Grand Ole Opry star Jan Howard dies on March 28, 2020 . . .

NASHVILLE — Grand Ole Opry star Jan Howard, 91, singer-songwriter-author, died from a bout with pneumonia at her home, March 28, 2020 in nearby Gallatin, reported her last surviving son Carter Howard. She was a near-50-year member of the historic WSM program (seen at right with DJ Eddie Stubbs).

Among her early hits were songs supplied by her husband of 10 years, Harlan Howard: “The One You Slip Around With,” a 1960 Top 20 indie release, and “Evil On Your Mind,” a 1966 Top Five for the vocalist. Fans probably best remember her association with Opry artist Bill Anderson, who penned her Top 10 “Bad Seed” solo, and for their duets together “For Loving You,” a #1 by Steve Karliski (1967), Anderson’s “If It’s All the Same To You” (#2, 1969), “Someday We’ll Be Together” (#4, 1970), and “Dis-Satisfied,” which she and Bill co-wrote with her son Carter.

Born Lula Grace Johnson, March 13, 1929 in West Plains, Mo. (also birthplace to her Opry pal Porter Wagoner), she was the eighth of 11 children born to hard-luck farmers Rolla & Shirley Johnson during the Great Depression. 

It wasn’t until her 1987 tell-all auto-biography “Sunshine & Shadows” that Jan revealed she had been a victim of rape at age 8 (the pedophile being a friend of Rolla’s). This traumatic incident she kept from her family, then barely making ends meet as her father toiled under the WPA (Works Progress Administration).

“My body was violated and my mind was damaged in a way I wasn’t to know the full extent of for years to come,” she penned so poignantly in her book. 

At sweet 16, dropping out of high school, Lula became a bride to Mearle Wood in 1945, and by her early 20s was mom to three sons: Jimmy, Carter and David. She was 24, when she divorced their dad, whom she said beat her and was both immature and self-centered.  A second brief marital ceremony occurred in 1953 with Lowell Smith, another GI, before finding out her groom was still legally attached to his first wife. Still, they had a daughter together, Jan Louise, who died shortly after her birth.

Following a move to Los Angeles, she became friends with singer-musician Wynn Stewart, who soon introduced her to struggling songwriter pal Harlan Howard, who was delighted to find she possessed a fine vocal talent. He gave her the stage name Jan, which sounded more professional than Lula, and the couple were wed in a civil ceremony, May 10, 1957, in Las Vegas.

Before too long, she was helping him record “demo” songs to pitch to potential female artists-of-note, including country queen Kitty Wells, who liked what she heard in “Mommy For a Day,” which Harlan and fellow Bakersfield composer Buck Owens initially penned as a Daddy ballad. Nonetheless, it became a 1959 Top Five for Kitty.

Speaking of Wells, Jan demo’d Harlan’s “Heartbreak USA,” which became a four-week #1 for Kitty in 1961, and was succeeded on the chart by Patsy Cline’s “I Fall To Pieces,” a two-week #1, also co-written by Harlan (with Hank Cochran), and demo’d by Jan. Word had it, Jan was irate upon hearing Cline recorded the song, which she thought Harlan had decided to save for her. In no uncertain terms, she expressed her disdain for his giving that star-making song away, yet in retrospect, recalled in an interview, “Patsy did a great job on it, and I guess it was meant to be.”

Of course, Howard proudly did his bit to promote Jan’s career, initially on the indie Challenge label (owned by movie cowboy Gene Autry) in Nashville. He also helped her land a singing spot on Town Hall Party, a popular syndicated TV series from the coast.

The Howards made their move to Music City in 1960. Incidentally, her first duet charting, “Yankee Go Home” was with Wynn Stewart in 1959; however, that disc didn’t jell with DJs, who preferred the B side, “Wrong Company” with Wynn, as written by Harlan and that became Jan’s first Top 20 record. Meantime, another Harlan solo, “The One You Slip Around With,” earned her the Jukebox Operators of America’s Most Promising Country Female honor in 1960.

Several seasons later, Jan had a brief encounter with the major Capitol label, but scored only one Billboard chart single for them: Harlan’s “I Wish I Was a Single Girl Again” (#27, 1963). After that venture fizzled, legendary producer Owen Bradley took a chance on Jan, and again Harlan furnished her first charting for their Decca Records release, “What Makes a Man Wander?” (#25, 1965). 

She also began making appearances with label pal Whisperin’ Bill Anderson on his syndicated TV series, and soon was out on the road touring with him. Although Harlan had adopted her sons (after she suffered miscarriages), she didn’t think he was enough of a family man, so they divorced in 1967. Though ’tis said they remained friends, thanks to the boys.

In 1968, her elder son Jimmy was drafted into the military, and she was inspired enough by their exchange of letters, to write a tribute tune “My Son,” only weeks later learning of his death in a landmine explosion. Jan’s subsequent single of their song charted 14 weeks on Billboard (#15, 1968), and it was Grammy nominated. Because of its memories, she couldn’t bring herself to sing it live.

Kitty Wells later recorded Jan’s composition “It’s All Over But the Crying” (1966); Jean Shepard cut Jan’s “Wherever You Are”; and later friend Connie Smith scored with Jan and Bill’s “I Never Once Stopped Loving You.” In those years she was also friends with Mother Maybelle & The Carter Sisters, touring with them in the Johnny Cash Show. She and June Carter co-wrote “Christmas As I Knew It,” and it’s Jan’s vocals heard on Johnny Cash’s #1 ’68 hit “Daddy Sang Bass,” warbling the words “. . . and Mama sang tenor.” 

