Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 29 May 2024


On Monday, May 20, the New York Times reported that Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion (built in 1939) in Memphis, Tennessee, was scheduled to be auctioned off at the Shelby County courthouse on Thursday. A notice from the Shelby County Courthouse stated that Graceland and its surrounding property would be sold for cash to the highest bidder. Naussany Investments & Private Lending LLC was foreclosing on the property, saying Lisa Marie Presley used Graceland as collateral to secure a $3.8 million loan in 2018, and she failed to pay it off before she died. The next day, Taste of Country reported that Danielle Riley Keough, 34, her mother’s heir and Elvis’s granddaughter, was fighting the court-approved auction. She filed a 60-page lawsuit alleging that the foreclosure claim used forged signatures on fraudulent documents: “Lisa Marie Presley never borrowed money from Naussany Investments and never gave a deed of trust to Naussany Investments.” The lawsuit included a sworn affidavit from the notary public whose name appears on the deed of trust, saying in part, “I did not notarize this document.” The Presley family claims Naussany Investments & Private Lending LLC forged Lisa Marie’s signatures on the Deed of Trust and is a false entity created for the purpose of defrauding the heirs of Lisa Marie Presley. Wide Open Country reported on Wednesday that a Shelby County judge held a hearing and issued an injunction that halted the foreclosure sale, giving Naussany Investments time to provide a defense to claims of fraud. The company responded the same day by withdrawing all claims on Graceland with prejudice. According to PEOPLE, the Tennessee Attorney General is looking into the matter to determine the full extent of any misconduct.

I watched Sunday evening’s National Memorial Day Concert on PBS to see Jamey Johnson, 48, debut his newest release, “21 Guns,” a tribute to servicemembers who died on active duty. He wrote the song from the point of view of a grieving father but based on his own perspective. “It was written from knowing what I was thinking sitting there at the funeral and knowing what had to be on the minds of their family,” he told PEOPLE. “I have been to a lot of funerals for Marines I served with. Some of them that died in combat, and some of them that have passed away since. It is always heavy and there is always this realization that your friend is always going to be young.” He liked the idea of hearing a loved one say, “I don’t need anybody to tell me you are a hero.” It’s unfortunate he used the erroneous term “21 guns” in the song. There are no 21 guns at a military funeral. There are seven (or five or three) rifles firing a total of three volleys. You only hear three shots. A 21-gun salute has 21 booms–individual shots fired by a warship’s cannons or army artillery, not by rifles. It welcomes and honors heads of state, with lesser officials receiving perhaps a 15- or 17-gun salute. That being said, Jamey did a great job on the song. Thinking ahead to the ceremony, he said, “I am probably going to be standing there thinking about the 30 years that have gone by since I went to boot camp and all of the friends I’ve had over the years, connections that started back then.” The entire ceremony was impressive. The gut-wrenching testimonies, delivered by professional actors, of three combat veterans who were present, tore me up. Why do we continue to have wars?

Record producer Ira Robert “Bud” Logan, 83, died in Nashville on May 13. MusicRow notes he was best known for producing 23 top 10 hits for John Conlee, including “Rose Colored Glasses” and “Friday Night Blues.” He also launched the career of T. Graham Brown by producing “I Tell It Like It Used to Be” and “Hell and High Water.” The Tennessee native had earlier been bass player for The Blue Boys, becoming the band’s lead singer after the death of Jim Reeves. He also recorded as a solo artist and with Wilma Burgess. As a songwriter, he had songs recorded by Ernest Tubb, Jean Shepard, Charlie Rich, and others. John Conlee posted a photo on Facebook, saying, “The gentleman with his hand on my shoulder is Bud Logan who changed his address to heaven yesterday. His hand was on my shoulder for nearly 50 years as the only record producer I ever had.”

I thought everyone would enjoy seeing a current photo of the Mandrell sisters. Louise posted this one on Facebook. Barbara, Louise, and Irlene got together with their mom for an early Mother’s Day celebration. “We had lunch, some laughs, and told some old stories,” Louise says. “Mom and Dad worked hard our entire lives to make sure we had the best of everything. We are so fortunate to still have our mom.”

Pat Rolfe, one of the first women to head a major publishing company, died May 24. SOURCE Nashville reports, “She was peacefully sleeping and has been surrounded by her family and friends over the past few days.” In 1972, she became general manager at Hill & Range, which was purchased by Chappell Music in 1975. She led Chappell Music to be named seven times as ASCAP Publisher of the Year. In 1987, she joined ASCAP and rose to the position of vice president, bringing in writers such as Hillary Lindsey, Gerry House, Dierks Bentley, Brad Paisley, and Wynonna Judd. In 1991, she was a co-founder of SOURCE, an organization focused on opportunities for women in the entertainment industry. It is now the longest-running organization for women in the music industry in Nashville.

