Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 1 May 2024

Happy birthday to Randy Travis on Saturday.


One of the musicians who founded the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1966 was John McEuen. Other than a 15-year hiatus for a solo career, he stayed with fellow founding members Jeff Hanna and Jimmie Fadden until the completion of their 18-month anniversary tour, 50 Years of Dirt, in 2017. The multi-instrumentalist plays banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, piano, and accordion, in addition to singing. A native of Oakland, California, he is now 78 years old and his spoken-word album, The Newsman: A Man of Record was released on April 12.

John explains the art form of spoken word as “a story with music behind it.” The music supports the words without being a melody. “I chose some pieces that were not spoken words with music but made them so,” he says in a press release from 2911 Media, “and some pieces that were definite spoken words with music and tried to support them as well.”

The album opens with John’s story about a newspaper seller who had a big impact on him during the early days of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in Los Angeles. While the first and last tracks are John’s creations, the other nine span more than 200 years and contain various literary themes.

“The Newsman” takes place in 1967 when, John says, “We’d been together seven months and hadn’t got on the radio yet.” The struggling young musician would see the polio-afflicted newspaper carrier riding his motor scooter along Sunset Strip or selling newspapers in a restaurant where a regular crowd gathered for breakfast. He admired and respected the man’s work ethic and wishes he had said so at the time.

Fred Rose’s “Fly Trouble,” made popular by Hank Williams Sr., is the only actual song on the album. Although I’m not sure why it’s there, I enjoyed the familiar western swing tune.

The track that caught my attention, because of the humorous twist at the end of the macabre tale, was “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” Robert Service wrote this story about two Yukon prospectors. The one from Tennessee knew he was going to die, and he asked the narrator, “Cap,” to cremate him because he couldn’t stand the idea of a grave in the frigid ground. Cap carried the frozen corpse on a sled for days until finding a suitable cremation site.

Who can listen to “Old Rivers” without hearing the voice of Walter Brennan? John is a worthy successor, and his musical accompaniment adds to the story. John Carter Cash wrote “The Guitar of Pineapple,” about Pineapple John, who used his guitar—named “Veronica”—in a game of pickleball.

John narrates the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, “Killed at the Ford,” about a Union soldier killed in the Civil War. A chorus accompanies him. From that war to one a century later, Thomas Monroe’s “Nui Ba Den” reflects on a year spent fighting in Vietnam: “We were just boys on the flight to the fight.” He learned, “The first rule is ‘keep your head low.” The older narrator says, “Though it’s been years, I can’t shake the fears . . .”

The narrator in “Red Clay” (written by Thaddeus Bryant) stands on an old battlefield of packed red clay, “this antique ground where soldiers died” due to “prejudices long held in this land, deep-seated hatred of caste, creed, and color.” He ends with a desire “to teach the people of this land that hate is wrong and love is grand.”

A chorus sings “I’ll Be Glad (When They Run Out of Gas)” as John lists the woes (written by Hans Olson) of a man who can’t afford automobile repairs and then calls out all the items he owns that he must fill up with gas. Many people will easily relate to this one.

John introduces “The Mountain Whippoorwill,” written by Stephen Vincent Benét in 1928, by mentioning that Vassar Clements was born in 1928. (Vassar played fiddle with Faron Young, and I met him at one of my Country Deputy reunions.) Although the track begins with John’s fiddle, most of this fiddle tale is supported by his banjo. At 9:46 minutes, it is the longest on the album. The narrator is a young mountain boy who grows up without a family and attends a fiddle contest in Georgia.

The final track is an instrumental, “Jules’ Theme,” inspired by Jules Verne talking about his wife. The music on this track makes me think of the sea.

When the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band comes to the Alliance in Sioux Falls on June 27, I will be there. Although I didn’t get an opportunity to see them when John McEuen was in the band, I have his spoken-word album.


