Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 29 November 2023


Fifty-year music industry executive and former CRB/CRS Executive Director Bill Mayne, 72, died November 28 after a long-term illness, reports MusicRow. I called him a year ago to ask if he would speak with me for Randy Travis’s biography; he told me his health was too poor for him to do interviews. He began in radio, launching KASE in Austin and leading KZLA/KLAC in Los Angeles and KSCS/WBAP in Dallas, and then joined Warner Bros./Nashville, where he spent 15 years and became Senior VP/General Manager and VP of Promotion. He was Executive Director of Country Radio Broadcasters (CRB) from 2009-2019. Memorial services have not yet been announced.

During the University of Tennessee game against the reigning NCAA national champs, the Georgia Bulldogs, on November 18 in Knoxville, Tennessee, Dolly Parton sang “Rocky Top,” backed by the University of Tennessee Choir and the Pride of the Southland Band. She walked onto the field wearing bedazzled Tennessee orange with a star-studded white blazer. Former Tennessee quarterback and NFL legend Peyton Manning was by her side. Dolly told the crowd, “We know Rocky Top and that song was written by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, and Dale, their son, is in the stadium tonight.” It’s one of Tennessee’s official state songs and the fifty-year fight song for the Volunteers. Dolly later told CBS Sports, “I couldn’t hear because my sound went out and the stadium was so loud. But I was honored to be here, and I love Peyton, and I love the crowd. It’s just good to be home always.” The Bulldogs beat the Vols 38-10. Bill Anderson must be happy.

The Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York City has announced the nominees to be considered for induction in 2024, reports MusicRow. Two country songwriters are included as Non-Performing Songwriter nominees, Hillary Lindsey and Country Music Hall of Famer Dean Dillon. Both are in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Dean’s songs include “Tennessee Whiskey,” “Ocean Front Property,” “Here For A Good Time,” and “The Chair.” Hillary’s songs include “Jesus Take The Wheel,” “Girl Crush,” “Always Remember Us This Way,” and “Million Reasons.” Songwriters qualify for induction 20 years after their first significant commercial release. Three of ten nominees from the Non-Performing Songwriter category and three of ten from the Performing Songwriter category will be selected in late December.

During a press conference to promote the new Friends in Low Places Bar & Honky-Tonk, Garth Brooks expressed sorrow at losing former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who died November 19 at age 96, two days after entering hospice care at her Plains, Georgia, home. He said she and Trisha Yearwood were inseparable friends, adding, “President Carter calls Miss Yearwood his ‘second favorite Georgia peach.'” PEOPLE reports that Garth and Trisha worked with the Carters for years on Habitat for Humanity building projects. Last month, they assumed hosting duties for the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project, leading more than 1,000 volunteers to build 27 homes in Charlotte, North Carolina. Garth and Trisha sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” at Mrs. Carter’s memorial service in Atlanta on November 28.

Dennis Hromek of Merle Haggard’s band, The Strangers, has died. I couldn’t find an obituary or anything about him on the internet, except for a Strangers bio by Deke Dickerson in 2021. He probably died November 17, but I don’t know the cause or how old he was. He played bass for the Strangers from 1970-73, including on numerous hits–“Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man),” “Carolyn,” “Grandma Harp,” “If We Make It Through December,” “The Fightin’ Side of Me”—and the last four Strangers solo albums. He and guitarist Bobby Wayne worked with Wynn Stewart, Freddie Hart, and Buck Owens before joining Merle’s band. They were fired in 1973 after “a series of wild incidents, breaking up what many consider to be one of the classic incarnations of the Strangers.”

Tracy Lawrence hosted his 18th annual “Mission: Possible Turkey Fry and Benefit Concert” in Nashville to support the Nashville Rescue Mission and help feed Middle Tennessee’s hungry. More than 250 volunteers helped fry over 1,200 turkeys to be distributed in 10,000 meals throughout Middle Tennessee during Thanksgiving. “I just want to encourage everyone to do a little part for each of their communities,” Tracy says. “If everybody gave back a little bit, the world would be a much better place.” He held this year’s event at the Nashville fairgrounds, with a little help from his friends: Gary Allan, Chris Young, Jamey Johnson, Ian Munsick, Travis Denning, Phil Vassar, Spencer Crandall, Frank Ray, David Lee Murphy, Trey Lewis, Kasey Tyndall, and Noah Thompson. That evening, Lee Brice and others joined Tracy for a benefit concert at Wildhorse Saloon. It raised $250,000 for Nashville Rescue Mission. CMT News reports that Tracy’s Mission: Possible has provided more than 86,000 meals to the homeless across Middle Tennessee and raised more than $1 million for the Nashville Rescue Mission.

