Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 30 November 2022

Let’s take a moment to honor the memories of Faron Young and Marty Robbins. Marty died December 8, 1982, at age 57. Faron died December 10, 1996, at age 64.


The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the University of Illinois Press have signed an agreement to co-publish and distribute books on country music and roots-based music. They will co-publish new works and reissue significant out-of-print historical works from the Country Music Foundation Press. The first release in the partnership is Western Edge: The Roots and Reverberations of Los Angeles Country-Rock, the museum’s new companion book to its current exhibition of the same name. The next release will come in several months with the reissue of DeFord Bailey: A Black Star in Early Country Music by David C. Morton with Charles K. Wolfe. DeFord Bailey (1899-1982) was a founding member of the Grand Ole Opry and one of its most popular early performers. Recent issues by the University of Illinois Press, whose books stay in print, are Stringbean: The Life and Murder of a Country Music Legend by Taylor Hagood and Buddy Emmons: Steel Guitar Icon by Steve Fishell. “The University of Illinois Press has an impressive track record of releasing important books examining the broad spectrum of music and documenting American culture,” says Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, in a press release. Laurie Matheson, director of the University of Illinois Press (and my editor), says, “The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a national treasure that shares our vital mission to document and celebrate roots music culture and its makers.”

The City of Smithville, Tennessee, and its Chamber of Commerce recently held a dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting for the John Anderson Alley, formerly known as Walnut Alley. WJLE Radio reports the alley was renamed in honor of John Anderson, who has lived in Smithville for more than four decades. He and his wife, Jamie, once owned a downtown building attached to the alley. John and his family were present for the Saturday morning dedication. “I moved up here to Smithville and DeKalb County about 44 years ago,” John said in his speech. “I decided to move here after traveling around and looking for a few different places in middle Tennessee to live.” He has charted more than 40 singles on the Billboard country music charts, with five number ones, including his first and my favorite: “Wild and Blue.” Seminole Wind, one of his 22 studio albums, has been certified two times platinum.

When Ticketmaster opened sales for the Garth Brooks 2023 Las Vegas residency, Garth Brooks/Plus ONE at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, all 27 shows sold out–a whole year in one day. Fans had to register through Ticketmaster, and as many as 60,000 couldn’t get tickets. Garth immediately started a discussion with Caesars Palace about extending his residency into 2024. CMT News reports Garth had promised fans he’d give them a new show each night and one they wouldn’t forget. He will vary band members and set lists, invite special guests, change instrumentation and background singers–to make each night a unique and memorable experience.

Kenny Chesney has invited Kelsea Ballerini to join his I Go Back Tour in 2023. Both are from near Knoxville, Tennessee, and Kenny was featured on her song, “Half of My Hometown.” CMT News reports Kenny chose the tour name from his song about “holding all those things that shaped you very close and keeping them alive any way you can.” He said on Instagram, “Rather than repeat what we did on this summer’s stadium tour, I wanted to take this band and these songs to cities we played on our way up, call it the I Go Back Tour and do just that.” On May 11, they will be in Sioux Falls at the Denny Sanford Premier Center.

On November 23, Dolly Parton posted an Instagram tribute to honor goddaughter Miley Cyrus on her 30th birthday. Dolly shared pictures from their recent photoshoot to promote their upcoming television appearance together. They will co-host Miley’s New Year’s Eve Party on NBC. Dolly, 76, wrote, “I can’t wait to celebrate with you and ring in the new year!!”

When Ticketmaster held a presale for the 52 dates on the upcoming Taylor Swift Eras Tour, the high volume of 14 million fans attempting to buy seats crashed the site. Ticketmaster added additional rounds due to “historically unprecedented demand,” reports CMT News, and eventually canceled the scheduled general sale. “There are a multitude of reasons why people had such a hard time trying to get tickets and I’m trying to figure out how this situation can be improved moving forward,” Taylor, 32, said in a statement. “We asked them, multiple times, if they could handle this kind of demand and we were assured they could.” She added, “It goes without saying that I’m extremely protective of my fans. . .. It’s really difficult for me to trust an outside entity with these relationships and loyalties and excruciating for me to just watch mistakes happen with no recourse.” Tennessee’s attorney general is launching a consumer protection investigation into Ticketmaster, and North Carolina’s attorney general is investigating Ticketmaster for “allegedly violating consumers’ rights and antitrust laws.”