Following her recent performance on The Voice finale, Lainey Wilson, 32, was surprised when Reba McEntire, 69, came onstage and said, “I was so proud of you at the ACMs the other night and I couldn’t be more proud to be the one that helps you continue to bridge the gap between our generations.” Reba then told her, “I’d like to be the person to invite you to become an official member of the Grand Ole Opry.” Reba presented a custom-made belt buckle engraved with “Opry Lainey 2024,” reports PEOPLE, and Lainey shouted, “Holy moly!” She said her family took her to Nashville at age nine, and they saw Bill Anderson, Crystal Gayle, and Little Jimmy Dickens on the Grand Ole Opry. She added, “I knew I wanted to play there.” She became the Academy of Country Music’s entertainer of the year on May 17.

The new Lainey Wilson bar on Third Avenue in downtown Nashville will be named “Bell Bottoms Up.” Like the previous FGL House, this will be a partnership with TC Restaurant Group, the hospitality company that also has bars with Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, and Morgan Wallen. According to Whiskey Riff, the artists don’t actually own the bars; they license their name to hospitality corporations. Bell Bottoms Up will open on May 31, which means there wasn’t much time for renovations, other than redecorating and changing the signs.

PEOPLE reports that Elle King, 34, spoke on the Dear Chelsea podcast about her drunken performance at Dolly Parton’s Grand Ole Opry tribute and the backlash she faced. She said she was mortified after realizing what she’d done. She wrote apology letters to the Opry and to Dolly, who called her a few days later. Dolly told her, “Well, Dolly’s not mad at you, why should the world be?” She said that even after she apologized, people called her “an unfit mother,” told her she should “surrender” her two-year-old son, and she should commit suicide. She says, “For all the people who are asking for an apology from me, hey, if you were there that night and I didn’t get a chance to say I’m sorry to you, I apologize.”

The unofficial start to this year’s CMA Fest will take place at the Ryman Auditorium on June 5, when Randy Travis brings his More Life Tour to Nashville. As usual, the show will feature special guest vocalist James Dupré singing with Randy’s original touring band. According to a press release, “While Randy won’t be taking the microphone as he had for over 25 years, prior to the 2013 stroke that left him with aphasia, he and his wife Mary will grace the stage the entire show to engage with fans and the band and enjoy the music.”

Country Radio Broadcasters, Inc. will present Scott Borchetta with its 2024 CRB President’s Award during its annual Country Radio Hall of Fame event on June 19 at the Virgin Hotel Nashville. According to MusicRow, the award is “given to individuals who have demonstrated exceptional dedication and played a vital role in shaping the success of the Country Radio Seminar and its mission to advance the country radio format.” Borchetta is chairman and CEO of Big Machine Label Group, the independent label home to artists such as Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, Thomas Rhett, Carly Pearce, Sheryl Crow, and Lady A.

Two more Sylvia albums, Snapshot (from 1983) and Surprise (1984), are available for downloading and streaming. Sylvia says, “Thank you to the great folks at Sony Music for making this happen!”

Rolling Stone has named “Jolene” as The Greatest Country Song of All Time. In 2014, Rolling Stone established Rolling Stone Country and marked the occasion by compiling a list of the 100 Greatest Country Songs. To commemorate the tenth anniversary, the magazine expanded the list to include 200 exceptional songs, with 1973’s “Jolene,” the timeless Dolly Parton song, at the top.

Recalling the year-late warrant for his arrest, Darius Rucker, 58, tells PEOPLE, “I got stopped by a police officer and I had a little bit of pot, and I think a little bit of some mushrooms or something in the car, and he let me go. And a year later I got a phone call from a buddy who said, ‘I think I just saw an arrest warrant for you.’ It shocked me.” He’s still not sure what prompted the arrest warrant, but his legal team is dealing with it. His friends in the police department thought it was crazy to issue a warrant a year later. “I think somebody wanted to make an example out of me, and they did,” he says. “I’m handling it with my lawyers, and paying the price, and we’ll move on with our lives.”

Hank Williams Jr. sold his 33-acre farm for $1.5 million, nearly 50% less than its listed price of $2.8 million. He had earlier listed it for $3.3 million and then took it off the market. Located two hours west of Nashville in Springville, Tennessee, the estate features a two-acre duck impoundment and backs up to the Big Sandy Unit of the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge. According to Whiskey Riff, the custom-built farmhouse has five bedrooms, eight bathrooms, exercise facility, pool house, media room, two-car garage, and custom 14×14-gun vault.

