Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 26 January 2022


When David Frizzell called from Nashville for our scheduled interview, and I told him one of my newsletter readers likes Barnyard Christmas, he said, “That was one of my first children’s albums. I have another one, but I’ve got to record it. I’ll try to do that if we ever get out of this snow. It’s like a foot or two of it out there, and it’s still snowing.”

Barnyard Christmas is about the birth of Christ, told by the animals that were there. The upcoming album is about Sherlock Hound and his deputy, Walrus. The material is all written and staged, with the cartoons drawn. The music will be country blues. David wrote each one of the bad guys their own song, describing how they dealt with Sherlock Hound. “I really love it,” David says, “and I love country blues anyway. It’s going to be a lot of fun to do, so I can’t wait to get back into the studio with that.”

His other current project is making a movie to honor big brother Lefty Frizzell. “I’ve always wanted to do something special for my brother,” David says, “because he did so much for me.” David started singing Lefty’s songs, when he had a radio show in 1951, at age ten, in Kermit, Texas, and Lefty’s number one songs were playing on the radio. David toured with Lefty from 1956 to 1960. Thanks to Lefty’s introductions, Don Law of Columbia Records signed David to a recording contract in 1959. When David received his draft notice the following year, he enlisted in the Air Force, where he spent his enlistment playing music for the Air Force. Upon his discharge in 1964, he joined up with Buck Owens, performing on Buck’s TV show and recording for Capitol Records.

About Lefty, David says, “He taught me everything. He taught me how to get on the stage, he taught me what to do while I was on the stage, he taught me how to get off the stage. He taught me everything in between.” David wrote and published I Love You a Thousand Ways: The Lefty Frizzell Story, a book that came out in 2011. “He was an amazing man,” David says. “I’ve never met anybody quite like him.”

David’s partner in making the movie is M. Douglas Silverstein, award-winning Hollywood director and producer. They are interviewing people about what Lefty meant to them. Willie Nelson is one of the numerous interview subjects.

David is planning two albums, a soundtrack album for the movie and a Lefty tribute album. The tribute album is half finished. Merle Haggard and David did a duet of “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time.” David and Shelly West sang “I Love You a Thousand Ways.” Moe Bandy and David sang “Bandy the Rodeo Clown,” a song Lefty and Whitey Shafer wrote for Moe. The album will also contain several songs David wrote about Lefty.

I asked when he expected to complete these projects. “It’s gotta be this year,” 80-year-old David answered. “I got some age on me now. I want to make sure I get it done before I can’t participate. I’m kinda worried about that, but as of now, I can still go in and do my part.”

One lesson David learned from his big brother in those early years was to have his own songs. David sang the songs of Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Merle Haggard, and his other heroes. Lefty kept saying, “That’s great, you’re sounding good, but you need your own songs.” The message finally soaked in with “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma,” the duet with Shelly West that hit #1 in 1981. It was David’s first number one.

To celebrate the single’s 40th anniversary, David recently rerecorded the song with a young singer named Mary Sarah. He met her at a fundraiser in 2020. “When I heard her, I couldn’t believe it,” he recalls. “I walked over when she walked off the bandstand, and I gave her a big hug and said, ‘Hey, me and you have got to sing something together.'” The record label was already planning to redo “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma.” David says he enjoyed going in the studio with her and her crew and redoing such a great song.

His second #1 was “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino To Decorate Our Home” in 1982. He didn’t say whether they’re planning to rerecord that, but he did comment that Nashville has “some of the best musicians in the world. It’s a great pleasure to be in the same studio with them, or on the same stage with them, around the country doing shows. I just want to get back into playing my music.”

While we were talking, David received notice that the week-long Country Music Cruise, scheduled to leave the following week from Fort Lauderdale, had been postponed to March 26, due to COVID issues. “But Texas is still booking some shows,” he told me. “So on the 29th of this month, I’m going to be in Fort Worth, Texas, at a place called Stagecoach Ballroom. But I don’t count on anything anymore, because as soon as I get about a week from it, they change them.” To keep up with his tour dates, check his website at www.davidfrizzell.com.


Ralph Emery (1933-2022)

Ralph Emery, 88, died January 15 at TriStar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville, after a brief illness. His wife of 54 years, Joy Kott Emery, confirmed his death. The New York Times called him “widely regarded as the most popular radio and television broadcast personality in the history of country music.” Walter Ralph Emery was born March 10, 1933, in McEwen, Tennessee, the only child of an alcoholic accountant father and a hard-working mother who struggled with poor mental health. His happiest childhood moments were spent on his grandparents’ farm. In 1957, at age 24, he joined WSM Radio and began hosting an all-night show that brought many of country’s biggest stars to make impromptu appearances. The Ralph Emery Show was an early morning program on WSMV-TV (1972-1991) that featured a live band and numerous guests. Ralph hosted the nationally syndicated weekly TV series Pop Goes the Country (1974-1980) and the prime-time TNN weeknight show, Nashville Now (1983-1993). Ralph was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007, along with Mel Tillis and Vince Gill, and into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2010. Ronnie Milsap tweeted, “I lost a good friend; he was a radio guy! I love you, Ralph Emery, and you were always so good to me. Before I came to Nashville, I heard that if Ralph Emery liked you and Faron Young liked you, you would make it in Nashville!”

