Holly Dunn (1957-2016)
Holly Dunn, 59, died November 14 in a hospice facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico, surrounded by family and friends. She’d sent me this email on April 6th: “I have some unfortunate news to report, and I do so only because I believe in the power of prayer and hope to stir up more prayer warriors on my behalf. I was recently diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. I am currently recovering from surgery and the doctors feel that they removed all they could find. I will have to undergo 6 months of chemo treatments just in case they missed something. I start the treatments in about a month. I would appreciate any prayers and positive thoughts my music family can send my way!” In August, she wrote, “I’m doing very well and am hopefully at the end of the chemo. My last scan showed no detectable disease.” Holly was the first artist I featured in this new version of my newsletter in early 2014. “I left Nashville in 2003 and totally retired from the music business,” she told me then. “I had been in the business for 25 years, recorded for 3 record labels, and realized I had had all the big success I was going to be allowed to have. I had an epiphany one night while standing backstage at the Grand Ol’ Opry… I thought, do I want to still be standing here singing ‘Daddy’s Hands’ when I’m 80, or do I want to get out while I’m ‘young’ enough and still have the energy to re-invent myself? It wasn’t easy to walk away from a career I had given my heart and soul to, but I haven’t regretted that decision.” She was selling her artwork in galleries and at art shows throughout the Southwest. She split her time between New Mexico and her home state of Texas. “I had an incredible experience as a songwriter and recording artist in Nashville,” she said, “and I feel blessed to have gotten to do all that I got to do, for as long as I got to do it.” Her funeral was Saturday at the United Methodist Church in Salado, Texas, with burial in the Salado Cemetery.
Leon Russell (1942-2016)
Leon Russell, 74, died November 13 in Nashville. His wife, Jan Bridges, wrote in a statement. “My husband passed in his sleep in our Nashville home. He was recovering from heart surgery in July and looked forward to getting back on the road in January.” Claude Russell Bridges grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he began playing in nightclubs as a teenager. When he graduated from high school, he went on tour with Jerry Lee Lewis. According to the Los Angeles Times, he became part of the group of Los Angeles session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. He recorded with Phil Spector, the Beach Boys, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Sam Cooke, the Fifth Dimension, Sonny & Cher, and the Righteous Brothers. He collaborated with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, the Rolling Stones, and Elton John, and was a close friend of Willie Nelson. The pianist, guitarist, and songwriter was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.
Mentor Williams (1946-2016)
Songwriter Mentor Williams died November 16 of an unreported cause, according to the Taos News. A longtime resident of Taos, New Mexico, he shared his home with Lynn Anderson until her death in 2015. His brother, Paul Williams, is president and board chairman of ASCAP. Mentor was best known for writing “Drift Away” (Narvel Felts), and he co-wrote hits such as “When We Make Love” (Alabama), “She’s Gonna Win Your Heart” (Eddy Raven), and “A Few Ole Country Boys” (Randy Travis and George Jones).
The newest member of the Grand Ole Opry is Crystal Gayle, 65, known for her long hair and her country-pop hits. During a Tuesday night guest appearance on the Opry, she was singing “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” when Opry member Carrie Underwood walked out on stage. “I was so excited when Carrie wanted to sing ‘Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue’ with me, because I’m such a big fan of Carrie,” Crystal told Rolling Stone Country. “And when she asked me to be a part of the Opry family, I was speechless, beyond words. I’m so happy, so honored, and I’ve always felt a part of the Opry, but this makes it official.” Nash Country Daily reminds us Crystal made her Opry debut nearly 50 years ago at the Ryman Auditorium. She was 16 when she sang the Marty Robbins hit, “Ribbon of Darkness.” Big sister Loretta Lynn will formally induct her into the Opry on Jan. 21, 2017.
The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports the cancelation of November 16-17 concerts by Willie Nelson and Family in Lubbock. Willie, 83, reportedly is ill. A press release said he is “feeling under the weather.”
Jo Western writes on Facebook about her husband, Johnny Western: “I think some of you might be missing JW’s posts. He is still dealing with severe pain in his right leg, going on almost 7 weeks. After many x-rays, they have been treating it as torn muscle, tendons & ligaments in his thigh & groin. Well, the latest x-ray of his back shows a long fancy name which turns out to be arthritis. Oddly enough, he has no pain in his back. An appointment with an orthopedic doctor specializing in spines will hopefully be able to get a handle on this. It has been really hard on him, after a while chronic pain wears you down, other than that he feels in good shape.”
