Review: Nashville Musicians Relief Fund benefit
NASHVILLE — Let’s tune into the 3rd annual Dottie West Birthday Bash, as partygoers pack the 3rd & Lindsley’s nightclub, Oct. 9, 2020. This year’s event not only celebrated the fiery hitmaker of yesteryear, but also honors friend and Opry co-star, Bill Anderson.
Customarily, Dottie’s Bash helps those in need, this year the reported $28,300-raised, benefits the Nashville Musicians Emergency Relief Fund, initiated by this reviewer’s mentor, the late Vic Willis (of Willis Brothers fame), then acting as the union’s secretary-treasurer. Co-sponsoring the show was Springer Mountain Farms.
Tennessee native Dottie, born Oct. 11, 1932, met her untimely fate in a car crash here 27 years ago. Belatedly, Dottie was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2018, the year Anderson, whose songs charted in seven decades, was finally inducted into the National Songwriters Hall of Fame. (The photo of Dottie was taken at Fan Fair.)
So Bill, also a guitarist, was inducted Oct. 9 into the Nashville Academy of Musicians’ Hall of Fame, adding to such honors as induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Country Music Hall of Fame. Among Bill’s biggest hits: “City Lights,” “Still,” “Tips Of My Fingers,” “Once a Day,” “Cold Hard Facts of Life” and “Whiskey Lullaby.”
A number of Bill’s cohorts headlined the evening gala. Among these were Jamey Johnson, Erin Enderlin, Steve Dorff and Jon Randall, along with the show’s Grammy-winning host Jeannie Seely a.k.a. Miss Country Soul.
Bright stars John Schneider, John Berry, and T. G. Sheppard, alongside Buddy & Melonie Cannon, Dallas Wayne and Tim Atwood, also lit up the night’s festivities. Paying homage to West were daughter-in-law Kenna Turner-West, granddaughter Tess Frizzell and Dottie’s youngest son Dale. Seely joined them in singing an abbreviated “Happy Birthday,” and Dottie’s 1973 self-penned classic “Country Sunshine.” Yes, that’s the same lilting tune Coca Cola adopted for its TV ad campaign back then.
Dottie’s “A Lesson In Leavin’,” a 1980 #1, was Tess’s selection to perform, with all the gusto inherent of country royalty, which, of course, also includes her mom Shelly (“Jose Cuervo”), uncles David (“Lost My Baby Blues”) and Lefty (“Saginaw, Michigan,” co-written by Anderson). Lending further authenticity at the mic were her grandmother’s original backup vocalists, Vickie Carrico and Nanette Bohannon.
Well-received, too, was Kenna Turner-West, regarded by many as a queen of Southern gospel. She’s wed to Dottie’s son Kerry, a recording engineer, and her writing credits boast 34 #1 gospel numbers. This night she chose to cover her latest “Even Me,” a smash for The Triumphant Quartet. Kenna’s strong vocals caressed the spirited message therein, identifying the following from John 3:16, “For God so loved the world/He gave his only son away/A way to save a wretch like me . . .”
A definite program highlight were the vocals of Jamey Johnson, Melonie Cannon and her triple-threat dad, player-producer-writer Buddy Cannon. Jamey never disappoints, reprising friend Anderson’s waltz-time stroll “When a Man Can’t Get a Woman Off His Mind.” Notable was the wild reaction from fans to his terse, guttural growling, “I just crushed a Dixie cup/For runnin’ outta wine . . . Oh, it’s crazy, when a man can’t get a woman off his mind.”
Modestly, Jamey conveyed his respect for his and Cannon’s co-writer on George Strait’s 2006 #1 “Give It Away,” a multiple award winner: “I consider myself fortunate to have spent so much time writing songs with Whisperin’ Bill Anderson. I feel I have received a valuable education from a true master of our craft.”
Jamey’s protege of sorts, Erin Enderlin, dished up another highlight, her heartfelt emoting on “I Was Leavin’ Anyway,” enhanced by first-rate support from guitarist Alex Kline. And yes, the singer co-wrote that gem with Anderson and Bobby Tomberlin. Alan Jackson gave Erin her first bona fide hit, “Monday Morning Church,” thanks to his 2004 Top Five recording, and she’s since scored success via such artists as Terri Clark, Luke Bryan and Lee Ann Womack. Johnson co-produced her acclaimed “Whiskeytown Crier” album.
Enderlin couldn’t contain her enthusiasm, sharing the stage with such notables, “I “I love these folks and loved getting to be part of the Dottie West Birthday Bash! Jeannie Seely was a fabulous host . . . and it was so special to get to be a part of honoring Bill Anderson, and raising money to help our fellow musicians . . . Got to hear some great music and hang with great folks, what more can a girl ask for?”
Having penned hits for such showstoppers as Kenny Rogers, Barbra Streisand, Garth Brooks, Anne Murray and George Strait, cross-genre composer Steve Dorff needn’t take a backseat to anyone. He joined Anderson in June 2018, being inducted into the National Songwriters Hall of Fame, and this night opted to talk about and sing “I Cross My Heart.”
“I wrote that with Boyz-II-Men (an R&B band) in mind, but they didn’t like it.” Some years passed before Strait took a liking to it, he added, smilingly noting, “CMT voted it one of the best all-time love songs.” Chuckling, Steve warbled, “In all the world, you’ll never find a love as true as mine . . . You will always be the miracle that makes my love complete.”
