Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 20 May 2020


BookAuthority’s “81 Best Country Music Books of All Time” lists the 2019 Randy Travis memoir, Forever and Ever, Amen as its number one choice. Number four is 2016’s Whisperin’ Bill Anderson: An Unprecedented Life in Country Music. Imagine my surprise to find this title at number fourteen: Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins. It’s also number 8 of 46 on the ebook list. “BookAuthority is the world’s leading site for nonfiction book recommendations,” its website says. “Only the very best books are featured on BookAuthority. To keep our site objective and unbiased, ratings are calculated purely based on data. We do not accept requests to feature a book, nor are we doing business with publishers or authors.” There is a great selection of books on this list.

KGET-TV in Bakersfield, California, reports that Charles “Fuzzy” Owen died May 11 at age 91. He and his cousin Lewis Tally signed Merle Haggard to his first recording contract in 1962. They started Tally Records and acquired ownership rights to “A Dear John Letter,” recorded by Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky in 1952; it was the first national country hit recorded in Bakersfield. Fuzzy was Merle’s manager, an early band member, and a performer at the Blackboard Cafe years before it became famous for the Bakersfield Sound.

Brenda Lee recalls for Rolling Stone the last time she saw Little Richard, who died May 9 at age 87. It was at Tennessee governor Bill Lee’s Nashville residence, where they both received the Distinguished Artist award at the 2019 Governor’s Arts Awards. “I knew he was sick,” she explains. “I was surprised that he was there to receive the accolade. I didn’t think that he would be able to show up, but he did. By the time I saw him last October, we all knew it was just a matter of time. He was very quiet and calm. I hugged his neck, and I said, ‘I’m so glad to see you.’ And he said, ‘I’m so glad to see you, too.’ I think we were seeing, without knowing it, the winding down of his life.” When she first started performing, she says, “I used to do a lot of Little Richard songs in my show: ‘Tutti Frutti’ and stuff like that. All of us did.”

When Barry Bales was recently interviewed by News Channel 11 in Johnson City, Tennessee, Bluegrass Today reports, it wasn’t about his career as longtime bass player for Alison Krauss & Union Station or as a songwriter and music producer. He is the proprietor of Bales Farm in Mosheim, Tennessee, and he was discussing the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on livestock ranchers and dairy farmers. He explained how the shortage of produce on grocery shelves is not due to a shortage of farm products; it’s due to the bottleneck in food processing nationwide. “This farm has been in my family since 1882,” he notes. The reporter encouraged consumers to buy directly from producers.

The Tennessean reports on the first outdoor concert by a major entertainer in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. Keith Urban, 52, staged a drive-in concert last week for first responders at Stardust Drive-In, an outdoor cinema in Watertown, Tennessee, east of Nashville. About 125 cars were filled with front line workers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center. To thank the healthcare workers for putting their lives on the line every day, Keith and bandmate Nathan Barlowe played for an hour for the doctors, nurses, and emergency technicians. “Performing in this environment, with everyone in their cars at a safe distance from one another, seems like an amazing opportunity for everybody to just let go and have fun,” Keith said. “And I’m a musician, I have to play.” This might be the first in a flood of drive-in concerts throughout the nation. Other artists have announced plans for upcoming drive-in concerts. Keith called his concert “a bit of a proof-of-concept show … to figure out what works and what doesn’t.”

The May 23rd Grand Ole Opry performance will be the annual Memorial Day Salute the Troops show; it will honor veterans, current military members, and workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. Craig Morgan will lead the show, which will be broadcast live on Circle TV and streamed across Facebook and YouTube at 7 p.m. CT.

George Strait has rescheduled dates for two upcoming concerts. Nash Country Daily reports his “Strait to South Bend” concert at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana, was moved from August 15, 2020, to August 7, 2021. His concert at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was moved from August 22, 2020, to July 31, 2021.

MuttNation Foundation, the organization started by Miranda Lambert and her mother, Bev, to end animal suffering and homelessness, helped raise more than $75,000 after the recent tornadoes in Middle Tennessee. “We knew people needed to come first, but MuttNation is here because we have to watch over the animals, too,” Miranda tells Nash Country Daily. “My heart is filled with both sadness for everyone who suffered–and with gratitude for everyone who has stepped up.” Since 2009, the foundation has raised millions of dollars to aid organizations and government entities that build animal shelters for better care and increased pet adoption.

