‘The Gambler,’ Kenny Rogers, Holds a Winning Hand!
NASHVILLE — For the finale, Kenny Rogers took the spotlight as Nashville hitmakers paid tribute to the Country Music Hall of Famer during an “All In For The Gambler” tribute in the Bridgestone Arena here, Oct. 25. Among those coming to town to salute the veteran entertainer was ex-duet partner Dolly Parton, who declared, “I know I’m artificial but I like to think my heart is real, and I have a spot there for you that’s never ever going to be touched by anybody else,” then serenaded him with her self-penned classic “I Will Always Love You.” Rogers announced in 2015 he’ll retire upon completion of his world tour, which concludes in December. Opening the show was the Oak Ridge Boys recreating Rogers’ “Love Or Something Like It,” and also taking the stage in tribute throughout were luminaries like Kris Kristofferson, Lionel Richie, Lady Antebellum, Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town. The day before, Rogers was feted with induction into the Music City Walk of Fame by way of a cement star bearing his name implanted on the pathway, across the street from the downtown Country Hall of Fame. As most fans are aware, Rogers first scored career-wise with his First Edition group (mainly featuring former members of The New Christy Minstrels), hitting the charts with such late 1960s’ classics as “I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” and “Reuben James.” Solo he chalked up country-pop crossover cuts like “Lucille,” “She Believes In Me,” “Coward Of the County,” “Lady” (which Lionel Richie wrote), million sellers all, and the 1983 platinum single “Islands In the Stream” (with Parton). Other famed duet partners he recorded with include the late Dottie West, Kim Carnes, Sheena Easton and Ronnie Milsap. Rogers’ 1978 monster hit “The Gambler,” spawned a series of films, one featuring Reba McEntire, who paid her respects here singing “Reuben James.” Other Rogers’ films include “Six Pack,” “Coward Of the County” and “Rio Diablo.” Wynonna dedicated “You Turn the Light On” to Kenny, then beckoned mom Naomi join in for “Back To The Well,” marking a momentary reuniting of The Judds. The prize for traveling the longest distance goes to Richie, winging his way from Australia, to sing “Lady.” Producer Keith Wortman deserves a tip of the Stetson for conceiving and casting the farewell show, during most of which Kenny and wife Wanda viewed from the sidelines. Rogers, 79, seemed a bit shaky taking the stage to participate with Parton for their “mic drop” finale, and mainly sat on a stool beside her as she spoke of their long association, before reprising their greatest hit “Islands In the Stream” (penned by BeeGees’ siblings Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb). At its conclusion, Dolly suggested to Kenny, “How about me and you going out like rock stars?,” as they held out their microphones, then dropped them before sauntering off stage together. It was a memorable night for the artists and the audience.
Scene Stealers: Kris Kristofferson came back to Nashville to help promote the release of a concert film “The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson,” comprised of footage from a March 2017 all-star tribute at the Bridgestone Arena. Following a telecast Oct. 27 on the CMT cable network, the video will be available in stores nationwide. Kris, 81, was not only born into a military family in Brownsville, Texas, but went on to serve as an Army helicopter pilot reaching the rank of captain before being honorably discharged, much to the chagrin of his dad, who retired from the Army Air Corps a two-star general (and Kris’ Swedish granddad had also been an officer in the Swedish army). A Pomona College graduate, in 1960, Kris obtained a Ph.D in English literature and earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University in the UK. Anxious to jumpstart his music career, primarily as a songwriter, he relocated to Nashville, where to feed an empty stomach, he took a job as janitor sweeping floors at Columbia Records, until Dave Dudley gave him his first success singing his “Vietnam Blues” (#12, 1966), followed by Roy Drusky’s smooth vocal on “Jody & The Kid,” a 1968 Top 20, Roger Miller’s “Me & Bobby McGee” (#12, 1969), and Faron Young’s “Your Time’s Coming” (#3, 1969), though 1970 was the year that sealed his fate as writer, when Jerry Lee Lewis had a near chart-topper with Kris’ “Once More With Feeling,” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (Johnny Cash), “For the Good Times” (Ray Price) and “Help Me Make It Through The Night” (Sammi Smith) all hit #1, earning him beaucoup best writer awards. The rest is history, with him attaining his first #1 disc that he recorded, “Why Me” in 1973, and starring in a succession of movies, notably “Cisco Pike,” “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” and “A Star Is Born.” Currently, he suffers from Lyme Disease, yet continues to make appearances on stage and in films, most recently playing himself in Stephen Dorff’s 2017 release “Wheeler,” directed by Ryan Ross. Kris was named to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the National Songwriters Hall of Fame and inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2004.
