Diane’s Country Music Newsletter – 13 January 2016

When I called Red Steagall at his Fort Worth, Texas, office the other day, he told me he’d first visited Sioux Falls at age twelve. Although he grew up in a “little bitty town in Texas,” he spent the five most important summers of his life on his uncle’s farm in northwest Iowa. “I learned more in those five summers than the rest of my life put together,” he said. He later graduated from West Texas State University with a degree in Animal Science and Agronomy, and then made his mark in the music business.

We talked about the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City, where I’d seen him and Reba McEntire. He told me he first heard Reba when she sang the National Anthem there in 1974. Later that week, he was walking down the hallway at the convention hotel when Reba’s mother grabbed his arm and asked if she could bring her little girl up to the Justin Suite to sing with him. He said yes. “That little red-headed, freckled-faced girl sat down and started singing harmony with me,” he reminisced. “I realized how much control she had and how much emotion in her voice.” Red was living in Nashville at the time, and he asked her mother to bring her to Nashville to cut a demo. After recording Reba during her spring break in March 1975, Red shopped her tapes around Nashville and secured her first record deal.

During that time, Red was having chart records and staying on the road 250 days a year. By the next decade, radio play was diminishing, and Red’s life changed when he attended the first National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, in 1985. “I had never allowed myself to write cowboy poetry because I couldn’t sell it,” he says, but he found a market for it in that group. He launched a one-hour syndicated radio show, Cowboy Corner, which is now 23 years old and heard on 165 stations in 34 states. Eight years ago he added a TV show, In The Bunkhouse With Red Steagall. It airs on RFD-TV, and his website is http://redsteagall.com. “I found a niche that worked for me,” he says. “My audience is solid and loyal and focused, but not large.”

He plays about twenty concerts a year, half of them with his swing band and his old hits, and half of them by himself or with a cowboy band. “I still love to play those dances,” he told me, and I said I’d love to attend one of them.

When I asked what message he has for classic country fans, he said, “Don’t give up hope. There are still some of us out here who do that music.” He acknowledges the industry has completely changed, and “life goes on in a different way.” As one of his buddies reminded him the other day, “If you want to go back to the good old days, turn off your air conditioner.”

Red Steagall looks back over his career with fond memories. “I want everybody to know how proud I am to have been a part of country music,” he says. “During the time I was traveling and seeing people all over the world, it was a grand, grand time. I wouldn’t take anything for it. I’m very grateful to all the people who bought tickets to our concerts, danced to our music, bought product to listen to in their cars and pickups–and the cabs of their tractors.”

Red and horses picture

Red Simpson (1934-2016)
Joseph “Red” Simpson, 81, died Friday, January 8, in Bakersfield, California, after being rushed to the hospital. He was recuperating from a heart attack he suffered in December upon returning from a concert tour. He’d been released from the hospital on Christmas Eve, after a pacemaker was installed. Known for trucking songs such as “(Hello) I’m a Truck,” he never was a truck driver. According to the Bakersfield Californian, that was a role developed for him by Ken Nelson, Capitol Records producer. Red was born in Higley, Arizona, in 1934, the youngest of twelve children. He was one of the originators of the Bakersfield Sound, as a performer and songwriter. In March 2012 he headlined the grand opening of the two-year exhibition on the Bakersfield Sound at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. He was preparing to release his first record since 1973, in February. Merle Haggard posted on Facebook: “He played a huge part in the Bakersfield sound and was a dear friend of mine for over 50 years. One of the original musicians on ‘Okie from Muskogee.’”

Every year since the funeral of Hank Williams in Montgomery, Alabama, fans have honored his memory with a memorial service. The Montgomery Advertiser reports that one of the largest crowds ever gathered at Oakwood Cemetery on New Year’s Day, the 63rd anniversary of his death at age 29. After the ceremony on the cold and rainy morning, everybody adjourned to the Hank Williams Museum in downtown Montgomery. The Cadillac in which Hank died on January 1, 1953, is on permanent display at the museum.

