Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 10 February 2022


It’s been almost eight years since I spotlighted Gene Watson in my newsletter (https://dianediekman.com/dianes-country-music-newsletter-2-july-2014). When I arranged a phone interview recently, I asked about his health, as he had cancelled his November show in Sisseton due to illness. “All the illnesses I’ve been through finally culminated in double pneumonia, and I’m trying to get over that,” he told me. He takes a stool onstage so he can sit down and catch his breath between songs. “But we’re doing it,” he says, “and we’ve been playing sell-out houses and the jobs just keep coming in.”

At the beginning of 2020, he was going into what would have been his busiest year. “We had work lined up and great places and all that,” he says, “and we were on a three-day run in Georgia when Covid hit. We had to turn around and come back because that’s when everything started shutting down.”

While Covid and his illnesses slowed him for a while, he hopes to be back up to full speed before long. “Right now, I’d say I’m hotter than I was twenty years ago,” he says. “If I can keep up with it. I’m a little bit older, maybe a little bit wiser, and the Good Lord has gifted me with the voice.” He’s proud of his Farewell Party Band. “The guys are just great,” he says. “We’re looking forward to a great year.” 2022 marks sixty years since Gene released his first single, “If It’s That Easy.”  To celebrate, he kicked off his yearlong 60th Anniversary Tour on New Year’s Day in Florida. Check his website (https://genewatsonmusic.com) for his shows; there are a lot of them. You can also subscribe to his monthly newsletter.

Gene has his own record label, Fourteen Carat Music, which he uses for his recordings. He hasn’t signed any other artists. He is currently getting a new CD ready for release. “I’ve got the tracks down and most of the music down,” he says, “but through all the sickness and everything, I haven’t been able to get to Nashville and finish it.” He hopes to complete it within the next month and have it out “before very long.”

We talked about the early days of Randy Travis, and Gene said, “Randy was a lot like me. I kinda hid behind a guitar and a microphone. If you liked singing, you might like me, but if you liked a show, I wasn’t the one to come and see.” He didn’t put on a show; he stood up there and sang his songs. “And that’s sort of the way Randy was,” Gene recalls. “He was strictly an artist who sings, and he did it well.”

When I asked if Gene has a message for my newsletter readers, he said, “I’d like to let them know if we come to their town, we’ll be more than happy to see them, and hope they all come out and have a good time with us.” Gene will be appearing at the Sisseton Performing Arts Center in Sisseton, South Dakota, on May 7. My family and I will be sitting in Row H that Saturday evening. We are expecting to have a good time.


Pig Robbins (1938-2022)

We’ve lost another member of Nashville’s A-Team of studio musicians. Pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins died January 30 at age 84. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012. His thousands of recordings in six decades included Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere,” Loretta Lynn’s “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces,” Kenny Rogers’s “The Gambler,” and George Jones’s “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” The New York Times obituary mentions his “rippling, jazz-inflected intros to Charlie Rich’s ‘Behind Closed Doors’ (1973) and Crystal Gayle’s ‘Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue’ (1977).” He was blinded in a knife accident at age three. A native of Spring City, Tennessee, he attended the Tennessee School for the Blind in Nashville, where he studied classical music and learned to play jazz, honky-tonk and barrelhouse blues. I spotlighted Pig in 2019: https://dianediekman.com/dianes-country-music-newsletter-24-july-2019/

The two groups who have battled over the name “Lady A” for almost two years have reached a settlement in Nashville federal court. The Seattle-based blues singer, Anita White, and the Nashville country trio formerly known as Lady Antebellum filed a joint motion to dismiss their lawsuits against each other. According to Billboard, the terms of the agreement, including use of the name, were not made public. Both parties will pay their own fees and attorney costs.

Seventeen acts are being considered for induction as the 2022 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Dolly Parton is one of seven first-time nominees. The Tennessean reports artists become eligible 25 years after their first commercial release. Voters, a group of 1,000 artists, historians and music industry professionals, will choose five to seven inductees in May. The induction ceremony is being planned for the fall.

