Ray Stevens opens new Nashville nightclub . . .
NASHVILLE — Pop-country star Ray Stevens, 79, is at it again, mixing music and mirth for fans here, much as he did a quarter century ago in Branson. The versatile entertainer opened CabaRay, his own nightspot Jan. 18, bringing back Ahab The Arab, Gitarzan, The Shriners Convention, Mississippi Squirrels Revival and his hysterical “Don’t look, Ethel,” it’s The Streak, to mark his return. Nashville Mayor Barry proclaimed Jan. 10 – the day media and VIPs enjoyed an advance peek at the 35,000 square-foot “state of the art” venue – Ray Stevens Day. Singer-songwriter Stevens stated, “I am deeply grateful to the Honorable Megan Barry and the people of Nashville for giving me my very own day. It’s especially meaningful that it’s on the day I’m sharing my CabaRay Showroom with family and friends in the music industry for the first time.” Ray will perform for guests weekly at the supper club (at 5724 River Road), which seats some 700 and offers free parking. Currently on public television, he hosts Ray Stevens’ CabaRay-Nashville, a half hour weekly music and talk show. Ray also co-starred on the big screen in the 2014 comedy “Campin’ Buddies” with Tom Lester. Currently, the CMA-Hall of Fame Museum’s “Sing Me Back Home” series is celebrating the multi-talented Georgia native’s 60-year career, encompassing a #1 mix of musical parodies such as “The Streak” with beautiful love songs like “Everything Is Beautiful,” both of which he wrote. The latter in 1970, and in 1975 his bluegrass-influenced arrangement on “Misty,” both earned him Grammy Awards. In 1980, Ray was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Association International’s Hall of Fame in recognition of such successes. Among his platinum-selling albums are “He Thinks He’s Ray Stevens,” “I Have Returned” and “Ray Stevens’ Greatest Hits.” Besides switching easily from novelty to love songs, Stevens is a multi-instrumentalist, who has sold in excess of 40 million discs. Little wonder “Everything Is Beautiful” for this legendary star.
Scene Stealers: Husband-wife team Faith Hill and Tim McGraw have been named in a plagiarism lawsuit by Australian songwriters Sean Carey and Beau Golden, along with Sony/ATV Music, its co-writers Ed Sheeran, Johnny McDaid, Amy Wadge and Steve Mac, pluas several associated publishers. Subject of the suit filed Jan. 10 in New York Federal Court by Carey and Golden is the Hill-McGraw hit “The Rest Of Our Life,” which the Aussies claim “blatantly copied” their 2014 composition “When I Found You,” a success Down Under by Jasmine Rae. According to the court filing, “The copying is, in many instances, verbatim, note-for-note copying of original elements of the Song (‘When I Found You’), and is obvious to the ordinary observer,” and the plaintiffs are seeking $5 million in damages, along with an injunction to block its further release. Their attorney, Richard Busch, is no stranger to Sheeran, who was named in an earlier $20 million suit Busch filed over the song “Photograph,” sounding too much like another, titled “Amazing,” which was settled, with the correct writers being added to the credits. Reportedly, in this latest dispute, Tom Holland, an Australian Sony staffer, is named and though he’s co-writer Jasmine’s boyfriend, she is not involved in the case. The suit says Holland presented Rae’s recording to Sony, allegedly trying to gain international exposure for her. Apparently unaware of the Australian single, Faith and Tim recorded the tune, featuring it on their first-ever collaborative album via Arista Records last fall. Beside damages, Carey and Golden seek a percentage of profits in addition to a running royalty rate, plus payment of court costs and legal fees. Stay tuned . . . Entrepreneur John Rich of the Big & Rich duo is on a roll, having just launched Redneck Riviera Whiskey in partnership with Eastside Distillery, officially Jan. 6, he and vocal partner “Big” Kenny Alphin announced Jan. 12, their brand new GIT Big $ Rich Casino game, created in collaboration with Proxima Brands, available in digital app stores and free downloads. Redneck Riviera is a copyright title of Rich, and consists of footwear, apparel and beach accessories, plus two honky-tonks: Redneck Riviera Vegas, on the strip near Bally’s Las Vegas, and the upcoming Redneck Riviera Nashville, slated for a spring opening on Lower Broad. Among their biggest charters are “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” and “Lost in This Moment.” Their new casino-style game offers loyalty points players can cash in for Big & Rich product and a brand prize of a VIP visit to one of their concerts. As Alphin says, “Let’s play. We are excited about the debut of our casino game and want everyone to GIT Big $ Rich coins that will have you playing our game for hours and hours. We look forward to meeting the player that winds the ‘Meet Big & Rich’ contest, too. Now, go get this sucker and let’s rock that spin button.” Eastside, a Tennessee LLC, will manage Redneck Riviera Whiskey, promote sales and any follow-up products. Initially they will focus on the Southeast, with a roll-out across the country in time to come. For further information, check out www.redneckriviera.com.
