Death claims Gentry, Williams . . . . Wanda Jackson bio . . . Chris Young honored
NASHVILLE — Reportedly billionaire President Trump and First Lady Melania are donating a million dollars, targeted for Hurricane Harvey relief, but NFL Houston Texan football star J. J. Watt, 28, started small, creating a fund drive for victims of the disaster, setting a goal of $200,000. To the rugged defensive end’s amazement, that goal was surpassed almost immediately and has since logged some $20 million in pledges. Music members have also taken up the cause, with Willie Nelson joining music buddy Paul Simon, who with wife Edie Brickell, a Texan, matched the Trumps with their million dollar donation initially, but additionally plan charity concerts with Nelson, kicking off a benefit Sept. 22 in Austin. Incidentally, the Simons designated their personal donation for towns outside Houston, hard hit, too, by the storm. Cinema names also pledged million-dollar donations toward the Texas tragedy, notably Sandra Bullock, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tyler Perry. Back in 2005, Simon started the Children’s Health Fund, following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. New Opry star Chris Young chose to pledge $100,000 for the Harvey relief effort, noting in his Twitter post, “I have friends and family there, and I’m fairly positive my house down there may have to be torn down, as it was in one of the hardest hit areas by wind and flooding. But that’s the least of my concern. I’m worried about the people, like I said, my friends, family, neighbors, and I want to help.” Additionally, Young set up a GoFundMe account with a goal of $500,000, ear-marked for the Red Cross. Then there’s a four-city national telecast Sept. 12 – Hand In Hand: A Benefit For Hurricane Harvey Relief – a major simultaneous fund raiser from Los Angeles, New York, San Antonio and Nashville. Performers participating in Music City take the stage at the Grand Ole Opry House. Name country players set for the one-hour special include Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, George Strait, Lyle Lovett, Chris Stapleton, Robert Earl Keen, along with Hollywood elites like George Clooney, Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey, Barbra Streisand, Drake, Jamie Foxx, Beyonce, Justin Bieber and Oprah Winfrey. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott estimated cost of rebuilding the damaged state likely reaching $180 billion. Kip Moore and skateboard champ Tony Hawk joined talents to headline Harley-Davidson’s premier Music City Skate Jam, Sept. 10, in Nashville’s Walk of Fame Park downtown. Proceeds will benefit victims of Hurricane Harvey, along with Kip’s Kids Fund and Tony Hawk’s Foundation for needy young skaters. Moore shared this observation with the daily newspaper: “I’ve seen the impact my skate parks have had on the inner cities. I’ve seen the direct impact they’ve had on these kids. They are telling me it’s the first thing they’ve ever loved, and their parents are telling me it’s keeping them out of gangs.” Highlights of the Skate Jam were Hawk’s skating exhibition, followed by Moore’s concert. As this is being typed, Hurricane Irma looks likely to equal the Harvey damage in Florida, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands. So stay tuned for further fund-raisers.
