Gordie Tapp (1922-2016)
CBC-Radio Canada reports the death of Canadian radio and television entertainer and former CBC broadcaster Gordie Tapp, 94. The Hee Haw country bumpkin Cousin Clem died December 18 in hospital, surrounded by family and friends. Born in 1922 in London, Ontario, Gordie hosted the CBC variety show Country Hoedown for 13 years in the 1950s and 1960s before moving to Nashville to work for CBS-TV on Hee Haw. He retired to LaSalle Retirement Home in Burlington, Ontario, with his wife Helen, and continued to perform until a month ago–on cruise ships, charity shows, and at local retirement homes.
Fiddlin’ Frenchie Burke died December 10, after suffering from cancer and debilitating strokes. “Although he was in a rehab facility for the last couple of months,” Heart of Texas Records President Tracy Pitcox reported, “he still longed to be back on stage. The stage was his life and where he shined brightest.” Born Leon Bourke in Kaplan, Louisiana, he learned from his grandfather how to play the fiddle. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, he toured with Ray Price, Little Jimmy Dickens, and Johnny Bush. His best-known recordings were the old Cajun waltz, “Big Mamou,” and “The Fiddlin of Jacques Pierre Bordeaux.”
The granddaughter of Jean Shepard and Hawkshaw Hawkins was stabbed to death Saturday morning, and Jean’s widower, Benny Birchfield, apparently killed the assailant. The Tennessean reports Icey Sloan-Hawkins, 18, daughter of Don Hawkins, had been living with Jean and Benny to care for her grandmother. After Jean died, Icey stayed to help Benny, who had been married to Jean for almost 50 years. When Hendersonville police arrived at the Birchfield home just after 3 a.m. Saturday, they found Benny in his front yard with stab wounds. Inside the house, Travis Sanders, 21, was dead of a gunshot wound. Icey was taken to a hospital, where she died. Her mother, Velvet Sloan, told The Tennessean the young couple had been dating, but they broke up after he stole money from her. Early Saturday morning, Benny heard them fighting, and he went to her basement bedroom. According to Sloan, Sanders attacked Benny with a knife. Benny went upstairs, got his gun, returned downstairs and shot Sanders. Benny underwent surgery and was released from the hospital on Monday. Icey will be buried next to Hawkshaw Hawkins. “No one knew she could sing almost just like her granny,” Sloan said. “She sure could sing, and she could play the guitar.”
Some shoppers at a Walmart near Jacksonville, Florida, were handed a card that read, “Merry Christmas, Tim McGraw + Faith Hill and Family.” Each card contained a receipt that showed their layaway charges had been paid. Some cards contained cash. The person handing out the cards was Tim’s mother, Betty Trimble. She paid off $5000 in outstanding layaway purchases. Taste of Country reports this wasn’t the first time the McGraws have given such gifts. In October, a woman posted on Facebook that medical issues had kept her 94-year-old grandmother from attending Tim’s concert. The McGraw team saw the post and promised tickets for an upcoming April 20 concert in South Carolina.
The sisters who led the effort to preserve Merle Haggard’s boyhood home are now focusing on singer/songwriter Red Simpson, who died January 8. Glenda Rankin and Di Sharman have requested that Hart Street in Oildale be renamed. According to bakersfield.com, the county Board of Supervisors decided the project needs more analysis, and the issue will be revisited in January. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard already have streets named for them. “We just felt like Red is such an important part of the country music scene and he actually wrote a lot of songs for Buck and Merle and well-known stars, and had some hits himself,” the sisters said. Red was a major part of the Bakersfield Sound, and he lived in Oildale for much of his career. Hart Street runs past the Rasmussen Senior Center, where he regularly performed hits such as “Hello, I’m a Truck.”
The Dolly Parton Smoky Mountains Rise: A Benefit for the My People Fund telethon brought in nearly $9 million in donations. Artists who performed, in addition to Dolly, included Kenny Rogers, Hank Williams Jr., Reba McEntire, Alison Krauss, Alabama, Aaron Lewis and Rhonda Vincent. “I am overwhelmed by the generosity of the people who have donated from all over the country and to my friends who donated their time, their talent, and money for My People,” MusicRow.com quotes Dolly as saying. Celebrities who donated their time to answer phones included Lee Greenwood, Larry & Rudy Gatlin, TG Sheppard, John Conlee, Ronnie McDowell, and Becky Hobbs. More than 1300 families were displaced by the wildfires in Sevier County, Tennessee.
Bear Family Records is releasing a new two-disc CD set, Arthur Q. Smith: The Trouble With the Truth, along with a book written by Wayne Bledsoe and Bradley Reeves. Arthur Q. Smith was the actual author of many of country music’s best known songs. He sold them to get money for alcohol, and the buyers usually listed themselves as songwriter. The Knoxville News Sentinel published a great article and video clip. My favorite of Q’s songs is “Rainbow At Midnight.” I also like Carl Smith’s recordings of “I Overlooked an Orchid (While Searching For a Rose)” and “If Teardrops Were Pennies.”