Honors: Reba McEntire’s legendary life and career have earned the artist a 2018 award, honoring her by the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans. The Oklahoma native, who shot to fame initially on Mercury Records 40 years ago, with the Top 20 ballad “Three Sheets In the Wind” (with Jacky Ward), followed by 1980s solo successes “(You Lift Me) Up To Heaven,” “I’m Not That Lonely Yet” and back-to-back #1 singles “Can’t Even Get the Blues” and “You’re the First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving.” McEntire’s label switch to MCA assured another 22 Billboard chart-toppers, including “Somebody Should Leave,” “Whoever’s In New England” and “Turn On the Radio.” The Grand Ole Opry star’s sitcom series Reba ran from 2001-2007; she starred in films like “The Gambler Returns”; won two Grammys; and in 2011 was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. She just extended her engagement with Brooks & Dunn in Las Vegas, thanks to nightly SRO shows. She acknowledged this latest award: “I always say you need three things to succeed in life: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone. These qualities have served me well in every part of my life, and I have no doubt my fellow honorees would agree. I am honored to be inducted into the Horatio Alger Association, and can’t wait to meet our 2018 scholars and help them in any way I can to reach their own dreams.” . . . Chris Stapleton out-distanced fellow players in Nielsen’s year-end rankings, thanks to 1.8 million albums, streaming on-demand and other downloads data. During 2017, he had the two top albums: “From a Room: Volume I,” in first place, followed by his album “Traveller” (first issued in 2015). Luke Bryan’s 1.1+ million sales, downloads and streams, garnered second; Thomas Rhett (994,000), third; Blake Shelton (984,000), fourth; and Kenny Chesney (955,000) fifth . . . Newly-named recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Emmylou Harris is also being honored by the Americana Music Association’s all-star fete, “A Salute To Emmylou Harris,” Jan. 27, at City Winery in New York City. Among those paying tribute to the veteran vocalist will be Rodney Crowell, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Steve Earle, Jack Ingram, Brandi Carlile and the Secret Sisters. A winner of 13 Grammy awards, the Salute is being co-sponsored by contributors such as ASCAP, Middle Tennessee State University, Nashville Music City and Tennessee Tourism . . . A Mel Tillis Memorial has been scheduled at the Ryman Auditorium, Jan. 31, honoring the Country Music Hall of Famer who died Nov. 19 at age 85. Tillis, also a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. During the public celebration, he will be remembered in stories and song by associates such as Larry Gatlin, Ray Stevens, Ricky Skaggs, Lorrie Morgan, Jamey Johnson, Brenda Lee, Collin Raye, Alison Krauss, Ira Dean, Daryle Singletary and his children Carrie April Tillis, Sonny Tillis and Pam Tillis. Mel’s band The Statesiders survivors will play as well.
