Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 6 March 2024


Veronica Loretta “Roni” Stoneman, 85, member of the famous Stoneman Family and banjo player and comedian on Hee Haw, died February 22. No cause of death or funeral information was announced. Born in 1938, Roni was the 12th of Hattie and Ernest “Pop” Stoneman’s 13 children. After Pop Stoneman’s death in 1968, his children continued to tour as the Stoneman Family. In the 1970s, Roni joined the cast of the TV show Hee Haw. She and sister Donna, the last surviving members of the Stoneman siblings, continued to perform into their 80s. I think Donna is still alive, although my internet searches for her only brought up Roni.

Brenda A. Reid, widow of Harold Reid of the Statler Brothers, died February 29 at her residence in Staunton, Virginia. She was 82 years old and is survived by five children and ten grandchildren. Harold died of kidney disease in 2020, at age 80. They were married 59 years. (“And Brenda married me,” Harold sings in “Class of ’57.”) Brenda graduated from Elizabeth Brant School of Business after raising five children. Her obituary from the Henry Funeral Home states, “She will be remembered for her wonderful sweet tea, round steak and gravy, homemade pies, German chocolate cake, and the hottest hamburger chili you have ever tasted! The vast majority of her life was devoted to her husband and children.” We send condolences especially to son Wil Reed and nephew Langdon Reid of the duo Wilson Fairchild.

The 2024 USA Today/10Best Readers’ Choice Travel Award for Best Music Museum goes to the Johnny Cash Museum for the second year in a row. A press release states, “The acclaimed Music City attraction had a record-breaking 2023, marked by unprecedented visitor numbers and a momentous celebration of its 10-year anniversary in May.” Twenty museums were nominated by a panel of travel experts, with ten chosen in four weeks of public voting. For the complete list of winners, go to https://10best.usatoday.com/awards/travel/best-music-museum-2024/.

For the first time in my life, I watched an episode of The Price Is Right last week, because Randy Travis was a guest. When host Drew Carey heard the Travises would be in the Los Angeles area, he extended an invitation. The CBS show is network television’s No. 1-rated daytime series and the longest-running game show in television history. Randy watches it almost every day. He was not a contestant and wasn’t introduced; I could see him and Mary in the front row on the lower right side. Randy’s next two More Life tours, with James Dupre singing his hit songs, will be in Texas, in Abilene on May 23 and Greenville on May 24.

Friends in Low Places Bar & Honky Tonk, the new Garth Brooks bar and live music venue on Nashville’s Lower Broadway, will have its official grand opening tomorrow. Also, a docuseries titled Friends in Low Places: Building the Oasis will premiere on Amazon Prime Video. In the series, Garth and wife Trisha Yearwood will give a behind-the-scenes look as they tell the story of building “the ultimate oasis, a honky-tonk in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee.” Comments were turned off on Instagram when Garth announced the docuseries because everything he posts is immediately flooded with “where are the bodies” comments. Here’s the story: Back in 2018, Garth posted an announcement video for his Stadium Tour in which he said he’d wanted to call it the Big Ass Stadium Tour. He also talked about how much he likes to “get physical playing music.” Two comedians then posted that Garth must be a serial killer with somewhere around 200-300 bodies buried in his yard. Followers hijacked the comment sections on Instagram and Twitter, and it’s gone on for years. Whiskey Riff explains, “Instead of putting an end to it by acknowledging the joke, laughing at it,” Garth took the opposite approach and completely ignored it, simply turning off comments. He is still forced to restrict comments. Even his announcement about the docuseries resulted in fans asking if it’s a true crime series, or if he has bodies buried beneath his bar, or if this new documentary is going to finally give answers.

Eight years after the death of Joey Feek, Country Rebel reports widower Rory Feek has found love again. He shares the news of his new relationship with Rebecca, a woman who’s been teaching his daughter, Indiana, and a dozen other children in a one-room schoolhouse for the past five years. Spending more time together outside of the schoolhouse deepened their connection. Rebecca has also lost close family members to cancer. Joey had told Rory that if she couldn’t beat her cancer, she would want him to one day find love again.