Queen of Me is the first album Shania Twain, 57, has recorded since undergoing open-throat surgery in 2018. During an interview with TalkShopLive, Shania discussed the potentially career-altering ramifications of the several invasive surgeries she has undergone as a result of her longtime battle with Lyme disease. “For me, this album means so, so much about my decision-making and the courage to get the operation, knowing I may never even be able to sing again after the surgery,” she said. “Every day I was recording I was testing the new voice,” adding, “What’s even more precious to me is that I don’t know if the procedure I had will last forever.”

The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum, located on the bottom level of the Nashville Municipal Auditorium, held its first induction event in three years when it welcomed new members Vince Gill, Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives (Chris Scruggs, Harry Stinson, Kenny Vaughan, and Mick Conley), Ray Stevens, “American Pie” songsmith Don McLean, ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons, producer Jim Guercio, and recording engineer George Massenburg. The Tennessean reports the inductees, with friends and family, gathered in the museum for a private medallion ceremony before heading upstairs for an all-star concert in their honor. Following a speech and musical tribute from Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill played his acoustic guitar and sang “This Old Guitar and Me,” a song he wrote about “a lifetime spent with a 1942 Martin at your side.” Ray Stevens sang a medley of his hits, beginning with “Everything Is Beautiful” and ending with “The Streak.”

The evening was also a tribute to the musuem’s late founder and CEO, Joe Chambers, who died in September at age 68. His wife, Linda Chambers, the new CEO, said Joe “spent most of his time in the hospital planning this show.”

Billy Hill, a 50-year country music singer/musician/songwriter who wrote over 200 songs, died November 11, at age 89, in Lebanon, Tennessee. Born Billy Ralph Cruz in 1933 in Chicago, he served in the U.S. Air Force before moving to Nashville. He held recording contracts with Starday and K-Ark records and recorded several gospel albums. He was a member of BMI Songwriters Association and wrote for Court of Kings Music, which was owned by Faron Young. Billy named one of his sons Faron Cruz.

Four months after her bicycling accident, and one day after her 62nd birthday, Christian singer Amy Grant returned to the stage. She opened her Christmas Tour with Michael W. Smith on Saturday in Memphis, Tennessee. CMT News reports, “Grant delivered a strong performance and embarked on her festive trek. While sporting an eye-catching red gown and with a multi-person choir, the platinum-selling artist shared fan favorites from her latest album, Christmas Traditions.”

Change.org petition is being circulated to rename Paintsville Lake State Park in Paintsville, Kentucky, to Loretta Lynn State Park. The Boot reports the campaign was launched by fans shortly after Loretta’s death on October 4. Loretta’s family tweeted this message of support: “Our family hopes you’ll sign this petition to request the State of Kentucky rename this state park after Loretta. She would LOVE this so much. Kentucky, and especially her home area, was always in her heart.” Paintsville Lake State Park is located just outside her hometown of Butcher Hollow.


Bill Anderson writes from Nashville, “Thank you for sharing the story of my granddaughter’s trip with me to the CMA Awards with your readers. Plus the smiling picture of us both!! It was a special time for us both. Hope all is well in your world. Happy Thanksgiving.”

Ly Nguyen writes from Vietnam, “I just listened your stories in Podcast channel A Life In Biography by Carl Rollyson. I am happy to be in your newsletter email list. Thank you and looking forward to hearing from you.”

Diane: Welcome! You’re my first reader in Vietnam. When I mentioned your note to Carl Rollyson, he said, “I never imagined when I began that the podcast would have such a reach. 107 countries, as a matter of fact.”

Sydney Ladensohn Stern in New York City says, “Another great one. One of the origins I heard for the name of chess pie was that it was ‘jess pie’, i.e., just pie. I’ve not only heard of it, I’ve eaten it. My father loved it.”

Bobby Fischer sends this note: “Thanksgiving at Phil Vassar’s house, Lori, Helen, and me. Here’s a link to my daughter’s film, mostly shot at Phil’s house and ours. It’s getting in the film festivals.”

Cheryl Spencer writes, “Please add me to your newsletter list. I so enjoy reading the ones that were passed along to me. I am also looking forward to your interview on VIP On Monday night with Marlene.”

Tommie Ray from Alabama says, “Thanks again for the newsletter. Speaking of Lefty Frizzell, I remember the song ‘If you’ve got the Money, I’ve got the time.’ Another song Lefty sang was ‘Saginaw, Michigan.’ I remember a lot of those old songs you speak about. Is Randy Travis the son of Merle Travis?”

