Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 5 April 2023


Ray Pillow (1937-2023)

Herbert Raymond “Ray” Pillow, 85, died March 26 in Nashville. The Lynchburg, Virginia, native was born July 4, 1937, and served in the U.S. Navy. He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1966 and performed regularly until formally retiring in 2018. I remember listening to him on the Opry for many years. And I always enjoyed him and Jean Shepard singing “I’ll Take the Dog.” Ray started Sycamore Records and later worked in the Arts and Repertoire department of Capitol Records. He was a presence at the Nashville Palace and helped Randy Travis get started. Ray is survived by his wife of 66 years, Joanne Pillow, and two of his three children, Selena and Daryl Ray. His eldest son, Ronnie “Dale” Pillow, died February 27. A celebration of life will be announced at a later date.

It is always exciting to watch the livestream announcement of the new Country Music Hall of Fame inductees. Vince Gill announced the 2003 group from the Hall of Fame rotunda on April 3: Songwriter (every third year), Modern Artist, and Veteran Artist. Sarah Trahern, CEO of the Country Music Association, gave the welcome, along with Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. When Kyle said two of the inductees were born in Texas and one in Kentucky, disappointment hit me that Jeannie Seely hadn’t made it. She most certainly should be in the Hall of Fame. But I was not disappointed with the ones who were chosen. Vince Gill began with the songwriter, saying “he” had been born in Walden, Texas, and served in the U.S. Navy. One of his hit songs was Alabama’s “Song of the South.” Vince announced Bob McDill, 79, who came out from backstage. Some of Bob’s other songs are “Amanda,” “Good Ole Boys Like Me,” “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On,” and “We Believe in Happy Endings.” Vince began the Modern Artist’s story by saying “she” and brother Roger traveled to Nashville from Pikeville, Kentucky, to try to connect with the Wilburn Brothers. I was thinking Patty Loveless, which was confirmed when Vince mentioned her future husband, Emory Gordy Jr. Vince introduced the Veteran Artist by saying “she” had appeared on a 1974 Rolling Stone cover with the headline, “I’m 15, You’re Gonna Hear From Me.” Vince named Billy Sherrill as her record producer at age 13, but I needed the words “Delta Dawn” before I realized it was Tanya Tucker. When Tanya came onstage, she gave a great speech. She recalled her first visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame when she was nine. Her dad had brought her to Nashville in 1967 to try to get a record deal. She wanted to see the Grand Old Opry, and when they watched the show at the Ryman, he asked if she’d rather be up on stage doing it or in the audience watching it. They couldn’t afford the $1.50 admission to get into the museum on Division Street, so they looked at the outdoor plaques. Her dad told her she would never be in the Hall of Fame–she didn’t work hard enough. She says her dad, who was always right, was wrong that time. She apparently accepted his advice to work harder. TWO women in the Country Music Hall of Fame in ONE Year!! Woo-hoo!! Patty Loveless, 66, and Tanya Tucker, 64, are great choices.

An hour after being announced as a new member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Tanya Tucker rode a world-champion black Friesian stallion three blocks from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to the intersection of 5th and Broadway next to the Bridgestone Arena. She was celebrating that announcement and advertising her upcoming concert dates at the Ryman Auditorium, as well as raising awareness of Redemption Road Rescue, a non-profit equine rescue in Jackson, Tennessee. Since 2009, The Tennessean reports, the organization has helped find housing for horses, ponies, donkeys, mules, and miniature horses in various stages of rehabilitation. They are then offered for adoption. Tanya adopted a colt and its mother from the service in 2021.

The co-writer of “Three Wooden Crosses,” Doug Johnson, was taken to the Vanderbilt Hospital emergency room March 28 after suffering cardiac arrest at home, reports MusicRow. According to Black River, where he is Vice President of A&R, doctors determined that his heart is strong and he did not experience a heart attack. He was resuscitated with an AED and has been placed in a medically induced coma to allow his body time to rest. Well wishes to him, wife Lisa, and their children can be sent to RSVP@blackriverent.com or the Black River office at 12 Music Circle South, Nashville TN 37203.

Bob Thompson, 80, known as “Norton,” died March 24 following a brief illness. He had suffered from dementia for several years. He and his wife, Toni, owned the rehearsal studio Soundcheck in Nashville. Numerous stars used the space to work out their stage shows before touring. He worked on tours in the early days as a roadie, stage manager and personal assistant, as described in his recent book Last Encore: My Time with Glenn Frey, the Eagles and other Hit Artists. He and Lisa moved to Nashville from Los Angeles in 1989 and opened Soundcheck in 1993, reports MusicRow.

A new Dolly Parton book, Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones, will be published October 17 by Penguin Random House. Written with Holly George-Warren and curated by Rebecca Seaver, the book features behind-the-scenes stories from Dolly’s life and career. According to MusicRow, Dolly discusses memorable outfits, from the clothes her mother sewed, to the bold dresses and hairdos that shook up Nashville, to the bunny suit on the cover of Playboy, and costumes from her film and TV roles. This is the second book in a trilogy that began in 2020 with Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. It will also be available as an audiobook read by Dolly.