Scene Stealers: Chris Young was stunned when Vince Gill issued an invitation to become a regular cast member of WSM’s Grand Ole Opry, Aug. 28. The husky vocalist then lifted Vince up high in excitement, before hunkering down to kiss the show’s revered Circle of Fame wooden cut-out upon which past legends performed on an earlier Opry stage. In reply to Gill’s invitation, Chris gave a resounding “Yes!,” capping 11 years of guestings on the historic show. Vince had teamed with Chris to produce their #1 collaboration, “Sober Saturday Night,” which earned Gold sales status. That same night, Young also accepted his first Platinum plaque indicative of more than a million sales of his CD “Neon.” . . . The annual Americana Music Festival commenced Sept. 12-17 at the new Westin-Nashville Hotel, with showcases being held at various venues across town, including Basement East, Station Inn, Family Wash and 3rd & Lindsley. Some 300 performers were scheduled, including the likes of Drive-By Truckers, Del McCoury, while Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale co-hosted the Americana awards presentations at the Ryman. Among artists appearing on that program are Van Morrison, Graham Nash, John Prine, Jason Isbell, Margo Price and Rodney Crowell. For further information on this event check out americanamusic.org
Bits & Pieces: Country legend John Anderson came through recent “medical procedures” with flying colors and just released a series of upcoming concerts scheduled, including the Poppy Mountain Bluegrass Festival, Morehead, Ky., Sept. 16, followed by stops in Dade City, Fla., Sept. 21; Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, Hurricane Mills, Tenn., Sept. 28; Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, Sept. 29; and the Burleson County Fair, Caldwell, Texas, Sept. 30. Anderson sent this message, “I am thankful for the outpouring of prayers from friends and fans. All medical procedures went great and we’ll plan on seeing you all real soon.” Nothing like hearing the original hit-maker singing “Wild and Blue” and “Swingin’.” . . . Wanda Jackson’s biography “Every Night Is Saturday Night,” co-authored by journalist Scott Bomar, is slated for a Nov. 14 release date. Jackson, mainly hailed as a rockabilly pioneer, first charted country with her Decca duet “You Can’t Have My Love” (with Billy Gray), a song co-written by Hank Thompson, but suffered a lengthy dry spell between hits until her 1961 comeback on Capitol with back-to-back, self-penned Top 10 country discs “Right Or Wrong,” “In the Middle Of a Heartache.” Thereafter, she scored with her band The Party Timers via rock-flavored tunes, and their LP “You’ll Always Have My Love” (#25, 1967). Come Dec. 2, Wanda will autograph her book for fans at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville . . . If you’re a country music fan and have $4.2 million, you can buy the house where Tammy Wynette and George Jones loved, which later became the home of Earl and Louise Scruggs. Once dubbed “First Lady Acres,” the historic eight acres is being sold by Scott Underwood (ex-drummer with rock band Train), whose current listing represents a drop from a previously-advertised $5.5 million. His near 10,000 square foot home boasts nine bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a theater room, gym, pool, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, storm shelter, three-car garage, cabana and helicopter pad.
Honors: The Country Music Association’s roster of potential award winners was especially surprising for the lack of recognition shown such hit-makers as Jason Aldean (ACM’s current Entertainer of the Year), Blake Shelton (whose ex garnered five this year, to his zero) and Dustin Lynch, who despite five successive #1 discs on the Country Airplay Chart, suffered the embarrassment of announcing CMA nominees on national TV, but didn’t rate a nod, unlike co-hosts Lauren Alaina and the Osborne Brothers. “We have six first-time nominees (such as Lauren Alaina, who turns 23 on the awards date),” says Sarah Trahern, CEO, citing diversity in nominees for the 51st annual awards gala, including non-country names Pink, Rhiannon Giddens and Taylor Swift. “Then you have people (like Reba and Willie) who have been nominated for tons of years. We want to honor and mold all of this into an amazing three-hour show, Nov. 8.” So here are the 2017 CMA nominations: Entertainer of the Year – Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Chris Stapleton and Keith Urban; Female Singer: Kelsea Ballerini, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Maren Morris and Carrie Underwood; Male: Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Thomas Rhett, Chris Stapleton and Keith Urban; Vocal Group: Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Old Dominion, Rascal Flatts and Zac Brown Band; Vocal Duo: Brothers Osborne, Dan+Shea, Florida Georgia Line, LoCASH and Maddie & Tae; New Artist: Lauren Alaina, Luke Combs, Old Dominion, Jon Pardi, Brett Young; Album: Jason Isbell’s “Nashville Sound”; Lady Antebellum’s “Heart Break”; Miranda Lambert’s “Weight of These Wings”; Little Big Town’s “The Breaker”; and Chris Stapleton’s “From a Room, Volume 1”; Single: Sam Hunt, “Body Like a Back Road”; Miranda Lambert, “Tin Man”; Little Big Town, “Better Man”; Jon Pardi, “Dirt On My Boots”; and Keith Urban, “Blue Ain’t Your Color”; Song (writers): “Better Man,” Taylor Swift; “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” Clint Lagerberg, Hillary Lindsey, Steven Lee Olsen; “Body Like a Bad Road,” Zach Crowell, Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne; “Dirt On My Boots,” Rhett Akins, Jesse Erasure, Ashley Gorley; “Tin Man,” Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall; Musician: Jerry Douglas, dobro; Paul Franklin, steel guitar; Dann Huff, guitar; Mac McAnally, guitar; and Derek Wells, guitar; Best Event: “Craving You,” Thomas Rhett, Maren Morris; “Funny How Time Slips Away,” Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson; “Kill a Word,” Eric Church, Rhiannon Giddens; “Setting the World On Fire,” Kenny Chesney, Pink; and “Speak To a Girl,” Faith Hill, Tim McGraw; Music Video (artists, directors): “Better Man,” Little Big Town, Becky Fluke, Reid Long; “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” Keith Urban, Carter Smith; “Craving You,” Thomas Rhett, Maren Morris, T.K. McKamy; “It Ain’t My Fault,” Brothers Osborne, Wes Edwards, Ryan Silver; and “Vice,” Miranda Lambert and Trey Fanjoy . . . Little Big Town was further honored Sept. 14, with a star on the Music City Walk of Fame along with posthumous stars for 19th century riverboat captain Tom Ryman and Lula Neff, who for four decades booked shows into Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium, named in honor of Capt. Tom . . . A triple threat talent, Lyman C. “Mac” McAnally, Jr., became the latest Nashville Cat in the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum’s Sept. 9 program series, performing and interviewing with series host Bill Lloyd. Mac’s earned his spurs as songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, mandolin, piano), and had his first Top 20 single “Back Where I Come From” in 1990, and shared vocals with Kenny Chesney on “Down The Road” (#1, 2008). Now 60, he’s won CMA’s best musician eight times and is nominated again this year; was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 2007; and produced such acts as Sawyer Brown and Restless Heart. Other #1’s he crafted include Shenandoah’s “Two Dozen Roses” and Alabama’s “Old Flame.”
Ailing: Country vocalist Jo Dee Messina, 47, has been diagnosed with cancer, prompting this message on her website that she’s “working closely with a team to explore all options.” The feisty female CMA Horizon Award winner in 1999, is a native of Massachusetts, who began performing professionally in her mid-teens. She scored big in 1996 with a near-charttopper “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” followed by a Top 10 that year, “You’re Not in Kansas Anymore.” Among her six #1 titles are “I’m Alright,” “Bring On the Rain” and “My Give-A-Damn’s Busted.”
Final Curtain Call: Albert “Sonny” Burgess, leader of the 1950s’ Memphis rockabilly group The Pacers, died Aug. 18 at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock, Ark. He was age 88. Sonny started off in his native Arkansas, fronting the boogie band Rocky Road Ramblers. After an Army stint during the Korean Conflict, he returned home, a farmer. Nights and weekends he played guitar, for a time leading a dance band The Moonlighters. In 1955, he turned his full attention on to music, especially excited about the new sound emanating from Sun Records and a Bill Haley movie “Rock Around the Clock.” Inspired, Sonny’s new band The Pacers incorporated hip new sounds into their act, and while opening for newcomer Elvis Presley, was encouraged by the rockabilly pioneer to see Sam Phillips in Memphis. Sam signed them to Sun, releasing their 1956 debut disc “Red-Headed Woman,” with a flip-side featuring “We Wanna Boogie.” Additional Sun records by The Pacers included “Thunderbird,” “Ain’t Got a Thing” and “Sadie’s Back in Town.” In 1965, the band scored again via “The Short Squashed Texan” on Razorback Records. Fellow Pacers included Bobby Crafford, Jim Aldridge, Fred Douglas, Kern Kennedy and J. C. Caughron. Pacer LPs include “They Came From the South,” “Live In Sweden” and “Still Rockin’ and Rollin’.” In 2002, Sonny & The Pacers were inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Jackson, Tenn., and also The Arkansas Entertainers’ Hall of Fame in Pine Bluff. Burgess is survived by a son John Burgess. A memorial service was being planned.