Jack Houston Pruett, Jr., son of Jack Pruett and Jeanne Pruett, died February 1. Born in 1956, he experienced numerous health issues in recent years. A celebration of life will be held at Hendersonville Memory Gardens in Hendersonville, Tennessee, on February 27 from 1-4 p.m. Jack, Sr., lead guitar player with Marty Robbins for many years, died in 2011.

A limited series is in development to tell the story of Mickey Gilley and the rise and fall of his famous nightclub, Gilley’s. While a struggling country singer/songwriter in 1978, he partnered with club owner Sherwood Cryer on a rundown dancehall in the refinery town of Pasadena, Texas. With a football-field-sized dancehall and a capacity of 6,000, Gilley’s Club was the largest honky-tonk in the world. Music legends made appearances there, until it ended with a suspicious fire that burned down the club. Mickey has been credited with introducing the “urban cowboy” cultural phenomenon. According to a press release, Michael Becker of Imprint Entertainment and Joel Carpenter of JCProds secured the exclusive life rights option and will executive produce. Mickey Gilley will be an additional executive producer, and Zach Farnum (Randy Travis’s publicist) will be an associate producer.

In a silent video recently posted on YouTube, Sam Williams, 24, the youngest son of Hank Williams, Jr., holds up white sheets of paper with these words handwritten in big red letters: “I am under a conservatorship. My father, my half-sister, and a lawyer placed me in it abruptly–in August 2020. 55 days after my sister’s tragic death.” The last sign reads, “I want out.” The video has since been removed but is on TMZ’s website. His half-sister is Holly Williams, and Katie Williams was the sister killed in a car accident. TMZ confirmed through court records that Hank Jr. filed a petition for an emergency conservatorship for Sam in August 2020. Sam has released his debut album, Glasshouse Children, which contains a duet with Dolly Parton.

A transformer blew just before Cody Johnson took the stage at Appalachia Arena in Pikeville, Kentucky. CMT News reports the explosion just outside the venue knocked out the power and left the sold-out arena in the dark. While emergency lights beamed down on the stage, Cody’s crew wired a microphone and speakers using extension cords powered by their bus generator. Cell phone flashlights lit up the arena as Cody sat on a stool and entertained the crowd with his acoustic guitar until the power came back on.

Before the Los Angeles Rams take on the Cincinnati Bengals at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, California, on Sunday, February 13, Mickey Guyton will sing the National Anthem at Super Bowl LVI. Kick-off is at approximately 5:30 p.m., and the game will air live on NBC and stream on Peacock.

CMT News reports on an interview Dolly Parton recently did with the E! News program Daily Pop. She is making the media rounds to talk about her new line of Duncan Hines baking goods. “I like to dress up for Carl,” she said about her husband of 55 years. “Every day, I put on some makeup and fix my hair because I think, ‘Well … I’m out here and everybody else sees me all dressed up, and I’m not going to go home and just flop on him.'” She added, “It’s important to me that I look as good as I can. I think it kind of helps keep things spicy. Nobody wants to make out with a slouch.” She also joked with Today show hosts about the idea of getting her boobs insured as famous assets: “Years ago, was it Betty Grable or one of the great famous stars that was famous also for her legs?” But she decided, “You can get new boobs, but you can’t get new legs.”

Shortly after Kenny Chesney sold one of his catalogs to Hipgnosis Song Management, MusicRow reports, Reservoir Media, Inc. has acquired the producer catalog of Buddy Cannon. The deal includes rights to all of his Kenny Chesney collaborations from 1997-2017. Buddy was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2021. “When I was presented with this offer from Reservoir,” he says, “it seemed like it was the right thing to do and the right time for me to turn over my portion of future Kenny Chesney royalties to them. And now it’s time to make some more records and I promise to continue making the best music that I can make from here on down the road.”

CMT News reports, “Nominations for the 2022 Oscars were revealed Tuesday morning, and two of Nashville’s favorite redheads are recognized — Nicole Kidman and Reba McEntire.” Nicole is nominated for Best Actress for her role as Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos. Reba herself isn’t nominated, but the song she sang is. She performed “Somehow You Do” for the movie Four Good Days. If the song wins, the award will go to songwriter Diane Warren; this is her 13th Oscar nomination.