Big Machine Label Group Chairman & CEO Scott Borchetta was injured in a crash while racing at the Trans Am2 Series at Road Atlanta on March 26. He crashed on lap 24 of Sunday’s race and was transported to a local hospital. He owns the Big Machine Racing team in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. MusicRow reports he is in stable condition. Well wishes can be sent to wellwishes@bmlg.net.

Jessi Colter, 79, the widow of Waylon Jennings, who died in 2002, is a newlywed. She and Arlin Brower, 74, married February 14, apparently in Arizona.

The co-hosts of the 58th annual Academy of Country Music Awards will be Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton, reports Billboard. The May 11 show will stream live on Amazon’s Prime Video from Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, north of Dallas. Dolly hosted the ACM Awards alone in 2000 and with Jimmie Allen and Gabby Barrett last year. This will be Garth’s first time as host. Dolly has won 13 ACM Awards, including entertainer of the year in 1977. Garth has 22 ACM Awards, including six for entertainer of the year. He was also ACM’s Artist of the Decade for the 1990s.

Bill Anderson reports in his fan club newsletter that his “As Far As I Can See” exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum has been extended until September 25. It was scheduled to close March 19.

The LBJ Foundation will present its most prestigious honor, the LBJ Liberty & Justice for All Award, to Willie Nelson at a gala dinner at the LBJ Presidential Library on May 12. MusicRow reports net proceeds from the gala tribute will benefit the newly established Willie Nelson Endowment for Uplifting Rural Communities at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin. Willie and President Lyndon Baines Johnson share similar backgrounds as rural Texans, aware of the struggles of those who work in the agricultural industry. Willie, a lifelong advocate for farmers, embodies President Johnson’s commitment to public service, particularly in the areas of farming and food security. Willie’s Farm Aid, established in 1985, has raised over $70 million for those who own and operate family farms throughout the United States. Willie was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993, received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1998, and was awarded the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2015.

A song by Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton has been banned at an elementary school in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. “My first graders were so excited to sing ‘Rainbowland’ for our spring concert,” the teacher tweeted, “but it has been vetoed by our administration. When will it end?” A similar ban on the Muppets song, “Rainbow Connection,” was lifted after parents complained. According to PEOPLE, the school’s principal and the central office administrator followed their Controversial Issues in the Classroom policy and decided “Rainbowland” could be “deemed controversial.” Here are some of those controversial lyrics: “Living in a Rainbowland Where everything goes as planned, And I smile ’cause I know if we try, we could really make a difference in this world. I won’t give up, I’ll sleep a wink, It’s the only thought I think. You know where I stand, I believe we can start living in a Rainbowland.”

During a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Reba McEntire was asked what she thought about the new Tennessee law restricting drag performances. She said, “I wish they would spend that much time and energy and money on feeding the homeless children in those two counties.” The interviewer commented that her disappointment in the new law might potentially alienate some in her audience. “Boy, why?” Reba asked. “We’ve got a real problem in this country, and to be worrying about men wanting to dress up as women? God bless ’em to wear those high heels — I feel for ’em. But let’s center our attention on something that really needs attention.” She added, “I don’t do politics. My job is to entertain. I’m not there to influence people one way or another how to vote.”


Bob Jennings writes, “Bobby Lee did the Steel Guitar World the Best with his Steel Guitar Forum. I joined several years ago–I encourage people to join–you can get any information on the Steel Guitar and anything else on Music–I have posted questions and received answers right away–an example: a Friend of mine has a Sho-Bud and one of his pedals broke and he didn’t know where to get the parts to fix it. I told him I’d get on the Steel Guitar Forum and see what I can find, I got the name and telephone number of a Gentleman who knows Sho-Bud Pedal Steels. My Friend called him, and he made the part he needed and told him how to fix it. Just get on the Steel Guitar Forum and look over the Index and you will see what it’s all about. Bobby Lee will be missed, not only for the Steel Guitar Forum but his Steel Playing and his Personality. The Steel Guitar Forum is about the easiest to navigate.”

Rick Russell says, “I started a Facebook page for my Johnny Russell biography so folks can learn about Johnny, follow my progress on the book, and share their stories about Johnny. Here is the link: Johnny Russell – The Biography

Priscilla McPheeters writes from Lawrence, Kansas, “WOW, just WOW!! I smiled all the way through the newsletter about your visit to Randy and Mary’s home. I felt like I was right there with you. Blessings to you, dear friend. I am grateful that the good Lord brought us together through Sandy Cooper and Mary Kay.”

June Thompson says, “Hope this finds you doing well, and Spring coming. Here in Alabama, it’s still pretty cool in the mornings, but I reckon it’s gone warm up soon and everbody’s gone start complainin’ about being hot, smile. Thanks as always for your newsletter, and your mention of Doug Davis. A few years ago, he was very helpful to me and my husband when we were searching out a singer of a certain song. I appreciate your letter as always; it makes my day.”

