Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 20 December 2017

Leon Rhodes (1932-2017)
The last early member of Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadour band has died. Leon Rhodes, 85, died December 9 at his Nashville area home. By age 16, the young Texan was already gaining acclaim for his precision guitar playing in the Big D Jamboree band. Lefty Frizzell and Ray Price hired him to play on their Texas sessions, before he joined Ernest Tubb in 1960, as lead guitarist with the Texas Troubadours. In 1966, he left the road to be an Opry staff musician. He stayed there until 2003, when management fired the legendary players in an attempt to update the Opry image and attract a younger audience. Leon also served as a session musician and spent 25 years in the Hee Haw house band. In 2014, he was profiled as one of the Nashville Cats by the Country Music Hall of Fame. His funeral was held December 12 in Old Hickory, Tennessee. Tony Booth wrote on Facebook: “So sad to hear about the passing of Leon Rhodes. When I did ‘Walking the Floor Over You’ on The Country family reunion show, they brought Leon on the show because he was the original guitar player on the Ernest Tubb cut. That was really a special treat for me to have one of the Legends back me on a song.”

Songwriter Richard Dobson, 75, died December 16 in a Swiss hospital. The Texas native lived in Nashville before moving to Switzerland in 1999. The BMI website lists 91 of his songs. They include “Baby Ride Easy,” which was first recorded by Carlene Carter and Dave Edmunds and then by Johnny and June Carter Cash. Guy Clark recorded “Forever, For Always, For Certain.” Nanci Griffith recorded “Ballad of Robin Winter-Smith.” Rodney Crowell named him in “Nashville 1972,” a recent song about Rodney’s early Nashville days and songwriter friends.

The Associated Press received a letter from David Mueller to report he’d mailed Taylor Swift a Sacagawea coin on November 28. He intended the coin as a final jab after a federal jury in Denver ruled against him. He had sued Taylor for $3 million, claiming she falsely accused him of groping her at a photo op. She countersued for $1.

Time magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year award went to “The Silence Breakers–The Voices That Launched a Movement.” Taylor Swift was one of the 61 people named. Another was Ashley Judd, daughter of Naomi and sister of Wynonna; she was one of the first to speak publicly–in 1997–about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual coercion.

Donna Fargo is reported to have had a stroke on December 4, according to a post on her Facebook fan club page on December 17: “Donna has gone from ICU to a rehabilitation hospital. She is receiving speech therapy and undergoing occupational and physical therapy. She is also getting help with her handwriting. The stroke was on the left side of her brain, so her right side is affected more than her left. She is expected to be released from the hospital next week and continue with every phase of the rehabilitation therapy. She is discouraged but trying to remain hopeful.”

During ABC’s The Year in Memoriam 2017, which aired this past Monday, Dolly Parton and Alice Cooper remembered Glen Campbell. Dolly described her initial meeting with Glen: “I just remember seeing him for the first time. And I was, you know, a girl at that time, so of course, I would notice a good-looking young man.”

Cowboy Joe Babcock writes from Nashville, “I was a good friend of Okey Jones. We traveled together during my years with Marty. I have written a tribute to Okey. It’s about 900 words long.”

Jackie Allen Thomas says, “Thank you again for a great newsletter, really enjoy reading this one.”

Sharon Hale writes, “Regarding newsletter dated 6 December 2017, towards the bottom of the article under title, Country Music Hall of Fame – 1996. The several listings of names helped by Ray Price, there is a glaring omission from the Cherokee Cowboys. That being his very talented drummer at the time and today a multi-faceted talented performer. Not only vocally, but also plays guitar and fiddle. This is the one and only Johnny Bush‼️ Still today he keeps the dance floors packed with a continuous stream of songs with an extremely talented voice that is undeniably the purest honkytonk voice in Texas. A rare gift, one that will only pass through our lifetime once. He’s very special. He will be 83 this coming February and probably got started in the early ‘50s and still performing today. He’s no less than a Texas Legend and I think there should be some way to honor this man and his many decades of giving us his wonderful music. He’s extremely admired by his peers, and new musicians are always trying to emulate his unique sound. He just delivers a song with power and authority that sells the song. And he has a charisma that holds you spellbound. There’s nothing fancy or flashy about him and his fans adore him. I know of no other artist that’s lasted this long, kept up his pace with the kind of fan base he has. If I knew how to go about finding some sort of honor for him–I’d appreciate anyone’s advice.”

Clem Schmitz says, “Way back when on some old show in California, Ray Price was introduced as ‘The singing cow doctor.’ I never ever forgot that intro of him, back in the Kinescope days (daze), no doubt. You are so creative.”

Marvyl Strassberg in Chandler, Arizona, says, “My friend shared your newsletter with me. I REALLY enjoyed it!!! I would like to sign up to get it from you by email.”

Anthony Garner requests, “Please add me to the newsletter e-mail list.”

Peter Neilson in Somerville, Victoria, Australia, says, “G’day Diane. We so love your newsletter – informative and hits the spot regarding our Country heroes of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s & ‘80s. Could you please change my email address to my new one?”

Ed Guy writes from Palm Coast, Florida, “I love your informative Newsletter, and it is the only news about Country Music that I receive any more since all the magazines have died out and the radio stations have changed their formats.”

Jean Earle in England says, “I appreciated reading your latest newsletter….sad news and interesting news. Some evenings we switch onto YouTube and manage to find something to interest us. Recently we found “What happened to Faron Young.” It was worth staying up late to watch. Have you seen it? Good photos and videos…There was also “What happened to Marty Robbins.” We will save that for another evening.”
Diane: I looked them up and watched them both. They are well done, with photos I hadn’t seen.