I listened to the Saturday night Grand Ole Opry to hear Scotty McCreery be inducted as a new member. I’d spotlighted him in my newsletter two years ago. Opening with two songs from his upcoming album, Rise and Fall, he then talked about being on American Idol and how he’d been singing before that in various venues around his hometown. As an example of those songs, he performed “Three Wooden Crosses” for the first time since age 15. When the song ended, Josh Turner and Randy Travis walked onstage. (I later saw in a video that Mary Travis joined Randy to support him as he stood there.) Josh Turner, 46, officially welcomed Scotty into the Opry family, reading a speech he had written for the occasion. “I stand here tonight proud of the fact that I bridged the gap between the generation of Randy Travis and Scotty McCreery,” he said. Randy had been his musical hero, and both he and Randy had been Scotty’s musical heroes. Scotty, 30, said, “If you’ve listened to any of my interviews over the last 13 years, they’d say, ‘what is your biggest goal?’ and I’d always say, ‘One day I want to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry.'” Holding the Opry membership trophy Josh had presented to him, he stared at it in wonderment and mused, “Oh, my gosh, Randy Travis, y’all.” For his last song, he repeated his Opry debut song from 2016, “Five More Minutes.”

Photo credit: Chris Hollo/Grand Ole Opry

Earlier on that April 20th Opry show, I’d been impressed to hear Sierra Hull, 32, who is a star in the bluegrass world on both mandolin and guitar. She sang “All I Ever Need Is You,” from the newly released album, We Still Can’t Say Goodbye — A Musicians’ Tribute to Chet Atkins. It sounded to me like Chet playing guitar. When Bill Anderson did his set, he called Sierra back out onstage to sing Dolly Parton’s lines on the duet of “Someday It’ll All Make Sense.” I will go to her concert if she ever comes to this part of the country.

“To hear Richard Betts pickin’ on that red guitar.” That line from the Charlie Daniels song, “The South’s Gonna Do It Again,” is all I ever knew of Dickey Betts, who died April 18 at age 80, following a battle with cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Born Forrest Richard Betts in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1943, he grew up listening to bluegrass and country music and playing in rock bands. He joined brothers Gregg and Duane Allman in 1969 and became a co-founder of the Allman Brothers Band. Billboard reports the band fired him for “creative differences” in May 2000 after the Music Midtown Festival in Atlanta. He filed suit against his former bandmates and never performed with them again. He toured with his own band before suffering a stroke in August 2018. The death announcement from his family states, “The legendary performer, songwriter, bandleader and family patriarch was at his home in Osprey, Florida, surrounded by his family.”

The U.S. Library of Congress has announced the 25 songs and albums that will be inducted into the National Recording Registry in the class of 2024. The titles worthy of preservation based on “cultural, historical or aesthetic importance in the nation’s recorded sound heritage” include Gene Autry’s 1949 recording of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Patti Page’s 1950 recording of “Tennessee Waltz,” the 1975 bluegrass album, J.D. Crowe & the New South, by J.D. Crowe & the New South, and the 1998 Dixie Chicks album, Wide Open Spaces. And this recording that still sticks in my mind from my U.S. Navy time on Guam: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin in 1988. Plus, here’s my standard reminder that Marty Robbins is in the Registry: Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs–Marty Robbins (loc.gov)

The daughter of Eddy Arnold has died. JoAnn “Jojo” Pollard, 78, was born in Nashville in 1945 and died March 25. Her obituary says she was preceded in death by her parents, Richard Edward “Eddy” Arnold and Sally Katherine Gayhart Arnold, and her brother, Richard Edward “Dickie” Arnold, Jr. She is survived by her husband of 59 years, Richard Shannon (Dickie) Pollard, along with two children and their families. (Thanks to Stacy Harris for the notice.)

