NASHVILLE — In this era of the #Me-Too movement, it’s fitting that the Reunion Of Professional Entertainers here opted for a trio of talented female performers to headline their 2020 Valentine Social at the American Legion Post #82.
Leona Williams, Dianne Sherrill and Diane Berry scored as this year’s ROPE Sweethearts, thanks, too, to top-notch professional backing by Ron Elliott, steel guitar; Larry Barnes, bass; Dina Johnson, drums; Charlie Vaughn, lead guitar; and ROPE’s Musician of the Year Willie Rainsford on keyboards.
Unfortunately, it started off with poor stage lighting, before finally the powers-that-be came to the rescue. This also marked ROPE’s first event of the new year. Diane Berry, who got her start in 1982 Nashville performing at Opryland, made her Opry debut that same year guesting with Country King Roy Acuff. This auburn-haired Texas beauty became a session singer and guitarist, working with such other notables as Little Jimmy Dickens, Jeannie Seely, Charlie Louvin, Skeeter Davis, prompting her acclaimed solo LP “I Learned From the Best.”
She opened her 20-minute set reprising Loretta Lynn’s self-penned 1966 classic “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” giving it a Berry special styling. The slender singer soon confided, “This is my first ROPE show,” inspiring a warm welcome from the near full-house.
The clear- voiced soloist pleased the crowd via a rendition of Dallas Frazier’s “If My Heart Had Windows,” a hit separately for two other crowd-pleasers, George Jones and Patty Loveless. Another nice touch was warbling Dottie West’s “Here Comes My Baby,” a smart reminder that it won a 1964 Grammy, a first for a country female.
Dynamic blonde Dianne Sherrill is a veteran ROPE performer, who won their latest Entertainer of the Year vote. Instead of taking the stage, Sherrill opted to strut her stuff on the main floor, launching into Kenny O’Dell’s sassy composition “What I’ve Got In Mind,” a Top Five single for Billie Jo Spears (1976). Sherrill pointed out she’s “without a job now,” as John A’s nightspot near Opryland (site of her weekend show) has been shuttered.
Not a serious problem for this shapely senior songstress, always a good draw locally. She showed just how to belt out a mean melody, tackling Ray Price’s #1 “My Shoes Keep Walkin’ Back To You,” and cousin Billy Sherrill’s co-write with Tammy Wynette, “Stand By Your Man.” Dianne also pointed out it was Ernest Tubb’s birthday, as the band struck up a snippet of “Walkin’ the Floor Over You” to hail the late, legendary Texas Troubadour.
Last but never least, Leona Williams took the stage, delivering her unique version of a 1920s’ Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel,” before shifting into high gear for her early success “Yes M’am, He Found Me In a Honky Tonk,” a vintage Fred Rose tune. Incidentally, that helped bring her to the attention of Hickory Records, after serving apprenticeship in Loretta Lynn’s first band The Blue Kentuckians (with then-hubby Ron Williams).
Her seemingly-ageless vocals also caressed a 1974 Connie Smith ballad “Dallas,” penned by Lawton Williams. The brunette songbird, 77, just underwent knee replacement surgery, but still seemed in good spirits. Leona then reminded us her second mate was Merle Haggard: “Yes, I became Hag’s nag!”
Together they’d scored via their co-writes: “The Bull & The Beaver” (Top 10) and “We’re Strangers Again” (Top 40). Then came her solo writer credit on The Hag’s 1984 #1 “Someday When Things Are Good (I’m Gonna Leave You),” in which she put a lot of soul, adding almost tearfully: “You’ll always be the kind to dream of yesterday . . . And someday soon, I’ll be just one more memory.”
Near her finale, came another #1 she furnished Merle, undoubtedly with true feeling: “You Take Me For Granted.” Leona’s last husband, musician-songwriter Dave Kirby (“Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone,” #1, 1970), died of cancer in 2004.
Joining the night’s showstopper on stage were Diane and Dianne for a rousing finale by the adept trio: “Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” a near chart-topper for its 1971 creator, Buck Owens.
Cheering them on, too, were some talented offspring of country royalty assembled, notably Donna and Roni Stoneman, 1920s’ hitmaker Pop Stoneman’s daughters; Tess Frizzell, Shelly West’s daughter (and thus Dottie’s granddaughter, and Lefty and David’s niece); Terry Husky, Ferlin’s son; Sweepy Walker, Billy’s grandson; and Karen Wheeler, Ownie’s daughter.
Judging by the smiles on all their faces, it’s fair to say a good time was had by all. – Walt Trott