Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 1 July 2020


It’s been fifty years since Ray Benson dropped out of college at age 18 to form a band. When we connected last week for a phone conversation, and I asked him to summarize the early days, he told me, “I was in college and realized I was not going to continue, so I got two friends of mine who had the same idea.” They worked as caretakers at an old apple and peach orchard outside of Paw Paw, West Virginia, in exchange for a place to live, while putting their band together. They lived in a 125-year-old log cabin that had been a stage stop in the 1800s. After several years of playing in little bars and honky tonks in West Virginia, they moved Asleep at the Wheel to California, where they got a record deal and then moved to Texas. “So that in a nutshell is how that all went,” Ray says. “This is the fiftieth year. We had all kinds of plans in March, and we had to postpone it, so we’re gonna do our fiftieth anniversary in 2021.”

I’ve been an Asleep at the Wheel fan since seeing the group perform at a dance hall in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1980. To me, it’s an amazing feat for one man to hold together a successful and famous band for half a century and still be going strong. When I asked for his leadership secret, he answered by saying, “First of all, I’ve had over a hundred people in the band.”

Until this year, they toured constantly, spending up to 200 days a year on the road. “That takes a toll on anybody’s family life and/or personal life,” Ray says. “Asleep at the Wheel is a band that you have to have a level of musicianship that is, I’d say, higher than normal, and yet the pay scale is lower than normal.” Negotiating that balance can be difficult. As for dedication, Ray says, “Musicians like playing in Asleep at the Wheel because it gives musical freedom that other bands wouldn’t have.”

The band has consisted of eight members for the past several years. The largest number in its history was twelve. This week, Ray is doing one show with four people and another with six. “It doesn’t matter, the numbers,” he says, “because Asleep at the Wheel plays the kind of music that can be done as a small group or a large group.”

When I asked what he’s been doing to stay busy during the pandemic, he said, “I’ve been doing a lot of writing, been doing a lot of gardening, been doing a lot of work around the house and the studio.” On June 10, Asleep at the Wheel participated in an online fundraiser with Paul Simon, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Rait, James Taylor, and others. Called “A Night for Austin,” the two-hour live-streaming concert raised $750,000 for the Austin Community Foundation. Asleep at the Wheel also held an online 69th birthday party for Ray, postponed from March, that raised about $75,000 for another local charity.

“We did a video–check it out online,” Ray told me. “It’s called ‘I Love You, Don’t Touch Me.’ It was like a funny song for the coronavirus.” My earlier newsletter announced that Ray tested positive for COVID-19, and I described the virtual fundraising concert that replaced Willie Nelson’s annual Luck Reunion, during which Ray had broadcast from a studio in Austin. “Usually I would shake hands, hug and greet everyone, but … with the virus spreading, I realized that would not be advisable,” he’d told The Boot. “As I entered the studio, I intoned, ‘I love you … Don’t touch me,’ and moved to my place in the studio, removed from others by many feet. The next week, I was diagnosed with the virus, so I’m glad I did that.” Here is the video of his new song.

Ray is currently editing a one-hour Austin City Limits special that will air in October. It’s a retrospective on all 44 years of Asleep at the Wheel’s appearances on Austin City Limits. “There’s still a lot of work to do,” Ray says. But what’s “really on the front burner” is recovering from the pandemic: “We’re gonna figure out how to survive this latest crisis.”

As a message to my readers, Ray says, “Tell them we’re still rolling, and tell them to check out, if they have SiriusXM Radio, on the weekend I do a one-hour radio show called the Austin Outer Limits. Tell them to tune on in. It’s a lot of fun.”

After all these years, I asked, does he ever get burned out? “I get burned out on sitting on the bus,” Ray Benson says, “but playing music, no, no, of course not.”


Tullahoma News reports that Jerry Glenn Overcast, Sr., of Shelbyville, Tennessee, died June 8, at age 74, following a brief heart-related illness. The Tennessee native dropped out of high school to join the Air Force and spent 12 months in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam war. Sergeant Overcast obtained his GED during his four-year enlistment. His passion was photography, and he eventually had a studio in Tullahoma. He became one of country music’s most in-demand photographers and was the exclusive photographer for R.O.P.E. (Reunion of Professional Entertainers). Jerry’s memorial service was held June 27, with his ashes scattered privately by his family. Thanks to Berry Jones for sending me the obituary.

The Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic, which has been held annually since 1973, will be a virtual event this year, according to The Dallas Morning News. Due to renewed concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in Texas, Willie’s Luck Productions is hosting live-from-home performances by Margo Price, Sheryl Crow, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Kinky Friedman, and many more. Willie and his band will broadcast from his recording studio, Pedernales Studios, near his ranch in Luck, Texas. Advance tickets can be purchased for $35 on williepicnic.com.

The dispute between the Roy Orbison family and a New York developer hoping to erect a 25-story apartment building in a Music Row parking lot has been settled. When Scenic Investments builds its 440-apartment complex and “Sound Lab” music space at 1601 Broadway, it will include a private 15-foot buffer area between the complex and the Orbison Building. “We are excited to present this solution to the Planning Commission and look forward to having the Orbison as a neighbor,” the developer said in a statement.

The Grand Ole Opry debut of Jimmy Buffett on June 27 has been canceled, according to the singer’s Facebook post: “To all Opry fans, I would just like to say how disappointed I am that because of circumstances with the recent spikes in COVID-19, I have had to postpone my trip to Nashville to play with Mac McAnally and Brad Paisley. I have loved the Grand Ole Opry since the days I covered shows at the Ryman as a Billboard reporter on Music Row in the early 70s before I moved to Margaritaville. As soon as it is safe for me to travel back to Music City and meet up with Mac and Brad, I will come play for you.”

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has announced the 2021 class of Hollywood Walk of Fame honorees, which includes Trisha Yearwood and The Judds among the 30 new inductees. Nash Country Daily reports the star unveiling ceremony will be held in Hollywood at a later date.

The all-star Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena has been postponed from September 15 until February 22, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 12,000 fans attended the two Small Town Drive-In concerts by Alan Jackson in Alabama. Nash Country Daily reports 2,000 vehicles attended the Cullman show on June 12, and more than 2,300 showed up June 13 on the 300-acre site in Fairhope. A portion of proceeds went toward local food relief efforts.

Music biographer David Ritz has helped Willie Nelson and big sister Bobbie Nelson tell the story of 47 years of performing together. Their co-written memoir, Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band, will be published September 15. The book switches between Bobbie’s and Willie’s voices in alternating chapters. Rolling Stone reminds us Ritz helped Willie write his second memoir, It’s a Long Story: My Life, in 2015. His first book, Willie: An Autobiography, was co-written with Bud Shrake in 1988.

Variety reports The Dixie Chicks have officially changed their name to “the Chicks,” after deciding the Civil War-era “Dixie” is no longer appropriate. Fans and industry people have long referred to them as the Chicks. The trio said in a statement: “A sincere and heartfelt thank you goes out to ‘The Chicks’ of NZ for their gracious gesture in allowing us to share their name. We are honored to co-exist together in the world with these exceptionally talented sisters. Chicks Rock! — Emily, Natalie and Martie”

The Mavericks, who celebrated their 30th anniversary last year, are releasing their first all-Spanish album, En Español, on August 21. “This is the record I’ve been wanting the Mavericks to make for a very long time,” Rolling Stone reports a statement by Raul Malo. “I’m a first-generation Cuban-American, and some of these songs are songs my family would play and sing on weekends at family parties and get-togethers. But it’s not all nostalgia either. There are plenty of new original songs that put this record squarely in the moment for us.”

The Grand Ole Opry House and Ryman Auditorium will reopen for daytime tours on July 2, reports The Tennessean, after being closed three months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ryman Hospitality Properties recruited Vanderbilt Health to serve as its “official wellness advisor” to set rules for both staff and guests. Public concerts will resume at some future date, when Nashville’s phased reopening plan allows them.

