7 December 2005

I can’t type “December 7” without thinking of Pearl Harbor. It’s the day that brought the United States into World War II and changed the lives of everyone living at the time. No, that does not include me.

This week marks the ninth anniversary of Faron’s death. I was attending a conference in Yokosuka, Japan, and was reading in bed in the Navy officers’ barracks, when a brief announcement on Armed Forces radio jolted me upright. It was the third shocking death of 1996. First, the vehicle-accident death of my 5-year-old nephew in April, then the suicide of Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Boorda, in May, and then Faron in December.

FARON FORTY-ONE YEARS AGO: On Sunday, December 6, 1964, The Nashville Tennessean headline announced, “Opry Drops 12 Top Stars.” The caption under Faron’s photo, one of four on the front page, said “Opry favorite.” The other eight photos appeared inside the paper. The WSM public relations director called it “just a routine thing” to periodically drop performers who failed to meet the Opry requirement of 26 shows per year. He insisted the decision was a mutual agreement between WSM and the entertainers themselves. But the unprecedented mass firing caught the performers by surprise. Faron said he had been told he would be retained even though his touring schedule kept him from making the required number of shows. But, he recalled, “So the next day the paper come out, and there I was in there.” A few weeks later, WSM invited everyone back. Although some of the stars eventually returned to the Opry, Faron and others did not. Opry membership provided name recognition and a status symbol but negligible dollars. Saturday nights were lucrative show dates everywhere except the Opry.

INTERVIEW: I did a telephone interview in 2000 with Johnny Russell. We had to reschedule several times because of his kidney dialysis treatments, but I definitely enjoyed the conversation when it finally happened. Among the many stories, he told about riding on Faron’s bus to a show near Pittsburgh. Johnny said, “On the way up there we got to playing Trivial Pursuit–that’s when that game was really popular. And he won every time. It amazed me what he knew. He knew everything, it seemed like. He was just very, very smart.” He also said, “I remember one time my first wife Linda and I and Faron and Hilda were sitting together at an ASCAP awards dinner. When I got my award, he stood up on a chair–in a chair, he stood up in a chair–and he said, ‘He’s the only S.O.B. in here that deserves one.'” When Johnny was recuperating from open-heart surgery, Faron called and told him, “I’m gonna tell you something, son. I love you, and I’m sorry you had to go through this, but if I ever find out that you needed something that you couldn’t get for yourself, and you don’t call me and give me an opportunity to bring it to you, I’m gonna come whip your ass.”

Tommy Cash writes, “Thanks for the Faron Young stories. I loved Faron, too, and I miss him terribly. I must tell you that our father, Ray Cash, was NOT a cold, hard person. He loved Johnny as he did us all, and he was very proud of him. Why Hollywood chose to show him opposite of what he was just amazes me. He was truly a good, Christian, and kind man. He was firm, but kind.”

Response: Thanks for the correction, Tommy. I was uncomfortable with the portrayal of Ray Cash in the movie. I kept waiting for him to lighten up, but it didn’t happen. Especially in the Thanksgiving scene at Johnny’s house, I didn’t see how a father could be so cold and unloving. I’m glad to know it didn’t really happen that way. It did sometimes happen in the Young family, though. Faron’s brother and sister both told me about their father’s coldness.

Bill Littleton comments, “Drawing from the experiences of my own upbringing (not all that terribly different from John’s), it’s a viable guess that the father/son conflict had at least as much to do with John’s attraction to the music business as with being compared unfavorably with an older brother.” During the tough Depression years in the South, Bill says, “an enormous amount of resentment was often directed toward ‘soft’ people, who, like entertainers, seemed to live well without a great deal of physical exertion. Sure, [parents] might enjoy the music of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carters, they might buy a lot of the records, but the idea of ‘one of my kids’ going off into show business could be pretty repugnant.”

Response: I’d guess Harlan Young felt that way about Faron going into the music business.

Freddy Holcomb writes, “I only found out about your site today through the Classic Music Newsletter. You have good, interesting articles. Thank you for preserving Faron’s legacy & the history of country music.” Freddy owns some of the items from Faron’s estate. Anyone interested in buying Faron memorabilia can get a list of items by sending a message to Holcombmusic@aol.com.

Tom Lipscombe writes, “I like your newsletters and enjoy reading about Faron Young.” He says, “Faron’s performance of ‘Cold Cold Heart’ is my favorite act on the whole DVD: ‘Hank Williams The Man & His Music’ the 1980 tribute show, which aired on PBS etc., and included Hank Jr., Teresa Brewer, Brenda Lee, Kris Kristopherson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash etc. In my opinion, the best part of the show was Faron’s rendition of ‘Cold, Cold, Heart.'”

Response: Thanks, Tom, for adding my newsletter to the Alabama Talk Line Forum: http://pub3.bravenet.com/forum/243824250/fetch/558183/. I also appreciate the support from Robert Ackerman and Doug Davis, who include my newsletter on their mailing lists.

Jay Tuttle writes, “Please add my email address to your mailing list. I have been a Faron Young fan since childhood (many years now). He has always been my most favorite singer. I have every song, every album that I know exists. I can’t wait for his book. I’ve gone to many of his appearances to play, danced my legs off, joked with him and had a drinking party with another fan the day after his death.”

WEB SITE: The “Find A Grave” web site has a section on Faron, where people can write notes: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=9192

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