Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 15 July 2020


When Jeff Chandler woke up in the middle of the night, unable to breathe and with the feeling of an elephant sitting on his chest, his wife immediately called 9-1-1. By daybreak, he had four stents in his heart and was in the recovery room. Carole’s phone call saved his life, Jeff told me during our telephone conversation last week. His heart attack occurred early on a Friday morning, and he spend the holiday weekend in the hospital, returning home on Memorial Day. “Since then, I’ve been doing pretty well,” he says. “I’m back up to walking two miles a day, and I’m trying to eat better. That’s a challenge, to know what to cook.”

Heart disease doesn’t run in his family, and he hadn’t noticed any warning signs. But looking back, he can see there were two. For several days, he had been experiencing a periodic tightness in his chest, that would occur two or three times a day. During his daily two-mile walk, he’d been feeling a little more out of breath than usual. He attributed that to being out of shape. With his new knowledge, Jeff reminds all of us, “I think any kind of change, anything that’s different, you need to pay attention to it. I did not, but I would encourage people to do that. It usually lets you know something is amiss.”

Back in January 1979, Jeff had replaced Bobby Sykes in the Marty Robbins Band, playing rhythm guitar and singing harmony with Marty. Having a heart attack reminded him of Marty’s 1981 heart attack. “He only took a month off and we went back to work,” Jeff recalls. “I thought at the time, that’s kind of crazy to go back to work. I was glad to have the work, but I thought maybe he needed to take a little more time off. I don’t remember him complaining of having chest pains.” Jeff does remember Marty’s poor diet. “Marty never ate well,” he says. “I’ve seen him eat a whole pie at one sitting. He loved lemon meringue pie. And on the road you don’t eat well. You’d just kinda grab what you can.” Although he thinks Marty should have had a better diet, he wonders if he can take that advice himself. “I hope I can do it, but it’s probably easy to backslide,” he says. “So I’m not going to be too hard on him.”

Jeff and I met in person in 2012, when he came from Little Rock to Nashville to attend the book release party for Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins. We’d already had several telephone interviews about the book. Now Jeff is a published author himself, as well as being a singer and songwriter.

Jeff’s first wife, Nancy, passed away in 2012 of ALS. He and Carole were later introduced by mutual friends. They both had always wanted to write a book. One day, several years after their marriage, they decided, “You know what? Let’s write a book.”

They agreed their first topic would be a Nashville serial killer, and they filled a big poster board by brainstorming everything they knew about Nashville, about police procedure, about everything they could think of. Then they plotted the story. “It was an exhilarating experience to actually finish a book,” Jeff says. “In about two year’s time, we had three books written.” After more research, and with the help of friends in the self-publishing world, they decided to self-publish.

Jeff expects the target market to be readers who are 40+ and interested in crime stories. “People who like country music, and they remember the old days, kind of like me,” he says.

Fifty-year-old private eye Huston Grant, who lives on a houseboat in Nashville, is the protagonist of the series. After years as a working musician, he went into private detective work. For each book, Jeff records an original song that Huston Grant mentions in the book as having written. “That kind of makes him real,” Jeff says, “and gives a little different flavor.” The song in the first book, Guitars, Music and Murder, is “Hello Fool.”

There will be a song to go along with each book. Jeff is giving the recordings to anyone who goes to his website and requests one. “I’d be glad to email it to them, free of charge,” he says, “just a little thank you for reading my newsletter or going to my website.”

Jeff recorded two of his songs in Little Rock, and then went to Nashville to have Lloyd Green play steel on them. “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” Jeff says. “I play a steel–I play it poorly, but I play it–and he has always been one of my heroes. When I was a teenager, I loved his stuff. To actually meet him and have him record steel guitar on a couple of my songs was a thrill.”

Carole and Jeff are working on their fourth book, which they hope to publish this fall. The first three are available in paperback on Amazon.com. The Kindle ebook of Guitars, Music and Murder is also available. The ebook of Murder in Lieu of Flowers will publish on August 1, with Side Effect Murder following on September 4. For more information on the Chandlers and their books, or to request one of Jeff’s songs, go to their website.

