Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 15 May 2024


Randy Travis has a song on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart for the first time since 2009, when he and Carrie Underwood reached No. 2 with “I Told You So.” The AI-generated recording of “Where That Came From” debuted at No. 45 on May 10, one week after the song’s release, with over 3.3 million global streams. A press announcement from 117 Entertainment explains how the song happened. When artificial intelligence exploded in early 2023, bringing concerns about copyright infringement and protecting artists’ rights, Warner Music Group executives discussed what “AI for good” would look like. Cris Lacy, Co-Chair & Co-President of Warner Music Nashville, said, “AI for good would be giving Randy Travis his voice back.” She contacted Randy and his producer of forty years, Kyle Lehning, and they agreed to try. They chose the song, “Where That Came From,” written by Scotty Emerick and John Scott Sherrill and recorded by James Dupre, who does the singing on Randy’s More Life shows. Kyle pulled 42 Randy Travis tracks from the vault and stripped away the music, leaving only the vocals. He then used an AI program to overlay Randy’s voice on Dupre’s singing. He and Randy spent months working with the vocals and putting Randy’s inflections on every note of “Where That Came From.” This is not to be confused with songs Randy recorded years ago that are still sitting in the vault. The Travis/Lehning team sometimes recorded as many as twenty songs for an album. It’s been a decade since Kyle chose and re-mixed enough of those songs to make an album. Copyright issues have prevented the album from being released. The last I heard, the legal owners of some of the songs still haven’t been identified.

Legendary guitarist Duane Eddy died of cancer in Franklin, Tennessee, on April 30, four days after his 86th birthday. According to MusicRow, he was the most successful solo rock instrumentalist in history. As the most prominent of the early rock guitarists, he influenced hundreds of stylists, including George Harrison, The Ventures, The Shadows, Jimi Hendrix, and Bruce Springsteen. He was born in Corning, New York, in 1938 and debuted on local radio at age 10. In 1951, the family moved to Arizona. As a teenager, he began working with producer Lee Hazelwood, who shaped his distinctive style. Dick Clark featured him on his national American Bandstand TV series more than any other artist. In 1960, Duane issued The Twang’s the Thang, followed by Songs of Our Heritage and $1,000,000 Worth of Twang. He married Phoenix singer-songwriter Miriam Johnson in 1962. Following their 1968 divorce, she became Jessi Colter and married Waylon Jennings. By the close of the 1960s, Duane Eddy had sold an estimated 100 million records worldwide. The Gretsch Guitar Company issued its Duane Eddy 6120 Signature Model, based on his specifications, in 1998. He was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2008.

“We lost another one of our good friends and a huge part of our musical journey yesterday,” George Strait writes on social media. “Tom Foote, our one-time drummer and long-time road manager for around 48 years, suddenly passed away at his home after our rehearsal.” The Ace in the Hole Band had spent the afternoon of April 29 rehearsing for the upcoming stadium tour, which began May 4 in Indianapolis. It was the third tragic loss. Erv Woolsey, George’s manager for 45 years, and fiddle player Gene Elders both died on March 20. Taste of Country reports Tom Foote was the drummer in a band called Stoney Ridge in San Marcos, Texas, when they hired George Strait as their new singer in 1975. The band became Strait’s Ace In The Hole Band, and Foote transitioned to tour manager in 1983.

Lainey Wilson will soon be the second female artist to have a bar in downtown Nashville, following Miranda Lambert’s Casa Rosa. She is partnering with TC Restaurant Group to take over FGL House at 120 Third Avenue, just off Broadway—a bar opened by Florida Georgia Line in 2017 and closed unexpectedly last month. Whiskey Riff reports that “multiple sources” confirm Lainey’s involvement, although nothing official has been announced.

Kentucky native Wynonna Judd performed the National Anthem at this year’s Kentucky Derby. She said, “I’ve done the Super Bowl, I’ve done all these things in 40 years. This is number one.” The Boot posted photos of celebrities who attended a charity gala the night before the 150th Kentucky Derby.

