Tommy Overstreet passes

Tommy Overstreet passes

Death of 1970s’ balladeer Tommy Overstreet . . . 

NASHVILLE – There was a time when Tommy Overstreet’s winning formula of name songs about gals doing him wrong, made him one of country music’s top stars, thanks to “Gwen (Congratulations),” “Ann (Don’t Go Runnin’)” and “(Jeannie Marie) You Were a Lady.” Sadly, on Nov. 2, time ran out for Tommy, 78, who died at his Hillsboro home, west of Portland, Ore.

First interviewed Tommy when he was in Wiesbaden, Germany, to entertain American forces, backed by his Nashville Express band. This was shortly after scoring introductory back-to-back 1971 Top Five singles “Gwen” and “I Don’t Know You (Anymore),” while celebrating a near #1, “Ann,” in ’72.

The decade would proclaim him a smooth ballad singer, no doubt heavily influenced by ancestral cousin Gene Austin, a 1920s’ pop singer whose 39 Top 10 discs included nine classic chart-toppers, among them “Bye, Bye Blackbird,” “My Blue Heaven” and a pair of “name” songs “Ramona” and “Jeannine (I Dream of Lilac Time).” Their younger cousin is folk singer Susan St. Marie (“All Or Nothing With Me”), who never attained the impressive chartings of her famed relatives.

Although born Sept. 10, 1937 in Oklahoma City, Tommy’s family moved to Abilene, Texas, when he was a youngster. He took up the guitar, and initially enjoyed playing pop tunes, confiding, “My mother said I started singing when I was born. Anyway, I always wanted to be a singer from as long ago as I can remember.”

At 17, Tommy landed a semi-regular gig on Abilene-TV’s The Slim Willet Show, Willet being the writer and first to hit #1 country with his song “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes” (also a 1952 #1 pop cover for Perry Como). After moving to Houston, a Lamar High School classmate was Tommy Sands, future singer-actor (“Sing Boy, Sing”), who would later be managed by Colonel Tom Parker, but helpful in bringing about an introduction to then Parker-client Elvis Presley, whom Overstreet greatly admired.

In retrospect, sandy-haired Tommy was as handsome and rugged as the Colonel’s two talents, and might well have made the trek to Hollywood himself, given the right backing. Meanwhile, however, Overstreet’s primary credit was performing on radio in Houston, and having formed his own band, The Shadows. He went on to study broadcasting at the University of Texas there, but was in a stage musical, “Hit The Road,” as well. While playing area clubs, he was announced as “Tommy Dean From Abilene,” sometimes appearing with Gene Austin, whom he called “Uncle,” a fixture at Houston’s elite Shamrock Hotel.

Following service with the Army, Tommy settled briefly in Los Angeles under his real name, honing his talents as a writer, recording and “pitching” his songs to no less than perennial pop favorite Pat Boone. Reportedly, Overstreet’s own first professional recording stint came at Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, New Mexico, with Jimmy Gilmore & The Fireballs. In 1960, Tommy recorded for Roulette Records in New York City, reportedly with The Ray Charles Singers supplying backing vocals.

In 1967, Dot Records’ Randy Wood engaged Tommy to manage the label’s Nashville branch. He was also signed to record, his first charting being “Rocking a Memory (That Won’t Go To Sleep),” lasting a scant two weeks in ’69. Three years later, Tommy hit paydirt with a strong ballad “Gwen,” co-written by his producer Ricci Mareno and Jerry Gillespie, writers who proved prolific in his career.

Tommy Overstreet casual“Gwen” was also the title of his debut album, charting 12 weeks and hitting Top 40, as the single crossed over into the pop Top 100 list on Billboard. A proud Overstreet pointed out, “The single hit #1 in the other trade weeklies, Cash Box and Record World, but Billboard kept it #3, as they regarded Randy Wood’s (Dot) an indie label.”

A year later, “Heaven Is My Woman’s Name” scored #3 country and also hit the pop Top 100 chart. That song, written by Bonnie Dobbins, was not one his producer sought as a single, so Tommy went to his Dot boss, pleading to release it post-haste – and it became his longest-charting single (18 weeks) and the title track for his most successful LP (#9, 1972). Tommy also enjoyed successes with producer Ron Chancey on ABC-Dot.

Overstreet’s Billboard chartings totaled 11 Top 10s, six of which went Top Five. Included are “Send Me No Roses,” “I’ll Never Break These Chains,” “I’m a Believer” and “Don’t Go ‘City Girl’ On Me.” His run at Dot ended in 1978, with two near-Top 10 singles: “Yes M’am” (#12) and the upbeat “Fadin’ In, Fadin’ Out” (#11). He would record with Elektra, his best showing being the Top 20 “What More Could a Man Need” (1979), and indies such as AMI, Gervas and Silver Dollar, where he had his 34th and final Billboard charting, “Next To You” (1986).

~During the 1980s, he performed several years in the tourist mecca Branson, Mo., before making his move to Oregon. Still, he continued to tour and record CDs, such as “Tommy Overstreet’s Country Gospel” (2006) and “Welcome To My World of Love” (2008). He was also seen guesting on such TV series as Hee Haw, The Midnight Special and In Concert.

Among Tommy’s great regrets were his failed first marriage and the loss of his only son, but he remained proud of his more than 30 overseas tours, and performing across the U.S. and Canada. In 2013, his auto-biography “A Road Less Traveled” was published, and on his Facebook page, this is Overstreet’s final posting, Aug. 26, 2015: “Howdy, howdy everyone! Hope you’re doing well today, and I’ve been worse, but I’m doing good today. Hangin’ in there, as the old saying goes. Working on a new CD that I hope my friends will enjoy. I have a new CD of a fairly old LP, we released quite a few years ago, but I felt it worthy of re-releasing as a CD. The title is ‘Nuggets,’ a 10-song collection my friends in country music had hits with, and they asked me to do an album of these great songs.”

One of his peers, buddy Rex Allen, Jr., wrote on Facebook, Nov. 3: “Tommy Overstreet has passed away at his home. Tommy was a great guy and headlined the first tour I ever worked. So sad.”

Survivors include his widow Diane Overstreet and daughters Amber, Aeriel and Lisa. A memorial service was scheduled on Nov. 22 at Evergreen Christian Center, in Hillsboro.

Billy Joe Royal Dies

Billy Joe Royal

“Billy Joe Royal was well known for his blue-eyed soul sound in pop and country.”

NASHVILLE — Singer Billy Joe Royal, who died Oct. 6, lived his life to its full potential, attaining success in both pop and country music circles. Reportedly, the 73-year-old artist died in his sleep at his home in Morehead City, N.C.

A former resident of Nashville, his passing merited only five paragraphs on page 9 in The Tennessean newspaper, which even cited his home-town of Marietta (Ga.) as his N.C. residence.

Born in Valdosta, Royal grew up in Marietta, just north of Atlanta, learning to play piano and drums. By age 11, he was singing on his uncle’s radio show; after learning to play steel guitar, he performed at 14 on The Georgia Jubilee; and in high school performed with his own group, The Corvettes.

It was in Atlanta that he met music publisher Bill Lowery, working with such promising artists as Ray Stevens, Jerry Reed, Freddy Weller and Joe South. According to Royal, friend South wanted to get his “Down In the Boondocks” to Gene Pitney (known for the hits “Town Without Pity” and “Liberty Valance”) and didn’t know how, but boss-man Lowery had other ideas.

“Because my voice was similar, I was chosen to cut it for a demo,” said Billy Joe, who earlier had cut two obscure singles on Fairlane, a regional label in 1961: “Never In a Hundred Years” and “Dark Glasses.”