Nash Country Daily reports Kenny Chesney has tied with Garth Brooks for the most country albums on the all-genre Billboard 200 Albums chart, with his ninth No. 1 album, Here & Now. The album is also his 17th No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. “This number one is so gratifying,” says Kenny. “It says so much about the players and the songwriters, everyone working in a creative capacity in Nashville, as well as all the people working to get this music into the hands of the people who love and want it.”

On May 9, the 31st anniversary of Keith Whitley’s death from alcohol poisoning at age 33, son Jesse Keith Whitley, 33, released a new single, “Try to Change My Ways,” and dedicated it to his father. “I did not write that song,” he tells Sounds Like Nashville, “but I loved it at the first listen. What I liked is that it doesn’t just talk about one class of people. Like the part about standing up for the USA, well, that’s everybody. I think we’re all together on that.” Whitley, whose mother is Lorrie Morgan, says there’s “a big push to get my dad into the Country Music Hall of Fame and I think he deserves that. Right now, I’m just proud to honor him with this single.”

In the Season 2 opener of The Pursuit! With John Rich, Cowboy Troy details a racist threat he faced while performing at a country bar in Kennesaw, Georgia. “It was an anonymous call-in,” he explains. “I had to fly in from a Big & Rich show, so I flew in, local law enforcement kept me sequestered at the hotel. I wasn’t able to do a meet-and-greet, I wasn’t able to hang out in the bar and shake hands with the fans after the show.” He walked onstage, did his show, and was immediately escorted back to the vehicle and returned to his hotel by plainclothes armed security. He adds, “That’s not the first time I’ve had to deal with anything like that.” John Rich then tells the audience the KKK was identified as making the threat, calling the Klan “the most vicious, disgusting group of human beings, in my opinion, that exist.” Season 1 of The Pursuit! With John Rich included Gretchen Wilson and Wynonna Judd as guests, along with a diverse group across genres and the political spectrum. John hopes his show can help bridge America’s sociopolitical divide. “The one thing we all have in common is, we all have the right to pursue happiness,” he tells Taste of Country. Larry Gatlin and T.G. Sheppard are two who will be interviewed during Season 2.

South Dakota’s KELO-TV recently featured a Sioux Falls fifth grader, Emerson Weber, 11, who wrote a special letter of thanks to her mailman. Since then, she has been on national news and has received hundreds of letters, including a note from Senator Elizabeth Warren. Last week, reports Taste of Country, a package of gifts from Taylor Swift arrived in the mail. Along with a personal note, the gifts included ornate wax seals for closing envelopes and a hoodie emblazoned with graphics from Taylor’s new album. “She talked about her passion for handwriting letters & noted, ‘the bag I sent along with this letter contains one of my favorite letter writing tools — wax seals to seal envelopes,'” Emerson’s father explains. “She continued, ‘I’m sorry they look messy. I couldn’t get new ones in time, so I sent you mine.'”

Ain’t Lookin’ Back is the title of the new 13-song Mo Pitney album, scheduled for release on August 14. Mo has issued a video of one of its songs, “Mattress on the Floor.” It tells the story of a young married couple with no money to buy a bedframe for their mattress on the floor. “The song is centered around the idea that no matter where you are and what you have, the greatest treasure is love and trust and finding that in someone that shares the same for you,” Mo tells Taste of Country. “You could have all the cars, money, fame and accolades that you wanted, but if you don’t have that one thing that remains, you essentially have nothing.”

Benny Garcia, 64, a longtime friend of Vince Gill, died May 9 at his home in Oklahoma City, from pancreatic cancer. The Boot reports he was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1956, and he and Vince bonded over their shared love of music. “Benny and I had a 50-year friendship,” Vince says. “We met as kids and played in our first garage bands together, and for the last 30 years, he traveled with me everywhere. And for the last 50 years we’ve been inseparable.” Although Benny spent most of his professional career working as Vince’s guitar tech, he was well-respected in the music business as a technician and musician.