“Neon Blue” is the title track and first single released from the new Joshua Hedley album, due out April 22 on New West Records. His 2018 debut album, Mr. Jukebox, drew its inspiration from country music of the ’50s and ’60s. Neon Blue focuses on the sound of early ’90s music. It is produced by Jordan Lehning (son of Kyle Lehning, longtime producer for Randy Travis) and Skylar Wilson. The Boot reports the twelve new tracks feature “accompaniment from some of Nashville’s best session players, a brilliant creative choice that echoes that of most chart-topping country artists in the early ’90s.”


Lloyd Green writes from Nashville, “Pig and I became lifelong recording partners from my first week in sessions in 1964. Then we became lifelong friends. I took ideas from him of how certain phrases should be played more intelligently and he adopted many of my musical ideas into his style of playing. As Jerry Kennedy (former Mercury Records head in Nashville) once said of Hargus (Pig) Robbins, ‘Of all the musicians I used on my sessions of the “A” team players, Pig stood tallest.’ I was one of his session musicians and I not only agree with Jerry’s accolade to Pig, I knew him to be one of the most intelligent among some pretty brainy players and without disagreement, most beloved of all the recording musicians! The world of music has lost a genius of the keyboards whose contributions to the countless records he helped become hits which will be heard for as long as recorded music is played.”

Mary Davis Travis writes from Tioga, Texas, “Just wanted to tell you how much Randy and I enjoy reading your newsletter. When I tell him ‘Diane’s newsletter is here’, he stops what he’s doing and rolls his chair over to my side where the computer is. He loves hearing about the folks he knew, worked with, and learned from…sure enjoy the history and the current events! Thank you for being so complete, comprehensive, and kind—Mary and Randy”

Jackie Thomas in Sun City, Arizona, says, “Thank you so much for the update on David Frizzell. Glad he’s doing another one. So sorry to read of all the deaths, we’re all getting up there.”

Marlene Nord writes from Madison, Wisconsin, “I thank you so much for the David Frizzell interview. Around 1998 or 1999, I was working with the house band who played behind performers on the Midwest Country Theater in Sandstone, Minnesota. David was the headliner this particular show, along with several local artists. I was the only lady in the band and was privileged to sing the Shelly West parts on ‘You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma’ and ‘Another Honky Tonk Night on Broadway’ with David. Believe me! I was high on that experience for months, smile! He was so gracious to us. He performed there the next year, and we were no longer the house band. David asked about me, and was disappointed that I was not available to sing with him again. I am so glad to hear he is still active in the business.”

Bobby Fischer writes from Nashville, “Just remembered this–I wrote quite a few songs with DeWayne Blackwell and when we were going to sit down he said, ‘If you don’t want to write with exact rhymes I’d rather just stay friends and not write.’ If you’ll notice he did that ‘Mr. Blue.’ He also told me he was playing a single at a club one time and while he was singing this song, he wrote ‘I’m Gonna Hire a Wino.’  I believe him. He was sooo great.”

Diane: An internet inquiry tells me his songs included “Friends in Low Places,” “Mr. Blue,” “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home,” “Yard Sale,” “Saturday Night Special,” and “Make My Day.” Quite a selection, that’s for sure. It was such a loss when he died last May at age 84.

Mike Johnson of Roughshod Records says, Thanks for another informative issue. The long list of ‘obituaries’ reminds me we’re all headed in that direction. I hope they’re having a good time up there in Hillbilly Heaven with Hank, and Lefty, and George, and Marty! I’ve been enjoying your newsletters, for sure. At the same time, I’ve been knee-deep playing catch-up on some projects that were temporarily on hold while dealing with some health issues. The one at the Library of Congress is finally done. All my music to date that the Recorded Sound Reference Center has in their music research and reading room divisions.

Diane: Twelve pages! And all at the Library of Congress. Congratulations.