Finally in 1971, after many guest shots, the Opry invited this titian-haired beauty to join permanently, an honor Jan appreciated to the end. Come 1973, however, yet another tragedy confronted the pioneer performer, when her youngest son David, 21, committed suicide, after having been heavily involved in drugs. 

It proved another deeply challenging time for the artist, who admitted she was herself battling suicidal instincts. Howard bared it all in the afore-mentioned “Sunshine & Shadows,” tome published by Richardson & Steirman in New York.

In  2002, Jan landed a cameo in a Faye Dunaway film “Changing Hearts.”  It was in 2005 that Howard was inducted into her home state’s Missouri Country Music Hall of Fame.

Following her sons’ deaths, she pulled out all the stops, performing in benefits and making appearances to aid various military and community health programs. In 1992, she was the recipient of the Tennessee Adjutant General’s Distinguished Patriot Medal in recognition of her charitable contributions. She also treasured her four BMI writer awards for her compositions.

Jan even tried marriage again, this time with Dr. Maurice M. Acree, Jr., a former Navy pilot in the Korean War. He had been a pathologist at Baptist Hospital and Pathlab, Inc. in Nashville. The couple exchanged their vows at Nashville’s Calvary Methodist Church in August 1990. Acree died in April 2013.

The singer is survived by son Carter Howard, his wife Pamela; grandchildren Mitsi Lindsay and Anita Simpson; and great-grandchildren Cole, Alli and Charlie. According to Dan Rogers, Opry honcho, “Jan Howard was a force of nature in country music, at the Opry, and in life. We were all so lucky so many nights to hear her voice on stage and to catch up with her backstage. We’re all better for having had her in our lives.”             – Walt Trott

‘Behind Closed Doors’ craftsman passes . . .

Singer-songwriter Kenny O’Dell . . . a fond farewell

NASHVILLE — Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Famer Kenny O’Dell, 75, died at a healthcare center in Cool Springs near Nashville, March 27, of natural causes. Some who knew him believe he was anxious to reunite with his beloved singer-guitarist-wife Corki, who died last year, but whom he felt was very much alive in his heart.
O’Dell, best known for penning the #1 smashes “Behind Closed Doors,” “Trouble in Paradise,” “Lizzie And The Rainman” and “Mama, He’s Crazy,” also hit Top 10 country with his own 1978 recording, “Let’s Shake Hands and Come Out Lovin’.”
Actually, Kenny the artist scored successes in both country and pop, starting with his 1967 Top 40 “Beautiful People,” on the indie Vegas label, covered that same year by Bobby Vee, scoring yet another Top 40 pop hit. As Kenny pointed out, “All writers are frustrated artists anyway.” He had yet another modest pop single with “Springfield Plane.”
Born Kenneth Guy Gist, Jr., June 21, 1942, to Marian and Kenneth Gist in Antlers, Okla., he was raised in Santa Maria, Calif. Kenny began trying to play guitar as a youngster, and remembered at 13 writing his first song; however, he smilingly said that he didn’t really concentrate on writing until age 15.
A graduate of Santa Maria High School, Kenny decided early on to pursue a career in music, changing his surname to O’Dell, borrowed from his mom. He formed his first music firm under the title Mar-Key. Kenny’s initial band was called Guys And Dolls, with whom he toured five years throughout the northwest, and recorded his first solo disc, “Old Time Love,” pressing all of 600 copies.
While working with guitarist Duane Eddy, he first got to know Corki, then wed to fellow guitarist Al Casey. The former Vivian Ray (Corki) Casey O’Dell became one of the first female inductees into the Nashville-based Musicians Hall of Fame, along with Barbara Mandrell and Velma Williams Smith, in 2014. Musicians Hall founder Joe Chambers recalled she was known as “The First Rock & Roll Sidechick.”
Back then, Duane Eddy, was hot, thanks to his twangy instrumental hits “Rebel Rouser”  and “Because They’re Young,” produced by Lee Hazlewood. Both Al and Kenny played behind Duane, and Corki played rhythm guitar. They all toured together.
In 1969, Kenny moved to Nashville, where he hooked up with producer Bob Montgomery, and soon found himself running Bobby Goldsboro’s publishing, House of Gold.
Phil Walden, who in 1969 founded the Capricorn rockabilly label, home to such stalwarts as the Allman Brothers, Bonnie Bramlett, Wet Willie, Sam & Dave, Elvin Bishop and Marshall Tucker Band, recruited O’Dell to his Macon, Ga. label. He had Alex Taylor record the original version of Kenny’s “Lizzie And The Rainman,” and did an album, “Kenny O’Dell,” which produced Kenny’s Top 20 single “Soulful Woman.” As noted earlier, his biggest country hit was Capricorn’s “Let’s Shake Hands and Come Out Lovin’,” (#9,1978). Its follow-up, “As Long As I Can Wake Up In Your Arms” (which he co-wrote with Larry Henley), also did fairly well (#12, 1978) for them.
His biggest break as a writer, however, came when Charlie Rich recorded his “I Take It On Home,” which also marked Rich’s first Top 10 (actually #6, 1972). But a year later, came the frosting on their cake, with Rich’s version of O’Dell’s “Behind Closed Doors,” which was #1 two weeks, sold Platinum, winning Grammys for best song and best vocal. It also earned CMA and ACM awards, and is now in the Grammy Song Hall of Fame.
The following year, superstar Loretta Lynn added another #1 to his writing credits with her rendition of “Trouble In Paradise,” charting 17 weeks. In 1975, teen-aged Tanya Tucker took his “Lizzie And The Rainman” (also co-written with Larry Henley) into the #1 slot, as well. Then yet another lass, Billie Jo Spears, scored a resounding success with O’Dell’s sensuous “What I’ve Got In Mind” (#5, 1976).
Among other artists who’ve recorded O’Dell songs are Pat Daisy, Anthony Armstrong Jones, Dottie West, Kenny Rogers, Mac Davis, Kenny Dale, Tom Jones and Bobby Wright. Yet another major O’Dell cut came in 1984 for a new RCA act The Judds, cutting Kenny’s “Mama, He’s Crazy,” giving the mother-daughter duo their first #1 hit and a Grammy.
That same year, O’Dell earned the Nashville Songwriters Association International’s Songwriter of the Year award. Meantime, “Behind Closed Doors” garnered a major slot on Broadcast Music Inc.’s prestigious 50 Most Played BMI Songs poll. In 1996, sandy-haired Kenny received the ultimate accolade of being inducted into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.
His wife Corki died May 11, 2017, two days before her 81st birthday. Survivors include his stepson Alvin Casey, daughters Diana Rose, and Sandra Blevens; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Services were conducted March 31, at Woodbine Funeral Home, Nashville. – By Walt Trott