The four-acre property in Hendersonville, Tennessee, where Johnny and June Carter Cash lived until their deaths in 2003, is for sale for a not-yet-determined price. The house burned down in 2007, but the property on Hickory Lake still has a pool, a covered boat dock, and a three-car garage the current owner remodeled into an apartment. Owner James Gresham hopes the new owners will preserve the Cash legacy. He purchased the property for $2 million in 2014 from Barry Gibb, Taste Of Country reports.
An Outlaw and a Lady: A Memoir of Music, Life with Waylon, and the Faith That Brought Me Home is a forthcoming book by Jessi Colter. Written with David Ritz, it will be released April 11, 2017. According to Rolling Stone Country, the story “chronicles Colter’s journey from singing in church to performing alongside one of the architects of outlaw country.” In addition to being the wife of Waylon Jennings, Jessi had a career as a solo artist, with hits such as “I’m Not Lisa” and “What’s Happened to Blue Eyes.” Now 73, she lives in Arizona and is working on a new album.
Strait Out of the Box: Part 2 is a three-disc compilation of George Strait songs being released this week, exclusively through Walmart. The 56 songs, recorded from 1996 to 2016, include 36 hit singles and 26 chart toppers. CMT News reported George and his Ace in the Hole Band would celebrate the release by headlining a show at an unnamed historic Texas dancehall on November 16. The show would be called “George Strait Back Home in Texas.” After the event, Rolling Stone Country reported they “played to an intimate crowd of roughly 300 invited guests at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas, outside San Antonio. . .. It was a homecoming for the Texas native, who first played the famed open air dancehall–the state’s oldest–in 1976. He reminisced about trying to win over the owner to get a nighttime gig after playing Sunday afternoons for patrons paying 25 cents at the door.” The original Strait Out of the Box is a 4-cassette box that came out in 1995. I have played those 72 songs many, many times since then.
Billy Gilman, 28, sang Roy Orbison’s “Crying” on a recent episode of NBC’s The Voice. He is on coach Adam Levine’s team and one of the Top 12 contestants. “I can’t complain, that’s for sure,” Gilman tells Rolling Stone Country. “It’s been a fantastic ride so far and hopefully I will only continue to be better.” In 2000, he was 12 when he broke Brenda Lee’s record as the youngest artist to have a Top 40 country hit.
Faith Hill is recovering from surgery on her foot to repair damage from an earlier injury. Country Music Nation reports she wanted to get the surgery out of the way before she and Tim McGraw start their 2017 world tour, Soul2Soul, in April.
I’m still confused about the two upcoming George Jones & Tammy Wynette movies, one being overseen by widow Nancy Jones and the other by daughter Georgette Jones. Nancy’s movie is No Show Jones, and I haven’t found a title for Georgette’s movie. One of them will star Josh Brolin and Jessica Chastain, but which one? All the news reports I’ve found say the couple is starring in No Show Jones. But Country Music Nation recently reported, “Georgette cleared up the confusion surrounding the casting, saying that no actors have been announced for Nancy’s film yet.” She says they are starring in her movie, which is scheduled to be released next year.
Two-year-old Evey Johns of Conway, Arkansas, already has a $30,000 college scholarship, thanks to Dolly Parton. Taste Of Country reports the announcement was made by Dolly during her Pure & Simple concert in her hometown of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. “I thought long and hard about the best way to honor our achievement of reaching a million children a month,” Dollt said in a press release. “The Imagination Library is all about inspiring dreams, so what better way to pay tribute to this moment than by helping one special child pursue her college degree?” The scholarship will be held in a special account, and it could grow to nearly $50,000 over the next 16 years. Dolly’s Imagination Library, which began locally in Sevier County, has become the largest literacy program in the world. One million books per month are given to children around the world.
What had been planned as an 83rd birthday celebration for Jean Shepard, the Tennessean reports, became a memorial concert after her death. Eddie Stubbs hosted a 2½-hour concert at the Nashville Palace on November 21. Jean’s three sons were in the audience. Connie Smith, Bill Anderson, Riders in the Sky, Leona Williams, and Jeannie Seely were some of the performers. Jan Howard said she hadn’t sung in more than a year. She, Jeannie Seely, Leona Williams, and Jody Miller sang a medley of gospel songs. The event raised funds for the Sumner County Food Bank, which Jean supported for over three decades.
