Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 24 August 2022


My last newsletter mentioned the McCall family (Darrell, Dennis, Diane, and Dee Jee) had been inducted into the Ohio Country Music Hall of Fame, and that Dennis received his plaque during the Heart of Texas show we attended while we were in Nashville. I introduced myself to Dennis McCall that afternoon and asked if I could call him for a newsletter spotlight. He agreed. During our telephone conversation this past weekend, I said I’d often heard the story of Darrell and Donnie Lytle (Johnny Paycheck) moving from Ohio to Nashville. I asked how Dennis ended up in Nashville.

“In 1958, I was five years old,” he said. “But I certainly remember Darrell leaving.” Dennis grew up under the influence of Darrell, Donnie, and the Adams Boys who later toured as the Jones Boys. “I knew I wanted to be a musician,” he told me, “but I didn’t know what kind of music, ’til I saw the Beatles. And then I thought, well, my brother plays bass, and Paul McCartney plays bass, and Paul McCartney’s got all these girls screaming at him, so I think I want to be a bass player.”

His sisters moved to Nashville in 1967, and Dennis and his mother followed in 1969. He started his junior year of high school but quit in October because “my brain wasn’t in it.” Darrell offered to take the sixteen-year-old on the road with him, promising their mother he would watch over his little brother. Darrell had recently left Faron Young’s Country Deputies and was pursuing a solo career. The brothers traveled in a little sports car, with a rear jump seat that held Dennis’s bass and Darrell’s guitar. Darrell worked with house bands at that point. Some of the bars and clubs allowed Dennis onstage, but many of them made him sit in the café area.

In the spring of 1971, Darrell went to work with Hank Williams Jr., playing bass and fronting the show. He and Mona had married in June and needed a stable income. Dennis moved to Osage Beach, Missouri, and joined Denny Hilton’s Country Shindig. Although the show was developing a great reputation and hosting national country acts, Dennis became homesick and returned to Nashville after eight months.

Darrell then got Dennis a job with singer Lois Johnson, who was Hank Jr.’s duet partner. Now nineteen, Dennis was less conspicuous in the clubs where Lois appeared. But after a year of “working just clubs,” he was ready to move on. Diane, who toured with Charlie Louvin as his “girl singer,” suggested Dennis when Charlie needed a bass player. Being in that band exposed Dennis to the Opry, since Charlie was a Grand Ole Opry star.

Dennis acknowledges the McCall name opened doors for him. With his brother and sisters preceding him, “I had a good rapport when I came to town,” he says. “It was easier for me to be taken seriously as a musician.” Still, opening the door is only the first step. He worked in his craft and took pride in the quality of his performances.

When Barbara Mandrell’s bass player left her band, Dennis’s brother-in-law recommended him. “I tried out and got the gig,” Dennis says. “It was February 7, 1974, the day I turned 21.” Barbara paid a salary instead of paying by the date. “And we had insurance. That was unheard of in country bands.” Barbara gave him albums to learn the songs from, but she told him, “I do everything a little faster than the album because I think a show ought to be a show.” Albums were meant to sit down and listen to, but people who came to her show should experience the excitement of the event.

Dennis married Mona’s first cousin, Colleen, in 1976. The two Canadians are the daughters of two brothers. Colleen retired several years ago from thirty years as a schoolteacher. Their first child was born in 1977, and Dennis started looking for a way to get off the road. Although Barbara worked many prestigious places and they had a blast traveling around the world, it became “just too hard” to be away from his wife and baby. He and Barbara parted amicably in September 1979 when he told her he was giving his notice and not taking any other road gigs.

Now he was without an income. On the church bulletin board, he saw a request for a carpet cleaner. You humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and he’ll lift you up, he told himself. He took the minimum wage job, and Colleen started watching children in their home. Three months later, Carol Lee Cooper called and told him she needed a tenor singer for her Opry backup group, the Carol Lee Singers. Would he be interested in the job?

“I never fancied myself as a gospel tenor-type guy,” he says about taking the job in January 1980. He spent hours at Carol Lee’s house, rehearsing the many songs in her extensive collection of charts, but he soon learned rehearsals weren’t enough. Songwriter performers such as Johnny Russell would catch them on the way to the stage and say, “I got a new song we’ll do tonight. You guys jump in when you can.”