Goodbye Glen . . .

Glen Campbell farewell . . . 1936-2017

NASHVILLE — “I’m not a country singer per se, I’m a country boy who sings,” claimed superstar Glen Campbell, who on Aug. 8, at 81, succumbed to Alzheimer’s, following a lengthy fight with that disease. Famed for crossover successes such as “Wichita Lineman,” “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights,” Campbell was also hailed as a first-rate guitarist, backing such legendary stars as Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra. He even toured as a Beach Boy when member Brian Wilson bowed out.
We first met during his early 1970s European tour, backstage at the Jahrhunderthalle concert venue in Frankfurt, Germany, where newcomer Anne Murray was sharing the bill. I was in his dressing room prior to our interview (with my wife), when he emerged from the shower wearing nothing but a towel around his waist. (He soon slipped into a robe and my Mrs. hastily departed.) He was a character, but a good interview, always upfront and obviously pleased by his success.
Following his Grammy award-winning 1967 breakthrough hit “Gentle On My Mind,” he hosted the Emmy-nominated Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour (CBS-TV, 1969-1972), and appeared opposite John Wayne in the ’69 Oscar-winning film “True Grit,” which earned Glen a Golden Globe nomination, and he starred in “Norwood,” both adapted from Charles Portis’ novels. Glen recorded over 70 albums, nine at #1, including Platinum-selling “Gentle On My Mind,” “By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.” His last #1 was “Southern Nights” (1977), though he went on to score Top 10s or better including “Any Which Way You Can” (heard in the Clint Eastwood movie of that title), “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” (with Steve Wariner) and his final hit, “She’s Gone, Gone Gone” (#6, 1989).
Glen Travis Campbell was born April 22, 1936 in Delight, Ark. (near the family farm in Billstown). He was the seventh son in a family of eight boys and four girls, who all sang and played guitar. Glen began pickin’ the strings at age 4, and a year later was gifted with his very own guitar. Among his inspirations growing up were the artists on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry, and recordings by Barney Kessel and Django Reinhardt. A natural evolvement was Glen’s singing in the Church of Christ choir.
As a teenager, he drifted off to Houston, Texas, landing a stint in a three-piece band, before gravitating to his uncle Dick Bills’ country band in Albuquerque, which toured the Southwest honky tonk circuit (1954-’58). He was only 17 when he married first wife Diane Kirk, 15, who gave birth to their first baby, who died. Before divorcing, they had a daughter, Debby.
At 24, Glen moved to Los Angeles, soon writing commercials and recording demos, while also occasionally touring with The Champs, a pop troupe famed for their single “Tequila.” His “in” with L.A.’s Wrecking Crew session players, made him a much in-demand guitarist, as well as backup vocalist, for the distinguished likes of Ricky Nelson, Merle Haggard and The Mamas & Papas.
Glen’s indie recording of Jerry Capehart’s “Turn Around, Look At Me” garnered attention enough to convince Capitol Records to sign the promising talent. The song was later covered by such acts as The Lettermen, The BeeGees, The Vogues and Esther Phillips. First, Glen was “featured” on an album “Big Bluegrass Special,” headlining the Green River Boys (1962), which boasted a Top 20 single “Kentucky Means Paradise” (written by Merle Travis, another of his pickin’ heroes).
Finally five years later, Glen scored a Top 20 solo with his revival of Jack Scott’s classic “Burning Bridges,” which gave full advantage to his dynamic vocals. Months later, he hit the jackpot with John Hartford’s effusive ballad “Gentle On My Mind,” earning both Glen and the song Grammy awards. Amazingly enough, the single peaked out at only Top 40 pop and #30 country, but spawned his #1 best-selling LP of that title, charting Billboard 88 weeks, selling Platinum. Not bad for a new name, who soon had #1 singles “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” and “I Wanna Live” to boast about, as well as Country Music Association honors for best male vocalist and entertainer of the year (both in ’68).
Much thanks for his early success goes to music veteran Al DeLory’s exceptional arrangements as Campbell’s producer-conductor (and fellow multiple award winner). Glen was selected to co-star with the Duke himself, John Wayne, in “True Grit,” for which Wayne won an Oscar as best actor. Another newcomer in that 1969 flick was Kim Darby, also Glen’s co-star in “Norwood,” a music-drama about an inspiring young country singer’s goal to play KWKH-Shreveport’s show Louisiana Hayride (1970).
Glen’s second (16-year) marriage to beautician Billie Jean Nunley produced three children: Kelli, Travis and Kane. It was she who suggested their divorce (1976). On a personal level, Glen’s romantic life was rocky at best, some say due to his abuse of drugs, often linking him to the supermarket tabloids. Initially there was Sarah (Barg) Davis, who supposedly divorced singer Mac Davis to wed Glen (who denied that). They later divorced, but not before their only child, Dillon, was born just three weeks prior to the decree (1980). Then there was the much-publicized affair with half-his-age singer Tanya Tucker in the early 1980s, though they split without having wed.
