Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 30 May 2018

FEATURED ARTIST — Wylie Gustafson
If you’ve heard the three-note yodel for Yahoo.com, you’ve heard Wylie Gustafson. He told me the story when I called him last week. The Montana cowboy had moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s to pursue a musical career. Playing at the Palomino Club, he became known as one of the few yodelers in town. This resulted in being sought out for making commercials. In 1996, Yahoo asked him for a yodel containing the Yahoo name, which he sang and then sold the copyright to the company. It must have been a good payment, because he used the money to buy a ranch in Washington state.

Wylie is a fourth-generation Montana rancher, in addition to being a yodeler, singer, songwriter, and horseman. He moved back home to Conrad, Montana, ten years ago to take over the family’s Cross Three Quarter Horse Ranch. “The ranching side inspires a lot of my music,” he says. “I get a lot of my songwriting ideas from this western lifestyle.” Ranching and his music are a good blend. He usually tours every other week for a few days, and he arranges his schedule to be home during haying.

He and his Los Angeles band toured 200 days a year in the 1990s, back when they had videos on CMT. He let that band go after twenty years, following his move home to Montana. The Wild West Show now consists of Montana musicians. Although the group has appeared on the Grand Ole Opry fifty times over the years, Wylie currently concentrates on festivals and theater performances. He plans to continue touring into the foreseeable future. “We don’t have any plans for any major changes,” he says. “Just continuing what we do.”

He records an album every few years. “Most albums include 3-4 cover songs and the rest are songs I’ve written,” he explains. He does most of his recording in Nashville. He brings a band member with him, to supplement the Nashville team he’s been using for the past 25 years. They record in Mark Thornton’s studio, and Mark plays guitar. Dennis Crouch is on acoustic bass, John McTeague on drums, and Jeff Taylor on accordion. All are experienced road musicians. It’s acoustic-based music. The most recent Wylie & the Wild West album is 2000 Miles From Nashville. More information, including albums and tour dates, can be found at https://www.wyliewebsite.com.

Wylie takes pride in being one of the artists still promoting the western life style. “We have a lot of fans that are ranchers and farmers who really appreciate our music,” he says. “Because that’s what we sing about.” The other part of the audience simply wants to hear the traditional sounds of western music.

Our brief conversation about the Navy brought in the fact that Wylie’s dad flew torpedo bombers in the Navy. He never went into battle because he had just finished training when World War II ended. He then attended college on the GI bill and became a veterinarian.

“Thank you for promoting the good old country music,” Wylie told me. “It’s amazing how many young people are going back to this music. Because of its realness.”

Photo by Ross Hecox, of Western Horseman

Nashville sound engineer Glenn Snoddy, 96, died May 21 at his Murfreesboro home, reports The Daily News Journal. Born in 1922 in Shelbyville, Tennessee, he served with the US Army in the South Pacific during World War II, earning three Bronze Stars. With the knowledge he’d acquired about radio and recording, he moved to Nashville and became an engineer at WSM radio. That job included doing sound for the Grand Ole Opry. In 1960, he became chief engineer for producer Owen Bradley at the Quonset Hut. He hired Kris Kristofferson as the janitor. He later owned Woodland Sound Studios, where The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band recorded Will the Circle Be Unbroken. During my phone interview with him in 2007, he told me, “I worked for Owen Bradley, and it was my duty to be there when sessions were going on. It required maintenance or being the second engineer on duty, or sometimes mixing the session. I don’t think I ever did mix one for Marty Robbins. I’m 85 years old. I’m one of the last engineers of that era.” His obituaries are giving him credit for inventing the fuzz tone pedal, although he didn’t mention it to me, and the stories I’ve heard make it seem more of a group effort. Country Music Nation reports, “During a session for Marty Robbins, on ‘Don’t Worry,’ Snoddy heard a distorted signal through a faulty circuit from the bass guitarist. It was so appealing to him he then invented a circuit that replicated the sound — and thus, the ‘fuzz’ sound was born.”

A memorial for Gary Church was held May 20 in Chandler, Arizona. He played trumpet & trombone with Merle Haggard for the past ten years, staying with the Strangers after Merle’s death. Gary, 61, died of bleeding brain trauma on February 19, following a January 30 car accident in which another car t-boned him while driving through an intersection. He never regained unconsciousness. John Cody Carter wrote on Facebook that Gary spent his life as sideman and songwriter (“I Always Get Lucky with You”). He played for four Presidents and many politicians. He was the 23rd musician inducted into the Western Swing Hall of Fame. For most of the 1990s, he worked with Mel Tillis and the Statesiders at Mel’s theater in Branson, Missouri.

