Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 25 February 2015

As the biographer of Faron Young (whose birthday we remember today) and Marty Robbins, I bring you these newsletters to connect classic country music fans around the world. Feel free to forward this message to your friends, and tell them to email me if they want to be added to the list. I welcome your comments and ideas.

“I never worked a day in my life,” Jerry Kennedy says about his many years as record producer and session guitarist in Nashville. “I looked forward to every day. The greatest thrill was sitting in a room with a guitar in my hands, surrounded by the greatest talent in the world. That includes vocalists and all the talented musicians. Or looking through the glass from the producer’s chair–what a great seat I had.”

He calls working with Faron Young, a fellow Shreveport native, “one of the great memories.” Shelby Singleton signed Faron to Mercury Records in 1963, produced three albums, and then assigned Jerry as Faron’s producer. Jerry and Faron made 23 albums–and all of Faron’s Mercury hits.

In addition to producing records for artists such as Tom T. Hall, Reba McEntire, Roger Miller, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Statler Brothers, and Johnny Rodriguez, Jerry became vice president of the Mercury Records Nashville division in 1968. He later formed his own company, JK Productions. He is now retired. “I gave it all up,” he told me on the phone the other day. “My fire went out. I don’t have any desire to pick up my guitar. I have offers to produce things, but my heart’s not in it.”

His three sons are all in the music business. Gordon is a producer, writer, and a fantastic guitar player. Brian “can do a little bit of everything.” He travels with Garth Brooks as Garth’s personal assistant, and he is a wonderful songwriter. Shelby works with a company called Tunecore and is involved in the digital part of collecting royalties for writers and publishers. “He’s the business guy out of the three–and does it very well,” Jerry says. Shelby wrote “I’m A Survivor,” the theme for Reba McEntire’s TV show.

I asked if Shelby was named for Shelby Singleton. Yes, Jerry said–Shelby Keith, for Shelby and his assistant, Vivian Keith.

“It’s over relaxation, probably, but it’s working for me,” Jerry says about his current life. He stays in touch with music when Gordon calls him to come and listen to something, and he loves satellite radio. Willie’s Roadhouse lets him “listen to a lot of memories,” he says. “Everything coming at you is something I like. I can’t say that for the new stuff. Some of it’s good; I’ve heard things that are okay. I wish I could say some of it is fantastic. Maybe I’m old; I’m 74. I wonder if the people who came before all of us were not liking what we were doing.”

He wishes he could hear passion in some of today’s tracks, the way the passion was there in what he recorded. “I was surrounded by passion,” he says. “Everybody was on fire. Then one day I didn’t feel it anymore. I haven’t been back as a producer since that day.”

Jerry enjoys reading my newsletter. “It keeps me in touch with people and what’s going on now,” he says. “I think it’s great–some of those letters you get I really enjoy reading. It’s like, hey, here’s what’s going on with some of the people you grew up with.”

He ended our conversation with, “Keep my letters coming, please.”

The Daily Mail in London reported the results of a poll to find the world’s favorite romantic message. The poll was commissioned by British life insurance company Beagle Street to encourage Brits to be more romantic on February 14. Johnny Cash was voted the writer of “the greatest love letter of all time,” with a letter he wrote to June in 1994. He said he realizes “how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me.” Second place went to Winston Churchill for his words of undying love to his ‘darling Clemmie’ in 1935.

“Are you there Garth? It’s me Margaret” is the title of a play about the events that led to the cancellation of five Garth Brooks concerts in Ireland last summer. The drama, written by Fiona Looney, will focus on one devoted country and western fan, played by Deirdre O’Kane. Following a two-week run in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre later this year, it will then tour Ireland.

It’s a Long Story: My Life, the soon-to-be-published memoir of Willie Nelson, is co-written by David Ritz and will be released by Little, Brown and Company on May 5th. According to Rolling Stone Country, the book begins with his youth in Abbott, Texas, and traces his rise to stardom. It will include his fight with the IRS, the many women in his life, and stories of famous friends.

Bobby Braddock is being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on June 18 in New York City. Toby Keith, Cyndi Lauper, and the Grateful Dead writing duo of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter are some of the other inductees. Bobby explains on Facebook, “There is some understandable confusion about the different Halls of Fame. I proudly went into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1981, and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2011. This is the overall Songwriters Hall of Fame, out of New York — I guess you could call it the ‘Pop’ Songwriters Hall of Fame. They don’t let many of us hillbillies in, so I’m very proud to be going in along with Toby.”

Joe B. Mauldin, bass player for Buddy Holly and the Crickets, died February 7th of cancer. He was 74 years old. An original member of the Crickets, he helped keep the band going after their leader’s death in 1959. He left the band in the mid-’60s, rejoined in the ’70s, and stayed active with the Crickets until his death.

In a recent interview with Closer Weekly, Tanya Tucker describes an accident that hindered her singing abilities. “I went in for a simple dermal abrasion skin treatment. Something went wrong and I suffered second and third-degree burns all over my face, in my nose and down my lungs.” She says it also changed her voice. “I’ve had to struggle to reach certain notes, which I never had to do before.” It threw her into a deep depression, and she says she spent half a million dollars on doctors. She adds, “And yet somewhere in the midst of all this, I cut 10 tracks for a new album!” Tanya has found her voice again and is feeling much better. “It’s my music that really saved me.”

