Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 1 December 2021


“We’re Country and Proud of It.” That’s the theme of Al Shade, 94, who has been performing and promoting country music in Pennsylvania for seven decades. He is the oldest entertainer to appear at any county fair in the state of Pennsylvania. He still performs annually at the Lebanon County Fair. “I’ve been on radio for 70 years,” he told me when I called him for an interview. He currently records three one-hour shows per week in his basement studio, to be played on Radio AM 1510. He had been doing 70 shows a year at assisted living centers until COVID hit.

His wife of sixty years, Jean Romaine Gesford, died in 2016. The Gesford Sisters, Jean and Joann, had joined Al’s band in the early 1950s. Al and Jean married in 1955 and kept the band together for another ten years, until they became a duo. “Jean and I both played acoustic guitar,” Al says. “I made more money with just the two of us. We could travel around the country and it wouldn’t cost us much.” Jean did the harmony, both singing and yodeling. Their stage show included telling jokes and “picking at each other.” Depending on the venue, they sometimes used a music  track. “So we had a big sound, and we played our guitars and sang our songs,” Al recalls. At a yodeling contest one year in Sugarcreek, Ohio, in front of 10,000 people, they won first prize with their double yodeling.

For seven years in the late 1960s, Al booked all the entertainment at Williams Grove Amusement Park in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. “I knew who was popular in my part of the country,” he explains. “I’d say 95 percent of the acts I booked all more than paid for themselves at Williams Grove Park.” The show was indoors and not affected by rain. The venue held just over a thousand people, and there was almost always a full house. Al appeared onstage with stars such as Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Stonewall Jackson, Lynn Anderson Bill Anderson, Porter Wagoner, Stonewall Jackson, the Wilburn Brothers, Ray Price, Jim Reeves, Lefty Frizzell, and Faron Young.

Al remembers all the entertainers as being “so cooperative” and “so nice to be around.” He booked Willie Nelson, who was known then mostly as a songwriter. “He only drew fifty people,” Al says. “He hadn’t appeared around too much yet, y’know. I felt so sorry for him. He had a brand new blue suit, a white shirt, a bowtie, patent leather shoes, and he was just a great-looking performer.” He also put on a great show. “One thing I learned from all those entertainers,” Al comments, “sometimes you don’t always have a good turnout, but you always do a show to the best of your abilities.”

Al was the first promoter from his part of the country to take fans on bus tours. He took them to Opryland in Nashville, once a year, until that faded out and he discovered Branson, Missouri. “The first time I went on a bus tour,” he says, “I had three busloads. But motels didn’t want to handle more than one bus at a time, so I dropped down to one busload.”

One June morning in 1979, Al drove to Potter County to see the area a fan raved about. He was so enthused about the deer and wild turkeys and the mountain peaks that he wrote five songs about Potter County. He was in the bathroom shaving on a Wednesday morning when he started to sing, “Potter County was made by the hand of God, but the devil made Three Mile Island.” He thought that was a great idea for a song, especially since Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island had recently experienced a nuclear accident. The next day he told Jean, “I want to be here alone. Why don’t you do the grocery shopping–I’m gonna get this song together.” When Jean returned two hours later, he read her the lyrics, which were still missing one line. Jean said, “May Jesus see it through.” The song was complete. On Friday, Al called a producer in Nashville. Monday morning, they were in Nashville and recorded the song. They recorded an entire album that day. “Which became very successful for me,” Al says.

His biggest selling song, still requested today, is “The Little Dogwood Tree.” A Pennsylvania poet had sent him ten poems, and that one inspired him. “I still can see myself sitting on my piano bench here with my guitar,” he says, “and I put the music to it. Just a simple music part. That song we recorded in Nashville, along with a whole album.”

Al doesn’t run out of stories. At one point in our conversation, he said, “I want to tell you one thing I can never get over.” After a show about a year ago, he offered the venue owner a copy of The Little Dogwood Tree album as a thank you. The man said he already had that album. “In 1971, I was in the Air Force in Vietnam,” he explained, “and I went in the BX on the Air Force base, and I saw that album, The Little Dogwood Tree.” Al asked him, “Was there more than one?” He said, “No, only that one.” Al wonders how that one album got all the way over to Vietnam. Still amazed, he marvels, “That’s 8,570 miles from Myerstown, Pennsylvania. Isn’t that something?”

Jean and Al’s two children, Faron and Debbie Ann, sometimes traveled with their parents while growing up. Debbie can step in and do the harmony with Al, just as Jean used to do. “She’s an excellent singer,” Al says. “She can sing the lead and she can also do the harmony. Faron writes songs, and he’s a good singer. I named him Faron because I thought a lot of Faron Young. He always packed the place. He was a character, too.” The three recently celebrated their October birthdays. Debbie Ann turned 63, Al 94, and Faron 65, all in one week.