Musician Leon Douglas, 78, died Aug. 18. A member of the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree in West Va. for 30 years, he also performed with Cousin Jody on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry starting in the 1960s. As an entertainer, Leon shared the stage with such other notables as Marty Robbins, Mel Tillis, Merle Haggard and George Jones. Survivors include wife Bonnie Douglas; daughters Darla Douglas, Dana McDowell, Mickey Bryan, Bretina Douglas; sons Kevin and Darryl Douglas; 12 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. A Celebration of Life service was conducted by Heath Picard at Spring Hill Funeral Home, Aug. 22.
Bluegrass veteran Jim Rollins, 54, died in a car crash after being struck in the rear by another vehicle speeding on I-385 in Greenville County, S.C. The banjoist’s car spun off the road, and Rollins was thrown out of the vehicle, hitting his head. According to the Greenville County Coroner, death was caused by blunt force trauma. In his younger days, Rollins toured with Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys and more recently with the West End String Band, based in North Carolina. Apart from his music, Rollins was a General Electric Company engineer, who lived in Simpsonville, S.C. Reportedly, the driver of the speeding car has been charged with felony DUI in connection with the untimely death of Rollins. There was no further information on survivors or funeral services.
Nashville was in shock, Sept. 8, upon learning of the deaths of vocalists Troy Gentry (MontgomeryGentry) and veteran singer-songwriter Don Williams.
Gentry, 50, died in a helicopter crash early that afternoon, along with the pilot James Evan Robinson, in Medford, N.J. Gentry was to perform a concert that night with vocal partner Eddie Montgomery and their band. According to Medford Police Chief Richard Meder, crews removed passenger Gentry from the wreckage, and he was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital; however, crews worked for hours to extricate the pilot from the mangled wreckage. A native of Meigs, Ga., Robinson was a pilot with Flying W Airport’s flight school. Montgomery and Gentry were slated to perform at the Flying A Resort there. Montgomery and bandsmen were at the airport when the crash occurred, allegedly due to a malfunction, prompting the pilot to radio a troubled warning. The helicopter crashed just short of the airport runway, in what was reportedly a woody and swampy site. Montgomery who allegedly has a fear of flying had been invited for a “joy ride,” but declined, while the more adventurous Gentry jumped at the opportunity. An investigation of the chopper crash is being conducted.
Gentry, who hails from Lexington, Ky., first became familiar with Eddie’s musical assets when both played in a band with the younger Montgomery brother: John Michael & Young Country. According to Eddie, he and John first played in their dad Harold’s band Kentucky River Express, and then the siblings started a group labeled Early Tymz, adapted from a whiskey name. Later, along came Gentry to join us, recalled Eddie: “We started right out of high school. I was playing drums, T-Roy (his nickname for Gentry) played acoustic guitar and John was up front.”
