Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 17 May 2023


The latest class of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has been announced. It includes Willie Nelson, 90, along with Sheryl Crow, Missy Elliott, Kate Bush, George Michael, The Spinners, and Rage Against the Machine. The induction ceremony will be held in November at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. CMT News reports more than 1,000 artists, historians, and music industry professionals voted on this year’s candidates.

The 149th Kentucky Derby boasted celebrities from both Kentucky and outside of the commonwealth, reports The Lexington Herald Leader. Patrick Mahomes, quarterback and two-time NFL and Super Bowl MVP for the Kansas City Chiefs, made the “rider’s up” call. Celebrities walking the red carpet included Mary and Randy Travis.

Kentucky native Carly Pearce, 33, performed the National Anthem at the Kentucky Derby. The Grand Ole Opry member attended the Churchill Downs event for the first time. “I am one of the weirdos who isn’t afraid to sing the National Anthem,” she jokingly tells PEOPLE. “I really enjoy singing it. I don’t know if that’s my background singing bluegrass where there’s a lot of acapella. I’m very aware of my voice, and I’m very aware of how to sing acapella.”

Singer/songwriter Jimmy Payne, 87, died May 15 while in hospice care after suffering two strokes and developing a severe infection. The Daily Banner reports, “Hearts are breaking all over Tennessee tonight.” His biggest songwriting success was “Woman, Woman,” co-written with Jim Glaser. His recording career began when Chuck Glaser arranged an audition with Billy Sherrill, who signed him to a five-year contract with Epic Records. In addition to his USA-charted songs, he entered the British pop charts with his version of “Sweet Fantasy.” His debut performance at The Grand Ole Opry was rewarded with three encores. He enjoyed performing at songwriters nights in Nashville and telling stories of days gone by.

Taylor Swift gave three Nissan Stadium performances in Nashville on her Eras Tour. The Friday and Saturday night shows kicked off around 6:30 with two opening acts before she took the stage at 8 p.m. But severe storms entered Nashville on Sunday evening, and fans were asked to shelter in place. The venue ceases entertainment when lightning strikes within eight miles. The storm advisory lifted at 9:25 p.m., after a four-hour weather delay. The opening acts were canceled. Taylor came onstage just before 10:15. She played a three-hour show in the rain, reports Taste of Country.

As might be expected of Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks, when they hosted the recent ACM Awards show in Frisco, Texas, they did not stay on script. Garth began with a monologue about greats in country music. He pointed out “the guy that single-handedly saved country music, Randy Travis,” who was sitting in the audience. He listed traits that made someone great and said career longevity needed to be considered. Then he said, “People, I’m not so sure that last one doesn’t make the king of country music a female. And that female is in the house tonight, Texas. Give it up for the GOAT, Dolly Parton!” Dolly walked onstage pulling a wagon with a live goat in it. After a few seconds, she called for someone to “take her baaaaaaack.” She mentioned this was Garth’s first time as host, adding, “They say you never forgot your first time.” She asked him, “Why are you doing that GOAT thing? I think that stands for Garth Organized A Three-some.” He was speechless. Then he came up with, “I thought I couldn’t love you any more.”

Reba McEntire has announced she is now a regular on The Voice, taking the spot vacated by Blake Shelton. She will join John Legend, Gwen Stefani, and Niall Horan as judges this fall. CMT News reports NBC executives had asked her to be on the show when it first began. Her then-husband/manager, Narvel Blackstock, said she wasn’t available at the time, and he offered Blake Shelton in her place.

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum has reissued the out-of-print biography, DeFord Bailey: A Black Star in Early Country Music, by David C. Morton with Charles K. Wolfe, originally published in 1991. This is the second book issued through the new partnership with the University of Illinois Press. Known as the “Harmonica Wizard,” DeFord Bailey (1899-1982) was a founding member of the Grand Ole Opry and among its most popular early performers. Although abruptly dismissed from the Opry, he never stopped playing music, though he no longer made his living as a musician, reports MusicRow. He was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Nashville’s Metropolitan Council recently approved an ordinance to rename a street in the Edgehill neighborhood where he lived. A public ceremony on May 20 will mark the renaming to “DeFord Bailey Avenue.”


