Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 20 March 2024


Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives came to the District in Sioux Falls on March 12. And were they fabulous! They took the stage at 7:00, opening with an instrumental, and entertained us nonstop for 90 minutes. They played a variety of instruments, changing them seamlessly with never a disruption.

It was a special treat for me to attend the concert with three Sioux Falls musician friends: bass player Perry Steilow, lead guitarist Daryl Skancke, and drummer T-Mar Bence. It has been on T-Mar’s bucket list for years to see Marty and the Superlatives. After the show, we made our way to the front of the stage, not to talk to anyone, but to examine the equipment.

About twenty minutes into the show, Marty said, “What do you think of the Fabulous Superlatives?” He answered himself with, “You have good taste.” He then introduced the band. Lead guitarist Kenny Vaughan and drummer Harry Stinson (whom Marty calls Handsome Harry) formed the Superlatives with him in 2002. Chris Scruggs, son of Gary Scruggs (whose father was Earl Scruggs) and Gail Davies, joined them in 2015.

I didn’t catch the lead-in of the story where Marty recalled saying, “We’re not going to play any place or anything we don’t believe in.” He ended up at Pine Ridge in South Dakota with Johnny Cash for a concert. He fell in love with the area and the Lakota. Some years later, in 1997, he and Connie Smith were married on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in a traditional Lakota ceremony.

Marty introduced “Sitting Alone,” from his newest album, Altitude, for its Sioux Falls debut. He said he wrote it before the world fell apart and didn’t know what it meant. After the world fell apart, he knew exactly what it meant. “Sitting alone, watching the sun come up and go down.”

“Tomahawk” from Altitude also received its Sioux Falls debut, with a lon-n-n-g-g instrumental break. When looking up “Tomahawk” on the internet, I noticed that all three Superlatives were included as producers on the recording. Marty, of course, wrote the song.

About halfway through the show, Handsome Harry came down front with a snare drum, and the four musicians worked as a musical quartet, trading off instruments and vocals. Marty served as sideman while the others took turns in the spotlight. I loved their colorful Nudie-type suits and the way they all seemed to enjoy performing together. They were a pleasure to watch.

Knowing Marty was named for Marty Robbins, I waited to hear one of those familiar songs. I wasn’t disappointed. Marty sang “El Paso” with one-mic harmony by Kenny and Harry. The most surprising performance was Chris Scruggs playing “Wipeout” on his bass fiddle, with Handsome Harry slapping his cheeks to play the melody on his face.

Harry went back to his drum set for the final ten minutes of the show, and they encored with one last rowdy instrumental. If you ever get a chance to see Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives in concert, don’t miss it.

Kenny Vaughn, Marty Stuart, Handsome Harry Stinson, Chris Scruggs

Daryl Skancke, Diane Diekman, Perry Steilow, tour manager Adam Lammers, Terry Bence


The 2024 inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame have been announced. I watched the Livestream on Monday morning, with Brooks & Dunn hosting the press conference in the rotunda of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. When a Shreveport native and Elvis Presley guitarist was being discussed, the name James Burton floated in my mind, but I didn’t know the details of his life. They announced James Burton as Recording and/or Touring Musician. As soon as they said the Veterans Era Artist was from Apopka, Florida, I knew it was John Anderson. Although I was hoping for Jeannie Seely, who is long overdue to be in the Hall of Fame, I think John Anderson is a worthy choice. CMA CEO Sarah Trahern then came onstage to explain the voting process. She said they were expecting the final results on February 7, and that was when they got the news that Toby Keith had died. He was on the list as the Modern Era Artist. Although the CMA has a rule that people can’t be inducted in the year they die, Toby was selected before he died. James and John both came onstage to acknowledge their inductions, and Stelen Covel spoke for his dad, Toby Keith Covel.

On Saturday night, March 16, the Grand Ole Opry celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Opry House, which saw its first performance in its new home at Opryland on Saturday, March 16, 1974. President Nixon was a guest that night, the only President to ever perform on the Opry stage. An ensemble opened this past Saturday night’s performance with “The Wabash Cannonball,” which is how Roy Acuff opened the first show. Three members who appeared that first night sang fifty years later: Bill Anderson, Jeannie Seely, and Connie Smith. Jeannie wore a recreated version of the outfit she wore in 1974. The original got swept down the Cumberland River in the Nashville flood. “Dolly Parton loaned me some of her finest folks to re-create my original outfit from 1974,” Jeannie says. “A special thanks to Vance Nichols and Riley Reed for the magic!”