Lib Fort Griggs requests, “Please add me to your list to receive your Country Music Newsletter. Ruth Elkins forwarded your last one to me.”   

Ronnie Traywick says, “As always, great read Diane, thank you for such a diversified newsletter.”

Dominique Imperial Anglares writes, not from France: “Thanks for that newsletter. Good to read about Country music while vacationing in a Caribbean island. Greetings for your work.”

Randy Ferguson says, “I would like to receive your newsletter.”

Linda Mellon writes, “If it weren’t for your newsletter, I’m not sure I’d know about the loss of so many classic country artists. It really makes me sad and I wonder who will pick up that mantle. I know there are so many who love the genre. Keep up the good work.”

Dave Barton in Franklin, Kentucky, says, “Damn, if we didn’t have so many of our artists dying you wouldn’t have a newsletter. Hopefully next month will be better, NO deaths. You do a great job of keeping up with things. Jim Rushing songwriter of many hits is in the hospital with Covid and in bad shape. I hope he makes it.”

Jud McCarthy writes from Boca Raton, Florida, “On the evening of February 3rd, I attended a gathering in Weston, Florida, honoring a congressional candidate and had the extreme pleasure of meeting Trey Taylor who was the entertainer for the evening. Trey is a singer, composer, public speaker, philanthropist, multi-instrumentalist (He plays over nine instruments) and a true entrepreneur in entertainment. He is the youngest African American in Country Music History. Trey currently resides in Nashville, Los Angeles, and Denver and despite his illustrious success, Trey Taylor is only TWENTY-TWO YEARS OLD! Please place Trey on your newsletter distribution list.”

Diane: Thanks for the introduction, Jud. Your letter is too long to list all of Trey’s accolades, so I’ll just include his website: http://www.treytaylormusic.com/


When I called Hargus “Pig” Robbins in 2019 to spotlight him in my newsletter, he didn’t have much to say. He mostly answered my questions, as you can see below. A few months ago, I sent him a link to download my Faron Young audiobook, and he responded with this email: “I just finished listening to your book on Faron Young. I have passed it around on our website that we all get on at night and shoot the bull. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Some of it I knew about and some I didn’t. Thanks for getting in touch with me to let me have the download. Keep up the good work, and keep those newsletters coming, again, thanks, the pig.” Now he is gone. He died January 30, 2022, at age 84.

I listen to old time radio on the computer. Old Gunsmoke, old Sergeant Preston, old radio shows, Life of Riley, stuff like that. Willie’s Roadhouse on the radio in the car.

Oh, yeah, I practice playing every day. Trying to keep them old fingers moving, y’know.

No, I don’t go downtown unless I absolutely have to. It’s so screwed up down there.

I have a lot of friends I talk with on Skype on the computer, like up north in Canada, they get your newsletter. A couple of them, they forward them on to me. Ray Fournier gets it some way or another. Ray was involved with a record label that had that “Tennessee Bird Walk,” you remember that record? He was involved with that.

If they hear a cut off me, it was Lloyd Green playing on it, yeah. He was on all of them. Except one. One session he couldn’t make it, and I had Buddy Emmons. Yeah, they recognize him. He’s well known in the steel playing world, and the blind world, and everybody’s world, I guess.


One of my memoirs, Navy Greenshirt: A Leader Made, Not Born, is now available as a downloadable audiobook. The story covers eighteen years of my U.S. Navy career, from the time I became an aircraft maintenance officer until my promotion to captain.

Robbin Sitten did a great job of narrating the audiobook. She lives in New England and has been narrating books for twenty years. She told me she liked the personal nature of the Navy Greenshirt story, adding, “I was curious to hear your story myself, which always makes the reading more engaging.” She considers audiobooks an important format, especially for people with print disabilities–visual impairment, motor limitation, or brain-based processing difficulty. Plus, she says, “Audio extends any author’s or publisher’s reach to a market they would otherwise miss.”

I thank Robin for her assistance in making this audiobook a reality. It is available on Amazon.com and Audible.com. If you are in the USA or UK and would like to download a complimentary copy of my story, please email me for a promo code.

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