Lowery got South’s demo to Columbia Records, which gladly welcomed both song and its singer to the label, launching Royal’s first real shot at stardom. Released in 1965, “Down In the Boondocks” peaked at #9, followed by a trio of Billboard Top 40 chartings: “I Knew You When” (#14); “I’ve Got To Be Somebody” (#38); and “Cherry Hill Park” (#15). Incidentally, the latter 1969 single was deemed too controversial by some DJs to play, since Mary its main character “was such a thrill after dark . . . in Cherry Hill Park.” Otherwise, it might’ve ranked right up there with “Down In the Boondocks.”

Nonetheless, Billy Joe lived the life of every young singer’s dream, guesting on all the top radio and TV programs of the era, being featured on Dick Clark’s Cavalcade of Stars tour as a teen idol, and chalked up additional South successes such as “Yo-Yo,” “Hush” and “Don’t You Be Ashamed (To Call My Name).” He had the distinction of cutting the first recording on “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” in 1967, prior to its writer South’s version and that of its ultimate hit-maker, Lynn Anderson, in 1970. But Billy didn’t really like the song.

Royal departed Columbia in 1972. In ’73, he revisited The Drifters’ “This Magic Moment” for MGM, but when that didn’t take off, he drifted chartless among various indie labels, though he enjoyed a modest success on “Under the Boardwalk,” in 1978, on the Private Stock label.

During that decade, he said he worked regularly doing engagements in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, as well as making TV appearances: “It’s hell to be 25 years old, and you’re a has-been. Thank goodness I stuck by what I believed in.”

It was in a production-partnership with producer-songwriter Nelson Larkin that Royal found further song successes via Atlantic Records’ country imprint, notably thanks to Gary Burr’s poignant “Burned Like a Rocket” (#10, 1985). That, too, should’ve been a bigger record, but just when peaking, NASA’s space shuttle Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, 1986.

Though the song had nothing to do with the problem at hand, strangely enough, DJs quit programming Royal’s record just because of its title.

“I almost had a nervous breakdown over that,” recalled Royal. “Especially after my follow-up single – ‘Boardwalk Angel’ – bombed! . . . Thankfully, ‘I Miss You Already’ and ‘Old Bridges Burn Slow’ succeeded, proving it wasn’t a one-hit wonder sort of thing.”

Although both pop and country purists criticized Royal’s seeming switch in genres, Billy Joe maintained he didn’t really change styles at all, and a listen to his 1960s’ hits and subsequent successes of the 1980s, attest to the fact that he was still a champion of blue-eyed soul, not unlike T. Graham Brown (“I Tell It Like It Used To Be”), who also came of age in that time.

Actually, after too long a dry spell in the 1970s, Royal encountered Nelson Larkin in New Orleans. Later, on a trip to Music City, he dropped in on the producer. “I was about as low-down as you can get. I didn’t even have a car. When I came to Nashville, I was looking for some songs and Nelson played a tape for me. The first song was ‘Burned Like a Rocket.’ I knew instinctively it was a hit. I couldn’t understand why nobody else liked it or why they didn’t hear its potential.”

After recording the number in 1984, Larkin “pitched” it all over Nashville. One label wanted Billy Joe, but not the song. As Royal related, “I believed in that song. They were willing to do an album on me; but, after thinking on it, I knew we’d have to shop for another song anyway, and I knew I already had one. So I walked away from that deal.”

Again entered Bill Lowery, who agreed to put it out on his indie Southern Tracks, offering Billy Joe a second chance at the brass ring. The resulting regional airplay’s strength brought Atlantic to the table offering national distribution and the rest as they say is history.

Royal enjoyed working with Larkin, whom he called a no-nonsense producer: “He was so great and we had great musicians. He brought out the best in me. It helped, too, that Atlantic was really behind us, and radio was very receptive. We had a good run.”

Regarding the raised eyebrows over his change to country, the six-footer smiled, replying, “I’m just singing the way I always did. It’s just that the style I once performed as pop is now considered country. If ‘Down In the Boondocks’ was cut today, it would be classified country.”

Billy Joe’s youthful idols were Clyde McPhatter and Sam Cooke, and he was also a fan of 1950s’ “doo wop”  sounds of groups like The Spaniels, The Drifters and The Platters.

“There was something in that music that just got to me, deep inside,” and with his distinctive, almost falsetto tenor, it was as though Billy was born to sing in that style.

Another Royal friend was Steve Popovich, a producer and Mercury’s chief, who convinced Billy Joe to team up with Donna Fargo for a soulful rendering of Bobby Blue Bland’s “Members Only.”

“I think a lot of those old R&B songs can be revived now and would be hits all over again to a lot of people,” noted Royal, though traditionalists Johnnie & Jack had done so way back in the mid-1950s, with hit versions of “I Get So Lonely (Oh Baby Mine)” and “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight.”

While Larkin was producing Lynn Anderson’s track on “Under the Boardwalk,” which Royal had also sung earlier, label boss Popovich saw him quietly singing along, and urged Billy to join in: “Steve said, ‘Go in there and do that . . .’ Lynn was all for it, so I added a little harmony onto it.”

Had there been more harmony in Billy Joe’s personal life, surely his 10-year marriage to Georgia Moseley would not have hit the skids.

“I don’t ever expect to marry again. Something died in me when the divorce came through,” he lamented at the time. “I doubt I could make another commitment like that again, to let someone else get close enough to hurt me that bad.”

Nonetheless, Billy was divorced three times. He remained on good terms with ex-wife Michelle (Rivenbark), and had a daughter Savannah, today a student at North Carolina State University.

A former classmate of Billy Joe’s in high school was Priscilla Mitchell, who later became Mrs. Jerry Reed. As struggling artists, they had co-starred together on WTJH’s Georgia Jubilee broadcast out of East Point, Ga. (Her only #1 hit was a duet “Yes, Mr. Peters” with Roy Drusky.)

Royal remembered receiving $5 as opening act for Gladys Knight & The Pips in his early days.

“There was also a club I worked at where I had a chance to work with all the big stars of the day when I was just a kid,” noted Royal, two of whom were Johnny Tillotson (“It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’”) and Faron Young (“I Miss You Already”), never dreaming he would later enjoy hits in reviving their songs. Accepting that extended engagement at the Bamboo Ranch in Savannah, where he played to a 2,500 capacity crowd, gave him a boost, for it was there he met future friend Roy Orbison, who offered encouragement, giving Royal needed confidence.

On Billboard, Royal scored four #1 songs on its Sales Charts: “Old Bridges Burn Slow” (1987); “I’ll Pin A Note On Your Pillow” (1987); “Out Of Sight and On My Mind” (1988); and “It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’” (1988).

Another major tool in promoting discs then new to Billy Joe was the music video, and he relished making “I’ll Pin a Note On Your Pillow,” and see it top the CMT playlists months on end. Two of his singles hit the #2 spot: “Tell It Like It Is” (1989) and “Till I Can’t Take It Anymore” (1989). That was a milestone year, for sandwiched between those near chart-toppers was a Top Five single “Love Has No Right,” which Royal co-wrote with Larkin and Randy Scruggs.

His final chartings were less impressive: “If the Jukebox Took Tears” (#29, 1991) and “I’m Okay (And Getting’ Better)” (#51, 1992). Still, he could point with pride to his Gold Album “The Royal Treatment,” a Top Five that charted 101 weeks a few years earlier.