Advance Local Media reports Morgan Wallen has made his first public statement after being charged with three felony counts of reckless endangerment for throwing a chair off the rooftop of a six-story Nashville bar. “I didn’t feel right publicly checking in until I made amends with some folks,” he writes on X. “I’ve touched base with Nashville law enforcement, my family, and the good people at Chief’s. I’m not proud of my behavior, and I accept responsibility.” He is currently on a stadium tour.

Walkin’ After Midnight: The Music of Patsy Cline celebrated the life and music of Patsy Cline at the Ryman Auditorium on April 22. The event kicked off with opening remarks by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. Performers included Wynonna, Ashley McBryde, Rita Wilson, Home Free, Kristin Chenoweth, and Mickey Guyton, among others. Patsy lived in Nashville from 1959 until her death in 1963. She was a member of the Grand Ole Opry and performed countless times at the “Mother Church of Country Music.” Fox News reports that Kellie Pickler, 37, took the stage for the first time since her husband, songwriter Kyle Jacobs, died by suicide in February 2023. She sang “The Woman I Am,” which the couple co-wrote.

Carl Rollyson posted a review in The New York Sun of the recently republished Patsy Cline biography by Margaret Jones, The Life and Times of Patsy Cline.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee honored Brad Paisley as “Tennessean of the Year- Music” during the recent CEO Roundtable Series 2024 at the Governor’s Residence. According to MusicRow, the private event honored Tennessee’s brightest in business and innovation by spotlighting the accomplishments of influential leaders. Brad’s philanthropic endeavors include the 2021 nationwide campaign to promote Tennessee tourism with Governor Lee, “Tennessee on Me.” He and wife Kimberly Williams-Paisley, along with Belmont University, co-founded the nonprofit referral-based free grocery store, The Store. He has also helped with the “1 for All Campaign for the First Amendment,” Nashville’s annual “Dance Party to End Alzheimer’s,” the Nashville Film Festival, St. Jude’s Country Cares, the Tennessee Comedy Festival, Vanderbilt University’s “Gratitunes” program and “Take The Shot” PSA, and the capital campaign for the Monroe Carroll Jr. Children’s Hospital at Williamson Medical Center.

Here’s some exciting news from Variety: More than 20 years after the death of Johnny Cash, we’ll be hearing new music. Although I’m not a fan of reproduced projects, this one sounds genuine. On June 28, Universal Music is issuing Songwriter, a collection of 11 previously unreleased recordings that he wrote and demo-ed at LSI Studios in 1993. Waylon Jennings sings vocals on two songs, “I Love You Tonite” and “Like A Soldier.” Johnny’s son, John Carter Cash, stumbled upon the forgotten demos and decided to create new backing tracks. He and co-producer David “Fergie” Ferguson, who had engineered Cash projects for 30 years, gathered musicians at the Cash Cabin in Hendersonville to produce a modern Cash sound. They included two Tennessee Three band members, former son-in-law Marty Stuart and touring bassist Dave Roe. The preview track is “Well Alright,” a humorous song about finding love at the laundromat. If the others are as good, this will be a vast improvement over that awful stuff from Johnny’s last years.

The Thursday night “Opry Country Classics” at the Grand Ole Opry House will celebrate the music of Johnny PayCheck on May 9. Performances will include those by Opry members Chris Janson, Jamey Johnson, and the Gatlin Brothers. Larry Gatlin is the show’s host. Other performers will include John PayCheck (Johnny’s son), Georgette Jones (daughter of George Jones and Tammy Wynette), and Jesse Keith Whitley (son of Keith Whitley and Lorrie Morgan). MusicRow reports future honorees will include The Bellamy Brothers, Suzy Bogguss, T. Graham Brown, Don Schlitz, and Marty Stuart.