Dennis recalls, “We’d go out there and listen the first time through, singable words on the verse, and singable words on the chorus, and next time the verse and the chorus came around, we were with them. That’s how fast we worked. Nobody knew the first time we heard the song was on the way to the stage.” Carol Lee could arrange things in her head quicker than anybody Dennis ever worked with. She might tell Dennis, “Next time that comes through, see if you can do a tenor line on it. We’ll ask him later if that’s what he wants.”

It was a steep learning curve. Dennis went from being a bass player and singing a part he sang all the time, to being a backup singer who didn’t have a clue of how they worked. “Carol Lee was so talented and knew so much what she was doing, leading that group,” he says. “It was easy to stay for 35 years.” The other singers were alto Norah Lee Allen, wife of Duane Allen of the Oak Ridge Boys, and Herman Harper, who had been the original Oak Ridge Boys bass singer. Those four sang together until 1993, when Herman died of a brain aneurysm at age 54. Carol left in 2011 because of poor health. Dennis talked to her this past March, and she told him, “Den, I’m being real careful. God healed me of that lupus, and I’m just watching my health.”

Dennis retired in 2015. Now he plays bass and sings at church; he sometimes performs at special events. He and Colleen moved from Antioch in Nashville to Eagleville, a little town near Murfreesboro. They live in a farmhouse-styled double-wide with a tin roof, all-board siding, and drywall on the inside. “We’re out in the middle of the cedar grove,” he says, “with our little dog and cat, a field full of goats on one side, and horses in back of us.” His son’s house is just across the woods. “We found our little niche down in Murfreesboro.” 

Carole Lee Singers on the Grand Ole Opry


The drummer for Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Jerry Ivan “JI” Allison, died August 22 at age 82. Born in 1939, Jerry became friends with Buddy Holly in high school in Lubbock, Texas. They formed The Crickets band and had their first hit with “That’ll Be the Day” in 1957. Jerry was cowriter of “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue.” Following Buddy’s death in 1959, Jerry kept The Crickets going “in one incarnation or another,” reports Saving Country Music, until his retirement in 2016. As an in-demand session player over the years, he recorded with such artists as Bobby Vee, Eddie Cochran, Waylon Jennings, Paul McCartney, and Conway Twitty. In 2012, the original Crickets became members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Buddy Holly had been inducted in 1986.

The Ohio Country Music Hall of Fame recently inducted Arnie, Don, and Gary Adams, along with Johnny Paycheck (Donnie Lytle), all from Greenfield, Ohio. Gary Adams died earlier this year at age 78, and Johnny Paycheck died in 2003 at age 64. The three Adams brothers were the original George Jones touring band, The Jones Boys. They also toured with Paycheck as The Lovemakers. Gary was working with Marty Robbins at the time of Marty’s death in 1982. “I felt out of place, really, in there Saturday night receiving the award,” Arnie Adams told the Times Gazette (Hillsboro, Ohio). “Don and I both did because Paycheck and Gary had both spent their entire lives just for a smidgen of the recognition we received Saturday night.” He joked, “Gary and Paycheck spent their entire lives just dedicated to music, or undedicated to manual labor I guess.”

The Tennessean reports Garth Brooks has offered to cover the cost of building a police substation in an alley adjacent to his new three-story entertainment venue, “Friends in Low Places.” If approved by the Metro Council, the space would provide resources for Metro police and Nashville Department of Transportation Multimodal Infrastructure to control traffic and safety in the Lower Broadway nightlife district. Garth purchased 411 Broadway, previously the Downtown Sporting Club, for almost $48 million in December 2021. Unfortunately, the alley is shared by the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, which would be overshadowed by any new construction.

Country trio Chapel Hart (sisters Danica and Devlyn Hart and cousin Trea Swindle) returned to the America’s Got Talent stage last week with ten other acts in the semifinals. They were one of two acts selected to continue to the finals. The next day, Tanya Tucker posted an Instagram video in which she was dressed in a holiday costume. She wrote, “I’m shooting a Christmas movie right now… I saw you on @agt and wow!!! You all were fantastic! Lovvved it!” Chapel Hart tweeted in response: “Y’all, We. Are. Screaming!!!!! We can’t believe the Original Bad Girl of Country herself loved the performance!”

Country Rewind Records has announced the release of Hank Snow – The Lost Souvenir Collection with Hank’s son, Jimmie Snow, as special guest artist. Hank Snow, “The Singing Ranger,” was elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1979. He died in 1999. A press release says the album is available for streaming and download.