In 1988, Royal had been inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, in which his mentor Bill Lowery was the very first inductee. Despite lack of chart success, he kept recording albums for fans, notably “Stay Close To Home” (1998), “Now And Then, Then And Now” (2001) and “Going By Daydreams” (2007). In 2009, he released his final collection, titled “His First Gospel Album.”

In 2013, Royal appeared in “Billy The Kid” playing Robert Ally, a movie that also co-starred Cody McCarvey, a fellow vocalist. Billy’s film credits include narrating Frank Willard’s 1968 documentary “Mondo Daytona” and appearing in actor-director Patrick McGoohan’s 1974 failed flick of the Shakespearean rock opera “Catch My Soul,” based on “Othello.” He was flattered, too, that his iconic “Down In the Boondocks” was featured in the films “Riding In Cars With Boys” (2001) starring Drew Barrymore, and “Glory Road” (2006) with Josh Lucas.

More recently he kept busy doing Golden Oldie shows, sharing the bill with legends like B. J. Thomas and Ronnie McDowell. Just weeks prior to his passing, Billy Joe joined Ronnie as headliners for Elvis Week in Memphis, at the Clarion-King’s Signature Hotel with Mary Beck’s Rockin’ Oldies Show. Reportedly, Billy Joe was still being booked by a Nashville promoter, Charlie Wayne Felts, and his last gig was back in his home state  Georgia for the Gwinnett County Fair, Sept. 24.

“There was never a nicer guy on the planet than Billy,” said childhood friend McDowell. “Now he belongs to the ages.” That other pal, B. J. Thomas (Raindrops & Boondocks Tour), upon learning of Royal’s passing, posted this Tweet: “My best friend, Billy Joe Royal, died this morning. He was a sweet and talented man. Never a bad word. One of a kind.”

Mac Wiseman Book

All My Memories Fit for Print

Mac Wiseman – All My Memories Fit for Print

By Dick Bowden |Bluegrass Today/August 31, 2015

“Mac Wiseman – All My Memories Fit for Print.” I just picked up this wonderful, densely packed bio of Mac Wiseman, from County Sales magazine. It’s just riveting if you’re into the history of bluegrass and country music, radio, recording, promoting, the music “biz,” and the sharp memories of Mac Wiseman’s career. There are 297 pages of text, then a discography, and finally a detailed index, bringing the page count to 337. Mac is just about my mother’s favorite singer, and she tore this book from me and burned through it in a couple of days.

Written by Walt Trott from Mac’s extensive musings, one is struck first by the power of Mac’s memory. It apparently has served him very well since his earliest days of promoting his and others’ music for radio play and live shows. Mac seems to have never forgotten a radio station owner, DJ, promoter or fellow performer. What a treasure trove of music history.

Although Mac goes out of his way to deny he is a “bluegrass” artist, feeling a bit cursed by the presence of 5-string banjo on his first solo recordings, there are plenty of tidbits about bluegrass music in this fine book, going as far back as Uncle Dave Macon, Molly O’Day and company.

The interweaving of the early bluegrass and “old country” sidemen is a nice surprise – e.g. Mac having hired away Charlie Monroe’s entire Kentucky Partners band in the late ’40s to work WCYB radio with him. If you wonder who are the sidemen on the frequent Mac Wiseman airplays on Sirius/XM Bluegrass Junction, you’ll learn their names here (including Tommy Jackson, Dale Potter, Ernie Newton, Stringbean!!, Hank Garland, Grady Martin, Oscar Sullivan and many more).

There are plenty of black and white photos; mostly Mac posing with various entertainers whom he’s known down through the years, but many pictures from his boyhood too. Several sidemen or colleagues give interesting testimony, notably banjoists Eddie Adcock and Donnie Bryant. There are plenty of terrific road stories, too.

Mac is candid and frank, rarely pulling his punches. There’s a sprinkling of salty language that just makes everything seem more “real.” Charlie Daniels provides a nice foreword, having once recorded a bluegrass Gospel album with Mac’s help.

This reviewer particularly enjoyed the early chapters about Mac’s boyhood, farming in Crimora VA. Older readers will really enjoy these memories. They emphasize that the founders of the music we love grew up in VERY different times and circumstances. Also enjoyable and surprising were many unpublicized personal tidbits about major artists in bluegrass and other genres.

The list of Mac’s accomplishments and honors is too long for this review, but they’re well documented. Highlights include:

  • Blue Grass Boy
  • Founding member of the Country Music Association (the last living charter member)
  • Country Music Hall of Fame
  • Bluegrass Hall of Fame
  • Virginia Music Hall of Fame
  • Dot Records A&R man and west coast manager
  • Manager of WWVA Jamboree
  • Owner of the Renfro Valley Bluegrass Festival
  • American Federation of Musicians union officer (however troubled)
  • Winner of the Presidential Medal of the Arts

These, and others, reflect on the massive contribution Mac has made to the world of entertainment. Apparently the book had no editor. Walt Trott’s chapters frequently re-plow the same ground, but from the slightly different angle of another stakeholder or colleague. Turning this into a positive — major points are certainly hammered home unforgettably!

This book is an important addition to your library on bluegrass and country music. It will not disappoint. It is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Jeff Walker RIP

Jeff Walker RIP

         NASHVILLE — Top tier Music Row publicist and promoter Jeff Walker, 65, died Aug. 24, in a Nashville hospital, after suffering a heart attack at Nashville International Airport. The Australian-born music man had been in Florida on a business trip when he first felt ill and decided to return home.

         Born in Sydney, Jeff earned an economics degree from the University of Sydney, as an accounting major, while dad worked with RCA Records in country. For a breather, Jeff took a tour of Europe, then followed his father to Nashville, where the arranger-conductor worked since 1964, with artists like Eddy Arnold and was music director for the 1970s’ Johnny Cash ABC-TV series, the former Music City News awards, CMA and Dove awards shows, as well as TNN’s 1990’s Statler Brothers Show.

         “I came to Nashville late in December 1974, when it was just in its infancy as far as public relations companies were concerned,” the younger Walker told us. “Publicity was then generally treated in-house by the record labels. P.R. has since grown and the number of labels has also increased, adding more artists.”

         Initially, Jeff worked with Price-Waterhouse as a CPA, but in 1975, he and his father founded Con-Brio Records, an indie which handled such artists as Jan Howard, Don King and a blonde newcomer named Terri Hollowell, who in ’78 became Mrs. Jeff Walker. In 1977, however, Billboard magazine named Con-Brio “best new country label of the year.”

         “We had 43 nationally charted singles in three-and-a-half years. That was a real learning experience in my life, a real terrific education for me.” The second-generation Walker also became a songwriter, and saw three of his own creations charted on Billboard,notably King’s renditions on “She’s the Girl Of My Dreams,” and “The Feeling’s So Right Tonight.” Another newcomer, Jerry Green, charted Jeff’s novelty number, “Genuine Texas Good Guy,” all in 1977.

         Terri, a Hoosier, charted five Con-Brio discs, including “Happy Go Lucky Morning,” “May I” and a revival of the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever.” According to her hubby, “She had a real good career going in England, too. She went over there as opening act for Don Williams, performed at the Wembley Country Music Festival and had co-hosted four BBC variety shows (with Ronnie Prophet).” Preferring motherhood to songbird status, Terri retired to raise their children Jonathan and Christy, added Jeff, “After the first child, she just wanted to quit.”

         In 1980, Walker launched his Aristo Music in the attic of his home, choosing the name from the word aristocrat, feeling it meant “the finest, or the best,” adding facetiously it put him up front in telephone listings: “With a name like Walker, I usually wound up at the bottom of most lists.”