Al is seeking a buyer for his ALJEAN Record Company and all the albums and photos he’s collected in seventy years. “Everything’s for sale,” he says. “I still sell a lot of The Little Dogwood Tree album, and also the Three Mile Island album.” He recorded twenty albums, and his songs are published in Nashville under BMI as “Allen Leroy Shade.” His collection goes back to Hank Williams. Al’s phone number is 717-866-5067. The address is ALJEAN Records and Tapes, 7 Colonial Ave, Myerstown PA 17067.

When he thanked me for publishing his request to sell his company, he added, “In this day and age, everybody needs a little help.” Then he broke into song: “Do you need any help, do you need any help?” He was impressed that I could sing along: “I can handle this job all by myself.”

Debbie, Al, Faron – Photo by Tyger Williams/The Philadelphia Inquirer 10/21/21


My last newsletter announced the upcoming opening of the Bill Anderson: As Far as I Can See exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. There will be a VIP preview on December 2, the evening before the exhibit opens to the public, and I will be there! Bill Anderson sent me an invitation, saying, “I wanted you to know I was thinking of you….and that I have valued and appreciated our friendship over the years.” Wow!! Perry Steilow and I are heading to the airport shortly to fly to Nashville. We are expecting to have an exciting weekend, and I’ll give a report in my next newsletter.

The Country Music Hall of Fame held its annual Medallion Ceremony on November 21 to induct the 2020 members: Hank Williams, Jr., Marty Stuart, and Dean Dillon. The event was postponed from last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I haven’t heard when the Medallion ceremony will be held for the 2021 honorees (The Judds, Ray Charles, drummer Eddie Bayers, and steel guitarist Pete Drake). As always, sad to say, the private event was not livestreamed or even recorded to be shown later to the public. I hope the next ceremony will be. CMT News reports Hank Jr. was honored by the trio of Eric Church, Alan Jackson, and Shooter Jennings singing “A Country Boy Can Survive.” Emmylou Harris and Charlie Worsham sang Marty’s 1991 single, “Tempted,” followed by Ashley McBryde singing “The Observations of a Crow” from his 1999 album, The Pilgrim. Kenny Chesney performed his 2002 hit “A Lot of Things Different,” which Dean Dillon co-wrote with Bill Anderson. Brittney Spencer earned a standing ovation for her rendition of Dean’s “Tennessee Whiskey.” The three new members of the Country Music Hall of Fame were inducted by current members– Dean Dillon by George Strait, Marty Stuart by his wife, Connie Smith, and Hank Williams Jr. by Brenda Lee.

Stacy Harris reports in Stacy’s Music Row Report that she is “sadly (with a mixture of frustration, anger and disbelief, though, honestly, not shock) the first journalist to confirm” that Tom T. Hall died by suicide. He died August 20 at his home in Franklin, Tennessee, at age 85.

The lead vocalist for the Time Jumpers is a contestant on the 21st season of The Voice, reports CMT News. Memphis native Wendy Moten, 57, is also a backup vocalist for Vince Gill. Although previously a pop singer, and with a top ten R & B hit in the United Kingdom, she has always aspired to be a country singer. During her three decades in Nashville, she ran into roadblocks similar to those experienced by other black artists. On a recent episode of The Voice, with Blake Shelton as her coach, she sang Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love.”

During his three sold-out intimate shows at the Ryman Auditorium (November 18-20), Garth Brooks shared songs by his musical heroes to illustrate how these diverse influences affected his songwriting. He also told stories about his hits and his career. Sounds Like Nashville reports he honored songwriter Kent Blazy, the first songwriter he worked with in Nashville who treated him as an equal. Garth played “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” and the audience sang the lyrics for Blazy, who was sitting in the Ryman’s balcony Saturday night. Garth introduced the song by saying, “The greatest thing you can do for someone who holds a guitar is sing their song back to them. The greatest thing you can do for a songwriter is sing his song back to him.” Blazy also co-wrote “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)” and “Somewhere Other Than the Night.” Garth said, “But the biggest thing he did was introduce me to this girl from Georgia,” and then brought Trisha Yearwood onstage for a series of duets. Garth later posted photos on social media with the caption, “I could do this every night.”