Two months after Toby Keith announced his stomach cancer diagnosis, he is sharing some of the supportive messages he has received. According to Taste of Country, he posted a montage of comments on social media–messages of encouragement in a video clip set to his 1993 debut hit single, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy.” The montage begins with posts from country stars and music establishments and moves to a flood of wishes from fans. When he publicized the diagnosis in June, he said, “I’ve spent the last six months receiving chemo, radiation and surgery.” He canceled all 2022 tour dates but promises to return to the road as soon as he is able to do so.

During the second night of his four-night residency at the Ryman in Nashville, Vince Gill welcomed his youngest child, Corinna Grant Gill, on stage for a surprise performance to sing “When My Amy Prays.” His wife, Amy Grant, is recovering after being hospitalized for injuries from striking a pothole while riding her bicycle. “Because of her accident and everything she’s been going through,” Vince told the crowd, “I thought how sweet it would be for our youngest to sing this song I wrote for her.” Corinna sang the lyrics as “when my mama prays.” The song won a Grammy for best country solo performance in 2021. The Tennessean reports Amy’s tour dates for September and October have been rescheduled for early 2023. She hopes to be able to do her holiday tour with Michael W. Smith in November, as well as her Christmas concert residency at the Ryman with husband Vince in December.

The house where Dolly Parton and husband Carl Dean lived from 1980-1996 has been sold after spending over a decade on the market. The New York Post reports Dolly and Carl purchased the four-bedroom, two-bath Nashville property in 1980 for $50,000, when “9 to 5” was the No. 1 song, and they sold it in 1996 for $140,000. Since 2010, the new owners have been trying to sell the house, at first listing it for $359,000. Following several price cuts, and thanks to the recent competitive housing market and inflation, the home sold in December for $849,000. While living in the 4,795-square-foot house on 2.4 acres, they were building their dream home in Brentwood. “Every year we’d drive down to Mississippi for our anniversary with this old camera and we’d take pictures of parts of the Southern mansions we liked,” Dolly once said. “A porch here, a pillar there. Then we’d take ’em home and look at ’em real hard, puttin’ it all together in our minds.” She scouted all over Tennessee for a piece of land with hills and a stream. “I built it long before we could afford it ’cause I knew we’d be able to — someday,” she said. Their current home has 8,100 square feet and sits on 62 acres of land.

Concert promoter Ben Farrell, 76, died peacefully at his home on August 10, reports Taste of Country. The Tennessee native was the son of Kerby Farrell, a professional baseball player and manager. He joined Varnell Enterprises in 1970, worked with Lon Varnell, and stayed with the company for his entire 52-year career, ultimately becoming its president. He began working with Garth Brooks in 1989, a relationship that would last for more than 30 years. Other performers he assisted included the Statler Brothers, Merle Haggard, Ricky Skaggs, George Strait, Neil Diamond, the Carpenters, the Osmonds, Charley Pride, Ronnie Milsap, Barbara Mandrell, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, and many more. He and Garth were both inducted into the International Entertainment Buyers Association Hall of Fame in 2016.

The Nashville Songwriters Association International has named Taylor Swift as the Songwriter-Artist of the Decade and Ashley Gorley as the Songwriter of the Decade. According to MusicRow, the awards will be presented at the 5th Annual Nashville Songwriter Awards show at the Ryman Auditorium on Sept. 20, with twenty performers taking the stage to honor the award winners. Swift, who has been named NSAI’s Songwriter-Artist of the Year a record-breaking seven times, follows previous decade award recipients, Toby Keith (2000-2009) and Vince Gill (1990-1999). Gorley has earned NSAI’s Songwriter of the Year title five times. He previously received the NSAI Song of the Year award in 2008 for the Trace Adkins hit, “You’re Gonna Miss This.” The decade awards are calculated by determining the percentage of songwriting credit and level of chart success on each hit.

Me and Paul: Untold Tales of a Fabled Friendship, the newest Willie Nelson book, will be released September 20 by Harper Horizon. The book covers Willie’s 70-year friendship with Paul English, who died in 2020 at age 87. Willie says, “If someone tries to tell my story without putting Paul by my side, don’t bother reading it.” Willie’s co-author is music journalist David Ritz, who also helped write It’s a Long Story: My Life and Me (2015) and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band (2020).