In an interview with NPR, Dolly Parton, 77, talked about the “love note” she sent Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr through their managers. “I didn’t want to put you on the spot,” she told them, “but I’d love to have you sing with me on my rock album. And if you’re interested, call me at this number.” McCartney, 81, and Starr, 83, agreed to participate. Dolly said in a statement: “Does it get any better than singing ‘Let It Be’ with Paul McCartney who wrote the song? Not only that, he played piano!” She continued, “Well, it did get even better when Ringo Starr joined in on drums, Peter Frampton on guitar and Mick Fleetwood playing percussion. I mean, seriously, how much better does it get? Thanks guys!” According to PEOPLE, the newly released Rockstar also features Miley Cyrus, Sheryl Crow, Elton John, Chris Stapleton, Stevie Nicks, Sting, John Fogerty, and more.

MusicRow reports Gene Watson will kick off his 2024 “All the Hits & More Tour” on February 3 in Rome, Georgia. His 26-date tour runs through November 23. This follows his 2023 “Celebration Tour,” where he played 80 dates across the country to celebrate his 80th birthday. That included a birthday party at the Grand Ole Opry in October, with Rhonda Vincent, The Bellamy Brothers, The Gatlin Brothers, and more.

When Graeme Green interviewed Dolly Parton for MetroUK, he asked if she’d considered running for President. She said, “I think we’ve had enough boobs in the White House. I would have no interest in politics. I try to do my thing through my songs, through the way I accept people and the way I try to make a difference.” When asked how she defined “Dolly style,” she said, “Overdone.” Explaining how too much make-up and too much hair was a country girl’s idea of glamour, she described a woman in her hometown who “was beautiful to me, because she wore tight clothes and lots of make-up, and had her hair piled up on top of her head. At a very early age, I was influenced by that. I loved looking overdone.” She acknowledged that her image made it difficult to be taken seriously as a songwriter. “I knew that if I was as good as I hoped and believed I was, my talent would win out over my looks,” she said. “I’m not an educated person — I just got a high school education. But I know what’s right for me. I know how to handle my stuff.”

The Oak Ridge Boys were honored with a Tennessee Music Pathways marker from the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on November 20, reports MusicRow. William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban represented the Oaks at the unveiling. Family members of original Oak Ridge Quartet members Wally Fowler and Lon “Deacon” Freeman were present. Sterban commented, “The Oak Ridge Boys as a group goes back 80 years to the original members, Wally Fowler, Lon ‘Deacon’ Freeman, Curly Kinsey and Johnny New, and we have never forgotten them or their contributions. It has been a privilege to build on that.” The current Oak Ridge Boys–Duane Allen (1966), Joe Bonsall (1973), William Lee Golden (1965) and Richard Sterban (1972)–celebrated their 50th anniversary this year.

The National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at the White House will take place November 30 in Washington, D.C. The event has been held every year since President Calvin Coolidge’s administration in 1923. Taste of Country reports this year’s host is Mickey Guyton. She and other entertainers will provide musical performances. I attended this National Park Service presentation on the Ellipse at the White House one year in the early 1990s. Although a neat event, it was too cold and too crowded for me to return the next year.

Jim Vienneau, whose record productions launched the careers of Hank Williams Jr., Conway Twitty, Mel Tillis, and more, died at his Nashville home on November 9, at age 97. He is survived by his wife of 71 years, Joan Preston, MusicRow reports. Born in 1926 in Albany, New York, Vienneau served in the Navy during World War II. Going to work for MGM in New York in 1955, he produced such MGM pop hits as Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe” (1958), Connie Francis’s “Vacation” (1962), Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater” (1958) and Roy Orbison’s “Ride Away” (1965). In 1965, he transferred to Nashville to head MGM’s country music division. He produced “Cajun Baby,” “Pride’s Not Hard to Swallow” and “I’ll Think of Something” for the young Hank Williams Jr. His Mel Tillis productions included “I Ain’t Never,” “Sawmill,” and “Memory Maker.” His other MGM artists included Jimmy C. Newman, Marvin Rainwater, Lois Johnson, The Stonemans, Floyd Cramer, Ben Colder, Tony Booth, and Tompall & The Glaser Brothers. Vienneau joined Acuff-Rose Publishing in 1982. He retired in 1998.

The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Kickoff Halftime Show at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Thanksgiving Day starred Dolly Parton. Her performance is here. She sang “Jolene,” “9 to 5,” and a cover of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” The Dallas Cowboys defeated the Washington Commanders 20-10.


Jeannie Seely writes from Nashville, “Gene wanted me to tell you thanks for including him in your great newsletter…said he felt like a real star! We appreciate all you do for all of us.”

