Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 15 December 2021


Our four days in Nashville went by way too fast. I’m so glad I accepted Bill Anderson’s invitation to attend the opening of the Bill Anderson: As Far as I Can See exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Perry Steilow and I flew out of Sioux Falls on Wednesday morning. A United B737-800 took us from Chicago to Nashville. At one point, we were above 37,000 feet and traveling 599 miles an hour. It’s hard to fathom being seven miles up in the air and moving that fast. It was a precursor of the amazing experiences awaiting us in Nashville.

This was my first time staying in Music Valley instead of in Nashville itself. From previous visits, I knew we’d find good music within walking distance of our hotel. I also wanted an opportunity to run past the Opryhouse, which I did twice during our visit, as far as the main entrance into the Opry Mills mall.

Thursday evening, December 2, when we exited I-40 downtown in the dark and turned right, I mistakenly thought we were on Broadway. The buildings seemed off, but I couldn’t pinpoint the reason. As we moved in the stop-and-go traffic and I waited to get far enough to turn right to Demonbreun, we noticed the street ahead of us was blocked off. A road guard asked if we were going to the Bridgestone Arena or the Country Music Hall of Fame. She told us to drive straight ahead, through the intersection, park, and give the keys to the valets. When I got out of the car and looked up, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum stared down at me. We had been deposited at our destination! We’d been on Demonbreun all along.

To get into the building, everyone had to show proof of vaccination and an ID. Then we received wristbands and were pointed to the elevator to take us to the sixth floor. Just as we reached the sixth-floor lobby, the doors into the ceremony room opened, and Perry and I were the first guests to enter.

Internet photo showing the glass-walled sixth floor room

Sixth-floor setting for Bill Anderson tribute

By the time the room was full, there were almost two hundred people–eating, drinking, and visiting. We chatted with Jeannie Seely and said hi to her husband, Gene Ward. When Lloyd Green and Saundra Steele arrived, they joined Perry and me at our table. Although we’d planned to visit Lloyd at his house, that didn’t work out, so we were happy to spend time with him and Saundra this evening.

Saundra Steele, Lloyd Green, Perry and me

Just as the show started, a young woman asked me if her dad could sit in our remaining empty chair. I said yes and asked his name. When she told me, I exclaimed, “Charlie Monk! I’ve been trying to interview him.” He played an important role in Randy Travis’s early career in Nashville. I introduced myself to Charlie, and he said he hadn’t forgotten about me; we’ll talk when his health improves.

Bill Anderson and his family sat at a large table, center front. Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, hosted the show. He talked about “Once a Day,” the huge hit Bill wrote for Connie Smith, and how her recording is now in the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. I’m sure everyone in the room, including Bill, was shocked when Trisha Yearwood walked onstage and started singing the song.

Next Kyle talked about Bill co-writing “Which Bridge to Cross, Which Bridge to Burn” with Vince Gill. And here came Vince to sing the song. The second surprise performer.

When Kyle mentioned “Whiskey Lullaby,” my mind started working. Perry and I had just talked about this song the previous evening. Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss recorded it, but I didn’t expect them to appear; I guessed it would be cowriter Jon Randall, one of Perry’s musical heroes. And it was, along with Carly Pearce, who gave a powerful performance. Bill later said in his speech,  “Did you see and hear Carly Pearce up here? Yeah! You don’t have to worry about the future of country music when there’s people like her.”

Bill opened his speech with, “Could this have been held in a better place?” He turned and pointed out the window: “The bright array of city lights, as far as I can see.” He told us everyone in the room had been invited because they’d touched his life somehow. Perry and I listened enthralled as Bill rattled off his long list, never looking at notes, never stumbling or pausing: “Maybe you’re a concert promoter who hired me to come play a show somewhere.” “Maybe you’re a bus driver who delivered me safely to a destination . . .”  “Maybe you’re a musician, who climbed in a car, or on a bus, or on an airplane with me, . . .” “Maybe you’re a sound engineer, who twisted just the right knob at just the right moment.”