Ronny Robbins responds from Nashville, “Hope you’re doing well and had a great visit, it sounds like it. To answer Mr. MacMillan’s question, the video he is referring to is from a concert I did in February 1985. The location was the Cheyenne Saloon and Dance Hall in Orlando, Florida, and the footage was to be used for a TV Special called Church Street Station, produced by Salt and Pepper Productions and sold to The Nashville Network. I honestly can’t remember if it was broadcast on the Network or not, but various clips started showing up on YouTube years ago. I would love to see the show in its entirety as it was one of those magic nights when everything was clicking, sound system was great, audience was fantastic, band was smoking hot, and I was even singing on key occasionally. Ahh memories….lol.”

Jan Manning writes from Trout Creek, Montana, “My goodness, $500 to sit in the pew onstage at the Opry?? I fondly remember the countless times I took a seat back there, usually next to ‘Miss Mae’ Newman, my surrogate mom during those years when I was a young single Yankee girl writing for Music City News. Times indeed have changed, Jimmy C and Miss Mae are gone, the Opry audiences are pathetically small, and they’ve turned the backstage and dressing room area into a tourist museum. I feel so blessed to have lived in Nashville during the good old days. And I had to laugh, reading Olivia’s comments about the controversy she caused in the ‘70s. I remember my boss, Betty Cox, expressing the views of most MCN readers, saying, ‘Ain’t no way they’ll ever consider John Denver and Olivia Newton John to be country!’ The formation of ACE was a bittersweet deal. Try as they did, the ACE folks were never able to wield much influence over anyone but the old-timers.”

Jackie Allen Thomas in Sun City, Arizona, says, “What a great trip you had! Thank you for sharing your adventures with us.”

Tracy Pitcox writes from Brady, Texas (if he’s home), “As always, a great newsletter and I certainly enjoyed your recap of your Nashville trip. Thanks for coming to the Heart of Texas Roadshow and Darrell said they would be there next year. Tony and I enjoyed the visit with you backstage at the Opry.”

John Krebs in Texas says, “Cal Sharp ~ working for the F-bomb………LOL!

Tom Merrill in Fuquay Varina, North Carolina, requests, “For some reason the August 9 newsletter bounced back from my email provider. Could you please resend it to me? I hate to miss any of your great newsletters.”

Bobby Fischer says, “It still surprises me when songwriters write hundreds of songs from a one-word title, like the song ”Free.” This one I got to sit down with Charlie Black and Tommy Rocco. We all still miss c b he was the key to many songs. Charlie and I got to Nashville at the Terace Music offices on Music Row the same week in June of 1970. Always claimed we were here before each other. I came here by way of Jack Barlow and Buddy Killen; he came with his pal Allie Cunningham, headed for Florida but stopped here and (lucky for us) never left. Rocco came later and had a bunch of hits, some with c b. Any positive love song I’ve been part of I always think it’s because of Helen’s influence. She makes me feel free. My pal Goober’s version of my song, “The Unluckiest Songwriter in Nashville,” was on Hee Haw. There’s O. B. McClinton’s version, and it was also recorded by Little Jimmy Dickens, the cop on Dukes of Hazard, and a comedian on Laugh-In.”

Diane: I remember that song. Here’s O. B. McClinton’s version from 1973.

Doyle Grisham says, “I enjoy your newsletter each month. Keep up the good work.”

Carol Grace Anderson writes from Nashville, “Once again, you brought so much inside info about Nashville legends! Thanks for sharing these treasures. Bless your country heart.”

Dominique ‘Imperial’ Anglares writes from France, “Thanks for that newsletter and for the Nashville trip report. Good to know about the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, maybe there will be a future? Greetings to Jeannie Seely for being the artist with the most Grand Ole Opry appearances. What a musical journey she had since her first Challenge 45 rpm. The last but not the least, great to know about the new Webb Pierce CD. The legacy goes on.”


The Music of Randy Travis Concert comes to the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, this Sunday afternoon, August 28, at 2 pm. James Dupré will be singing Randy’s songs, backed by Randy’s band. Randy and Mary will be present. You can order tickets at https://www.etix.com/ticket/v/16199/corn-palace. See you there?


I’ll be joining Sherwin Linton at the South Dakota State Fair in Huron on Thursday, September 1, at 2 pm. He and Pam and the Cotton Kings will be performing all week on the Centennial Stage, as they do every year. Thursday is Veterans Day, and Sherwin invited me to come onstage to talk about my books and my U.S. Navy career. I’ll give an update on my Randy Travis biography. See you there?


