Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 4 December 2019


When I stepped up to the ticket window at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls, and asked for one ticket to see Kris Kristofferson and the Strangers, the lady said, “We have one free ticket. Would you like that, or would you rather buy one?” The free ticket was in Row X; the ticket for purchase was in Row U. It was an easy choice. My seat in the last row of the main section looked directly at the stage, with no one in front of me to obstruct the view. As I waited for the concert to begin, the preshow music included Randy Travis’s “Forever and Ever, Amen.” This looked like a promising evening.

One minute before 7 p.m., four men walked onstage, and the crowd started clapping and cheering. With no introduction, Kris Kristofferson stepped to the microphone and sang. After the first song, he said hello to Sioux Falls and thanked Merle Haggard’s Strangers for being his band. The three played fiddle, keyboard, and drums; I didn’t get their names.

Kris played acoustic guitar. During “Me and Bobby McGee,” he played harmonica and guitar at the same time. After each song, he said “thank you” and then moved to the next song without further words. Knowing he wrote the songs, I felt increasingly amazed by his talent. Most were story songs, many I’d never heard before. “Here Comes That Rainbow Again” told of the waitress who sold two candies for a penny to two children. Her truckdriver customers chastised her: “Them candies ain’t two for a penny. So what’s it to you, she replied.” The two truckdrivers left, and: “She called, hey, you left too much money. So what’s it to you, they replied.”

Another was “Darby’s Castle,” in which a man becomes obsessed with building a castle for his beloved wife, whom he ignores in the process. The poetry is wonderful: “Oh, it took three hundred days, for the timbers to be raised, . . . But it only took one night to bring it down, When Darby’s castle tumbled to the ground.”

Every three or four songs, Kris turned the mike over to the fiddle player for a Merle Haggard song. During the singing of “Okie From Muskogee,” Kris added a verse that included, “We get drunk like God wants us to do.”

At 8 p.m., Kris announced they were taking a short break and “you can do whatever you do when you take a break. See you in 15 minutes.” When they came back, I was surprised to hear “Jody and the Kid,” because I didn’t know he wrote that Roy Drusky hit. “The Pilgrim” is an example of Kristofferson poetry: https://youtu.be/7MXAClurDlw.

I started wondering what his closing song would be. He’d already sung several of his best-known ones, such as “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and “Lovin’ Her Was Easier.” I thought it would be “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” but he sang that and kept going. “For the Good Times” brought a standing ovation. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought the concert was over. But it wasn’t.

Kris sang another, gave his usual “thank you,” and then said, “One more song.” He closed with “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends, which had been a #1 recording for Ronnie Milsap in 1974.

“Thank you, Sioux Falls. God bless you.” With that farewell, Kris Kristofferson and the Strangers left the stage, the lights came on, and the show was over at 8:55.


WSM-TV News 4 in Nashville reports the death of Virginia Jo McFadden, widow of country music executive Jack McFadden, in a house fire at 47 Jones Circle on Old Hickory Lake. Her home was destroyed in a fire early Sunday morning, November 24, when it burned so hot it collapsed on itself. Her body was found in the sunroom on Monday. Jack, who managed the careers of Buck Owens, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Keith Whitley, died in 1998 at age 71.

The Country Music Association’s 2019 Touring Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Tony Conway of Conway Entertainment Group/Ontourage Management, reports Broadway World. He currently manages Alabama, Lorrie Morgan, and Randy Travis, and was Executive Producer for the annual CMA Music Festival for 11 years. He received CMA’s President Award honor for leading the transformation of Fan Fair to the CMA Music Festival. He coordinated the first FarmAid show in 1985, was awarded the Hubert Long Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Talent Directors, and is a member of the International Entertainer Buyers Association’s (IEBA) Hall of Fame. The CMA Touring Awards show, which highlights behind-the-scenes members of the touring industry, will be held January 21 at Nashville’s Marathon Music Works. Jon Pardi, the 2017 CMA New Artist of the Year, will host the show.

The CMA Foundation surprised Alabama frontman Randy Owen with its Humanitarian Award during a CMA Board reception in Nashville on November 19. He thought he had been invited to present Lon Helton with an industry honor. Randy supports St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with his Country Cares program, which has raised more than $875 million for the hospital. His other charitable efforts have raised $15 million for various charities, including tornado and hurricane benefits. CMT News reports the last person to receive the award was Vince Gill in 2017, preceded by Steve Turner in 2015 and Kix Brooks in 2014.

