Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 13 September 2017

Don Williams (1939-2017)
“The Gentle Giant,” Don Williams, died September 8 after a short illness. He was 78. Born and raised in Texas, he won his first talent contest at age three. The prize was an alarm clock. His first chart-topping song was “I Wouldn’t Want To Live If You Didn’t Love Me. Other #1s included “Tulsa Time,” “She Never Knew Me,” “I Believe In You,” and “If Hollywood Don’t Need You.” He retired from touring in 2006–but not for long. He returned to the road in 2010, the same year he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He retired again in 2016. The press release announcing his death quotes him as saying then, “It’s time to hang my hat up and enjoy some quiet time at home. I’m so thankful for my fans, my friends and my family for their everlasting love and support.” Funeral arrangements are pending.

Troy Gentry (1967-2017)
Troy Gentry, 50, died in a helicopter crash September 8 in Medford, New Jersey. Montgomery Gentry, the duo consisting of Troy Gentry and Eddie Montgomery, was scheduled to perform that night at the Flying W Airport & Resort. According to NJ.com, the Schweizer 269 had taken off from Flying W Airport and was trying to land when it became distressed. The helicopter crashed into a wooded area off Runway 1. Pilot James Evan Robinson was pronounced dead on the scene. Troy was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died. A native of Lexington, Kentucky, he been performing since a teenager. A 1994 National Talent Search launched his career. The Grand Ole Opry will host a celebration of life service for Troy Gentry on Thursday at 11 am CDT. It will be streamed live through the Opry’s website. The internment will be private.

Bill Anderson posted on Facebook (9/9): “It hasn’t been a good weekend in Music City. First, the passing of Hall of Fame member, Don Williams, followed by the tragic death of Troy Gentry. Then, on a more personal level, I woke up this morning to the sad news that Susan Johnson, wife of my longtime keyboard player, Anthony ‘Ziggy’ Johnson, died last night at midnight. She had spent the last nine weeks in Intensive Care inside a Nashville hospital. She suffered a ruptured esophagus in late July, other complications set in, and she never recovered. She and Ziggy were married for 26 years and had one daughter, Samantha. I know you join me in extending condolences and prayers. If you’d like to send Ziggy a message, address it to him at P.O. Box 888, Hermitage, TN. 37076, and I will see that he receives it. Thanks and God bless. Bill”

The upcoming Tennessee Motorcycles and Music Revival at Hurricane Mills will bring Loretta Lynn back to the stage, following her stroke in May. Nashville Scene announces the weekend camping festival, which runs Sept 28-Oct 1, at Loretta’s Tennessee ranch. She will headline a concert that includes Ben Haggard and the Kentucky Headhunters. Proceeds from the weekend will benefit Mission 22, a nonprofit whose mission is to end veteran suicide.

September 16 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Jeannie Seely as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She will be celebrating that night with fellow performers Bill Anderson, Patty Loveless, Wynonna, Brandy Clark, Crystal Gayle, Elizabeth Cook, and Riders In The Sky. Jeannie will continue the celebration by hosting the Midnite Jamboree at the Texas Troubadour Theatre.

Garth Brook’s World Tour has played more than 350 shows in three years. The remaining 16 dates are in four cities: Sioux Falls, SD, Indianapolis, IN, Atlanta, GA, and Lincoln, NE. “The North American leg was supposed to be a year-and-a-half,” Garth Brooks told reporter Jim Casey. “It’s beautiful. So sweet. They say it’s a tour that won’t end–I like the fact that this tour won’t end because the people won’t let it.”

A Facebook post on September 6 announces that Jo Dee Messina, 47, was recently diagnosed with cancer. She is working closely with a team to explore all options for a treatment plan, and she will begin cancer treatment this fall. She has taken the semester off from classes at The King’s University, and all 2017 tour dates after October 7 are postponed until further notice. She and her husband Chris have two sons, ages 8 and 5.

The 20th annual Jana Jae Fiddle Camp & Music Fest was held Labor Day weekend in Grove, Oklahoma. More than 100 participants learned the craft of making music from twenty instructors. In addition to guitar and fiddle lessons, there sessions on mandolin, viola, cello, bass, and rhythm tabla drums, spoons, and bones. Jana Jae is now headed to China to participate in the two-week Fourth Annual Silk Road International Arts Festival. She will then tour with the Hee Haw Revue, featuring cast members from the TV series. “Hee Haw Honey” Misty Rowe and banjoist Buck Trent will also be on the show. Jana says in a press release, “Hee Haw was the greatest thing I’ve ever done. It was the most fun, and such an extended-family experience that we shared with all of America.” People still call her “The Girl With The Blue Fiddle.”