After Chase Rice, 34, performed a concert at the Historic Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee, he faced backlash for playing to a packed, standing-room-only crowd with no visible masks. “Imagine being selfish enough to put thousands of people’s health at risk, not to mention the potential ripple effect, and play a NORMAL country concert right now,” Kelsea Ballerini, 26, slammed him in a tweet. “We all want (and need) to tour. We just care about our fans and their families enough to wait.” The promoter told USA TODAY that he had followed all local requirements, including providing masks and ample space for the crowd to spread out. About 1,000 people attended the concert in a 10,000-person venue. Staff members wore masks and concert goers had temperature checks before entering. He couldn’t enforce physical distancing or mask wearing by the audience.

Chris Janson, 34, had a similar experience to that of Chase Rice. On the same night, he headlined Day 3 of Gordy’s Hwy 30 Music Fest in Filer, Idaho. Bleachers were added so fans could spread out, and organizers told Taste of Country they followed local regulations. But fans pushed toward the stage; photos and video show a packed audience enjoying the music.

Musicians Hall of Fame member Pete Carr died June 27 at age 70, reports MusicRow. Born Jesse Willard Carr, he grew up in Florida and moved to Muscle Shoals around 1970. He worked as session guitarist, record producer, engineer, songwriter, and recording artist. He played lead guitar in the Fame and Muscle Shoals Sounds studios, where he backed Bob Seger, Joan Baez, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart, Paul Anka, and many others. Country artists he worked with included Hank Williams Jr., Becky Hobbs, Willie Nelson, Billy Swan, Narvel Felts, and Marie Osmond.

The “Encore Live Presents Garth Brooks: A Drive-In Concert Experience” aired for 350,000 people at more than 300 outdoor theaters in the U.S. and Canada last Saturday night, across four different time zones. Although tickets stated, “It is not live and Garth Brooks will not be in attendance,” some fans were disappointed to learn it was a prerecorded performance. According to the Charlotte Observer, others thought $100 per carload was too high a price when they had to watch several music videos of “opening act” Randall King before Garth sang for only 75 minutes. Fans had to listen via their own radios, which made for poor sound quality.

When country singer Mickey Guyton prepared to release her song “Black Like Me” on June 2, “that was scary for me,” she told CBS This Morning. “There were even talks about me getting security just in case I started getting threats from people.” The song describes a childhood of feeling out of place because of her skin color; it was also inspired by her struggles in Nashville. “If you think we live in the land of the free You should try to be black like me,” she sings. She is happy to report the response was the opposite of what she feared. “It was so positive and loving,” she says. “It was like people were waiting for that from me.” The song ends with “I’m proud to be black like me.”

In a new nationwide campaign to promote the First Amendment, reports The Tennessean, hundreds of newspapers and other media outlets will run a series of ads featuring pictures and quotes from well-known Nashvillians inside and outside of music. The Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro will launch the “1 For All Campaign for the First Amendment” on Independence Day. Brad Paisley, Kane Brown, and Michael W. Smith are three of the 21 Nashville stars who’ve signed on. Others include Olympic ice skater Scott Hamilton and author Ann Patchett, along with Loretta Lynn, Darius Rucker, Rosanne Cash, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Kathy Mattea. The ads promote the website http://1forall.today.


Stacy Harris, Publisher/Executive Editor of Stacy’s Music Row Report, writes from Nashville, “Sonny Osborne’s recollection of Stringbean’s murder requires a little clarification: As was documented in a Nashville Banner front-page headline story that ran on Monday, November 12, 1972, I was the last person to interview David Akeman; an interview that occurred between the first and second Grand Ole Opry Saturday night shows on which Akeman appeared. That means Osborne’s memory of Grant Turner’s announcing the news of the murders of Stringbean and his wife, Estelle either happened the following weekend (if Sonny refers to an announcement from the Opry stage) or did not happen at all. Sonny also references the murderer. There were actually two murderers: As you know, one of the Brown cousins died in prison and, yes, the other was paroled.”