Nash Country Daily reports Alabama is rescheduling some of the 50th Anniversary Tour shows postponed as Randy Owen dealt with vertigo and migraines. The November show at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena has been rescheduled for July 17, with a second show added for July 18. Charlie Daniels will join Alabama at both shows.

Nominees for the 62nd Grammy Awards include Tanya Tucker with the lead among country performers, reports CMT News. Her new album, While I’m Livin’, is up for best country album, with the song “Bring My Flowers Now” nominated in three categories: best country solo performance, best country song, and the all-genre song of the year. Eric Church, Reba McEntire, Pistol Annies, and Thomas Rhett are competing with her for Best Country Album. Tyler Childers, Ashley McBryde, Willie Nelson, and Blake Shelton are her competitors for Best Country Solo Performance. CMT News reports Dolly Parton has two nominations: Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song and Best Song Written for Visual Media. Alicia Keys will host the 2020 Grammy Awards show on January 26, airing on CBS from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Craig Morgan recently returned from his 12th USO Tour, after performing for service members in South Korea during Thanksgiving week, reports Nash Country Daily. His visit to Camp Humphreys will be highlighted in a special episode of CMT’s Hot 20 Countdown December 14-15. Craig, who spent 10.5 years on active duty in the U.S. Army Airborne and 6.5 years in the Army Reserve, says, “I can tell you 20 years later, I still feel very odd being this guy, because I was that guy for so long that when I go overseas, I feel super out of place. I feel like I should have a weapon, be in uniform, protecting the guy who’s doing what I’m doing. It’s an out-of-body experience when I’m over there . . . But I say what most people in this country say, ‘Thank you. Thank you, for your service.'”

CMT News reports an upcoming Reba McEntire tour, with 12 shows during the March-May months. For the first time, Reba will offer fans an opportunity to purchase VIP experience packages, which include meet & greet, premium seating, exclusive merchandise, access to the “Fancy” Lounge with food, drinks, and a special exhibit of Reba memorabilia. She will be at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls on April 26. I may go to her concert (my third one), but I won’t be purchasing the VIP package.

George Strait recently headlined a benefit concert in Austin, Texas, to help raise $1.5 million for Hurricane Dorian relief efforts in the Bahamas. Nash Country Daily reports that George, who frequently visits the Bahamas, partnered with the Discovery Land Company Foundation to help local people who were devastated by Hurricane Dorian in September. He also helped create a $20 t-shirt, with proceeds going to immediate disaster relief needs of Bahamian citizens. The t-shirt features the words “Ocean Front Recovery” in the colors of the Bahamian flag.

The five highest-paid country stars of 2019, as announced by Forbes, are Luke Bryan ($42.5 million), Zac Brown Band ($38.5M), Keith Urban ($35M), Blake Shelton ($32M), and Kenny Chesney ($31). Forbes looked at touring numbers and record sales, in addition to business ventures and endorsements. Luke Bryan was also number one in 2018, although with $10M more than this year. Garth Brooks dropped off the list from last year, replaced by Keith Urban.

Nash Country Daily reports Luke Combs is the first country artist in history whose first seven singles reached No. 1 on Billboard. In March, he became the first whose first five singles reached No. 1. His 2017 debut album, This One’s for You, brought five consecutive No. 1 singles: “Hurricane,” “When It Rains It Pours,” “One Number Away,” “She Got the Best of Me,” and “Beautiful Crazy.” The album tied with Shania Twain’s 1997 Come on Over by spending 50 weeks at the top of Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. His sixth and seventh consecutive No. 1 singles, “Beer Never Broke My Heart” and “Even Though I’m Leaving,” came from his 2019 EP, The Prequel. His second album, What You See Is What You Get, debuted at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart two weeks ago.

Police arrested singer Sam Hunt, 34, in East Nashville and charged him with driving under the influence and having an open container in his vehicle. He was driving south in the northbound lanes of Ellington Parkway; his blood alcohol level was 0.173. Rolling Stone reports he has since been removed from the list of performers at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Awards show on December 5, the first time Nashville has hosted the event.