Bits & Pieces: Looks like Lee Thomas Miller’s been taking his recent visits to lobby on behalf of songwriters in Washington, D.C., to heart, as rumor has it he’s filed the proper papers enabling him to seek the seat being vacated by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). She’s planning to run for the U.S. Senate seat Bob Corker’s retiring from in 2018. Miller, president of Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), is a veteran tunesmith himself, having penned seven #1 songs including Joe Nichols’ “The Impossible,” Brad Paisley’s “I’m Still a Guy,” and Terri Clark’s “I Just Wanna Be Mad.” . . . An Oct. 27 shooting suspect faced aggravated assault charges in Tupelo, Miss., for wounding a man in the chest, following a Jason Aldean concert. Steven Michael Hulbert, 22, allegedly pulled out his pistol during an argument, firing a half-dozen shots, wounding a victim and damaging vehicles in the arena parking lot. The victim, who was not identified, was subsequently treated and released from North Mississippi Medical Center. Reportedly, he alerted police that the suspect was attempting to flee in his car, and he was apprehended and taken to Lee County Jail. Patrons still inside the arena were held, pending a police all-clear signal. Hulbert was held in Lee County Jail, pending $100,000 bond, paid the next day, and awaits a scheduled court hearing. Ironically, during the gig, Aldean lamented the recent assault gun massacre in Las Vegas, Oct. 1, where Stephen Paddock killed 57, wounded close to 500 other fans, and took his own life, in country music’s worst shooting on record . . . Apparently due to gun control sympathies, following the Oct. 1 Vegas disaster, perpetrated by Stephen Paddock, armed with an assault weapon, killing 57 people, NRA Country has since erased Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett from its website. In 2010, they were among the first welcomed with open arms into the National Rifle Association’s then-new program NRA Country, and even earned star of the month status. Obviously, it seemed a perfect fit for the conservative association (which lobbies congress with a heavy hand, dissing any gun control proposals), and Nashville’s down-home country community boasting such gun-friendly folk as Hank Williams, Jr. (“Gonna Go Huntin’ Tonight”) and Toby Keith (“Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue, The Angry American”). Politically, it’s true country has long favored far-right Republicans, proving just that in 2003, when liberal ladies – The Dixie Chicks – criticized President George W. Bush abroad, only to return stateside to find a major industry-wide boycott of their music, for speaking out against Bush policies . . . Carrie Underwood’s hubby Mike Fisher has been invited to serve as Grand Marshal of Nashville’s 64th annual Christmas Parade, sponsored by Piedmont National Gas, slated Dec. 2 downtown. It’s likely the first time a hockey hero has been invited to do the honors, but Mike’s glad to take on the challenge, noting a portion of the proceeds from the event will benefit the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt
Honors: Yet another country music icon’s being celebrated on Lower Broad, this time it’s Bakersfield Sound specialist Merle Haggard. According to Bill & Shannon Miller, the Country Music Hall of Famer’s museum will also include Merle’s Meat & Three Saloon, with a Summer 2018 scheduled opening at 121 Third Avenue South, next to Miller’s Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash museums. Reportedly, the site will exhibit awards, instruments, costumes and other memorabilia of the man who was as famous for his songwriting as for his unique vocals, thanks to such songs as “Swinging Doors,” “Mama Tried,” “Okie From Muskogee” and “The Fightin’ Side of Me.” (The Hag died on his 79th birthday, April, 6, 2016.) . . . Incidentally, Merle Haggard was posthumously presented the Country Music Association’s Joe Talbot Award, Oct. 30, by CMA’s Sarah Trahern, chief executive officer, which was accepted by his widow Theresa. The award goes to those who foster “outstanding leadership and contributions to the preservation and advancement of country music’s values and traditions.” Joe Talbot, a steel guitarist, spent his later life working behind the scenes advancing the interests of the country music business community and served as Lifetime Director for the CMA, prior to his passing in 2003 . . . Alan Jackson accepted his Fame medal, Oct. 22, officially acknowledging his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, home