Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 23 August 2023


Bluegrass Today reports Shoji Tabuchi, 79, died of pancreatic cancer on August 11. Born in 1944 in Ishikawa, Japan, he began playing the violin at age seven. As a college sophomore, he attended a Roy Acuff concert in Osaka, Japan. After meeting Roy backstage, he was inspired to pursue country and bluegrass music. In 1967 and with $500, he emigrated to the United States. He joined a western swing band in Wichita, Kansas, where he met Faron Young in 1972 and then joined Billy Walker’s band for five years. He moved to Nashville to reconnect with Roy Acuff, who brought him to the Grand Ole Opry. In the early 1980s, he moved to Branson, Missouri, and eventually built one of the most elaborate theaters in Branson. He employed about 200 personnel at his 2,000-seat theater and performed two shows daily for many years. He was inducted into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame in 2020.

A second Heroes & Friends Tribute to Randy Travis will follow the one I reported in my last newsletter to take place October 24 at Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama. This one will be A Texas Heroes & Friends Tribute to Randy Travis – 1 Night, 1 Place, 1 Time, held at the Texas Trust CU Theatre in Grand Prairie, Texas, on November 15. The “heroes and friends” who sing Randy’s songs will be specifically from or greatly associated with Texas. According to a press release, “Texas has had an integral role in the Country Music Hall of Fame member’s recovery since his 2013 stroke, providing a safe and supportive haven within the thriving Texas music scene.” A portion of the proceeds from the evening will be donated to the Randy Travis Foundation, which focuses on stroke and aphasia awareness and supporting music education in schools.

An offshoot from The People’s Choice Awards will debut as The People’s Choice Country Awards on September 28. Hosted by Little Big Town, it will be broadcast live from the Grand Ole Opry House on NBC and Peacock. PEOPLE reports that Lainey Wilson, Luke Combs, and Morgan Wallen dominate the categories.

A memorial service was held August 21 at The Factory in Franklin, Tennessee, for songwriter and musician Kyle Jacobs, who died by suicide on February 17 at age 49. Following the service, his co-writer friends—such as Mo Pitney and Bobby Tomberlin—sang at a reception. His widow, Kellie Pickler, 37, had earlier shared a statement with PEOPLE in which she thanked fans for their continued support throughout this time. She announced her plans for the memorial service, saying, “I am planning an intimate memorial for my husband, that is what Kyle would have wanted.”

In less than two weeks, unknown singer/songwriter Oliver Anthony (real name Christopher Anthony Lunsford) has gone viral with “Rich Men North of Richmond,” CMT News reports. He is the first artist to ever launch his career by debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart. In its first week, the recording earned 17.5 million streams and, without being promoted on radio, accumulated 553,000 radio airplay audience impressions. The amateur blue-collar musician in rural Virginia said, “I wrote the music because I was suffering with mental health and depression. I’ve spent the last five years struggling with mental health and using alcohol to drown it. I am sad to see the world in the state it’s in, with everyone fighting with each other.” He and Draven Riffe, owner of Radio VW, recorded the video on his Virgina farm, where he lives in a small trailer. Twelve days after Riffe posted “Rich Men North of Richmond” on Radio VW, it had accumulated 29.5 million views. It knocked Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town” out of the top spot. Riffe told Billboard there wasn’t much planning involved; he said they just knew the song would resonate with listeners.

Sara Evans, 52, was celebrating the 20th anniversary of her platinum-selling 2003 album, Restless, in a sold-out concert at the Ryman Auditorium when Bill Anderson cut in to request that she sing his song, “Walk Out Backwards.” According to PEOPLE, Bill then asked, “Would you like to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry?” As everyone cheered, Sara smiled and covered her face in surprise. She jokingly replied, “No,” and Bill laughed. Sara wiped her tears and quickly accepted, saying, “God is so good.” She will be inducted into the Grand Ole Opry on October 7, during Opry Birthday Weekend.