In an impromptu performance, T. G. Sheppard stepped to the mic, kicking off his 1981 #1 “Party Time,” a welcome reprise, after an auctioneering stint for a star-studded, autographed guitar (valued at $1,600), garnered a winning charity bid of $3,100. Later, the auctioneer’s chanting sold two other donated guitars for $4,200 each, not too shabby a sum.
Although Connie Smith was a no-show, bandleader Jimmy Capps’ wife, Michelle, nailed Connie’s only #1 “Once A Day,” Anderson’s creation that catapulted her to 1964 stardom. Sirius XM singer-host Dallas Wayne showed, coming all the way from Austin, Texas, to salute his hero. He sang a commendable cover on Bill’s classic “Tips Of My Fingers,” a success first for Anderson (#7, 1960), then Roy Clark (#10, 1963), Eddy Arnold (#3, 1966), and finally Steve Wariner (#3, 1992).
John Berry, recently recovered from cancer, acknowledged “It’s good to be here tonight, It’s good to be anywhere.” And reminded fans “Don’t Think I Ain’t Country.”
To lighten the mood during the guitar auction shuffle, Rudy Gatlin sang a chorus of brother Larry’s #1 “All The Gold In California,” much to the crowd’s delight. Musician Danny Davis II was also a surprise, vocally, with a rousing rendition of Anderson’s 1973 novelty #1, most famously cut by Cal Smith, “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking.”
In that same spirit, former Duke of Hazzard John Schneider passed on his impressive array of Top 10s, to honor the night’s hero, with a bombastic, tongue-in-cheek uptake on Bill’s caustic “Wherever She Is, I Hope She Stays There.” Seemingly it satisfied Schneider fans, who loved him first as Bo in Dukes of Hazzard, then for his song hits, and finally as Superman’s pa in the Smallville series.
Creatively speaking, it seems Anderson’s song was a satirical revamp of his 1963 #1 “Still,” about a lost love, “I don’t know who you’re with/I don’t even know where you’ve gone/My only hope is that someday, you may hear this song . . . And (know) I love you, wherever you are.” In his non-Valentine sendup, he muses musically, “Wherever she is/I hope she stays there/Whoever she’s with, they’re welcome to my nightmare.”
Tim Atwood, who played keyboards 38 years for WSM’s Grand Ole Opry, chose Bill’s “Which Bridge To Cross (Which Bridge To Burn),” a slightly retro fusion of Southern sounds to soulful country sensibilities, co-written with the song’s hitmaker Vince Gill (#4, 1995). It proved another crowd-pleaser this night.
Kudos to the club’s publicist Breanna Fylstra for adding us to the press list, and sour grapes to the Bash’s p.r. puffs, Bev and Otto, neither of whom were aware of Country Music People, country’s longest surviving magazine. Though when we asked journalist-musician Peter Cooper to tell ’em who we were, he replied nonchalantly, “I don’t even know who I am!”
Rest assured Peter, we do know who you are. Thanks to his tie-in with talented German entrepreneur Thomm Jutz, he and Bill co-produced “Anderson,” a brand new project. They did much the same for the late Mac Wiseman, via an acclaimed Bluegrass CD, “I Sang the Song” (2017). Nor did we forget that Jutz donated his guitar stylings to our 90th birthday bash for Wiseman at the Texas Troubadour Theatre in 2015.
Peter’s contribution at the Dottie West Bash was Bill’s 1964 Top 10, “Three A.M.,” a sleepy, lost-love tale of woe. Check the near X-rated lyrics for that era: “Look at me, walking the streets at 3 a.m./And you’re saying, what a crazy fool I am . . . But the one I love, is out tonight with him/Somewhere, making love at 3 a.m.”
Assisting Cooper was singer-guitarist Jon Randall, yet another Anderson co-writer. Jon credits the Opry legend with helping him create the iconic “Whiskey Lullaby,” a song sparking the Brad Paisley-Alison Krauss duet teaming, earning CMA’s 2004 music event award. Randall stepped into the solo spotlight to revive that very personal ballad, also cited as CMA Song of the Year for him and Bill.
Some say it was Jon’s breakup with wife Lorrie Morgan that inspired “ . . . Lullaby,” a four-minute soliloquy of sorts: “He put that bottle to his head and pulled the trigger/And finally drank away her memory . . . We found him with his face down in the pillow/With a note that said, ‘I’ll love her till I die’/And when we buried him beneath the willow/The angels sang a whiskey lullaby . . .” Although an emotional Randall invited Anderson to join in, Bill noted he was doing just fine solo, and we couldn’t agree more.
Sad that such a captivating crooner’s career failed to ignite. Still one of our favorite ballads, is Jon’s power-country rhapsody “Cold Coffee Morning,” which Bill also co-authored. Here’s the intro:“The saddest face I’ve ever shaved, is staring back at me/My eyes look like a roadmap, Lord I ain’t slept a wink/So I turned on the radio, heard the forecast on the news/They’re calling for a cold coffee morning, and a warm beer afternoon . . .” So we’ll just pop-a-top again, Jon!
As the night drew to a close, Whisperin’ Bill, whose nickname alludes to his soft, breathy, intimate vocal style, reappeared, borrowing Dallas Wayne’s guitar to serenade the assemblage. So that the circle remained unbroken, all those backstage gathered up front to wish adieu to the audience, especially honoree Anderson and company.
Seems like that last number was upbeat enough, “It’s a Good Day To Have a Good Day.” He’d already acknowledged to the audience: “What a special night this is . . . And I appreciate your coming tonight.” – Walt Trott