Bev Moser of B! Noticed Public Relations reports, “Nashville is mourning the loss of three industry greats over the past weekend, songwriter Dallas Frazier, acclaimed TV host and on-air radio personality Ralph Emery, and country and pop record producer, songwriter, and musician Jerry Crutchfield.”

Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Dallas Frazier, 82, died January 14. Dallas was born in Oklahoma and raised in Bakersfield, California. As a teenager, he played with Ferlin Husky. He released his first single, “Space Command”, at age 14 in 1954. In 1960, when “Alley Oop” became a pop hit, he had his first songwriter success. He then moved to Nashville and became one of country’s most enduring songwriters. His many hit songs include “There Goes My Everything” (Jack Greene), “Elvira” (Oak Ridge Boys), “Beneath Still Waters” (Emmylou Harris), and “Fourteen Carat Mind” (Gene Watson).

Jerry Crutchfield died January 11 at the age of 87. Best known as hit producer and Nashville music publishing and record company titan, he was also a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and songwriter. He signed and developed top Music Row writers, produced albums that obtained gold and multi-platinum status, and also recorded for RCA Victor Records. He produced the No. 1 Dave Loggins pop hit, “Please Come to Boston.” Originally from Paducah, Kentucky, Jerry moved to Nashville in the late 1950s with his brother Jan. Their vocal group, The Country Gentlemen, was signed to RCA by Chet Atkins. Jan and Jerry also began to have success as songwriters. Dave Pomeroy, President, Nashville Musicians Association, AFM Local 257, of which Jerry was a life member, says Jerry was instrumental in the creation of MCA Music Publishing, which he ran for 25 years. He was also Executive Vice President and General Manager of Capitol Records, National Trustee for NARAS, and on the Board of Directors of the NARAS Nashville chapter, Country Music Association, and the Gospel Music Association. Murray State University created a leadership scholarship in his honor, as one of their most distinguished graduates.

A former staff drummer for the Grand Ole Opry, Jerry Ray Johnston, died January 9 in Franklin, Tennessee, at age 65, from complications with COVID pneumonia. He’d been hospitalized nearly two weeks with the virus. MusicRow reports he was born in Monroe, Louisiana, and moved to Nashville to pursue a career as a drummer. For 40 years, he played with numerous country stars and eventually became the staff drummer at the Grand Ole Opry, which was his dream when he left Louisiana. Private services were held in West Monroe, Louisiana, and a memorial service will be held in Tennessee in a few weeks. His son, Jaren Johnston, frontman of Nashville country-rock trio The Cadillac Three, made a plea last week for COVID-19 vaccinations, according to the Tennessean. Jaren wrote on Instagram. “My family and I are heartbroken. Dad, thank you for everything. I will still text you every time anything cool happens in my life.”

Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, and Brad Paisley are among the artists duetting with Michael Feinstein on Gershwin Country. The set will come out March 11 through Concord’s Craft Recordings. The first single is Krauss and Feinstein’s version of “Someone to Watch Over Me.” A portion of the proceeds from sales will go to MusiCares, the Recording Academy’s philanthropic partner that provides healthcare and other services for music industry personnel. The project was produced by Feinstein and Kyle Lehning, best known for his work with Randy Travis, and includes Rosanne Cash, Lyle Lovett, Lee Ann Womack, Ronnie Milsap, Mandy Barnett, Amy Grant, and The Time Jumpers with Vince Gill. The late poet Maya Angelou gave Feinstein the inspiration. “I was staying with her at her home in Winston-Salem and she started playing me her favorite country records and I took notice of the many great voices, one after another,” he tells Billboard. “That was the first seed for the project, even though it didn’t come to fruition until many years later. . . . Kyle Lehning was instrumental, as he knows and has worked with many of the artists on the record and without him I’d still be trying to make choices.”

The new Fox TV show, Monarch, scheduled to premiere this month, is being delayed until the fall due to COVID-19, according to TVLine. Monarch is described as a “Texas-sized, multigenerational musical drama about America’s first family of country music.” Country Now lists Trace Adkins as the reigning King of Country Music, Albie Roman. His talented, tough-as-nails wife, Queen of Country Music Dottie Cantrell Roman, is played by Susan Sarandon.