Bits & Pieces: Russell Moore has announced IIIrd Tyme Out fiddler Justen Haynes has left the bluegrass band after a 12-year stint, playing his last show Jan. 6 at the Fairview Ruritan Club, Galax, Va. “Over the holidays, Justen and his family came to the conclusion that it was time for him to stay home more and concentrate on their new business (Haus Luc K9, a dog breeding and training site in Milford),” said bandleader Moore, who will name a new fiddler soon, in time to resume their touring come February . . . Nashville, currently produced by LionsGate Television Group, is in its final season on the CMT cable network. This marks its sixth season, since the nighttime drama’s 2012 debut on ABC-TV. Nashville was initially successful, but by 2016, the network canceled it due to declining viewership. Nonetheless, enough fans fought to save the prime-time drama and music program, prompting CMT to pick up the scuttled show. The final season kicked off Jan. 4, promising 16 episodes, reportedly with the final segment slated in summer 2018. Lionsgate executive Kevin Beggs, expressed the network’s belief “that creatively it is time for the series to come to its triumphant close at the end of the upcoming season.” . . . Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush reunited as award presenters for the Nov. 8 CMA awards gala, then resurfaced for the annual Dick Clark New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, special with Ryan Seacrest on ABC-TV. The duo has a new single, “Still the Same,” which sounds prophetic, since Sugarland (after a five-year split to pursue solo projects) has scheduled show-dates across the nation, hitting 48 cities, starting in May with gigs in Oklahoma, Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona, thru Sept. 4 in Newark, N.J., with a special homecoming show in Nashville, Aug. 2.
Ailing: Veteran vocalist Mickey Gilley, 81, suffered injuries, Jan. 3, when his vehicle crashed and rolled off the Interstate, following a Texas gig, while enroute to Branson, Mo. Reportedly, Gilley sustained a fractured ankle, fractured right shoulder, along with various bumps and bruises. His son also suffered minor injuries in the accident. According to Gilley on Facebook: “We rolled a car about three times over . . . I am having a hard time walking, because I have a big boot on my left leg. But other than that, I’m doing pretty good . . . it’s kinda tough sometimes on the old man, but I don’t intend to retire. I will be out there on the road and I’ll see you real soon.” He hoped to resume touring by Jan. 20, appearing at the Orange Blossom Opry in Weirsdale, Fla. Gilley enjoyed his 16th and 17th #1 singles in 1983: “Fool For Your Love” and “Paradise Tonight” (duet with Charly McClain) . . . Loretta Lynn, 85, suffered a fall in her home shortly after the New Year arrived, that’s left her nursing a broken hip. Younger sister singer Crystal Gayle posted an Instagram citing the fall, asking “everyone send love and prayers” to the Country Hall of Famer. Gayle added, “ I was with Loretta yesterday. She is in good spirits and is doing as well as can be expected with this type of injury.” Last May, Loretta suffered a stroke and seemed well on her way to recovery before this latest mishap . . . Carrie Underwood, 34, sent a New Year’s Day message to her fan club that the November fall she suffered outside her home, which required wrist surgery, also prompted numerous facial stitches. In disclosing the extent of her injuries, she tweeted, “In addition to breaking my wrist, I somehow managed to injure my face as well. I’ll spare the the gruesome details, but when I came out of surgery the night of my fall, the doctor told Mike (her hubby) that he had put between 40 and 50 stitches in.” Although she said they’re healing, her mirror tells her she’s “not quite looking the same.” The star celebrated the release of her second concert DVD, Nov. 17, “The Storyteller Tour: Live From Madison Square Garden.”