The body of country singer Craig Strickland, 29, was recovered January 4. The body of his hunting partner, Chase Morland, 22, had been recovered December 28. They disappeared December 27 when they went duck hunting in a blizzard. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said they died on the 38-mile-long Kaw Lake, near the Kansas-Oklahoma state line. Strickland was the lead singer of Arkansas-based country-rock band Backroad Anthem.

Bill Anderson says he went “into the hospital on December 28th for an out-patient procedure that ended up lasting for two days. (I can’t ever seem to do things simply!)” He spent the New Year holiday at home, watching football on TV and reading books he’d received as Christmas presents.

A black acoustic Elvis Presley guitar sold for $270,000 last week at an auction at Graceland. Vernon Presley bought the 1969 custom Gibson Ebony Dove guitar for his son, and Elvis used it during his Aloha from Hawaii concert in 1973, as well as most shows from 1971 until he gave it away in 1975. Mike Harris was sitting in the front row of an Elvis concert in Asheville, North Carolina, on July 24, 1975, when Elvis walked to the edge of the stage, held the guitar out by the neck, and told Harris, “This is yours. Hold on to that. Hopefully it’ll be valuable one day.” Harris clutched the guitar between his legs for the rest of the show and was given a police escort out of the concert. According to the Daily Mail, he has kept it in a bank vault and has now decided to sell the famous souvenir.

Maxine Brown reported on Facebook that her sister, Bonnie Brown, “was hospitalized last week for a blood transfusion. Her red blood count was very low. She is very weak. Resting at home now & more determined than ever.” The Chamber of Commerce in their hometown of Dardanelle, Arkansas, will honor Bonnie as “Citizen of the Year” on January 25.

American Saturday Night: Live From The Grand Ole Opry is the first-ever Grand Ole Opry feature-length concert movie. It was filmed August 31, 2015, on the Opry stage, featuring artists such as Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, and Darius Rucker. The movie opens in February at more than 200 movie theatres nationwide.

A brand new pair of Lucchese boots was stolen from Kacey Musgraves last week, when a thief smashed the window of her car parked near the 3rd and Lindsley Bar & Grill in Nashville. Shortly thereafter, a man entered the Lucchese Boots store to return a pair of boots, complete with Kacey’s receipt. When the manager questioned him, he grabbed the boots and ran. According to savingcountrymusic.com, Darnell Cunningham, 30, been booked into the Metro Jail with a bond of $25,000.

Alan Potter writes from the United Kingdom, “Tell Dean there were loads of singing cowboys, Tex Ritter, Rex Allen, Jimmy Wakeley, Ken Maynard, Ken Curtis, Dick Foran, Eddie Dean, to name but a few.”

Mary Knapp says, “I am so happy I found your newsletter. I enjoy so much reading about the entertainers. I am a hard nose fan of old country music and cowboy music and gospel music. I like to know what is happening in their lives. I like your Johnny Western article. We are almost neighbors, same area in Mesa. I am sorry to hear about the death of Snuff Garrett. I just returned from Laughlin to hear Mel Tillis. What a nice fellow. Happy New Year to you.”

Sandra Tennyson writes, “Please add my e-mail address to your mailing list. My long-time friend, Lee Shannon (Skip Slagle), has been sharing his copy with me for several months. I appreciate your work — especially the news about the ‘old timers.’ I really enjoyed the article on Johnny Western. I first met him in the early ‘60s when he performed at the Hollywood Bowl with Johnny Cash and a host of other entertainers who were on the show that night.”

Ruth Elkins wonders, “Are you still doing the newsletters? I haven’t been receiving them.”
Diane: You must have somehow dropped off the list. I’ve added you again.

Elroy Severson says, “Thanks for the newsletters. I really enjoy being updated to what’s happening in the Country Music Field.”