Sam Wellington of the Four Guys writes, “Just a note about Claude Gray. I’LL JUST HAVE A CUP OF COFFEE THEN I’LL GO was written by Bill Brock, The Four Guy’s first and only Personal Manager and the man responsible for our becoming members of the GRAND OLE OPRY, where we spent 32-plus exciting years. Among many others, Bill also wrote BLACK CLOUD HANGING OVER MY HEAD – a big hit for Leroy Van Dyke in the early ‘60s. Chubby Checker had a Pop Hit on the same song. Our group has always referred to Bill as The Fifth Guy. Sadly he passed away in 2014. I have devoted an entire chapter to Bill’s memory in my new book – GRAND OLE’ NASHVILLE – soon to be released on AMAZON BOOKS. Thanks for the piece on Claude. He was a good man and a great Country singer.”

Mike Green says, “Love your newsletter. When I saw your Gordon Lightfoot obituary, I also thought of George Hamilton IV and Bill Anderson, who recorded his songs. Mac Wiseman did a full album saluting him, and it’s a beautiful recording. It was a bit ironic that the next obituary was of Claude Gray, who had another Mac Wiseman connection: The song ‘Johnny’s Cash and Charley’s Pride,’ which includes the line, ‘I’d make Jack Green, Claude Gray, Jim Ed Brown, and Carl Belew, if I had Johnny’s Cash, Charley’s Pride and you.”

Diane: I can still sing along with that song.

Dave Barton writes from Franklin, Kentucky, “I’m sure you knew Big Jeff was married to Tootsie Bess. Her real name was Hattie May or at least that’s what I called her.”

Diane: Yes, I talked about them in Faron’s biography.

Donald Ewert says, “I wasn’t familiar with Claude Gray until #1 Black Yodeler, Mike Johnson, sent me an 8-by-10 of him and Claude. I found songs on YouTube by Claude and became a fan of his great real country music.”

Elliot Mclanahan says, “I was saddened to hear about the passing of Claude Gray and Gordon Lightfoot. I do enjoy the newsletters more than I can say. Keep them coming.”

Mike Johnson of Roughshod Records writes, “I have been reading and enjoying your issues, all the while undergoing a battery of health tests. Thanks for the plug in your 8 March 2023 newsletter with my Country Boy Eddie comments and your 21 March 2023 newsletter with my Doug Davis ‘Country Music Classics’ comment. So sad to hear of Claude Gray’s passing. What a wonderful performer and person. I first met Claude at Bob Everhart’s 1999 Old Time Country Music Festival (Avoca Iowa) when he was performing on June Campbell’s live radio broadcast with my friend Smokey Stover, a Nashville DJ Hall of Famer, whom I’d also performed the same Oprys with down below Houston. We became casual email pals over the years and Gray and I crossed paths at another of Bob’s festivals around 2010, and for a final time at Bob’s 2016 festival in LeMars, Iowa, where he received a Living Legend award, me a Lifetime Achievement award, and my labelmate James Adelsberger received an Instrumental CD of the Year award. My condolences to the Gray family; country music has lost another legendary performer. Happy Birthday Willie Nelson and keep on truckin’.”

Eric Calhoun says, “Well, you learn something new. I did not know Carthage, Texas, has a Country Music Hall of Fame. I am planning on visiting that area, because a friend from Unshackled.org is a Texas native, Amy Blackwell. She told listeners about the Cowboy Church, called Still Waters Cowboy Church, located in the city of Carthage. Cowboy Churches are the United States answer to Calvary Chapel, which have grown in popularity. Cowboy Churches have fishing tournaments, rodeos, bull-riding, and many other activities, along with preaching and teaching. Also, one question that has kind of wanted an answer: I remember both Carlene and Dina Carter. Were they related to Johnny Cash?

Diane: Carlene Carter, 67, is Johnny’s stepdaughter. Her parents were Carl Smith and June Carter Cash. Deana Carter, 57, no relation, is the daughter of singer Fred Carter, Jr. She is best known for the album Did I Shave My Legs for This? and her single, “Strawberry Wine.” 