Hazel Helms, widow of Don Helms, died May 2 at age 92. She went peacefully in her sleep.

Sirius/XM Radio has hired Jeannie Seely as an on-air personality for Willie’s Roadhouse. Channel 59 is Willie Nelson’s exclusive classic country channel. Jeannie made her Willie’s Roadhouse debut over Memorial Day weekend. The show will air from 12-4 pm ET on Sundays.

On May 11, Carrie Underwood celebrated her 10th anniversary as a Grand Ole Opry member. Nash Country Daily reports Randy Travis stepped onstage after she sang his song, “I Told You So,” and congratulated her on 10 years of membership. It was the second time her childhood hero had surprised her. In 2008, Randy had invited her to join the Grand Ole Opry. Then, on May 10, 2008, Garth Brooks inducted her as an Opry member.

Willie Nelson, Saturday night’s headliner at the Outlaw Music Festival in Charlotte, North Carolina, left the stage without beginning his performance. The Music Universe shows a fan’s video in which Willie, 85, walks on stage and waves to the roaring crowd. He picks up his guitar strap and guitar, sets the guitar back in the stand, drops the guitar strap from his shoulder, and then takes flings his hat into the audience as he walks off the opposite side of the stage and through the stage door. His band members appear confused. Live Nation, the show’s organizer, tweeted, “Due to illness, Willie Nelson was unable to play tonight.”

Tom Merrill wonders, “Can you do an interview with Wylie Gustafson? I recently became aware of him and his group. Seems to be such a talent.”
Diane: Thanks for the suggestion. I hope you enjoy the interview.

Sherwin Linton writes from Minneapolis, “I always enjoy reading your newsletter. I continue to learn a lot with all the information and stories you include. I have a great interest in reading about Bob Wills. My first 78 RPM record in 1945 at the age of six was when my brother brought home in Wentworth, South Dakota, a portable wind-up phonograph and four records. My favorite was ‘New Spanish Two Step’ by Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys. I have later learned that the reason it was ‘New’ was because it had been a popular instrumental in their repertoire going back to the 1930s, and then Tommy Duncan added lyrics and sang it. The irony of this is this is the flip side was ‘Roly Poly’ and you would think a six-year-old kid would favor the novelty lyric of that song, but I just loved the romantic lyric and tune of ‘Spanish Two Step.’ I learned it and still include it in our shows. A few years ago I recorded it for a CD and felt the song was not complete so I wrote another verse to tell how after many years the couple in the song met each other again by the River in San Antoine. It is interesting how Bob Wills’s trailer survived all these years and I am glad it is now in a Texas museum. Most bands, including mine, had those trailers for instruments and the whole band would pile into a big four-door car (if you were a Nashville Star it was a Black Cadillac Limo), and drive on a tour of never-ending one-nighters. It was just part of our peripatetic lifestyle. There were very few tour buses in those days, but country singers sure knew how to dress well and put on a great show and did not need ten million dollars’ worth of lights and sound to do it. I have one question; I have a pretty big collection of Bob Wills records and his band is always The Texas Playboys. In your article you have them as The Texas Cowboys. Was that the original name for his band?  Well, Diane, I hope you will come and join us, bring your books, and share some of your stories on one of our shows at the South Dakota State Fair.”
Diane: My mistake, Sherwin. Yes, of course, it was Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys. And, yes, I look forward to being on your show at the state fair.

Mary Mitchell says, “Thanks for the info on the CD. Only problem I have, there is no Carl Smith, one of the best, and no Bill Anderson.”

Sherry Gomes says, “I was on the mailing list for a few months but lately I haven’t been receiving it. A friend forwards hers to me. Could you put me back on the list? I loved reading your info about George Strait in the recent message about when he was added to the Hall of Fame. I am going to look up Joshua Hedley on Amazon as soon as I get out of my home office in an hour. It’s nice to hear somebody recorded Music like that again! Thanks for letting us know. Oh, question of the week in this one, for me, it might be Chris Young. It’s not as traditional as George strait, Ricky Skaggs, and Randy Travis seemed when they first hit the scene in the ‘80s, but it reminds me of country music again. Most contemporary country music sounds like contemporary pop music to me, and I’ve been sad over the loss of the country sound. Then I got Young’s Christmas album a couple years ago, and then I bought more of his albums and fell hard! Some of his stuff is almost more rock, but there’s a lot of country, and there are drinking songs, and love songs, and break-up songs, and I’m hoping the trend continues and more singers follow the trend.”