I waited to hear where I might fit in. Then he said something like, “Maybe you’re a journalist, who wrote about me in a magazine or newspaper, or online.” And I felt included.

You can watch excerpts of the ceremony and the exhibit here: https://watch.countrymusichalloffame.org/videos/bill-anderson-s-first-look-as-far-as-i-can-see

We made it back to Music Valley that evening in time to hear the Music City Playboys at the Music City Bar & Grill. We had been so impressed Wednesday night that we wanted to hear them again. Considering their experiences, it was easy to understand why they were so good. The drummer, Randy Mason, sang Merle Haggard songs. Not surprising, since he had spent about six years as a drummer with Merle’s Strangers. He told stories about “back in the 1900s.” Roger “Bob” Wills played electric bass; he has backed numerous country stars. Joey Schmidt on keyboard and Rusty Danmyer on steel are both members of Alan Jackson’s band. William Bagby, who worked with Joe Diffie until Joe’s death, is considered one of the best lead guitarists around. He also sings. Perry appreciated their musicianship and enjoyed talking to his fellow musicians. I especially enjoyed Randy’s singing and Joey’s piano riffs. The lead singers seemed to change. Jon Burchett filled that role Thursday evening, whereas Keith Nixon had been there Wednesday. They both played rhythm guitar.

Rusty Danmyer, Roger “Bob” Wills, Randy Mason, Jon Burchett, Joey Schmidt, William Bagby

One evening we arranged to meet Coleman Murphy and his wife, Carol Grace Anderson, at John A’s Irish Pub. Perry and I had a great time hearing their stories and getting acquainted with them. We had initially met Coleman at Fort Randall Casino in South Dakota in 2017, when Perry’s Chute Rooster Band opened for John Anderson, with Coleman as lead guitarist. It was the windiest night they ever played. (For more about Coleman, go to https://www.facebook.com/coleman.murphy). Carole Grace has had an amazing career–music, acting, motivational speaking, author, and more (http://www.carolgraceanderson.com).

Coleman, Carol Grace, Diane, Perry

Thanks to Coleman’s suggestion, we found a great new restaurant. John A’s, as we learned, has a long history of catering to country music entertainers. It was built by John Hobbs, owner of the Nashville Palace and various other Music Valley buildings. His children own it now. There’s a Jeannie Seely display on one wall. Perry and I were impressed by the décor, the atmosphere, the food, and the friendly staff. When we commented to one of the servers that they all seemed to enjoy working there and with each other, she buoyantly responded, “We like our boss!” She confirmed what I’ve been preaching for years: For employees to give good customer service, they first must feel appreciated and valued by their employers.

Perry and I had one new experience at John A’s. We both ate fried green tomatoes for the first time ever. We felt adventurous enough to order the appetizer, and we were both surprised to find they were delicious. The tomatoes are sliced and prepared right there at the restaurant.

We had dinner with Kenny Sears of the Time Jumpers at John A’s on Friday evening, after he played his Opry spot. When I asked about the fiddle I’d seen mentioned on Facebook, he said he had made one thirty years ago and always wanted to make another. Being stuck at home during the pandemic was a good time. Since he lives alone, he set up his equipment on his living room table. When he got tired of working, he could move a few feet to the couch and watch TV. The curved fiddle top is carved that way; the wood isn’t shaped. And he carved it so thin that it was translucent before he varnished it. He likes the tone of the finished fiddle so well that he now plays it on the Opry. He showed us the fiddle and gave us a mini-concert in the John A’s parking lot.

We returned to the Country Music Hall of Fame for two Bill Anderson events on Saturday. Both were held in the Ford Theater, and masks were required. The crowd started lining up 35 minutes before the shows began. I’d neglected to order tickets online and was worried when we were informed the events were sold out. However, as we experienced throughout our CMHOF visits, the staff was extremely friendly and helpful, and we soon had tickets. It was a pleasure to be there.

