Denny Strickland: From horses to music, but still in the country
NASHVILLE — Denny Strickland, an equestrian circuit champion turned country crooner, earned his spurs competing in American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) events. He was my luncheon buddy at the Sutler Saloon here recently, causing nearly every female there to turn and stare his way. No doubt due to his classic Stetson (despite my wearing a macho Gaucho hat), not his slender six-foot-plus stature or those tight jeans. For the uninitiated, Denny’s a promising newcomer, whose sexy singles “Swerve On” and “How Far You Wanna Go” attracted attention last year. We soon learn the Arkansas dude lassoed his AQHA world title, before aiming for a shot in country music. According to Denny, the honor came in a 2007 Western Pleasure competition, when he and his steed performed so well, riding the perimeter of the arena on a loose rein, as judges focused on how his horse walked, jogged, loped and reversed direction. Denny confides his musical inspirations were Pro-Rodeo Hall of Fame singer Chris LeDoux, Garth Brooks and George Strait. The bearded balladeer began singing professionally after high school, playing both guitar and keyboards, while simultaneously showing quarter horses. Ironically, it was at a Tunica, Miss. AQHA show that he met Marshall Grant, also a quarter horse enthusiast, who managed the Statler Brothers and once played bass for Johnny Cash. Grant heard a Strickland demo, then agreed to manage the newbie (until his untimely death). “Thanks to Marshall, I even had an opportunity to participate in a big Ark. show honoring the late Johnny Cash, giving me a chance to meet Kris Kristofferson and George Jones, as well as the Cash family.” Denny has since opened gigs for such as Jamey Johnson and Kentucky HeadHunters. His van across the street covering several parking spots, wasn’t hauling a horse, but a motorcycle! In town to film a video for “Get a Grip,” Denny’s new single grabs listeners with its country-rock style, best suiting his sensuous baritone. Sure enough, Strickland’s a guy to watch.
COURT REPORT: The suspect in the murder of singer Tommy Cash’s granddaughter Courtney Cash and an assault on her live-in boyfriend William A. Johnson, has pleaded guilty. Wayne Masciarella of Cape May, N.J., entered his plea on a first-degree murder charge, during a Sept. 13 hearing in Putnam County Circuit Court, Tenn., on the 2014 stabbing death of Cash, then 23, her body stuffed into a cedar box. Masciarella, who allegedly held the couple captive in their home for days, fled after the fatal altercation, and was arrested in Cookeville, Tenn. Reportedly Johnson had fled from a window in a back room, carrying his and Courtney’s year-old baby (Cameron). According to sources, there are some discrepancies in Johnson’s recall of the tragedy, notably that when Masciarella forcibly injected them with meth, Johnson had not previously used the drug; however, reports indicate he tested positive to meth some 10 days earlier. No word yet on a trial date. (Tommy Cash, of course, is known for hits like “Six White Horses,” and as the younger brother of the late Johnny Cash.)
HERE & THERE: George Strait’s new box-set, “Strait Out Of the Box: Part 2,” boasts 56 tracks, including 26 #1 songs, that span his career from 1996-2016, and will be sold exclusively at Wal-Mart stores, starting Nov. 18. Featured on the three discs will be former album cuts and his current radio single “Goin’ Goin’ Gone.” [Reportedly, walmart.com will accept pre-orders ASAP] . . . Kelly Clarkson, fresh off the ABC morning show The View (co-hosted by Whoopi Goldberg), was in Nashville Oct. 10, reading from her new children’s book “River Rose & The Magical Lullaby” during a special Storytime at popular Parnassus Bookstore. The blonde vocalist also thrilled her audience with songs . . . Country chirp Emily West (see picture right) was reminded of how nasty The Apprentice host Donald Trump treated her appearance for a 2010 “Beauty & Brains” episode on his reality series, while watching a 2005 video of him and Access Hollywood co-host Billy Bush (nephew to President George H. W. Bush) trash talk women on a bus ride to the network. On Apprentice, the Iowa native was competing against another country newcomer Luke Bryan, with each side represented by different teams, but her biggest detractor was Trump himself. According to the Huffington Post media site, the Presidential candidate seemed obsessed by West’s skin back then, noting, “Her skin sucks, OK? I mean her skin, she needs some serious (expletive) dermatology.” Turning his attention to Bryan, he observed, “Personally, I am, as you probably heard, not a gay man, but I think he’s better looking than (expletive) Emily, OK?” Superstar Trace Adkins was a guest judge in the segment and reportedly sided with West’s team, which pleased her: “Trace Adkins approved of me . . . I’m good.” The former Capitol Records’ artist had attained the Top 40 single “Rocks In Your Shoes,” and in 2014 in competing on another TV series America’s Got Talent, she finished second . . . Ex-child star Billy Gilman, who excited country fans in his pre-teens with the single “One Voice,” proved a hit competing Sept. 20 on NBC-TV’s reality series The Voice, bringing the show’s four judges to their feet to cheer his cover of Adele’s classic “When We Were Young.” The judges were Miley Cyrus, Adam Noah Levine, Alicia Keys and Blake Shelton (who didn’t recognize him at first, but had once shared a stage with Billy). Despite three Top 10 albums, Gilman, now 28, apparently got lost in the shuffle when his voice changed. Cyrus knew it was the same Gilman, who opened shows for her dad Billy Ray in his heyday, and offered to coach him now: “I’ve seen you. I’d love to help you now become the new Billy, because I had to make that decision and I know how I want people to see me.” Still, Billy opted for Levine to take him under his wing. Meantime viewer LeAnn Rimes, also a former child star, Tweeted: “So proud of you my friend! @Billy Gilman, you made me cry yet again. #TheVoicePremiere.”
