Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 19 September 2018

I couldn’t find Margie Singleton when I was writing Faron Young’s biography, but I’ve found her now–thanks to discovering Margie Singleton Walton on Facebook. During our recent phone chat, she brought me up to date on her life and her new music.

Back in the 1960s, 12 of her singles charted on Billboard. Her biggest was “Keeping Up With the Joneses,” a #5 duet with Faron in 1964.
The pair cut four songs during their one session. “Yes, Mr. Peters” was scheduled to be released as their second single. (Roy Drusky and Priscilla Mitchell brought it to #1 the following year.) But Shelby Singleton, who was the Mercury Records producer and Margie’s husband, “found another pasture to graze in,” she told me. “My ex-husband departed from my life.” In addition to recording with Faron, Margie had a vocal background group, the Merry Melody Singers, who did several recording sessions per day. “When this happened between me and my husband,” she says, “that was dried up. I was kind of left in the lurch.”

Faron invited her to go on the road as part of his show. “It was a wonderful experience,” she recalls. “He and his wife, Hilda, they were so there for me during that time. Faron had this mouth, sometimes, but he was always very respectful to me.”

In 1965, Margie married Leon Walton. Better known as Leon Ashley, he was the first artist to write, record, release, distribute, and publish his own material; “Laura (What’s He Got That I Ain’t Got)” reached #1 on Billboard in 1967. “We were on stage for 48 years together, and in life together,” Margie says. They stopped performing in 2006, due to Leon’s tongue cancer: “He lived a terrible life with that, and I was taking care of my husband.” After his death in 2013, Margie thought she would never sing again. She never wanted to sing again, and she was losing her voice because she hadn’t been using it

Then someone with an online radio show contacted her three years ago and asked if he could book a date for her 80th birthday, He said he would get her artist friends to participate, and would she do the show? “No,” she told him. “I won’t. I’m not going to sing anymore.” But with his encouragement, and that of her friends, she agreed. “It just relit the fire,” she says. She recorded an album in 2016, released as On the Other Side of Life. “It’s not on the national charts or nothing,” she tells me, “but in my world, it’s done quite well, and I’m proud of it.”

“But my new thing–that I am SOooo proud of,” she says, is her recently released recording of “Heaven Or Hell.” The video is on YouTube and the audio on CD Baby. “About two months ago,” she explains, “my associate pastor, Kent Riddle, called me and said the Lord had put upon his heart to preach a revival on hell. He said, also, the Lord had told him for Margie to write a song about hell. I thought, oh, wow, that’s too deep for me. I pondered and prayed and asked the Lord to give it to me. And I’m telling you right now, he did. I wrote it on paper; He gave me the ability to sing it.”

The song begins, “Heaven or hell, what will it be, it’s up to you to decide. Heaven or hell, make up your mind, while you still have time.” She wants people to listen to the song and share it on social media. She doesn’t expect to recover her costs. She simply wants the message to be heard. “If you would help me share it, I’ll just be ever so grateful,” she says. “If you go on Facebook and happen to like my song, which I pray you will, I hope you share it, because it’s for God. I want the unbelievers to hear it. I hope you have your people share it.”

As she approaches her 83rd birthday, Margie is energized by her new singing career. “If you ever get down this way,” she said as we finished our conversation, “look me up, and we’ll go to lunch. I live in Hendersonville.”

To learn more about Margie Singleton and her music, check out her website.

Olivia Newton-John, who turns 70 next week, announced on Australian TV that she is battling cancer for the third time. Doctors found a tumor at the base of her spine. Yahoo Lifestyle reports her decision to use modern medicine and natural remedies, such as cutting sugar from her diet and taking cannabis oil. She feels lucky to live in California and hopes the medical marijuana laws in Australia will change. “In California it’s legal to grow a certain amount of plants for your own medicinal purposes. So my husband makes me tinctures,” she says. “They help with pain.” She has her moments of despair, but she tries to stay positive: “I live in this beautiful place. I have a wonderful husband. I have all the animals that I adore. I have an incredible career. I have nothing, really, to complain about. . .. I believe I will win over it and that’s my goal.”