The morning Songwriter Session lasted about 75 minutes and was wonderful. I think the recording will be posted on the CMHOF website in January. I hope so; I want to watch it again. Three of Bill’s cowriters–Buddy Cannon, Bobby Tomberlin, and Erin Enderlin–took turns telling stories and singing songs they’d written with Bill, who was sitting in the front row. We’d hoped to talk to the songwriters after the show, but we didn’t get that chance. Perry wanted to meet Buddy Cannon, and I wanted to introduce myself to Bobby, who has been my Facebook friend for some years. It was great to see him in person. Although we weren’t familiar with Erin, we are now, and we’re super impressed with her talent and her stage presence. She talked about cowriting “Waffle House Christmas” and how Bill invited her to fly with the group to Atlanta, Georgia, to film the video at the original Waffle House. He assured her she wouldn’t have to do anything except sit next to him at the counter. (See Video of the Week, below.) Buddy told about driving back with Bill from Florida one year and having a discussion of songs they didn’t like. Buddy mentioned that Roy Drusky had a hit years ago with a song about “peel me a nanner, toss me a peanut.” He couldn’t imagine why any songwriter would waste time on writing something like that. Bill told him, “I wrote that.” Buddy says he’s never again held a conversation about songs he doesn’t like. When Bill came onstage, he sang a verse of “Peel Me a Nanner.” Just for Buddy, he said. He concluded the show with an appropriate song, and one I thoroughly enjoyed: “The Songwriters.”

Buddy Cannon, Bobby Tomberlin,, Erin Enderlin

While waiting for the session to begin, Perry chatted with the person to his right. When the man introduced himself as Johnny Walker, I said, “That’s my drink!” I’m sure it’s a comment he’s heard many times before. Welcome to my newsletter, Johnny.

The afternoon show was an interview with Bill by Peter Cooper, a renowned journalist the CMHOF hired away from the Tennessean several years back. We’d met him at the Thursday night reception when Lloyd Green introduced us. Bill and Peter talked about the events of Bill’s decades in Nashville. Bill began and ended the session by singing several songs with his band members.

Wanting to check out Lower Broad while we were downtown, Perry and I turned the corner from 5th Avenue to Broadway and got hit by a blast of noise. A cacophony of music blared from open windows and doors. Heading for the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and rushing inside, I felt as if we’d reached a port in a storm. I introduced myself to the clerk and checked to see that my Faron and Marty biographies were both on the shelf. We viewed the expansion at the back of the store, where the wall and offices had been removed to make room for the Midnite Jamboree, which has returned to its original location. With no desire to move through the noise across the street to Robert’s Western World, we retraced our steps and retrieved our car.

Saturday evening, we visited the Music City Bar & Grill and the Nashville Palace one last time, knowing we had to get up at 3:30 Sunday morning to head to the airport and turn in our rental car. (We did not know it would be 30 degrees, 30 mph wind, and blowing snow when we returned to Sioux Falls.) This evening at the Music City Bar, Dina Johnson was on drums. She provided a good groove and sang like Connie Smith. The lead singer was Damon Gray, who also had a great voice. I highly recommend his new CD, Damon Gray: My World. When that set ended, Perry and I walked from there to the Nashville Palace to see bass player Becky Hinson and the Nashville Palace Band. Were we surprised to find we already knew the band members with Becky—Randy Mason, William Bagby, and Rusty Danmyer. After enjoying their music for a while, we waved goodbye to the band and walked out the door on the closing notes of “I Had a Beautiful Time.”