Rolling Stone announces the February 7 release of a six-CD collection of radio shows hosted by Hank Williams in 1951. Hank Williams: Pictures From Life’s Other Side — The Man and His Music in Rare Photos and Recordings contains, for the first time, a standalone compilation of the entirety of the 15-minute broadcasts that were sponsored by Mother’s Best Flour Company and aired each weekday on WSM radio. Portions of the recordings have been released previously in various forms. The CDs will be accompanied by a 272-page hardbound book filled with photographs of Hank’s life and career. While Rolling Stone does report the shows were rescued from the trash, the article neglects to credit Les Leverett for “rescuing a veritable treasure trove of country-music history from oblivion and more than doubling the number of known recordings.”

Alison Krauss, 48, received the National Medal of Arts from President Trump in a ceremony at the White House on November 21. She was one of four winners for 2019. The others were actor Jon Voight, the musicians of the U.S. military, and philanthropist Sharon Percy Rockefeller. Alison has received 27 Grammy awards. Taste of Country says this is the first time President Trump has issued the National Medal of Arts. Linda Ronstadt in 2013 was the most recent country singer awarded. Others since 2000 were Mel Tillis, Ralph Stanley, Dolly Parton, George Strait, George Jones, and Johnny Cash.

Next in Line is the title of the CD recently released by Ned LeDoux on Powder River Records. In a statement, he says he plans to honor the memory of his two-year-old daughter, Haven, who died last month from a choking accident, by continuing to write songs and perform shows. He also carries on the legacy of his father, Chris LeDoux, who was a recording artist and Hall of Fame rodeo champion. “The first thing I’m sure they are all going to think about is Dad and that’s totally fine,” he tells Sounds Like Nashville about his new album. “If I can be half the man he was I think I’ll be okay, but when it comes to songwriting I’ve got to write my own story.”

Taste of Country reports that Taylor Swift, 29, made history several times at the 2019 American Music Awards on November 24. First, she became the most-awarded artist in a single night at the AMAs, after winning six awards: Artist of the Year, Favorite Music Video, Favorite Female Artist – Pop/Rock, Favorite Album – Pop/Rock, and Favorite Artist – Adult Contemporary. Her 26 total wins make her the most honored artist in American Awards history. Plus, being named Artist of the Year for the fifth time broke Michael Jackson’s record for that award. To top off the evening, Taylor was honored as the first artist to receive the AMAs’ Artist of the Decade prize. She may no longer be country, but’s she’s come a long way in her lifetime. The American Music Awards are fan-voted.

Ahead of A&E’s two-part documentary special, The Road I’m On, Garth Brooks, 57, spoke at a recent promotional event in New York City. He and Sandy Mahl, who is now 54, married in 1986 and divorced in 2000. They have three daughters, Taylor, 27, August, 25, and Allie, 23. “There were things I guess she was trying to tell me that I didn’t hear until this biography,” he says about Sandy’s interviews. “I know things that either I didn’t hear or she didn’t say until now.” After their divorce, he says, “I moved back to Oklahoma and left Nashville. I was living with three strange women I did not know. They were 8, 6 and 4, and I was about to get a crash course in females.” Trisha Yearwood moved to Oklahoma to help him. “She didn’t have children either,” he says, “so we were kind of the blind leading the blind.” He and Trisha married in 2005. Garth tells Us Weekly about making the documentary: “The truth is what you believe it to be. My oldest girl and I, we have some variations of the stories, so you see how she sees it. It’s interesting to see both sides. I like that honesty.”

Tracy Lawrence began his Thanksgiving celebration with an early morning turkey fry at the Nashville Rescue Mission. The Turkey Fry served more than 7,000 plates of food to homeless men and women for their Thanksgiving meal. This was Tracy’s 14th annual Mission: Possible Turkey Fry & Concert. In the evening, he hosted an all-star concert at the Wildhorse Saloon. Sounds Like Nashville reports he changed the format this year to an all-acoustic show with the performers seated on stools. Randy Travis, in a wheelchair, and his wife, Mary, sat at a front row table. Proceeds from the day-long event went to the Nashville Rescue Mission.