Here’s a Facebook post from Pam Tillis on August 8, the 85th birthday of Mel Tillis: “This man is nothing short of amazing. After a hard year, where it felt like he could have slipped away from us he is very much with us and we are celebrating his birthday with much enthusiasm. Let’s all wish daddy a very happy birthday.”

John Anderson returned to the stage September 3, after rescheduling his August shows to undergo some medical procedures. “I am thankful for the outpouring of prayers from friends and fans,” he said in a press release. “All medical procedures went great and we’ll plan on seeing you all real soon.” This is the 35th anniversary of “Swingin'” and his album Wild & Blue.

In a recent interview with Military times, Toby Keith talked about his new album, The Bus Songs. “We would sit on the bus and we would write songs, and once in a while somebody would say something crazy,” he said. “We’d grab a guitar and write that craziness down, and sometimes they’d bloom into little songs. Most of these can’t be recorded. They’re not commercial. They’re too bizarre. They’re too dirty. They’re too politically incorrect. But a few of them busted out and became big songs, like ‘Red Solo Cup,’ ‘I’ll Never Smoke Weed with Willie Again,’ and ‘Get Out of My Car.’ The fans started singing them at our shows.” His dad lost an eye in combat during the Korean War. “He came back and instilled in his children that the vets are very important to us and you had to respect them,” Toby said. “He kept asking me to go on a USO tour and I said, ‘Dad, I’m doing a 150 shows a year. I don’t have time to go all the way over there right now.’ And he said, ‘Find time.’ The year I agreed to do it he got killed in a car wreck. I went for him.”

The first-ever Legends Award was recently presented by the Kentucky Country Music Association to John Conlee. A press release explains, “The award was created to honor an artist who is not only from Kentucky, but has also promoted Kentucky throughout their career in both music and interviews.” John said, “It is always gratifying to be recognized by those from my home state of Kentucky. My profound thanks to the Kentucky Country Music Association and Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin for their very kind honors.”

Every Night Is Saturday Night: A Country Girl’s Journey to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the autobiography of Wanda Jackson, is scheduled for release on November 14. According to a press release, “Wanda tells the story of being discovered by Country Music Hall of Famer Hank Thompson; why she refused to return to the Grand Ole Opry for more than fifty years; the challenges she and her integrated band, The Party Timers, faced when touring in a less racially tolerant era; personal memories of her relationship with Elvis; and how she ultimately found the love of her life.” She also talks about “the challenges she faced as a woman who introduced sex appeal to country music and growling femininity to rock & roll.” She will appear at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles on November 14 and at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville on December 2.

Jean Earle writes from England, “I am so very, very sad to hear of the news of the death of Don Williams. Such a lovely man who became a friend and favourite singer to many, many people here in England and over in Ireland. I was lucky enough to meet him at Fan Fair in Nashville in 1976. He was already very popular over here in England …but at that time not so well known in America….He was standing all alone …and I went up to him and we had a lovely conversation. I told him he was much admired and he had many fans in England….he was genuinely surprised and I think very happy to hear this.  His style of singing, soft and gentle, will be remembered. We very much regret his passing. Please give our condolences to his wife and Emily. So much SAD NEWS nowadays.”

Sam Wellington of The Four Guys, 33-year Grand Ole Opry members, writes, “Just a note to say your newsletter gets more informative with each issue, and to tell you about a rather humorous occurrence following a Four Guys concert in Knoxville, Tennessee, a few years back. We were signing autographs stage-side following the show when an elderly gentleman approached me to sign his program. While signing, he asked me if The Guys had ever performed at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. I replied no, we hadn’t. He said, ‘Well you should make it a point to do so sometime.’ He added, ‘They have had several groups perform there over the years and many of them have been WORSE THAN YOU GUYS!’ I looked up and said, ‘Thank you….I think.’ ”

Dominique “Imperial” Anglares writes from France, “Thanks for that great newsletter and to have given a mention to Sonny Burgess. I had the luck to have been a longtime friend of Sonny Burgess who was a real nice dude. ‘We Wanna Boogie’ was the first ever original Sun 45 rpm I owned (and still own). Bought right on the spot after just hearing a couple of chords! So different, so wild. I think all your followers may like to read We Wanna Boogie – The Rockabilly Roots of Sonny Burgess and The Pacers, written by Marvin Schwartz (Butler Center Books). A fabulous trip through Arkansas as a state and a musical cradle. Watch for the mammoth 20-CD boxset dedicated to The Louisiana Hayride that will be issued pretty soon by Bear Family.”