Stonewall Jackson (1932-2021)

The only singer ever invited to join the Grand Ole Opry before releasing a record, Stonewall Jackson died December 11 in Nashville. After more than sixty years as an Opry member, he died at age 89 after struggling with vascular dementia. His biggest record was “Waterloo,” written by John D. Loudermilk and Marijohn Wilkin; it was # 1 for five weeks in 1959. My all-time favorite of his songs is the B side of that single: “Smoke Along the Track.” As a teenager, I liked “Old Showboat” and “B.J. the D.J.” The New York Times reports Stonewall Jackson was born November 6, 1932, in Tabor City, North Carolina. His father wanted him to be named after Confederate general Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, from whom they were descended. His father died before his birth, and his mother remarried, to an abusive man who beat Stonewall almost to death. Discharged from the Army for lying about his age, Stonewall waited until he was 17 and joined the Navy for a four-year enlistment. He moved to Nashville in the mid-fifties to try his luck as a songwriter.

Gary Scruggs, eldest son of Earl and Louise Scruggs, died December 1 at age 72. Born in 1949 in Knoxville, Tennessee, Gary played electric bass, harmonica, guitar, keyboards, and percussion. He and brothers Randy and Steve joined their father when Earl formed The Earl Scruggs Revue in 1969. Gary later played guitar and sang backup for Waylon Jennings; he also produced some of Waylon’s records. Gary retired from touring in the mid-1980s and concentrated on being a songwriter. MusicRow reports, “In 1970, Gary convinced his father to go to a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band concert, which eventually led to Gary, Randy and Earle–as well as other iconic traditional country artists–joining the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to create the first Will the Circle Be Unbroken album. The collaborative album is now in the Grammy Hall of Fame and Library of Congress.”

The Steel Guitar Forum reports Buddy Merrill, 85, died December 5. He joined the Lawrence Welk Show in 1957 and played steel guitar and regular guitar on the show until 1977. Born as Leslie Merrill Behunin Jr. in Torrey, Utah, in 1936, he started playing steel guitar with his father (Les Merrill) in a western band. In 1947, when Buddy was 11, he and his father made history in Salt Lake City by being the first country artists to appear live on television.

Margaret Everly, the mother of the Everly Brothers, died December 6 in Nashville at the age of 102. Ike Everly was a radio performer when he and Margaret and their two sons, Don and Phil, moved to Shenandoah, Iowa, in the mid-1940’s. According to KMA News in Shenandoah, Margaret encouraged Don and Phil to become musicians. She decided the radio station would pay more if the whole family performed. After that beginning, the Everlys moved to Tennessee in the mid-1950’s to further the boys’ career. Ike Everly died in 1975. Phil died in 2014 and Don this past August.

My favorite Monkee has died. Michael Nesmith, 78, died of heart failure on December 10 at his home in Carmel Valley, California. According to the Hollywood Reporter, he had undergone quadruple bypass surgery in 2018. Nearly 450 aspiring actor-musicians tried out in 1965 for the NBC-TV show, The Monkees, a comedy designed to cash in on the popularity of The Beatles. Michael Nesmith, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Micky Dolenz were chosen as the four carefree youngsters living in a California beach house looking to make it in the music world. The show debuted in September 1966 and was an immediate hit. I watched it regularly and was disappointed when it ended after two seasons. Michael recorded throughout the 1970s, and he developed the concept that led to MTV. His mother, Liquid Paper inventor Bette Nesmith Graham, left him her substantial fortune upon her death in 1980. Military.com reports he was born and raised in Dallas, Texas, and he dropped out of high school to join the Air Force in 1960. After basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio and aircraft mechanic training at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, he spent his enlistment at Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base in Oklahoma. Micky Dolenz is now the last surviving Monkee. Davy Jones died in 2012 and Peter Tork in 2019.

Randy Travis teamed with singer Drew Parker to release a duet of “There’s A New Kid In Town,” a Christmas song written by Keith Whitley, Don Cook, and Curly Putman. Randy recorded it for his 1989 Christmas album, An Old Time Christmas, but the song didn’t get on the album. Now, a remastered edition of the album, An Old Time Christmas (Deluxe Edition), has been issued, including three previously unreleased tracks. Randy and Drew also filmed a music video of “There’s A New Kid In Town” at Randy’s Texas ranch. Watch the official music video here.