Grand Ole Opry photo.

The Boar’s Nest: Sue Brewer and the Birth of Outlaw Country Music, starring Mandy Moore, is a new Audible Original podcast. Sue Brewer worked behind the scenes in the 1960s and 1970s, opening her home and money to help musicians. Her living room floor became known as “The Boar’s Nest.” She helped launch the careers of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Shel Silverstein. Others who spent time at her house include Roger Miller, Harlan Howard, Dallas Frazier, Jack Clement, Faron Young, Johnny Paycheck, Webb Pierce, George Jones, and Jimmy Dickens. Sue died of cancer in 1981 at age 48 and was posthumously inducted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1990. According to the Tennessean, “the podcast is told through Brewer’s eyes and ears and follows the birth of the outlaw country genre. It dives into the artistic struggles faced by some of country’s most trailblazing artists; each episode focuses on songwriting salons that Brewer would host.” One segment shows her persuading Faron Young to ask Willie Nelson for “Hello Walls.” Although she wasn’t a musician, her nightly jam sessions and her influence gave her a pivotal role in shaping country music.

The sexual assault lawsuit filed against Jimmie Allen by his former manager has been dropped. PEOPLE reports a statement that says, “‘Jane Doe’ and Jimmie Allen have reached a mutual accord as to Plaintiff’s claims and Mr. Allen’s counterclaims and have agreed to dismiss them. The decision reflects only that both parties desire to move past litigation.” The accuser still plans to sue the Nashville music management firm that employed her as his manager.

Rockstar, the new Dolly Parton album, has been certified Gold just four months after its release. MusicRow reports the 30-song project on Butterfly Records/Big Machine Label Group accumulated six No. 1s on the Billboard charts during its debut week and was ranked No. 5 top-selling country album of 2023. “When I set out to make my rock album, I always hoped it would be embraced by my fans as well as people who may not listen to my music,” Dolly says. “I am thrilled to receive this Gold record. Thank you to everyone who was a part of this project. I guess I can now officially say I am a rockstar!” Her run of No. 1 albums on the Billboard charts gives her the longest span for any country artist–46 years–beginning with New Harvest…First Gathering in 1977.

The legal battles between Kelly Clarkson and ex-husband Brandon Blackstock continue. Their divorce was finalized in 2022, after a two-year battle, with Kelly paying monthly child support of $45,601 for their two children, plus a one-time payment of just over $1.3 million. He appealed that decision, and she has now filed a lawsuit against Starstruck Entertainment, owned by Navel Blackstock (Brandon’s father and Reba McEntire’s ex-husband), that goes back to 2007. It’s too much for me to explain it all in a paragraph. Billboard reports Kelly is seeking a ruling that the Blackstocks were violating state labor rules all the way back to when she started working with them in 2007. She wants “all commissions, fees, profits, advances, producing fees or other monies” returned to her. Shortly after she filed for divorce, Starstruck sued her for millions in allegedly unpaid fees. She then filed a complaint with California’s Labor Commissioner, who ruled against the Blackstocks, who challenged that ruling in court, with a hearing currently scheduled for August.

The luxurious estate where Naomi Judd lived at the time of her death is up for rent. The new owners of the 4-bedroom, 6-bathroom, 7,774-square-foot home in the affluent rural community of Leiper’s Fork, are asking $15,000 per month. The home has been completely renovated since Naomi died by suicide on April 20, 2022. Her husband, Larry Strickland, sold the house and the farm and moved to Florida in the spring of 2023. He told PEOPLE, “I had to get out of our home. We lived in this house and on the farm for 33 years, and so when all that happened with her, I couldn’t be there.”

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is commemorating the 20th anniversary of its Night Train to Nashville exhibit from 2004-2005 with a new exhibit, Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues Revisited, that opens April 26 and runs through September 2025. MusicRow reports the exhibit will explore Nashville’s R&B activity in the decades following World War II, from 1945-1970. The exhibit is supplemented by a newly published companion book, Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues Revisited. It explores the themes and stories in the exhibit, featuring more than 100 photographs and descriptions of classic R&B records cut in Nashville. The book will be available April 26, distributed in partnership with the University of Illinois Press. To mark the exhibit’s opening, the museum will host a panel discussion on April 27 about Nashville’s groundbreaking television series Night Train.

