Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 2 December 2020


Hal Ketchum, 67, died November 23 as a result of complications from dementia. I reported in January that a tribute concert and fundraising campaign was held for him as he battled Alzheimer’s disease. The event took place at Gruene Hall in Gruene, Texas, where he had given his final performance in 2018. Hal was born in 1953 in Greenwich, New York, and began his musical career as a drummer with a rhythm and blues trio at age 15. In 1981, he moved to Austin, Texas, where he worked as a carpenter. Visits to the Gruene dance hall influenced him to try singing and songwriting. He moved to Nashville in 1986. His debut album for Curb Records, Past the Point of Rescue, was released in 1991. It produced four country chart singles: “Small Town Saturday Night,” “I Know Where Love Lives,” “Five O’Clock World,” and the title track. Hal joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1994.

Lead guitarist Billy Dwayne Martin, 70, died November 28 in the Wise County Hospital in Decatur, Texas. His obituary says he “became a musician at an early age and played professionally for most of his career. He was employed and played music for Charley Pride for over 23 years before retiring due to health reasons a little over a year ago.” Billy was a U.S. Navy veteran. He and wife Linda were married almost 50 years. His funeral is being held December 2 in Sweetwater, Texas.

Following the stroke-related death of Billy Joe Shaver, 81, three wills have been discovered. His will in 2000 named his sister, Patricia, as executrix and left everything to her. In 2003, he changed that will to leave his estate to Patricia’s son, Terry Dwayne Rogers, who shares a home with his mother. Both wills were drawn up professionally, and there doesn’t appear to have been any estrangement at the time of Billy Joe’s death, reports Waco Tribune-Herald. The 2003 will is being challenged by Fred Fletcher, who filed a 2008 handwritten document in which Billy Joe names Fletcher as his sole beneficiary. Fletcher, the son of Willie Nelson’s sister, Bobbie, co-founded Pedernales Records with Willie in 1999. The 2008 handwritten will says, “I want him to continue to administer all my music business and to keep all profits.” It gives Billie Joe’s home, songs, automobile, bank accounts and “anything of value” to Fletcher.

Nominees for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards have been announced. The Tennessean reports a history-making event in that all five nominees for Best Country Album are by women: Ingrid Andress, Brandy Clark, Miranda Lambert, Ashley McBryde, and co-ed vocal group Little Big Town. The awards presentation will occur January 31, 2021.

Months after John Prine died of COVID-19 complications, his last recording, called “I Remember Everything,” has received two Grammy nominations, the Tennessean reports. The posthumous single is up for Best American Roots Performance and Best American Roots Song. John is a two-time Grammy Award winner and 13-time nominee, receiving his first nomination nearly 50 years ago, for his self-titled debut album. The Recording Academy paid him tribute in 2020 with a Lifetime Achievement honor.

Razzy Bailey, 81, best known for songs such as “Midnight Hauler” and “She Left Love All Over Me,” was involved in a car crash Saturday night, November 28. His back was broken in two places, and he is in the critical care unit at Skyline Hospital in Nashville. Helen Treat reports on Facebook, “The doctors hope to move him to a step-down unit soon as he continues to heal. Razzy is having pain but the doctors are trying to help keep the pain under control with meds. He has the neck brace to help keep everything lined up for healing. At this point, the doctors do not feel surgery would be in his best interest so he will be healing with the help of two braces.” Helen is Razzy’s long-time agent and a close friend of Razzy and his wife, Faye. She says, “If any of you need to get messages to Razzy and Faye or wish to send them cards, please contact me and I will help you with those requests. My email is sissy@615EntertainmentAgency.com.”

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade on November 26 in New York City featured several country stars, The Country Daily reports. The parade was closed to the public because of the pandemic. Balloons, floats, and street performers traveled along the abbreviated route. From Nashville, Dolly Parton sang “A Holly Jolly Christmas” for Cracker Barrel’s Home Sweet Home float. Lauren Alaina rode on Mount Rushmore’s American Pride from South Dakota Tourism Float.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Garth Brooks said he thought he’d missed his opportunity to sing with Charley Pride. An internet rumor said Charley had died. “I slammed the laptop and Miss Yearwood said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Charley Pride passed away,'” Garth recalls. “I blew it. I’ve had a song I wanted to sing with him for 10 years.” When he learned Charley was still alive, Garth called him and asked for the duet. Charley said yes, Garth flew to Dallas, and they recorded “Where the Cross Don’t Burn.” The ballad tells the story of a young white boy and an older black man who form a lifelong friendship.