According to Tucker’s publicist Scott Adkins, upon learning of Campbell’s death she released the following statement: “I’m just devastated. Absolutely devastated. It’s been so hard these past several years knowing what he’s been going through. My heart just breaks. Glen and I shared some incredible, precious memories together for a long time. There were some ups and downs and, of course, all the downs were played out in the press. We both got past all that. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing. It’s why I’m releasing ‘Forever Loving You,’ in memory of Glen and for all those who are losing or have lost someone they love. I’ll forever love you, Glen.”
She co-wrote the song with Michael Lynn Rogers and Rusty Crowe, a Tennessee state senator who co-sponsored the Campbell-Falk Act, a law protecting communication rights for those who become wards of the state or who have conservators over their financial and living situations. She and Glen recorded a number of duets together, the most successful of which was “Dream Lover,” and her latest effort, a tribute to him, will benefit the national Alzheimer’s Foundation.
Campbell also recorded successfully with Bobbie Gentry, including their #1 LP “Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell,” which sold Gold in 1968, as well as their Top 10 single “All I Have To Do Is Dream” (1970); and with Anne Murray, “I Say a Little Prayer/By the Time I Get To Phoenix” (#40, 1971). Other solo Campbell clicks were “Dreams Of the Everyday Housewife” (#3, 1968), “True Grit” (#9, 1969), “Try a Little Kindness” (#2, 1969), “Honey, Come Back” (#2, 1970) and “Everything a Man Could Ever Need” (#5, 1970), ironically written by Mac Davis. His take on “Country Boy” (#3, 1975) became a classic. He’s also done well with revivals, among them “It’s Only Make Believe” (#3, 1970), “Dream Baby” (#7, 1971), “Bonaparte’s Retreat” (#3, 1974), the medley “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye/Don’t Pull Your Love” (#4, 1976) and “It’s Just a Matter of Time” (#7, 1985).
On Oct. 25, 1983, he married the former Kimberly Diane Woollen in Phoenix. They have three children: Cal, Shannon and Ashley.
In 1994, author Tom Carter’s candid Campbell bio “Rhinestone Cowboy” was published by Villard Books, which covered his abuse of cocaine and alcohol before coming over to religion. Regarding this conversion, the entertainer stated boldly: “How could I find God? He wasn’t lost. He found me. I simply let him . . . God has forgiven me, and I have forgiven myself.” Son Kane credits stepmom Kim for changing his dad from hell-raiser to happy homebody, which he was until struck by Alzheimer’s. Despite being born Baptist, he also converted to her Jewish faith, and they marked major Jewish holidays together, including Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah, until his illness.
In 2005, Campbell was inducted into the Country Music Association’s Hall of Fame, and chief among his 10 Academy of Country Music awards are his best male vocalist (1968-69) wins, as well as induction into ACM’s Pioneer Award members, and a Career Achievement honor presented on his behalf in 2016.
Campbell’s last big screen effort was the Roy Clark-Mel Tillis comedy “Uphill All the Way” (1986) with Burl Ives and Trish Van Devere, which saw little action at the box office, but did OK sales-wise via video. He also lent his voice to the 1991 animated film “Rock-A-Doodle.” There were two TV specials: “Glen Campbell: Rhinestone Cowboy” (2013) and “I’ll Be Me” (2014), the latter dealing with his final tour prompted by Alzheimer’s, and it earned him an Oscar nomination for best original song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” co-written with Julian Raymond (though losing to Common and John Legend’s “Glory” from the Civil Rights film “Selma”).
Raymond, who now lives in Nashville, noted his pleasure at the time, “I don’t know how to describe it, other then ‘Wow, what a dream!’ . . . Unfortunately for Glen, he wouldn’t be aware of it (alluding to the fact Campbell was by then residing in a Nashville memory-care facility). He wouldn’t understand it. I was lucky enough to be music director for (his) Grammys’ tribute (2012), too. I was so pleased that the Grammys gave him a Lifetime Achievement award when he could still understand and appreciate it.”
Julian also produced Campbell’s final albums, including “Ghost On the Canvas” (2011) just before Glen’s goodbye tour, which also boasted daughter Ashley Campbell as an opening act. (Incidentally, Raymond produced Ashley for Big Machine, a Nashville label noted for signees such as Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line.) Raymond disclosed a Campbell movie reportedly in the works by filmmaker James Keach, whose credits include the Campbell “I’ll Be Me” documentary and Johnny Cash movie “Walk The Line.” Meantime, Glen’s track “Southern Nights” is currently being heard in the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2.” Survivors include wife Kim, children Debby, Kelli, Travis, Kane, Dillon, Cal, Shannon and Ashley; 10 grandchildren; great-and-great-great grandchildren. Burial was in Delight, Ark. A memorial service will be scheduled later.

Above photo of Glen with daughter Debby and wife Kim by Patricia Presley.