After John Boy graduated to the big time, Troy and Eddie partnered to play local Lexington bars and other gigs, their sound influenced by their Southern rock heroes Charlie Daniels, Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. They became regulars at clubs such as Austin City Saloon and The Grapevine, the latter club once owned by Gentry. “We just came up thru the ranks that way and everybody supported us,” Eddie recalled, adding, Troy left the act to try first as a solo and got top spot in a Jim Beam Whiskey talent contest in ’94, but that sort of fizzled out and he drifted back to Eddie and their vocal duo Deuce. Together, after three years playing the Kentucky club circuit, they attracted attention of Sony/Columbia Records and their first charting proved a success: “Hillbilly Shoes” (#13, 1999). It was quickly followed by “Lonely and Gone” (#5, 1999) and the Top 20 “Daddy Won’t Sell the Farm,” all on their debut album “Tattoos & Scars,” which sold over a million (Platinum), marking a nice start. Early awards were the American Music Awards trophy for favorite new country act; Academy of Country Music’s top new duo statuette; and in 2000, CMA voted M/G a best duo award. Subsequently, the team totaled 16 Top 10’s, including five #1 discs: “If You Ever Stop Loving Me,” “Something To Be Proud Of,” “Lucky Man,” “Back When I Knew It All” and “Roll With Me.” Their testosterone-fueled tunes were welcomed by blue-collar fans nationally.
As Eddie told us in an interview way back when, “It’s wonderful to win these awards and to be recognized by your peers, but the main thing is the acceptance by the people (fans). We didn’t start out to try and win awards, we did it because we love it. We enjoy having people come out to see us, and that is definitely the biggest award of all.”
Both were bikers, who regularly rode their Harleys to the annual Bike Week near Sturgis, N.D., where Eddie pointed out, “We’ve made a lot of friends and seen some incredible custom motorcycles out there,” as Troy added, “Yeah, being there with real people is the best. I love talking to the extreme bikers, doctors, lawyers, school teachers and everybody else. It’s great fellowship.”
Gentry generated some unanticipated sour press with his so-called sport of hunting what turned out to be a captive black bear, roaming in a three-acre private site in November 2006. Subsequently he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of improperly tagging wildlife, and the following April, under a plea deal, was sentenced to three months probation, a $15,000 fine and forfeiture of the taxidermied bear, and bow used during the so-called hunt near Sandstone, Minn. Fortunately, most fans were forgiving of this, and Troy also agreed to stop hunting in Minnesota for five years.
Troy Gentry’s management group’s Shannon Houchins has issued the following: “I, along with everyone here at Average Joe’s, am devastated by the news of Troy’s passing. Personally, there are no words to express the sadness I feel for Troy’s family and for Eddie Montgomery. Troy was an exceptional talent, an exceptional person and a good friend. We will all miss him greatly.” Montgomery Gentry re-signed with Average Joe’s Entertainment last year, and recently put the finishing touches on a new album for them.
Survivors include Troy’s wife, the former Angie McClure (whom he wed in a Hawaiian ceremony in 1999); their teen daughter Kaylee; and Taylor, child of his previous marriage. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Country Music Hall of Famer Don Williams, 78, died Sept. 8 at his home near Nashville. Hailed for 45 Top 10 singles, 17 of which went #1, two he wrote: “Till The Rivers All Run Dry” (1976) and “Love Me Over Again” (1980).
Donald Ray Williams was born May 27, 1939 in Floydada, Texas, but raised mainly in the Texas coastal city of Portland. At age 3, he won an alarm clock finishing first in a local talent contest. As a teen at Gregory-Portland High, he began learning to play guitar, primarily pickin’ songs heard on the radio. Among those artists who helped inspire him were Johnny Horton, Fats Domino and Buddy Holly. At 14, Don wrote his first song, “Walk It Off,” and his first musical payday was $25, performing for the 1957 grand opening of a gas station in Taft, Texas.
Don worked a variety of jobs to support his musical efforts, including laboring in the oil fields, driving a bread truck, working in a smelting plant and also as a bill collector. He also served a stint in the Army, and later worked with his father-in-law in a furniture building business. Meeting fellow musician Lofton Kline, the two hooked up as as a country-folk duo Strangers Two.