The record for the longest song to be #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart has been broken just short of fifty years, reports Taste of Country. Don McLean‘s nearly-nine-minute-long “American Pie” began its run in January 1972. Taylor Swift holds the new record, with her 10-minute version of “All Too Well,” from her album Red (Taylor’s Version). “I’m so proud of this song and the memories I have with you guys because of it,” she writes on social media. “You truly chose this one and now you did THIS?! I’m floored. A ten-minute song is at the top of the Hot 100.” McLean told Billboard, “There’s something to be said for a great song that has staying power. ‘American Pie’ remained on top for 50 years and now Taylor Swift has unseated such a historic piece of artistry.” He added, “Let’s face it, nobody ever wants to lose that No. 1 spot, but if I had to lose it to somebody, I sure am glad it was another great singer-songwriter such as Taylor.”

The Boot reports the “dream home” Patsy Cline purchased in the Nashville suburb of Goodlettsville in 1962 is currently for sale. The 2,770-square-foot, 4-bedroom, 3-bathroom home has been restored to its original condition, including the bar counter emblazoned with “Patsy & Charlie.” Online listings show an asking price of $549,900. Owning the house achieved one of her biggest lifetime goals, and she and husband Charlie Dick made their residence a gathering place for some of country’s top stars. She lived in the home for less than one year, due to her death in a plane crash in 1963. CMT News explains the money to buy the house came from Patsy’s $22,000 royalty check from Decca Records in February 1962. “I Fall to Pieces” in 1961 had been her first #1 single on the Billboard country chart. The follow-up, “Crazy,” only reached #2 because Leroy Van Dyke’s “Walk on By” held the top spot for nineteen weeks.

According to the Tennessean, songwriter Barry De Vorzon, 87, recently explained to Bart Herbison of Nashville Songwriters Association International how he came to write “Just Married” for Marty Robbins. He was a starving young songwriter in Los Angeles when a publisher listened to some of his songs and told him he should write a country song. He had no knowledge of country music and no interest in it. He turned on a country radio station but felt no connection until he heard a song by Marty Robbins. He listened for a day or so to get the idea and then decided to write a hit for Marty Robbins. He recalled, “I’m reading a magazine and I see this car in an ad, with the tin cans tied to the back bumper and on the back window, it says, ‘Just Married.’ I said, ‘There’s my hook.'” The song title was “Just Married,” with the opening lyric of “Just married this morning, how happy they are/ Just married, written on the window of their car.” He was excited to finish the song but didn’t know how to get it to Marty. Knowing Marty recorded for Columbia, Barry found an address and mailed the demo to “Mr. Mitch Miller, President of Columbia Records, New York City.” Not knowing anyone at Columbia, he decided, “When they hear this, they’ll know who it’s for.” About three months later, he received a phone call from Mitch Miller, who said, “You sent me a record, a song ‘Just Married.’ I recorded it with one of my bigger artists. And I just wanted to know the status.” Barry asked, “The status? Mr. Miller, it’s yours, but who did you record it with?” He said, “Marty Robbins.” Barry says, “To this day, that will be one of the greatest moments in my life. I’m a starving songwriter, I wrote a song for a big country star, and the President of Columbia tells me he recorded it.”

The Kentucky Headhunters will make their Grand Ole Opry debut on Saturday, December 4, reports MusicRow. Brothers Fred and Richard Young and cousins Greg Martin and Anthony Kenney formed a southern blues-rock band in 1968 that later became The Kentucky Headhunters. Their debut album in the early ’90s, Pickin’ on Nashville, contained “Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine,” “Dumas Walker,” and “Oh Lonesome Me.” Guitarist and vocalist Richard Young recalls when Bill Monroe asked Roy Acuff about having the group on the Opry: “Mr. Acuff said, ‘I think they are probably good boys and would do a fine job, but let’s get ’em a haircut first.’ Needless to say, it never happened. We are so looking forward to our first appearance on the Opry stage in 30 years. We still got our hair, too. Well, most of it!” The Headhunters recently released a twelve-track compilation of all-new material, That’s A Fact Jack!

BreakingNews in Ireland reports residents are up in arms because three extra dates have been added to the two concerts originally planned by Garth Brooks for September at Croke Park in Dublin. His five concerts there in 2014 were cancelled because locals objected, and the Dublin City Council refused to grant planning permission for the events. This time, permission has been granted for five concerts, with more than 280,000 people waiting to buy tickets. Croke Park Area Residents’ Association says there is a cap of three “special events” per year at the stadium. Many residents will “try to move out of the area when Garth Brooks is there and abandon their houses,” a spokesman said. “We may have to get offside to make room for Garth Brooks to make millions on the backs of the Irish people.” There are concerns about traffic management, waste management, and security. One community leader said, “There is the level of inconvenience for those who live in the area, partly due to the really bad behaviour of patrons and partly due to the sheer volume of people coming to the events.” Whiskey Riff reports 400,000 tickets have been sold for the five shows September 9-10-11-16-17.