Andy Williford, boyhood friend of Faron Young, writes from Texas, “Great newsletter and I look forward to reading it each time it comes out. My Stepson, who was on his honeymoon, stopped at the Country Music HOF and brought me back a coffee cup with all the names on it. Faron’s name was last because they must go alphabetically. I guess I told you DJ Fontana, Rock and Roll HOF, and the Wilburn Brothers were a part of Faron’s close group. DJ was Elvis’s original drummer. I will always be disappointed that Country Music really didn’t know my good friend as I knew him.”


1983 – “The Father of the Blues,” W.C. Handy, was born William Christopher Handy in 1873. The son of emancipated slaves, he was raised in an Alabama log cabin. By age 15, he was playing organ and cornet. He performed in a traveling minstrel show, where he learned Negro folk songs and spirituals. After college, he settled in Memphis as a schoolteacher. He wrote a campaign song for a Memphis mayoral candidate and later reworked it into his first hit, “Memphis Blues,” in 1912. It has been called the blueprint for the modern blues. After selling the rights to get it published, he formed his own music-publishing company, becoming one of the first American songwriters to control his own copyrights. With hits like “St. Louis Blues” and “Beale Street Blues,” he gave a commercial shape to the music born out of slavery and sorrow, and helped it become a dominant force. He published the first blues anthology book and tirelessly promoted the blues. A skull fracture led to loss of eyesight in the 1940s. He died in New York City in 1958, at age 84, a few months before Nat King Cole portrayed him in the biographical movie St. Louis Blues.

1983 –Loretta Lynn, born Loretta Webb in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, in 1935, grew up as a dirt-poor coal miner’s daughter, married at 13, and was a mother of four by age 18. Her husband, Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn, encouraged her singing career. They moved to Nashville in 1961, where she was championed by Ernest Tubb, Patsy Cline and the Wilburn Brothers. She wrote and sang songs such as “Fist City,” “Don’t Come Home a’Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” and “The Pill.” She and Conway Twitty were a successful duo in the ’70s and ’80s. Loretta was named ACM Artist of the Decade for the 1970s, following Marty Robbins for the 1960s. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988. She died in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee in 2022 at age 87.

1983 – Beasley Smith led one of the three top dance bands in Nashville during the first half of the twentieth century. Born John Beasley Smith in McEwen, Tennessee, in 1901, he dropped out of college to become a musician. By 1925, the Beasley Smith Orchestra was entertaining regularly at the Andrew Jackson Hotel in Nashville. His group toured nationally and performed during the opening day broadcasts of radio station WSM. He became music director at WSM in 1933. When Nashville started to become a recording center in the 1940s, he assembled musicians for studio sessions. He and Owen Bradley co-wrote “Night Train to Memphis” with Marvin Hughes. He and Francis Craig co-wrote “Beg Your Pardon.” He also co-wrote “That Lucky Old Sun.” In 1953, he left WSM to become A&R director and musical arranger for Dot Records. He had written more than 100 songs by the time of his death in 1968, two weeks before his 67th birthday. He died in Nashville.

1984 – Lyricist Hal David, a Brooklyn native born in 1921, began his career as a journalist writing for the New York Post. He began getting his songs recorded in the late 1940s. He teamed with Burt Bacharach in 1957, and their first hit was a #1 country song by Marty Robbins, “The Story of My Life.” The team wrote pop standards such as: “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” “Alfie,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” “Walk on By,” “What’s New Pussycat,” “This Guy’s in Love with You,” “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” “Make it Easy on Yourself,” “The Look of Love,” “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “One Less Bell to Answer.” They won an Academy Award for “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” Hal David’s country songs included “Sea of Heartbreak” (originally sung by Don Gibson), “Only Love Can Break a Heart” (Sonny James), and “I Say a Little Prayer” (Glen Campbell & Anne Murray). After the Bacharach partnership ended in 1973, Hal began traveling to Nashville to collaborate on songs. He co-wrote “It Was Almost Like a Song” (Ronnie Milsap) and “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” (Willie Nelson & Julio Iglesias). He served as president of ASCAP from 1980 to 1986, was inducted into the national Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972, and was presented with the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize in 2012. He died in Los Angeles in 2012 at age 91.

1984 – Billy Sherrill is commonly known as the architect of the “countrypolitan” sound of the late 1960s and 1970s and was also one of the most successful songwriters in country music history. Born in 1936, the son of an Alabama evangelist played in local rock & roll and R&B bands before moving to Nashville, where he joined the A&R department of Epic Records in 1963 as a producer. He and Glenn Sutton co-wrote such hits “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad,” “Singing My Song,” “I’m Down to My Last ‘I Love You,” and “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” Five of his songs have been performed more than a million times, including David Houston’s “Almost Persuaded,” Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man” and Charlie Rich’s “The Most Beautiful Girl.” He wrote 18 songs that reached #1 on the Billboard country chart. Five years after being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, he died in 2015 at age 78, in Nashville.

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