The Grand Ole Opry will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Bluegrass music in a special show on December 5. Ricky Skaggs, member of both the Country Music and Bluegrass Halls of Fame, and Del McCoury, member of the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, will be joined by Sister Sadie, the first female group to be Entertainer of the Year for the International Bluegrass Music Association. According to MusicRow, “bluegrass as we know it today was born on the Opry stage at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on Dec. 8, 1945.” On that night, Earl Scruggs made his Opry debut with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, which included Lester Flatt. The eventual prototype for the bluegrass sound consisted of Bill Monroe on mandolin, Earl Scruggs on banjo, Lester Flatt on guitar, Chubby Wise on fiddle, and Howard Watts on bass.

A cut on the newly released Chris Stapleton album, Starting Over, is “Maggie’s Song.” Maggie was a fuzzy black pup rescued from a shopping cart in a parking lot. “Every word and every stitch of that song is real things,” Stapleton told the Tennessean. “She was a member of the family, and she deserved a song.” The song begins, “She was hungry and feeling alone/We put her in the back seat/ And told her we were taking her home.” Fourteen years later, Maggie “woke up and couldn’t use her legs.” Chris sings, “I told her she was a good dog/ Then I told her goodbye.” One fan tweeted, “Be right back, going to go play with my dog,” and another said, “‘Maggie’s Song’ should come with a warning label!”

MusicRow reports Amy Grant and Vince Gill will return in 2021 (not 2020) with their Christmas at the Ryman residency. Tickets for the 12-date concert run are already on sale. Opening acts for the dates will be announced later. “While Vince and I are disappointed we can’t be with you all this year, we are thrilled to be able to return to Ryman Auditorium for the holidays in 2021,” Amy says. “It is such a special time of year for us and our family, and these shows have become a holiday tradition for us.”

On the list of nine recipients for the 2020 Governor’s Awards in the Arts from Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear is Tom T. Hall, who will receive the National Award. According to Bluegrass Today, Tom T. responded to the news by saying, “There’s a lot of great artists in Kentucky, and having The Governor’s Award from the Arts Council is a special treat. I’m not sure every state has an arts council; but I’m not surprised, as Kentucky is special, as you know.”

The estate of Kenny Rogers is suing Kelly Junkermann, an employee and longtime friend, for producing an unauthorized DVD of Kenny’s farewell tour and trying to release a DVD called Kenny Rogers — The Gambler’s Last Deal. According to documents obtained by TMZ, Junkermann convinced Kenny to let him shoot the farewell tour, on the condition it would be for personal use only and not for commercial release. After Junkermann ignored that condition and made a DVD, he repeatedly requested approval to use the content and was repeatedly denied, both verbally and in writing. The estate spent $290,000 on legal fees to block the release of the DVD and is now suing for damages and for an injunction to permanently block release. The estate insists the DVD does not meet Kenny’s standards and would damage his brand. Of greatest concern, fans might confuse this DVD with the estate’s official farewell tour project.

When former President Barack Obama appeared last week on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, he participated in a segment called “Questions We’re Pretty Sure Barack Obama Has Never Been Asked Before.” One question was why hadn’t he awarded Dolly Parton the Presidential Medal of Freedom? The Tennessean reports he paused before responding, “That’s a mistake. I’m shocked.” Colbert then asked, “Looking back on your eight years, do you realize that’s the mistake you made?” Obama replied, “That was a screw up. I assumed she had already gotten one. And that was incorrect. I’m surprised. She deserves one.”

Instrument retailer Guitar Center, Inc. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, MusicRow reports. Guitar Center, after doing business for over 60 years, was forced to close many locations during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been struggling to make sales as the economy tanked across the nation.

During a recent Amazon Music Live session, Garth Brooks talked about Randy Travis being a personal hero of his. “We’ve been lucky enough to hear the greatest of all time in guys like Randy Travis,” he said. “I think he single-handedly saved country music in the ’80s.” After calling himself “one of the benefactors for Randy Travis coming when he did,” Garth sang “I Told You So” for his virtual audience. Randy wrote that song in Charlotte, North Carolina, when he was a teenager named Randy Traywick.