to many of his heroes, including newly inducted Jerry Reed, who died in 2008, and ace songwriter Don Schlitz, who stated, “It’s overwhelming . . . It means I’m a part of something that’s bigger than me, and that’s a great thing, to be a part of, something that’s bigger than yourself.” Undoubtedly, each has earned the honor of being enshrined as the Class of 2017, and all three could claim credit as songwriter, as Jackson, 59, wrote his first seven Billboard chartings, including “Here In the Real World,” “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow,” “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” and “Someday.” Jerry Reed, like Jackson scored as a recording artist, but wrote his 1967 breakthrough song “Guitar Man,” reflecting his expertise on the instrument, and his first #1 “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” and co-wrote “East Bound and Down,” heard in the Burt Reynolds’ film “Smokey & The Bandit,” in which he played. Other film roles Reed contributed include “Gator,” “What Comes Around” and “The Waterboy.” Schlitz, 65, provided songs for a variety of artists, including “The Gambler” (Kenny Rogers), which Don himself first cut for Capitol in 1978, “Forever & Ever, Amen” (Randy Travis), “Old School” (John Conlee) and “Strong Enough To Bend” (Tanya Tucker) . . . The Nashville Songwriters Association International conducted its 47th annual Hall of Fame gala, inducting five composers into its prestigious hall of honor, Oct. 23: Walt Aldridge, Dewayne Blackwell, Jim McBride, Tim Nichols and the late Vern Gosdin. Accepting on behalf of Gosdin, who died in April 2009, was former co-writer-producer Buddy Cannon. Known mostly as “The Voice,” Gosdin co-wrote some of his greatest hits, among them “If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong, Do It Right,” “Do You Believe Me Now,” “Set ‘Em Up, Joe” and “I’m Still Crazy” (co-authored by Cannon). Aldridge’s credits include “No Getting Over Me” (Ronnie Milsap), “Holding Her and Loving You” (Earl Thomas Conley) and “Modern Day Bonnie & Clyde” (Travis Tritt). Among Blackwell’s best are “Mr. Blue” (The Fleetwoods), “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino To Decorate Our Home” (David Frizzell) and “Friends In Low Places” (Garth Brooks). Jim McBride wrote such standards as “A Bridge That Just Won’t Burn” (Conway Twitty), “Bet Your Heart On Me” (Johnny Lee), and “Chattahoochee” (Alan Jackson). Tim Nichols hit pay-dirt with such as “I’m Over You” (Keith Whitley), “Live Like You Were Dyin’” (Tim McGraw) and “I’ll Think Of a Reason Later” (Lee Ann Womack). At the same ceremony, NSAI awarded the Keith Urban single “Blue Ain’t Your Color” its Song of the Year trophy to writers Clint Lagerberg, Hillary Lindsey and Steven Lee Olsen. Ashley Gorley was voted Songwriter of the Year, his third, for supplying hits like “Today” to Brad Paisley, Jon Pardi’s “Dirt on My Boots,” and Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road.” Luke Bryan emerged with NSAI artist-songwriter of the year, having helped pen “Light It Up” and “What Makes You Country.”
More Awards: CMA’s 51st annual awards celebration again was co-hosted (for the 10th time) by Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley, though this time they had to walk a fine line to balance humor with tragedy, notably the sad Las Vegas shooting incident that occurred only weeks earlier. Eric Church started the show with an amazing a capella rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Kicking off the evening’s entertainment, Underwood and Paisley picked on politics by parodying Carrie’s hit “Before He Cheats,” changing the topic to “Before He Tweets,” taking aim at the President, with the altered lyric “And it’s fun to watch/Yeah, that’s for sure/’Til little Rocket Man, starts a nuclear war . . . And then maybe he’ll think before he Tweets!” In addition to paying homage to the lives lost in the chaotic country concert in Vegas, scene of America’s deadliest shooting spree, the show recognized major names lost this past year, among them Glen Campbell, Greg Allman, Don Williams, Troy Gentry, CMA’s Jo Walker-Meador, Norro Wilson, Billy Mize, and in memoriam Carrie performed a touching version of “Softly and Tenderly.” Those in the 2017 winner’s circle were Garth Brooks taking home his sixth Entertainer of the Year award; Miranda Lambert was voted best female vocalist; Chris Stapleton, male vocalist; Little Big Town, vocal group; The Brothers Osborne, vocal duo; Jon Pardi, best new artist; and Mac McAnally, guitarist, top