Jeff and Carole Chandler
Carole and Jeff Chandler


Charlie Daniels (1936-2020)

Country Music Hall of Fame member Charlie Daniels, 83, died unexpectedly on July 6, at the Summit Medical Center in Hermitage, after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke. He is survived by his wife, Hazel, and one son, Charlie Daniels Jr. His body was escorted by the Mt. Juliet Police Department to Sellars Funeral Home that afternoon. Dozens gathered in silence along Mt. Juliet Road to pay their respects as the hearse carrying the flag-draped casket passed them. Two days later, a patriotic-themed public memorial was held outside the funeral home. Hundreds gathered for the celebration that began with a three-volley rifle salute and helicopter flyover. The Tennessean reports Charlie was an honorary brigadier general in the Tennessee State Guard and therefore afforded military honors. Tracy Lawrence, Darryl Worley, Trace Adkins, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee honored him during the memorial service. Charlie’s funeral was held Saturday, July 10, at the World Outreach Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Those present included Randy Travis, David Lee Murphy, Mark Wills, and original Marshall Tucker Band leader Doug Gray. Vince Gill combined “Go Rest High on That Mountain” with “America the Beautiful.” Gretchen Wilson sang “I’ll Fly Away,” Trace Adkins sang “Arlington,” and Travis Tritt led the congregation in “Amazing Grace.”

Robbie Wittkowski, former tour manager for Bill Anderson and road manager for Little Jimmy Dickens, died July 3. There was no funeral service. He wanted his ashes spread in Iowa on his family farm where he grew up. At one time, he put together a Stars of Country Music Traveling Museum in a huge trailer, in which he displayed clothing, memorabilia, and instruments he’d collected from country stars. He also had a successful radio and performing career of his own. He ended his music career in Brady, Texas, on KNEL.

The last member of the Hank Williams Drifting Cowboys band has died. Lead guitarist Joe Penny (Joseph Lephmon Pennington) died July 1 at age 92. Hank nicknamed him “Little Joe Pennington” because of his short stature. Joe, who then started calling himself Joe Penny, left the Drifting Cowboys in 1949 to enlist in the U.S. Navy. After his return, he played in the bands of Lefty Frizzell and Little Jimmy Dickens. He recorded several rockabilly singles in the 1950s as “Joe Penny” and is in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He was also the last man alive to have played with Lefty Frizzell.

Asleep At The Wheel will be performing Western Swing classics during a Dance At Home Livestream on July 25 at 7 p.m. CT. Tickets, which can include VIP Zoom meet and greets with Ray Benson or Katie Shore, are available at livestream.asleepatthewheel.com. Tickets allow viewers to watch the show for 7 days after the Livestream, as many times as desired.

An American Classic is the title of the new Jeannie Seely album to be issued by Curb Records on August 14. “Not A Dry Eye In The House,” a duet with Willie Nelson, was released on July 6, Jeannie’s 80th birthday; Dallas Wayne wrote the song. Bill Anderson joined her to sing his 1960s co-written “When Two Worlds Collide.” Jeannie rerecorded her hits, “Don’t Touch Me” and “Can I Sleep In Your Arms Tonight, Mister,” both written by her former husband, Hank Cochran. Other duet partners on the album, which was produced by Don Cusic, include Ray Stevens, Steve Wariner, Rhonda Vincent, and Lorrie Morgan. In a recent interview with The Tennessean, Jeannie recalls leaving Los Angeles in 1965, with $50 and a Ford Falcon, and moving to Nashville. By 1967, she was a member of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1985, she became the first woman to host a half-hour segment. “That was a hard-won battle. That wasn’t just given to me,” she says. “That was a door I kicked in incessantly to get open.” Now, after decades of hosting Opry shows, she states, “I love seeing the new talent come in, because that means the Opry’s gonna live on.”