Mike Johnson writes, “Very good informative issue, as usual. Always enjoy them. Donald Ewert was one of my very first subscribers to my Top-Rail Chatter Independent Country Music Magazine [1995-2004] and has been a loyal fan and supporter ever since. Donald has also sent me a birthday card every year, only surpassed by Terry Smith who has sent me one every year since we met in 1994. Donald is also one of those consistent supporters who, about 10 years ago, earned the right to receive any of my products for free. I’ve been truly blessed with meeting and becoming friends with a lot of truly remarkable and down to earth gracious folks both in and out of the music industry. And keep those newsletters coming!”

Lee Shannon, former KFDI D.J., sends this sad news: “I just wanted to let you know one of my former D.J. buddies, Don Walton, died June 27, 2020, in Wichita, Kansas, due to heart failure. His many long-time KFDI listeners and friends in radio knew him as Little Donnie Do Dad.”

Gene Burkhart says, “Thank you for all you do. Mary Mitchell wrote a letter thanking me for mentioning Carl Smith. I made a cd for a friend of mine a few years ago. It was reviewed by the editor of Country Music People he gave it four and one half stars out of five stars. I would be glad to send you a cd if you PM me on Facebook.”

Nancy Hone, daughter of WWII veteran Claude Hone, writes, “I do enjoy your newsletters. But now that Daddy is singing in Heaven, would you mind also sending them to my email? I like reading them on his desktop, tho, so keep his email on your list.”

Jon Philibert writes from England, “Yet Another informative newsletter. Keep up the good work. Could you add Tony Goodacre to your list of subscribers? Tony is one of the mainstays and veterans of the British country music and gospel scene.”

Dominique “Imperial” Anglares writes from France, “Thank you very much for these news from USA. A much appreciated reading to start my day. Sad to learn about Katherine Williams’ passing specialy knowing Hank Sr passed on the road and Hank Jr had a very severe car wreck that should have killed him. Life is strange.”

Larry Delaney of Cancountry writes from Ottawa, Canada, “In light of your work researching Randy Travis, I thought this item might be of special interest to you: ‘The goal of the Stonehouse Sessions is to connect musicians from their homes, studios or wherever they are in the world to create unique, studio quality, musical collaborations during the Covid-19 pandemic. Canadian country music producer Darren Walters teamed up with artists Kinsey Rose and Jason McCoy of The Road Hammers for a modern twist of the Randy Travis classic, “I Told You So.”’ Visit www.thestonehousesessions.online.


One of my first interviews while researching Faron Young’s life was with Billy Grammer, perhaps best known for his 1958 hit “Gotta Travel On.” I called him in 2000, after hearing Faron say in an interview that they had been traveling together in Canada when they learned of Patsy Cline’s plane crash. Billy died in 2011, of natural causes, in his home state of Illinois, at age 85.

Faron was the kind of guy that was always concerned about “the family.” By family, I mean his fellow artists–his buddies. I was a little low on bookings one time with the office I was in. Sometimes that happens when you get booked by an office that has 40 or 50 artists. When the calls come in, sometimes Billy Grammer doesn’t get it, or the Faron Young doesn’t get it. Somebody else gets it, because they just pitch you as a product. I was talking to Faron one time. We were having a bite to eat, down on 16th Avenue. He said why don’t you come join me and my manager? His manager at that time was Shelley Snyder. He said I like you, I trust you, and I like your performances. He said we’ll just get you more work going. I did, and it was a very, very enjoyable relationship. We worked together for quite a while.

What I did was join his booking office. What they’d do is call in for packages. Most of these promoters would want 3-4 Grand Ole Opry artists on the show. I was just another Grand Ole Opry artist working through the same agency as Faron. A lot of times, we’d be packaged together. I never worked for Faron. I worked with Faron on packages. I was signed to the Opry on February 27. 1959.

We were in Canada. When you pick up the radio stations, everything was Patsy Cline, Patsy Cline, Patsy Cline. Finally we heard the announcement. We started in Montana, went up to Washington, went up to Canada. We were in the car, Shelley Snyder, me and Faron. I’m sorry I didn’t have total recall on where we were. Usually, I’ve got total recall. But I’m getting older. I’d worked for Hawkshaw Hawkins at WWVA when I was a sideman. Hawkshaw, I called him Hacksaw. And of course, Copas was an Opry guy, we were packaged many, many times. One of Copas’s last tours before he was killed was with me and Faron. Me, Faron and Copas was with Marlin Paininger, starting in Billings, Montana.