Mounted shooting is the newest passion for Miranda Lambert. Whiskey Riff explains the sport as “shooting at balloons and other objects while cantering through an obstacle-style course on horseback. The horseman nailing all the targets while getting through the course with the quickest speed takes home the top prize.” Miranda says, “I turned 40 in November, and I’m ready for a decade of pushing myself to be better and bolder, both personally and professionally. This feels like the perfect beginning to that journey.”

The 15-year-old “banjo kid” who played the instrumental “Dueling Banjos” in the 1972 movie, Deliverance, is now 68 years old and has recently incurred serious medical bills. Billy Redden always supported himself doing menial construction-type jobs near his home in Georgia but can no longer do that. A GoFundMecampaign has been started to help him. Bluegrass Today reports, “Banjo players and bluegrass bands were forced to play ‘Dueling Banjos’ ad nauseam for years. Of course, it is a catchy tune, with the banjo and guitar trading the familiar lick back and forth until it breaks into a bluegrass romp.” Redden played the role of a mentally challenged boy, chosen because he had the backwoods look the directors were looking for. They used makeup and coached him to appear to be a witless boy. The magazine states, “Bluegrass Today readers have proved themselves to be extremely generous over the years when we find one of our own in a tight spot. Perhaps you can find it in your heart to make a contribution to help Billy Redden, a true banjo icon of the 1970s, with his medical bills.”

The CMT Awards show is a fan-voted event that recognizes the best music videos or televised performances. This year’s nominees are led by Cody Johnson, Jelly Roll, and Lainey Wilson, with three nominations apiece, reports Whiskey Riff. For the first time, a dog–Pancho–has been nominated, as an editor. “You, Me, and Whiskey,” performed by Justin Moore and Priscilla Block, is nominated for Collaborative Video of the Year. Credits list Cody Villalobos as director, with editors listed as Cody Villalobos and Pancho Villa(lobos).


Judy Cowart in Oklahoma says, “Just got your newsletter today and really enjoyed reading it. We’re losing a lot of the country people we know and it’s sad. It just makes me have to admit I’m not as young as I used to be. I hope you don’t have to take out very much from Randy’s book. What does it matter how long it is, you know people will buy it and read it. Why can’t folks leave stuff alone. You always do such an outstanding job on the newsletters, I can’t wait from the one I just read to the next one. Did you know that Johnny Rodriguez wrote a book? He’s always been one of my favorites and I had no idea about his book. It’s available on Amazon and that’s all I know. Could you please look into it and share the information you find? I’d be so very happy if you would. I also have another question I wonder if you could answer. Vern Gosdin is one of my favorites, too, and I was wondering if he has ever been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Can you please check into this and let me know what you find out? Thank you so much. Can’t wait to hear from you.”
Diane: Thanks for the compliment, Judy. Longer books cost more to print. It’s always a balance for a biographer to satisfy the readers who want all the details and the readers who want a smooth story not bogged down in details. No, I didn’t know Johnny (one of my favorites, too) had written a book. It’s called Johnny Rodriguez Desperado: A Piece of My Soulandwas published May 18, 2023. Co-author is Austin Teutsch. Vern Gosdin is not in the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

Sheila Conrad writes, “I am Leon Sutton’s daughter (who brought him and Mom to Nashville for the reunion of Faron’s band). Thank you so much for remembering Dad in your newsletter. He missed the music business (the way it used to be) so much. He missed playing and being on stage but played on the most important stage – in Church. He was playing in Church the week before he passed away.”

Roger Ryan writes from Cork, Ireland, “I really enjoyed your newsletter. Please add me to your mailing list.”

Carl Rollyson says, “As you are tightening up your book, I’m going over the proofs for the Ronald Colman biography. I don’t know if he liked country music, but what I can say is he liked square dancing and calling square dances. He was visiting Greer Garson, and she took him to a square dance. It turned out there was no one available as a caller. Colman said, ‘I can help you with that.’ And he proceeded to do so!”

Daniel Burritt writes from Glendale, Arizona, “I really enjoyed the video of the week. Tears roll down Randy Travis face…..never heard that song before and they have great harmony and loved the campfire setting.”