Bass player Walter Thomas Hatchell Jr. aka Buck Evans, 84, of Livingston, Texas, died January 14 in Livingston. Buck played bass in Curly Chalker’s trio, and he worked with Ernest Tubb, Jim Ed Brown, Charlie Louvin, Claude Gray, and others. A Steel Guitar Forum member reports Buck was in bad health in 2019, but he “played great bass and could still sing great songs, just like he was still with ET.”

Star numbers 90-93 will be added to the Music City Walk of Fame in Nashville on April 5. Bobby Bare will receive his star two days before his 87th birthday. The others are Connie Smith, Dierks Bentley and Keb’ Mo’. The walkway is in the Music City Walk of Fame Park directly across from the Country Music Hall of Fame, where Bobby has been a member since 2013 and Connie since 2012. The Walk of Fame recognizes artists for their outstanding contributions to the musical history of Nashville, a press release explains. The Music City Walk of Fame originated in 2006.

Montgomery, Alabama, has been the hometown of Jamey Johnson, 46, since he was three years old. He started singing in Montgomery’s Calvary Baptist Church, reports Alabama Life & Culture, and he served in the Marine Corps Reserve from 1994 to 2002. Now he returns to Montgomery for his FAA check rides. He is taking flight training to obtain his commercial pilot’s license. He’s passed the written test and needs to find time to take the check ride. He is a multi-engine private pilot, with instrument ratings on single and multi-engine. Thinking it would be cool to fly himself whenever he wanted to go, he’s been flying on tours for almost six years and has logged over 500 hours. “I spent my down time during COVID studying,” he says. “I keep having this dream of loading up some fishing gear and taking an airplane out to Montana or Alaska or somewhere. Landing on the side of a river, go do some fly fishing or that sort of thing.”

According to The Houston Chronicle, singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen recently announced his intention to stop performing as of September 4, 2022. In a video post on social media, he said, “Much as I love what I do, it’s more important that I do it well or not at all. I’m not sick or experiencing any existential crisis. I feel that making a decision and quitting the road while I still love it is the way I want to leave it.” Born in Houston in 1956, he has been releasing music since 1984.

The husband of Paulette Carlson, 68, has died. Randy Smith, 71, suffered a heart attack in Hamilton, Montana, and died January 16. Funeral services will be held January 21 in Hamilton. A press release states Paulette met and fell in love with Alaska resident Randy Smith while in Alaska to perform at a club in Juneau. They married in 1989 and have one daughter, Cali. Highway 101, with Paulette as lead singer, had ten consecutive top ten Billboard hits, including “The Bed You Made for Me,” “Whiskey, If You Were a Woman” and “Walkin’, Talkin’, Cryin’, Barely Beatin’ Broken Heart.”

The Betty White Challenge is a movement that started shortly after her death on December 31. PEOPLE reports the challenge encouraged fans to celebrate her lifelong devotion to helping animals by donating to an animal rescue or charity on Monday, January 17, which would’ve been her 100th birthday. Trisha Yearwood hosted a virtual event with talkshoplive to raise money for rescue pets nationwide. She and talkshoplive both promised to match up to $10,000 in donations. Trisha, 57, and husband Garth Brooks, 59, have two rescue dogs, and they support other shelter animals through the Dottie’s Yard Fund that Trisha started last year to honor their late dog, Dottie. On Monday, Trisha tweeted, “We raised over $24k in 15 minutes and the donations are still coming in!” By Tuesday morning, the amount raised had climbed to more than $38,000.

Wyatt Long, 25, son of Cowboy Eddie Long, died tragically and unexpectedly, Whiskey Riff reports, and a Go Fund Me account has been started to help the family. Jamey Johnson writes on social media, “We want to help cover Cowboy Eddie Long’s financial needs to take that worry off his mind during this unthinkable time. We also want to return the love and generosity that he has shown to everyone else. Please help us show Cowboy how much he is loved.” Cowboy Eddie has long been the steel player for Jamey Johnson. He previously worked with Hank Williams Jr. and has played on numerous recording sessions for performers such as Kenny Chesney, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blackberry Smoke, Kid Rock, and Taylor Swift.

A Go Fund Me account was also started to move Hugh Prestwood, 79, and his wife from New York back home to Texas. With a goal of $25,000 to cover moving expenses, donations surpassed $70,000. Saving Country Music reports, “Hugh Prestwood hasn’t been forgotten by his fans, and some of the artists who recorded his songs, or his fellow songwriters.” Originally from El Paso, Texas, Hugh spent his songwriting career in New York rather in Nashville. Shenandoah hit with “Ghost in This House,” Highway 101 with “Bing Bang Boom,” Trisha Yearwood with “The Song Remembers When,” and Randy Travis brought “Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart” to #1, where it stayed for four weeks. Saving Country Music calls that “an unprecedented run in country that hadn’t been accomplished in 12 years at that time.” Hugh was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. He expected his royalties to provide a reasonable retirement income, but that didn’t happen. He and his wife sank into credit card debt, sold the Long Island home they’d bought in 1984, and sold his song copyrights. When that money ran out, they decided to move back to the more affordable Texas. Then Hugh became disabled by a serious fall from a ladder. Now his music friends are ensuring the Prestwoods get back home.