Eight boxes of reel-to-reel tapes bearing the label “George Jones albums” spent thirty years forgotten in a bank vault in New Orleans and the past six years as the subject of a Tennessee court case, according to The Tennessean. Bill Blevins was newly appointed as Clerk of Court for the U.S. District Court of Eastern Louisiana when he opened a safe deposit box at a local bank six years ago, to inventory the contents. The label on the boxes said, “Case number 2:83-cr-541 USA vs David L. Snoddy and Donald E. Gilbreth.” Court records show Snoddy and Gilbreth were partners in the music business and the drug trade. They were arrested in Louisiana in 1983 for drug-trafficking. A judge set bail at $1 million for the pair. They didn’t have cash, but Gilbreth offered the court five reel-to-reel tapes that he said contained 35 songs performed live by George Jones and his band in 1966 at Nugget Studios in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. The 1984 value was $1.2 million. When Gilbreth and Snoddy were convicted and sent to prison in 1986, the judge ordered the tapes returned to Gilbreth, and Gilbreth’s attorney signed for them. But they remained in the safe deposit vault. When Blevins discovered them, Gilbreth was dead and Snoddy was still in prison. Upon his release from prison, Snoddy filed probate action in Benton County, Tennessee, where Gilbreth died, to win custody of the tapes. The probate court sent an attorney to New Orleans to retrieve the tapes. They are now in a bank vault in Benton County. A Tennessee appellate court ruled earlier this month that Snoddy can claim an interest in the tapes. No one yet knows if the tapes even contain recordings, much less if they are master copies of live performances of George Jones and the Jones Boys.

Nash Country Daily reports that Collin Raye will headline a free concert at Barnes Park in Kaysville, Utah, on May 30, in defiance of the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. “Hopefully, this concert will inspire similar events in other states around the country as we try to unify and start pushing back against the effects of this pandemic,” Collin said in a statement. “We will be utilizing the recommended sensible safety precautions, and I’m confident it will be a huge success for small businesses, and hopefully, the country at large.” The outdoor event is being organized by the Utah Business Revival and will feature booths allowing nonessential businesses to sell goods and services. The press release noted: “Please be respectful to those who social distance at seven feet. Feel free to wear the proper protection.”

Sara Evans has released a new covers album, Copy That, on her Born To Fly record label. “I started singing in cover bands with my brothers when I was four,” she tells The Tennessean. “I grew up all over Missouri … singing in bars. When you do that your whole life, you know how to choose cover songs that are popular and people are gonna love, but also fit you and sound authentic to who you are.” Songs on Copy That include Fleetwood Mac’s “Monday Morning,” the Bee Gees’ “If I Can’t Have You,” Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” and the Knack’s “My Sharona.” Old Crow Medicine Show joins her to sing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Sara says, “Most cover records try to change the songs so much. … Why don’t we go do it the opposite way and work our asses off to cover everything they do?”


Richard Sokolosky writes, “So look forward to reading Kim Campbell’s forthcoming book about Glen….Jan and I had the privilege and blessing to know this incredible family for many years in the 1980s & ‘90s as we both were active members of the North Phoenix Baptist Church. My Dad, “Socko” Sokolosky, was a member of The Louisiana Hayride house band in the 1950s and Glen knew many of the C&W ‘Greats’ who got their start on The Hayride that Dad and the house band backed up….that were in their prime when Glen’s career took off in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. When Glen was home…off the road from touring…he sang for us at NPBC often….and it was such a joy to hear Glen’s testimony of what God had done in his life by bringing Kim into his life.”

Sue Veune says, “I was so sad to hear about Harold Reid, I saw the Statler Brothers several times and loved them. This COVID virus has hit many in the country music family. We lost a local musician here in central Ohio, Mike Byers, who played with a group called The Challengers who toured the country  and performed at many venues in the ‘90s. I hope everyone stays safe, we will get through this with faith and safe practices.”

Ray Harrison, retired US Navy senior chief (STGCS) writes from Arizona, “Just another note about John (JD) Hoag. I had the pleasure of working with JD on a number of Marty Robbins Tribute shows and Loved every minute of them. You just didn’t see JD without a smile. His input on songs was priceless, as he knew every intro/ending and nuances of all Marty’s material. A true pleasure to have shared the stage and know JD. He is missed by all who knew him. BTW, always enjoy your newsletter Capn.”

Jon Philibert in England says, “It is good to read about what I consider the last great era of the kind of country artists, though sometimes sad to learn of their passing. Nice of Jean Earle to remember the British country music DJ Bob Powel. I can’t believe it’s been six years since we lost him. He was a true one-off with an eccentric sense of humour and was very kind and helpful to me back in the day. As Jean suggests he had an encyclopaedic knowledge of country music and would often play obscure tracks by his many guests which they had completely forgotten about! There was a nice biography of Bob by Tom Baker called Heart Of A Fan which is worth tracking down.