Bobby Fischer in Nashville says, “Ahoy mate, permission to come aboard the good ship Diane. Had an old song flashback. When I still lived in the Midwest, I wrote several songs that could be better, moved to Nashville, and got with Sonny Throckmorton. One we rewrote was ‘Temporarily Yours.’ Jeanne Pruitt cut it and it happened. Another was ‘I Don’t Know How to Tell Her.’ Ray Price cut it, also Faron Young, Roy Clark, and Bobby Wright. Great gal versions with ‘him’ for the change: Janet Lynn, Tammy, Cline, but one Sonny told me had cut it and we never got to hear that great voice on was Jeannie Seely. It had to be good.”

Eric Calhoun writes, “I’m glad you got the story from CTV News out of Toronto, Ontario. I’m glad Shania Twain’s band is OK. That area of Saskatchewan can be problematic. The CTV News story said the bus was going to Saskatoon from Winnipeg, so I’m sure that covered a great distance. I’ll be looking for the Castellows. If they’re close to what the Band Perry was, I am looking forward to hearing their sound. I am glad Paul Overstreet is doing well, I was wondering what he has been up to these days. And, north of the border, I have been following two country music ladies: Madeline Merlo and Crystal Shawanda. Crystal has done some United States shows but is more popular north of the border. Madeline is a Vancouver, British Columbia, native, and the song I identify with is ‘Sinking Like a Stone.’ I wrote her about it, and she encouraged me to not let death, or anything else, worry me. That’s it for now, Happy Thanksgiving!”

Mary Mitchell says, “The only good thing on the CMA AWARDS was to see Bill Anderson and Peyton Manning. The rest was mostly ads. There was no so-called Country played. There are some great second generations that could have helped the show. Merle Haggard’s son or the Brothers boys. Sorry for such negative thoughts. Just my opinion.”

Carl Rollyson in New Jersey comments, “What gets me about your newsletters is they open up a huge world I know very little about.”

Don Ewert says, “Happy Holidays from beautiful downtown Milwaukee. I love reading your newsletters. Right now, I’m sitting here listening to the fantastic LP River of Regret by June Stearns. I got it off eBay. Wow, what a great singer June is. I believe this album and one she recorded with Johnny Duncan were her only ones, although she had quite a few singles. I guess people compared her to Patsy Cline. Anyway, I am now a big fan of June Stearns!”


The first country record in history that features five members of the Country Music Hall of Fame on one song has been released by MCA Nashville/UMe. Bill Anderson recruited four fellow Hall of Famers—Bobby Bare, Jimmy Fortune, Vince Gill, and Willie Nelson—to sing with him on The Country I Grew Up With.” Bill wrote the song with Bobby Tomberlin and Lance Miller. It’s about an old man sitting in front of the Co-op, drinking a Coke and reminiscing about days gone by. He talks about seeing Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner, and Little Jimmy Dickens. Then he says, “I remember when Bobby Bare walked in down at the Chicken Shack,” and you hear Bobby’s voice saying, “I walked in down at the Chicken Shack . . ..” In a press release, Willie said the song was “like taking a trip down memory lane. I’m proud to be a part of this musical tribute to the country we all grew up with.” Jimmy said, “I was so happy when Bill Anderson called and asked me to be a part of it—I really couldn’t believe it. It’s one of the highlights of my life.” Bobby said, “Bill has always had a way with words. I’m thankful for our longtime friendship and to have been included on this song.” Vince said, “When I moved to Nashville, I had the good fortune to meet Bill, and we wrote a hit song together. I’m honored that he asked me to be on this song with him and our fellow Country Music Hall of Famers.” Songwriter Bobby Tomberlin notes, “A lot of folks in my hometown of Luverne, Alabama, are loving that The Chicken Shack is mentioned in the song.” He thanked Dallas Wayne for debuting it on Willie’s Roadhouse on Sirius Radio. I just happened to be listening to Dallas on my car radio when he played the song. I listened to it later to identify the voices and the story. The distinctive voice of Vince Gill is my favorite part of the song.