Final Curtain: Marjory May (Brennan) Wiseman, 76, died Nov. 11 in Nashville. For 54 years she was Mrs. Mac Wiseman. Their initial meeting occurred while the singer was on tour in Canada. As Mac recalled, “I met her on a show up there. Actually, it was a package show headlining George Morgan as set up by Vic Lewis, a big promoter and very active, the sort who would be sure everything was in place for you. For some reason, George couldn’t make it, so Vic called me to see if I could put a band together and fill in. I remember I got Hillous Butrum (former Drifting Cowboy) and I can’t recall who else, except I’m sure a lot of them had recorded for me. “The first show was in Brantford, Ontario, where Marge lived. In fact, the concert was in a high school she had attended,” adds the member of both the Bluegrass and Country Music Halls of Fame. “Anyway, she caught my eye, this little gal who came from a family of 10, which included seven brothers. Come to find out, her family members were fans of mine. Brantford is a pleasant place on the Grand River, which had a few factories, and it’s known as Telephone City, because it’s where Alexander Graham Bell lived while inventing the telephone. We dated a while before we got married, so we got to know each other pretty well.” Thus Mac and Marge were wed April 29, 1962. Marjory cherished the life she had been blessed with, especially their children, daughter Maxine and son Scott Wiseman. Survivors also include brothers Jim, Floyd and George Brennan; and a sister, Dorothy Barton. Private arrangements were handled by Spring Hill Funeral Home & Cemetery, in Nashville.
Iconic music producer Rick Hall, 85, died from cancer at his home in Muscle Shoals, Ala., Jan. 2. Hall, as an itinerant musician played in the bands Country Pals and the rock and roll Fairlanes, but won lasting renown for work at his FAME Studios, founded in 1959, in Florence (with FAME meaning Florence, Alabama Music Enterprises), partnering with Billy Sherrill and Tom Stafford. Two years later, Rick relocated it to Muscle Shoals, as sole owner, hosting legendary names of pop, soul, country, rock, including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Brenda Lee, Clarence Carter, Etta James, Otis Redding, Duane Allman, The Osmonds, Mac Davis, Paul Anka, Keith Richards and country band Shenandoah. Back then, Rick was able to bring black and white musicians alike in to record in segregated Alabama, situated in the Deep South. As he once wrote of the 1960s, “It was a dangerous time, but the studio was a safe haven, where blacks and whites could work together in musical harmony.” Conway Twitty, anxious to discard his rock status, came aboard to record country style in his mid-1960s’ effort to convince Decca Records’ Owen Bradley he could score in that genre. Obviously he proved his point, going on to cut 40 #1 country discs, including duets with Loretta Lynn. Actually a native of neighboring Forest Grove, Miss., Hall made his mark so well, he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame (1985) and was recipient of a 2014 Grammy Trustees Award. A multi-instrumentalist, he earned plaudits as producer, songwriter (with cuts by Roy Orbison, George Jones and Brenda Lee) and publisher. A 2013 music film documentary “Muscle Shoals” depicted his achievements, as did his memoirs “The Man From Muscle Shoals: My Journey From Shame to Fame,” published in 2015. In that book, Hall explained, “Black music helped broaden my musical horizons and open my eyes and ears to the widespread appeal of the so-called ‘race’ music that later became known as Rhythm & Blues.” Survivors include wife Linda Kay Hall, sons Rick, Jr., Mark and Rodney, and five grandchildren.
Patricia Diane Frakes, 80, daughter of pioneer studio drummer Farris Coursey (“There Stands The Glass,” Webb Pierce; “Fraulein,” Bobby Helms) died Jan. 3. She had been a dental assistant to her brother-in-law Dr. Grady Bryant. A devoted member of the First Baptist Church, Goodlettsville. Survivors include daughter Karen Thompson, son Farris Scott Frakes, and two grandchildren Talon and Caitlin. Services were conducted Jan. 8 by Cole & Garrett Funeral Home, with graveside prayer at Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Tennessee Radio Hall of Famer Hairl Hensley, 81, died Dec. 31 in Mt. Juliet, Tenn. Known as “Dean of the Grand Ole Opry announcers,” Hensley was an East Tennessee native, who moved to Nashville after working at WNOX-Knoxville, hosting the Tennessee Barn Dance, to DJ in Music City, first at WKDA and WMAK before being engaged as WLAC program director. In 1972, he was hired by WSM, where he served 35 years as Opry announcer, and hosting the station’s Orange Possum Special bluegrass program, and announcing The Porter Wagoner Show. In 1995, Hairl was inducted into the DJ Hall of Fame, and into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame in 2014. Additional honors include CMA DJ of the Year in 1975; and the 2000 Voice Award Personality of the Year. Preceded in death by wife Paula Jones Hensley, survivors include children Lisa Metzel, Hairl Scott Hensley, and Bronie Victory, plus stepchildren Susan Cowden and Robert Kennedy; and numerous grandchildren. Services were conducted Jan. 5 by Spring Hill Funeral Home & Cemetery.