The Tennessean reports on “the first blockbuster deal to hit Music Row since artists began shipping catalog rights for mega-bucks in late 2020.” Kenny Chesney has sold 80% of his catalog to British investment company Hipgnosis Song Management for an undisclosed amount. The 22 albums include everything from his 1994 debut album, In My Wildest Dreams, to Live In No Shoes Nation in 2017. The deal includes rights to future greatest hits, live albums, and acoustic releases of that material.

Circle Network has announced the premiere of the Randy Travis documentary, More Life, on Thursday, February 10 at 8:30 PM ET. A press release explains how More Life started in 2011 “as an intimate concert special honoring the 25th anniversary of Randy’s iconic album Storms of Life.” The film was being finalized in 2013 when Randy suffered the stroke that left him unable to perform. More Life has since become a celebration of Randy’s legacy.

On January 19, her 76th birthday, Dolly Parton posted a photo on Instagram with the caption, “Just hangin’ out in my birthday suit!” PEOPLE describes it as, “Parton is wearing a hot pink, silky skirt and blazer suit with red, laced lingerie underneath and matching red nails and jewelry.” She looks absolutely gorgeous. I wish I could have copied the photo to share it here. She didn’t say whether the suit was a birthday gift.

During a recent Television Critics Association (TCA) panel, two American Idol judges, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie, were asked about the lack of diversity in country music. The reporter said, “I’m wondering what ‘Idol’ can do and what you guys can do to address this issue and maybe diversify country music more.” According to Insider, Lionel Richie said they treat each contestant like “family.” Luke Bryan said, “First of all, there’s racism throughout the whole country. Just to just sit here and single out country music as some kind of racist format is not altogether natural and true.” He added, “I’ve been privy to various board meetings where we recognize our problems as an industry, and things take time. I think this country learns every day about the severity of racism.” C’mon, Luke, you’re saying we aren’t any worse than the rest of the country, and that makes it okay? “Take time” to do what? That’s the same argument used sixty years ago by opponents of civil rights legislation. Anyone who’s just learning about “the severity of racism” has seriously not been paying attention.

“Paradise by the Dashboard Light” was a popular party song during my days as a young officer in a Navy training squadron in Texas. So I’ve been familiar with Meat Loaf since 1980, not that I could name any of his other songs. That song’s album, Bat Out of Hell, is one of the top 10 selling albums of all time, with more than 65 million copies sold since its 1977 release. Meat Loaf, 74, died January 20, due to COVID complications, with his wife and daughters at his bedside. Born Marvin Lee Aday and raised in Texas, he had a six-decade career and sold over 100 million albums worldwide. The Tennessean reports he played his last ticketed Nashville show at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in 2016. He stopped performing for several years due to a series of back surgeries.

Harry “Jay” Barker, 49, the estranged husband of Sara Evans, 50, has been arrested after attempting to hit her with his car in Nashville. PEOPLE reports he was charged with felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, placed on a 12-hour domestic violence hold at Davidson County Jail, and his bond set at $10,000. He is due back in court on March 22. The alleged incident occurred after Sara left a party at a neighbor’s house in Nashville. As she rode in a friend’s car, they passed her driveway and saw Barker parked there. She saw him back up his vehicle at a high rate of speed to try to hit them, but he missed and then fled. Sara filed for divorce in August after 12 years of marriage, citing “irreconcilable differences” and “inappropriate marital conduct.” The couple had separated in April. They have no children together, but Barker has several children from a previous marriage and Sara has three children with first husband Craig Schelske, whom she divorced in 2006 after 13 years of marriage. Barker co-hosts The Jay Barker Show on 100.9 FM. He was drafted to the NFL in 1995 but never played a regular season game in two years with the league.

John R Morris, 87, of Nashville died January 21. No services are yet scheduled. Bobby Fischer writes, “I was just down on the Row at Johnny Morris‘s office and found out he died. Good pal and pioneer, had hits with Narvel Felts, Randy Travis, and more, helped country music a bunch. He was a co-writer on ‘An Old Pair of Shoes’ for Randy and ‘It Wouldn’t Hurt to Have Wings’ for Mark Chesnutt. He managed Trick Pony through his office and had a hit on ‘Johnny and June.’ I’ve written a lot of songs with his writers, Don Goodman, Trafton Harvey, Brad Wolf, Minnie Murphy, and others. A lot of talent at that office. Robert Lewis runs the office.”