HONORS: Beth Nielsen Chapman, Aaron Barker, Bob Morrison and the late Townes Van Zandt were officially inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Oct. 9, at the Music City Center here. After being enshrined in the veterans Songwriter category, Morrison stated, “It’s nice to have a hit song, but it’s a lot nicer when your peers say, ‘Hey, you did all right’!” Bob penned such successes as “Don’t Call Him a Cowboy,” “Lookin’ For Love” and “Are You On the Road To Lovin’ Me Again.” Barker, whose credits include (“Love Without End, Amen,” “What About Now”), added wryly, “I thought my induction was a typo. If they’ve got it wrong, they’re not getting their award back.” Chapman, hailed for hits like “This Kiss” and “Strong Enough To Bend,” acknowledged, “I’m thrilled and honored, but it’s also just an incredible sense of awe of being in front of this particular audience (of writers).” Van Zandt, whose classics include “Pancho & Lefty” and “If I Needed You,” died in 1997 at age 52. At the NSAI awards presentation, the late Bill Lowery, Atlanta publisher, was honored with the Frances Preston Mentor Award, while Cole Swindle won best Songwriter/Artist statuette; Ashley Gorley won Songwriter of the Year title (sans artist salutation); and Lori McKenna’s “Humble & Kind” was voted best song . . . Brad Paisley’s the latest to be honored by the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum via a career exhibit (not yet titled), to run from Nov. 18-May 14, 2017. He’s earned a trio of Grammys, plus a total of 28 awards from the CMA and Academy of Country Music, all thanks to such hits as “He Didn’t Have To Be,” “I’m Gonna Miss Her,” “Waitin’ On a Woman” and “Remind Me.” The latter of course with Carrie Underwood, though he’s also scored duet hits with such as Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton and Alabama. This guy’s a triple threat, that is equally talented on guitar, songwriting and vocals . . . Faith Hill and hubby Tim McGraw (above) were honored with Stars in their name installed on downtown’s Music City Walk of Fame, Oct. 5. Nashville Mayor Megan Berry proclaimed, “Faith and Tim both came to Nashville in the 1980s with big dreams and huge talents. Driven by their determination and a lot of hard work, they eventually found great success, and each other . . . They deserve to join the many other incredible artists on the Music City Walk of Fame.” Hill’s hit singles include “This Kiss” and “Breathe,” while among McGraw’s #1’s are “Don’t Take The Girl” and “Live Like You Were Dying,” as well as duets with her, notably “It’s Your Love.” The couple performed that week at the Ryman, advertised as “Sam & Audrey” (their real first names), and despite their sneaky show title, informed fans packed the place. It was announced they would return to Nashville next Aug. 4, at the larger Bridgestone venue as part of their Soul2Soul World Tour . . . Kellie Pickler (“Best Days Of Your Life”) was pleased being recognized and honored by the Defense Department’s Spirit of Hope award, along with songwriter-musician hubby Kyle Jacobs (“More Than a Memory”), during a recent ceremony in Washington, D.C. Named after the indefatigable Bob Hope, who so tirelessly entertained America’s forces through several conflicts, the award is reserved for those who selflessly contribute time and talent to boosting morale of those serving around the world. Among Kellie’s accomplishments in this regard are nine USO tours, and as she shared the award with Kyle, acknowledged, “I am so humbled to be in such great company in receipt of this honor . . . We’ve been so blessed to have a great relationship with the USO, which has allowed us to be able to take a little piece of home to our servicemen and women both overseas and here at home.” . . . Country Music Television (CMT) disclosed its five picks for Artists of the Year, Sept. 13: Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, Chris Stapleton and Carrie Underwood. Singer Kelsea Ballerina (“Peter Pan”) was selected as Breakout Artist of the Year, all honorees slated as part of a 90-minute CMT Special beamed from the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Oct. 20.