In his “Ask Sonny Anything” column in Bluegrass Today, Sonny Osborne talks about recording a song with Ira Louvin in 1959. The song was “Give This Message to Your Heart”; it appeared on the album Yesterday, Today and The Osborne Brothers. Ira had heard Sonny and Bobby going over some songs they planned to record, and he told them he had a great song for their harmony; he offered to sing it with them. He said he and brother Charlie were supposed to leave at 5:00 p.m. for South Dakota. When Sonny asked Ira what part he wanted, Ira said, “Just do your normal part and I’ll do the other one.” Sonny recalls with awe, “One half line he would be under my part and the other half would be over Bobby. Absolute genius…He got to the session and we started on time. 6:00 p.m. If my memory serves me right, we went through it twice and he said he had to run, and we had a masterpiece. How often would we ever get the opportunity to sing with one of our HERO people?”

A free livestream world premiere event, The Library That Dolly Built, will stream on Facebook on Wednesday, December 9 at 7 p.m. ET, and on ImaginationLibrary.com. It will tell the story behind the Imagination Library and will be followed by a conversation with Dolly Parton and her live acoustic performance. MusicRow reports the European premiere will be Thursday at 7 p.m. GMT, with the Australian premiere the next night, December 11 at 7 p.m. AEDT. Dolly created the Imagination Library in 1995 to help inspire a love of books and reading in young children. The program has given out 150 million books; it currently sends books to 1.7 million children around the world each month. Dolly says, “I am so excited that we can finally tell the whole story of the Imagination Library. It is certainly not just about me. Our story is the story of children, of families and communities who all share the dream to inspire kids to love to read and to love to learn. My hope is this documentary will encourage more towns, more states, and even more countries to jump onboard. One thing is for sure, I think this is the best investment I have ever made!”


Tracy Pitcox writes from Texas, “Thanks for the Johnny Bush interview. He was truly one of the best and will be so very missed!”

Priscilla McPheeters checks in from Lawrence, Kansas, to say, “I am so impressed with this newsletter. Would love to see more of Bobby Goldsboro‘s paintings. What a gifted individual.”

Karon Hamilton writes from Wisconsin, “Just wanted to say I really love your newsletter. It’s the only way I can hear what’s going on with the classic country music scene. I too was disappointed with the CMAs. They did not give Harold Reid of the Statler Brothers any mention either. I guess they are only interested in the new artists, not the real country artists.”

Andrew Grooms writes from Ruidoso, New Mexico, “Just finished your biography of Faron Young. While a very sad story your book was a great read about a fascinating and talented man. I personally know a female background singer who was good friends with him as well as Ralph Emery and Jeannie Seeley. Because of this same girl and her husband, I got to meet and get to know the great Mickey Gilley. Mickey also knew Faron Young and told me some really good positive stories about him one night at my residence in New Mexico. I have always loved Faron’s fabulous voice and his songs, so I did some research to see if anyone had written about his life and that is how I found your book. Thank you for writing the book as I enjoyed it even though his battles with alcoholism made me very sad for him his friends and his family. I purchased and downloaded your book on Marty Robbins and look forward to that read as well. I am originally from El Paso, Texas so it goes without saying, I certainly know of Marty Robbins. I regret I never saw Faron nor Marty live as they are both two of my longtime favorites and I will always be their fan. Some of the best voices ever.”

Don Ewert in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, says, “I told you recently that I became a fan this year of Margie Bowes and wrote her a letter. A few days ago I received an 8×10 of Margie along with a note from her best friend, Jean. She told me she read my letter to Margie and she was very appreciative. I think it’s great that Margie learned of a New Fan shortly before she passed away.”

Andy Williford, boyhood friend of Faron Young, writes from Texas, “I was stationed at Wiesbaden AFB, Germany, USAF HQS Europe, from 1951-54 and I went one day to our NCO Club called The Eagle Club and inside the front door was a magazine stand with newspapers. There in front of me was a copy of Country News Magazine. Lo and behold, Faron’s picture was on the front cover. I said Holy S—, I knew we both sang a little in school but I wasn’t aware he had gone down to the Louisiana Hayride to audition. I wrote him and he wrote back, ‘Andy, I would never have believed I would be in this position, but thank God.’ The letter had his name on top like, I do not remember, FARON YOUNG ENTERPRISES, or something like that. That would have to be 1952 or 1953. I was discharged in July 1954. I had all my important papers and photos in a leather bag. I went to a bar in New York and after I set it down, it was stolen. Faron’s letter was in the bag. I was discharged July 24, 1954 at Camp Kilmer, NJ. By the way, Eddie Fisher was stationed across the river from Wiesbaden at the same time: Maintz Army Base, Germany.”

Dave Rusk requests, “Please add me to your email list.”