Marsha Gray Basore, 77, widow of Country Deputies steel player, Stu Basore, died January 21, due to complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Marsha was born in Indiana and grew up in Pewee Valley, Kentucky. She moved to Nashville in 1964, where she met and fell in love with Stu Basore, her husband of 52 years. She devoted her time to being a supportive wife and loving mother. After her daughters were grown, according to the Tennessean, Marsha became a manager within Music Valley Museums and Attractions and stayed there until retirement. She helped create Music Valley’s “Walk of Fame.” Her funeral service will be held January 26 at Spring Hill Funeral Home, with burial at Spring Hill Cemetery on Gallatin Road in Nashville.

Two cast members have been added as guest stars on the country music drama series George & Tammy. The show stars Jessica Chastain as Tammy Wynette and Michael Shannon as George Jones. Steve Zahn plays George Richey. Now, Deadline announces Kelly McCormack will play Sheila Richey, Richey’s former wife and Tammy’s one-time friend and confidante. Katy Mixon will play Jan Smith, a makeup and hair artist who works with George and Tammy and becomes one of Tammy’s close friends. The series is based on the book, The Three of Us: Growing Up with Tammy and George, written by daughter Georgette Jones. It will premiere on Spectrum for a nine-month exclusive run for subscribers and will then be aired on the Paramount Network and Paramount+.

The News Tribune of Tacoma, Washington, has reported the death of Don Wilson, 88, co-founder and rhythm guitarist for the instrumental guitar band The Ventures. He died January 22 in Tacoma of natural causes, surrounded by his four children. Bob Bogle and Don Wilson were bricklayers when they bought guitars and chord books at a pawnshop in Tacoma in 1958. They added Nokie Edwards on bass guitar and Howie Johnson on drums to form the Ventures. In the 1960s and early 1970s, 38 of their albums charted in the United States, with hits including “Walk, Don’t Run” and the theme song for Hawaii Five-O. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. As I mentioned in my last newsletter, Bonnie Guitar co-founded the Dolton record label and brought the Ventures to fame in the early 1960s. I first heard of them when I caught a ride with college acquaintances in 1971 and rode with two men in their pickup from Sioux Falls to Los Angeles to visit my relatives. A Ventures eight-track played the entire way. All I can remember of the trip is waking up to the sound of the Ventures and being embarrassed to find my head against a guy’s shoulder. Although I couldn’t name even one Ventures song, I’ve always recognized their sound and enjoyed their music.


John Krebs in Texas sends this correction: “Just keepin’ the record straight and meaning no disrespect but Gary Adams said the last song Marty recorded was ‘Baby That’s Love’ and it was on his last session. That’s damn close but it wasn’t the last song Marty cut; he cut a few more after that in two more sessions in late 1982.”

Diane: Thanks, John. My list of Marty’s recording sessions only goes to 1975.

Bill Anderson writes from Nashville in response to my congratulations on the Bulldogs championship: “Thanks, Diane, but if you’ll check the film of the game, you’ll see that I didn’t throw one pass, run for one first down, recover one fumble, or kick one field goal. All I did was sit by the fire at my house, watch the game on my big screen TV, and bark like a crazy Bulldog!! I did have on my Georgia shirt, my Georgia sweatshirt, and my Georgia hat, but no helmet and no shoulder pads. I will, however, accept your congratulations. It was a great win for my school and I’m proud of them. With my favorite baseball team, the Braves, winning the World Series and now my favorite college football team winning the National Championship, I’m having a great sports year. Now if my Tennessee Titans can just get to the Super Bowl!!”

Dave Barton says, “What a great show and tribute to Ralph Emery. Too bad it can’t be re-aired. It was shot sometime around 1989.”

Cowboy Joe Babcock writes from Nashville, “An old friend of mine Jerry Johnston has passed away. He was on all my sessions and a fine drummer. He also played drums on the Opry for many years. Thought you might like to know. He was a great guy and passed away too soon.”

Diane: I’m sorry to hear that, Joe, and thanks for letting me know.

Dominique ‘Imperial’ Anglares writes from France, “Thank you very much for that newsletter, the first for 2022. I am sorry to learn about Penny Jackson’s passing. My sincere condolences go to Mister Ray Stevens, his family and all their friends. It’s always great to know about a long and successful marriage, especially in that music world.”

Johnny Walker says, “Good morning. I am loving the newsletter! And thanks so much for the shoutout a couple of issues ago. 👍😃 All the best!”