Hank Snow’s Rainbow Ranch in Madison, Tennessee, is now available for rent on Airbnb, reports Wide Open Country. Hank Snow, originally from Canada, moved to Nashville in 1949 and purchased the home in 1950. He named it The Rainbow Ranch and constructed a barn specifically for his horse, Shawnee. He and wife Minnie lived there until his death in 1999 at age 85. Minnie died three years later. The property is now owned by Cal and Sandy Blakney. “My grandmother was Hank’s little sister,” Cal says. “It was always Uncle Hank in my house.” The Airbnb listing invites guests to: “Play the piano that Elvis played, eat dinner at the table where Hank, Marty Robbins and many others sat. Sleep in the Room where Hank slept.” For $115 a night, the historic home offers four bedrooms, five beds, and two bathrooms amidst a rich tapestry of country music history. “We keep it booked 250 nights a year,” Sandy says. “The barn is painted with the ‘Rainbow Ranch’ in front of it. It’s been that way since the ’50s.”

On April 24, twenty days after his massive heart attack, Colt Ford, 54, shared a video message from his hospital bed: “I got a long way to go. But I promise you this old country boy will get back. It probably won’t be this year, and I hate I gotta miss all these shows. But I’m coming back. I am coming back.” In its update report, Country Rebel says he suffered the heart attack on his bus after a sold-out show in Gilbert, Arizona. He flatlined and was revived twice by emergency personnel, once on the bus and again en route to the hospital. Fellow country artist, Brantley Gilbert, accompanied him to the hospital. Once there, Ford had three stents put in. Prior to changing his name to Colt Ford, he was professional golfer Jason Farris Brown.


Doug Lippert in Carmel, Indiana, says, “I had the good fortune to catch Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives last night at the historic Rialto Theater in Joliet, Illinois. Wow! You did not oversell what a great show this is. While Marty’s name is up front, this is truly a band, working together to make a good show. Marty is as comfortable standing back and allowing his bandmates to shine as he is being up front. Gospel. Bluegrass. Surf. Rockabilly. All done with expert musicianship, a great sense of humor and humility and reverence for those on whose shoulders today’s artists stand. I encourage anyone who loves country music, in all its forms, to catch this show. Thanks for lighting the path for all of us, Diane. It was only because of what you wrote that I made the trip to Joliet to see them.”

Jeannie Seely writes from Nashville, “What a nice surprise to open your letter and see Cutter and Cash and The Kentucky Grass the very first thing!! You have always supported my work and I appreciate that extending to my producing also. I can’t wait until you can meet and see these kids perform. I especially enjoyed Sherwin Linton’s memories of The Flame Club. I remember some good times there …maybe Sherwin ought to write a book about that historic venue!”

Eric Calhoun says, “I have a question regarding the Flame. What happened to that venue? A lot of honky-tonks have gone away. I still remember the Country Star, which you could pass on your way to the Universal Studios Complex, here in Los Angeles (Universal Studios, Hollywood). Finally, I found out that Miranda Lambert will be playing the Mid-State Fair on the California Central Coast.”

Bobby Fischer writes from Nashville, “In the eighties, I was managing an artist named Melissa Kulak. I changed her artist name to Cee Cee Chapman and got her on Curb Records. Charlie Black, Austin Roberts, and I wrote a ten-song album and produced her. Helen and I had gone to a movie, The Twist of Fate. I threw that out to C B and Austin. It rendered some great memories, like we got booked in Holland. Helen and me and Cee Cee flew over, we spent a week there hanging with Randy Travis and Freddy Fender and others. Enjoyed every morning having coffee with Freddy.”

Diane: That must have been during Randy’s seven-week European tour in 1989. He played Utrecht, The Netherlands, on November 21, 1989. “Twist of Fate,” the title track of Cee Cee’s debut album, was her highest-charting song on Billboard. Note to readers: Another song on that album, written by the same songwriting trio, was “You Lie,” which later became a number one song for Reba McEntire.

