Diane’s Country Music Newsletter – 24 May 2017

When Leona Williams and I scheduled a phone conversation, she was in Phoenix, Arizona. She was visiting friends there in conjunction with playing several shows. Now she is off to Texas for two performances this weekend before heading back to Nashville.

Ron Williams, Leona’s son, sometimes tours with her. In addition to several duets, they each have a solo portion on their shows. They usually travel without a band. Mark Yeary, longtime pianist for Merle Haggard, arranged the band for their Phoenix shows. Ron is Leona’s middle child. Cathy is the eldest. Two sons, Ron and Brady, were born to Leona and her second husband, Ron Williams, Sr.

Leona and Ron will be traveling to Ireland in November for their annual European tour. They recently served as tour guides for a group of Irish visitors. The tour director flew them from Nashville to Dallas where they joined a bus tour that took them to Southfork in Dallas, the country music museum and graves in Carthage, Texas, Johnny Cash’s childhood home in Arkansas, Graceland in Memphis, and other stops on the way back to Nashville. Leona happened to be hosting the Ernest Tubb Midnite Jamboree that Saturday night, and their new Irish friends attended her show.

She will be releasing a bluegrass album this month with the Bluegrass Martins, a musical family of six children in Jefferson City, Missouri. Her most recent CD is By George: This is Leona, a tribute to George Jones. She says she was great friends with George and Nancy Jones. She previously did a tribute to Merle Haggard, her third husband, with Leona Sings Merle. “How many women do tributes to their ex-husbands,” she asks. “Nobody loved him more.”

Leona, 74, recently moved to Nashville for the third time. She first moved there from Missouri in the early 1960s when she was playing upright bass in Loretta Lynn’s band. The second time was after she left Merle and California. She married songwriter and session guitarist Dave Kirby in 1985, and they bought a farm near her hometown of Vienna, Missouri. They built a new house there in 1988. Dave’s name sounded familiar to me, as well it should. He wrote “What Have You Got Planned Tonight, Diana?” (one of my all-time favorites), along with “Is Anybody Going to San Antone” and 300 others.

During the 1990s, Leona entertained regularly in Branson, Missouri. She still frequently visits because Brady and his family live there. “Branson holds a lot of painful memories,” she says. She was diagnosed with breast cancer there in 2001, and Dave received a throat cancer diagnosis the following year. He died 13 years ago. Since then, Leona devotes her time to her music to combat loneliness. She finally decided to sell their Missouri home and live fulltime in Nashville.

Among her many awards, Leona is proud to report her selection by Ray Benson and Dale Watson as the Honky Tonk Female Singer of the Year at their 2017 Ameripolitan Music Awards. I’m glad she continues to sing that wonderful classic country music. I wish I could attend one of her dances. You can find her schedule and buy her music at www.leonawilliams.com.

Honoring Leona Williams in her hometown of Vienna, Missouri

A social media post on May 15 states that Loretta Lynn has been moved to a rehabilitation center and is undergoing therapy. She was hospitalized in Nashville after a May 5 stroke at her Hurricane Mills home in Tennessee.

Dale Goodman, husband of Wanda Jackson, died Sunday, May 21, in Birmingham, Alabama, where his wife had performed the previous evening. He managed Wanda Jackson Enterprises, based in Oklahoma City, and had been Wanda’s manager since the early 1960s. He was 81.

The Texas State Legislature has named George Strait the 2017 State Musician of the Year. The announcement came on May 18, George’s 65th birthday. Candidates were nominated by the general public, with the Texas Commission on the Arts deciding the winner. Previous winners include Willie Nelson, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, and Lyle Lovett.

The City of El Paso Parks and Recreation Department celebrated the grand opening of the Marty Robbins Spray Park last Saturday. It is the sixth spray park completed by the City. The $977,000 project was funded by end-of-year-savings. The Marty Robbins Spray Park at 11600 Vista Del Sol features a splash pad with a large dump bucket and more than 20 water spouts and fountains, according to a news release that states, “Spray parks operate by recirculating water through filtration and chemical sanitation systems, not unlike those found in pools. Customers control water usage by depressing a button or passing near motion detectors. If there is no one playing in an area, then no water flows.”

The Associated Press reports from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, that Toby Keith performed May 20 in Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh. Saudi entertainment website Lammt advertised the event, saying the free concert was open to men only. Due to an ultraconservative interpretation of Islamic law, alcohol is banned in Saudi Arabia and unrelated men and women are segregated in public. Controls on entertainment have been somewhat lifted, allowing musical concerts that had been banned for the past 20 years. The event coincided with President Donald Trump’s first visit to Saudi Arabia. It will be interesting to hear if Toby sang “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” which was his reaction to the Saudi-conducted 9/11 attacks.