Tracy Pitcox and the Heart of Texas Country Music Museum are proudly offering a 2022 Heart of Texas Country Music Calendar. The calendars are in the office and will be shipped immediately upon receiving the orders. Shipping is free in the USA, and there is special pricing on bulk orders. “This is our biggest calendar ever with over 600 birthdays of your favorite Country Music entertainers,” Tracy says. “It contains incredible photography work of Bob and Kimberly Manning and features new display items from many legendary artists represented in the Heart of Texas Country Music Museum.” These include Dottie West, Johnny Bush, Justin Tubb, Freddie Hart, Judy Lynn, Ronnie Prophet, Dottsy, Ray Pillow, Hank Thompson’s Brazos Valley Boys, Cowboy Copas, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hee Haw, Donna Fargo, and more. “These calendars make GREAT CHRISTMAS gifts,” Tracy says, “and they benefit the Heart of Texas Country Music Museum as well.”


Thresa Allen writes from Seaford, Delaware, “Rita Stevenson called me this morning [November 18]. Regrettably Norman Wade passed away in the early hours today. He did so much enjoy hearing what you were writing and cherished being included in your book about Marty Robbins. Thank you so much for giving that to him- he was so proud of what you wrote. Thank you for your kind words in your latest newsletter about Norman and Rita.” Thresa adds, “A strange thing happened when I scanned the internet to send you the link for ‘Cajun Fiddling Joe.’ I found my song, CAJUN FIDDLING JOE, done by someone else. It was first recorded by Norman at Doyle Grisham’s studio in Nashville – Doyle is Jimmy Buffett’s steel player- and the Cajun fiddle work was done by none other than Hank Singer. I wrote it in my studio in 2006, and when Norman was here for two weeks with us, we worked out the arrangements with Tom Kaufman from Denton, Maryland, a great musician. This new rendition is by an Irish singer, Pat Mulchrone, who just released it last month in Ireland and it is at number one on the Irish Country Music listing. I don’t know how Norman would have felt to know the song he recorded was number one in Ireland but not his rendition. I am flattered that this Pat Mulchrone liked my writing enough to record it.”

Ronny Robbins writes from Nashville, “I guess you know by now, Norman passed at 2AM yesterday morning. I was 8 hours too late in calling. Rita was taking it about as well as could be expected.”

Jeannie Seely writes from Nashville, “Thanks for including Gene and me both in your newsletter 🥰. Pretty proud of him! Hope your audiobook is doing well for you. I keep thinking my life will slow down a bit and I can catch up on everything I want to see, read and listen to! I’m gonna mention you, your books and your newsletter on my Roadhouse show in the next couple weeks.”

Billy Joe Gabriel requests, “Please add me to your mailing list. I heard you on Sundays with Seely today on Sirius XM radio.”

Darlene Taylor in Bethel Springs, Tennessee, says, “I would like to receive your newsletter.”

Kathy Bibey says, “I would like to receive your classic newsletter. ‘Old’ country is the best.”

Lou Elliott writes from Las Vegas, Nevada, “First: I want to say I’m glad you got to send a newsletter that only mentioned one of our senior Country Music performers had died. One that wasn’t mentioned was Sonny Osborne of the Osborne Brothers who died on Oct. 24. There are not many of them left. I  will be 85 on the 4th of December and I got to see many of the greats like Faron Young, Marty Robbins, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Hank Snow, Johnny Cash, Porter Wagoner, and Little Jimmy Dickens in person. I played guitar, bass, and sang, but I never got above the Honky Tonks and Clubs level and I had a stroke in 1975 that ended my music career dreams. Second: I want to say I agree wholeheartedly with what Jean Seither wrote in your newsletter about stars cancelling shows at venues that require proof of vaccinations or masks. I really don’t understand how anyone can be against preserving the health of others as well as themselves. I enjoy reading your newsletter, so you keep writing them and I’ll keep reading them.”

Diane: Thank you for reading and enjoying. Yes, I heard about Sonny Osborne’s death in time to mention him in my November 3 newsletter, along with the death of Rose Lee Maphis.

Dominique ‘Imperial’ Anglares writes from France, “Thanks for that welcome newsletter and for the care given to my words about our late friend Jenny Jones. Nice to have read words about Rose Lee and Joe Maphis. Joe passed away on June 27, 1986. They are now reunited and will be remembered.”