Connie Johnson writes, “I enjoy your newsletters and run copies off for friends who don’t have a computer. I am wondering about a couple of friends of mine. They were members of Faron’s band for years. We always kept in touch but have had no reply for some time. I know one was in bad health. One is George Owens (Sell), the other was Jerry Wayne Hunley (Cootie). So many gone. Another is Jim Buchannan and he was Mel’s fiddle player for years, too Ronnie Mack, he played piano for Mel. It seems all the great entertainers are fast passing away. None of today’s will ever match any of them in my opinion. Showing my age??? I will stop here I can just think of so many. Thanks for listening and for all the letters.”
Diane: George and Cootie were both fine the last time I heard from them. George and his wife, Pam, get my newsletter. I don’t know anything about Jim Buchannan or Ronnie Mack. Perhaps my readers do?

Jean Earle writes from England, “We have enjoyed a very HAPPY time here in England, celebrating the MOST happy Wedding of Our Prince Harry and beautiful Megan. You would have loved to have been over here with thousands of visitors from all around the world sharing their happiness. Not Country, I know …..but this happy occasion joined music lovers from every style of music. I was with them in spirit every step of their wonderful day. In case you missed some of the excitement, I’ll send a few pictures that summed up their happiness. Megan and Harry are very much in love.”

Dominique “Imperial” Anglares writes from France, “Thanks for your newsletter and for the time spent to support country music and to keep the legacy alive. I really appreciate to find my words on that issue ’cause both Laura Lee Perkins and Willie Jacobs were precious friends. Lew Chudd never wasted much time and money on these young singers. Having such big names as Slim Whitman, Fats Domino and Ricky Nelson, he just picked, tried and forgot. Even Johnny and Dorsey Burnette, David Houston, Merle Kilgore never make it for Imperial in spite of their huge talent. My deceased friends should have done better but Lady luck was probably too busy at the time. Let’s just remember them all and enjoying still their fine recordings.

Dale Veile in Whitefish, Montana, asks, “I have seen a few of your newsletters and really enjoy them. Is there any way you can add my email to your list, please…”

Arie den Dulk writes from Holland, “Did you know in Nashville is a Treasure trove where one can listen to wonderful great classic Country Music performances, recorded between 1955 and 1960, and for some artists beyond? Of Marty Robbins’s performances, one can find there 28 Prince Albert Shows, and a few other WSM performances. Faron Young is featured on 34 Prince Albert shows and a number of other programs. Selections from Prince Albert Shows may be released on CD by independent record labels but those other programs, unless pressed on AFRTS acetates and broadcast over Armed Forces Radio stations, likely not. A visit to the digital archive of the COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME is a must for all those who love what we now call Classic Country. The best thing is, one can listen to these recordings FREE OF CHARGE, yes you read it correctly, no subscription, anything! Ridiculous, no doubt country music fans gladly would pay $10 or more to listen for one or two hours to these recordings. The website at http://digi.countrymusichalloffame.org/cdm/ reads: ‘Through its Digital Archive, the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is dedicated to preserving its unparalleled collection of historically and culturally unique resources, as well as making them publicly accessible for educational purposes. With support from the generous donors listed below, the Museum is currently digitizing the rarest, most fragile, and most requested portions of its collection, including photographic negatives, videotapes, and acetate transcription discs.’”

Gene Burkhart says, “I just received a copy of your newsletter from a friend. I saw the name of an old friend. I would like to sign up for your newsletter if you would tell me how. I saw more than one old friend’s name as I am from Omaha. When I was working, Sioux Falls was part of my sales territory. Loved the town.”

Julie Parker requests, “Please subscribe me to your newsletter. I saw the Geezenslaws about 27 years ago in Austin, they were fantastic.”

Brad Magness says, “I’m a huge fan of Traditional Country Music. Would you please add me to your newsletter subscription.”

Dale Eichor, Country Music DJ Hall of Fame member, writes, “I am a longtime country DJ here in Fort Dodge, Iowa. I am a retired PD/MD of True Country 540/KWMT but still work part time in the summer and fall filling in and weekends. Do you email your newsletters? And if so would you add me to the list? KWMT has Iowa’s largest daytime coverage on 540 AM. And we are heard on the Internet at our website www.yourfortdodge.com. I like to talk about the artists and promote live country music events around the Midwest.”