Sharon Artz writes from Arizona, “We are down here in Mesa and FYI we went over to Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and found that one to be closed as well. The note on the door said it is closed due to the fact they aren’t paying the rent. Just thought I would mention it since you mentioned it in your newsletter.”

Gary Presley offers “a biography of Trigger, Willie Nelson’s guitar … may be of interest to your newsletter readers: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/videos/willie-nelson-rs-films-mastering-the-craft-trigger-20150211”

Priscilla McPheeters writes from Kansas, “Good job as usual, Diane! I found it particularly interesting that Tim McGraw will sing Glen Campbell’s song, which is so touching.”

June Thompson says, “Your country music newsletter gives me great pleasure. I do like some of the new music, but it doesn’t move me the way the old songs did. I was in the fifth grade in 1964 and sang The Carter Family’s BLACKJACKDAVEY in a talent show at the Alabama school for the blind. Just before that my best friend sang Lefty Frizzell’s Long Black Veil. We were booed off the stage. We made a promise that we would never mention that we listened to WCKY radio at night, or ate cornmeal gravy. I tell chillon now to behave in a Godly way but not to be ashamed if people think they are too country. Thanks for letting me ramble on.”

Diane Jordan writes from Nashville, “A Celebration of Life for my husband, Larry Fullam, was held last night (2/15/15) at the Texas Troubadour Theater in Nashville. It was a cold night, with snow forecast for late that night, so it was wonderful that about 70 people attended. Some Fullam kin drove from the Hendersonville NC area. My cousin, Darell McWilliams, and his wife, Linda, and our dear friend, Ron Stroupe, have been with Larry and me, every step of the way since his terminal cancer diagnosis. Ron was the host of the Celebration of Life and did a great job. Linda provided some delicious home-made goodies. Thanks to Tommy Cash, Milo Liggett, Gary Fullam, and Michelle Broussard Honick for sharing their memories of Larry at the service.”

Linda Elliott Clark in Virginia says, “Thanks for your update. So sorry to hear about Larry Fullam’s death. My sincere sympathy to his wife and family. Life is short. We should ALL praise God for each day that we have and all that HE has given us. Thanks, again, for your hard work in keeping us posted.”

Marlene Nord, writes from Camarillo, California, “These newsletters are always so entertaining and informative. It is so refreshing that you not only showcase the new artists, but you never neglect the pioneers of the business. I look forward to each one.”

James Akenson says, “As always thanks!!! Enjoy receiving your newsletter! Thanks for including the RollingStone Chet Flippo item.”

Johnny Western writes from Phoenix, Arizona, “Hope you are not freezing up there. We are in the 80s here and no wind. Heading for Nashville the end of the month to emcee Johnny Cash’s 83rd birthday bash at the Cash museum. Should be fun!”

Terry Counts in Tennessee says, “Another great write-up!!! It just gets better and better. First time I met Tom T. Hall was when Murrel flew me to Texas for the weekend, he evidently was lonesome to be driven nuts for a few days and I was definitely ready to happily accommodate him. After we stowed my suitcase he took me down to Tom’s hotel room on the 1st floor and dern!!! Tom was sitting on the floor with the rest of the band guys drinking..watermelon wine (which is great stuff)…we had a great time that afternoon and I hope I can say Tom and I are still friends…what a neat guy he is…I was so sorry to hear about Dixie…when you lose the other half you’ve had for many decades..you lose most of what’s you…and for me it’s been almost 19 years and that hole has never been filled….KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK!”

Tom Wilmeth from Grafton, Wisconsin, writes, “One of the non-televised presentations for this year’s Grammy Awards was given to the Hank Williams The Garden Spot Programs, 1950 (Omnivore Records). These recently discovered radio shows are another gift from the airwaves, on the level of The Health & Happiness Shows and Hank’s Mother’s Best performances. The Garden Spot CD includes four complete shows, but it is clear there are another eight programs still out there, waiting to be unearthed.”

Daryl Skancke in Sioux Falls says, “Sturgill Simpson and his record Meta Modern Sounds In Country Music should have won hands-down in nearly every category.”

Jean Earle writes from England, “Thank you once again for another interesting newsletter. I appreciate all the Country news you share with us. I wonder if you will think this interesting? it was an article in yesterday’s Daily Mail, our daily newspaper…romance was in the air!!! Valentine’s Day was the reason for the write-up. The paper quoted several names but Johnny was voted number ONE! Hope you and your girls receive many cards on the 14th.”


Twelve-year-old Jerry Kennedy was taking guitar lessons from Tillman Franks at the J&S Music Store in Shreveport, Louisiana, the summer of 1952. Faron Young came in the store one day, noticed Jerry, and said to him, “Hey, come here. I want you to hear something.” He had an acetate of “Foolish Pride,” and he played it for Jerry in a little sound booth. “That was when I became a diehard Faron Young fan,” Jerry recalls. “That’s just as vivid as if it had happened yesterday.” Written by Hal Smith, “Foolish Pride” was Faron’s second single on Capitol Records.

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