On November 15, Dolly Parton plans to release on streaming services, vinyl, and CD a project called Dolly Parton & Family: Smoky Mountain DNA — Family, Faith & Fables. A parallel docuseries will follow her family history from the 1600s in the United Kingdom to the Great Smoky Mountains in Sevier County, Tennessee. Both sides of the family, the paternal Partons and the maternal Owens, perform on the album, including voices of earlier generations. “I cannot believe that it has been 60 years this month since I graduated from Sevier County High School and moved to Nashville to pursue my dreams,” CMT News reports Dolly as saying. “My Uncle Bill Owens was by my side for many years, helping me develop my music. I owe so much to him and all the family members, past and present, who have inspired me along this journey.” Producing the project is cousin Richie Owens. It is being released in collaboration with Owepar Entertainment, which Dolly and her uncles Bill Owens and Louis Owens founded in 1967.


Nelda Buchanan writes, “Correction: Mandisa died in 2024, not 2004. Love your newsletter.”

Diane: Thanks for the correction, Nelda. I added the year at the last minute, for clarification, and somehow ending up typing 2004 instead of 2024.

Daniel Burritt says, “Thank you again for the Newsletters. Well written and well rounded, you even got gospel singer Mandisa in it. Keep them coming.”

Bobby Fischer writes from Nashville, “Years ago I wrote a song ‘It Sure Looks Good on You.’ Durwood Haddock cut it. I had shown it to Ricci Mareno. He said worst song I ever heard. Then Roy Clark cut it and sang it on Hee Haw. Durwood called me and said, ‘I’m at Hank Williams house on Franklin Road. I know you like old country. Grab some beer, we’ll go through Hank’s things.’ I rang the doorbell, it opened, Audrey Williams stood there. She said you hung up on me. I said no. She whirled and went into the room. Durwood said she thinks everybody hangs up on her. I played Hank’s guitar, tried on his jackets, and took a lot of pics I still have. I was hoping some of Hank’s magic would rub off on me. Duh. It was a fun time.”

Phil Davies in Wales says, “Another fascinating and informative newsletter. Appreciate it.”

Terry Tyson writes from Nashville, “I look forward to reading your news articles. I learn more about Nashville from your reporting than I learn about living in Nashville. Very exciting time for Randy Travis and for this year. Can’t wait for the forthcoming book to be released! Randy and Mary appeared in Bend, Oregon, last night at a Stroke Awareness event. I’m telling you, people really love him. The story is emotionally uplifting and encourages people to stop and take home a souvenir.” Terry, who sells merch for both Alabama and Randy Travis, tells this story: “This young man walked up to the merch table as we were starting to pack up and asked what was our least expensive item. I had one single Randy Travis can huggie left for $5. He held it and then said how he wished he had the money. He didn’t have a job and couldn’t buy a ticket for the show but wanted to come in and look at the merch. So I gave him my last huggie and said this one is on us tonight. He was so happy and was nearly in tears. He began to tell us how he was at the lowest point in his life and contemplating suicide when he heard Randy Travis singing ‘Three Wooden Crosses’ on the radio and how that particular moment changed his mind over these lyrics: ‘It’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you, it’s what you leave behind you when you go.’ He thanked us and shook my hand and left. A bit later he came back and said as he walked out the back door he ran right into Randy and had his hat signed by his idol! He had to come back wiping tears of joy from his eyes and tell us again how special this night was for him. This boy had a speech impediment and was a challenge to engage in conversation. He hugged us and said goodbye. I overheard him telling others as he was leaving- how this was the best day of his life.”

Christine Diller says, “Just finished reading your latest newsletter. As always, a stellar job. It’s great reading what country performers are up to these days, as well as sad to hear about those who have passed on. Speaking of performers, do you hear much about Steve Wariner? I sure wish he would release new music. Thanks again for an interesting, fact-filled letter.”

Diane: I tried to contact him for a spotlight interview but without response. He has a website at https://www.stevewariner.com/. No tour dates are listed. He is an active member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Dominique ‘Imperial’ Anglares writes from France, “Another welcome newsletter. Thanks for the tribute given to Duane Eddy and all the information provided.”

Eric Calhoun says, “I love the ACM Awards, and the Country Music Association Awards. I sometimes find that the ACMs can be very controversial. There was the year that ‘Check Yes or No’ was Song of the Year. The very next day, I met Billy Dean at a local store in Westminster, California, where former disc jockey and Program Director Carrie Dunn was having a live remote from KIK-FM, 94.3. Billy agrees with me that this was not the correct choice for Song of the Year. Speaking of George Strait, my condolences go out to his band, upon the loss of his beloved drummer.”