Bill Mack writes from Texas, “I just want to wish you a very Merry Christmas … and I hope the New Year will be super for you. I’m sure many gave your books on Faron Young and Marty Robbins as perfect Christmas gifts. Now, I hope you’ll bless us with a new book … or more … in the future.
Diane: Thank you, Bill, and Merry Christmas to you. As a book update, I haven’t made any progress on arranging a biography of my preferred subjects, Merle Haggard or Randy Travis. Perhaps I’ll come across another noteworthy and marketable choice. I’m currently working on an adoption memoir, about the first four years with my two daughters.

My favorite Bellamy Brothers song is If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body,” written by David Bellamy. It was their first number one and their biggest charting song, staying at number one on Billboard for three weeks in 1979. They had nine later songs that topped the chart, each for one week. In addition to the catchy tune and the message, I like the double entendre: “Daddy always told me don’t make small talk. He said, ‘Come on out and say what’s on your mind.’ So if I said you have a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?”

If one of your favorite singers performed at a political rally for the “opposite party,” how would that affect your opinion as a fan?

I purchased the newly issued WHISKEY RIVER (TAKE MY MIND) at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop in Nashville in 2007, while in town for my Faron Young book signing. I later called Johnny Bush and interviewed him for my Marty Robbins biography. He talked about recording Marty’s “You Gave Me a Mountain,” which was his biggest recording hit (1969). His biggest songwriting hit, thanks to Willie Nelson, was “Whiskey River.” The book tells the story of how John Bush Shinn III grew up in Texas and gained fame as Johnny Bush. It’s filled with stories of Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price, Willie Nelson, and other country greats. It’s a well-written and candid book, describing the journey to the top and taking responsibility for mistakes made. What makes Johnny’s story differ from the others of his generation is something that occurred in 1972. He had just recorded “Whiskey River” (before Willie did) and was on his way to superstardom, when he lost his voice. ‘I went out to do the show, and I felt a tightness in my throat,” he wrote. “I couldn’t understand it. Tried singing another song; it was like my vocal cords were just choking off. I got so exasperated that I went outside and just chucked my guitar into the air.” He later learned the problem was spasmodic dysphonia. He eventually recovered—but his chance for superstardom has passed. “The simple truth is, it could have been a lot worse for me,” he concluded. “I could have never got a break in this business. I could have spent my whole life pulling pipe in some oil patch, imagining myself onstage as a singer. Instead, I got to live my dream.”

All three of the 1997 inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame were alive and still active. Two were prolific songwriters and one a former teenaged sensation. It would be impossible to name all the hit songs written or cowritten by Harlan Howard, who was called the “dean of country songwriters.” To mention only a few of his 962 songs in the BMI catalog: “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down,” “Heartaches by the Number,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” “Chokin kind,” “I Don’t Know a Thing About Love,” “The Key’s in the Mailbox,” “Life Turned Her That Way,” “Streets of Baltimore,” “Busted,” “No Charge,” and “Blame It On Your Lyin’ Cheatin’ Heart.” Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1927, Harlan Perry Howard moved to Los Angeles in 1955, determined to find success as a country songwriter. There he married singer Lula Grace Johnson, who would later gain fame as Jan Howard. They moved to Nashville in 1960 and divorced in 1967, after ten years of marriage. Harlan joined Pamper Music and became part of the first group of full-time songwriters in Nashville. By 1961, he had 15 songs on the country charts at the same time. After decades of hit songwriting and life in the music industry, he retired and moved to New York. He died at home in 2002, at age 74. Although he had suffered from heart trouble, his death was unexpected.

Brenda Lee, born Brenda Mae Tarpley in 1944, grew up in the Atlanta area. At age five, she won a school talent contest with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” At age 11, she was introduced to Red Foley, who made her a regular performer on his Ozark Jubilee TV show in Springfield, Missouri. A few months later, in May 1956, she was signed with Decca Records as Brenda Lee. Owen Bradley produced her Nashville sessions from 1958 through 1968, mixing country and pop to provide her distinct sound. The nickname of Little Miss Dynamite came from the rock & roll recording of “Dynamite.” A tour of France in 1959 led to international stardom and performances around the world. She continued to have number one pop and country hits throughout the 1960s and 1970s. She has served on the board of directors for the Country Music Association (CMA) and the Country Music Foundation (CMF). Following her 1997 induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997, she joined the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Brenda Lee currently notifies and introduces all new members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

A charter member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970, Cindy Walker registered more than 600 songs with BMI. She wrote over fifty songs for Bob Wills alone, including “Cherokee Maiden” and “Bubbles in My Beer.” A native Texan, born in 1918, Cindy moved to Hollywood in 1941. Bing Crosby and Gene Autry were two of the first to record her songs. She alternated between Texas and Nashville for the remainder of her life. Ernest Tubb (“Two Glasses Joe” and “Hey Mr. Bluebird”), Eddy Arnold (“You Don’t Know Me”), Hank Snow, George Morgan, Webb Pierce, Jim Reeves (“Distant Drums”), Jerry Wallace (“In the Misty Moonlight”), Jack Greene, Sonny James (“Heaven Says Hello”), and Stonewall Jackson are only a few who owed hits to her songwriting talent. So did Glen Campbell, Ricky Skaggs, Ray Charles, Lacy J. Dalton, Riders in the Sky, Mickey Gilley, and Merle Haggard. Her mother, who was Cindy’s accompanist until her death in 1991, had bought her a dress for a BMI affair in the 1980s. She told Cindy, “When they put you in the Hall of Fame, that’s the dress I want you to wear.” At the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1997, Cindy announced, “I think of all she did for me, and tonight I’m wearing this dress.” In 2006, Cindy Walker died in Mexia, Texas, at age 87, following a long illness. A few days earlier, Willie Nelson released an album titled, You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker.

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