AILING: Country Music Hall of Famer Loretta Lynn, 84, suffered a fall, requiring minor surgery, which required postponement of her September shows. The Coal Miner’s Daughter recovered in time to keep her Oct. 8 gig at the Alabama Theatre in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Incidentally, a day earlier, the star released a new holiday CD, “White Christmas Blue” . . . Yet another country queen Tanya Tucker, spent her 58th birthday (Oct. 10) in a Nashville hospital, recovering after surgery to correct a respiratory ailment. The bombastic singer interrupted her North American tour after falling ill prior to a gig in South Dakota, where she was treated temporarily by local medics. This prompted postponements across the U.S. and Canada. Tanya, hailed for hits like “Delta Dawn” and “It Don’t Come Easy,” issued this statement: “I cannot apologize enough to all the fans who bought tickets and were looking forward to seeing us on the road. I just feel terrible, but I’ll get even worse, if I don’t take care of myself. I love you all.”
FINAL CURTAIN: Steel Guitar whiz Bud Isaacs, 88, died Sept. 4, at his home in Yuma, Ariz., after a lengthy illness. A member of the Steel Guitar Players Hall of Fame, Isaacs revolutionized the steel by adding foot and knee pedals to the instrument, heard to great fan-fare on Webb Pierce’s “Slowly” in 1954. A much in-demand session player, he also toured with Red Foley, and in liaison with pal Shot Jackson started the famed Sho-Bud Company, for which he designed a line of specialty instruments. Born Forrest Isaacs on March 26, 1928 in Bedford, Ind., “Bud” was influenced growing up by a number of guitarists, most influentially by Jerry Byrd, whom he heard playing Hawaiian style on WLW-Cincinnati. He soon learned six-string Hawaiian guitar, and by 16, was playing a four-pedal Gibson Electra-harp, and made his own radio bow on WIBC-Indianapolis. It was at WOAI-San Antonio, in 1944, where reportedly he got his first professional break as a sideman. Finally, in Lansing, Mich., Bud met Little Jimmy Dickens, who admired and hired the guitarist to back him, including on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. During this period, he also began accepting session bids, and reportedly in 1952 alone, Isaacs was heard on 11 #1 songs, usually playing his beloved (but altered) Bigsby Guitar. Red Foley, host of the Opry’s Prince Albert network portion, engaged Bud for his band, which included playing on The Ozark Jubilee telecasts. His pioneering technique on “Slowly,” which charted 36 weeks – 17 weeks in #1 spot – influenced numerous steel players, including Buddy Emmons, Sonny Burnette, Jimmy Day, Johnny Sibert and Walter Haynes. Isaacs also recorded in the 1950s under his own name several years for RCA, producing such instrumental gems as “Hot Mockingbird,” “The Waltz You Saved For Me” and “Bud’s Bounce.” In 1954, with Atkins, he recorded the album “Session With Chet.” In 1984, Isaacs was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in St. Louis. Bud and his wife, yodeler Geri Mapes, did shows, sometimes as part of the Golden West Singers, up until illness kept him home. There were no funeral plans announced, though it was said there would be a memorial celebration of life later.
Sympathies to steel guitarist Lloyd Green over the death of his wife, songwriter Dorothy (Edwards) Green, affectionately known as “Dot,” on Sept. 10, 2016, from natural causes. The Tennessee native, 79, first met Green in January 1957, while he was a player with the Faron Young band. Six months later, the couple were wed, and raised two children: Robin and Shari. Dot, a stunning blonde, did some modeling, and appeared on multiple covers of her husband’s instrumental albums, including Monument’s “Steel Rides” (1975). She also helped co-write songs, such as “I Wish I Was a Little Boy Again,” recorded by Patti Page (1971) and Lynn Anderson (1974). Survivors include her husband Lloyd, son Robin Douglas Green; daughter Dr. Shari Dawn Green-Wherry; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. A memorial service was held Oct. 1 at Spring Hill Funeral Home, Nashville.