Pejay Mirtschin writes from Australia, “Thank you for your latest newsletter that I just received and I was fascinated in your article about Jim Owen and it was pure magic that I just happened to have a cassette of Jim Owen titled Hank – Vol.1 sitting on my desk that I brought into the house to show my wife Joybell. I bought a selection of cassettes from a friend Don Bradley from Simi Valley California some years back and this particular artist I had never listened to before, but boy he had a fantastic Country voice and he sure did a fantastic job of those Hank Williams songs. The Cassette details are ‘Jim Owen Hank- Vol.1, 1981 Sun International Corp. Nashville TN.’ And features 8 classic Hank Williams tracks. Also in the collection of cassettes is one by Keith Perry titled All I Give A Darn About Is You, which only has two tracks on it being the one I mentioned plus ‘Hatfields & McCoys’ and is on CURB Records D4-73006 from 1998. Can you give me any light on other music by Mr. Perry? P.S…Great articles about Vivian Liberto and Glen Campbell and the rest.”

Diane: He released his self-titled debut album in 1999 with 12 tracks. Keith Perry was followed in 2001 by Inspirational Favorites, which contained 12 traditional gospel songs and one he cowrote.

Rosemary Eng says, “I was so sorry to read that Jim Owen passed away. He wrote and recorded one of my favorite songs, ‘Ten Anniversary Presents.’ I played that 45 so so much. Now I play it on Youtube. May he rest in peace.”

Dominique “Imperial” Anglares writes from France, “Greetings for that welcome newsletter and glad to read about My Darling Vivian. I agree with you about the unfair treatment given to Vivian through the years and in some ways in Walk The Line. That biopic was welcome but stacked with inaccuracies, hidden or forgotten facts, mix up in times and facts. I don’t throw any stone to anybody but it is always the same on many biopic (Great Balls of Fire, La Bamba, The Buddy Holly Story and others), the main goal being to entertain folks. Folk can’t be personified for legal reasons, music can’t be played for publishing rights/money and common fairy tales are carried. Even the recent big Country series by Ken Burn left The Louisiana Hayride in the shade. That’s the way it is. I had a strong respect for Vivian who helped J.R Cash to make it since their wedding on August 7, 1954. Her book I Walked the Line is an essential reading to know about J.R Cash, Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins early days, their hope, failure and success. I am pretty sure J.R. Cash should never made it without Vivian’s strong support and dedication. It is true not only for Johnny Cash but for many who dedicate their full life to their work and career. That’s the game and it has led many wives to The Home of The Blues. I know Ken Burns’ work being great but many of us just think the Louisiana Hayride artists, specialy Johnny Horton, should have a bit more of exposure. Not much a problem, that work helped greatly to know and remember about all these Country performers. Having some exposure for all these ‘50s Country artists is the more important thing and Thanks are sent for that.”

Doreen Brown in Canada says, “Enjoyed our chats sitting at the table in Fremont; also enjoy reading your newsletters. Several years ago, met Faron Young backstage at our then Palace Pier, Toronto; he invited me to go to a party, but I didn’t. Sure hope this virus gets done with, puts a cramp on so many things, like country music shows, etc. Trust you are keeping well and sending lotsa country cheers.” 

Lee Shannon writes, “Re: Ricky Van Shelton mentioned in your recent couple of newsletters: When I was working at WIRE in Indianapolis, I was one of several deejays invited to emcee Alabama’s Jam in their hometown. I drove there with my wife, Lee Ann, and our granddaughter, Lisa, who was about 12 years at the time. Lisa was a huge fan of Ricky Van Shelton. We were among the earlier arrivals as I needed to meet backstage for instructions on who I was assigned to introduce. As luck would have it, one of those artists was Ricky. I obtained a temporary backstage pass for Lisa. She and her grandma had spread a blanket in the grass on the football field and were soon joined by other country music fans. I took Lisa her pass and instructed her when to report backstage to meet Ricky before he went out to sing. Here’s the funny part; a lady who had, by now, become friends with Lee Ann, said, ‘Lady, lady, your little girl is up on the stage!’ Lisa was actually on the side of the stage with me talking to Ricky, but to this lady she appeared to actually be on stage. Lisa just turned 44 in March, but that memory is still strong.”

Curt Boettcher wonders, “What ever happened to Ricky Van Shelton?”

Diane: He left the music business in 2006, wrote a few children’s books, and then pretty much disappeared.

Dean Mann in Sioux Falls says, “In a past email, I asked you about Patty Loveless. Is she still performing? I haven’t heard or read anything about her for a long time. I just loved her singing. She was in Sioux Falls in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s with Ricky Van Shelton. Both of them put on a great show. They sang ‘Rocking Chair’ together, and I think that was the best version of that song I ever heard.”

Diane: The years go by too fast, Dean. They sang that song together in 1992. Patty is still touring, as far as I know, but there isn’t any new information on her website: http://pattyloveless.com/. I, too, think she’s a great singer.