         Helping to spread the word of his new agency, Jeff produced his own weekly syndicated broadcast, Country Music Jamboree, which was even carried by 56 stations “Down Under” in his homeland. Before long, he was also representing Christian acts, as well, and bought his own building on 16th Avenue, in the heart of Music Row. Yes, Aristo grew fast, thanks to Walker’s persistence and his belief in creative marketing, which prompted him early on to recognize the potential overseas for American country music.

         “In this business, you’ve got to be really tuned in to what the future holds,” warned Walker, who followed through expanding his firm’s title to the AristoMedia Group, which soon included his all-important MarcoMedia Group. Essentially his was a diversified entertainment company, not limited to publicity and p.r., but including radio, TV, music video promotion and distribution, along with dance club marketing, web production, and added consulting to the mix.

         Walker also became a mentor to many getting their start on the music scene, working for Aristo as “interns” (students of the industry), some of whom he engaged full-time when they completed training. Among these was Craig Campbell, while at Middle Tennessee State University, who Tweeted  Music Row, a trade publication: “I had the honor of being Jeff’s first intern – back when ‘Music Row’ was a one-page folded ‘magazine.’ He gave so many people a shot in the music industry and was happy for anyone who left for other opportunities. He loved country music and was one of the biggest champions for artists touring abroad. More than anything, Jeff loved his family, and that big smile grew even bigger when those two granddaughters arrived. He was a rock, and he will be greatly missed.”

         Jeff’s first clients in May 1980, were songwriter Roger Bowling, whose credits included mega-hits “Lucille” and “Blanket On the Ground,” and the Shorty Lavender Talent Agency.  In the wake of their successes, signing on to Aristo were stalwarts such as Nelson Larkin, Robin Lee, Charlie Daniels, Earl Thomas Conley, Tanya Tucker, Eddy Raven, Billy Joe Royal, and Jeff Stevens & The Bullets, major names in that era. Through the years the roster’s grown immensely, covering such legends as George Jones, Lorrie Morgan, Keith Whitley, Merle Haggard, Randy Travis, Reba McEntire, K. D. Lang, Dwight Yoakam, Keith Urban, Shania Twain, and Hank Williams, Jr. Today, Jeff’s son Jon and daughter Christy, along with her husband Matt Watkins, help keep Aristo a smooth-running p.r. empire.

         All the while, Jeff’s made his presence felt within the industry itself, serving as both a Country Music Association board member, heavily involved in the annual CMA Music Festival; and as a Country Radio Seminar board member and treasurer, while playing a major role in the annual CRS conventions in Nashville. Just in June, Walker accepted the 2015 CRS President’s Award from Charlie Morgan, board president, during the Country Radio Hall of Fame awards gala in Nashville.

         “Jeff was instrumental in so many CMA efforts over the years, but chief among them was our international outreach and initiatives,” Sarah Travhern, CMA director and CEO, noted. “He was incredibly passionate about supporting U.S. country artists going overseas, but he was just as dedicated to providing opportunities for international country artists to perform here . . . His tireless energy on behalf of our organization, our artists, and our fans will be sorely missed.”

         In honor of his devotion to duty, Walker received the CMA President’s Award, the CMA Jo Walker Meador International Award, Australia’s CMA Lifetime Achievement Award, Britain’s CMA International Services Award, Canadian CMA’s Leonard T. Rambeau International Support Award, and the Operation Troop Aid Certification of Appointment, among others.

         Nashville Mayor Karl Dean stated in part, “Jeff Walker played an important role in spreading country music overseas and bringing country music talent from other countries to perform in Nashville. His zeal for growing country music’s appeal around the globe made him an integral part of our Sister Cities’ program.”

         Survivors include wife Terri, daughter Christy Walker-Watkins, son Jonathan Walker, father Bill Walker, stepmother Jeanine, and two grand-daughters. Services were conducted Aug. 28, at First Baptist Church, Nashville, followed by a private interment. A public Celebration of Life was held Sept. 10 at the City Winery in Nashville.


Billy Sherrill . . . Bye, Bye Blues

Producer Starmaker Bill Sherrill
Producer Starmaker Bill Sherrill with Janie Fricke

NASHVILLE — Hear the name Billy Sherrill and images of music legends like David Houston, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich and George Jones spring to mind, along with sounds of “Almost Persuaded,” “My Elusive Dreams,” “Stand By Your Man,” “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Word,” “A Very Special Love Song” and “The Door.”

Sad to say, songwriter-producer-musician Sherrill, 78, died Aug. 4, at home here, leaving behind an enviable legacy as both songwriter and producer, including the afore-mentioned hits he wrote, as well as classics produced – George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” and Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job And Shove It” – cuts that propelled the artists’ careers to new heights.

This phenomenon was born Billy Norris Sherrill in Phil Campbell, Ala., Nov. 5, 1936, son of an itinerant Baptist preacher. Growing up, the boy learned to play piano, often backing his evangelical parent in tent show revivals. Influenced by the “race” records he heard, a bored Billy shocked dad and churchgoers a couple times by breaking briefly into “Bye, Bye Blues” at a funeral, and “That’s Where My Money Goes,” as pop passed the collection plate, which “Got my butt whipped!”

Soon he was playing saxophone, teaming with musician Rick Hall and pals in a jazzy R&B group The Fairlanes. The pair co-wrote “Sweet and Innocent,” which Roy Orbison recorded, and formed Florence Alabama Music Enterprises, a publishing and recording entity historically known best by its FAME acronym. Among others they turned out tunes for were Brenda Lee and Homer & Jethro, and a really generous royalty check enabled Sherrill to make his move on Nashville.

  Billy had made some “best-forgotten” records on indie labels, which gave him a keen insight into studio work, but did nothing for his artist status. Being a big fan of Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” recording style, he fashioned a demo studio worthy of generating further royalty checks. Instead, Sun Records’ mogul Sam Phillips decided it could be a Nashville branch of his famed Memphis studio, with Billy at the helm. That’s how Billy met Charlie Rich, whose 1960 Top 20 “Lonely Weekends” he especially admired. 

Then Columbia’s Don Law gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse, producing label artists for their Epic subsidiary, established a decade earlier for less mainstream acts. His task was to produce a variety of acts, notably bluegrass duo Jim & Jesse, rockers Barry & The Remains, and The Staple Singers, who would find 1970s’ success on the Stax R&B label.

While producing struggling tenor David Houston, he envisioned one track, “Mountain of Love,” as an opportunity to bring a lusher sound to the country format, which indeed proved appealing to DJs. Its positive reception gave both newcomers their first national hit, a near chart-topper in late 1963. Billy busied himself making contacts and connections that would serve him well in the near future. He polished his skills by co-writing with writers such as Curly Putman, Glenn Sutton, Carmol Taylor, Norro Wilson and Steve Davis, while nurturing promising writers like Danny Walls and his cousin Mark Sherrill.

“I’ve worked with a whole bunch of great songwriters,” said Billy Sherrill, adding, “I’m a better co-writer than I am a writer. If I don’t hear a melody with it, it’s harder for me to put the words to it.”

The Houston-Sherrill production partnership proved not only lucrative for the artist and producer, but boosted Epic Records up on a scale equal to Columbia, its parent label. Seven of their amazing string of 24 Top 10 records hit #1, and Sherrill had a hand in writing six: “Almost Persuaded,” “With One Exception,” “My Elusive Dreams,” “You Mean the World To Me,” “Have a Little Faith” and “Already It’s Heaven.” 