Diane: Randy is not related to Merle Travis. His Warner Bros. rep changed his name from Traywick to Travis when he got his recording contract in 1985.”

Dominique ‘Imperial’ Anglares says, “Thank you very much for that newsletter. Always welcome. Nice to have shared with us Philip Davies’ words about Jerry Lee Lewis. Warmest regards from your French friend.”

Nobuhiko Ogino writes from Japan, “Thank you, Diane, for your nice blog. I enjoyed very much.”

Mike McCloud says, “I hereby SECOND Bobby Fischer’s nomination!! All in favor say aye. Diane, I am always glad to read these newsletters. Great job, as usual.”

Sue Zeune writes from Ohio, “I recently attended a funeral where they played Randy Travis’s ‘Amazing Grace.’ There was not a dry eye in the place. I was glad I could tell some there about the picture of you with Randy and his wife and how good he looked.”

Sherwin Linton writes from Minneapolis, Minnesota, “I always enjoy your newsletters and this one was special. I very much enjoyed your story of Don Robertson’s piano style being copied by Floyd Cramer. In 1965 we did some shows with Sheb Wooley and my band backed him. He told me the same story of how Don sent a demo of his song ‘Please Help Me I’m Falling’ to Chet Atkins and when Chet had Hank Locklin record it, he had Floyd Cramer listen to the demo and copy the piano style. He said he had encouraged Don to do some piano instrumentals with that style, but he did not get to it, and it became Floyd’s trademark. Great story.”


The newest addition to the Music in American Life series (where my biographies are published) of the University of Illinois Press is Buddy Emmons: Steel Guitar Icon, written by Steve Fishell. I became aware of the book from the stir it created on Steel Guitar Forum, where forum members were happy to have an Emmons book and pleased with its quality. The Press sent me a review copy, and I second the approval of the other readers. What makes this biography unique is that it includes Buddy’s unpublished memoir, as well as being written by a fellow Nashville steel guitarist. When Buddy gave up on writing his memoir because it rattled too many skeletons, Steve stepped in and offered to help him finish the story. Buddy turned over the draft manuscript, to be published after his death, and provided additional interviews. Buddy died in 2015 of heart failure, at age 78. An unpublished memoir, with permission to use it, is a biographer’s dream. Steve uses it well. In addition to writing a regular biography and including his personal knowledge, Steve incorporates Buddy’s memoir by inserting italicized quotes in sentences and paragraphs throughout the text. The technique works well, the story flows smoothly, and there is never confusion about where or when Buddy is talking. An introvert and a musical genius, a perfectionist and an innovator, a humble man who both struggled with and embraced fame, Buddy was well-liked and universally admired. He designed and built steel guitars—the Sho-Bud split pedal steel guitar and the Emmons Original push-pull steel guitar–for the companies he co-founded. Although much of this book was way over my head, due to the technical musical discussions, I enjoyed learning about such a historical figure as Buddy Emmons. You can read my complete review here.


The University of Illinois Press is holding a holiday sale with all books 50% off until the end of the year. Use promo code HOLIDAY22. To get autographed copies of any of my books, send me an email or click on the links at the bottom of this newsletter.


Seven members were added to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973.

“Cowboy” Jack Clement, born in 1931, first gained fame at Sun Records in 1956 in his birth town of Memphis, Tennessee. He engineered and produced records and wrote songs, including “Ballad of a Teenage Queen” and “Guess Things Happen That Way” for Johnny Cash. “Just Someone I Used to Know” was another early songwriting hit. He moved to Nashville and became an assistant to Chet Atkins at RCA Records. He got Charley Pride signed to RCA, produced his records and wrote his hits such as “Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger,” “Just Between You and Me,” and “I Know One.” In 1970, Clement opened his own recording studio and then formed the record label JMI Records (Jack Music Inc.). He produced records for a wide variety of artists and became one of Nashville’s music-video pioneers. He died at age 82 at home in Nashville, of liver cancer, in 2013. He was inducted posthumously to the Country Music Hall of Fame, although the announcement had come four months before his death.