Eric Calhoun says, “Excellent newsletter, as always. I did remember the Mac Davis Sunday Night show on Country 93.9 KZLA. That was a great show. On John Fogarty having to cancel the Country Fest Queensland, sometimes things like this happen. Congratulations to Bobby Fisher on your interview. Lastly, I will be celebrating my 50th birthday at the time of your new newsletter, around March 21, Happy Birthday to other March birthdays.”

Diane: Happy birthday, Eric. Just a note about John Fogarty—he didn’t cancel; they canceled him.

Dominique ‘Imperial’ Anglares writes from France, “Thank you very much for that welcome newsletter. I am sorry to let you know we lost J.M. Van Eaton on February 9th at the age of 86. J.M played on more Sun recordings than any other musician, backing Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Justis, Charlie Rich, Billy Riley, Conway Twitty, Edwin Bruce, Dickey Lee, and countless others. As members of Billy Riley’s band with Martin Willis and Roland Janes, they were the Sun house band and Sam Phillips kept them local. ‘That was the band that never made it’ said J.M. He will be remembered as a gifted musician and a fine man.”

Stacy Harris, Publisher/Executive Editor of Stacy’s Music Row Report, writes, “As we continue to wish Johnny Western a speedy recovery, I was also prompted to write after reading a couple of other items in your last newsletter. You mentioned the Nashville Scene’s updated report on The Ernest Tubb Record Shop site and a little bit of the history since ET’s death, including its change of ownership. You may have previously detailed the transfer of ownership from David McCormick to the others you named. If you did, you know that it became quite a legal matter involving alleged misrepresentation. On another note, I’m sure you’ll be updating readers on Garth Brooks’ latest venture but, in the meantime, I wanted to add to your Paul Davis retrospective. You mentioned Paul’s being shot ‘during a robbery near Music Row’ and I think about how that incident was reported then and how it would be reported now, in the era of social media. News reports at the time indicated that Paul was shot in the stomach during an attempted robbery in the parking lot of what locals called the Hall of Shame hotel (so nicknamed for its rowdy music patrons, it being a magnet for groupies, the underworld and call girls as well as its proximity to the original site of the Country Music Hall of Fame). Those same reports indicated that Davis was leaving the hotel bar with an ‘unidentified’ woman when he was shot as he was reaching for his wallet to placate the assailant (who evidently was never found but, in view of the alleged backstory, I don’t know how much effort Paul exerted to bring him to justice). The woman was rumored to be his Capitol Records publicist with whom Davis was alleged to be having an affair while married to Pamela Gayle Jay Davis, a singer who gave up her career to raise the couple’s only child, Jonathan. Pamela survived Paul but the couple evidently divorced not long after the incident as Paul’s obituary mentioned Jonathan but not Pamela as survivors. Further, Paul died in his native Meridian, Mississippi, where he was living at the time of his death survived by his widow, the former Gloria Therber.”

Diane: During my Faron Young research trips to Nashville, we always stayed at the Hall of Fame Inn. It felt like being part of history, and I never saw any problems there. Yes, I’ve written quite a bit about the David McCormick situation. I had never heard anything about Paul Davis, so thanks for the added story.

Donald Ewert says, “The other day I came across a song on YouTube by Bonnie Guitar called ‘Sleeping Giant.’ The writer of this great song is Diane Jordan. I know she gets your newsletter, so I wanted to say hi to Diane.”


March 15 always reminds me that it’s Carl Smith’s birthday. At the end of 1999, I made my third Nashville trip to do Faron Young research. I decided I could just as well welcome the New Year alone in a hotel room in Nashville as alone in my house in Los Angeles. It turned out far, far better than I could have dreamed. Ed Gregory (who had purchased Faron’s estate) invited me to Dolly Parton’s New Year’s night show at the Opryland Hotel. Our table included Jan Howard, Mr. & Mrs. Jim Ed Brown, Mrs. Jimmy Dickens—and Goldie Hill and Carl Smith! I fell in love with Carl when he came to South Dakota for a concert and I was five years old. Now, 45 years later, I finally got to meet him. Goldie consented to a telephone interview about Faron, and when I called her, Carl answered the phone with “Yo!” Knowing he didn’t do interviews, I asked if he would be willing to be interviewed about Faron and he said no. He told me he didn’t talk about his friends who had passed on; there were too many misquotes. He said to call back later when Goldie was home. Two years later, Ed Gregory told me he’d talked to Carl Smith that morning and mentioned he was having dinner with Kayo and me. Carl remembered me and said to tell me hello–“but tell her I won’t salute her.” Goldie died of cancer in 2005, at age 72. Carl died January 19, 2010, at his home in Franklin, following a stroke. He was 82 years old.