Incidentally, Glenn Sutton was co-writer on five, and the exception was “My Elusive Dreams,” which Billy co-wrote with Curly Putman, a tune that earned a trio of Grammy Awards: best song, best single and best vocal performance of 1966.

While recording Houston, Sherrill was able to bring two promising female singers to the forefront, as well. “My Elusive Dreams” featured Tammy Wynette as David’s duet partner, and marked her first #1; while 1970’s Top 10 “After Closing Time” a duet with Barbara Mandrell, another Sherrill co-write, became her breakthrough record.

      Sherrill also wrote Barbara’s 1971 Top 10 “Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home,” and has produced and/or wrote songs for additional distaff artists such as Tanya Tucker, Lynn Anderson, Jody Miller, Janie Fricke, Emmylou Harris, Lacy J. Dalton and Shelby Lynne. But his greatest female success was Tammy Wynette, with whom he co-wrote her 1968 signature song “Stand By Your Man,” a three-week #1 million seller, heard to great effect in the 1970 Jack Nicholson cult film “Five Easy Pieces.” A Grammy winner, it has since been voted into the Grammy Records Hall of Fame. (A notable remake was by Lyle Lovett.)

The Sherrill-Wynette collaboration produced an awesome run on their #1 discs, including “I Don’t Wanna Play House,” “Take Me To Your World,” “Singing My Song,” “The Ways To Love a Man,” “He Loves Me All the Way,” “Good Lovin’,” “Bedtime Story,” “My Man,” “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” “Another Love Song,” “Till I Can Make It On My Own” and “You and Me.”

That doesn’t cover the fact he wrote and produced her first 1967 solo single “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” (with Sutton); her first Grammy Award winner (“I Don’t Wanna Play House”); her first hit with George Jones “Take Me” (#9, 1971); and an impressive string of Top 10 singles, as well.

Another match that proved Epic-making (pardon the pun) was Billy and Charlie Rich, whom he produced on the 1973 smash “Behind Closed Doors” (that one penned by Kenny O’Dell), which sold Platinum, earning two Grammy Awards, and eventually voted into the Grammy Records’ Hall of Fame.  That was followed  by another #1 “The Most Beautiful Girl,” a million-seller that also charted #1 pop, a first for both Rich and Sherrill, who co-wrote the ballad (with Rory Bourke and Norro Wilson).

In 1974, the combination of Rich and Sherrill attained back-to-back #1 singles: “A Very Special Love Song” and “I Love My Friend,” both bearing Billy’s name as co-writer. They, like “Behind Closed Doors,” also crossed over as Top 20 pop singles. That was true of Rich’s “Every Time You Touch Me (I Get High),” a #3 country cut he wrote with Sherrill. Some say Rich cut short his career when  announcing John Denver as CMA Entertainer of the Year on TV, he burned the card bearing the winner’s name, which most interpreted as a protest against Denver being called country. The CMA banned Charlie from future shows.

In retrospect, Rich’s stance seems odd, considering a lot of traditionalists criticized his hits, feeling Sherrill was making them too uptown with strings and choral backing, and as a result their songs enjoyed crossover status, much like Denver’s, only his were in reverse crossing from pop to country.

Joe Stampley was another benefitting from Sherrill’s production and writing skills, scoring a #1 with “Soul Song,” released in 1972. He also enjoyed Top 10s via Sherrill’s “Red Wine and Blue Memories” (1978) and “Put Your Clothes Back On” (1979). Veteran artist Marty Robbins co-wrote “Don’t Let Me Touch You” with Billy, scoring one of his last Top 10 discs (1977); Johnny Duncan hit Top Five with Sherrill’s “Hello Mexico, Adios Baby To You” (1978); while down and out Johnny Paycheck, whom Sherrill literally rescued from the streets, hit #7 with his and Billy’s co-write, “Friend, Lover, Wife” (1978).

Artists recording Sherrill songs are too numerous to mention, but they do include such luminaries as Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash, Bob Luman, Merle Haggard, Rusty Draper, Tommy Cash, David Allan Coe, Dottie West and Kenny Rogers. He worked independently with Elvis Costello on his “Almost Blue” set in 1981; and Ray Charles, producing his “Friends” duets album (1984). The 1976 Ronnie Milsap #1 “I’m a ‘Stand By My Woman’ Man,” gave both Tammy and Billy equal writer credits by default, as her signature song inspired writer Kent Robbins.

In 1967, Billy produced his own instrumental LP, “Classical Country,” crediting The Billy Sherrill Quintet, which initially suffered sales-wise, but is now considered a collectible. According to Nashville journalist Arnold Rogers’ research, at least four of Sherrill’s songs enjoy Million-Aire Performance broadcast status for airing a million times: “Almost Persuaded,” “My Elusive Dreams,” “The Most Beautiful Girl” and “Stand By Your Man.” He has also earned some 65 BMI trophies for his songs over the years, and between 1966 and 1976, Sherrill launched 25 #1 songs on the Billboard charts.

Sherrill awards include induction into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame; Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame; Academy of Country Music’s Pioneer Award; Country Music Hall of Fame; and the National Musicians Hall of Fame. In 1999, he was named BMI Country Songwriter of the 20th Century; and in 2010 became the recipient of the prestigious BMI Icon Award.

Bobby Braddock, who co-wrote “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” which Billy produced, told Daily Variety, “Genius is the most over-used word in the music business, but with Billy Sherrill, you can’t use it enough!”

Sherrill’s survivors include Charlene, his wife of 54 years; daughter Catherine Lale; grandchildren Samantha and Matthew; and cousins Dianne and Mark Sherrill. Services were held Aug. 7 at Woodlawn-Roesch-Patton Funeral Home, Nashville, followed by a graveside service in The Garden of the Grand Tour at Woodlawn Memorial Park for family and friends.


Lynn Anderson Tribute

Lynn Anderson Tribute
Lynn with parents Liz & Casey

Lynn Anderson tribute . . .

NASHVILLE — Lynn Anderson, 67, died July 30, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, of a heart attack after having suffered pneumonia while on tour in Italy. The second generation singer-songwriter’s signature song “Rose Garden,” written by Joe South, spent five weeks at #1, also peaking #3 pop, earning her a best vocalist Grammy in 1970. Her platinum-selling “Rose Garden” album went Top 20 pop, remaining #1 country 14 of its 77 weeks charting Billboard and became the biggest album seller for a female country star.

Born Lynn Rene Anderson, Sept. 26, 1947 in Grand Forks, N.D., to songwriters Liz and Casey Anderson, she was an only child. Lynn thought nothing of seeing celebrated singers such as Del Reeves, Bonnie Owens and Merle Haggard visiting the family home, while growing up in San Jose and Sacramento, Calif. Of course, their visitations were prompted by Liz’s songwriting skills, which provided them hits like “Be Quiet Mind,” “Just Between the Two Of Us,” “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers” and “(Lonesome) Fugitive,” the latter #1 co-written by Casey.

“Music was always a part of my family life. Mother would play piano or organ, her sister would play guitar, while another would beat on the drums or play a harmonica,” Lynn recalled in an early interview with this writer.

Liz said that as a youngster Lynn would try to hide the fact she wrote country songs, as she and her girlfriends were more into rock and roll. Lynn chuckled, recalling Liz driving her to school, “Mom would have a real country song by someone like Hank Williams playing, with the windows down. Well, there was a lot of surreptitious dial-turning by me!”

While in high school, Lynn was also into horses and began competing in horse shows, eventually earning a hundred trophies, two regional championships and the reserve championship at the Junior Grand National at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. Years later, she was honored as the Horse Show Queen at the 1966 State Fair in Sacramento.