musician. Taylor Swift’s “Better Man” by Little Big Town, earned song of the year; Keith Urban’s “Blue Ain’t Your Color” voted best single (co-produced by Keith and Dann Huff); “From a Room, Volume 1,” by Chris Stapleton, as produced by Chris and Dave Cobb, won best album; while the Glen Campbell-Willie Nelson collaboration “Funny How Time Slips Away” garnered best event; and Brothers Osborne’s video “It Ain’t My Fault,” directed by Wes Edwards & Ryan Silver, was voted tops. Days later, welcome news for the CMA and ABC-TV disclosed that the show scored a win in that night’s TV ratings, doubling its number from the year before. According to a press release, social listening impressions attained 4.56 billion, whatever, and ABC “delivered the highest rating for any network on any night this season with entertainment programming.” . . . As for the three royalty rights organizations during this Country Music Week in Nashville – SESAC, ASCAP and BMI – its members also celebrated in fine style. Justin Ebach got his premier #1 cut in January 2017 with “Sleep Without You,” which near year’s end earned him SESAC’s Songwriter of the Year honor. Brett Young took Ebach’s song to the top of the chart, and acknowledged it was co-written with Brett and Kelly Archer. Best Song of 2017 winner, however, was Billy Currington’s single “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To,” co-written with Cary Barlowe and Shy Carter. Lady Antebellum singer Hillary Scott received SESAC’s Humanitarian Award for philanthropic work with her group’s LadyAID Fund; and Kenny Rogers was presented SESAC’s Legacy Award for his music contributions. W.B.M. Music was named Publisher of the Year, all this on Nov. 5 . . . At ASCAP’s 55th annual awards night, Nov. 6, Ashley Gorley was named best songwriter, marking his fifth win in that category. This year’s Gorley output includes Brad Paisley’s “Today,” Jon Pardi’s “Dirt on My Boots,” and Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road.” Old Dominion’s Matthew Ramsey was voted Best Artist-Songwriter, thanks in part to “No Such Thing As a Broken Heart” and “Written In the Sand.” Kelsea Ballerina earned ASCAP’s Vanguard award “for those who help shape the future of American music.” Receiving the organization’s Founder’s Award was veteran singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, an honor reserved for those who not only have made contributions to the art form, but also inspire and influence fellow music creators. A touching tribute to the late Glen Campbell included writer Jimmy Webb performing his hit “By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” which Glen recorded, making it a classic . . . BMI’s main men at its 2017 awards presentation proved to be Bob DiPiero and Keith Urban, Nov. 7, at its headquarters on Music Row. DiPiero received the organization’s Icon Award in recognition for his lengthy list of contributions to the industry, including songs such as George Strait’s “Clear Blue Sky,” John Anderson’s “Money In the Bank” and Brooks & Dunn’s “Daddy’s Money,” all of which were performed during the reception by various artists. Urban was honored with BMI’s Champion Award for support to up-and-coming songwriters and musicians in the business. Among his philanthropic activities was helping to raise nearly $6 million for the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum via All For The Hall charity concerts, while also supporting music in the schools. According to Mike O’Neill, BMI president, “Your career is what dreams are made of . . . Through your philanthropy you are inspiring children across America with the same dreams.” In accepting the award, Urban insisted he was far from being a perfect person, but noted, “I’m a very flawed individual who has been given many chances over and over again to get my (life) together and I have people who have stood by me . . . I have been in this town 25 years now, and in that 25 years, I’ve been in three rehabs. I have people who have stood by me, because they believed in me and that gave me the chance to give back. I just love playing music. I love writing songs. I love making records.” And he’s also quite a guitarist. Ross Copperman won the best songwriter of 2017 trophy, his second, thanks to such songs as “I Know Somebody” (LoCash), “Noise” (Kenny Chesney) and “Wanna Be That Song” (Brett Eldredge). “H.O.L.Y.,” by Nate Cyphert, William Larsen and Mike Busbee was voted song of the year, as recorded by Florida Georgia Line. Another award went to Sony/ATV voted publisher of the year.