Goldie Hill Smith, Carl Smith, Diane Diekman at the Opryland Hotel, January 1, 2000.


When I called Roni Stoneman in January 2017 to spotlight her in my newsletter, she was recovering from her October knee replacement surgery. All those years of carrying around a 30-pound banjo had damaged it. She was back on the stage for the first time on New Year’s Eve when she and sister Donna hosted the Ernest Tubb Midnite Jamboree. Donna, 82, and Roni, 78, were the only two remaining of the 13 children in the famous Stoneman family. We talked about her 2007 autobiography, Pressing On. Roni died February 24, 2024, at the age of 85. As far as I know, Donna is still alive.


Tony Arata, born in 1957 in Savannah, Georgia, began writing songs in high school and played in country and rock bands while majoring in journalism at Georgia Southern University. He was discovered in an Atlanta nightclub and had his first hit as a writer with Jim Glaser’s “The Man in the Mirror” in 1983. He moved to Nashville in 1986 and signed with Dennis Morgan’s publishing company. His first #1 hit came in 1990, with “The Dance” by Garth Brooks, who would record eight of his songs. Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood, Suzy Bogguss, and Randy Travis are some of those who have recorded his songs. Patty Loveless recorded “Here I Am,” along with several others. Leroy Parnell had a hit with “I’m Holding My Own” in 1994, as did Clay Walker with “Dreaming with My Eyes Open.” Tony is 64 years old, and you can find him at Tony Arata – Official Website.

Mary Chapin Carpenter, the daughter of a Life magazine executive, was born in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1958, and grew up there and in Japan and Washington, D.C. She graduated from Brown University and performed her original songs in D.C. clubs. Columbia Records signed her to a country recording contract in 1987. I remember her singing “Opening Act” on the 1990 CMA Awards show. Her hits include “Down at the Twist and Shout,” “Passionate Kisses,” “I Feel Lucky,” and “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her.” She won five country Grammy Awards and was named the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year in 1992 and 1993. Her songs have been recorded by Joan Baez, Wynonna (“Girls with Guitars”), Cyndi Lauper, Terri Clark (“No Fear”), Dixie Chicks, Art Garfunkel, Maura O’Connell, and Trisha Yearwood (“Where Are You Now”). She is 66 years old, and her website is Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Born and raised in Texas (1937), Larry Henley was inspired by his friend and neighbor Roy Orbison. As lead singer of the Newbeats, whose one hit was “Bread and Butter” in 1964, he toured with the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, and Roy Orbison. After moving to Nashville, he was mentored by Red Lane; they wrote “‘Til I Get It Right” for Tammy Wynette. He and Jeff Silbar wrote “Wind Beneath My Wings” in 1982 for Gary Morris. He wrote three number ones: “He’s a Heartache (Lookin’ for a Place to Happen)” (written with Jeff Silbar) by Janie Fricke, “Is it Still Over” (written with Ken Bell) by Randy Travis, and “Lizzie and the Rainman” (written with Kenny O’Dell) by Tanya Tucker. He died in 2014 in Nashville, at age 77, as a result of Lewy body dementia, a progressive brain disorder.

Kim Williams, born in1947, came from a highly musical east Tennessee family with eight children. He played in bands throughout his youth and was writing songs by age 11. He nearly perished in an electrical fire at a glass plant in 1974. Severely burned, he underwent more than 200 surgeries, with many of his treatments at Nashville’s Vanderbilt Hospital. “I tell people that I got burned out on my last job, and decided to become a songwriter,” he once said. “I don’t know if I’d ever have gotten back into music if I hadn’t had that accident.” His first major success came with “If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets),” a #1 country hit for Joe Diffie in 1991. He became friends with Garth Brooks, whose Williams-written hits included “Ain’t Goin’ Down Till the Sun Comes Up,” “Papa Loved Mama,” and “It’s Midnight Cinderella.” His smash 2003 hit, “Three Wooden Crosses,” written with Doug Johnson, was recorded by Randy Travis. He died in Panama City, Florida, in 2016, at age 68.

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