Nonetheless, her mother’s accomplishments encouraged a teen-aged Lynn to try her hand at playing guitar and singing, initially entering the televised series Country Corners’ talent contest. Smilingly, she shared with us that then her musical gods were Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers: “Now their stuff is what we call country, so I’ve really been an eclectic country music fan for a really long time.”

It was while in her freshman year at American River Junior College, agents from Lawrence Welk’s ABC-TV show invited her to join the cast in 1967. She proved a popular addition for two seasons, and her appearances in part led to a contract with Chart Records run by Slim Williamson, who had worked earlier with Casey.

Months earlier, her mother had signed a pact with Chet Atkins. Lynn pointed out, “When we came to Nashville, we came specifically for mother to get a record contract with RCA. But they started letting me sing (backup) on her sessions. In effect, they heard me and said, ‘Would you like a contract, too?’ I did feel guilty about it for awhile, because it was so easy for me, when in fact, it had taken mother years to get to that point.” (Chart’s product was then distributed by RCA.)

Actually, her mother wrote Lynn’s first Billboard entry “Ride, Ride, Ride,” which charted Oct. 29, 1966 and became a Top 40 single. It was followed by another Liz composition “If I Kiss You (Will You Go Away),” which was an early 1967 Top Five breakthrough record for the Chart newcomer.

Lynn and daughter Lisa Lynn-1
Lynn with daughter Lisa Lynn

Lynn co-wrote her second Top Five single “Promises, Promises,” which charted in early December, and earned her best female vocalist honors from the Academy of Country Music. By then the blonde beauty was being romanced by songwriter-producer Glenn Sutton, celebrating a best-song Grammy for his “Almost Persuaded” (David Houston’s cut). On May 4, 1968, while enjoying a Top 20 duet single with mom, “Mother, May I” (which they co-wrote); and another Top 10 solo “No Another Time,” Lynn wed Glenn. Her next two ’68 chartings were both penned by Liz: “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Flattery Will Get You Everywhere.” (This mother-daughter duo was 15 years ahead of The Judds.)

Meanwhile, Liz Anderson’s RCA recordings closed down after several Top 20 discs, including two Top Five singles “Game of Triangles” and “Mama Spank,” with her final charting for that label being “When I’m Not Looking” (1970). (Liz died in 2011.)

Now a true country convert, Lynn began a practice of reviving hits of veterans such as Hank Snow, Kitty Wells and The Osborne Brothers at Chart, notably “I’ve Been Everywhere,” “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” and “Rocky Top,” a song she would sing in her shows for the next four decades.

Ben Peters wrote her biggest hit on Chart, “That’s a No No” (#2, 1969), followed not so spectacularly by the first Chart song Sutton penned for her (with Hugh X. Lewis): “He’d Still Love Me” (#15). But not surprisingly, Sutton prompted his bride to sign with his label, Columbia, and indeed fashioned her first Top 10 for them, “Stay There Till I Get There” (#7, 1970). Theirs would prove a successful partnership, including his skilled production on “Rose Garden,” helping to earn her both the Academy of Country Music’s and CMA’s best female vocalist honors in 1971, and Gold Records from 13 different countries worldwide.

Apart from producing chores, Sutton supplied three more #1 songs for Lynn:  “You’re My Man” (1971); “Keep Me In Mind” (1973); and “What a Man My Man Is” (1974). Her fifth #1 came courtesy of old friend Joe South in 1971: “How Can I Unlove You?” South also wrote her Top Five, “Fool Me” (1972). Other Sutton songs she recorded include “Sing About Love” (#3, 1973); “He Turns It Into Love Again” (#13, 1975); and “Rodeo Cowboy” (#44, 1976), prior to their divorce in 1977. (The couple had a daughter, Lisa Lynn, who today tends to the family publishing chores. Over cocktails, Lynn once confided she should have stayed married to Sutton.)

Other superb Lynn Anderson discs in the 1970s include “Cry,” “Listen To a Country Song,” “Top Of the World,” all Top Fives, and Warner Mack’s “Talkin’ To The Wall” (#7, 1974). Following her marital breakup, she charted Top 10 with “Isn’t It Always Love” (1979) and “Welcome To Tonight” (a 1983 duet with Gary Morris). In the late 1980s, Nelson Larkin took her under his wing at Mercury, producing two of her finer performances “Didn’t We Shine” and her last Top 20 “Under the Boardwalk” (in 1988, featuring a cameo by Billy Joe Royal), redoing the classic 1964 Drifters R&B song. Larkin by the way, co-wrote her final Billboard charting “How Many Hearts” (1989).

Tanya, Martina, Trisha and Lynn-B
Lynn Anderson with Tanya, Martina and Trisha

Apart from charting more than 60 singles on Billboard, Lynn listed more than 30 of her titles on the trade weekly’s album chart, including additional #1’s “Promises, Promises” (1968), and “You’re My Man” (1971), many of these crossing over into the pop lists. Anderson’s won People’s Choice and American Music mainstream awards, and was named Record World and Billboard’s Female Artist of the Decade (1970-1980).

Lynn Anderson enjoyed superstar status for two decades, appearing on most major TV programs, including those of Bob Hope, Dean Martin, and several times on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. She appeared on the popular crime drama Starsky & Hutch, and hosted her own 1977 TV special, sharing the stage with special guest Tina Turner. Lynn’s music can be heard in such movies as “Jaws” in a beach scene, and she appeared in the 1982 TV-film “Country Gold.” As singer Betsy Hall, she sang “Dream On” for the 1990 UK drama “The Wreck On the Highway,” which became a popular BBC song hit.

A second marriage to millionaire oilman Harold (Spook) Stream in 1978  was tumultuous at best, producing two children Melissa and Gray, but ended in a 1982 divorce, followed by rancorous court custody disputes. On the positive side, she overcame substance abuse problems and was once more enjoying family and making music. In 2004, she was proud that her “Bluegrass Sessions” CD garnered another Grammy nomination.

Anderson also expressed pride in her children, grandchildren, and that Lisa also had competed in horse shows. A life-time equestrian, Lynn became involved in horse-riding programs as therapy for disabled children.

Paul Williams, Oscar-winning songwriter (“Evergreen”) and national ASCAP president, said at Anderson’s Celebration of Life, Aug. 5, at Woodlawn-Roesch-Patton Funeral Home, that he and she both “wrestled some of the same bears . . . I know how she struggled, and I know how she triumphed, and there is wisdom in the wound, and Lynn, you shared that wisdom. People will never know the times you walked into a corner with somebody, who was suffering, and didn’t know what they were going to do to get themselves back into the light and out of the darkness . . . (you’d) grab that person’s hand and say, ‘Baby, it’s gonna be all right’ . . . ”

Williams’ brother, songwriter Mentor Williams had been by her side over the past four decades as friend and lover, and Lynn recorded his hit “Drift Away” gospel-style, in tribute to him on her final CD “Bridges.” released in June 2015.

Another friend Brenda Lee in speaking to the assemblage, cited Lynn’s 1970 Grammy win, noting humorously, “Grammy was the hip name chosen by the grandchildren in honor of the grandmother that they loved . . . No rockin’ chairs or images of knitting in Lynn’s world.”