Saving Country Music reports the possibility that Hank Williams had a third child, in addition to Hank Williams Jr. and Jett Williams. Lewis “Butch” Fitzgerald was the son of Hank’s cousin Marie McNeil Fitzgerald; there have long been rumors that Hank was the father. Butch and his wife raised their grandson, Ricky Fitzgerald, now 24, who began singing Hank’s songs at age five. Since Hank Williams III was already performing (I saw him at a Los Angeles nightclub in 2000), people started calling the youngster Hank Williams IV. Saving Country Music explains, “Ricky Fitzgerald, a.k.a. Hank Williams IV, is not to be confused with Coleman Williams, a.k.a. the frontman of ‘IV and The Strange Band.’ Coleman Williams is the son of Hank Williams III and in the direct bloodline of the Hank Williams lineage. But since he was never bestowed the Hank name and wants to steer clear of any potential controversy, Coleman Williams does not use Hank.” While Hank Jr., Hank III, Coleman, and Hank Jr.’s other son, Sam, all explore a variety of musical influences, Ricky Fitzgerald has only ever focused on preserving the original Hank Williams sound and keeping those songs alive.

During a recent interview on Access, Lainey Wilson described the thrill of being named ACM Female Artist of the Year. What was even more thrilling was that the award had been presented by her hero, Dolly Parton. She said, “They say don’t meet your heroes, but she’s got a heart of gold. I think if we were all a little more like her, the world would be a much better place.” Hosts Mario Lopez and Kit Hoover then pulled up a video clip of Dolly: “Hey Lainey, guess who? It’s your singing partner Dolly! You know we did a song ‘Mama He’s Crazy’ that’s going to be coming out soon together, but I loved working with you on the ACMs and I’m so proud of you. I love that you love me because I love you right back.” Overwhelmed by Dolly’s surprise message, Lainey wiped away tears, saying, “That is insane, first of all, that she even knows my name, and just to have her support. It makes me feel like ‘Dang, I can really do this.'” Their duet of “Mama He’s Crazy” will be on an October album, A Tribute to The Judds.


Larry Delaney of Cancountry writes from Ottawa, Canada, “Congratulations to all of these gifted songwriters…but the Nomination Committee of The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame really needs to shake their collective heads. They continually bypass and overlook one of the greatest songwriters of all time, the late RAY GRIFF. Raymond has written songs recorded by most every Nashville recording artist on the books…and we’re talking Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton, Loretta Lynn, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Anderson, Gene Watson, Faron Young, Eddy Arnold, Conway Twitty, Crystal Gayle, Bob Luman, Johnny Paycheck, Connie Smith, Mel Tillis, Billy Walker…and the list just goes on and on. So…what’s going on at NSAI and their ‘induction’ process?”

Diane: Ray wrote one of my all-time favorite Faron Young songs, “Step Aside.” I can still recall it playing on the radio.

Elliot Mclanahan says, “I certainly enjoyed your interview with Patty Loveless. I have a question, I don’t know if you can answer this, but I won’t know until I ask. In one of her albums, she did a version of ‘Don’t Let Me Cross Over.’ Is that Buck Trent playing electric banjo? It sounded like Buck, but I don’t know for sure. Enjoy the newsletters as always. Have a great day, and God bless.”

Diane: I don’t have an answer to your question. Perhaps a reader does.

Philip Wyn Davies writes from Wales, “Lovely interview with Patty. Saw her at Dollywood on my first visit to Tennessee, early ‘90s. Followed her career since. Deserved CMHOF award. Jerry Chesnut is one of my fav writers, especially ‘Another Place Another Time’ for Jerry Lee Lewis. Amazing financial gesture by Ms. Swift. Thanks again for an informative and detailed read.”

Joseph Allen writes from Australia, “I envy you getting to meet Patty Loveless. I love hearing her sing ‘Color of the Blues’ and’ Out of Control Raging Fire’ duet with Travis Tritt. Her voice just soars above the clouds in a goosebump inspiring way when I hear that song. I liked the section at the end of the four songwriters. Without the songwriters there are no songs.”

Carl Rollyson says, “Loved the interview with Patty Loveless and seeing how you work. You always make me feel close to a world I would otherwise not know.”

Doug Starr in Sioux Falls says, “I’m not a fan of country music, but I am enthralled at what you write about that and its musicians. Seems to me you could write another book.”

Diane: Well, I am, Doug. I’m finishing the first draft of my Randy Travis biography.

Jim Fogle requests, “Please add my name and email address to your newsletter list. Thank you in advance and thank you for your service to our country.”

Tracy Duffy says, “I have been reading your newsletter for many years as it has been passed along to me. Please add me to your mailing list so I can be sure not to miss any. Thank you and keep up the good work.”

Craig Olson writes from Islesboro, Maine, “I’d love to sign up for your newsletter. Enjoyed your books on Faron Young and Marty Robbins. Well done. I’m a rare book dealer in Maine (www.olsonbooks.com) but grew up on country music on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. Looking forward to the newsletter.”