Marg Harding writes, “I want you to know how much I enjoy your column. I also wanted to let you know of my new email address.”

Dominique “Imperial” ANGLARES writes from France, “Thank you very much for that nice newsletter … a cool way to close the year. Thanks to you and all the contributors for that much appreciated and always welcome newsletter. May 2016 be a prosperous year for you and yours. Keep it country and bring us more news. Some will be happy, few will be sad. We all know that but as long as we had music in our life everything gonna be fine. Warmest regards from your French friend.”

M. K. Aldin says, “Thanks for the newsletter, which is informative and interesting as always. But I notice that although there are pictures of your books at the top of the page, there’s no ordering information anywhere. Maybe in the next newsletter you could post the prices of each book, and a mailing address where payment could be sent? Thanks!”
Diane: Thank you for asking. There are links to my website at the bottom of the newsletter, but they might not come through live to everyone. The books in order of appearance are $30, $20, $14, and $6, or a set of four for $60 plus postage. My address is available via email.

Stacy Harris writes from Nashville, “While you’ve doubtless heard Troy Shondell and Red Simpson passed away, I’m not sure the news of Ken Kittinger’s passing has reached you. Early on in my career I interviewed Ken for a regional country-music publication. It was Ken’s first interview, and, for years thereafter, every time we were at an industry event he would be sure everyone he spoke with knew I had given him some ink. Ken gave me a beautiful name plate he designed with the same love and precision as the plaques and awards he crafted for paying customers. Ken once asked me who my favorite country artist was. I have been asked that question many times and the interrogator is rarely prepared for the answer: Do you mean with respect to talent? Personality? There are some really talented people whom I can only admire for their talent. Conversely, there are some really kind people whose talent is harder for me to discern. I sensed his impatience, if not the correct reason for it, and responded Loretta Lynn. It seems an offhand remark I made some weeks before stuck with him. Ken and I were at yet another #1 party, where I mentioned that, having seen so many gold record certification presentations made on those occasions to folks other than the honorees (often media types), I wish someone felt I had earned one. Ken’s gift was a framed Loretta Lynn gold record inscribed to me, in appreciation, ‘from’ Loretta. I doubt Loretta was aware of this particular example of Ken’s kindness, but it’s yet another example of Ken’s caring.”

Stacy Harris adds, “Re: Your review of Steve Eng’s book. The book has an interesting backstory. Steve and I were at a party one evening some weeks after Steve told me he had just completed an unauthorized biography (written with Porter’s assistance). As Steve and I were speaking, Porter approached us. When Porter failed to mention the book, I joked, ‘Did Steve get it right?’ To which Porter responded he’d know when it was published. Upon publication, Porter was asked again about the book, telling reporters he was not pleased with it. After I saw Porter backstage at the Opry autographing a copy for a fan, I asked him what was going on. If you’ve read Steve’s other books, you know he is thorough in his research. Where several people were party to the same conversation, Steve would get each person’s version of what transpired. Porter said this displeased him, in that a book about him should be his story. (He admitted to me he did not and could not otherwise fault Steve with regard to getting the facts right.) As for his autographing the book for a fan, he told me she didn’t know its history, he didn’t feel he should bother her with it. Several weeks later I began seeing Porter in TV commercials endorsing ‘my book,’ so my next question was for Steve: ‘What gives?’ Steve told me Porter’s knocking the book was hurting sales so he offered Porter a cut of the profits to make the book a win-win venture. I lost touch with Steve years ago. I believe he left Nashville due to some health issues. I was one of a few people who received some rather strange communications from him as a last contact so I believe his decline and disappearance may have involved a family intervention. I don’t wish to speculate so if you and/or your readers have the facts–is Steve still alive and, if so, is well? I’d like to know. He and I shared some good times.”
Diane: Thanks for the great stories, Stacy. I don’t know anything about Steve. Perhaps a reader does.

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