Chuck Berry left lasting legacy

Nova special report – March 2017


NASHVILLE — Musician par excellence Chuck Berry, 90, died March 18, and while not known as a country artist, his songs were recorded by such stars of the genre as Ernest Tubb (“30 Days To Come Back Home”), Buck Owens (“Johnny B. Goode”), and Emmylou Harris (“You Never Can Tell, C’est La Vie”). Primarily hailed as a pioneer of rock and roll, and attesting to his impressive credentials, no less than Beatle John Lennon once proclaimed, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.”
Reportedly St. Louis native Chuck died of natural causes at his home in suburban Wentzville. During his debut performance in high school, he sang Jay McShann’s country-flavored song “Confessin’ The Blues,” receiving a well-remembered standing ovation, and when he learned to play guitar from friend Ira Harris, he incorporated a lot of country riffs in his playing.
In 1952, Chuck started off in a club band, playing a mix of songs, then the following year was in a combo called Sir John’s Trio (with pianist Johnnie Johnson and drummer Ebby Hardy), performing regularly in East St. Louis’s Cosmopolitan and Imperial Clubs. Recalling those club days, Berry said, “Curiosity provoked me to lay a lot of our country stuff on our predominantly black audience, and some began whispering, ‘who is that black hillbilly at the Cosmos?’ After they laughed at me a few times, they began requesting the hillbilly stuff and enjoyed dancing to it.”
Admittedly, Berry fashioned his 1955 breakthrough hit “Maybelline” after an old country tune he learned to play early on, “Ida Red.” Personally, I was in his corner from the first time I heard a Marine Corps soul buddy from Baltimore, playing his uptempo tunes, notably “Maybelline” (#1), “Wee, Wee Hours” (#10, 1955) and “No Money Down” (#8, 1956). Yet, never imagined I would someday meet up with this icon, in of all places, Germany.
“From childhood, I was already a country music devotee of the three Hanks – Williams, Snow, and Thompson – but thanks to that fellow Leatherneck, was soon hooked on the likes of Johnny Ace (“Pledging My Love”), Elvis Presley (“I Forgot To Remember To Forget”), The Drifters (“Honey Love”) and Berry, another solid addition to a growing list of musical heroes.
It wasn’t until the next decade that I learned of his growing up in The Ville, a segregated district in north St. Louis, and attending all-black Sumner High School, from which activist-comic Dick Gregory graduated six years after Berry. He was actually born Oct. 18, 1926, in San Jose, Calif., as Charles Edward Anderson Berry, son of Baptist deacon-carpenter Henry and his schoolteacher-wife Martha Berry, who moved to St. Louis when he was a year old (Chuck also had two brothers and three sisters). Later, reviewing his childhood, he insisted, “I wasn’t like Muddy Waters, people who really had it hard. In our house, we had food on the table. We were doing well compared to many.”
A youthful string of robberies in Kansas, however, got Chuck some hard time (1944-’47), and despite subsequent success as an entertainer, he spent 1962-’63 behind bars for misconduct with an under-aged Apache Indian prostitute, but claimed he was not all that guilty. In 1979, after pleading guilty to a $200,000 tax evasion charge, he was sentenced to four months in jail.
We met in July 1973, when as  European Stars & Stripes entertainment editor (and weekly Variety stringer), I was covering Frankfurt’s 2nd Annual Summer Rock Festival at the outdoor Radstadium, courtesy of MaMa Management. MaMa’s youthful founder Marek Lieberberg was sponsoring the two-day event on a shoestring budget. Word was out that the fledgling promoter was short on capital and thus advertised name acts such as Sly & The Family Stone, Black Sabbath, Canned Heat, Rory Gallagher, Faces (with Rod Stewart), and Curved Air threatened cancelling (see original poster). Lieberberg sought out Paul McCartney & Wings (who declined), and Chuck Berry (who had been touring in the UK), hoping to beef up his headliners, though still certainof the Spencer Davis Group, Curved Air, Gentle Giant, Marsha Hunt and Jon Hiseman’s Tempest, along with such then non-super groups Back Door, Heavy Metal Kids, Blue, Hardin-York and Fumble, a little known British band that had recently opened for Berry at London’s Rainbow Theatre.
Many of the near-20,000 tickets sold were to American service members stationed in Deutschland, who read about the two-day event in the Stars & Stripes daily newspaper. Despite all the last-minute line-up changes, the GIs would be pleased seeing Berry, then enjoying a career resurgence, thanks to his 1972 sexy #1 comeback single “My Ding-A-Ling” (his all-time best seller).
Seems the American singer-songwriter-guitarist was at Radstadium, but had heard about the iffy pay situation, and was not going on stage. In panic mode, Marek approached me to see if I could talk to a fellow American and convince him to go on, so as not disappoint the crowd. Went backstage seeking Berry, but was told he was underneath the structure, refusing to see any German reps. Hearing he was pretty hot under the collar, I was rather reluctant to approach him; however, I ventured below and upon introducing myself as a Stripes reporter, he shook my hand. The moody, mustachioed entertainer seemed really tall, and rather uptight right then, as I looked down, noting his fist and fingers were huge. But he smiled slightly.
Asking did he plan to perform, he replied in a low, but adamant voice, only if paid his fee in full first. Apparently offered a portion via check, with the balance to be paid upon completion of the assignment, Berry opted for cash only. Knowing Lieberberg, an ex-singer in a local ’60s rock band Mike Lee & The Sound of Rangers, I was aware he was new to the concert business and still struggling. His dream was to establish rock festivals in Germany, a la our famed Woodstock, later confiding: “I believed that festivals were a way of liberating society. Besides from that, I hoped that they would be successful and I could make a living out of it.” (Original MaMa Management promo poster in Frankfurt, Germany.)
