Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 17 June 2020


Katherine Williams-Dunning, 27, daughter of Hank Williams Jr., was killed in a single-vehicle accident on June 13. Country Now reports she was driving a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe and towing a boat southbound on Highway 79 near Paris, Tennessee. At 7:44 p.m., her SUV crossed the median, rolled over on the northbound lanes and stopped on the east shoulder. She died at the scene. Her husband, Tyler Dunning, 29, was airlifted to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. Katie was the youngest of Hank Jr.’s five children.

Saving Country Music reports the death of James Hand, 68, on June 8, while hospitalized in Waco, Texas, and suffering from congestive heart failure. Instead of pursuing a musical career, he rodeoed and drove trucks for many years. At age 47, in 1999, he released his debut album, Shadows Where The Magic Was. Ray Benson and Lloyd Maines produced his Rounder Records album, The Truth Will Set You Free, in 2006. He is survived by his former wife, Kayla Allen, and their two sons, Shane Machac and professional bull rider Tracer Hand.

I haven’t yet found an obituary for country music photographer Jerry Overcast, who died June 8 at age 74. He lived in Shelbyville, Tennessee.

The new name for the country trio Lady Antebellum is Lady A. After 14 years and eight albums, reports Yahoo Entertainment, the “Antebellum” is being dropped because of associations with slavery. Hillary Scott, Dave Haywood, and Charles Kelley posted on Instagram that the name, which was inspired by the Southern home where they shot their first promotional photos, is no longer appropriate. The Antebellum South existed from the late 18th century until the Civil War began in 1861; it relied mainly on slave labor for economic growth. Lady A acknowledged, “We can make no excuse for our lateness to this realization.”

Seattle blues singer Lady A, 61, is not happy. Anita White tells Rolling Stone that Lady Antebellum didn’t contact her before making the name change. She points out the irony “in changing a name in support of racial equality while simultaneously taking another one from a black performer.” She started going by Lady A in the 1980s and has released multiple albums with the name. A rep for Lady Antebellum told Rolling Stone the band didn’t know about the other artist and will contact her. “It’s an opportunity for them to pretend they’re not racist or pretend this means something to them,” White says. “If it did, they would’ve done some research. You found me on Spotify easily — why couldn’t they?”

From now on, Lady A will be the name of both the Seattle blues singer and the country trio. Anita White told USA TODAY on Tuesday that Hillary Scott apologized to her. “We talked about attempting to co-exist but didn’t discuss what that would look like, but I was clear I’m keeping my name,” she says. “Now we are turning hurt into hope.”

A memorial service for Jimmy Capps was held at the Grand Ole Opry House on Tuesday, June 9. It was carried live over WSM Radio 650 AM.

The danger from COVID-19 continues. Steel player Johnny Cox reports on the Steel Guitar Forum, on June 12, that he tested positive while in Nashville for the Jimmy Capps memorial service. He writes, “I started having symptoms this morning and when my fever reached 102.9, I came to the E.R.”

A petition started last week on Change.org has gathered more than 5,000 signatures to replace Confederate statues in Tennessee with statues of Dolly Parton. “History should not be forgotten, but we need not glamorize those who do not deserve our praise,” the petition states. “Let’s replace the statues of men who sought to tear this country apart with a monument to the woman who has worked her entire life to bring us closer together.”

Amy Grant, 59, wife of Vince Gill, had open-heart surgery last week to correct a condition from birth the doctors discovered during a heart checkup earlier this year. Partial anomalous pulmonary venous return (PAPVR) is a condition in which a pulmonary vein returns blood to the right atrium instead of the left atrium, PEOPLE explains. Oxygen-rich blood then flows back to the lungs instead of out to the body. Amy’s surgery, under general anesthesia, corrected the condition by redirecting blood flow. Ten days later, she called her recovery “miraculous” and posted on Instagram a photo that showed her scar.

The Forbes 2020 list of the Top 100 World’s Highest-Paid Celebrities includes two country stars. Luke Bryan, at #62, earned $45.5 million. Blake Shelton, at #70, earned $43.5 million. Those totals include $12 million for Luke on American Idol and $13 million for Blake on The Voice.