Also releasing a new album is Bill Anderson, whose The Hits Re-Imagined will be available July 24. It contains ten of his most recognizable songs, such as “Bright Lights & Country Music,” “Po’ Folks,” “City Lights,” “Whiskey Lullaby,” and “Give It Away.” Bill is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Country Music Hall of Fame. He recently did an interview with Rolling Stone.

The grandson of Priscilla and Elvis Presley died July 12 in Calabasas, California, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Benjamin Storm Keough, 27, was the son of Lisa Marie Presley and Danny Keough, who were married from 1988 to 1994. Benjamin’s sister, Riley Keough, 31, is an actress. Lisa Marie and her fourth husband, Michael Lockwood, have 11-year-old twin girls, Harper and Finley. The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports Benjamin signed a $5 million recording contract with Universal when he was 17 but apparently released no music commercially.

Attorneys for Lady A, formerly known as Lady Antebellum, have filed a suit against blues singer Anita White. Billboard reports the suit was filed July 8 in U.S. District Court in response to White’s demand for money and an attempt to enforce trademark rights for the name. The suit says the Lady A trio has used Lady Antebellum and Lady A interchangeably for years, and that their trademark request was approved by The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2011. Solo artist Lady A has used the name for performing, touring, and recording as far back as 2010, but she didn’t apply for a trademark. The band’s suit asks for no money, only that the court declare the Lady A trademark as lawful and not infringing on White’s rights. It also states that the trio and artist continue to share the name.

Bobby Braddock, 79, is marking two important occasions, according to CMT.com. His new book, Country Music’s Greatest Lines: Lyrics, Stories & Sketches from American Classics, has been published. And a song he cowrote with Curly Putman, “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” is being recognized on its 40th anniversary as a No. 1 hit for George Jones. Bobby has had No. 1 singles in five successive decades. He moved from Florida to Nashville in 1964 and got his start playing piano in Marty Robbins’s band. Bobby is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is also a longtime reader of my newsletter. His previous memoirs are Down in Orburndale: A Songwriter’s Youth in Old Florida (2007) and A Life of Nashville’s Music Row (2015). Congratulations, Bobby!

Encore Live had such a success with its Garth Brooks drive-in concert that it has developed a drive-in movie theater concert series, Encore Drive-In Nights. MusicRow reports Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani, and Trace Adkins will star in the first show, at theaters across the USA and Canada, on July 25. Drive-in theaters hosting Encore Drive-In Nights will adhere to CDC guidelines and local health rules. The series will use contactless payment and ticketing systems and limit capacity in restrooms. Additional concerts will be announced shortly.

The latest rage about concerts at drive-in theaters reminds me of what Jack Evins, who played steel guitar for Marty Robbins in 1953-4, told me in 2007: “I remember one time we played a drive-in theater. We were up on a platform right below the screen, and the guitars all got out of tune in that night air. I had a steel guitar I had to carry on my shoulder and climb a ladder to get up on the platform. People didn’t applaud at a drive-in theater–I don’t remember ever playing another one–they blew their horns. You couldn’t see them, sitting in their cars.” Someone recently asked Bill Anderson if he would consider performing at drive-in theaters, as some artists are doing during the COVID-19 lockdown. Bill replied in his fan club newsletter: “Been there and done that. I played my first drive-in theater show in Decatur, Georgia, when I was 15. My band and I set up on top of the concession stand and performed between movies. If the people liked our song, they would honk their horns. If we told a joke they thought was funny, they’d blink their headlights. It was hard to get their attention, though, as they walked below us to get their hot dogs, soft drinks, and to use the restrooms. It was not my most favorite place to perform, and even though I’m sure conditions have improved, I really don’t have the urge to try it again.”