Doreen Brown writes from Canada, “Following up on my previous message; it’s always a pleasure to share country music with others and it is a big part of my life. Appreciate, very much, all the time and work that goes into your most informative outline of various artists. My trip, with my sister, Donna, to Fremont, Nebraska, was a highlight in my country music journey; meeting new folks and the beautiful interactions with American folks over the weekend. Was made so welcome by Bob and Sheila Everhart and so honoured to have received Album of the year and be inducted into America’s Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame; and thanks so much from the bottom of my heart; to them. No amount of money can put a price on the beautiful things in life, so feel very blessed. Look forward to your future emails and sister, Donna, will be coming down to visit me and stay overnight, so will share your emails with her; take care and thanks again for your time and work for bringing joy to others’ lives.”

Cowboy Joe Babcock says, “Went out to Albuquerque last weekend and accepted the International Western Music Association Hall of Fame Award. Did two songs and got a standing ovation from the good folks at the festival. Also saw Lisa Sutton who was there to accept the same award for her mother, Lynn Anderson. Had a great time. The folks at the IWMA were wonderful.”

Lee Shannon writes, “So sorry to hear about Johnny Western’s battle with Macular Degeneration. God Bless you Johnny, for all you’ve done for Country Music. From one KFDI Alumnus & Country Music D.J. Hall of Fame member to another, Hang in there, Buddy!”

Cecil Johnson says, “I live country and bluegrass music. I am 81 and from North Carolina. I don’t play but I do listen. I had a big record collection, until the doctor said I had kidney failure. I gave my records away and prepared to die. So far it didn’t happen. So keep up the good work and keep us informed.”

MCPO Don Holland, USN, (RET), writes, “Thanks for another outstanding newsletter. I seriously believe there should be a category for newsletters in the Hall of Fame and if there ever is, you will be there. Here is a great story you might be able to verify or rule out, because of your research on Marty Robbins. I was in the Navy from ‘61-‘91 and spent a lot of time aboard ships in Norfolk during the ‘60s and ‘70s. The Purple Onion/Lavender Scallion was a great sailor bar at Oceanview. This great story my uncle told me, because I must have been in the Med when it happened and was not aware of it. In the 1966, ‘67, ‘68 timeframe Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash both had shows scheduled in the Norfolk area and somehow there were  schedule conflicts/cancellations and the Purple Onion managed to get Johnny Cash to do a show there. Then Marty also wound up with an open date for the same night and the Purple Onion managed to get him. At that time Marty was much bigger than Johnny, so the Purple Onion called Johnny and apologized but explained their dilemma and Johnny told them this was no problem and he well understood, so he offered to appear for free and open the show for Marty or some such arrangement, with Marty’s concurrence. This would have been highly unusual for the Purple Onion to have such big name entertainment and for both Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash on the same date it was incredible. I checked Johnny’s tour dates for that period and found he was in Norfolk in Sep ‘66, Sep ‘67, and Sep ‘68, but I don’t know the location. I was unable to find any dates for Marty in Norfolk during those times. My uncle was an AG1 and retired after 20 years in the Navy and was a great country music fan and a highly reliable source for information like this. I wonder if you can lend any credence to this story for all of us swabbies on your list?”

Diane: My itinerary for Marty doesn’t show any dates in Virginia from 1966-68; I don’t have his tour dates for those years. I’ve never heard this story, either in my research or in Johnny Cash books. Sorry I can’t confirm it for you. Perhaps the readers have some information?

Sandy Harding says, “A good friend forwarded your most recent newsletter to me. I enjoyed reading it. Please add me to your list of readers.”

Mary Lorefice in Canada asks about Mac Davis: “I know he isn’t country. However, some of his songs might have a country feel. Would you happen to know whatever happened to him? Keep up the good work.”

Diane: Mac is still around, although I haven’t heard anything about him for a while. He qualifies as country, in my opinion. He had 30 songs on the country charts. I’ll be on the lookout for news about him.

Dominique “Imperial” Anglares checks in from France: “Thank you very much for that welcome and entertaining newsletter. Always a much appreciated reading from the first to the last word.”