With the recent announcement of the 2022 class of inductees into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, it seems a good time to start a new section in this newsletter, to introduce readers to the 234 songwriters in the Hall. Thanks to Mark Ford, Executive Director, for sending me a list of all the NaSHOF inductees by year. Twenty-one songwriters were chosen for the inaugural class in 1970. This first week, I’ll tell you about seven of them, listed in alphabetical order:

Multi-media superstar Gene Autry had been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame the previous year. Born in 1907 in Tioga, Texas, he is the only individual with five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The singing cowboy was one of the biggest box-office attractions in America in the 1930s. His song credits include being co-writer of “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine.” He died in 1998, at age 91, in Studio City, California.
Johnny Bond
, born in 1915 in Oklahoma, spent the 1950s as writer and performer on the California TV series Town Hall Party. His biggest chart hit as a recording artist was his self-penned drinking song, “10 Little Bottles.” He and Gene Autry were on the board of the Country Music Association when it decided to build a Country Music Hall of Fame. He died in 1978, at age 63, in Burbank, California, and was posthumously elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999.
Albert E. Brumley
wrote some of the most recorded songs in gospel music, including “I’ll Fly Away” and “Turn Your Radio On.” His gospel standards have been recorded not only by gospel groups but by numerous country and bluegrass artists. Born in Oklahoma in 1905, he would be elected to the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1972 and was the father of Tom Brumley (steel guitarist in Buck Owens’ band, the Buckaroos), Jack (artist manager, publisher and promoter), and Albert Jr. (gospel recording artist). He died in 1977, at age 72, in Springfield, Missouri.

A.P. Carter, born in Maces Springs, Virginia, in 1891, was the leader of the Carter Family trio, who auditioned for Ralph Peer on Victor Records in 1927 and became country music’s founding family. A.P. collected songs throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains and copyrighted them with his arrangements, as well as writing some of his own. His wife, Sara, sang lead and played autoharp for the Carter Family. His sister-in-law, Maybelle Carter, played lead guitar and sang harmony. A. P. sometimes added a bass vocal. Their many songs included “Worried Man,” “I Never Will Marry,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “Hello Stranger,” “Wabash Cannonball,” and “I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes.” A.P. died in 1960 in Kingsport, Tennessee, at age 68. The original Carter Family trio was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970.

Ted Daffan become a charter member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame because of country classics such as “I’ve Got Five Dollars and It’s Saturday Night,” “No Letter Today,” and “Born to Lose.” The Louisiana native, born in 1912, wrote the first trucker song to become a national bestseller, “Truck Driver’s Blues,” recorded by Cliff Bruner in 1939. Daffan formed his own band, Ted Daffan’s Texans, and recorded his first hit, “Worried Mind,” in 1940. Both sides of the band’s 1942 single, “Born to Lose” backed with “No Letter Today,” became pop hits in 1943; the record was one of country music’s early million sellers. Daffan died in 1996, at age 84, in Houston, Texas.

Vernon Dalhart was born Marion Try Slaughter II in 1883 and raised in Texas. By 1910, he was living in New York City and performing in operas. For a stage name, he chose two towns in Texas to become Vernon Dalhart. He is most famous for “The Prisoner’s Song,” which became country music’s first multi-million-selling record. I remember hearing it on a 78-rpm record when I was little, and it’s always been one of my favorite songs. He popularized other songs such as “The Letter Edged in Black,” “The Death of Floyd Collins,” and “Casey Jones.” He died of a heart attack in 1948 while working as night clerk at a hotel in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He was 65 years old and pretty much forgotten. The NaSHOF website states, “A campaign to have him enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame took place during the 1960s and 1970s. Part of this campaign involved saluting him with membership in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970, even though he was not a composer. Vernon Dalhart was finally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1981, and ‘The Prisoner’s Song’ went into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.”

Rex Griffin, born in Alabama in 1912, had his first major hit in 1937 with his suicide themed “The Last Letter,” later a hit for Jimmie Davis. Hank Penny popularized Griffin’s “Won’t You Ride in My Little Red Wagon,” which my little brother Kenny was assigned to sing in our school program in the early 1960s. Griffin wrote “Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby” and released it as a single in 1936; Carl Perkins is often erroneously credited as the writer of that song. In 1939, Griffin recorded a new version of Emmett Miller’s 1928 hit “Lovesick Blues.” That is the version Hank Williams later immortalized. Eddy Arnold recorded Griffin’s “Just Call Me Lonesome” in 1955. Griffin died in 1958 in New Orleans, a year after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. He was 46 years old.

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