On July 18, two Opry members from Oklahoma, Reba McEntire and Vince Gill, will host the 4,933rd consecutive Saturday night broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry. Nash Country Daily reports the one-hour show will air live on Circle Television at 7 p.m. CT.  Jimmie Allen, the Gatlin Brothers, and Margo Price hosted last Saturday night. The Opry has aired without an audience since March 19.

2911 Media posted a short video of Charley Pride, 82, on Facebook, in which he says, “Hi fans, I’d just like to inform you that I’m looking forward to coming back out on the road after this virus. I’m sorry you’ve been hearing all these rumors and everything, but I’m still here.” People have apparently been posting false stories of Charley’s death. It reminds me of Willie Nelson’s song, “Still Not Dead”: “I woke up still not dead again today.”

Seeing the obituary for Gary Walker, 87, on the MusicRow website, I recognized the name of The Great Escape record store. I’d often stopped there during my Nashville visits while doing biography research. But Gary, who died July 8 at Vanderbilt Hospital, was so much more than a record store owner. Reading his obituary was mind-boggling. He began as a songwriter, working with fellow Missourian Porter Wagoner, in 1953. His songs included one of my favorites, “Trademark” by Carl Smith, along with songs recorded by such stars as Jim Reeves, Kitty Wells, George Morgan, Webb Pierce, and Brenda Lee. He was a recording artist and studio owner during the rockabilly days of the 1950s; he became a song plugger, record producer, and record label owner in the 1960s; he opened The Great Escape in 1977. A small graveside service was held in Gainesville, Missouri, on July 13. A memorial service will be held at a later date.


Rosemary Eng writes from Newark, Delaware, “The reopening of the Ryman for tours brings back a great memory. In 1974, WHN in New York City sponsored a trip to Nashville which included the tour of the Ryman. As all us Yankees stood on the stage the guide told us to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ After we finished and applauded ourselves, she told us that we can now go home and brag that we sang on the stage of the Opry and got a standing ovation. It’s almost 50 years ago and I still brag about my debut. Keep up the great work you are providing to the country music community…the camaraderie is needed so much now.”

Donald Ewart says, “I thought I would tell you that Jeannie Seely’s Birthday is July 6th in case you didn’t know.”

Mary Lorefice wonders, “What’s Travis Tritt up to these days? I have a suggestion. How would you feel about a ‘Where Are They Now’ column? Ask your subscribers to send you the names of singers who we don’t hear from anymore.”

Diane: Travis Tritt, 57, is still going strong. He co-headlined the Outlaws & Renegades Tour with The Charlie Daniels Band last year, and he sang at Charlie’s funeral last week. Earlier this year, he dueted with Dierks Bentley on “Pick Her Up,” a release from Dierks’s parody album, The K Is Silent, with the Hot Country Knights. As for “Where Are They Now,” I’m always happy to find whatever information I can about singers we don’t hear from anymore. I research any requests subscribers send me.

Dominique “Imperial” Anglares writes from France, “Thanks for the newsletter and for Billy Grammer’s memories. Great and vivid souvenirs that make me travel on. On a sad note, I have lost my longtime friend Jerry Englerth from Rochester, New York. In 1957 he shortened his name to Engler and recorded one of the song catching with Sputnik’s fly that was leased to Brunswick record. The record was issued as far as Germany, Australia, and New Zealand. Jerry was a great fan of Hank Williams Sr and recorded some (then) unissued sides with Buddy Holly as musician at Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, New Mexico, on September 1958. He worked some shows with The Wilburn Brothers, Jimmy Dean, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino. Jerry ended his professional career in the late ‘50s after being divorced but kept writing songs and making personal recordings until recently.”

David Markham writes from Great Britain, “I bought 3 CDs from Amazon Saturday, the great, great Mel Street, the fine Buddy Emmons on Steel, they’re not on a label as such, they’re on Encore with no musicians’ names or instruments mentioned at all. Mel, I have to say, he was the greatest country singer around. Had he still been here, who knows how big he would have done.”

Ernie McCormick requests, “Please sign me up for your newsletter. I enjoy your newsletters.”

