Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 4 January 2017

George Edwards (1937-2016)
Sherie Edwards reports the death of her father, George Edwards, on December 29, in Hendersonville, Tennessee, following a brief illness and 16 years after a stroke. “He loved playing steel guitar almost as much as he loved his family,” she wrote on the Steel Guitar Forum, “and his steel guitar friends all over the world were a big part of his life.” George Dungan Edwards IV was born in Philadelphia 79½ years ago. He learned to play steel guitar at age 12 and became a professional musician, touring with Kitty Wells for 25 years. Other bands included those of Faron Young and Hank Williams, Jr. I interviewed George for my Faron Young biography, and he said he went to Nashville in late 1967 to work for Faron, but he stayed only a few months due to lack of work. He missed his family in Pennsylvania, and he turned down Faron’s offer for the Edwards family to stay in the Young home.

No charges will be brought against Benny Birchfield, 79, for the fatal shooting of Travis Sanders. The widower of Jean Shepard come home late one night and “heard a disturbance in the basement,” according to the Tennessean. He “began calling out for his granddaughter, 18-year-old Icie Hawkins, who also lived at the residence. During a struggle, Birchfield was cut on the neck and head by Sanders with a 10-inch knife that police say had also been used to stab Hawkins. Birchfield then shot the 21-year-old five times in self-defense with his .38-caliber pistol.” Police described Icie’s wounds as “self-defense wounds and upper body injuries caused by the knife.” She died on the way to the hospital. London’s Daily Mail reports this interview with Icie’s mother, Velvet Sloan: “I told her I didn’t approve of him and didn’t feel comfortable with him around. He was 21, no work and not in school, no car, he rode around on his bicycle. He didn’t seem to have any direction at all and certainly no respect for us. Icie told me Travis was a Satanist and into devil worship. I said, ‘Icie, come on, that’s not a man you would want to be involved with.’ But she said he has some problems and she was trying to help him. I told her guys like that will end up killing you and she just looked at me and said, ‘I know, I know.'”

Pam Tillis recently posted a Facebook update about her father, Mel Tillis: “We wanted to give you a long overdue update on his condition. Dad had a serious diverticulitis attack last January after a busy fall 2015 performance schedule. On the way to the hospital, he became septic and was in the I.C.U. for the better part of a month. Everything he is dealing with now, almost a year later, is a direct result of that crisis. Due to the nature of his illness, his care was best served in several facilities in Nashville up until November. Currently, he is at home in Ocala, Florida, receiving full time in-house care. His transition, initially, involved a few more weeks in the hospital there. Now, he’s back at home and on track. His vital signs are good and his sense of humor is fully intact. He misses his fans as much as they miss him.”

The Steel Guitar Hall of Fame plaque belonging to the late Bobbe Seymour is for sale on eBay, along with his Emmons D-10 Push Pull 7&7. According to a post on the Steel Guitar Forum, “Initially, the SGHOF Board used to make two and give one plaque to the recipient, until that became too costly. Those things weigh something like 80 pounds and cost over $2500 apiece. Later the recipient was offered the opportunity to purchase a full plaque. I’m sure Bobbe chose to get one.”

The Shenandoah “30th Anniversary Tour” kicks off January 22 in Annapolis, Maryland, to commemorate 30 years of recording. Shenandoah will perform two live concerts in Zürich, Switzerland, along with dates throughout the year across the USA. On their website, shenandoahband.com, lead singer Marty Raybon says, “Our mission in 2017, with new music, is to expand our fan base while continuing to enjoy the performances and making our 30th year the best ever.”

Cyrus Porter, 96, is a World War II combat veteran who has been a Taylor Swift fan since she first started making hits. He’s attended several of her concerts but never expected what happened last week. During a thunderstorm, his visiting relatives saw a van in the driveway of his rural Missouri home. “My daughter opened the door and said, ‘It’s Taylor Swift!'” he later told The Associated Press. Taylor and her parents visited with the Porter family for an hour, and she sang “Shake It Off” for them.

The Recording Academy, the organization that hosts the Grammys, is honoring Charley Pride and the late Jimmie Rodgers with Lifetime Achievement Awards. Ralph Peer will be given a posthumous Trustees Award. The Lifetime Achievement Award celebrates contributions of artists to the field of recording and the Trustees Award honors contributions in areas other than performance.

When the home of Gainesville police officer Keith Bartlett burned to the ground in mid-December, his family lost all their possessions and his prized Gibson guitar. Randy Travis and his wife, Mary, showed up at the police station just before Christmas and brought him a new Gibson acoustic guitar. Bartlett’s wife and two sons were also in on the surprise, reports NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth. Bartlett had responded to a theft at the Travis ranch several years ago, and when Mary heard about the fire, she called a friend at Gibson, and the company overnighted a brand new guitar to North Texas.