Country Radio Hall of Famer Moon Mullins died May 16, after battling a variety of health problems. He had retired from radio in 2014, following ten years on the WBKR-FM morning show in Owensboro, Kentucky. The first radio station to hire him was KKAZ in Denver City, Texas, in 1961. His first stint as Program Director was at KFDI in Wichita, Kansas, in 1969. He was inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame in 2009.

The Oklahoma Hall of Fame announced its 2017 inductees, Nash Country Daily reports, and Carrie Underwood is one of them. There will be a formal induction ceremony on November 16 in Oklahoma City. Portraits of the 2017 honorees will be unveiled at the Gaylord-Pickens Museum, where the Oklahoma Hall of Fame is located. Carrie joins Vince Gill, Blake Shelton, and Woodie Guthrie, among others in the Hall.

ABC did not pick up the small-town drama pilot, Red Blooded, starring Reba McEntire as Sheriff Ruby Adair. But the TV show might still get made if ABC Studios sells it to another network. Deadline Hollywood suggests Lifetime or a network like CMT, where Nashville is now shown. The story is set in Oxblood, Kentucky, and is about a local sheriff and an FBI agent fighting terrorism.

Five country acts now own restaurants/bars on Lower Broadway in Nashville, according to Sounds Like Country. Florida Georgia Line is opening its four-level FGL House, serving cocktails and food with a different atmosphere on each floor. Alan Jackson purchased a three-story, 6,000-square-foot property for AJ’s Good Time Bar, located near his current holding of Acme Feed & Seed. The 421 Broadway location will include a rooftop patio. Dierks Bentley is adding to his collection of Whiskey Row restaurants, with his newest one opening in July at 400 Broadway. It will have 50 beers on tap, three stages, rooftop deck, and endless options of food. Blake Shelton, partnering with Ryman Hospitality, will open Ole Red Nashville at 300 Broadway sometime in 2018. This 26,000-square-foot entertainment venue will feature a two-story bar and restaurant, retail store, stage, and dance floor. John Rich of Big & Rich will open the Redneck Riviera bar, located between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. It will contain The Heroes Bar, dedicated to active and retired U.S. military members, and offering the first drink “on the house” as a thank you.

As the Nashville Predators continue in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, country stars continue to sing the National Anthem at the home games. Carrie Underwood came first–not surprisingly, since her husband is Mike Fisher, captain of the Predators. Lady Antebellum followed her, then Vince Gill and his daughters, Luke Bryan, Little Big Town, and Keith Urban. Taste of Country reports Keith called it one of the greatest honors of his life; it was the first time the Australian native had been asked to sing the National Anthem. Kelly Clarkson sang on May 18. But the team’s regular anthem singer is not happy. Dennis K. Morgan started singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” when he moved to Nashville 17 years ago and has about 185 Predator performances under his belt. He was informed prior to Game 3 of the playoffs that Carrie Underwood had requested to sing the anthem. “It was presented to me as a one-night-only kind of thing and I agreed to it,” he told The Tennessean. People want to know how he feels about getting upstaged. “I’m not going to hide my disappointment and I told the Predators I have been asked the same question over and over and it’s just really getting old,” Morgan said. The Predators issued a statement saying Morgan’s performance has always been valued and their arrangement with him “has always allowed for nationally and internationally renowned musical artists to perform when available to further enhance our game experience while paying respect to our country through their respective awe-inspiring renditions of the national anthem. The reaction from our fans . . . during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs has been overwhelmingly positive.” The singers are kept a secret as long as possible. The eighth one will be Trisha Yearwood.

John Prine: Beyond Words is a newly released book by singer-songwriter John Prine. It is part songbook, part photo album. The Tennessean describes it as “Prine’s anecdotes — and the occasional wry comment about the fashion and hairstyles in those old snapshots — peppering the pages.” Prine and Peter Cooper of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum recently discussed the book in an hour-long program at the museum’s Ford Theater. He told the full house that a fear of bees got him fired from his first job at a custard shop, and he described childhood visits to Paradise, Kentucky, which later inspired him to write “Paradise.” He said he wrote the song “mainly so my dad would know I was a songwriter.”