Samuel Benton “Ben” Selecman, 28, son-in-law of Alan Jackson, died September 12 in West Palm Beach, Florida. He suffered a traumatic head injury when he fell while helping a woman onto a boat. According to The Tennessean, he was the Assistant District Attorney for Davidson County in Nashville. His wife, Mattie, also 28, is Alan and Denise’s oldest daughter. The couple married last October at the Jackson home in Franklin, Tennessee.

The newly formed Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Foundation has Blake Shelton as a member of its board. The purpose of the foundation is to raise money for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The state agency operates off revenue from hunting and fishing licenses and from taxes on hunting and fishing equipment; it doesn’t receive appropriations from the Legislature. The new foundation is waiting for federal approval of nonprofit status so it can begin fundraising.

CMT News reports on the country music presence of actor Burt Reynolds, who died September 6 at the age of 82. He dated Tammy Wynette briefly in the 1970s. His first starring role was the 1972 movie Deliverance, which produced the classic bluegrass song, “Dueling Banjos.” W. W. and the Dixie Dance Kings in 1975 starred Burt and included country artists such as Jerry Reed, Don Williams, Mel Tillis, and Roni Stoneman. The first of three Smokey and the Bandit movies, all of which included Jerry Reed, was released in 1977. It produced Jerry’s hit song of “East Bound and Down.” Paul Williams, the current president of ASCAP, also appeared in the three movies. Burt and Dolly Parton co-starred in 1982’s The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Brenda Lee and the Statler Brothers also appeared in his movies, as did Jim Nabors and George Lindsey.

CMT News reports the death of Roy Wunsch, 75, former president of Sony Records’ Nashville division (formerly CBS Records with imprint labels Columbia and Epic Records). He died August 31 in Nashville, due to Alzheimer’s disease. During his decades in the recording industry, the artists he helped included Willie Nelson, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Paycheck, Sonny James, Chet Atkins, Ray Charles, Connie Smith, Merle Haggard, Charley Rich, Janie Fricke, Rosanne Cash, Dolly Parton, Rodney Crowell, Ricky Skaggs, and Ricky Van Shelton. As president of Sony’s Nashville division, he oversaw the development of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Loveless, Joe Diffie, Collin Raye, and Doug Stone, among others.

On his Facebook page, Willie Nelson announced he’ll be headlining a “Turn Out For Texas” rally and concert September 29. A press release says this is “the first public concert Nelson has held for a political candidate.” That candidate is Beto O’Rourke, who is running against Senator Ted Cruz. “My wife Annie and I have met and spoken with Beto and we share his concern for the direction things are headed,” Willie said. Here’s a sampling of the 2,700 comments in reaction to Willie’s Facebook post:
“You should stay out of politics. I’m a lifelong fan this is not a smart move.”
“A lifelong fan would not tell Willie Nelson to get out of politics, because it shows that you never knew who he was to begin with.”
“Lifelong fan would not want to stand by and watch a person go socialist. Supporting a socialist in any form is not what I do.”
“So that means you’ll give up your Social Security, Medicare, and veterans benefits; stay off public roads, highways, bridges and sidewalks; advocate for disbanding our military, police, fire and emergency services; avoid libraries, public parks, monuments, beaches and museums; keep your kids out of public schools; give up garbage collection and public landfills; sewer system; road maintenance; metro buses…and all those other evil socialist programs, because that’s ‘not what you do.’ Right?” [Sorry, I couldn’t resist printing that one.]
“Well, you just broke my heart Willie. 40 some years as a fan, now it’s over. Have a great life, I won’t be following it any longer.”
“Willie ‘fans’ shocked about his politics is the funniest thing I’ve heard today. You’d have to be a fairly peripheral fan to be surprised by this.”
“Willie has raised over 535 million dollars for American farmers with just one concert a year. He’s played hundreds of benefits for various disasters. He’s a true American. It’s dismaying to see the hate in this thread.”