After “All Too Well” broke the record held by “American Pie” since 1971 as the longest song to go No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart, CMT News reports, Taylor Swift sent Don McLean an over-the-top arrangement of white roses, lilies and orchids. Her 10-minute version of “All Too Well” bumped his 8:42-minute “American Pie.” Taylor’s note said, “I will never forget that I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. Your music has been so important to me. Sending love, one writer of long songs to another.” He posted his photo with the flowers and wrote on Instagram, “What a class act! Thank you Taylor Swift for the flowers and note.”

The George Jones, a museum and restaurant dedicated to the memory of George Jones, has permanently closed. It opened in 2015, two years after his death. An Instagram post from owners said The George Jones “started with the intention to have a place where George Jones fans could come and share in the journey of Possum’s life and music — enjoy great food, drinks and live country performances — all with the amazing backdrop of southern hospitality and warmth.” The Tennessean reports, “COVID-19 hurdles, workforce shortages and the aftermath of last year’s Christmas morning bombing contributed to the closure of the museum on Second Avenue in the bustling Lower Broadway entertainment district.” 

PEOPLE reports that Reba McEntire, 66, will be opening Reba’s Place, her own restaurant, bar, and live entertainment venue in Atoka, Oklahoma. Reba’s Place is set to welcome customers sometime in 2022.

Randy Travis, 62, appeared at the Saturday night Opry on December 13 to celebrate his 35th anniversary as a member. The Opry’s lineup for the evening included Jon Pardi, Old Crow Medicine Show, Carly Pearce, and Don Schlitz. Randy had been officially inducted on December 20, 1986, following the release of his debut album, Storms of Life. A press release reminds us he was introduced on the Grand Ole Opry stage by Little Jimmy Dickens in March 1986 while still a cook at the Nashville Palace. Watch the one-hour show on the Opry’s YouTube here.


Bill Anderson writes from Nashville, “I’m so glad you and Perry were able to come be with us, and it pleases me that you had a good time. I was really happy with the way things turned out, and so glad that I could share those moments with the people who mean the most to me. Have a great Christmas, and I hope our paths will cross again soon.”

Johnny Walker writes from Fishers, Indiana, “It was so great to meet you and Perry at the Bill Anderson festivities at the Hall of Fame on Saturday. I hope you both enjoyed the weekend and had a safe trip home. Please add me to your email list. I’d love to read your emails about country music. I am really looking forward to your upcoming biography on Randy Travis.”

Jon Philibert writes from Great Britain, “Greatly enjoyed the latest newsletter as ever. So sad to hear about the passing of Norman Wade, one of the many underrated country singers not to get the recognition he deserved. Also I was extremely saddened to learn of the suicide of Tom T Hall in your reports. Would it be possible to add Craig Baguley’s name to your subscribers. You will probably know Craig as editor of the UK country magazine Country Music People for many years.”

Jackie Allen Thomas in Sun City, Arizona, says, “Good newsletter, as always and thanks so much for posting the Hank Snow show with the Glaser Brothers. Wonder why they broke up, they were so good.”

Robert MacMillan requests, “If not too late I would appreciate audio book promo code as mentioned in your latest newsletter. I always enjoy your newsletter and look forward to it arriving every month. Christmas greetings from a windswept northwest coast of Scotland.”

Dave “the Roadman” Mantz says, “I recently spoke to Bob Rudy and he sent me a copy of your newsletter. I really enjoyed your article about Al Shade. I grew up around a lot of old timers here in Pa and it is nice to know they are not forgotten. I hope you will include me as one of your subscribers to the newsletter. Feel free to stop by my YouTube channel and check out my music: Roadman5557.”

Dave Barton writes from Franklin, Kentucky, “The note regarding Tom T. Hall committing suicide blows my mind, nobody I know has talked about it. I was wondering why there has been no mention of a service. That is so sad, what a talent. Sometimes you never know what’s going on in a person’s head. He told me one time, ‘when you’re going down the road of life you got to pick up the beer cans on both sides of the road because you may never pass this way again.’ Is that heavy or what???” Dave also says, “Sometimes we forget how good The Glaser Bros really were.”