Jeannie Seely writes from Nashville, “Great newsletter as always! Thank you for mentioning my honor from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives…it was a thrilling experience, and if you ever get the chance to visit that State Capital, by all means go! It is absolutely awesome. I never had the opportunity to see it before, but it is believed to be the most beautiful one in the United States and I can certainly understand that. To say I’m very proud is definitely an understatement and I can’t thank Rep. Kathy Rapp enough for sponsoring the bill honoring me.”

Dave Barton in Nashville says, “If you ever want to know more about Hubert Long, I am the last guy still around who worked for him, from 1969 until his death in 1972. He was an amazing guy. Hubert was working for RCA Victor in South Texas when Col. Tom Parker brought him to Nashville. He bought a house on Moss Rose Ave. hence the name of one of his publishing companies, Moss Rose Music. Not only did he have a big talent agency but he built a massive publishing empire with several different artists. The one that made the most money was Buckhorn Music, which was co-owned by Mary John Wilkins, a backup singer. They had seven Kris Kristofferson songs, including ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ and ‘For the Good Times.’ When he died, they had to sell off some of the companies to pay the inheritance taxes. He was never married, but married to the music business. I could go on and on.”

Ron Reagan writes, “A cute note on Hubert Long. On Don Bowman’s Funny Way to Make an Album release, Jethro of Homer and Jethro fame quipped that since Don had recorded ‘Chit Akins, Make Me a Star,’ he might next record a song called ‘Hubert Long, Get Me a Booking.’ I don’t have the original LP anymore to have the exact phrase, but it was along those lines. And speaking of Don, Pandora is streaming some of his original RCA recordings now. A suggestion as well. Can you make the fan letter portion a bigger font? I do the majority of my reading on a 32G iPad and the font seems mighty small. I’m only 43, and I would guess I’m one of the younger ones reading. It might be pretty tricky for a lot of your readers. Otherwise, great job as always!”

Monsieur Dominique ANGLARES writes from France, “Thank you very much for that great newsletter and to have given a bit of space to my words. I am very glad to have read Barbie Corwin’s memories about the old radio days. It’s always a pleasure to have someone hooked by some of our ramblings. For some unknown reasons, Tibby Edwards never had any hit even if on Mercury records. Maybe Barbie should like to remember some of his recordings as ‘C’est Si Tout’, ‘Flip, Flop and Fly’, ‘Play It Cool Man, Play It Cool’, or ‘If You Lose You’ll Understand’. All his recorded sides were reissued on Bear Family BCD 16657. On the sad side of life, I am sorry to let you know about the passing of our dear friend Carolyn Norman Babin on May 4, 2017, after a lengthy illness. Her health was not good since months and now the Saviour has called her, ending her trial on earth.”

Alan Potter in the United Kingdom says, “Kate Davis is spot on…I interviewed Leroy Van Dyke in Nashville at Fan Fair in the late ‘90s & he is a gracious, polite gentleman with some great stories. I play him regularly on my shows along with all the other greats of the past. JR & Cheta can hear old country music on my ukcountry radio spot. I play Hank, Moe, Marty, Jim, Dolly, Patsy….’40s to late ‘60s 95% of the time.”

Lloyd Clarke writes from Victoria, Newfoundland, Canada, “I must express my appreciation for the receipt of your News Letter. It`s very informative and interesting, well presented. The Hank Snow paragraph I read over and again the second time, even though I already knew it. Hank is one of the greatest. Met him twice and have his collection of old 78 rpms and 33 1/3 LPs, folios, etc. also his old 78 rpm Prison Cowboy cut in Montreal 1936 (good shape). I have between nine and ten thousand altogether, including both 78 and 33 1/3 rpms. I have quite an amount of song folios that Father purchased during the War years while working on a U.S. Base here in Newfoundland (Fort McAndrew). The base was referred to as The Sentinel of the North Atlantic. Weekends when he would come home which took about an hour drive he would bring home a GI or two who were so far away from home and maybe a little lonely. I remember one of the GIs showing me a little about the guitar. I was about 8 or 10 years. Father worked on that Base from 1941 to 1946. First week there he brought home to me an old guitar he exchanged with a GI for a hat that looked like a Mafia hat. Father took over Grandfather`s business in 1948. During the late 1950s and the 1960s, I would accompany him back to Fort MacAndrew to see the officers at Shriner`s meetings he was a part of. The song books I referred to earlier featured many of the wartime singers and the Big Bands, Bing Crosby etc. etc. I very much support the Good Ol` USA and like Ol` Glory, keep it flying. Come From Away is a big thing in Newfoundland (the movie). Consider me one of your fellow men. God Bless America and keep the slogan on your currency.”