The newest book from Bobby Braddock will be available July 6. Country Music’s Greatest Lines: Lyrics, Stories & Sketches from American Classics discusses the lyrics and writers of more than 80 classic country songs, reports MusicRow. Artist Carmen Beecher brings the stories to life with illustrations of songwriters, singers, and song characters. “As a decades-long inhabitant of Music Row, I know a lot of the stories behind the songs and have had the privilege and honor of stumbling into more than a few songwriting sessions where music history was being made,” Bobby says. “I often thought that those attention-getting lines that are an important part of country hits would be an interesting topic for a book.”

The two Small Town Drive-In concerts scheduled by Alan Jackson in Alabama had to be postponed due to the threat of a Gulf Coast tropical storm. The Cullman show was moved from June 5 to June 12. The Fairhope show was moved from June 6 to June 13. The Tennessean reports an estimated 2,000 vehicles came to Cullman, about 140 miles south of Nashville, for Alan’s 75-minute set. He performed with his full band for the first time since February. To maintain social distance, lemonade carts delivered drinks, and food could be ordered via text message for carside delivery. Fans sat in lawn chairs and on car tops, with lines forming at restrooms and merchandise stands.

Nash Country Daily reports that Garth Brooks is creating an exclusive concert event in which he will perform at 300 outdoor theaters across the United States and Canada on June 27. “I am so excited to get to play again,” he says. “I have missed it so much. This drive-in concert allows us all to get back to playing live music without the uncertainty of what would be the result to us as a community. This is old school, new school, and perfect for the time we are in.” Tickets cost $100. The event will begin at dusk, rain or shine.

Zac Brown, 41, guitarist and lead singer for Zac Brown Band, is expanding to a solo career. He has released an album, The Controversy, which includes electronic music and synth pop. “My music interests have grown,” he tells PEOPLE. “Not everything is going to have a steel guitar. I wanted to make something fun. And I want the freedom to be my own artist.” He continues to tour and record with Zac Brown Band. He calls it “the best of both worlds,” saying, “I’ve got the band, which is more of a purist approach. And I like having the freedom to do both.”

The COVID-19 pandemic may force hundreds of independent music venues to close permanently, Taste of Country reports. The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which was formed because of the pandemic, surveyed 2,000 venues and learned 90 percent of them face permanent closure due to prolonged shutdown and lack of federal support. NIVA is lobbying Congress to include independent music venues in the Paycheck Protection Program.

Putting a price tag on “13,000 square feet of memories,” Tanya Tucker held a four-day warehouse sale last week in Columbia, Tennessee, about 45 miles south of Nashville. She sold stage outfits, designer fashion, jewelry, antiques, toys, furniture, bedding, and home decor. A portion of proceeds benefited two organizations that help musicians and industry workers during the pandemic: Music Health Alliance and the Academy of Country Music Lifting Lives. “We’re all struggling now,” Tanya told The Tennessean. “Some more than others. I thought, ‘Why shouldn’t I do this thing and contribute?’ I know so many people are having a hard time. It’s a perfect scenario to do it, to unload some of these things that are just weighing me down.” Tanya wasn’t at the sale; she was in Texas for the 2020 Concert for Love and Acceptance, an online event scheduled for June 30.

Jimmy Buffett will make his Grand Ole Opry debut on June 27, in a performance with Brad Paisley and Mac McAnally. He recently released Life on the Flipside, his first studio album in seven years.

The general store Johnny Cash purchased in Bon Aqua in the 1970s is for sale as a music studio and event venue. He held concerts and used it as a songwriting retreat. Brian and Sally Oxley created Storytellers Museum. The 2,825-square-foot building on 3.7 acres is on the market for $790,000. It includes a 55-car parking lot, sound and lighting equipment, an outdoor stage, gazebo and waterfall.

Broadway Properties, which is affiliated with the Roy Orbison Family Trust, has asked the Metro Nashville Planning Commission to deny a developer’s application to build a 25-story apartment complex with 440 apartments and a seven-story parking garage next door to the historic Orbison Building on Music Row. The company insists the proposed development would diminish the value of the historic building and the well-being of its occupants. “Since our mother, Barbara Orbison, bought The Orbison Building in the 1990s, the building has been about one thing and one thing only: music,” Roy Orbison Jr. tells The Tennessean. He and his brother, Alex, own the Orbison Building at 1625 Broadway. “It is listed as worthy of conservation in the National Register of Historic Buildings, it’s a destination on every Nashville tour trolley journey, and it’s also exactly the music rich history that Music Row is dedicated to preserving.” Roy Orbison, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, was best known for “Oh, Pretty Woman.” He died of a heart attack at his home in Hendersonville in 1988. The Orbison Building houses his memorabilia and also leases space to music industry personnel. A Roy Orbison museum in downtown Nashville is planned for next year.