Ron Reagan writes, “As always, I enjoyed this. I wanted to ask if you would pass along my YouTube channel: Hankfan Hankfan. I have a lot of Christmas stuff on there, and I am in the process of uploading a ton of Cowboy Copas King Records releases, all digitally restored from the original 78 rpm discs. There’s something for everybody on there—I even have recordings of the vocal group, The Shannon Four, from the 1920s. I think your readers would enjoy my channel.”

Dominique “Imperial” ANGLARES writes from France, “Thank you very much for that welcome newsletter. Great to read correspondences from Australia, UK, Japan and of course USA. Sorry to let you know about the passing of Indiana Country singer Jimme Dale Wilcoxson. Born May 16, 1941, he befriended Salty Holmes and in 1958 recorded two singles, one being a rock-a-billy classic on his own Saber records. In the ‘70s, he recorded under Rusty York’s supervision for Jewel records. Jimmie had emergency quadruple bypass surgery on April 18, 2020, and more complications than any one person could even imagine has happened. He passed away November 15. Once again I have lost a friend.”

Terry Beene sends a video of Chuck Hancock singing “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”

Diane: Thanks for a song that brings back memories. During all my years in the Navy, I alternated between two theme songs at Christmas, depending on whether I was headed home to South Dakota. They were “Christmas Time’s a Comin’ (And I Know I’m Going Home)” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas (If Only in My Dreams).”


I did a phone interview with Dorothy Young, 73, big sister of Faron Young, in early 2000 when I was first starting my research for Faron’s biography. She lived in Texas. We corresponded occasionally until her death. I can’t find that date, but I think it was 2005.

Everyone is still alive except Faron and Oscar. Oscar was the next to the youngest. He was killed in a car wreck when he was fourteen. I’m still alive, my oldest brother’s still alive, and there’s a brother in south Louisiana that’s still alive, and there’s a sister in Louisiana. My oldest brother is Clifton L. Young. He lives in Dallas. He’s in very, very bad health. He’s 75. And then there’s me, I’ll be 74 next month. Then there’s my brother in south Louisiana. His name is Harlan Ray, better known as “Little Brother.” Then there’s Audrey Louise Thaxton; she lives right out of Shreveport. There was six of us.

We were living there on Hoadley, just off Southern Avenue. There was a big grocery store there, and there was the house across an alley, that we lived in for a while, and then we moved over on Seymour. I know my aunt and uncle lived in that house on Hoadley. I think they moved in after we moved out. I remember standing out in front of that house, and telling people that came by, “We got a new baby brother.” I remember that clearly. I was next to the oldest, when Faron was a baby. I can remember when she had him, and the doctor come to the house. That’s the way they had babies back then. All the kids in the neighborhood liked to come over and play with the baby. Mama used to put him in a big wicker chair out front there on nice days and cover him with–put pillows all behind there. Our job was to watch him. Of course, all the kids in the neighborhood come over to play with him. In fact, I have a picture of Faron in that chair.

Faron loved to sing. I always thought Faron had a lot of nervous energy, and this was probably an outlet for that. He just sang all the time. He’d get on the phone with his girlfriend and sing to her. He sometimes nearly drove us crazy. He was good from day one–very good. None of the rest of us could carry a tune. I don’t know how he came up with that talent. He could sing, I guarantee you. It was a natural gift. It just came. Faron just started singing, I don’t know how long, but at an early age. He sang in a choir in high school. He and the coach, and Jimmy Day and Floyd Cramer, organized this band, and they would go play at the doughnut shop and the watermelon gardens, for free. That’s how he got started in the music business, but he sang in the choir in high school. They were good. They played for free for so long, just for the experience.

Daddy rented a place, and started this herd of cattle, and went into the dairy business. The boys had to get up at four o’clock in the morning, milk the cows, go to school, come back and milk the cows. That was 365 days a year–very hard on them. You couldn’t get any of them to even think about–to this day–don’t even mention the word dairy farming to them. That’s just a bad word. But my daddy was trying to make a living. He had the dairy farm and he continued with his job. Daddy milked the cows, too. Then he’d go to work and the kids would go to school. They’d come back home and went through the same thing. They had the cows all named. They had one named Hitler and one named Mussolini. That’s the only two I remember.