Dean Mann in Sioux Falls says, “Another very informative newsletter. It sounds like you and your friends had a great time at the Bill Anderson Concert. I’m sorry I had to miss that one. I’m going to try to make the Jeanie Seeley show. She is a great entertainer. I have really enjoyed her on the Country Family Reunion Cruises. Sisseton needs to work on getting Rhonda Vincent and the Rage. Keep up the good work.”

Tom Kaufman writes from Denton, Maryland, “In the newsletter from August 29th, you featured as your Song Of The Week a song called ‘You Lied To Me’ and said you wished someone would have put it out as a single. I don’t have the chart info or year it was released, but Charlie Walker had it out sometime in the 1960s (maybe the B side of one of his hits). Am thinking you may already have gotten some responses as I know you have some very knowledgeable readers on your list. As usual, this latest newsletter was a good one. I look forward to your newsletters showing up in my inbox. Keep up the good work. I remember hearing Eddie Stubbs play that tune a lot when he did his show on WAMU in Washington, DC. A lot of the knowledge of country music I have acquired over the past several years is due, in part, to listening to Eddie Stubbs. There have been other sources: Kyle Cantrell (for one) and I’ve gotten things from backs of record albums and such…you can probably tell I’ve been a country music fan for a long time; don’t claim to know it all, but I have been fortunate enough to have picked up a few things.”
Diane: I would like to see a young singer make “You Lied To Me” a hit today. It was the flipside of “Don’t Squeeze My Sharmon” in 1967. I looked it up after you sent your note. I can still sing most of the lyrics of that song but had no idea what was on the other side. Carl Belew and Van Givens wrote “Sharmon.” I, too, listened to Eddie Stubbs every Sunday afternoon on WAMU. I was so disappointed when he canceled his show and moved to Nashville.

Kate Davis of Bear Creek Productions in Medford, Oregon, says, “Informative, as always, Diane. Thank you for your hard work. Marty Davis was awarded the Rural Roots Music Commission’s 2017 Western CD of the Year for his Legends and Choices CD at the 42nd Old Time Music ceremony in LeMars, Iowa, on August 28. By the way, it was great to see you at Sioux Empire Fair. Sorry both Marty and our fiddler, Loretta, were battling the flu so weren’t too perky.”

Mary Mitchell writes from Woodland Park, Colorado, “Thanks for the great letter. I am so pleased you had the opportunity to see Bill Anderson. His concerts are always top notch. I was a Rep for Bill long long ago. We still are great friends. The song ‘You lied to me’ is terrific. He has written so many great songs. I had mentioned a song he wrote, ‘The Paper.’ I can’t seem to find it. Tears your heart out. Bill really knows what us ole folks like. I saw many concerts and will remember Bill and the Band, which is truly the best. I am planning a trip to Nashville and hopefully get to see Bill. My husband of fifty-two years passed to a better place in November 2016. Many things to tie up and heal. Then off I go. Thanks for your comments on Bill so well deserved.”

Ray Harrison in Arizona says, “Great letter as usual. If you get to see Jeanie Seely and Tim Atwood, you will enjoy them immensely. I had the pleasure of having Tim play piano on my CD, Scratching the Surface.”

Alice Mackenzie writes, “I just finished reading your latest letter and noticed someone was looking for a Dawn Sears CD. Amazon has a number of them. There are also a number of her CDs on UK Amazon. They’re the same. I have ordered stuff from both USA and UK Amazon a number of times.”

Larry Jordan, author of Jim Reeves: His Untold Story, says, “I was sorry to learn of the passing of Jo-Walker Meader, who had so much to do with the CMA. I befriended Jim Reeves’s widow, Mary, in 1966 when I was 13, and a couple of years later she invited me to visit her in Nashville. I rode 650 miles down to Music City on a Greyhound bus, and when I arrived, Mary picked me up in Jim’s Cadillac and chauffeured me around town and treated me like royalty. First stop: the newly opened Country Music Hall of Fame, which was then in a peak-roofed building that is dramatically smaller than its current incarnation. Mary and I were greeted warmly at the front door by Jo-Walker, whom I will never forget was so gracious, and offered me such interesting anecdotes about various Opry stars as we walked around the exhibits. She made a big impression on a young lad from Iowa and I never forgot it. On that same occasion, when visitors to the Hall of Fame learned they were in the presence of Mrs. Jim Reeves, she was descended upon by autograph seekers, whom she cheerfully indulged for at least a half hour. My jaw dropped; I could not believe how Mary was treated like such a celebrity in her own right. A huge crowd of people surrounded us. Finally, Jo-Walker intervened and helped us make a polite exit. It was my first trip to the South and I was so impressed by the genuine warmth that everybody I met in Nashville displayed. Both Jo-Walker and Mary exemplified the genteel manners and down-to-earth persona that spoke so well of their character.”