On February 8, 2017, a tribute to Randy Travis will be held at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The event is called 1 Night. 1 Place. 1 Time.: A Heroes & Friends Tribute to Randy Travis. Performers will include Alabama, Kenny Rogers, Montgomery Gentry, Ricky Skaggs, Tanya Tucker, Josh Turner, and many others. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Randy Travis Foundation; a 501(c)3 non-profit for stroke research and rehabilitation. “It’s amazing to see the support Randy has received from the music industry since his stroke,” Randy’s manager, Tony Conway, said in a press release. “We’re thrilled to have all these artists come out and pay tribute to him.”
The 96th birthday of Little Jimmy Dickens was acknowledged at Saturday night’s Grand Ole Opry when Bill Anderson and Brad Paisley unveiled a life-sized sculpture created by Madame Tussauds. Brad sang “Out Behind the Barn” to complete the event. A new museum, Madame Tussauds Nashville, will open next spring in the Opry Mills Mall. CMT News reports, “The lifelike figure portrays a 1960s Dickens playing a personalized guitar in a rhinestone-studded suit designed by his original tailors. It will be perched on a stool in a broadcast setting within Madame Tussauds Nashville, which will solely focus on American musicians representing country, rock, jazz, blues and pop.”
Photo by Chris Hollo/Grand Ole Opry
Bill Anderson says, “I just saw what you wrote in your newsletter about my new book, and I appreciate it more than you know. I’ve been out beatin’ the bushes trying to let folks know about it. I just got home from four days of promotion in New York City which included several national radio and TV shows. Everybody has really been kind and supportive….and you’re right there at the top of the list! Thanks again, and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and all your readers.”
Larry Delaney of Cancountry in Ottawa, Ontario, reports, “Country music has lost one of its original comedic characters with the passing of Gordie Tapp. He was a legend in Canadian country music, even though he had few record releases to speak of. His early years were spent as a member of the Main Street Jamboree, one of Canadian country’s most popular radio shows. He then moved on as a regular on the CBC’s Country Hoedown, which aired for 13 years before transitioning into The Tommy Hunter TV Show. Gordie Tapp’s many decades of entertaining fans have been rewarded with his induction into the Canadian Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1990, and he was the recipient of the prestigious Order Of Canada in 1998 and the Order Of Ontario in 1999. His hometown of Burlington, Ontario, named a local roadway ‘Gordie Tapp Crescent.’ In 2007, his biography, What’s On Tapp – The Gordie Tapp Story was authored by John Farrington.”
Connie Johnson asks, “Could you find out the condition of Mel Tillis? We haven’t heard anything for a good while. I am still sending cards to the address you gave us and I appreciate that.”
Diane: Can any readers help us out? I’ve heard nothing about Mel in several months.
Les Leverett in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, says, “Thanks again for a wonderful read. Tell Maheen Wick, in reference to Wilf Carter’s song, ‘Whatever Happened To All Those Years,’ to get on the computer and type in exactly as I have above, and he will see how to buy that song, maybe in a Bear Family box set. Also, you can tell my friend Johnny Western that I had a hip replaced ten years ago, and not one pain since. After all the suffering before, it was wonderful to have ease. The rehab must be adhered to without fail, and that’s the secret of getting well.”
Alan Potter says, “Marshall Jordan’s letter prompted me to write…I do a series on UK countryradio.com called Legends, where I tell the story of one particular act & play their music. Recently I did the Statlers & wondered if Marshall would like me to mail him a copy.”
Joe Bollard writes from the Republic of Ireland, “So good to get your regular informative and enjoyable newsletter. I would like to know a little about Ed Bruce. I’ve got just one track of his, and am searching for more of his material, the track I have is ‘she never could dance.’ I present a weekly radio programme on the internet in which I include many country tracks. I play keyboards and do vocals. One more question, is there a website for Ronnie Millsap? He, like me, is blind and I would like to contact him. Once again Diane thanks for the messages, God bless, travel safely.”
Diane: Their websites are http://edbrucemusic.com and http://ronniemilsap.com.
Tom Barton writes, “Yesterday (December 8), Chuck Morgan, the current Texas Rangers announcer and former WSM on-air personality, shared a photo and comments about Marty. He gave me permission to share it with you.”
Jean Earle writes from England, “Thank you so very much for including Roger’s song in your latest newsletter…I hope his beautiful song will be enjoyed by many of your readers. Roger has written to say how delighted he was to read your newsletter. I sent it to him and he wanted me to send on his ‘Big Thank you’ to you. He and Maureen have just been celebrating a big Wedding Anniversary…?? …. think they went away some where ROMANTIC …? Have a most Happy Christmas and Best Wishes for 2017.”
And more from Jean Earle: “I have a new reader for your newsletter. Way back in 1975, Alan and I made our first visit to Nashville……my one intention was to meet our favourite Country artists and top of my list was FARON YOUNG. We met some lovely, friendly people…and one couple took us ‘under their wings’ and kindly took us to their home and then …would you believe it.!!…took us to meet Faron in his office on Pine Street. The couple were Bill and Frankie Rutledge and we became GREAT friends…..Sadly they were drowned in the awful flood in Nashville in May 2010….worse thing was, they were caught in a flash flood on their way to Church. We have kept in touch with Frankie’s sister, a lovely lady called Kathy and recently I forwarded to her one of your newsletters. Today I heard from her with the request that I should ask you to put her on your mailing list. She enjoyed reading your news and hearing Roger’s song. Kathy lives in the Nashville area with her family.”