Chuck recalled only weeks earlier running into the same set-up in England, when the promoter started to write a check, counting on coming up with the balance from the box office receipts. “I told him ‘no thanks.’ I want mine in cash now, all of it!” As the agent hesitated, Berry said he grabbed his guitar case and was about to head for the exit, but the promoter begged him to wait, while he sought the sum promised. Again, he was ready to put the outdoor arena in the rear view mirror and taxi back to his hotel, but I assured him I would repeat his terms to Marek. Like the British agency, MaMa managed to come up with the money requested and on went the slightly delayed program, but the audience apparently forgot their impatience, giving Mr. Rock & Roll a rousing reception, thanks to “Sweet Little 16” and his signature squatting for his famed duck-walk across the stage. Garbed in red-striped pants, pockets bulging with the bills he’d been paid up front (trusting no one), he was suddenly all showman.
Glancing at Marek, it was plain to see he, too, was pleased to see the legendary rocker giving his all, despite using a pick-up band (comprised, incidentally, of the Fumble musicians, who had previously opened his London gig). They did fine for the most part. Incidentally, in the decades that followed, Marek became one of the top five international concert promoters.
That was the last time I saw Berry up close. In an earlier life, Chuck had worked as a janitor in an automobile assembly plant, a freelance photographer and as a hairdresser, being a bona fide graduate of the St. Louis-based Poro School of Cosmetology. By the way, his “Maybelline” was named after a cosmetic.
Now, rightly so, he’s regarded as a founding father of rock, excelling equally well as singer, guitarist and songwriter. So it’s not too surprising that country newcomer Marty Robbins liked and covered Berry’s #1 R&B classic (which also hit Top Five on Billboard’s pop chart), turning “Maybelline” into an easy 1955 country Top 10. At the tail end of ’55, Texas Troubadour Ernest Tubb covered yet another Berry success “30 Days To Come Back Home,” peaking #7 country. Two decades later, George Jones also took on “Maybelline,” in a duet with Johnny Paycheck, giving the duo a 1978 (#7) hit.
Wonder how many recall that Chuck also penned a rockin’ tribute tune in 1961, titled “Brenda Lee,” which changed her actual Madison High School to the fictional Central, lyric-wise: “Brenda Lee, she’s a beauty/She came in with a handsome guy/She sang songs, she entertained/Then waved her alma mater, goodbye/And had reporters taking pictures of her/Walkin’ out of Central High . . . ” It was featured on his Chess album “St. Louis To Liverpool.”
In 1964, Berry toured Britain for the first time, and there recorded “Two Great Guitars” with another yank, Bo Diddley. Although married to the former Themetta Suggs since October 1947, he seldom took her on the road, and despite his diversions, she remained loyal to their marital vows.
During 1969, Bakersfield cowboy Buck Owens performed Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” live in concert, released it as a single and scored yet another country #1 for himself, also garnering some pop radio airplay as a bonus. Later that year, Waylon Jennings, figuring he also fit the role, recorded Chuck’s “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” taking it up to #3 on Billboard’s country list.
Atlanta native Freddy Weller, who enjoyed earlier fame with the rockin’ Paul Revere & The Raiders, switched to country, and in 1970 recorded Berry’s “Promised Land” (#3), then chalked up a Top 10 on Chuck’s “Too Much Monkey Business” (’73), and Top 40 with Berry’s “Nadine (Is It You?)” in 1979. Elvis also cut “Promised Land” (#14 pop, 1974).
Jerry Lee Lewis (with sis Linda Gail) dusted off Berry’s spirited “Roll Over Beethoven” in 1971, as did Narvel Felts in 1982, though neither record was really a radio hit. Emmylou gave a new interpretation of “You Never Can Tell,” landing herself another hit (#6, 1977). Harris’ friend Linda Ronstadt, meantime, dusted off Chuck’s “Back In the USA” (1978), adding a Top 40 to her country repertoire, and it also crossed over pop as a stronger Top 20 entry.
Obviously, other pop figures also recorded Berry’s creations, among them Johnny Rivers, Lonnie Mack, AC/DC, The Beatles and The Who. Instrumentally, Berry was a master, and those who followed marveled at his opening guitar solo on “Johnny B. Goode,” where he utilizes double stops, an innovative technique that required playing two notes at the same time! The 1987 film documentary “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which chronicled Berry’s 60th birthday concert in St. Louis, in particular captured that on-stage magic.
For him, St. Louis represented a love-hate relationship. Despite put-downs by some there, he remained loyal to his hometown, and in 1957 purchased acreage on the outskirts where he opened his Club Bandstand, a venue open to all races, but when pressure was put on by the police, Berry shut it down. Later, he also started up Berry Park, probably modeled on early Disneyland, though it never enjoyed the theme park success he’d envisioned.
Like many black entertainers, Berry encountered discrimination on tours, particularly in the South, but didn’t let that deter him from making music for all. Still, he seemed suspicious and somewhat embittered of his treatment by some in the white community.
In 1993 and again in 1997, however, he was invited to entertain during Bill Clinton’s presidential inaugurals, and could take heart in knowing that his rockin’ “Johnny B. Goode” was aboard Voyager I, launched in 1997 by NASA. He would also share the Playbill with such later superstars as The Grateful Dead, Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band.
Up until 2014, Berry performed monthly in St. Louis in Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room, a 340-capacity club, named after his signature scoot across stages around the world. A particular joy was sharing the stage there with daughter Ingrid and son Chuck, Jr. Among books about his life, are his self-penned “Chuck Berry: The Autobiography” (Faber & Faber Publishing, 2001); “Chuck Berry: The Biography” by John Collis (2004, Aurum Press); and “Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life & Hard Times of Chuck Berry” by Bruce Pegg (Routledge Press, 2005). As an artist he was appropriately lauded, three of his songs are in the Rock & Roll Record Hall of Fame – “Maybelline,” “Johnny B. Goode” and “Rock & Roll Music” – and he was among the first named to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (1986), fittingly inducted by Keith Richards. In an earlier quote, Keith had acknowledged how much Berry inspired him: “I don’t even know if Chuck realizes what he did. I don’t think he does . . . It was just such a total thing, a great sound, a great rhythm coming off the needle of all of Chuck’s records. It’s when I knew what I wanted to do.” Nonetheless, Keith also recognized Chuck’s faults, citing him as “a bitch sometimes. More headaches than Jagger.”