Kate Davis in Medford, Oregon, reacts: “Oh my gosh! So glad to learn of a new album by Charley Pride. It’s about time. Love your newsletters – keep up the good work. Hope we see you again at Sioux Empire Fair. Marty will be there August 7-10.”

Tom Barton says, “In response to Robert McMillan’s comment with regard to a mainstream tribute album to Marty Robbins, Don McLean (‘Bye, Bye Miss American Pie’) recorded and released a CD in 2001 of Marty’s songs. It was pretty good, overall, and McLean was obviously quite a fan.”

Larry Lenhart requests, “I would like to be included in your newsletter. A friend sent me a sample and it looks great…I love classic country music.”

Tom Cogsdell, retired Teamster driver in Saraland (Mobile) Alabama, writes, “I am an old retired truck driver and dyed-in-the-wool Country Music fan. I really enjoy your newsletters, and look forward to each edition. My fondest memories of Marty Robbins are from his late-night appearances with Ralph Emory after the Opry went off at midnight. I have an interesting story about Faron. I had left New Orleans one day some years ago, and stopped at a diner just north of Lake Ponchatrain. Shortly after I arrived, Faron’s bus pulled up, and out came his rowdy group. I enjoyed my meal, while listening to them carry on. When they finished their meal and prepared to leave, I noticed Faron come back to his table and put a $100 bill under his plate. I was impressed with his generosity. I was already a fan of his music, but even more so after that. I was saddened at his passing, and puzzled that a man of his stature would end his life in such a way. He was a gift to country music, and I am thankful that I lived my prime years on the road, and that he was there to ride many miles with me via the AM radio. Many thanks for the newsletter.”

Alan Del Balso writes, “I have an autographed copy of Marty’s Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs. He signed it for me on June 9, 1982, at his gift shop in Hermitage Landing. He was the Greatest Person in the world. He told me it was his favorite album and ‘El Paso’ was his favorite song.”

Rosemay Eng says, “Great newsletter as usual.”

Mary Mitchell writes from Woodland Park, Colorado, “I recently saw Bobby Flores. He is very talented. Great voice. He did mostly cover songs which were great to hear: Ray Price, Merle Haggard, George Jones. Bobby, before his break, dedicated to all veterans AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL. Bobby played the violin alone. As he began, I stood up and everyone (approx 200) did the same and the men all removed their hats. It was so beautifully done that I had tears in my eyes as well as many more.”

When Johnny Cash was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980, his heyday was in the past, but he was still making records and still had a #1 ahead of him. That was “Highwayman” in 1985. His biggest lifetime hit was “Ballad of a Teenage Queen,” which sat for ten weeks at number one in 1958. The story of John R. Cash is well known, from his impoverished childhood in Arkansas in the 1930s to his sudden fame with “I Walk the Line” on Sun Records, to his drug abuse and recovery, his long list of songs still performed today, and his marriages to Vivian Cash and June Carter Cash. His health forced him to stop performing in the late ‘90s, but he continued to record. He died in 2003, at age 71, three months after June died.

Connie B. Gay was the founding president of the Country Music Association (CMA) in 1958, and he later helped launch the Country Music Foundation (CMF). A North Carolina native, he popularized country music in Washington, D.C., in the 1940s-1950s. He managed Jimmy Dean and established him as a TV star. Patsy Cline made her TV debut on his Town & Country show, with Jimmy Dean as host. He also managed Grandpa and Ramona Jones, Billy Grammer, Roy Clark, George Hamilton IV, and many others. He died of cancer in 1989, at age 75. His obituary stated, “From 1946 to 1960, as a disc jockey, manager, concert promoter and owner of radio and television stations, he brought nearly every major country star to the Washington area.”

The six original Sons of the Pioneers were also inducted in 1980. The group began as the Pioneer Trio in 1933, consisting of Leonard Slye from Ohio, Bob Nolan (born Robert Clarence Nobles) from Canada, and Tim Spencer of Oklahoma. They added Texas fiddler Hugh Farr and his brother, guitarist Karl Farr. In 1934, the renamed Sons of the Pioneers became the third act signed by the new Decca Records company. In late 1936, tenor Lloyd Perryman joined the group, and Leonard Slye left to become Roy Rogers. He and Bob Nolan were the only two surviving original members when inducted into the Hall of Fame. The group itself continued to perform, celebrating 65 years of continuous performances in 1998 in Branson, Missouri.

Comments are closed.