When I was still living at home, Faron didn’t have any transportation, and I used to let him use my car. I told him you have to take care of it because I can’t afford car repairs. “Oh, I will, I will.” Sure enough, one night he brought it home, and he’d evidently gotten it stuck. There was mud on top of the car, there wasn’t any oil in the car, or anything. I said, okay, Faron, now you just can’t drive my car anymore. Believe it or not, he didn’t give me any argument. He said okay. Years went by, and when he first started in this business, he bought a big Cadillac. He’d come home one day in that car, and he flew out to a show date and left the car there. I called him and asked if I could use the car–a friend of mine and I wanted to go to New Orleans. He said yes. He said, “Just one thing–for godsakes don’t drive my car like I used to drive yours.” I always get a kick out of telling that story. He never did deny it, but he didn’t own up to it until then.

Mama and Daddy were very different. If Mama met you, if she ran into you again, she’d hug you. Mama was a very affectionate person, to her kids, to anybody. But I never saw my daddy show any affection to anybody–not her, not the kids, not anybody. He was not an affectionate man. But he did his best to make a living. And it was hard. That was back during the Depression. We had it very, very hard. No question about it. They shouldn’t have had six kids! They sure couldn’t take care of ’em.

Billie Jean was a very pretty girl. She had long, straight hair and she wore it straight down. If she’d bend over, she’d have to hold her head up to keep her hair from falling in her face. I always remember seeing her holding her head up. She was a pretty girl. As Faron tells it, he was double dating with Hank Williams, and during the evening they changed girls. When Faron went to Nashville, I think she was working at the telephone company and she got transferred. What Faron told me, she found out Hank had more money than Faron did, and she switched over to Hank. That’s the story Faron told me. In fact, I was sitting there one night when he was talking to her on the telephone. He said something to her then about Hank having more money than he did.

I tell you what, Faron married the only girl in the world that could live with him. Hilda is a wonderful person. She’s always been a wonderful wife. I couldn’t say anything bad about her if I wanted to. She put up with Faron for a lot of years. I think that’s what really got to him, when she finally got the courage to divorce him, after so many years. I don’t think he was ever able to accept that. This little girl was his, and she was supposed to do what he said. The very idea that this girl he was married to, that had known no other man but him, could actually divorce him. Of course, I’m sure he loved her. How could he not love her? She never did anything bad, she was always there, she stayed home and raised the kids, while he was out having a good time. But he just didn’t appreciate her. It’s unfortunate. They could have had such a good life together.

One thing I’ll always regret, and I’ll always wonder about—he wrote me a letter not too long before he died. Of course, every time you talked to him, all he ever talked about was how awful Hilda was. You couldn’t find a better, nicer person in the world than Hilda, but he was so bitter because she divorced him. Every time I talked to him on the telephone, that was what—Hilda this, Hilda did this. It was all BS. It wasn’t true. Anyway, I got this long letter from him, and at the bottom he said call me at this number, which is my private number. Well, I hated gittin’ on the phone with Faron, it was just awful, so I did not call him. And right after that is when he killed himself. You can imagine the thoughts I’ve had since then. I would give anything if I had called him. Maybe he would have talked to me about it, maybe he wouldn’t, I don’t know, but I’ll always regret that I did not call him. But I just didn’t like to talk to him because all he wanted to talk about was how awful Hilda was. I just got tired of listening. If I’d had any idea he had this on his mind, I certainly would have called him.

If you’d asked me what person I would say would ever kill himself, I’d say, “Not Faron.” He loved himself too much. I never would have thought Faron would have done that. He had to be awfully, awfully low, and just saw no other way out. It’s a shame. It’s a waste. Cuz Faron could have still had a lot of good years, if he had straightened up, gotten back with Hilda, he’d have had some happy years.

I want a book whenever you get it done. Be kind to him.


Buddy Killen moved to Nashville soon after graduating from high school in Florence, Alabama, in 1951. He married at age 19 and struggled to support his family by playing upright bass in various bands. By the Seat of My Pants: My Life in Country Music, written with Tom Carter in 1993, tells how his many years of hard work resulted in him being the owner of Tree International Publishing Company and the Stock-Yard Restaurant in Nashville, among other business ventures. He writes that he “was a musician and had never had any business training. I’ve flown by the seat of my pants from the beginning. To this day, it’s all been on-the-job training.” This book offers an inside look at musicians of yesteryear and how the music business has changed over the years. Buddy includes his experiences with Hank Williams because, he says, Hank is “so much a part of American music history that as much information as possible should be preserved. Distorted portrayals surrounding celebrities have always bothered me.” Based on this story, Buddy Killen seems to me to be a good candidate for the Country Music Hall of Fame. He died in 2006 at age 73.

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