Bluegrass Hall of Famer Curly Seckler, 98, died in his sleep, Dec. 27. Seckler and wife Eloise Warren Seckler (formerly widowed by fiddler Paul Warren) celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary Dec. 26, the day after his 98th birthday. Seckler, like pal Mac Wiseman, was one of the original Flatt & Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys, working on and off for the duo from 1949 to 1962, appearing with them on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. Curly’s distinctive tenor’s best heard on Flatt & Scruggs’ “Salty Dog Blues,” “Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and “I’ll Go Steppin’, Too.” He had earlier performed with Charlie Monroe’s Kentucky Pardners, and later Mac Wiseman’s Country Boys, the Stanley Brothers’ Clinch Mountain Boys, Jim & Jesse’s Virginia Boys, and lastly Lester Flatt’s Nashville Grass, assuming role of bandleader upon Flatt’s 1979 death.
Born John Ray Sechler on Christmas Day 1919, to Carrie and Calvin Sechler in China Grove, N.C., he later changed the spelling to Seckler, thinking it easier to pronounce. Curly became best known for his rhythm mandolin pickin’ and tenor harmony vocals in duets and such, heard to good effect on Flatt & Scruggs’ 1949 “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and Jim & Jesse’s 1952 ballad “Are You Missing Me?” His musical talents evolved from his father who played harmonica, autoharp and fiddle, while mom played guitar and organ. It was she who taught him and brothers George and Duard the basics of pickin’ and singin’. Curly purchased a tenor banjo from local musician Happy Trexler, who would engage the siblings for his band. As another brother grew old enough, they began a family band, The Yodeling Rangers. Before long, the boys were performing daily on a radio program in Salisbury, N.C., and a short time later, they became The Trail Riders. At 19, Curly joined nationally-known Charlie Monroe’s band (after his split from brother Bill Monroe), performing on WBIG-Greensboro, N.C. Curly was just 19. In 1941, he bought his first mandolin.
Although he dropped out of school after the sixth grade to work in a local cotton mill, Curly was a quick learner, and even got to writing songs, among these were “That Old Book of Mine,” “Purple Heart,” “No Mother Or Dad” and “I’ll Never Shed Another Tear,” the latter two recorded by Flatt & Scruggs. After leaving the duo in 1962, he took time off from touring until Lester called on him to join his new band Nashville Grass in 1973. Seckler stepped away from the band in 1994, when he opted for retirement, though he continued to record, four albums, including “60 Years of Bluegrass With My Friends,” “Bluegrass, Don’t You Know,” and performed at special events as the occasion rose.
The International Bluegrass Music Association presented him a Distinguished Achievement Award in 1996, and inducted him into their prestigious Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2010, he was honored by his home state with induction into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. In 2016, Penny Parsons authored his biography “Foggy Mountain Troubadour: The Life & Music of Curly Seckler.” Survivors include wife Eloise, sons Ray and Monnie Seckler, stepchildren Gary and Johnny Warren and Debra Frazier; six grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and two great-great grandchildren. Funeral services were held at Spring Hill Funeral Home with interment in Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens, Jan. 1.