Stacy Harris writes from Nashville, “Just a belated note of thanks for having my back. The blogger does not understand that there is a subscription version of Stacy’s Music Row Report and that the ‘free’ site is merely a ‘loss leader.’ All of the other misunderstanding begins there. I hope you get that Charlie Monk interview and am looking forward to reading your Randy Travis book. It will be a welcome diversion from the sadness from all of the music industry losses- this week alone.”

Jan Manning writes from Trout Creek, Montana, “Thank you for your pointed comments about the ‘reporting’ of Tom T. Hall’s death (suicide). It seems some ‘entertainment journalists’ want to make an unpleasant story more about themselves than about the beloved subject of the story (Tom T.). I don’t give a rat’s behind WHO broke the story, and it is totally inappropriate for ANY reputable ‘journalist’ to be claiming bragging rights on something this personal and sensitive. Long live The Storyteller. THAT is the story!”

Diane: I agree they shouldn’t be “taking” credit. But it’s a matter of journalistic integrity to “give” credit to your sources.

Bobby Fischer in Nashville says, “I emailed my mailing list about your newsletter ‘cause it needs to be out there. Great stuff.”

Jon Melvin Yipp says, “I just thought I would drop you a line. Just to let you know how much I am enjoy reading your monthly newsletter. I am from the Village of Inverness, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, which is located in the Country of Canada.”

Duncan Callum asks, “Could you please add me to your mailing list?”

Joe Morrison in Sioux Falls comments on the Saving Country Music article about Hugh Prestwood: “Does my heart good! Never heard of this fella but thought it was a heartwarming story of Country Music support.”

David Markham in Great Britain says, “I’m sure, like myself, Country is a big part of your world. I gotta say to you concerning Our Most missed brother Marty Robbins—wonderful human being and he always dressed clean and I just love his voice. It’s so sad he’s gone up the speed track with all his friends driving and hitting wall at 100 miles an hour. I’d love to know why son Ronny didn’t take over from where his dad left us. Because when Ronny comes on the Bill Anderson Show, they all love Ronny and his dad’s songs.”

Debora Thomas requests, “Can you please add my friend Shawn Johnston to your list? I told him about this the other day, and he is very interested.”

Eric Calhoun says, “Thank you for the announcement about Penny Jackson Ragsdale. I was on the WSMV-TV, Channel 4, page recently, commenting on this story that Ray Stevens said she was near death. I didn’t hear the news until recently. I’ve always loved Ray Stevens’s music. Also, thank you for alerting readers about the memorial BJ Thomas CD. I met him at a Concert on the Green performance in Woodland Hills, California. He was wonderful with his fans. I miss him deeply.”

Bobby Fischer sends this note: “I was just down on the Row at Johnny Morris’s office and found out he died. Good pal and pioneer, had hits with Narvel Felts, Randy Tracey, and more. Helped country music a bunch.”


When I decided to write Faron Young’s biography, I didn’t know anyone in the music business or how to write a biography. Shortly after the U.S. Navy transferred me from Japan to Los Angeles in 1999, I bought a plane ticket and flew to Nashville for a weekend. That seemed to me the place to start, and Ralph Emery seemed the person to start with. He was gracious enough to agree to meet me. Over the years, he was a great help in providing material for my Faron Young and Marty Robbins biographies. I regret not having his help in telling Randy Travis’s story. What a loss to the country music world–and to me–when he died on January 15, 2022. Here are some of Ralph’s comments from that important Nashville visit the afternoon of October 8, 1999.

What I have in my hand are notes from my old syndicated radio show. The notes are where I can find certain things. The notes are just the tip of the iceberg. If you listen to the recording–which if you get serious about this, I’ll let you do that–it would flesh the story out.

Kristofferson–you know Kristofferson used to work for Faron. He used to tell that story about Kris would be back there hammering, and coming to tell Faron about songs.

This interview was done, as that one was, too, after that automobile wreck that split his tongue. He went head to head with another car. That other car was identical to his–they were both Lincolns and they had a crash in the middle of one night out on Hillsboro Road. We wondered if Faron would ever be able to talk again, much less sing. He was able to recover from that, I’d say, ninety percent. I could still tell in his speech that he had a little problem.

“Slammed door on thumb. Called operator and she hung up on him. Nurse was rude.” We’ve marked it with a red star. Must be a funny story.

He used to tell me this story, I guess it happened in Shreveport. He saw Hank Williams up on a balcony of some kind, and he yelled up at him, “Hank, I’m gonna be up there with you some day.” And Hank said, “Okay, boy, come on.” And he said when he first came to the Opry, finally, that Hank was the first guy to welcome him to the Opry. I thought that had kind of a nice touch.