After years of struggling, in 1964 Don formed the Pozo-Seco Singers with Kline and Susan Taylor. The folk-pop trio, with Don its lead singer, finally hit the charts with “I Can Make It With You” (#32, 1966) and “Look What You’ve Done” (#32, 1967). Later, Don would return to the pop chart via his MCA crossover hit “I Believe In You” (#24, 1980). In 1981, he charted his sole duet hit, “If I Needed You,” with Emmylou Harris (Billboard #3), and a few years down the road, produced another artist, Barbara Fairchild, in the studio.
In a later chat with Don, we inquired what had become of his former pop music partners: “I haven’t seen or spoken with them for some years now. I really don’t know what Lofton does in Texas. Seems I heard he was performing around some, and that he was also a coach at one of the high schools there, but really I don’t have any idea what they’re doing now.”
It was in 1967 that Williams made the move to Nashville. He did studio session work and signed as a staff writer with Cowboy Jack Clement for publishing. Don guested in pal Burt Reynold’s movies “W.W. & The Dixie Dancekings” (1975) as Leroy, and “Smokey & The Bandit II” (1980), as himself singing his #1 “Tulsa Time.” During filming at 20th Century Fox, he was “gifted” with a battered cavalry hat, which Don donned for years. In fact, he was wearing it when we did our first interview in Wiesbaden, Germany, during his maiden 1970s’ European tour.
Over the years, he’d played all the major concert venues from Carnegie Hall in New York to the Royal Albert Hall in London. Williams maintained a special appreciation for UK audiences, noting, “Those people over there, as far as how they’ve been to me, it’s really unbelievable!” Little wonder, he was named Country Music Star of the Decade in England (1980) by Country Music People magazine.
Among his best-selling LPs are: #1 “Harmony” (1976); “Expressions” (#2, 1978), which charted 61 weeks; and “The Best Of Don Williams, Vol. II” (#7, 1979), charting an astounding 115 weeks. A lot of times in the studio he would call on members from his touring group, called the Scratch Band.
When asked decades later if he still wore that cavalry cap, Don chuckled, replying, “Now the one that I’ve worn the last twenty-some years, Stetson fashioned for me as near as possible to the original, and you know the original when I got it, was really old.”
It was in 1976 that Don joined WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. While he does write some of his songs, including his breakthrough song “The Shelter Of Your Eyes” (#14, 1972), “Atta Way To Go,” “Till The Rivers All Run Dry,” “I’ve Got a Winner In You,” “Lay Down Beside Me” and “Love Me Over Again,” he was always on the lookout for good songs from writers like Wayland Holyfield and Roger Cook. Bob McDill, however, proved a truly good luck charm, writing such classic Williams’ singles as “Come Early Morning,” “Amanda” (both in 1973), “Love Me Tonight,” “Say It Again,” “She Never Knew Me,” “Rake and Ramblin’ Man,” “It Must Be Love,” “Good Ol’ Boys Like Me,” “Falling Again,” “If Hollywood Don’t Need You,” “Another Time, Another Place,” “I’ve Been Loved By the Best” and his final Billboard Top 10 “Lord, Have Mercy On a Country Boy” (#7, 1991).
As Don told a No Depression reporter, “When Bob writes one that really hits me, it really hits me. He has a different way of saying things that appeal to me and the way he put shorts together was real different for country music at that time. I dare say I would not have had very much of a career without Bob McDill.”
The rangy, six-footer’s smooth baritone and easy-going manner earned him the sobriquet Gentle Giant, and made him something of a songwriter’s singer. In 1978, Don’s “Tulsa Time” was voted best single by the Academy of Country Music, while the Country Music Association named him best vocalist of that year, and in 1981 honored his Platinum-selling “I Believe In You” as best album (which charted 86 weeks). He’s received eight more ACM nominations and several more CMA nominations, as well. In 2010, Williams was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He retired from the road several seasons back, sticking close to Ashland City, site of some 90 acres he calls home, to spend more time with wife Joy Bucher, whom he wed April 10, 1960. They have two sons: Gary and Tim.
(Editor’s note: Montgomery-Gentry photo above by Patricia Presley.)