Survivors include her daughters Lisa Sutton, Melissa Hempel; son Gray Stream; four grandchildren; and father C. S. Anderson. A salute from singer Dolly Parton proclaimed Lynn was “blooming on God’s ‘Rose Garden’ now. We will miss her and remember her fondly.”                                                                    – Walt Trott




Mac Wiseman Book Signing

Mac Wiseman book signing

Mac Wiseman book signing

NOVA BOOKS . . . 3933 Stilton Drive, Nashville TN 37207 

Wiseman book signing . . . Rel. #205-15


NASHVILLE – Bluegrass and Country Music Hall of Famer Mac Wiseman celebrates his long-awaited biography with a 1-3 p.m. book-signing Saturday, Aug. 29, at the Great Escape Superstore, Richland Creek Shopping Center, 5400 Charlotte Avenue, West Nashville.

Whimsically-titled “Mac Wiseman: All My Memories Fit For Print” (Nova Books), the 337-page book written in collaboration with Nashville journalist Walt Trott, boasts a Foreword by friend Charlie Daniels, amidst equally rare road stories and photos.

Gary Walker, who hosts Mac’s afternoon book signing, says expect some surprises and maybe a song or two. “The Voice With a Heart’s” greatest hits, of course, include “Jimmy Brown The Newsboy” and “Tis Sweet To Be Remembered.”

Despite suffering Polio as an infant, Mac strengthened himself on the family farm in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. He’s been steely enough since to preside over seven decades of music making, including more recent CDs with John Prine and Merle Haggard. Mac was the last artist to record with Johnny Cash, days before his 2003 death.

Wiseman first recorded with Molly O’Day in December 1946, at a historic Chicago session produced by Uncle Art Satherley, and soon shared studio time with Flatt & Scruggs (as an original Foggy Mountain Boy) and Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys.

As a solo artist for Dot Records, Mac’s soaring tenor scored hits like “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” and “Love Letters in the Sand,” and he also was Dot’s A&R country chief, producing fellow legends Cowboy Copas, Reno & Smiley and Jimmy C. Newman. Mac’s been a fixture on the music scene since, taking his flat-top guitar pickin’ style to a place of esteem.

Long a favorite of the campus crowd and folk festivals, he jump-started his career anew in the 1990s, with Scott Rouse’s BlueGrass Boyz, joining veterans Del McCoury and Doc Watson to record with R&B guitarist Bootsy Collins, cutting their “Country Macarena” and subsequent albums.

Now, Mac’s plugging not one, but two CD releases: “Songs From My Mother’s Hand,” a solo album; and “Timeless,” paired with pal Merle Haggard, just hitting stores. Mac covers all this and more in his bio, including squabbles with Sunshine Sue and Jimmy Martin, plus good times with Tex Ritter, Patsy Cline and Hank Snow’s “Tea Party,” way before the conservative group of that name began.

Now 90, Mac’s career achievements include induction into Virginia’s Music Hall of Fame, IBMA’s Bluegrass Hall of Honor, Country Music Hall of Fame, and recipient of the National Medal of the Arts. For details, on his Aug. 29 signing, call (615) 385- 2116.

– 30 –Nova Books Nashville


Frances Preston Williams dies

Preston and McCartney
BMI’s Frances Preston with Paul McCartney

Frances Preston Williams dies

NASHVILLE — Country Music Hall of Famer Frances Williams Preston, 83, died in the early morning hours of June 13, from heart failure. She rose from a WSM-radio receptionist to head up a leading royalty rights organization, Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), both in Nashville and the New York City headquarters.

A Nashville native, Frances Williams grew up to mingle with such worldly folk as Presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, and was presented to Elizabeth, the Queen of England.

Reportedly upon meeting the Queen, she was so flustered, she remembered, “I meant to say, ‘It’s an honor to meet you,’ instead I said, ‘It’s an honor you got to meet me’ . . . ”

Known as a songwriter’s angel, she reigned as BMI president and CEO from 1986, until she retired in 2004. According to singer-songwriter Vince Gill, “I couldn’t ask for anyone better to take my interest to heart and look after me . . . At the end of the day I knew she was going to represent me and my fellow songwriters by doing a first-class job. She seems to love the people and the songs more than the work she was doing.”

Talk about shattering glass ceilings, Frances had it tough being taken seriously by Southern good ol’ boys as an executive, and was banned from entering a meeting of executives at the staid Cumberland Club. Shortly after starting BMI’s Nashville branch (out of her home), she went to Acuff-Rose Publishing’s Wesley Rose to tell him they would be working together on music royalties.

In a seeming rebuff, Rose said, “I do all my business in New York (at BMI headquarters).”

Revenge is sweet. Frances confided to Tennessean reporter Beverly Keel, “When I became president, they gave me a party at the office here and Wesley was there. I said, ‘Wesley, by the way, now I am New York.’ He got a big kick out of that.”

Still, Frances insisted she was not a true feminist: “I never thought of myself as a woman or that I should be treated differently. I didn’t go through the ‘I won’t pour coffee’ stage. I pour coffee for everybody . . . I never expected special treatment. If I went to a board meeting and they said, ‘Gentlemen,’ I never said, ‘And lady,’ I just rode with the tide and worked hard.”

BMI, which was established as a non-profit in 1939, when reportedly the main royalty rights organization ASCAP refused to represent “race” (black artists) or “hillbilly” (country) writers. Further, it withheld permission for radio to broadcast songs, if they played music not represented by ASCAP.

A graduate of Isaac Litton High School, Frances attended Peabody College on the Vanderbilt University campus, expecting to be a teacher. Instead, she took a job sorting mail at WSM radio, but when their receptionist became pregnant, stepped up into that position.

“All these people came in for free air time,” she recalled. “So, in addition to meeting all the artists like Roy Acuff and Patsy Cline, I got to meet Congressional members including senior Sen. Al Gore, and became good friends with Tennessee’s Gov. Frank Clement, who was in my wedding!”

While assisting in promotions for telethons and the annual DJ Convention, Frances was spotted by BMI’s New York executives, most notably Robert J. Burton, then vice president: “BMI needed someone who knew all the artists and was politically connected, so I answered their needs in that area.”

Frances opened BMI’s first office below the Mason-Dixon line in her own home, and as its Director was soon representing 17 Southern states. A more officious title was bestowed on her during the early 1960s: Vice President, BMI-Nashville.

One of her closest female friends through all this was Jo Walker (Meador), who was accomplishing much the same thing over at a brand new trade organization called the Country Music Association. Both women, who watched Music Row grow from its inception, are now in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

In 1962, Frances married businessman E. J. Preston, who had three sons whom she helped raise and who came to call her “Mom.” After 25 years, the couple divorced, but remained on friendly terms and she maintained her relationship with the children.

Indeed, Frances had a nurturing nature and looked after promising newcomers such as Norro Wilson (whose credits include “A Very Special Love Song”), whom she met in 1962: “We named her ‘the songwriters’ mama’ . . . she gave a lot of moral support to many of the early, older songwriters and it was kind of like when you leave Mom and Dad to go to college – you’re just a little lonelier than you want to be. You always felt safe in your conversations with her. We could tell her what we wanted to, without feeling weird about it. She certainly helped me, even before I had any hits. You needed those advances back then.”

Kris Kristofferson (“Me & Bobby McGee”) once called her the “Songwriters’ Guardian Angel.”

While serving as a judge for an early reality show, Williams-Preston asked 18-year-old finalist Billy Dean, “Son, how tall are you?” He told her 6’4”, and she advised, “Don’t ever sit down and sing again.” Dean adds, “And I never did.”

Oak Ridge Boy Duane Allen said earlier, “She took the Nashville writers’ music, went to New York and she’s made us internationally known. I would hate to think what the music industry would be without her. She has contributed so much.”