Carol Johnston Smith sends this unhappy news: “Sadly I received a message from the granddaughter of a dear friend of mine – Rosemary Frisbee – that she passed away Thursday, May 7. We met in the ‘70s when I started to work for Marty Robbins. From that day forward we stayed friends and kept in touch. Rosemary and her husband Bob would come to Nashville for every Fan Fair to help work in Marty’s booth. Other times they would just visit. I will miss our notes and messages. I believe she is safe in our Lord’s arms and he will take care of her.”

Diane: I’m so sorry to hear that, Carol. Rosemary was a longtime newsletter subscriber. I last heard from her in January, and she mentioned your friendship.


In 2006, I called Cotton Owens in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to talk about his memories of Marty Robbins in NASCAR. Cotton won 38 Grand National races as a NASCAR owner, following nine wins as a driver. He died in 2012, at age 88, after battling lung cancer for seven years.

I met Marty Robbins in Daytona, back–I guess it was either ’59 or 1960, when I was driving. He liked to stay in my pits. Later on, he actually bought a race car. I had some cars, and he came to me–it must have been 1972–and wanted to buy one of my cars, which was a Plymouth at the time. He said, “I want a Dodge.” So I took this Plymouth and made a Dodge out of it for Marty there in 1972. I took a Plymouth and made a Dodge out of it by changing the body.

I handled his cars the last ten years of his life. We changed the number there at the end, because he gave the 42 car–actually, the 42 car was Lee Petty’s number. Lee got hurt in 1960 at Daytona, and he didn’t keep the number anymore. He took the 43 and the 44 cars instead of the 42. Cuz at one time he ran three cars, Lee did. Marty took the 42 car after Lee retired. He gave it back to them right there at the end. I don’t know just exactly who took the number, but it was still in the Petty family. We used my old number, number 6, after that.

Marty could have been a great race driver, if he’d got into it when he was young. He just fell in love with it, after he got some age on him, and he still didn’t devote the time to it that it took to be a good first-class race driver. His music was his living, and he loved it. Racing was a pastime, and a hobby more or less, and he was doing a good job with even his hobby. Marty felt like he didn’t want to take the money from those guys by beating them. He actually backed off the race that he ran fifth in at Michigan. He was running fourth and let a car pass him there at the end, because he didn’t want to take the money from that guy. Like I say, he wasn’t making a living in racing; he was making his living in music. It was a hobby, and he didn’t want to take the money from those other guys, that was struggling back then.

They didn’t resent him at all. They accepted him and liked to hear him sing. They would come to his singing before the races, at night, while we wasn’t doing anything. They ran us back then at five o’clock in the afternoon. We’d go to the motel, and he’d sing ’til midnight or longer. Those guys really looked forward to him being there. He’d entertain all the people at the restaurant and the motel. They’d actually go get a piano when they knew he was coming, and pull it into the motel there for him to play and sing. That was the Ramada Inn in Talladega. He was an enjoyable person to be around.

It really tore me up when he died. He called me about six o’clock that afternoon. We talked, and finally I told him–I had the car sitting there; I had it almost ready to go to Talladega, and that’s what I thought he was calling me for–and I asked him, “What else you got on your mind?” He said, “Oh, I just called you to see how you’re doing, and wanted to chat a little bit.” And then at 11:00 that night he had his final heart attack.

I had the car sitting there; I didn’t know whether he wanted me to do some other stuff to it. Because he’d already talked to Bill France and had it arranged for it to go in the museum at Talladega. He set it up himself, because he had bought another car, because that car was outdated. We had bought a Buick from Junior Johnson, and Junior was building the engine and stuff, and I was maintaining the Buick for Marty there, the last two or three races. The last race he ran was with the Buick at Atlanta, Georgia. I forgot what happened; I think we finished with it. That was probably in October or November of the year he died. We were there with the Buick because I was preparing the Dodge for the museum. After he died, I carried the Buick to Nashville, and they put it in Marty’s museum up there in Nashville. And the Dodge, it went to Talladega.

He was a great guy, and I sure do miss him, because he was a great friend also. I thoroughly enjoyed his music.


Does any early fan of Randy Travis have a copy of the newscast where he announced the CMA nominees at Opryland Hotel in Nashville, approximately August 18, 1986? I’ve already checked with the CMA office and the Nashville TV stations, and they don’t have it. I’m also trying to find a recording of his first appearance on the Johnny Carson show and a copy of his 1993 movie, Wind in the Wire. If anyone recorded audio or video interviews Randy did throughout the years, I’d appreciate hearing from you about those, too.

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