Mary and Randy Travis (Daniel Boczarski, Getty Images)
Wynonna Judd and Cactus Moser (Michael Hickey, Getty Images)
Travis Tritt (Daniel Boczarski, Getty Images)

Vince Gill inducted T. Graham Brown as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry on May 4. MusicRow reports that Opry members John Conlee, The Isaacs, Don Schlitz, Jeannie Seely, and Mark Wills were on hand to welcome him. “As great as this night is for you, you have to know it is equally as great to us,” Vince told him. “I brought all the other members out to the stage to be a part of this for you tonight because you are now a part of our family.” T. sang several of his biggest hits, “I Tell It Like It Used To Be” and “Darlene.” Jimmy Fortune joined him on “Wine Into Water.” His son Acme played drums in the band during his performance.

During his Lucas Oil Stadium performance in Indianapolis, George Strait debuted a new song, “Honky Tonk Hall of Fame,” that featured his touring partner, Chris Stapleton. According to Whiskey Riff, he also announced an upcoming album, saying, “We’ve got a new record called Cowboys and Dreamers. It’s going to be coming out soon.”

A co-writer of one of my theme songs, “Could I Have This Dance,” has died. Wayland Holyfield wrote the 1980 Anne Murray hit with Bob House. He died May 6 at age 82. The Arkansas native, born in 1942, moved to Nashville in 1972 to be a songwriter. His first hit was Johnny Russell’s “Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer,” co-written with Bob McDill and Chuck Neese. He then had three #1 hits by Don Williams, “You’re My Best Friend,” “Till the Rivers All Run Dry”, and “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend.” Other artists who had hits with his songs include Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap, and Charley Pride. The state of Arkansas commissioned him in 1986 to write a song for its sesquicentennial celebration. “Arkansas (You Run Deep in Me)” became an official state song, and he performed it at the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton. Holyfield was the first Nashville songwriter to be elected to ASCAP’s board of directors and served there for over 25 years. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992.

“Thanks to Rob Santos and Tim Smith with Sony Music and also Vic Anesini for remastering all of my RCA albums,” Sylvia proudly announces on Facebook. Her Drifter album, originally released as an LP in 1981, a year before CDs were on the market, is now available to listen to and download digitally.

“Get A Little Dirt on Your Hands” is a Bill Anderson song recently released by former teenage idol Johnny Tillotson. “Johnny ran across some old unreleased master recordings recently and decided to put them out,” Bill writes in his fan club newsletter. “Johnny has always had a love for country music, and it’s great to hear his take on something I created.” Well, I’ve always liked Johnny, and he still sounds good, even with Bill’s depressing story.

According to reports, Dolly Parton is staying at home to support and care for husband Carl Dean; she will no longer be making public appearances or accepting as many media inquiries. I don’t remember hearing that Carl had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease about five years ago. Dolly and Carl were married in 1966 when she was 20 and he was 23. He has always preferred to stay at home and out of the spotlight.

When Blake Shelton was recently honored at the annual Power of Love Gala in Las Vegas for his philanthropic work, he joined in the fundraiser auction. After a spirited bidding war, he won a spot in an upcoming Mark Wahlberg movie. Country Rebel reports he paid $40,000 for his silver screen debut opportunity.


Bobby Fischer writes from Nashville, “The world lost a great songwriter this week, Wayland Holyfield. He left us a lot of three-minute miracles that will live forever. The last time I saw him was at his house he had a party for another great one, Pat Alger. Hope all will google Wayland’s catalog and hum along with the hits. Also, remember Tommy Overstreet? Great artist and person, signed my first pub contract with him, then with Tree Pub and Buddy Killen, Charlie Black, and Jerry Gillespie. Had some great songs with T.O. I had a group called the Parrish Bros; I lined them up to record with Ricci Mareno at Terrace Music. Charlie and Jerry wrote some songs for the session. The brothers got in a fit onstage and canceled the session. I hated to tell Ricci, but he just took the song and recorded it on the next artist up: Tommy Overstreet. The song was ‘Gwen Congratulations.’ It went to number one. So goes the music biz. Tommy cut a few of my songs; one was ‘Welcome to My World of Love.’ Love your wide range of information on the biz.”

Rick Russell says, “I look forward to the newsletters and love reading them. I’m sure you’re glad to have finished the book, but it must be hard to wait so long for the publishing. I’m still plugging away at Johnny’s biography. I love the search but get frustrated with the writing. I saw the CBS story on the new Randy Travis song. Wow, sounds great to my ears, and brought a tear to my eye.”