“I don’t care,” Willie Nelson says about fans who are unhappy with his recent announcement. “They’re entitled to their opinions and I’m entitled to mine.” He appeared this week on the TV talk show, The View. “I love flak,” he says. “We’re not happy ’til they’re not happy.” He visited the show to advertise his new album, My Way, a collection of Frank Sinatra songs.

Tickets for the first-ever concert at Notre Dame Stadium are available for $98.95. Less than three hours after they went on sale, more than 84,000 had been sold. The Garth Brooks concert will be held Saturday, October 20.

The charges against Gretchen Wilson for breach of peace at Bradley International Airport have been dropped, according to the Hartford Courant. After appearing in Superior Court on September 13, she agreed to make a $500 charitable contribution to Connecticut’s criminal injuries compensation fund. “I’m a person like everyone else and we’ve all had bad days,” she told reporters after the hearing. “It’s just that celebrities are targeted when they have one.”

Sounds Like Nashville reports on the third annual Concert For The Kids charity show, hosted by Jason Aldean in Macon, Georgia, on September 6. It raised more than $620,000 for the Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital, which serves central and southern Georgia. “There is nothing better than coming back to your hometown for a great cause and Georgia really showed up,” Jason said in a press release. In three years of concerts, he has raised nearly $2 million for the pediatric facility.

September 8 marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Troy Gentry in a helicopter crash in New Jersey. Eddie Montgomery commemorated the date by posting a video on social media to recall favorite memories and reminisce on the rowdy times they had together. The Montgomery Gentry band continued after Troy’s death, with Eddie embarking on their “Here’s to You Tour” this past January.

The 2018 Harmony Award will be presented to Toby Keith at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center in December. The Nashville Symphony recognizes one individual per year “who exemplifies the harmonious spirit of Nashville’s musical community,” reports Taste of Country. The cochairs of the 2018 Symphony Ball fundraiser said, “More than just an outstanding singer and songwriter with a legendary onstage energy, Toby has made selfless contributions to the world around him–including scores of performances for U.S. service personnel abroad and assisting the families of children with critical illnesses through the Toby Keith Foundation–that prove his impact reaches well beyond music.”

During her recent United Kingdom tour, Carrie Underwood, 35, woke up with vertigo and needed to be admitted to the hospital. Her shows at the Long Road Festival and Radio 2 in London’s Hyde Park were cancelled. Taste of Country reports her appearance on the Tonight Show where she described her experience to Jimmy Fallon.

The 2019 MusicCares Person of the Year is Dolly Parton. The Boot reports she is being recognized “for her creative accomplishments, as well as her longtime support of a variety of causes through her Dollywood Foundation.” Her Imagination Library, for example, has provided more than 100 million books to children. The Recording Academy, which sponsors the Grammy Awards, established MusiCares Foundation in 1989 to cover financial, medical, and personal emergencies of music professionals. Its Person of the Year Gala has raised more than $90 million for MusiCares to support the music community in times of need. Dolly, who will be honored on February 8 during the annual gala at the Los Angeles Convention Center, is the first Nashville artist to receive the award. Fleetwood Mac was recognized in 2018 and Tom Petty in 2017.

Breaking news: Coteau Entertainment has booked Mo Pitney for a South Dakota concert on Veteran’s Day. He will be appearing at the Sisseton Performing Arts Center on Sunday, November 11, at 4 pm.

Jim Webb, former U.S. Senator and former Secretary of the Navy, writes from Northern Virginia, “I really enjoy your newsletters. You are and always have been a very fine writer, and you are doing a great job by filling a cultural void in today’s America. As you know and will remember, these people and this music are a big part of my family heritage. I appreciate you!”

Carol Smith, former secretary for Marty Robbins, writes from Nashville, “WOW – What a great inspiration interview with Jimmy Fortune. Every time I see him anywhere he is such a nice person and so is his wife. His voice is so beautiful. Again – WOW what a GREAT interview. Thanks for all you do.”

Jean Seither in Chicago says, “Thanks a lot for your very informative newsletter. I look forward to it every time I get it and pass it on. Thanks especially for your information on Jimmy Fortune. I was a fan of his with the Statler Brothers and love him as a solo artist. I’m glad to hear he’s such a loving and caring person.”

