Diane’s Country Music Newsletter – 30 December 2015

A five-time national country music disc jockey of the year is retiring. Billy Parker, 78, made his radio debut in 1959 and has been on KVOO Radio in Tulsa continuously since 1971. The last taping of Billy Parker’s Country Junction took place on December 22. The playlist for his farewell show, which aired twice on Christmas weekend, included his 1982 recording of ‘(Who’s Gonna Sing) The Last Country Song.’ When asked if he could remember the first record he played on the radio, Billy said it was probably a Hank Williams song. He told the Tulsa World he’s not tired of the music, but his body gets tired. “I am slowing down slower than I thought I would be slowing down,” he said. He’d considered going for 50 consecutive years of being on the air in Tulsa, but he decided long enough is long enough. “I feel like the best time to quit is when you are ahead,” he said.

Red Simpson, 81, suffered a heart attack on December 18 and was admitted to a Bakersfield, California, hospital. The singer of truck driving songs such as “I’m a Truck” had just returned from a concert tour of the Pacific Northwest. While he was in the hospital, The Bakersfield Californian reports, his fans and friends gathered at Trout’s on North Chester Avenue in Oildale to play his music and sing his praises. He went home on Christmas Eve, after a pacemaker was installed.

Eighteen guitars from the Little Jimmy Dickens estate have been consigned to Gruhn Guitars in Nashville to be sold. According to the Tennessean, several of them have Jimmy’s handwritten letters describing how he acquired them. Two are special edition guitars commemorating the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium. One, a 1942 Martin, was the first quality instrument Jimmy bought. Many have scratches caused by his belt buckle over years of performances. All are in the condition he left them, with their original hardware. Some were repaired over the years, and several Jimmy had restored after the 2010 flood.

Former Jimmy Dickens steel guitar player Bud Isaacs was admitted to the hospital shortly before Christmas with pneumonia and heart issues. He went home on Christmas Day, and hopes to feel well enough to travel to Phoenix in January to be inducted into the South West Steel Guitar Association Hall of Fame

During Kenny Chesney‘s 2015 Big Revival Tour, 25 bone marrow donor matches were found. The tour was part of the Love Hope Strength Foundation’s Get on the List Campaign, which invited concertgoers to participate in a mobile bone marrow donor drive. They provided a simple cheek swab and were then registered in the national donor bank. Kenny told Nash Country Weekly, “I learned through the Spread the Love Fund how small things can sometimes make a major difference. I know my fans will pitch in, will help people in need. I’m thrilled to hear 25 matches have already been found. Maybe we should call them the No Shoes, All Heart Nation.”

Rory Feek reported on his blog that December 11 was a gift because his wife, Joey Feek, “decided to get out of bed and take a little stroll. That’s not as simple as it sounds when you’ve been in a hospital bed for weeks and were prepared to possibly never walk again. . . . I think Joey got tired of listening to life going on in the rooms outside her bedroom . . . and she had her sister Jody help her out of bed and she came out and sat down for about an hour and a half. We had some friends and family here at the house with us, and when the door to her bedroom opened and she came out in the living room, we almost couldn’t believe our eyes. . .. A few minutes later, my wife slid from the couch to the floor and was able to be something for Indiana that she hadn’t been able to be in weeks and weeks. She was a mama again.”

Following his release from the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California, Merle Haggard spoke on SiriusXM’s Willie’s Roadhouse to tell his fans, “I guess I was nearly dead. They couldn’t tell whether my cancer returned or whether I had pneumonia.” He thanked his doctors, his fans and friends for prayers and support, and God for allowing him to have another Christmas. Nash Country Weekly reports that double pneumonia, and not lung cancer, required him to seek treatment.

The small town of Star, Mississippi, has honored hometown girl Faith Hill for her career in country music. Taste of Country reports that she could not attend the December 20 event in Star, so her father and brother represented her at the ceremony on the corner of Main and Magnum streets. Her official marker on the Mississippi Country Music Trail reads: “From the time of her childhood here in Star, Faith Hill demonstrated a zest for music and performing that took her to Nashville while still a teenager, and to stardom from the release of her first record in 1993. She became a dominant, glamorous face of country music, a major star in the broader pop music market, with tens of millions in record sales, and multiple awards, and an effective advocate for the culture and people of Mississippi on the national stage.”

When Reba McEntire posted on her Facebook page a photo of a Christmas luncheon where she was seated with Narvel Blackstock, she wrote, “Narvel and I are divorced. It was final October 28.” According to Nash Country Weekly, “The news comes as a bit of a shock to fans who . . . were hopeful that the two were truly only separated and might be working on resolving their issues.”

Forbes has released its 2015 list of top earners in the music business. The highest earning country entertainer is Garth Brooks, who came in at No. 3, with $90 million. Taylor Swift is No. 4, with $80 million. Toby Keith is No. 16, with $53 million. Jason Aldean earned $43.5 million (No. 19), Luke Bryan earned $42.5 million (No. 20), Kenny Chesney earned $42 million (No. 21), and Tim McGraw came in at No. 24 with $38 million.

Craig Strickland, 29, lead singer of the band Backroad Anthem, is still missing three days after beginning an early morning hunting trip in Oklahoma with his friend, Chase Morland, 22. Backroad Anthem, formed in 2012, is a six-piece country-rock band from Fayetteville, Arkansas. The band recently spent time in Nashville and was scheduled for a New Year’s Eve show in Little Rock. PoncaCityNow.com reported, “At 9:49 p.m. Sunday, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol was notified of two missing hunters at Kaw Lake. A capsized boat was located at 12:16 a.m. Monday.” Morland’s body was found Monday afternoon. According to Taste of Country, the two men were aware of the severe weather conditions. Chase Morland tweeted late Saturday night, “In case we don’t come back, @BackroadCRAIG and I are going right through Winter Storm Goliath to kill ducks in Oklahoma.”