Walt Aldridge, born James Walton Aldridge Jr. in 1955 in Florence, Alabama, spent 17 years as staff engineer at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals and 15 years as an independent engineer in Nashville, working on some 200 records. He wrote or co-wrote “I Am A Simple Man” and “Crime Of Passion” by Ricky Van Shelton, “I Loved Her First” by Heartland, “Modern Day Bonnie And Clyde” by Travis Tritt, “She Sure Got Away With My Heart” by John Anderson, “She’s Got A Single Thing In Mind” by Conway Twitty, “Some Things Never Change” by Tim McGraw, “The Fear Of Being Alone” by Reba McEntire, “‘Till You’re Gone” by Barbara Mandrell, “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me” by Ronnie Milsap, and “Holding Her And Loving You” by Earl Thomas Conley. He teaches Entertainment Industry at his alma mater, the University of North Alabama (UNA), and is a member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame (2018). At 68 years old, he is a successful singer, musician, engineer, producer, publisher, and songwriter.

Dewayne Blackwell, born in 1936, migrated with his family from Corpus Christi, Texas, to California during the Dust Bowl. He and his seven siblings grew up as itinerant crop pickers. His first songwriting success came in 1959 with “Mr. Blue” by the Fleetwoods. Following two decades of writing songs for pop acts such as Bobby Vee, Roy Orbison, Bobby Vinton, and the Everly Brothers, he moved to Nashville and wrote country hits, beginning with “Honkytonk Man” by Marty Robbins in 1982. Others included “I’m Gonna Hire A Wino To Decorate Our Home” by David Frizzell, “Make My Day” by T.G. Sheppard & Clint Eastwood, “Nobody Gets Off In This Town” by Garth Brooks, and “Cowboy In A Three Piece Business Suit” by Rex Allen, Jr. He co-wrote “Saturday Night Special” by Conway Twitty, “Friends In Low Places” by Garth Brooks, “When Karen Comes Around” by the Oak Ridge Boys, and “Yard Sale” by Sammy Kershaw. He died at age 84 in Baja California, Mexico, in 2021.

Alabama native Vern Gosdin, born in 1934, grew up singing in church with his brother, Rex. The brothers spent the 1960s in Los Angeles, performing as the Gosdin Brothers. In the 1970s, Vern ran a retail store in Atlanta, until Emmylou Harris helped him sign a record deal with Elektra Records in Nashville in 1977. He co-wrote most of his hit songs: “Today My World Slipped Away,” “If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong (Do It Right),” “Do You Believe Me Now,” “Who You Gonna Blame It On This Time,” “That Just About Does It,” “Set ’Em Up Joe,” “I’m Still Crazy,” “Chiseled In Stone,” “This Ain’t My First Rodeo, ” “Right In The Wrong Direction,” and my favorite of his songs, “Is It Raining At Your House.” Vern died in Nashville on April 28, 2009, at age 74.

Jim McBride, the third Alabama songwriter chosen for the Hall of Fame in 2017, was born Jimmy Ray McBride in Huntsville in 1947. He started bringing his songs to Nashville, and by 1972, the Hagers were singing them on Hee Haw. He moved to Nashville after Conway Twitty recorded “A Bridge That Just Won’t Burn.” His first #1 came when Johnny Lee recorded “Bet Your Heart on Me.” Waylon Jennings recorded “Rose In Paradise.” In the 1990s, Jim collaborated with Alan Jackson on Alan’s #1 hits, “Chasing That Neon Rainbow,” “(Who Says) You Can’t Have It All,” “Someday,” and “Chattahoochee.” Jim co-wrote “What I Meant To Say” by Wade Hayes and “Angels In Waiting” by Tammy Cochran. Inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 2023, Jim McBride is 77 years old.

Tim Nichols, born James Timothy Nichols in 1958 in Portsmouth, Virginia, was raised in Springfield, Missouri. He was signed to Ronnie Milsap’s publishing company in 1984. His first co-written hit was  “I’m Over You” by Keith Whitley, followed by “Heads Carolina, Tails California” by Jo Dee Messina, “(This Ain’t) No Thinkin’ Thing” by Trace Adkins, “I’ll Think Of A Reason Later” by Lee Ann Womack, “That’d Be Alright” by Alan Jackson, “I’d Rather Ride Around With You” by Reba McEntire, “Girls Lie Too” and “I Wanna Do It All” by Terri Clark, “Vidalia” by Sammy Kershaw, and “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw. Tim Nichols is 65 years old.

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