Hubbin’ It: The Life of Bob Wills was written by a fan, Ruth Sheldon, and privately published in 1938. It is one of four books recently republished in a cooperative effort by the Country Music Foundation Press and University of Illinois Press. The new title is Bob Wills: Hubbin’ It. Wills biographer Charles Townsend writes the introduction for the new edition. He says he might never have written his biography if he hadn’t read hers as a child in a family of Bob Wills fans in 1938. Sheldon, who’d earlier interviewed Bob for a Tulsa Tribune feature, was fascinated by his stories. He told her people often asked questions he didn’t have time to answer. They agreed she would write his book. “So we began,” she said in her Author’s Note. “I’ve tried to tell faithfully what Bob told me.” Her purpose was to bolster his image, not give an objective rendering of his life. According to Townsend, she left out much of the story, mainly his alcoholism and problems related to his drinking. “Though Wills did have all the admirable qualities she emphasized so very well,” Townsend says, “he had some less admirable traits as well.” Sheldon’s example of a poor boy who worked hard and made a success of himself served as encouragement to her Depression-era readers. “Hubbin’ it,” also a Bob Wills song, referred to a wagon bogged down to its hubs on a muddy road, an illustration of working through tough times. Bob was born to a musical Texas farm family in 1905. He left home at 16, and the book tells of his struggles to earn a living, which included playing the fiddle and becoming a barber. By 1938, Bob and his Texas Playboys were homebased in Tulsa, Oklahoma, playing at Cain’s Ballroom and broadcasting over KVOO Radio. Sheldon called him currently “the most important figure in the entertainment world in the southwest.” She said he was driving himself to accomplish the last goal he had set: “Sometime in the future when the day arrives, when he knows he has given all he can give, he wants to say goodbye before the public has a chance to tire of him. While he is still ‘tops,’ he will give one last, glorious, farewell dance and disappear.” The public never did tire of him. He lived to see his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1968 and the inaugural class of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970. James Robert Wills, “the King of Western Swing,” died in 1975 at age 70.


Guy Clark, a Texas native born in 1941, began performing on the folk circuit in Houston, before meeting and marrying Susanna Clark in 1972. He worked as a guitar repairman and eventually became a fine woodworker, crafting hand-made guitars. He signed as a songwriter with Sunbury Music in Los Angeles and moved to Nashville in 1971. Johnny Cash, Bobby Bare, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Foster & Lloyd, Brad Paisley, John Conlee, Kenny Chesney, and Jimmy Buffett are a few who recorded his songs, including “Desperados Waiting for a Train” and “New Cut Road.” He wrote “Heartbroke” and “She’s Crazy for Leavin” with Rodney Crowell. He died in a Nashville nursing home in 2016, at age 74, after several years of battling cancer and other health problems.

Freddie Hart was born Frederick Segrest in 1926, one of 15 children of impoverished sharecropper parents in Alabama. At age five, Freddie made a guitar out of a cigar box and wire from a Model T. He quit school at age 12 and was 15 when he lied about his age to enlist in the Marine Corps, where he served in combat in the South Pacific. After his discharge, he toured with Lefty Frizzell, who got him a record deal with Capitol. He wrote “Loose Talk,” a huge hit for Carl Smith, along with songs for Porter Wagoner (“Skid Row Joe”), Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Jim Ed Brown, and Billy Walker (they co-wrote “Willie the Weeper”). In 1971, he recorded his own “Easy Loving” and became a star at age 44. His five #1s included “Got the All Overs for You,” “Hang in There Girl,” and “My Hang-Up Is You.” Shortly before his death, he finished a new record, God Bless You, produced by David Frizzell. He died in Burbank, California, in 2018, survived by his wife of 61 years, Ginger, and four sons. He was 91 years old. I profiled him in my newsletter in 2016.

Dennis Morgan, born in 1952 in Tracy, Minnesota, was 11 years old when he saw the Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. He soon acquired his first guitar and started pursuing his musical dreams. As a teenager, he dropped out of high school and went on the road with his first band. He moved to Nashville and, in 1978, he and Kye Fleming had their first songwriting hit with Barbara Mandrell’s “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed.” Their later co-written hits included, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” “Crackers,” and “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed” (all for Barbara Mandrell), “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World” and “Smokey Mountain Rain” (both for Ronnie Milsap), and Sylvia’s “Nobody.” In 1987, he and English songwriter-artist Simon Climie wrote “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” a Grammy-winning duet for Aretha Franklin and George Michael. He is one of only three Americans ever to receive England’s prestigious Ivor Novello Award. Dennis, at age 71, is an active songwriter and performer, with a website.

Billy Joe Shaver, born in Corsicana, Texas, in 1939, was first exposed to country music when he went with his mother to a local nightclub where she worked. He left school after the eighth grade to help his uncles pick cotton; he later wrote, “Got a good Christian raisin’ and an eighth grade education/Ain’t no need in y’all a-treatin’ me this way.” He joined the U.S. Navy on his seventeenth birthday. After a lumber-mill job that took two fingers from his right hand, he hitchhiked to Nashville in the back of a cantaloupe truck. Billy Joe’s songwriting career got underway when Bobby Bare hired him in 1968, and he became friends with Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson. Waylon Jennings recorded nine of his songs on the initial outlaw album, Honky Tonk Heroes. John Anderson had a #1 hit with “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal,” as did Johnny Rodriguez with “I Couldn’t Be Me Without You” and Waylon Jennings with “You Asked Me To.” His own hits included “Georgia on a Fast Train” and “Old Five and Dimers Like Me.” He was inducted in the Texas Music Hall of Fame, and he received the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Songwriting. Billy Joe suffered a massive stroke and died at age 81, in Waco, Texas, in 2020.

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