Barbara Cabrera asks, ‘Do you know if anyone is planning to write a book on Ray Griff?”
Diane: Not that I have heard.

Jim Wringe requests, “Please put me on your email list.”

Susan Ulmer writes, “A friend of my husband, Vernon, and me has forwarded your newsletter a few times, and we enjoyed reading it very much. We also read your book on Marty Robbins on our Kindle and found it so very interesting. You really put a lot of research into it and we appreciate how personalizing of Marty it was.”

Sean Robertson says, “I would like to get your newsletter, please.”

Helen Thiel writes from Sun City, Arizona, “Thank you for the newsy newsletter. I find it amazing that you have so much information about the entertainers. This must entail a lot of research and lot of time. I was delighted to learn of you from John and Wanda Edmonson. John lent me your book on Marty which I am enjoying and learning more about Marty’s life. Thank you for allowing me to use excerpts from it in future newsletters – with proper credits, of course. Your book on growing up on a farm in South Dakota interests me as, I believe, we had similar experiences living without electricity or indoor plumbing and attending one-room country schools. I live in Sun City, AZ, as it’s wonderful not to scrape ice or shovel snow. I love the dry heat. Since you sent me your newsletter, I am assuming you received the Remembering Marty Robbins newsletter.”
Diane: I was blown away to find an article about ME in your newsletter, and I thank you. I’d expected the article to be about Marty. Readers, anyone who would like to get the Remembering Marty Robbins newsletter, send an email to 1helenthiel@gmail.com.”

I left Oklahoma driving in a Pontiac, but I wasn’t just about to lose my mind. Nor was I driving west from Tulsa to Arizona, as Don Williams sang in “Tulsa Time.” The song, written by Danny Flowers, was just hitting the airwaves in late 1978 when I drove my sky blue ‘78 Pontiac Firebird Skybird east from Oklahoma City on I-40. The US Navy was sending me to NAS Memphis for school to be an aircraft maintenance officer. “Tulsa Time” became Don’s eighth #1 Billboard hit. It’s still a favorite of line dancers, and I’m transported back to Oklahoma whenever I hear it. I regret never having had a chance to see Don Williams in concert.

Born in a one-room log cabin in Butcher Holler, Kentucky, in 1932, Loretta Webb married Mooney Lynn at age thirteen. By age eighteen, she had four children. Mooney encouraged her singing career and they moved to Nashville. Loretta Lynn first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in 1960. The Wilburn Brothers helped develop her career. She modernized the image of country women with songs such as “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” “Fist City,” and “The Pill.” In 1972, she won the CMA Entertainer of the Year Award–the first woman to do so. Her signature song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” was also the name of her 1976 autobiography. It was made into the movie, Coal Miner’s Daughter, starring Sissy Spacek. The Academy of Country Music named Loretta “Artist of the Decade” for the 1970s. She was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988 and awarded the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003. After suffering a stroke in May of this year, Loretta is now returning to entertaining. She is 85.

Leonard Franklin Slye is the only person to be inducted twice into the Country Music Hall of Fame. First was in 1980 as a member of the original Sons of the Pioneers, and then in 1988 as Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys. Raised on an Ohio farm, he moved to California, where he, Bob Nolan, and Tim Spencer formed The Pioneer Trio in 1933. They became Sons of the Pioneers, with enduring songs such as “Cool Water” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” When Republic Pictures auditioned for a singing cowboy in 1937, Leonard Slye became Roy Rogers and left the Pioneers. He replaced Gene Autry, who walked out on his contract, as star of the movie Under Western Stars. Within six years, Roy was the top western star at the box office. He and his leading lady and second wife, Dale Evans, made numerous movies and TV shows and appeared at rodeos and fairs throughout the decades. Roy Rogers died in 1998 at age 86, sixty years after filming Under Western Stars. Dale died three years later, at age 88.

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