Keith Jones, chief administrator for the sharing group media circle, says, “One of our members passes these newsletters to me because I’m on a distribution list he’s on and he suggested I share it with our circle. We do have a lot of country fans in the circle who I’m sure would be interested in reading your newsletters.”

Suzey Werneth writes about Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins: “I loved your book. I was afraid to read it because even though I know he was only human, I didn’t want to read anything negative. But you showed he was human. I have actually read it a few times and every time I laugh and end up crying by the end. You showed that people really thought a lot of him.”

While I was going through the public library shelves the other day, the word “country music” in a book title caught my eye. Ghosts of Country Music: Tales of Haunted Honky Tonks and Legendary Spectres (2017) is the third book Matthew L. Swayne has written about haunted places. The first two were universities and rock & roll spots. This one, as might be expected, begins with Hank Williams. Although there are no stories about Hank giving anyone a ride, there are numerous sightings of the shadowy figure or of hearing him singing. These occur at the Ryman Auditorium, stops along the way on his last ride, and in Montgomery, Alabama. I’m not sure why he’s been noticed in Tootsie’s. Others discussed are Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, and Roy Acuff. So is Loretta Lynn, although the author says he’s looking “at stories of departed country stars who may not have completely left the stage.” He talks about hauntings and paranormal activity in places such as Branson, Shreveport, various radio stations, taverns, and record companies. The activity often includes slammed doors, moved objects, shadowy figures, or voices when no one is there. Although the book contains a few errors, it is at least (unlike many books I’ve read) written with respect for country music.

The first actual acquaintance of mine to go into the Country Music Hall of Fame was Ralph Emery. I had contacted this famous radio & TV personality during my 1999 visit to Nashville when I was trying to figure out how to write Faron’s biography. Ralph met with me, offered advice, and gave me materials. Over the next few years, he provided interviews and recordings for both Faron’s and Marty’s biographies. Needless to say, I was thrilled with his Hall of Fame selection in 2007. Ralph was born in 1933 in McEwen, Tennessee. He’d built his reputation as interviewer and friend of the stars during his 1957-1972 reign as all-night deejay on WSM-Radio 650 in Nashville. He was elected to the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in 1989. His TV shows included Pop Goes the Country (1974-1980) and TNN’s Nashville Now (1983-1993). Ralph’s books, all of which are on my book shelf, are Memories: The Autobiography of Ralph Emery (1991), More Memories (1993), The View from Nashville (1998), and 50 Years Down a Country Road (2000). He shows up occasionally at Nashville events, and he’s a long-time subscriber of my newsletter.

It was a great year for the Hall of Fame, with two of my favorite singers also being inducted. Vince Gill was chosen in the modern performer category. Born in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1957, he headed to Los Angeles at age 20 to play music. He joined Pure Prairie League in 1979 and met up with Rodney Crowell and the Cherry Bombs in1981. He moved to Nashville in 1983. Following his 1989 album, When I Call Your Name, he won Grammys every year from 1990-99. He hosted the CMA Awards from 1992-2003, was named CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1993 and 1994, and won Male Vocalist five years in a row. He won Song of the Year four times and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. As president of the Board of Officers and Trustees of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, he has long been a strong advocate for the museum. His All for the Hall initiative is an event that encourages fellow artists to donate earnings to the foundation. Vince is a member of the Time Jumpers.

The 2007 veteran performer was Mel Tillis. A Florida native, he was born in 1932 and grew up near Lake Okeechobee. The famous stutter, which he turned into a comedy routine, came from having malaria as a child. He titled his 1984 autobiography, Stutterin’ Boy. Mel was stationed on Okinawa in the Air Force in the early 1950s. His later hit, “Stateside,” came from that experience, and he then named his band the Statesiders. Soon after Mel moved to Nashville in 1957 to be a songwriter, Webb Pierce hit with “I’m Tired,” which Mel had written while watering strawberry plants in Florida. With both a songwriting and a singing career, Mel was recognized in 1976 by the Country Music Association as Entertainer of the Year and by membership in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He played comedy roles in movies such as W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings, Smokey and the Bandit II, and Uphill All the Way. President Barack Obama awarded him the National Medal of Arts in 2012. After several years of health problems that kept him out of the public eye, Mel Tillis died in 2017 at age 85. During a Maryland concert in 2008, Mel and I sat backstage in folding chairs and watched Ray Price on stage. Mel was impressed with my Faron Young biography, and I was thrilled to be having a conversation with him. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of that. I did take a photo of Mel and Ray together.

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