Cal Sharp, former Country Deputy, writes from Nashville, “Hope things are going well. Just so you know, the Buy Now link for your Faron biography gets a 404. All of us Deputies got a lot of 404s with Faron. Ha.”
Diane: Thanks for letting me know, Cal. I fixed it. I wish I could figure out how to add a Buy Now link for Marty Robbins.

Jenny Jones says, “Just read your Newsletter. Enjoyed it as usual. You have so much interesting NEWS. I can hardly wait to read it and want to let you know as soon as possible how much I did. Keep up the good work. Oh, by the way, I do wish you could have done a bio on Billy Walker while he was living. You are an excellent author.”

Delma Fordham requests, “Please unsubscribe this email address. Then I wish to rejoin with my new email address. Thanks for all you do for our great country music, the only music I love so much.”

Linda Miller writes, “I wish to subscribe to this newsletter. It is really fun and a very interesting read. I love several genres of music and have kept up with a lot of the country artists through the years. Being in my seventies, I lean toward the good old folks in the business. Thank you for making this letter available.”

John Mogen in Sioux Falls says, “Thank you for taking the time to come hear Mogen’s Heroes at the SD State Fair. It meant a lot to me. We love playing and singing for the Huron crowds. Come back again soon.”

Martin Nemecek wonders, “I hope that all is well. We haven’t got an email for some time.”
Diane: You somehow must have been dropped off the list. You’re back on it now.

Don Holland, retired U.S. Navy master chief in Orlando, Florida, writes, “I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of two great Aussie country music fans, Peter Turner and Russell Turner, through a Hank Williams blog. They introduced me to Australian country music and the king of country music there, Slim Dusty. I don’t know how I could have missed this great country music icon, but I did. Hank put a lot of stock in who closed the shows and who drew the biggest crowds, and in his lifetime he did very well at that. If you watch this magnificent closing ceremony (3 minutes) from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, with Slim Dusty singing ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and a couple of hundred thousand Aussies singing along with him and over a billion people watching on TV around the world, you cannot help but be impressed. By Hank Williams’s own criteria for closing the show and drawing a large crowd, Slim Dusty set a world record and earned the respect of the entire world. In the state funeral they gave Slim, you will see the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Howard, at the funeral, singing along on ‘The Pub with No Beer.’ I am greatly impressed with the country music in Australia and I bet you and many of the readers of your newsletter are, too. I do not know of any other guitar picker, ever, to have been given a state funeral. I will always be the number one fan of Hank Williams, but I now rank Slim Dusty number two.”
Diane: I was introduced to the music of Slim Dusty when I first visited Australia in about 1989. Here’s the video of his 2003 funeral (length 1:26:01). “The Pub with No Beer” is at 56 minutes. I really like the song at 30 minutes.

Noted Nashville songwriter and bass player Joe Allen wrote “Manhattan Kansas,” which Glen Campbell brought to #6 on Billboard in 1972. The story of an unwed mother rejected by her parents and her lover sounds depressing on the surface: “Manhattan, Kansas ain’t no place to have a baby when you got no man to give it his last name.” She fell for a jerk who “told her that he loved her and he made her dance before the music played.” Although he said she was pretty, “the only ring it got her was the ring of grease that runs around the sink.” But she didn’t beg for his support. Proud and independent, she’s a survivor: “She’d rather wash her dishes; it makes her feel as if her hands are clean.”

While searching at the public library one day for books to read, I came across Elvis: My Best Man by George Klein, written with Chuck Crisafulli in 2010. I’ve read many Elvis Presley books but haven’t paid much attention to his Memphis Mafia and had never heard of George Klein. Subtitled “A Memoir: Radio Days, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nights, and My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley,” the book was a most enjoyable read. It’s an insider story written with respect and humility, not self-aggrandizement or settling scores. George (nicknamed GK) and Elvis began their friendship in high school and participated in each other’s wedding. George built his career in radio, and as of the book’s publication, he was hosting a show on SiriusXM’s Elvis channel. While writing this review, I tuned into Channel 19 on Sirius XM. Lo and behold, the show was titled Classic GK. Just in time for the last song of the show, I heard his voice speak the line he’d used to end the book: “The United States of America has had many Presidents but only one King, and here he is to sing . . .”