Gwen Stefani, 50, is ready to marry Blake Shelton, 43, as soon as social distancing guidelines are lifted. A source tells Us Weekly the COVID-19 pandemic “has made her realize that waiting for the annulment at this point is just futile because it could take years for the church tribunal to issue the decision.” For the past year, she has been going through the formal process to have Catholic church officials annul her previous marriage. She had previously been “committed to getting the annulment, no matter how long it took,” the source says.

Sonny Osborne talks about David “Stringbean” Akeman in a recent “Ask Sonny Anything” column in Bluegrass Today: “One of the nicer people I met during my career. I knew him well enough that when he was brutally murdered it hurt. Really hurt. We were sitting at a truck stop a few miles west of Warrenton, VA and heard Grant Turner announce their deaths. We had seen them the night before at the Opry and just like that they were gone. Bean had approached me the night before and asked if I would be interested in buying some property with him. He would find out on Monday the actual information. We had been members of the Opry 11 years when he was killed…murdered. Guess what, the SOB who did it is walking the streets of Nashville now. Paroled.”

While a high school senior in 1977, John Berry wrote “The Graduation Song.” It appeared on his 1981 album, In The Nighttime. He recently re-recorded and co-produced the song with wife Robin and son Caelan in their home studio: https://youtu.be/voXLE_33BV0. A press release explains how his band members recorded their parts in their studios and sent them to John to be mixed. Shelby Kennedy and Tunecore are thanked for assisting in getting the music available on short notice. John performed “The Graduation Song” at a special graduation ceremony held by Maury County Public Schools in Columbia, Tennessee, to honor high school graduates who are leaving for military service prior to the rescheduled graduation ceremony.


Dianne Harmon, president of Elvis Angels Fan Club in Shreveport, Louisiana, writes, “Wow! what a great newsletter! hate to see that my friend Jerry Kennedy has Parkinson’s. I can remember when I was a kid going to his mom’s (who I called my Aunt Essie) and listening to Jerry and Jerry Reed play music. He is a super guy and I will be praying for him.”

Dominique “Imperial” Anglares writes from France, “Thank you very much for that great newsletter and for the memories shared by Jerry Kennedy and Merle Kilgore. Very interesting. Thanks also for the care given to my words about Little Richard. Awopbopaloobopalopbambom!”

Mary Lorefice wonders, “I’ve recently obtained the album Circlin’ Back (Celebrating 50 Years) by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. When Jeff Hanna introduced Jimmy Ibbotson, he said Jimmy was a member of the band. Do you have any information as to what he’s doing now?”

Diane: Jim Ibbotson started performing solo in 2004, after nearly four decades as a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Since then, he has released three albums for Unami Records. He is 73 years old.

Rick Belsher in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, writes, “Read all of your newsletters, and have said this before, but when reading about the country backup bands, and stars, see they are just people when you get down to it. When I was younger, often thought they were so fortunate to be talented, and got paid well, to travel over US and Canada. Money, fame, etc. etc. But, after reading newsletter, all was not bed of roses, and they got tired of the road, had personal problems, and when older, had/have health problems, like all of us. Your newsletter really puts a human face to these people we admire. To have Bill Anderson, Ray Benson, Jeannie Seely and others actually write in newsletter, and tell us a little about their lives is a real treat. I especially enjoy reading stories about Faron Young. I saw him twice in Edmonton, and have always considered him to be one of the top 10 TRADITIONAL COUNTRY STARS. He could sing ballads and shuffles, with so much feeling. Along with, of course, Ray Price (my favourite of all time), Mel, Patsy, Jim, etc. Faron was quite the guy, and like a lot of men, different guy when drinking. But the talent!”

Mary Mitchell says, “A big Thanks to Gene Burkhart for mentioning Carl Smith. I am a big Fan of his and all his music. He is a Standup Artist. His loss was very hard. RIP my friend. Great letter as always.”

Donald Ewert says, “I just read your newsletter, boy am I glad to be on your list. I was very interested in a book coming out about Dottie West.”