Have you ever seen his discography? What this does, it tells you when it was released, how high it went on the charts, and how long it stayed on the charts. This goes all the way through his Step One Records, which was the end of his career. So the last record released, according to this, was “Here’s To You,” on Step One in 1989. Two, four, eight nine. Before Step One, on MCA he had five records, and prior to that it was Mercury and before Mercury it was Capitol. MCA is the Music Corporation of America. Mercury, I think they may have since merged, recently, very recently. But in those days, they were separate entities. MCA and Decca Records are the same thing. He was on Capitol through–his last Capitol record was released in December of 1962. His first Mercury record was released in March of ’63. Called the “Yellow Bandana”; I remember that. His first chart record–first hit record–was “Goin’ Steady.”

Well, part of Faron’s problem was his drinking. I’m sure that even affected the amount of work he could get. Faron could sing. He was a good singer. But promoters–if they think you’re going to show up drunk, they aren’t going to hire you. I would say, among those early singers in the fifties, Ray Price and Faron Young and Marty Robbins were the best pure singers. And Eddy Arnold. The others were stylists. These guys could sing.

He had great pop influences. Some of his early Mercury stuff was kind of pop. What happens sometimes, and people like Billy Sherrill consider it a bonus, they say you don’t set out to make a pop record. You make a good country record, and pop music disc jockeys happen to pick it up, that’s just gravy.

Faron was on the board of an insurance company that they all got involved in, in the early sixties. I remember Don Larson, a New York Yankees pitcher, was in that group. And Hubert Long. They had a board meeting one day. Faron was on the board, he didn’t go very often, and Faron–you’ve got to understand, he and Hubert were real tight–Hubert loved Faron. I think that diamond ring he wore on his pinky, Hubert bought him. Anyway, they’re sitting at this board meeting, and they’re discussing what their salespeople can spend on the road per day–what they can allow. To show you the difference in the times, I think they were allowing their salesmen to spend up to forty dollars a day for a hotel room. Anyway, Faron got up and rattled off a few of his opinions. I’m going to have to give you an arbitrary figure, but it was something like, “You pay Hubert Long here $30,000 a year to sit on this board and he don’t do a damn thing.” And Hubert says, “Well, thanks a lot!” Faron was trying to tell them how to save money, to get rid of some of the things that are not necessary–to save money for this company. That’s the way he was, though.

Did I tell you the Hank Snow drinking story? Hank Snow came from one of the maritime provinces of eastern Canada, and their culture creates interesting and low-key people, for the most part. They’re conservative. And Hank’s always been very conservative. Faron and Hank are out drinking one night. Hank says to Faron, “What a good time we’re having tonight.” Faron says, “Yeah, but we’ll sober up tomorrow, and you won’t even speak to me.” And he said, “That’s not true, Faron. I’ll say hello.” I love that story. Faron told me that story.

Sulfur Dell. He lost a lot of money on that. I don’t know how much. That was the old baseball park. It was the oldest baseball park in existence, at the time he bought it. Sulfur Dell Ball Park was a very historic old baseball park. I used to go down there as a kid and watch games. I had forgotten he turned that into a racetrack.

I think we were in Charleston, South Carolina. In most venues, they didn’t sell beer, but they did here. The audience was progressively getting drunker and drunker as the show rolled. I think this was the Hank Williams Jr. show. Audrey was with us–Mrs. Hank. They called her the Big A. We had Grandpa Jones and Merle Travis, people like that. And this audience was getting rowdier and rowdier. Grandpa Jones came offstage very upset, because they were so rowdy his comedy didn’t work. They were yelling so much they didn’t hear the punchlines. And Hank Jr., I guess he went on next to last. He had a rough time out there, getting their attention. But Faron came on, and he spoke their language. They loved him; he got them back. A rowdy crowd is hard to entertain. So we sent them a rowdy entertainer, and he got the job done.

I was married to Skeeter Davis and I think that’s why I was on this tour. A lot of times I went out and emceed shows for Hubert Long, and other times I would go with Skeeter. She also was booked by Hubert Long, as was Ferlin Husky and Roy Drusky, and later Patsy Cline and Bill Anderson. Faron used to give Bill hell. Ragging him, especially when Bill was new. I guess Bill had his first record out, and Faron said he’d try to sneak over to the jukebox and see if his record was on the jukebox. When Faron would catch him at it, Faron would get up and make a speech: “Ladies and gentleman, I want you to meet Bill Anderson. Bill’s got his first record out on Decca, and he’s trying to sneak over to the jukebox and see if it’s on there.” He did stuff like that to embarrass him.

Faron loved Patsy Cline. I say that because I remember a story about when he bought that new house out on Hillsboro Road. And he was telling me about taking Patsy on a tour through his new house. When he got to the bedroom, he said, “This is where I build motors for tricycles.” She might have mentioned she’d been out to Faron’s house. I knew her, too.

He did some strange things. One weekend we played Fort Knox, Kentucky, an Army crowd, and he did a clean show. Then the next day we come down to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and we play a family amusement park, and he does a dirty show. I’m thinking to myself, “Faron, you’ve got it backwards.” I think he was an impulse person.