When I called Tillman Franks in 2000 to ask about his days with Faron Young and Webb Pierce on the Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana, he told me he had a book coming out on his 80th birthday. He said he’d been Webb’s manager, until they got in an argument, and Webb never would say anything good about him. I attended the book release party for Tillman Franks: I Was There When It Happened and connected with numerous friends of Faron for later interviews. That’s the day I decided my book release party would feature the Country Deputies. After I read Tillman’s book, we had our phone interview. Tillman died October 26, 2006, a few weeks after his 86th birthday.

Wayne Walker was the one that brought Faron to me. We drove over to Webb’s house, and that’s the way Webb met Faron. I tell about that in the book. There ain’t too much more I can tell you than what’s in there. I liked Faron a lot. He had a tremendous amount of talent. In my heart, I know how it was. So many stories got out that don’t cover it the way it really happened. That’s why I just don’t like to talk about it because I know how everything happened, and I’m proud of what he did. I think my book covers it pretty good.

Faron was very–he had lots of different phases of Faron’s life. I really know more than anybody living, about him. That’s the reason I don’t really like to talk about him. He never did like to talk about me too much, either, in his life. I know in my heart how–the whole story of Faron. I just brought a little out in the book. Faron had a tremendous amount of personal, talent and entertaining. We was real close friends through the years, and I couldn’t talk about him unless I really got personal–to talk about some of the things I know.

I was Webb Pierce’s manager, which I’m sure you heard that. Faron used to watch things we’d do to promote Webb. I was such a–like my name won’t even be mentioned in Webb Pierce’s biography, and he’s in the Hall of Fame this year. That’s ridiculous. It don’t worry me, I’ve done did everything I wanted to do. I’m satisfied with my life, and I just don’t want to get involved in how well I did know Faron. About Billie Jean and him, and I just didn’t want to talk about it. I hope you do really good with the book.

How I was involved with Merle Kilgore, and Faron, it’s unreal how close I was involved with them. I’m just tired of talking about that, cuz I know–so many people claim about how well they knew Elvis and Hank. I knew both of them closer–and personally involved with them–than anybody ever lived. Really helped them when they was hungry, y’know. I just don’t like to talk about that. Same way with Faron. I’m getting to a stage in my life where lots of things I don’t like to talk about. It sounds like I’m bragging about how many people I know, and there’s no one living that was involved with Faron any more than me. He didn’t brag on me all that much during his lifetime. There’s so much that I could come in and try to take credit for–that I know–there ain’t no point in it.

But I tell ya, you got a good story, because ain’t nobody wrote a book about him. There’s people up there you can talk to that knows him in Nashville. But down here, and how he got started, and the whole bit, I just don’t like to think about it. I think I got the message across to you pretty good. I’m not trying to brush you off. It’s just a personal thing.

But I hope you, really, do good now. Mel Tillis, have you talked to him? Tell Mel Tillis that it was sad for me to talk much about Faron. It brings up so many memories about Faron and Webb, it was just hard for me to talk, but I told you I think he would give the true side of Faron Young. He would know the personal side, and I think it would help the book if you’d do it. Drop my name. It might help you. I love Mel. You understand, don’t you? Good luck to you.


Another story from Glenn Sutton’s 1993 book, Crazy Verse: “Take Me to Your World was a hit by Tammy Wynette–but was not written for her. I was recording a new girl for Epic and needed a song so Billy Sherrill and I had just finished this one so we decided to try it out on her. When I finished the track and played it to Billy he liked it and wanted to write some string parts for it. So the next week I overdubbed the strings on it and they made it really sound great but the vocals didn’t really come off–so Billy said, let me put Tammy on this track and it’ll be a hit. So he did and it was. Wherever the other girl singer is she probably still hates me and Billy to this day–but, I hope not.”


I ran across a new Johnny Cash book in the public library last month. Johnny Cash: The Life and Legacy of the Man in Black was published in 2018 by Smithsonian Books and copyrighted by the John R. Cash Trust. Along with text by author Alan Light, who personally interviewed Johnny, it contains a wealth of photographs and artifacts from the Cash family archives. It summarizes Johnny’s life and work, often quoting from previous books. Two of Johnny’s children, Roseanne and John Carter, are frequently featured. While there isn’t much new information on the life of Johnny Cash, the book is a good refresher. It continues after his death, thus updating fans on how he continues to be honored and remembered.

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