Jenny Jones in Texas says, “Really glad to hear all the News. Hope all is good for you. I am staying close to home, and our children are seeing to all our needs. Really glad to be in touch with Dominque once again, and receiving all the News on BILLY WALKER. Hope everything is going well with the writing on the Book on Randy.” 

Tom Barton writes, “As always, I loved the newsletter today. I love to browse on YouTube and would sometimes see mention of Marty Robbins and ‘Big Iron’ in connection with a game named Fallout New Vegas. I finally got curious, and apparently Marty has a whole new generation of fans. ‘El Paso’ is no longer his biggest song – ‘Big Iron’ is! Here is a link to an article I found from 2/2019, and it is pretty interesting.

Diane: It’s always great to hear a mention of Marty. This is a quote from the article: “On Spotify, ‘Big Iron’ is Robbins’s most-played song at 23 million streams, 7 million more than ‘El Paso.’ The ‘Big Iron’ resurgence can be traced back to 2010, when it was included in the video game Fallout: New Vegas. Set in the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse, Fallout leans heavily on tropes from early in the Cold War period. Key to evoking the era are in-game radio stations that players can tune into as they wander around the desert.”


At the beginning of my Faron Young research, I met Jack Greene backstage at the Grand Ole Opry and asked for an interview. We talked on the telephone on September 11, 2000. Best known for “There Goes My Everything” and “Statue of a Fool,” he was a long-time Opry member. Jack died at home in his sleep in 2013, at age 83, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

The first time I met Faron, he came to East Point, Georgia, to do the Dixie Jubilee. I was one of the members of that band–I was the drummer. He didn’t bring his band. He was hard to please, as far as musicians go. He did it a little faster than the record, most all of us do, but he was a perfectionist in his music, and he liked it right. He was really a great artist. He had a lot of hit records, put on a great show, had a good band. I’m not sure he brought his band at that time, though. I think he worked with our group. That would be probably ’61, cuz I joined Ernest Tubb in ’62, and I was on that show for about a year. East Point was just outside of Atlanta. We had a little Saturday night show, and we’d always have somebody from the Opry come down and perform. That’s how I met Ernest Tubb. We’d always open the show, and then we’d have intermission, and then the artist we had come in from Nashville would do their show.

There’s a lot of things in my career that I have blocked out. I’m remarried now and the past has gotta be buried. I remember things that happened back in 1935 and 1936!

Faron was a good person. I never will understand why he did what he did, and went out too early. I just felt like Faron felt he was a failure–in his marriage, and his family, and everything else, and then when his career stopped, I think he just felt like there wasn’t no use. I sure hated to hear that, because he was a great artist, he had a great individual style, always had good musicians, always had a great show.

Faron was always demanding, and pushing everybody to do what he liked. In general. Just being around, talking and all that, he was always wanting his way. He wanted things done like he wanted them done. He was critical of everybody else, in a lot of ways. I never did know why Faron was that way, but he was a little different than all the rest of them. I don’t know much about his personal life, as far as his marriage or anything like that. I never heard him talk about his children at all. He never talked about his family. He was a funny guy, he was a little bit different. But he was a great artist, he was a crowd pleaser. People loved his songs and they loved to hear him sing. I don’t know what it was about his own self that he didn’t–I don’t think he was ever happy. I don’t think he was ever content.

Are you writing his whole life story? I’ll be looking forward to that, because like I said, I knew Faron for a long time but I never knew where he came from. I know he was on the Louisiana Hayride early, but I don’t know where he was raised. Have you got a title yet? I wish I could give you more help and more information, but I didn’t get to spend much time around Faron. He was always going the other direction. We passed each other on the road a lot.

Are you familiar with Eddie Stubbs? He’s a walking encyclopedia. I just love him. I met him up in Washington D.C. back in the early ’70s. He came out and did an interview with me. That’s the best interview I ever had, cuz he knew more about me than I’d remembered. He brought up things I’d forgotten all about.

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