Sam Wellington of The Four Guys writes, “SUPER newsletter this month. Got me thinking about some of the good times in Country Music. I remembered a story about Faron when The Four Guys first met him. We had just been inducted as regular members of the Grand Ole Opry, April, 1967. The Stage Manager, Vito Pelliteri, was introducing us around backstage to some of the other members. We came upon a large dressing room where Faron was holding court, joking and laughing with those around him. Vito said, ‘Faron, I want you to meet the Opry’s newest members, The Four Guys.’ Faron snapped back, ‘The four who?’ Then he came over to us and said, ‘I was just joking, boys. I know who you are.’ Then he got in the middle of our group and remarked, ‘This is like standing in the middle of an NBA Basketball team.’ (Our average height was 6’4”). One of our members, Rich Garratt, was quick to say, ‘Yeah, we’ve heard that DRIBBLE before.’ An instant friendship emerged. We later shared the bill with him for a week-long, sell-out engagement at the Starlight Amphitheatre in Kansas City with the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra and an all-star cast of performers, including: Tex Ritter, Dottie West and Jimmy Martin. Faron was responsible for helping us land our first major label recording contract with his label, Mercury Records. In addition, we were asked to perform backup vocals on his hit album – Wine Me Up! I’ve included this story, and others, in my second book, titled IN THE BEGINNING…THERE WAS THE MEN’S ROOM. Thanks, Diane, for giving me the stage to remember one of the greatest singer/entertainers Country Music has ever known.”
Bonnie Blose writes, “My heart is heavy today after hearing of the death of Holly Dunn. When we look back on a particular musician or singer, we remember the songs we love. Those lyrics and voices play years later in our minds and hearts as if we had just heard them. I will remember Holly for lyrics in songs like ‘Daddy’s Hands,’ ‘Strangers Again’ and so many others. When I think of her, I will remember her sense of humor, the Texas accent I wanted for my own and all the times I couldn’t wait for her to appear on a show so I could record her appearance. A story that illustrates how much she valued and cherished the small and funny happenings in life was one she told about a man who wanted an autograph. I smile whenever I think about it. He came up to her and asked her for an autograph but didn’t have a piece of paper for her to sign so asked her to write it on his head. She was creative and very funny and illustrated those traits by doing exactly as he asked. She was someone I would have loved to know personally. I always wanted to sing with Holly. I worried about her when she released the song, ‘Maybe I Mean Yes’ and was concerned about what it would do to her career if it had the negative effect I feared. I never met her or attended a concert but thought of her as my good friend. I cheered for her success always. Like good friends do, I wanted the best for her. When she decided it was time to do something else, I wanted happiness, peace, and fulfillment of other dreams for her. The long life was not meant to be, but she has left beauty behind I will enjoy when I hear her singing songs I cherish. Although she never recorded it on an album, I did hear her sing on a broadcast her version of ‘Crying Time.’ I always hoped she would record it, but she never did. I love you, Holly. Bon Voyage! You added so much to our world by living in it and making the contribution of all your presence meant. God will take care of you. You will always be the first female country singer I loved. Thank you for all the music and the joy of living you shared with us all.”
Jack Blanchard says, “Very nice, Diane. Thanks! :)”
Bob Everhart writes, in response to my request, “I have looked high and low for Anne Murray’s home address in Toronto, but can’t find it. I’ll keep looking, I know I have it somewhere. I just don’t know where it is I put it so I wouldn’t forget I had it. Well, you have to be 80 to understand that, I guess. Keep up the good work, I’ll send you the contact if I can find it.”
Ritchie Clarke requests, “As ever I find your newsletter most interesting. Would it be possible to update my email address? I trust you are well and continue the good work for this young lad over here in England.”
Aileen Arledge suggests, “Hee Haw was such a popular show a lot of people watched it, corn ball and all, whether they were country fans or not. Why don’t they bring back another similar show? We need the entertainment. Who knows it might become another big hit. Tell the TV people to think about it. It’s worth a try????”
Christine Diller From Maryland asks, “Currently I am subscribed to your column under an email address that has changed. Can you please make a note of it? As always, a great article.”