John Krebs in Houston, Texas, says, “Whoa,,, the Tom T. Hall stuff from Stacy Harris was surprising and tough to read…Looks like he’d been struggling for a long while, the guy seemed so laid back and easy going…… As usual thanks so much Diane for doing the newsletter.”

Dominique ‘Imperial’ Anglares writes from France, “Thank you very much for that newsletter and for the information given about Al Shade. Very interesting. It seems his wife Jean Romaine passed on June 8, 2017. They married on September 18, 1955. What a long and happy ride.”

Bob Rudy writes from Pennsylvania, “You are amazing and wonderful! Thank you!!!! I printed out 3 color copies of your newsletter and will be mailing them to Al Shade for himself, his son, and his daughter. I’m so happy that our paths crossed. While cruising through eBay, I did a search for Williams Grove Park, an amusement park near Harrisburg that I used to go to as a child. This was the place where Al Shade used to book the entertainment. The park is long gone, but the dirt track speedway is still there. I found a reproduction of a poster for a country show at Williams Grove Park from 1959.”

Jim McQuisten in Sioux Falls says, “Wonderful newsletter! Enjoy a well-deserved trip to Nashville.”

Wendie Beckerdite writes, “Sadly, Lee Slagle (A Country Music Radio DJ/Hall of Famer) has passed and I no longer receive your wonderful Newsletter. Lee used to forward it to me. I miss him and your letter. I am hoping you can put me on your list to receive it again.”

Don Phillips says, “Driving up Hwy 15 south of Clear Lake last week I remember seeing the Hidewood road sign. I went to town school, but taught country school one year in the hills west of Forbes, North Dakota.”

Bobby Fischer writes from Nashville, “Many decades ago my sister Pat gave me a guitar she got for $10.00  at a shoe repair shop in Wilton, Iowa, our hometown. The strings were high off the frets but fun to try to learn some music. I never did get too good at it, but I learned enough to have some bands and have good musicians with me. I had several guitars one was a dandy Gibson I gave to Pat’s kids in the late ‘60s. Why not pass something on like Pat did to me? Steve and Kevin did good on it and somewhere along the line it went to my grandniece Margo Price. She’s done great with her music. A few years ago, a nice surprise, Margo called Helen and me to come to the Country Music Hall of Fame. The HOF was showing her at an up-and-coming artist exhibit, along with Dolly Parton and Maren Morris items. She entered the guitar I gave them and a dress she wore on the Grand Ole Opry. This music business still has some great surprises now and then. Attached is Margo and the guitar, also a picture of Helen and me with Margo at the exhibit. She learned great, and nice of her now that she’s a known artist to enter my guitar into the HOF.”

Donald Ewart says, “Happy Holidays from Milwaukee to you and all of your readers. I was happy to find Penny DeHaven’s very first record on YouTube. ‘A Grain of Salt’ was recorded when she went by the name of Penny Starr and it made Billboard charts at # 69 in 1967. When I read what Jeannie Seely said about finding time to read books and do other things when less busy, I thought of the last time I talked with Penny DeHaven on the phone. She loved Jeannie and told me she thought of Jeannie as ‘Forever Young.’

Les Leverett writes from Nashville, “Great letter. And the Glaser Brothers section was the best. Thanks again.”


Bill Anderson cowrote “Waffle House Christmas” with Erin Enderlin and Alexandra Kline Eisberg. The storyline is about a family who runs into problems with Christmas dinner, so the group heads to a nearby Waffle House. In a video of the song, released for Christmas 2018, Bill sits at the Waffle House counter, with Erin on one side and Tanya Tucker on the other. Jeannie Seely and Gretchen Wilson are waitresses. Kid Rock is the newly hired and poorly performing cook. Watching the video recently, I spotted Gene Ward sitting at the end of the counter. It’s a fun video, and I’m sure it was a lot of fun to record.

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