Jim Ed Brown, Maxine Brown, and Bonnie Brown Ring were inducted in 2015 as Jim Ed Brown and the Browns. The Sparkman, Arkansas, natives sang together in school and at church functions in the late 1940s. Jim Ed and Maxine began performing on Shreveport’s KWKH Louisiana Hayride, and they recorded their own “Looking Back to See” in 1954. A year after Bonnie joined the act in 1955, RCA Records signed the Browns to a recording contract. Maxine’s 2005 autobiography, Looking Back to See: A Country Music Memoir, describes how tough traveling was and how they often lost money on their tours. They were planning to quit when “The Three Bells” hit number one on Billboard’s country and pop charts in 1959. The Browns, following their Grand Ole Opry membership and numerous hits, disbanded in 1967 when Maxine and Bonnie returned to Arkansas to raise their children. Jim Ed pursued a solo career and also recorded with Helen Cornelius. He hosted the Nashville on the Road TV show for six seasons. In 2014, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. There was a period of remission, but the cancer returned in mid-2015. By then, the Browns had been selected for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. On June 4, Bill Anderson presented Jim Ed with his Hall of Fame medallion in his hospital room. Jim Ed died June 11 at age 81. His sisters attended the official ceremony in November. Bonnie died of lung cancer the following July, two weeks short of her 78th birthday. Maxine is 87–and active on Facebook.

One of the very few musicians who worked with both Hank Williams and Elvis Presley, Grady Martin helped build the Nashville Sound as a member of the A-team of studio musicians. He could vary his guitar or fiddle note choice and timing to the extent that it seemed impossible for one person to play with so many different and brilliant musical styles. Born in 1929, the Tennessee farm boy was enthralled by DeFord Bailey’s harmonica and Roy Acuff’s fiddle on the Grand Ole Opry. At age fifteen, he left home to play fiddle on a Nashville radio station. Grady played a guitar solo on the recording of “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” at Castle Recording Studio in 1949, after which he played fiddle and guitar in Red Foley’s band for eight years. When Owen and Harold Bradley opened their Quonset hut recording studio, Grady joined them as a full-time studio musician. The sought-after “A-Team” worked so many sessions that he sometimes slept under a piano bench to get some rest before the next session. He inadvertently invented “fuzz tone” during a Marty Robbins session in 1960, when an electronic malfunction distorted his guitar sound. In 1978, he started touring with Jerry Reed. He joined Willie Nelson’s band in 1979, where he stayed until poor health forced him to retire in 1994. Grady Martin died December 3, 2001, at age 72, in a Lewisburg, Tennessee, medical center.

The Oak Ridge Boys originated in the 1940s when Wally Fowler changed the name of a Knoxville, Tennessee, group to the Oak Ridge Quartet because they played in nearby Oak Ridge. After moving to Nashville, the group became regulars on the Grand Ole Opry’s Prince Albert Show. Fowler sold his rights to the name in 1957. The Oak Ridge Quartet started calling themselves the Oak Ridge Boys in 1962 and made the change official in 1966. Baritone William Lee Golden, (born in Alabama in 1939), the first of the eventual Hall of Fame quartet, joined in 1965. Duane Allen (born in Texas in 1943) joined as lead singer in 1966. Richard Sterban (born in New Jersey in 1948) became the group’s bass singer in 1972. Tenor Joe Bonsall (born in Pennsylvania in1948) completed the lineup in 1973. Already one of gospel music’s most famous acts, the Oak Ridge Boys started singing country music. “Y’all Come Back Saloon” was a #3 country hit in 1977, and “Elvira” reached #1 in 1981. “Bobbie Sue” and “American Made” followed. During the period of 1987-1995, Steve Sanders replaced Golden. In 2000, the Oak Ridge Boys were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Bonsall and Sterban are in the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame (1994), Golden in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame (1997), and Allen in the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame (2014). The group is still active and touring.

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