Nashvillian Willie-Ann Weakley, 83, died Jan. 11, in Nashville. She was the daughter of Hattie (Tootsie) Bess, original owner of the touristy Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Lower Broad; step-daughter to Big Jeff Bess of WLAC’s Radio Playboys; and widow of WSM Grand Ole Opry staff drummer Harold Weakley. Predeceased by husband Harold and daughter Melissa, Willie-Ann is survived by sons Larry, Michael and Terry Weakley; nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. Services were held Jan. 14 at Woodbine Funeral Home, officiated by Wendell Byrd, followed by interment in Woodlawn Cemetery.
Americana artist Greg Trooper, 61, died from pancreatic cancer, Jan. 15, according to wife Claire Mullally: “I am heartbroken to tell you that Greg died in my arms this morning, with our son Jack hugging us both. It was merciful and tender . . . He gave us so much, but left us too soon.” A singer-songwriter, Greg’s career got a boost via his lyrical creations cut by others, like “Little Sister” (Steve Earle, off “The Devil’s Right Hand,” 2001) and “We Won’t Dance” (Vince Gill, on his Platinum-selling 1989 CD “When I Call Your Name”). Born in Neptune, N.J., Trooper hailed from the small Jersey town of Little Silver, and was influenced by a diverse trio of musical talents: Bob Dylan, Otis Redding and Hank Williams. He relished the Greenwich Village music scene in his younger days. In addition to playing acoustic guitar, Trooper also performed on harmonica, mandolin and piano. “We Won’t Dance” was the title of The Greg Trooper Band’s 1986 debut album. In reviewing Trooper, BBC-2 radio’s Bob Harris proclaimed, “Great stuff from one of the great American songwriters.” More recently, Trooper released his 13th album, “Live At The Rock Room,” recorded there in Austin, Texas, at a January 2015 performance. Insider fans included Americana icon Buddy Miller, who produced Greg’s acclaimed CD “Popular Demons” (1998, Koch Records), and songbirds Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash, each of whom furnished harmony for Greg’s sessions. Claire says a memorial celebration is in the works, to be announced later.
Drummer Clyde “Butch” Trucks, 69, who earned distinction with the Allman Brothers Band, reportedly shot himself Jan. 24 at his home in West Palm Beach, Fla. Trucks allegedly shot himself in the head in the presence of his startled wife, who summoned police. Born Clyde Hudson Trucks in Jacksonville, Fla., Butch began drumming in the eighth grade and the next year entered Englewood High School, where he not only played in the school band, but also the Vikings and Echoes bands locally, before graduation. Additionally, Butch played timpani in the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, and attended Florida State University. There he formed a unit he named the Bitter Ind. While playing in that group, Butch met Duane Allman, who would engage him for occasional gigs. Three years after that first meeting, the Allman Brothers Band was formed (1968) in Macon, Ga., and their self-titled debut LP produced the now-classic “Whipping Post.” Charter members also included Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Berry Oakley and Jai Johnny Johanson. In 1971, 24-year-old Duane died in a motorcycle accident, and only a year later Berry also perished in a cycle crash. “Ramblin’ Man” (off their #1 ’73 Brothers and Sisters LP) was a near chart-topper for the Capricorn label band. Their live 1971 double-album smash “At Fillmore East” sold platinum, followed by further successes, notably “Eat a Peach” (1972, released after Duane’s death), “Win, Lose or Draw” (1975) and “Enlightened Rogues” (1979, their final Top 10). The band broke up at least three times up to 2014, reforming and releasing further albums through 2016. Butch led his own group, as well, titled Butch Trucks & The Freight Train Band, which had bookings through spring ’17, and had Butch drumming his final gig with them Jan. 6. “I’m heartbroken,” noted Gregg Allman. “I’ve lost another brother and it hurts beyond words. Butch and I knew each other since we were teenagers and we were band-mates for over 45 years. He was a great man and a great drummer, and I’m gonna miss him forever. Rest In Peace Brother Butch.” A police investigation determined Truck’s death a suicide. Survivors include wife Melinda and children Melody and Vaylor Trucks, and a nephew, guitarist Derek Trucks, who also played with Gregg Allman’s band.
The Jan. 25th death of screen star Mary Tyler Moore, 80, reminds us that she was owner of country music label MTM Records (1984-1988), which celebrated such country artists as Judy Rodman (“Until I Met You,” #1, 1986), Holly Dunn (“Love Someone Like Me,” #2, 1986); Girls Next Door (“Slow Boat to China,” #8, 1986), SKO (“Baby’s Got a New Baby,” #1, 1987) and solo Paul Overstreet (“Love Helps Those,” #3, 1988). Lesser lights on MTM’s roster included Becky Hobbs (“Jones On the Jukebox,” #31, 1988) and Marty Haggard (“Trains Make Me Lonesome,” #59, 1988). Brooklyn-born Moore became a star in hit TV sitcoms, The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-’66) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-’77), but also scored on the big screen in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Ordinary People,” for which she received a 1980 best actress Oscar nomination. (Ironically, Moore lost to Sissy Spacek’s portrayal of Loretta Lynn in “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”) Her umbrella organization, MTM Enterprises, was purchased by Britain’s Television South PLC in July 1988, and subsequently much of MTM Records’ output was sold off to RCA-Nashville. A longtime diabetes sufferer, Moore died while hospitalized with pneumonia, and is survived by her physician husband Robert Levine.
Nashville-based singer-songwriter Jimmy Smart, 85, co-host of TV series Smart Country and Nashville Video Showcase, died Feb. 5, after suffering Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), a brain disorder affecting mobility. Smart shared the stage with such notables as Whisperin’ Bill Anderson, Kitty Wells, Johnnie Wright, Jack Greene and Clinton Gregory. A native of Terrell, Texas, Jimmy won a 1958 Georgia Jubilee talent contest in East Point, Ga., prompting him to form a band and cut records. Smart initially charted Billboard with 1960 back-to-back Top 20 country discs “Broken Dream” and novelty number “Shorty.” He made his move to Nashville in ’87, where with singer-wife Lorraine formed JLS Productions, releasing such songs as “Tell Me What To Do About Today,” “Forget You,” “Tommy’s Heroes” and “Second Thoughts,” also co-hosting their Video Showcase series 13 years, as well as Smart Country, giving a helping hand to such future stars as Joe Diffie, Little River Band and Chris Young. In 2013, fiddler-guitarist Jimmy was diagnosed with PLS, which curtailed his own performing career. An Air Force veteran of the Korean War, upon discharge, Smart worked a day job with Delta Airlines out of Atlanta for many years. Predeceased by son Scott, he is survived by wife of 29 years Lorraine, daughters Lisa and Lori, sons Michael, Anthony and Terry, 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Services were conducted Feb. 8 at Hendersonville Funeral Home, with interment in nearby Memory Gardens.