Publisher Tim Wipperman, CEO,Wipperman Music Group, recalled, “Frances was one of my earliest mentors. I met her immediately after I got to town. I was new, green and didn’t know anything, but she gave me the same respect when she first met me that she would give me 30 years later . . . During some tough times in my life, she’d call out of the blue just to check on me and say she loved me. While a very tough hardnosed businesswoman, the other side of her would pick up the phone and offer that kind of support.”

According to friend Jo Walker-Meador, “Frances was the first woman the CMA had as Chairman of the Board. Tex Ritter was President. They made a great team . . . Frances’ contributions to country music were the greatest. I don’t think we would have had the first Hall of Fame building when we did, had it not been for Frances’ vision. Her foresight, determination and will made it happen.” (She was inducted in 1992, and Jo in 1995.)

During her early days at BMI, Frances began signing songwriters who were previously paid by their publishers: “Some would get paid, and some wouldn’t. They didn’t know much about BMI, so it was my job to educate them and sign them directly.”

She said most writers didn’t understand performing rights in Nashville: “They didn’t really know what they were. Publishers would put the money on the songwriter’s statement but never explained that it came from performing rights or BMI . . . We signed writers by the hundreds. As we got more established in Nashville and had our awards (something writers and publishers seldom shared in previously) show, it became the hotspot of the community. Then I decided to go to Muscle Shoals, Ala., and do the same thing – claim my territory. Then I went to Macon, Ga.”

Earlier, country writers would sign with a publisher such as Tree or Acuff-Rose, without signing with BMI, which exists to protect copyrights of both songwriters and music publishers.

“Some publishers got paid the writer’s share and some publishers didn’t. The performing rights thing was a loose issue then,” noted Williams-Preston.

Country Music Hall of Famer Floyd Tillman, whose credits include classics like “They Took the Stars Out of Heaven,” “I Love You So Much It Hurts” and “Slippin’ Around,” told Frances, “I never knew there were performing rights. I never knew we got paid by anything other than record sales.”

On her watch, BMI membership grew from 84,000 to more than 300,000 writers and publishers, while revenues nearly quadrupled to more than $670 million annually. She worked behind the scenes with legislators in Washington, D.C., to bring about positive changes to copyright law, and coordinated agreements with foreign rights organizations, all to ensure that copyright holders (and their heirs) were paid properly.

When BMI made her the organization’s president and CEO in 1986, her responsibilities expanded to include other genres such as R&B, folk, jazz, classical and Americana, but she devoted the same positive energy to her efforts – both here and abroad – as when she established and represented the Nashville office.

In 1995, she moved most of BMI’s operation to Nashville. BMI and Frances adapted to new challenges that came along with advance technology: “I served on Vice President Gore’s National Information Infrastructure Committee, which was made up of 30 people who wrote the white paper on security and copyright issues on the Internet. Bill Gates, Apple Computers and AT&T were there. So I had an early preview of what the world would be like and how we had to change to address all the new technology that was coming along. So now – with our computer technology – we are the most advanced music company in the world. We have added each year as everything has come along. We’re ready for anything.”

She was pleased to participate in efforts that resulted in the Copyright Amendment Act extending royalties (from 50 years) to 70 years beyond the composer’s life: “Our concerns are that every performance is paid for and publishers are protected from all the new technologies that come along. Wherever music is played, people have to pay for it. And that’s been a constant fight.”

Her honors have been many, and despite having confided, “I couldn’t write two lines that went together (musically),” she was the first non-performing distaff member of the historic New York-based Friar’s Club, a prestigious theatrical organization. She next became its first female on the board of directors, and in 1993, was awarded the Friar’s Applause Award for Lifetime Achievement. As non-performer, she’s also been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame; accepted a National Trustees Award from NARAS, the Grammy people; and been inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame.

Williams-Preston’s charitable work in fighting cancer, notably at Vanderbilt University, is well-documented and was duly recognized when a VU medical research center was named the Frances Williams Preston Building. She also served as President of the T. J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer & Aids Research, and was a recipient of the City of Hope’s annual Spirit of Life Award.

In the 1980s, Esquire magazine cited Frances as “the most influential and powerful person in the music business,” and during the 1990s, the Ladies’ Home Journal listed her as “one of the 50 most powerful women in America.” Not to be outdone, Fortune magazine named her “one of the true powerhouses of the pop music business.”

With her retirement, after 46 years of service to BMI, Frances was made President Emeritus. BMI further renamed its country song of the year statuette, the BMI Frances Williams Preston Award. Survivors include three stepsons Kirk, David and Donald Preston, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Services have not yet been announced.

Nova News – June 2011

Ruth White’s latest book special . . . on R&B pioneer – Limited time only!

“You Can Make It If You Try” by Nova Books’ author Ruth White – co-written with late R&B legend Ted Jarrett (Hillsboro Press, 256 pages, Nashville 2005) – relates the compelling and inspiring story of artist-composer-publisher-pianist-producer Ted Jarrett, who proved there was a lot more musically to Nashville than the Grand Ole Opry. His father was killed by his paramour’s boyfriend, and his mother abandoned him to a hard-scrabble existence with his mean-spirited step-grandfather-farmer, who discouraged his early songwriting talents, telling Ted only white men were composers. Yet Ted became a performer whose compositions not only hit high on the Rhythm & Blues charts by acts such as Louis Brooks & The Hi-Toppers, Gene Allison and Ruth Brown, but also became Top 40 pop crossover successes, and one – “Love, Love, Love” – even topped the country chart 13 weeks by Webb Pierce. Among others who recorded Jarrett’s songs, including “It’s Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)” and “You Can Make It If You Try,” were Earl Gaines, Johnny Ace, The Midnighters, and The Rolling Stones. As artist, writer and producer, Jarrett shared in the Grammy Award-winning 2004 release “Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues 1945-1970).” This searing bio offers insight into the interaction of the black and white musical cultures that existed in Nashville, at a time when it was earning its nickname Music City USA. Regular $19.98 version, now in stock at $15, which includes S&H. Order your copy while they last!

Price: $15.00 (Including S&H)

[wp_cart:You Can Make It If You Try:price:15.00:shipping:0.001:end]

Ruth White’s latest book special on R&B pioneer Limited time only!



“You Can Make It If You Try” by Nova Books’ author Ruth White – co-written with late R&B legend Ted Jarrett (Hillsboro Press, 256 pages, Nashville 2005) – relates the compelling and inspiring story of artist-composer-publisher-pianist-producer Ted Jarrett, who proved there was a lot more musically to Nashville than the Grand Ole Opry. His father was killed by his paramour’s boyfriend, and his mother abandoned him to a hard-scrabble existence with his mean-spirited step-grandfather-farmer, who discouraged his early songwriting talents, telling Ted only white men were composers. Yet Ted became a performer whose compositions not only hit high on the Rhythm & Blues charts by acts such as Louis Brooks & The Hi-Toppers, Gene Allison and Ruth Brown, but also became Top 40 pop crossover successes, and one – “Love, Love, Love” – even topped the country chart 13 weeks by Webb Pierce. Among others who recorded Jarrett’s songs, including “It’s Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)” and “You Can Make It If You Try,” were Earl Gaines, Johnny Ace, The Midnighters, and The Rolling Stones. As artist, writer and producer, Jarrett shared in the Grammy Award-winning 2004 release “Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues 1945-1970).” This searing bio offers insight into the interaction of the black and white musical cultures that existed in Nashville, at a time when it was earning its nickname Music City USA. Regular $19.98 version, now in stock at $15, which includes S&H. Order your copy while they last!