LeNore Koszalinski writes about Jason Aldean: “I like his song. I can’t understand why people get upset. This is what happens in a small town. If people would really listen to the words. I stand behind him, and I hope others will. I enjoy your newsletter.”


While I was working on Faron Young’s biography, sister Kayo and I visited steel player Ben Keith at his farm in 2000. He told us he’d just returned from California, where he’d produced his second album on Jewel. We’d heard of her, of course, but she was a pop singer, and I’ve never become familiar with her music. She recently did an interview with Margaret Hoover on PBS: Jewel Kilcher | Video | Firing Line with Margaret Hoover | PBS. After watching it, I checked out her autobiography from the library. She published Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story in 2015. Born in 1974 in Alaska, Jewel Kilcher grew up with a very rough childhood, after her mother left the family and her father became physically abusive to his three children. Jewel left home at fifteen and eventually ended up in San Diego, often homeless but always working extremely hard. After she started performing in a coffee shop and gathered a large following, she eventually decided to make a record. Listening to a Neil Young CD, she turned it over to see who had produced it. Ben Keith. “I met with Ben and knew within five minutes he was my guy,” she writes. “He talked about my lyrics and the story and then about musicians he thought would be a good fit for me.” They recorded at Neil Young’s ranch in Northern California. “Being able to record there was not a favor to me even remotely,” she writes, “but to Ben, for Neil loved him dearly.” The book covers in detail Jewel’s ups and downs over the years, her emotional turmoil and growth, her marriage to famous PRCA rodeo cowboy, Ty Murray, and their son, and how she dug herself out of debt after her mother siphoned off all her money. She ends with this advice: “Be bold. Name what you want. Give it voice and then give it action. . .. Don’t let the days pass without doing something great. Be the architect of your dreams.”


Wayne Carson was born Wayne Carson Thompson in Denver, Colorado, in 1943, the son of professional musicians who performed as “Shorty & Sue.” Wayne moved to Nashville in 1962 to make it in the music business. In 1965, Chet Atkins wanted Eddy Arnold to record “Somebody Like Me.” He called Wayne to ask him to write a third verse, which he did on the spot, over the phone. In 1966, it became his first #1 hit. The following year, “The Letter” became a #1 pop hit for the Box Tops. His other songs include “A Horse Called Music,” “Drinkin’ Thing,” “I See the Want-To in Your Eyes,” and “Who’s Julie.” He co-wrote “Always on My Mind,” “Barstool Mountain,” “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles), and “Slide Off of Your Satin Sheets.” Wayne Carson died at age 72 in Nashville in 2015.

Roger Cook is the first British songwriter to enter the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Born Frederick Roger Cook in Bristol, England, in 1940, he was a prolific British pop composer with collaborator Roger Greenaway. They created “You’ve Got Your Troubles,” “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” and other hits, as well as a series of Coca-Cola commercials that included the worldwide musical phenomenon in 1972, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” After moving to Nashville in 1975, Cook had a second career as the writer of country hits. Crystal Gayle took his “Talking in Your Sleep” to the top of the country charts in 1978. In 1998, his co-written “One Night at a Time” was a #1 for George Strait. Don Williams recorded his co-written “I Believe in You” in 1980 and “Love Is on a Roll” in 1983. He and John Prine wrote “I Just Want to Dance with You,” a #1 for George Strait and one of my theme songs. He recently celebrated his 83rd birthday.

Honky-tonk and western swing star Hank Thompson wrote many of his own hits, including “Humpty Dumpty Heart,” “The New Green Light,” “Waiting in the Lobby of Your Heart,” and “Rub-a-Dub-Dub.” He co-wrote “Yesterday’s Girl” “Hangover Tavern,” Honky-Tonk Girl,” “A Six Pack to Go,” and “Anybody’s Girl.” Born Henry William Thompson in 1925 in Waco, Texas, he broadcast as “Hank the Hired Hand” on radio station WACO while in high school. He served in the U.S. Navy and later studied engineering in college. He signed a recording contract with Globe Records in 1946 and had a regional hit with “Whoa Sailor.” A song he didn’t write, “The Wild Side of Life,” was a national # 1 hit in 1952. The “answer song,” “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels,” made Kitty Wells a star. In 1961, Hank Thompson and his Brazos Valley Boys Band recorded a live album, At the Golden Nugget, in Las Vegas, creating the first significant live album in country music history. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989. Hank died in Keller, Texas, in 2007, at age 82.

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