Hailed as the “First Poet Laureate of Rock & Roll,” Berry was inducted into the National Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1986. He was also the recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors (2000), along with fellow honorees Angela Lansbury, Placido Domingo, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Clint Eastwood. The Rhythm & Blues Foundation presented him its Pioneer Award, as well. A statue of the Rock Hall of Famer was dedicated to him in St. Louis (see right).

Oddly enough, his actual funeral, attracting a thousand mourners or more, was held three weeks after his passing, on Sunday, April 9, at The Pageant, a performance site, just a few miles from the neighborhood where Chuck was raised. The Rev. Alex Peterson welcomed the crowd, saying, “We are going to celebrate him in Rock & Roll style. We’re not going to sit here and be sad.” Kiss’s Gene Simmons wearing his trademark sunglasses was among the attendees, and spontaneously walked up to the podium, offering a tearful eulogy: “I wasn’t planning on saying anything. These shades are going to help me a lot. But there are real tears behind them . . . Rock & Roll was started by a guy, who just wanted to make people feel better.”

Longtime friend Joe Edwards attended to details at the funeral, allowing an open casket for folks to pass by, and look upon his famous red electric guitar bolted inside, with Berry wearing a white suit, sequined purple shirt and his familiar yachting cap. A standout among the floral displays was a guitar-shaped white bloom of flowers ordered by the Rolling Stones. “Thanks for the inspiration,” read its card, and an accompanying message from the legendary band was read to the congregation: “The Rolling Stones are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Chuck Berry. He was a true pioneer of Rock ’n’ Roll and a massive influence on us. Chuck was not only a brilliant guitarist, singer, and performer, but most importantly, he was a master craftsman as a songwriter. His songs will live forever.” In addition, that day the Stone’s Keith Richards tweeted, “One of my big lights has gone out.” Beatle Ringo Starr tweeted, as well: “R.I.P. And Peace & Love Chuck Berry, Mr. Rock & Roll Music.” A laudatory letter from Beatle Paul McCartney was read aloud, “As you know, Chuck was a huge influence on me and my companions.”

St. Louis soprano Marlissa Hudson sang “Ave Maria,” before Berry musician Billy Peek picked out the melody of Berry’s historic “Johnny B. Goode” on guitar, then astounded the crowd mimicking Chuck’s deep-squat strut, a.k.a. his signature duck walk. Two of Berry’s grandchildren sang “Summertime.”
Edwards, who owns both The Pageant and Blueberry Hill, earlier founded the St. Louis Walk of Fame, featuring bronze stars in the sidewalk outside the Blueberry, honoring St. Louis’ favorite sons and daughters, including poet T. S. Eliot, dancer Josephine Baker, singer Tina Turner, actor John Goodman and baseball greats Stan Musial and Ozzie Smith. It was Berry’s star that was the first installed, and finally it was at Blueberry Hill he performed for 18 years. At the Sunday service, Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) also read a statement from Clinton praising Chuck as a uniter: “He drew from many different traditions, yet his music was innovative in spirit and he spoke of the joy, hopes and dreams we all have in common. Hillary and I both grew up listening to his music.”