Mary Mitchell writes, “I have not forgotten to send you the Carl Smith book.  I have been a little careful since my back surgery. The Book cost me $75.00 and I would do it again. I truly loved Carl’s music. I have approximately 240 LPs that I have converted to CDs. All Country. I can’t sell them, so I give them to my friends. If you have an idea for some tell me who. They would have to pay for shipping. You had a fan that I sent a box FULL for $20.00. He wrote me a letter and we talked several times. He was so Happy. He said he didn’t know where to begin. I don’t remember his name. He had something seriously ill and passed away.”

Diane: That was Gene Burkhart. He died in June 2022 in Arizona. Readers, please contact Mary Mitchell at woodlandpark1@aol.com if you’re interested in her CDs.

Bob Jennings says, “Thank you for posting my Memory Letter, and I thank Diane Jordan in Nashville for identifying Johnny Western.”

Alexander Shannon writes from Birmingham in the United Kingdom, “I’d like to thank Jon Philibert for his reply to my original query and for pointing me to Roger Miller’s A Trip in the Country. I’ll be looking to see if the album is available as either an electronic download or a CD.”

Dave Barton sends sad news of the death of his son: “Derrick Lynn Barton, 51, passed away April 6, 2024, in Franklin, Tennessee. He was born June 29, 1972, in Nashville. Derrick was a loving father to his son, Ryder Barton, and a cherished son of Dave Barton. He is preceded in death by his mother, Marilou Barton. Derrick was known for his love of baseball, his devotion to being a ‘Baseball Dad,’ and his unwavering support for the Tennessee Titans. He was also an avid Star Wars enthusiast. A ceremony to honor and remember Derrick will be held at Cedar Creek Yacht Club, 3581 Benders Ferry Road, Mount Juliet, TN 37122, on May 11, 2024, at 1:30 PM.”

Mike Johnson, owner of Roughshod Records, writes from Arlington, Virginia, “I’m still kickin’ and always enjoying your informative newsletters. Today, 29 April 2024 I received this exciting message from my long-time yodeling friend Janet McBride, the Yodeling Queen:I will be inducted into the International Western Music Hall of Fame in November out in Albuquerque New Mexico at the WESTERN MUSIC FESTIVAL. Janet has a multiple decades-long yodeling and performance history, not to mention teaching yodeling to numerous individuals, including LeAnn Rimes. Sorry to hear of Roni Stoneman’s passing in your 16 April 204 Issue. My labelmate James Adelsberger met and interacted with her during the late Bob Everhart’s 2015 Old Time Country Music Festival. While I never met Ronnie, I did encounter and did some impromptu pickin’ with ‘Pop’ Stoneman a number of times during my 1980s Nashville years. Good that you confirmed Roger Miller’s country music credentials to Alexander Shannon. This versatile singer-songwriter was my songwriting idol, bar none, and I bought every album of his during the 1960s and ‘70s, studied his style and religiously performed his songs, from which I was able to develop my own writing style, though you’ll occasionally hear his influence in some of it. Roughshod Records 60th CD, Best of the Mike Johnson James Adelsberger Years, featuring 10 songs each recorded by James and me, releases 13 June 2024. Looking forward to your next exciting issue.”


I ran across a 29-minute video of Taylor Swift doing a private Tiny Desk concert for 300-plus NPR employees in 2019: . Her four songs showed off her voice and her piano skills: “The Man,” “Lover, “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” and “All Too Well.” I enjoyed watching and listening to her. She has a humble sense of humor and is a good storyteller, except for saying “um” in every sentence. More than 800 Tiny Desk concerts have been held at NPR in Washington DC since 2008.


Rosanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1955, a few months before her dad released his first single. Rosanne and her three younger sisters grew up in Ventura, California. Johnny and their mother, Vivian Liberto Cash, divorced in 1967. Rosanne moved to London in 1976 and then returned to Los Angeles, where she married Rodney Crowell in 1979, who also became her record producer. They moved to Nashville in 1981, and Rosanne had her first No. 1 country hit with “Seven Year Ache.” She and Rodney wrote her 1985 Grammy-winning “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me.” They divorced in 1992. Rosanne moved to New York, where she married producer/songwriter/guitarist Jon Leventhal; they still live in New York City. Their co-written songs include “A Feather’s Not A Bird.” A few of Rosanne’s songs are “The Wheel.” “Black Cadillac,” “Hold On,” and “Blue Moon With Heartache.” She is 68 years old.