Cam Lind in Sioux Falls says, “Great newsletter, keep writing.”
Dominique “Imperial” ANGLARES writes, “Thank you very much for that great newsletter. I am glad to read these infos given and to have many letters to enjoy. Warmest regards from your French friend.”
David Corne writes from the United Kingdom, “Just a line to say I received The Lost Recordings (how apt!) of Marty Robbins a couple of days ago. I particularly liked Marty’s treatment of the Christmas carols, just wish he’d actually recorded them in a studio. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that there will be other releases in the future. I know you won’t, but I thought Don Gibson would have made a fascinating subject for a biography. I don’t think he’s ever had a book about him. Not only a great singer, but of course his songwriting is probably second only to Hank Williams. Thanks for your interest in whether I had received my CD, it was very much appreciated.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Ralph Emery “sings like a prisoner—behind a few bars and looking for the key.” –Ray Stevens on Opry Backstage in 1998
SONG OF THE WEEK
Between package show performances on a bitter cold day in Chicago in 1971, the performers killed time by singing songs they’d written. When Faron Young heard Jeannie Seely sing “Leavin’ and Sayin’ Goodbye,” he told her he’d record it. It has been a Faron Young classic ever since, and it earned Jeannie a BMI songwriter award. The song repeated its single verse and chorus, and in later years someone told Jeannie she needed to add a bridge. She wrote another verse to the song, and she sings it on her new CD: “One minute I’m all set to go and then I change my mind . . .”
CD REVIEW – WRITTEN IN SONG by JEANNIE SEELY
A newly released CD by Jeannie Seely is called Written in Song, showcasing fourteen songs she wrote over the years. The artists who recorded ten of the songs are listed in the liner notes. Jeannie explains, “The album is kind of the stories of my life, written in song. However, not all of the ‘stories’ were my mistakes.” She says she listened to friends and eavesdropped upon strangers to get her ideas. She waited so long to record the songs because “I waited until everyone had forgotten who I wrote them about.” The final song on the CD is definitely autobiographical. On “We’re Still Hangin’ In There Ain’t We Jessi,” she sings to Jessi Colter about their husbands: “We still got ol’ Hank [Cochran] and ol’ Waylon [Jennings]. Course, that’s almost like being alone.” Jessi sings the last chorus, and Jan Howard speaks up about her ex-husband, Harlan Howard. Jeannie recorded the CD with her regular Opry band. They were all in the studio together and they inspired each other. The fiddle work of Kenny Sears is easy to identify. The song I knew best was “Leavin’ and Sayin’ Goodbye,” but I enjoyed them all. Jeannie sings about the five senses, and then concludes, “But I don’t have sense enough to go.” One man always got what he wanted—“I wish that he wanted me.” And the man who has no alibi because “you don’t even care enough to lie.” Yes, they are mostly she-lost-him songs, although with the Seely sense of humor. “I’ve got whiskey . . . I’ve got money . . . Who needs you?” Ms. Country Soul is at her best here. The combination of her voice and the classic sounds of fiddle and steel guitar make this a CD to listen to over and over. As I have been doing.
COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME – 1964
No one was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1963. The sole inductee in 1964 was Tex Ritter. He’d been one of the founders of the Country Music Association (CMA) and was elected its president in 1963. A native Texan, he began his career as a singing cowboy while attending law school in the mid-1920s. He starred in his first movie in 1936, going on to make a total of 85 movies during his lifetime. He signed with Capitol Records in 1942 as its first country artist, with 14 top ten hits over the years. In 1952, he acquired his signature song when he sang the title song of the movie High Noon. From 1953 to 1960, in Los Angeles, he and Johnny Bond co-hosted a country music TV show, Town Hall Party. After moving to Nashville in 1965, Tex joined the Grand Ole Opry and co-hosted WSM Radio’s late night country music program with Ralph Emery. One of his sons, John Ritter, starred in TV sitcoms and several movies; he died in 2003. Tex died January 2, 1974, after a heart attack while arranging bail for one of his band members at the Nashville jail. He was ten days short of his 69th birthday. Tex Ritter’s hit songs included “Just Beyond the Moon,” “Rye Whiskey,” “Deck Of Cards,” and “I Dreamed Of a Hillbilly Heaven.”