Roger Rounce sends “Sad information for your Newsletter (Jimmy Payne 1936 – 2023).” He says, “The great Jimmy Payne passed away Monday 15 May 2023. Born in Arkansas and raised in Missouri, he was a singer/songwriter recording artist on Epic before becoming better known as a songwriter per se, many songs written with his good friend Jim Glaser with whom he wrote ‘I See His Love All Over You’ for Tompall and the Glaser Brothers, ‘Don’t Say Love’ for Daniel O’Donnell, and the massive world-wide selling ‘Woman, Woman’ for Union Gap, which at last count had received over six million airplays. He also wrote ‘My Eyes Can Only See As Far As You’ (with Naomi Martin), which gave Charley Pride a Number One single. Many other artists who have recorded his songs include Glen Campbell, Tammy Wynette, Dottie West, Jimmy Dean, Bill Anderson, Ray Price, Cal Smith, Jeannie Pruett, and The Lettermen, amongst others. Just listen to ‘The Weight of my Chains’, a song Jimmy wrote for Tompall and The Glaser Brothers. Wonderful. We always spent time together on my visits to Nashville and wrote together many times, one result being ‘The Eyes of Jesus’, which can be found on YouTube. He had many friends here in the UK, including writer Jon Philibert and ex-Radio Cleveland DJ Stan Laundon, who ran his website. Jimmy was unpretentious, had time for everybody and was, indeed, the personification of ‘a good man’.”

Diane: Thanks for letting me know. I added him to the News section.


It’s been ten years since George Jones died. At the news of his death, renowned songwriter Keith Gattis sat down and wrote “Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum.” Upon receiving the song, Cris Lacy of Warner Bros. immediately contacted Randy Travis and asked him to record it. Randy debuted the song at CMA Fest that June. The song announces George’s death with the line, “In case you haven’t heard, he stopped loving her today.” George’s name is never mentioned, only his nickname of “Possum.” The singer plans to spend a long night listening to “every last song he ever sung.” It’s an extremely well written song. The singer suggests, “So pour ’em strong and smoke ’em if you got ’em,” while listening to titles such as “Bartender’s Blues and Why Baby Why, Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes, Still Doing Time.”


Rory Bourke, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, born in 1942, moved to Nashville in 1969 to be a record promoter for Mercury Records. He decided to pursue songwriting as a career and was a staff songwriter at Chappell Music and PolyGram Music before forming his own song publishing company in 1994. “The Most Beautiful Girl,” which he co-wrote with Billy Sherrill and Norro Wilson, became a massive hit for Charlie Rich in 1973. He and songwriter Charlie Black co-wrote many hits, including “Little Red Rodeo,” “Come Next Monday,” “Do You Love as Good as You Look,” “Shadows in the Moonlight,” and “A Little Good News.” He also co-wrote “You Look So Good in Love” and “Your Place or Mine,” as well as hits for numerous country and pop stars. He is 80 years old. I couldn’t find any current information about him, other than a website at http://rorybourke.com/.

Nashville native Maggie Cavender founded the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and was the original executive director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). Born Mary Margaret Polk in 1918, she earned a law degree at Vanderbilt University. She and husband Pete Cavender moved to California and became involved in the aviation industry. During World War II, she was an executive at Lockheed Aircraft in Dallas, Texas. She retained her pilot’s license for the rest of her life. Returning to her hometown in 1964, Maggie worked in copyright administration at Pamper Music. In 1967, she helped coordinate the first CMA Awards show and became founding executive director of Nashville Songwriters Association. She founded Maggie Cavender Enterprises in 1970; her office served double duty as the NSAI headquarters for decades. She guided the NSAI until 1989, when she became its director emeritus at age 70. In recognition of her service, she became the first non-composer inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. She died at age 78, in Nashville, in 1996.

Sanger “Whitey” Shafer was born in Texas in 1934 and grew up listening Bob Wills and Ernest Tubb on the radio. After his U.S. Army service, he eventually moved to Nashville in 1967. He took carpentry work to pay the bills while writing songs, such as George Jones’s “Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong.” He and Lefty Frizzell became close friends and co-writers. Johnny Rodriguez took their co-written “That’s the Way Love Goes” to the top of the country chart in 1974. George Strait had number one hits with two of Whitey’s songs, “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” and “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind.” In 1989, Keith Whitley recorded his “I Wonder Do You Think of Me,” which went to number one after Keith’s death. Whitey died in 2019, in Ridgetop, Tennessee, at age 84.

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