Ailing: Bluegrass pioneer Bobby Osborne, 86, suffered a fall in his home and was rushed to a hospital, Nov. 27. The artist was still there when word came that he had been nominated for a Grammy award for his “Original” solo album in the bluegrass category. Earlier nods came for his contribution to a Rhonda Vincent collaboration and, of course, an effort with brother Sonny as The Osborne Brothers. After learning of his latest achievement, Bobby said, “It was such a surprise for me to hear, especially in here!” Days later he was released, and expected to return to the Opry with his Rocky Top X-Press band. Fifty-two years ago, The Osborne Brothers became Opry regulars, and their recordings “Rocky Top” and “Kentucky” each became official state songs. Bobby, noted for both his high tenor lead vocals and skilled mandolin playing, was wounded in the 1950s’ Korean War, during Marine Corps service, earning a Purple Heart . . . Singer Carrie Underwood, 34, also suffered a fall on the steps outside her home in mid-November, which required surgery on her wrist. She soon Tweeted, “I just wanted to let everyone know that I’m doing great. Had surgery on my wrist yesterday and all went well . . . even though I’ll be setting off airport metal detectors from now on.” The star celebrated the release of her second concert DVD, Nov. 17, “The Storyteller Tour: Live From Madison Square Garden.”
Final Curtain: Ex-Texas Troubadour lead guitarist Leon Rhodes, 85, succumbed to a heart attack the morning of Dec. 9, 2017, at his Donelson neighborhood home here. The Texan had also been a WSM Grand Ole Opry staff band member (1966-1999), as well as a band regular on the syndicated Hee Haw TV series some 20years. Born March 10, 1932, son of Mary and James Rhodes, Leon first learned to play on his older brother’s guitar, and by age 16 was appearing on his hometown’s Big D Jamboree on KRLD-Dallas, playing guitar or drums, as needed. Leon had already recorded with such later legends as Lefty Frizzell and Ray Price, when “Texas Troubadour” Ernest Tubb engaged him for his renowned Troubadour band (1959-1966). Troubadour bandsmen Buddy Emmons and Jack Drake first heard Leon, and recommended E.T. hire him to succeed departing Billy Byrd. Besides Opry appearances and touring, Tubb utilized Rhodes on records, including “Waltz Across Texas,” and can be heard on vinyl calling out, “Take it away, Leon!” He worked the road with such players as Cal Smith and Jack Greene, and in sessions for such names as Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, George Strait, Reba McEntire and John Denver. Upon hearing of Rhodes’ passing, acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Chris Davies Scruggs wrote on Instagram: “In my opinion, Leon was one of the greatest country guitarists of all time, and one of the finest jazz men to ever take the stage in a cowboy suit.” He also worked behind-the-scenes as a musicians’ union official and board member. Survivors include Judi, his wife of 52 years; children Diane, Leon, Tonja, Todd, Tag, Tara, Tammy and Tandy; 25 grandchildren; and 17 great-grandchildren. Services were conducted at Hermitage Funeral Home & Gardens, here, Dec. 12.
Ventriloquist and country comic Walter Alexander Houston, 85, died Oct. 28 at his home in Nashville with wife Sherry by his side. “Alex” learned to throw his voice at age 3, much to the amazement of his parents John and Mary Jo Houston, as he had only begun to talk a bit earlier. Initially, Alex toured the U.S., Japan and Europe with his dad’s dance troupe The Echo Inn Cloggers, while winning national championships. This developed his desire to perform, and with his dummy “Elmer” entertained for many years, culminating in a regular role for the duo on CBS-TV’s The Jimmy Dean Show (1957-’58). Following a move to Nashville, he hosted his own local variety program The Alex & Elmer Show three years, which led to guest spots on Hee Haw, and invitations to tour as opening act for such country artists as Alabama, Ronnie Milsap, Barbara Mandrell, Johnny Cash, Charley Pride, Conway Twitty, over a 30-year career, and even guesting on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. In later years, Alex performed with friends Jimmy & Emma Smith, as well as playing community venues in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. A celebration of life will be held March 17, 2018 at Life Changer’s Church, Pigeon Forge. Besides wife Sherry and “buddy” Elmer, survivors include daughters Laurie Canham, Bonnie Solomon, Cindy Hazen and Jennifer Sidham; sons Matthew and Sam Sidham; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Musician Terry Alan Elam, 66, of Brentwood, Tenn., died Oct. 11, following a brief illness. At 19 years old, Terry began working as a musician, but later veered off into artist representation, including co-managing artists such as Vince Gill, during 28 years with Fitzgerald-Hartley Management in Nashville. “My dad was a great guy who touched a lot of lives in the Nashville music business,” recalled son Brett Elam. Survivors include Donna, his wife of 42 years; daughter Erica Elam; sons Brett, Matthew and Scott Elam; mother Helen Elam Horne and four grandchildren