Kathy Pitts writes from Nashville, “Jean asked you to add me to your newsletter list. I appreciate you doing this, and I will look forward to all your interesting news.”
Kent Kotal of Forgotten Hits says, “So sorry to hear about the passing of Mark Gray of Exile. We saw them a couple of years ago and they blew us away. BJ Thomas was the headliner that night … and he’s the one that nearly everybody came to see … but Exile stole the show in my opinion. They may have started on the pop charts with ‘Kiss You All Over’ but they were country through-and-through … writing not only their own hits but several chart toppers for other country artists as well. Your readers might enjoy our review of the show.
Glen Schroeder requests, “Could you please put me on the list to receive your great newsletter?”
Dominique “Imperial” Anglares writes from France, “Thanks for that welcome newsletter … It opens with memories about sad time but the legacy goes on. We remember. Greetings for your fine work to preserve the country music heritage and the memories of the time and people. Wishing you and yours an Happy season time and a wonderful Christmas.”
Rick Gale muses, “Just wanted to write, and express to you some of the things country music causes me to think about. I’m blind and like some of the older country music. When I listen to the stories people sing about, I imagine families getting along with each other. Everyone has a basic respect for life. All food and water is safe to eat and drink, whether you are rich or poor, you are not forgotten. When little ones come into the world, they are breast fed, and they get to enjoy the comfort of flat pins on cloth diapers and rubber pants as much as their mothers are proud of a full clothes line full of these items. This is all in my head, but I just wanted to share my thoughts with you.”
Stacy Harris of Stacy’s Music Row Report writes from Nashville, “Thanks, as always, for sending your newsletter.
Re: the Hall of Fame. Barring any recent change, inductees are chosen by an anonymous panel of electors. As with any form of anonymity, there is no accountability and, as regards the selection process, in this case that is by design. Anyone who doesn’t approve should ask what they have done to change the process. There is usually strength in numbers but most people would rather complain than get involved. At least that’s the reaction I get when I try enlist others to help right industry wrongs.
Re: That Nashville Music. Actually, the abbreviated title change came during the original run of That Good Ole Nashville Music when, so I was told, someone involved with the production decided (or was advised, perhaps by advertisers) that the title was too cumbersome. I notice RFD is issuing a disclaimer re: the audience shots being pre-recorded. During the series’ original run, I would attend many of the tapings at the WSM-TV (Nashville’s Channel 4’s original call letters) studios. That’s right. The program was never taped at the Ryman, stock footage of Opry audiences’ reaction shots notwithstanding. TV audiences never knew the difference unless they could discern that the performers were never seen interacting with the audience and/or could detect the post-production sweetening.”
SONG OF THE WEEK
One of the best-written songs ever is “The Beaches of Cheyenne.” The tight lyrics tell a complete story without actually telling the story: “They say she just went crazy the night she got the call.” The song begins, “They packed up all his buckles, and shipped his saddle to his dad.” — “He promised her he’d turn out—well it turned out that he lied.” She ran into the ocean, and “they never found her body.” — “Every night she walks the beaches of Cheyenne.” Not the California beach where she died, but a ghostly connection to Cheyenne. “Some say she’s still alive.” Garth Brooks does a wonderful job on vocals, and the music with steel guitar is beautiful. I heard Garth talking about the songwriter on the Garth Channel on XM-Sirius Radio. He said Bryan Kennedy writes and rewrites his lyrics until every word is perfect. That certainly is the case with “The Beaches of Cheyenne.”
COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME – 1966
Four men were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966. First was Eddy Arnold, who no longer wanted to be known as the Tennessee Plowboy. A CMHOF member at age 48, he remained for many years the youngest person ever inducted. He retired from touring at age 81 and later released his 100th album. He died in 2008, one week before his ninetieth birthday and two weeks after the death of his wife, Sally. Jim Denny was the first non-performer to be inducted. He managed the Grand Ole Opry Artists Service until 1956, when he was fired for conflict of interest. He then formed the Jim Denny Artist Bureau, and most top Opry acts transferred to his company. His skill as a promoter and talent agent made him a major force in the expansion of country music. He and Webb Pierce formed Cedarwood Publishing Company in 1953. He died in 1963, at age 52. George D. Hay, born in 1895, was the founder of the Grand Ole Opry. He gave the Opry its name and was the announcer through 1947. He felt rejected by WSM Radio and the Opry and moved to Virginia, where he died in 1968. Uncle Dave Macon joined the Opry in 1925, at age 55, and was its first star. A master showman and skilled banjo player, he included singing and comedy in his shows. He was still performing on the Opry in 1952, at 82, when he became ill and died. His grandson, Robert Macon, would later be the father-in-law of Faron Young.