Kent Kotal of Forgotten Hits writes, “I still check out your newsletters and keep up with your publications … but it isn’t often these days when country music ties into the oldies market that we cover. Still, I am absolutely blown away by the fact that Randy Travis has created new music again … for the first time in over ten years … thru the dreaded technology of AI … perhaps the FIRST time I’ve heard it touted in a GOOD way … I think it’s just amazing what they’ve done.”

Eric Calhoun says, “Concerning Morgan Wallon, I really hope he is sorry. Sometimes, we need to think about what behavior will be acceptable, and what will be unacceptable. Can you believe that it will be eight years this summer that Little Big Town’s ‘Girl Crush’ cracked the Top 10? That’s so amazing. I have a request: Former American Idol contestant Mandisa did get into a little of country music. Do you have any YouTube video that you might want to pass onto your readers? Finally, as someone who absolutely loves Taylor Swift, I am, currently in the running for Taylor Swift tickets. I hope I get them, and that the people who see my phone texts will call me to tell me I won. It’s a Cumulus-Media contest; I am also liking that video you shared from NPR Music. I just subscribed to the YouTube channel. In all the hubbub of what National Public Radio is in, I think someone like you, Diane, really warmed our hearts with this video.”

Diane: Here’s Mandisa’s recording of “Good Morning” on YouTube. Mandisa Lynn Hundley, known as Mandisa, was an American gospel and contemporary Christian recording artist who appeared on American Idol in 2005. She was found dead at her Nashville home on April 18, 2024, at age 47. Her father told reporters he believes her death occurred during her recovery from COVID-19. She fell down in her bedroom and was found on the floor. Her phone was on the far side of the bed, and she apparently couldn’t reach it to call for help.

Jeffrey Dreves writes from Halifax, Nova Scotia, “I am writing to ask if you might be able to help me get in touch with Diane Jordan. I recently came across the 1970s film That’s Country while researching the Al Gannaway Opry films of the ’50s. A person I’ve been helping locate a completely different, unrelated film in the archives here asked what I had been working on. When I told him I had been looking into this film called That’s Country, he said he’d been digitizing old files at the photographic company he owns. Turns out, the ‘world premiere’ of that film was here in Halifax, and he had just been looking at proof sheets of shots from the premiere and reception in September 1977. How crazy is that? Diane Jordan and Larry Fullam were the two obvious ‘stars’ pictured with Lorne Greene in the photos. I want to add a note of thanks for your newsletter/blog which is an absolutely incredible resource. And the Faron Young and Marty Robbins books are both on my (fairly small) e-book shelf, and I refer back to them often. I read the newsletter on your webpage and have used the search there a lot. Please add me to your list. It will help me keep more current.”

Jackie Thomas in Arizona says, “Always love your newsletter full of news you don’t hear anywhere else. Please keep it up. Gene Burkhart loved the music he got from Mary Mitchell, talked about it all the time. Was very nice gesture of hers and was appreciated. I played with Gene Burkhart for many years. He passed away in May 2022, a sad loss and he and his wonderful singing and playing are greatly missed here in the Phoenix Valley.”

Felix Rubaszek says, “I found your email in your Amazon description after purchasing the book you wrote about Marty Robbins. I’m so excited to read, I am such a huge fan of Marty Robbins work and I’m thrilled to gain more insight on his life. I’d love to receive your monthly newsletter.”

Doug Lippert writes from Carmel, Indiana, “Thank you for another wonderful newsletter. I’m so grateful that you continue to showcase the unsung heroes of the music we love…the songwriters. Thank you for doing that. I caught John Michael and Eddie Montgomery this past weekend. JMM opened but they may swap that on each show. A great show, of course; essentially a ‘greatest hits’ cavalcade for both. Both brothers are polished performers and singers, and Eddie does an admirable job of honoring his former partner Troy during his show. But for me the strength of all those great songs is the melody and lyrics…it’s what the songwriter provides to get things started. I’ll acknowledge that it’s a collaboration between all parties, including the session’s producer and engineers but, without those songwriters, we’d be stuck in neutral, wouldn’t we? As always, I’m grateful for your commitment to America’s music.”

Diane: That’s a show I would enjoy seeing. It’s the first I’ve ever heard of the Montgomery brothers performing together.

Daniel Burritt in Glendale Arizona, says, “Great Newsletter again. Really cool stuff.”

Dominique ‘Imperial’ Anglares writes from France, “Thank you very much for the welcome information provided in that Country Music newsletter. Nice to read about Randy Travis and, of course, I join the gang to wish him a Happy Birthday and all the best for the future.”