Mindy McCready, an apparent suicide at 37

Mindy McCreadyNASHVILLE — Country singer Mindy McCready, 37, was found dead Sunday afternoon, Feb. 17, at her residence in Heber Springs, Ark., apparently from a single, self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Cleburne County Sheriff deputies were called to the home where she was staying and found her body on the porch about 4 p.m. Reportedly a judge had earlier ordered her to undergo treatment for alcohol addiction and mental health issues, while her sons Zander, 6, and Zayne, 10 months, were being placed temporarily in foster care.
The artist was allegedly despondent from the Jan. 13 death of her live-in songwriter-boyfriend David Wilson, 34, whom she called her soul mate, and who allegedly died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, as well. They were not married, but he was the father of Zayne. Zander is the son of an earlier boyfriend William McKnight, who at one time was charged with attempting to strangle the singer.
Cleburne County Coroner Waren Olstead said an autopsy is pending, and no information is yet available on where the boys are located. The Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines Twittered upon hearing of the death, “Too much tragedy to overcome. R.I.P. Mindy McCready.”
Mindy’s once-promising 1990s’ career had declined by the new Millennium, and she was reduced to recording on minor labels. The talented but troubled woman’s career was overtaken by increasing tabloid coverage, prompted by her erratic behavior and a penchant for drugs.
Born Nov. 30, 1975, in Fort Meyers, Fla., Malinda Gayle McCready was the first child of Gayle and Tim McCready, who later had two sons Josh and Tim.
Subsequently she was raised by her divorced mother, who ran an ambulance service. Always a music enthusiast, Mindy idolized gospel star Sandi Patty’s vocals. As a teen, one of her hobbies was karaoke singing. She graduated high school with honors at age 16.
Mindy’s mom remarried and gave birth to Mindy’s half-brother Kolton Skyler. Mindy was helping Mom’s company out as a dispatcher for the ambulance drivers at the tender age of 12.
“I think you go through things for a reason. That’s why my parents divorced, why I lived a hard life, why I grew up fast, because I had to be prepared for this career at age 21,” The Tennessean newspaper quoted her.
Mindy moved to Nashville in June 1994. A year after coming to Music City, McCready landed a major label pact with BNA Records and scored her first Billboard charting with “Ten Thousand Angels” (#6, 1996). Her debut album of that title peaked at #5 on Top Country Albums, spawning four hit singles, including her second charting “Guys Do It All the Time” a number one, followed by a Top Fiver “A Girl’s Gotta Do (What a Girl’s Cotta Do).” Her duet with Lonestar’s Richie McDonald “Maybe He’ll Notice Her Now” was an easy Top 20, as her CD sold platinum, very impressive for a newcomer.
Initially her appeal seemed primarily to be her own peer group of females, who dug her in-your-face attitude. McCready nonetheless didn’t feel any constraint, noting, “I don’t worry about that because wherever there’s girls there is going to be boys. And I think the record appeals to women of all ages, not just young girls.”
Mindy’s Gold sophomore album “If I Don’t Stay the Night” contained three chart singles, though the best showing was the Top 20 “You’ll Never Know.” Listeners were somewhat confused over the direction taking, including vocal rap, as some reviewers likened her to a Shania Twain wannabe.
Meanwhile, the statuesque blonde beauty had a high-profile romance with handsome actor Dean Cain of TV’s New Adventures of Lois & Clark adventure series, and was opening shows for Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw and George Strait.
Seemingly she had it all going for her.
BNA promotions v.p. David Baldrica summed it up in the fall of 1997, “It has been a storybook career for this girl. It’s amazing if you look at the start she got off to and the success of the first four singles and the success of the first album – now the whole thing with Dean . . . It goes to show you when destiny’s light starts to shine on you, when all those stars light up, certain people have them all light up, and I think Mindy is one of those people.”
Sad to say, his forecast was off the mark. Mindy had five additional chartings (totaling 12), the best of which after switching to Capitol was “Scream” (#46, 2000) and no doubt that’s what she wanted to do. Additionally, the McCready-Dean engagement was called off.
In April 2008, she disclosed a brief affair with the married baseball icon Roger Clemens, that started when she was 15, supposedly after he heard her singing in a karaoke bar. Initially he denied it, already in hot water for allegedly using steroids while playing professional ball. Mindy said, “It’s a tragic end to someone who has had a beautiful career,” adding she felt “sorry for his family” (wife Debbie and two children). Later reports stated that Clemens (known in the sport world as The Rocket) sent hefty checks to McCready through a third party, some in the amount of $25,000.
McCready’s own career took a dramatic downturn, as she became dependent on drugs, to the extent she was arrested in 2004 for forging another’s name on a prescription for OxyContin at a Brentwood pharmacy. In the spring of 2005, Mindy hit the headlines when she was arrested and charged with DUI. Then in May, police found the star beaten and nearly strangled by estranged boyfriend William McKnight, who was arrested on the charges.
In July 2005, she was hospitalized for an apparent suicide attempt, discovered by McKnight, out on bail. Reportedly, she was despondent over a criminal case pending against her in Arizona, where she hindered prosecution and faced unlawful use of transportation charges.
Then in 2006, Mindy was re-arrested for violating probation, when in July in Fort Meyer, she had an altercation with her mother, Gayle. Returned to Tennessee, Mindy spent three months in Williamson County jail, before being released again on probation. She filed a lawsuit naming her mother and the National Enquirer magazine, charging libel for slanderous statements made against her. Nothing came of this.
In the summer of 2008, Mindy admitted herself into an extended care facility, after receiving emergency treatment at Vanderbilt Medical Center, following still another suicide attempt.
Following her release from the facility, again she allegedly attempted suicide in December 2008. Brother Timothy discovered her unconscious, noting she had cut her wrists and taken an overdose of pills, and called 9-11.
Mindy made public her troubles, airing them on such as the Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab, Access Hollywood and via her own short-lived reality series.
On Dec. 9, 2011, McCready was seen on the prime-time ABC-TV news show 20/20 discussing alleged kidnapping charges filed against her by her mother, Gayle Inge, who had custody of son Zander. Mindy had visitation with him in Florida, reportedly with permission of his father, William McKnight, but then absconded with him to Arkansas. She claimed Zander was in danger from her mother.
Arkansas lawmen located the singer in the state, hiding under a staircase with Zander at a friend’s home. Arkansas Judge Lee Harrod ignored Florida officials’ requests to return Zander and Mindy to its jurisdiction, however, and tentatively allowed the boy to stay with his mother pending further investigation, and the birth of Zayne.
Some say she was in the process of writing a book about her predicament and brushes with the law, and in January 2012 posted this comment: “I haven’t had a hit in almost a decade. I’ve spent my fortune, tarnished my public view and made myself the brunt of punch line after punch line. I’ve been beaten, sued, robbed, arrested, jailed and evicted. But I’m still here. With a handful of people that I know and trust, a revived determination, and both middle fingers up in the air, I’m ready. I’ve been here before. I’m a fighter. I’m down, but I’ll never be out.” – by Walt Trott