Jan Howard writes from Nashville, “I just read your latest newsletter and enjoyed it so much, especially the part about Johnny Western. We go back to the early days in California. I would love to talk with him. I do love the newsletter.”

Johnny Western writes from Mesa, Arizona, “Thanks for the neat article. And thanks for publishing the photo of you and the girls. I remember the day we took it but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it. Also, thanks for the info on dear friend Jan Howard. We just got back from 8 days on the Big Island.”

Terry Burford reminisces: “I was on the air at KFDI in Wichita for 33 years doing the 3-6pm shift starting in 1966. After we sold the chain, we moved back to Lake Earling 50 miles north of Shreveport, and after being off a year, I decided to go back to work at KZHE in Magnolia, Arkansas. I’m on the air Mon-Fri from 10-2pm. On weekends I do interviews from 12.30-1pm. I invite all to listen at kzhe.com. Johnny Western does his western story each 4th weekend with me. Johnny has been a dear friend for nearly 50 years, and I’m so proud of him–a wonderful friend. I do enjoy reading your newsletters.”

Geoff Lambert sends this note from the United Kingdom: “Talking of Guy Mitchell, his version also made number 1 in the UK on January 5, 1957. It slipped to number 2 next week when the British artist Tommy Steele’s inferior version topped the charts for one week before Guy returned on the 19th for one final week. Thanks for a great sheet.”

Dean Mann in Sioux Falls says, “Another very interesting newsletter. I do remember Johnny Western. As far as country music westerns, I saw every Gene Autry and Roy Rogers movie, and that’s a lot of movies. Also, Bob Wills, Spade Cooley, and the Sons of the Pioneers were in many of them. There was another ‘old’ country star that sang, but I don’t remember his name. Tex Ritter made a lot of old B westerns also, and I remember him singing in some of them. ‘Newer’ musical westerns were Oklahoma and She wore a Yellow Ribbon. I’m sure there are many more but my memory is short. In my opinion, none of them were realistic.”

Fred Carter writes, “I saw a copy of one of your newsletters and thought, what a wonderful way to catch up on the old country singers I liked many years ago. I would like to be added to your newsletter list please.”

June Thompson says, “Just a note to thank you once again for your wonderful newsletter. I appreciate all the hard work you do to prepare it for your readers. As I have written before as a child in Alabama in the early Fifties I was raised on country and gospel music; it has left its impression.”

Julie Lindgren says, “I have a new email address and wanted to make sure I gave it to you, so I wouldn’t miss your newsletters. I look forward to each one of them.”

Lee Shannon (Retired DJ) writes from Port Charlotte, Florida, “Keep doing your superb job of keeping us up to date on Country Classic Music and the people who wrote & performed it over the years. It’s the kind of music I grew up on, and was privileged to spin during the majority of my 38 years as a broadcaster. In my opinion Marty Robbins was the ultimate entertainer. I can’t recall anyone who could hold the audience in the palm of his hand like Marty. Hard to imagine it has been 33 years since he was called Home. One of my fondest memories of him was in the mid-to-late Seventies when I was a DJ at WIRE Radio in Indianapolis. I was doing reports from the Speedway where Marty was scheduled to drive the Pace Car for the 500. Duke Cook, a sprint car driver friend of mine, invited me to come to his house for a cookout that evening. He said ‘Marty’s coming by to sing a few songs.’ Duke was known to stretch the truth a bit, but I called my wife, Lee Ann, and told her of our invitation. We had a friend named Virginia Harmon who was perhaps the biggest Marty Robbins in the entire Hoosier state. I asked her to invite Virginia, but not to mention that Marty was supposed to show up. I didn’t want her to be disappointed in case Duke was mis-informed. As it turned out, about an hour after we arrived, a car pulled up in the alley behind Duke’s house and out stepped Marty Robbins carrying that small guitar of his. And Marty did, indeed, put on a mini-concert in Duke’s backyard that night. On the drive home, Virginia said, ‘If I die tomorrow, this has been the greatest night of my life.’ “

Andy Williford, Faron Young’s boyhood friend, writes, “I read your article on Alana and it brought back memories. I have never met Alana or Kevin, but I know Robin and Damian. During a PGA Pro-Am Golf Tournament at the East Ridge CC in Shreveport, Louisiana, I forget the year, Faron and Roy Clark were the featured performers. Before the tournament, Faron and I sat on the ground next to the putting green and were catching up on everything since we last saw each other. We talked about our children and that is when he mentioned Alana and said she was born with some type of heart defect. I could see the worry in his eyes. He did have Hilda with him during this trip. Love your newsletter and appreciate your remembrances of my good friend.”

A great example of picturesque lyrics can be found in “The King is Gone (So Are You),” often called the Yabba Dabba Do song. Imagine a man whose woman got fed up with him and left, and he sits in the almost empty house, pouring whiskey from an Elvis-shaped “Jim Beam decanter” and drinking it from a “Flintstone jelly jar.” He has a conversation with Elvis Presley and Fred Flintstone about how this time she’s left him for good. The song was written by Roger D. Ferris and recorded in 1989 by George Jones. Here is the songwriter.

Porter Wagoner’s biography was published in 1992, fifteen years before he died of lung cancer at age 80. A Satisfied Mind: The Country Music Life of Porter Wagoner reflects five years of research and interviews by author Steve Eng. Although Porter encouraged the research, Eng says the book “is not an ‘authorized’ biography, but only one author’s attempt to capture an immensely complex life and career.” The 432-page book contains numerous quotes from Dolly Parton, Porter himself, and many others. It should satisfy any detail-oriented fan or music historian.

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