Dave Barton in Franklin, Kentucky, sends this 12-minute YouTube video: June Carter Cash Performs “Ring of Fire” and Sits Down With Johnny | Carson Tonight Show (youtube.com). He says, “Kind of interesting. I didn’t know she could play the well, I knew Maybelle could. Talking about the border radio station like in Del Rio TX……500,000 watts covering the US can’t do that anymore. FCC put a stop to it back in the late ‘60s.” June Carter Cash was a guest on the Johnny Carson show on July 31, 1980, where she sang “Ring of Fire” the way she and Merle Kilgore wrote it. She was more talented than her clowning around usually showed, but that was her niche.


Aaron Barker from San Antonio, Texas (born in 1953) first made a name for himself as bass player and lead singer in the Texas show band, The American Peddlers. He left in 1988 to be a songwriter. That same year, George Strait recorded his “Baby Blue.” After that #1 hit came “Love Without End, Amen” (1990), “Easy Come, Easy Go” (1993), “I’d Like to Have That One Back” (1994), “I Know She Still Loves Me” (1996), and “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” (1996). Aaron wrote or co-wrote hits such as Doug Supernaw’s “Not Enough Hours in the Night” (1995), Lonestar’s “What About Now” (2000), and Clay Walker’s “You’re Beginning to Get to Me” (1998) and “Watch This” (1997). He also recorded solo albums for Atlantic Records and wrote and recorded Blue Bell Ice Cream radio and TV jingles. He is 71 years old, and his website is http://www.aaronbarker.com/.

Hits written by Beth Nielsen Chapman, who was born in 1956 in Harlingen, Texas, include the co-written “This Kiss” by Faith Hill, Martina McBride’s “Happy Girl,” Willie Nelson’s “Nothing I Can Do About It Now,” Lorrie Morgan’s “Five Minutes,” Alabama’s “Here We Are,” and Tanya Tucker’s “Strong Enough to Bend.” Growing up in an Air Force family on military bases, she began writing songs at age 11 in Germany, where she also learned guitar and piano. She landed a songwriting contract at age 20, released her debut LP in 1980, and moved to Nashville in 1985. Her songs have appeared on numerous TV shows and in soundtracks of movies. After her husband died of cancer in 1994, she wrote Elton John’s “Sand and Water.” Following her own cancer diagnosis, she continued writing and recording. Now 67 years old, she is a member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and has a website at https://bethnielsenchapman.com/.

Biloxi, Mississippi, native Bob Morrison (born Robert Edwin Morrison in 1942) grew up hearing all kinds of music because his father was a jukebox operator. He graduated from Mississippi State with a nuclear engineering degree in 1965 and lived in Los Angeles for six years as an actor and singer. He moved to Nashville in 1973 and signed with Combine Music as a songwriter. His songs include “Lookin’ for Love” (Johnny Lee), “Whiskey If You Were a Woman” (Highway 101), “You Decorated My Life” (Kenny Rogers), “You’re the One” (The Oak Ridge Boys), “Tonight the Heartache’s on Me” (Dixie Chicks), “Don’t Call Him a Cowboy” (Conway Twitty), “Are You on the Road to Lovin’ Me Again” (Debby Boone), and “Shine On” (George Jones). “Lookin’ for Love” was the theme song of the John Travolta movie, Urban Cowboy, in 1980. At age 81, he is still active in the music business.

John Townes Van Zandt was born in 1944 as the son of a distinguished Fort Worth, Texas, family. He became obsessed with music after seeing Elvis Presley on TV in 1956. He underwent shock treatments as a teenager, after being diagnosed with manic depression; that destroyed many of his childhood memories. While in college, he locked himself in his room and immersed himself in the music of artists such as Bob Dylan and Hank Williams. Jack Clement began recording him in Nashville in 1967, and the eight LPs they recorded became cult favorites. Townes and Mickey Newbury co-wrote “Mister Can’t You See,” a pop success for Buffy Sainte-Marie in 1972. His two best-known works are “Pancho and Lefty” (Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard in 1983) and “If I Needed You” (Emmylou Harris and Don Williams in 1981). Van Zandt recorded seven more albums in the early 1990s. A substance abuser throughout most of his adult life, he died at age 52 on New Year’s Day 1997, in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. Fourteen posthumous albums have appeared since then, as well as two books, a documentary film, and four tribute CDs.

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