One night, I don’t know what happened. I would do weekend emceeing, and this was a real tight weekend. I had worked until four in the morning on the radio, and caught a plane to Indianapolis to do a matinee and night show. It was a package show, with Faron and Webb Pierce and a whole bunch of people. Webb drank more than Faron. If you could do that. Anyway, my motel room was right across the hall from Faron’s. Well, I get to my motel room, I’m beat. Man, I’m dead. I can’t wait to get to bed. I get in bed and I hear this party going on across the hall, with Faron and all his hangers-on. And then I hear a fight break out. You hear the clatter of dishes or something, and then I guess somebody called the cops. I’m just lying in bed, I hear the sirens as the cops are coming. And then what’s funny–when they hear the sirens, I hear all this running down the hall. They all got the hell out. And that was the end of it. But that’s what life was like with Faron. He was one big party.

I tell you a guy that you might call–his number’s in the book. He used to live with Faron. Merle Kilgore. Merle’s a great storyteller. He’s been in every one of my books. He’ll be a valuable resource.

There is a group of about twenty people–I’ve been on this board–you serve two years and you’re off it. They may invite you back. You have to have a lot of tenure in the business to be on this board. They’re the people who recommend to the Country Music Association a list of candidates to go in the Hall of Fame. And then the CMA votes on them. Merle Kilgore is on that board. You can nominate anybody you want to, and they’ll put it on that list. I’ve already nominated Faron, in the past. I think Faron will go in. Webb needs to go in. They’re both overdue. Carl Smith needs to go in. The process is too slow. The problem is, we didn’t have a Hall of Fame when these guys were hot. So they forget.

Faron is going to be a tough sale for you, with a publisher. I don’t like naysayers, so I’m not going to be a naysayer, but–cuz I love Faron–but as I told you on the phone last night, his book should have come out twenty years ago, when he was a hot property. But he is interesting. And Kilgore is an interesting man himself. He’s one of the few people I know who knew Hank Senior and Hank Junior both. He worked some for Hank Senior and he’s managed Hank Junior for years. He doesn’t come to town every day. He lives in Paris, Tennessee, west Tennessee. Usually, he’s here on Tuesday.

You know what you ought to do? You’re going to have a hard time living in LA, doing this. You ought to go to Radio Shack and get you a little device you can hook to your telephone, and you can talk to people and record the conversation at the same time. I’ve used it many times in researching my books. The quality’s quite good.

Ernest Tubb was the pure form of Jekyll and Hyde. Sober, the nicest guy you ever met in your life. Drunk, the meanest sonofabitch you ever met in your life. I don’t know why alcohol totally reverses some people’s personalities. Would you put your band members off in the middle of Canada in the middle of the night, just because you were pissed off about something? He did. He put Billy Byrd and my wife Skeeter–when she was singing with him, before we got married. Then what the band would do, they’d just put Ernest to bed and they’d go back and pick him up. But that’s mean. Sober he was the nicest guy in the world. I often wondered if Ernest Tubb, the nice guy, realized what Ernest Tubb, the nasty guy, did.

Jimmy Day is dead. He died last year. I’ll tell you who used to play with Faron, it was Big Ben Keith. I don’t know what has happened to Big Ben. Day used to play for Ray Price and some other people. One night I’m on the road with Ray Price–I got a tour in Canada with Ray Price. And Day’s playing steel. And you know what a turnaround is, that’s the instrumental part in the middle of a song. Ray gets to the turnaround in this song–and Day was a notorious pill taker–and Day’s so damn high, he didn’t touch the strings. He’s the only one that heard that turnaround. He’s just playing his ass off; he’s not touching the strings. But Day was okay. I liked him a lot. After he moved back to Texas, I didn’t see much of him anymore.

What you ought to do is get you a union book, with the names of all the musicians and their phone numbers and so forth. I used to know every musician in Nashville, before our business got so big. We all just drifted apart. I’m not on television every night anymore, and on the radio every night like I used to be. The musicians used to come by my radio show. I hired a bunch of musicians over the years, doing all those shows. In fact, I hired so many, the musician’s union made me an honorary member. And I don’t play anything.

I’m semi-retired. I write books. I’m 66 years old. Time for me to slow down. I used to be a workaholic. I’m trying to get over that. I just keep my hand in it a little bit. I’ve had enough hassle in my life; I don’t want any more hassle.

I didn’t want you to go home and say, “Those son of a bitches in Nashville, nobody was nice to me.” Or “Nobody would talk to me,” that sort of thing. When you get rolling on this thing, if it comes to that, and I hope it will, call me and let me know what’s going on, and I’ll give you the recordings here that will flesh out your story.

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