One time we were in Montana, Shelley and Faron and I–back in the early years you didn’t have fast food–you’d have a restaurant that would look pretty decent on the outside, but when you got in, you never knew what you had. I had a habit of going into the restrooms first, before I’d order. I figured if you’d find the restroom clean, you’d find the kitchen clean. I found it a little bit unclean, so I went out and said, “Guys, order something safe.” I’m gonna order a couple of soft-boiled eggs in the shell. I figured that’d be pretty good–unless there’s a chicken in them. Faron ordered a bowl of chili. That’s the last thing he should’ve ordered. It could be last week’s dish water. Shelley Snyder ordered a hamburger. He was complaining about it being tough and dry. The waitress looked like she could go three rounds with Ali. She hooked her thumbs in her apron when she came out, and said, “Dessert?” Shelley looked up at her–he talked with a gravel voice; you’d have to know him; he had pop eyes and wore a little porkpie hat–and said, “Yaaassss, bring us three packs of Rolaids.” I thought Faron was gonna beat that table down, laughin’. Veins stood out on his neck. Faron laughed ’til he hurt. I never will forget that. Her boyfriend came out of the kitchen. He was mad cuz Faron was laughing at her, and she was mad. I got up and got both of them by the arms, and we paid the check and got out of there before the fighting started.

Faron was one of the kindest, biggest-hearted, brash roosters I ever knew. Does that description mean anything to you? He was a rooster. He could get uncouth, he could be brash, and he had a heart as big as this building. He never was mean–he didn’t have any ulterior motives. Faron Young was not one to step on another artist to get ahead. Now that’s important that you mention that, because I cannot say that about all of the family. I can’t say that about everyone, but Faron wouldn’t step on nobody to get anything. He earned his place, and he’d help you–he helped me. He didn’t have to say to me, c’mon over into my stable. He could have got a lot of people.

We used to stand around on 16th Avenue–I’m talking about artists–cuz all the booking agencies, all the record studios were down there, all the publishing companies. They’re designated different now, West and everything, but it was just 16th Avenue South. I remember Webb Pierce, myself–Mel Tillis was just a songwriter at that time, and I had nicknamed him Flutterlips–and we were standing, telling stories. And Faron drove up in a new car, pulled up along the curb, got out, and came over to us, laughing and what’re you guys up to, all this stuff. It was a little bit downhill right there on that block, and this car had a pushbutton transmission, and he hadn’t pushed the car out of gear. It started rolling, and Webb says, “Faron, your car is runnin’ off.” Faron ran it down the street–it was picking up pretty good steam already–and hit it on the rear end and said, “Go get ’em there, scamp.” Honest to pete, isn’t that something? I mean, whoa, slapped it on the trunk, like it was a horse. He couldn’t catch it; it was out of control. It went down the street and hit 2-3 cars. It finally stopped. Of course, we were dying laughing. Webb was sitting there with his new Pontiac that Nudie had decorated–it had tooled leather seats with silver dollars embedded in the seats. I forget the year, it was around 1960 or ’61 or ’62, right in there.

Faron and Billy Deaton and I owned a recording studio right there with Music City News. I was third owner. I had a lot of time on my hands. I had curtailed the road, cuz I manufactured flat-top guitars and got busy with some things, and I’d just take what dates I wanted to take, when I wanted dates. Faron called me, and he said, “I’ve got the chance to buy this studio.” It was part of the building. “I don’t know how I’m gonna take care of it. I’m real busy out on the road.” He had “Four in the Morning.” I had left the guitar company. I stayed around the studio and generated some business. We had gospel groups coming in, primarily. We had sufficient quality and did a lot of session work. We had a good relationship. Finally, it wasn’t generating enough business that I wanted to be hung with it, and I went to Faron and said, “Faron, what do you think?” He said, “Well, sell it. Whatever you feel like doing. Let’s sell it.” So we moved it–made a substantial profit. Not big, but substantial, and got out of it.

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