Mark James, born in 1940 in Houston, Texas, changed his name from Francis R. Zambon while performing and recording locally in 1959. He and B.J. Thomas became friends. After military service during the Vietnam War, Mark moved to Memphis, where B.J. Thomas recorded his “Hooked on a Feeling.” Elvis Presley then recorded Mark’s “Moody Blues” and “Suspicious Minds.” His most recorded song, “Always on My Mind,” was written with Johnny Christopher and Wayne Carson. Brenda Lee recorded it in 1972, Elvis Presley in 1973, John Wesley Ryles in 1979, and Willie Nelson took it to the top of both pop and country charts in 1982. I couldn’t find any information on what Mark James is doing these days; he is 83 years old.

While Even Stevens may be best known for his collaborations with Eddie Rabbitt, he is also a visual artist, record producer and vocalist. Born Eddie Gale Stevens in Cincinnati and raised in Lewistown, Ohio, he and his family toured and recorded locally as The Gospel Balladeers. He was a Morse Code operator in the U.S. Coast Guard and stationed in California when he began writing songs and performing in Monterey and San Francisco folk clubs. He moved to Nashville in 1970, where he and songwriter Eddie Rabbitt struggled together. They joined engineer/producer/writer David Malloy in a publishing venture called DebDave/Briarpatch. The first Even Stevens song recorded was “I’m in for Stormy Weather” by Sammi Smith. The co-written Malloy/Rabbitt/Stevens songs began making hits for Eddie Rabbitt in 1976: “I Love a Rainy Night,” “Drivin’ My Life Away,” “Step By Step,” “Suspicions” (which included writer Randy McCormick). Even Stevens hits with other collaborators included Conway Twitty’s “Crazy in Love” (1990), Lacy J. Dalton’s “Black Coffee” (1990), Ricky Skaggs’s “Lovin’ Only Me” (1989), and The Oak Ridge Boys recording of “No Matter How High” (1989). He wrote the 1979 Dr. Hook pop hit “When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman.” His co-written “Love Will Turn You Around” was a hit for Kenny Rogers. In 2015, he published an autobiography that detailed his life as a songwriter, Someday I’m Gonna Rent This Town.

Craig Wiseman, born in 1963 in Selma, Alabama, co-wrote more than 1,000 songs during his first three decades on Music Row. He attended the University of Southern Mississippi while playing drums and guitar six nights a week, before moving to Nashville in 1985 to be a songwriter. His first #1 hit (co-written with Paul Nelson) came in 1994 when Tracy Lawrence recorded “If the Good Die Young.” Other major hits were “The Good Stuff,” co-written with Jim Collins and recorded by Kenny Chesney in 2003, “Live Like You Were Dying,” a 2004 Tim McGraw hit co-written with Tim Nichols, and the 2006 Brooks & Dunn hit “Believe,” co-written with Ronnie Dunn. Tracy Lawrence also recorded “Just Another Day In Paradise” (written with Phil Vassar). The hundreds of artists who have recorded his songs include Faith Hill, Blake Shelton, Toby Keith, Dolly Parton, Lee Roy Parnell, LeAnn Rimes, George Jones, Chris Young, Diamond Rio, Montgomery Gentry, Lonestar, Joe Diffie, Tracy Byrd, Trisha Yearwood, Randy Travis, Aaron Tippin, Thomas Rhett, Craig Morgan, Jason Aldean, Confederate Railroad, Nickleback, and Deana Carter. By the time Craig Wiseman entered the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015, he was credited with 350 songs recorded, 110 of which were singles, along with 23 #1 hits and more than 90 million albums sold. He is 60 years old.

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