David Markham in England says, “Thank you for a most interesting letter on many golden oldies, names I’ve not heard in a long, long time. Norman Wade was always over in the UK. Sad to know about him and his lovely wife. Have you noticed, Diane, all our greats are slowly drifting up to heaven? I know Bill quite well and more, but some you mention I don’t. I’ve been typing a lot and getting a headache, until next month, thank you for putting my email into your Page.”

Mary Mitchell writes, “So glad someone mentioned Darrell McCall. He truly is country. As for Travis Tritt, he should be reminded how many have survived the COVID having the shot and how many have died a horrible death. Great article on my friend Bill Anderson. He is really Mr. Nashville and Daniel O’Donnell is Mr. Ireland. Two great entertainers.”

Geraldine Wagner says, “I read your Country Music Newsletter religiously. What great articles! I saw Faron perform back in the early sixties in Beardstown, Illinois. Growing up in the Midwest during the late ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s, I got to see a lot of shows at County Fairs, organizational fundraisers, and State Fairs. Looking back, it was truly a glorious time with great performers. Would not walk across the street (in my little hometown of 6500) to see most acts today. Am waiting for the proverbial ‘What goes around, comes around’ to hear and see ‘real classic country music’ again.”

Bobby Fischer in Nashville says, “Sorry to hear about Gene Watson, one of my favorites. I was blessed with one of my songs recorded by Gene. ‘I don’t know how to tell her (she don’t love me anymore),’ the flip side of the 45 record of ‘Farewell Party.’ What a song and voice.”

Bob Rudy writes from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, “It’s been quite a while, but I thought I would touch base to let you know I still enjoy reading your newsletters, and share some information with you about a local country music legend with big time national connections in the industry. I’ve known about Al Shade for many years, but finally got a chance to meet him at the Keystone Record Collector’s show on Sunday, November 14th, where he was the special guest. Al has worked with some of the biggest names in Country Music. He’s 94 years old and still performing. Al and I came from the same little town of Gratz, Pennsylvania. A few years ago when I was working on the radio, I interviewed Al around the anniversary of the accident at Three Mile Island (TMI). I remember living a few miles from TMI when it nearly melted down on March 28, 1979. Al wrote and recorded a song about the accident. I knew you would be interested in learning more about Al when I discovered his son was named after Faron Young.”

Ashley D’Silva writes from Perth in West Australia, “I write to you from Australia (Down Under) as a very proud receiver of your Newsletter and a regular and Proud ‘Diane Diekman’ and ‘Old Country Fan.’ Reading your latest and as usual, very readable & ENJOYABLE Newsletter, I am prompted to drop you a note relative to your very brief comment about the CMA. I have been a Real Country Fan since I was 12 years old (now 73), and I have watched the CMA since it started. In recent years I have always hoped that Maybe next year it WILL BE COUNTRY but am truly saddened to note that the 55th CMA had not improved so as to re-introduce ‘Country’ at all. The included Artists and Musicians in this 55th show were indeed excellent, however, ‘Country’ they were not. The presence of a Pedal Steel I counted 6 times (barely discernible). Banjo, Fiddle (there were Violins), Dobro and Twangy Guitar were not in sight. These are the instruments that have formed the basis of Country Music so, where on earth were they?? Being a very amateur Pedal Steel player, I was driven to make comment in this regard on our Steel Guitar Forum. The many answers and comments received from our regular members were in a similar tone to mine. What a great pity. Whilst I believe that progress and change are important in life, I firmly believe certain things need to remain As They Were. Country Music is just that. I hope for the 56th CMA that either the relevant Management introduces SOME MORE OLDIES or else changes the name of the Award Show. Once again I thank you most sincerely for a truly excellent Newsletter which I look forward to receiving regularly.”


When Hank Snow asked the Glaser Brothers to sing on the tribute show that celebrated his 40th anniversary as a Grand Ole Opry member, they agreed, even though they hadn’t performed together in over five years. And this would be the last time. Here is the video of the trio’s final performance—on the Grand Ole Opry stage in 1990. I find this video heart-wrenching. They sounded so good, and they are no longer with us. Tompall died August 12, 2013, at age 79. Jim died April 6, 2019, at age 81. Middle brother Chuck, who never completely recovered from his 1974 stroke, died June 10, 2019, at age 83.


I have several free promo codes for anyone in the USA or UK who would like to download the Live Fast, Love Hard: The Faron Young Story audiobook. If you don’t already have an Amazon.com or Audible.com account, you will need to use your credit card to open one. You can cancel the account after downloading the book. Last chance to email me if you’d like one of the codes.

Comments are closed.