Don Gibson was born in 1928 to a family of sharecroppers in Shelby, North Carolina, and raised during the Depression. A shy kid with a stuttering problem, he bought a cheap guitar and started learning songs by Red Foley and Tennessee Ernie Ford. After he formed a band, he moved to Knoxville. Faron Young had a #2 country hit with his song “Sweet Dreams,” and Chet Atkins signed him to RCA Records. Don wrote “Oh Lonesome Me” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and recorded them in the same session. Another of his hits was “(I’d Be A) Legend in My Time.” Uneasy with success, he turned to pills and booze, quit music in 1967 and moved back to North Carolina. His second wife helped him get sober, and he returned to Nashville to have a #1 hit in 1972, “Woman (Sensuous Woman).” He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. He died in Nashville in 2003, at age 75, and is buried in Shelby, North Carolina.

Harlan Howard was born in 1927 in Detroit. Michigan. Following his Army enlistment, he moved to Los Angeles in 1955. After his “Heartaches by the Number” became a #2 country hit for Ray Price and a #1 pop hit for Guy Mitchell in 1959, he moved to Nashville (with his wife, Jan Howard, and their sons) to become a full-time songwriter. By 1965, approximately 400 of his songs had been recorded. “Foolin’ Around,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Above and Beyond,” “Busted,” “I Don’t Believe I’ll Fall in Love Today,” “Evil on Your Mind,” “Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got a Heartache),” “The Chokin’ Kind,” and “Blame It on Your Heart” are a few. He had over 100 Top 10 hits and won over 50 BMI Awards. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997. He died in 2002, at age 74, in Nashville, Tennessee.

Roger Miller, born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1936, was raised by his aunt and uncle in Erick, Oklahoma. He quit school after eighth grade to become a ranch hand. Sheb Wooley, who married one of his cousins, taught him guitar and fiddle and how to be an entertainer. Roger served with Special Services in the U.S. Army, playing in the Circle ‘A’ Wranglers band after Faron Young’s discharge. He then moved to Nashville, writing songs and recording while he toured as a fiddle player for Minnie Pearl and as a drummer for Ray Price and Faron Young. His first songwriting hit occurred in 1958, when Ray Price recorded “Invitation to the Blues.” Roger’s recording success began with “Dang Me” and expanded with “King of the Road” in 1964. He won 11 Grammy Awards and had his own NBC-TV series. His many songs included “Husbands and Wives,” “The Last Word in Lonesome Is Me,” and the songs he wrote for the Tony Award-winning hit Broadway musical Big River, including “River in the Rain.” He died of cancer in a Los Angeles hospital in 1992, at age 56. He was elected posthumously to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1995.

Ed Nelson Jr. was born in New York in 1916, the son of bandleader Ed G. Nelson (who wrote “Setting the Woods on Fire” with Fred Rose) and younger brother of Steve Nelson. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army as a Special Services entertainer. He joined ASCAP as a composer in 1952 and often collaborated on songs with his father or with his brother. His biggest song was cowritten with Steve: “I’m Throwing Rice (At the Girl I Love),” a 1949 country hit for both Eddy Arnold and Red Foley. He died in 1989 at age 73.

Steve Nelson, Ed’s older brother, was born in New York City in 1907. He joined ASCAP in 1945 and is chiefly remembered for children’s and holiday songs, as well as a string of hits for Eddy Arnold, including “Bouquet of Roses,” cowritten in 1948 with Bob Hilliard. He created two holiday standards with Jack Rollins, “Peter Cottontail” and “Frosty the Snowman,” both recorded by Gene Autry. “Frosty” has been recorded by more than 1,000 artists. Steve died in 1981, at age 73, in Armonk, New York.

Willie Nelson is the first living person I’ve come across in this series of Hall of Fame songwriters. He is 89 years old, still performing and still traveling. He was born in Abbott, Texas, in 1933, during the Great Depression. He and his older sister, Bobbie, were raised by their paternal grandparents, who encouraged them to learn music. Willie took up guitar at six and was writing his first songs a year later. He played professionally in a touring Western swing band as a young teenager. After the Air Force and some college, he moved to Nashville in 1960. Following ten years as a successful Music Row songwriter, but objecting to recording with the smooth Nashville Sound, he moved back to Texas. His 1973 album, Shotgun Willie, moved him in a new direction. In the mid-’70s, he began collaborating with Waylon Jennings. A humanitarian and philanthropist, Willie was one of the organizers of Farm Aid, a benefit that began in 1985. He helped form a biodiesel company (BioWillie) that makes fuel out of recycled vegetable oil. A few of his songs are “Night Life,” “Family Bible,” “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” “Hello Walls,” “On the Road Again,” and “One in a Row.” Willie was inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993.

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