David Markham writes from England, “Thanks for your very, very interesting newsletter and the passing of 81-year-old Jimmy Capps. He’ll be sadly missed by his family and many country music friends, and worldwide country music fans. Faron was such a joker with all his Friends on and off stage. It’s sad reading about these country artists. Tom T. Hall was and still a fine country music writer and a funny guy. I remember one time he sent me picture of an advertisement he was under a car lifting it up with his hands stretched out, the back of him was a Barn Door. He married his English born wife who was a great bluegrass banjo player and singer. When she died it was very sad for all her USA friends and her U.K. family. You mention Billy Sanford haven’t heard his name for years and years. Or Dicky Lee.”

Tommie Ray says, “Thanks for the country music letter. I would like to subscribe. As a little girl, country music was part of my life. I enjoyed listening to Marty Robbins. I enjoyed his western songs. I drove my folks crazy listening to ‘El Paso.’ I just loved that song.”

June Thompson writes, “I thank you again for another great newsletter. I wanted you to know your book, Twentieth Century Drifter, is now available through the reading program for blind and all reading disabled persons program sponsored by the national library service. Your book about Faron has been available for quite a while. I don’t know if you personally had anything to do with this, but I thank you for writing the books. These old country musicians are much of the soundtrack of my life when I was growing up. Thanks again for all that you do to keep the real country music alive for your readers.”


The Wood Brothers Racing Team was founded in 1950 by Glen Wood and his brother Leonard. It is the longest running team in NASCAR, with the most recent of 99 victories belonging to driver Ryan Blaney at Pocono in 2017. Glen died in 2019, following a lengthy illness. At age 93, he was the oldest living member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I called Glen in 2006 for an interview about Marty Robbins.

He used to come around, and I would come around and talk with him some. He’d always say, or at least several times he did say, that he appreciated us talking with him. It was, in his words, an honor to–for us to do that or something. I said, “Marty, you got it the wrong way around. It’s an honor for us to be able to talk with you.” That was just the way he was. He didn’t feel like he wanted to intrude in our thing, and get the headlines from us, so to speak. He was a great person, as I knew him.

I remember one time I wanted to go to the Grand Ole Opry, and I asked him could he get us tickets. He said to call his office, and his girl would arrange it. We did that, so we got there and picked up the tickets, and they were right down on the front row. He came out after a while–some of the rest of them had played and it was his time to come out on stage–and he played a song or two. Then he said he wanted to introduce a friend of his in the audience, and had me stand up. I thought that was pretty cool. Something I never forgot.

I think he’d admit he wasn’t the greatest driver out there, but he did make an impact because of who he was. You wouldn’t think that somebody that was generally being a singer all his life would want to get in and do this dangerous-type racing. Especially like at Talladega. Which that, to me, would just keep you on pins and needles the whole time. But he did it, and he enjoyed it.

I ran on that Daytona track the first time it was built, from running over on the sand, on the beach, and I didn’t like running with so many cars, that you had to hold your car right to the bumper of the other one or you’d lose the draft, and I just didn’t like it. But some people didn’t mind that, and I guess Marty was–he ran most of the races there at one time. Several of them, and he did pretty good in some of the races. His finishes didn’t show it, but a lot of times during the race he ran real well.

Like I said, I wasn’t around him that much. Basically I just knew him well enough to talk with him some, but as far as being around–A lot of them used to tell about at the motels at night, he would entertain them until the last one left, so to speak. He would sing and talk the whole time.

I have his picture on the wall here, him and I, a picture we had somewhere in our little museum here. I believe I have one shot of him sitting at a piano. I didn’t know he played a piano until I saw him that night in Nashville, that he had me stand up.

He always said you have to keep changing to keep people interested in what you’re doing. Somebody once asked him, like maybe some of his singing friends, you didn’t hear anything out of them anymore, was they still around? Oh, yeah, they’re still around, but–if you didn’t keep changing and doing things to interest people, they’d forget about you. I reckon Marty was one that was never forgotten about, while he was performing, and I’ve never forgotten him either.


My third memoir is now published. Mommy! Watch Me tells my story of becoming a mother at age 50, when I adopted my daughters in Los Angeles in 2000. Twenty years ago this month, I was taking classes to be certified as a foster/adoptive parent, before being matched with foster children. The book covers our first ten years together as a family, from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to South Dakota. It’s available from my website and can also be downloaded as a Kindle ebook.

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