Alan Potter writes from the UK, “If Joe Bollard contacts me I will send him copies of a number of Ed Bruce songs & info on Ed. After nearly 50 years as a country radio DJ, I’d like to help newer DJs who play REAL country.”

Gerald Walton reports from Oklahoma City, “Just wanted to say I got Bill Anderson’s new book. It is a very good read.”
Diane: My review of WHISPERIN’ BILL ANDERSON: An Unprecedented Life in Country Music is posted at http://internetreviewofbooks.blogspot.com/2016/12/whisperin-bill-anderson.html.

Doug Leftwich says, “I wanted to stop by and tell you just how much I love your Faron Young biography. I’ve read it many times. I am a big Faron fan and have been for a long time. I have a question for you. I recently acquired several 16″ transcription discs entitled Navy Country Hoedown. Some of these shows were hosted by Faron and some of his guests included Chet Atkins, Cowboy Copas, Ferlin Husky, and Bobby Helms. These are similar to the Army shows Faron hosted in the late ’50s. Lots of Faron singing live. Great audio quality. I couldn’t find any on You Tube. I had the Navy shows dubbed to CD and MP3. They are great shows. I’m thrilled to make your acquaintance. I also loved your Marty book. I will look forward to coming aboard.”

Marshall Jordan writes from Richmond, Virginia, “I am so glad a friend of mine gave me your newsletter a couple months ago. I am really enjoying each newsletter from you. I have been legally blind all my life. I grew up in Staunton, Virginia, and attended the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind. Growing up, radio was a big part of my life. I have always loved the traditional country and bluegrass music. I listened to it on all the stations I could pull in there in Staunton. This included some good local stations, WSM, and WWVA. Reading your reports about the country music of the fifties and sixties brings back so many wonderful memories. Thanks for all you do to help keep traditional country music alive.”

Mary Knapp says, “So very sad to hear about Jean Shepard’s granddaughter. I remember seeing her with Jean on the Country Diner. Appreciate your Newsletters. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year.”

Jeanette Creamer, a long-time friend in Jacksonville, Florida, writes, “Love reading these emails. I was a big fan of Little Jimmy Dickens. I used to listen to the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night, on the radio.”

Ray Harrison in Arizona says, “Always a truly great letter of information. Just wanting to send our Best Wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Healthy and Happy New Year.”

Al Strachan writes from Mandurah in Western Australia, “I noticed your list of artistes appearing at Dolly’s function was short of one person you missed and that was one of my favourite singer/songwriters, Jamey Johnson. I get Facebook updates on Jamey’s activities and gigs and he played at Dolly’s Smokey Mountain Rise and I reckon he would’ve sung a duet with Alison Krauss. Love your weekly newsletter, always filled with good up to date information.”

Priscilla McPheeters in Lawrence, Kansas, says, “Great newsletter as always.”

Dominique “Imperial” Anglares writes from France, “That nice and welcome newsletter gonna be the last one for 2016. I enjoyed every issue all through the year whatever they had broke happy or sad news. Keep that good Country link between us going strong. May your Christmas sparkle with moments of Love, laughter and goodwill, and may the year ahead be full of contentment and joy. Warmest regards from your French Hillbilly Bop friend.”

Four men were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1967, two posthumously. Clyde Julian “Red” Foley, nicknamed for his red hair, had his first hit with “Old Shep,” a song he wrote about his own German shepherd. Red arrived in Nashville in 1946 to host the Grand Ole Opry’s network segment, “The Prince Albert Show.” He later hosted the Ozark Jubilee. His hit songs included “Peace in the Valley” and “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy.” He died at age 58, a year after his CMHOF honor. Joseph Lee Frank was the first major promoter and manager on the Nashville country music scene. He advised and furthered the careers of Gene Autry, Pee Wee King, and Roy Acuff, who took Frank’s advice to change his band’s name from Crazy Tennesseans to Smoky Mountain Boys. Frank organized sellout package shows and promoted the early careers of both Eddy Arnold and Minnie Pearl. He died at the peak of his career, at age 52, in 1952. Jim Reeves was inducted three years after his death in a plane crash at age 40. A Texan whose baseball career was ended by a leg injury, he worked as announcer and performer on the Louisiana Hayride KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana, before moving to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry. Pop-sounding new Nashville Sound hits such as “He’ll Have to Go” made him an international star. Thanks to estate management by his wife, Mary Reeves, he continued to have posthumous hits for a decade after he death. Stephen Sholes was the RCA recording executive responsible for signing or developing Chet Atkins, Eddy Arnold, The Browns, Hank Locklin, Homer & Jethro, Hank Snow, Jim Reeves, and Pee Wee King. He signed Elvis Presley away from Sun Records in 1955, and he convinced RCA to build a studio on Seventeenth Avenue South in 1957. As a member of the Country Music Foundation board of directors, he was involved in the building of the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum. A year after it opened, he died in 1968, at age 57.

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