Carl Rollyson reviewed the biography of early Opry star DeFord Bailey for the New York Sun: https://www.nysun.com/article/reviving-oprylands-black-star

“That’s the Way Love Goes” celebrated two anniversaries in February: 50 years since Johnny Rodriguez took it to the top of the charts and 40 years since Merle Haggard did so. Chris Stapleton refers to it in “What Am I Gonna Do,” the opening track on his current album, Higher: “Jukebox with a neon glow Keeps playing ‘That’s The Way Love Goes.'” Tom Roland in Billboard recently paid tribute to the song’s co-writer (along with “Whitey” Shafer), Country Music Hall of Fame member Lefty Frizzell, whose first single and biggest hit was 1950’s “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time,” which joined the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. Lefty is responsible for much of the phrasing in the last seventy years of country music. Those who consciously used Lefty’s techniques include Merle Haggard, John Anderson, Willie Nelson, Keith Whitley, Randy Travis, Gene Watson, George Strait, and George Jones. Later generations influenced by that group include Josh Turner, Trace Adkins, Tracy Lawrence, Garth Brooks, Toby Keith, Joe Diffie, Daryle Singletary, Scotty McCreery, and Cody Johnson. “There’s a lot of Leftys now with different names,” sings Moe Bandy in “Yesterday Once More.” He says Lefty “inspired all these people that didn’t even know they were inspired by him. It’s funny how music passes down.”

The 11-year-old who found fame after yodeling in the aisles of Walmart aisles is now 17 and has released a bluesy ballad, “Blue Over You,” on Atlantic Records. Illinois native Mason Ramsey co-wrote the song with Dan Fernandez, who produced the record. Taste of Country reports he has more than 1.5 million followers on Instagram and 2.7 million followers on TikTok. His previous album, Twang, was released in 2019.

Gary Allan, 56, married his longtime love, Molly Martin, in a private ceremony on February 5, reports PEOPLE. The wedding was held at the Sumner County mayor’s office and officiated by mayor John C. Isbell. The only other person present was a photographer. The pair had been engaged for more than two years. “Molly and I had been trying to find the right time and right spot to get married, and we just decided the time was now,” Gary says. They might have a bigger celebration later. Gary Allan’s hit songs include “Songs About Rain” and “Watching Airplanes.”

“Today, March 5, is the Presidential Primary in Tennessee and 16 other states and territories,” reads a handwritten note by Taylor Swift on Instagram. “I wanted to remind you guys to vote the people who most represent YOU into power. If you haven’t already, make a plan to vote today. Whether you’re in Tennessee or somewhere else in the US, check your polling places and times at vote.org.” The Tennessean reports, “Last year on National Voter Registration Day, a record 35,000 people signed up through Vote.org after Swift encouraged them in a post.”

Country Fest Queensland booked John Fogerty as headliner for its March 30-31 event in Australia. He was blindsided when the festival announced, “Due to unforeseen circumstances, John Fogerty will no longer be attending.” An Australian newspaper reported, “In an unexpected turn of events that has left fans and organizers alike grappling with disappointment, John Fogerty, the iconic frontman of Creedence Clearwater Revival, who was scheduled to headline the festival, marking his first performance in Australia in over a decade, has abruptly withdrawn from the event.” He was replaced by Morgan Evans, 38, an Australian singer and songwriter who moved to Nashville in 2017 and was married for several years to Kelsea Ballerini. “Well, I can tell you, my friends, I was not the reason for the ‘unforeseen circumstances,'” Fogarty, 78, writes on Instagram. “I was ready to come down there and excited to celebrate getting my songs back with all of you.”


Terry Tyson writes from Nashville, “Sure enjoyed reading this late into the night when I couldn’t sleep. Good to see an update about my former place of employment, The Historic and World-Famous Ernest Tubb Record Shop. I have had the pleasure to meet the owners/investors on a few occasions onsite and even met the Tusk Brothers and shared historical background and offered suggestions for the new plans and believe they will honor the Texas Troubadour when the doors reopen. Hilda Young’s service was beautiful, and it was very heartwarming to hear Alana Young speak of growing up with the memories of her Mother Hilda, and some humorous notes about her Honky Tonk Father, Faron Young.”

Gary Trenholm writes from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, “I love and thank you for your newsletters and always marvel at the amount of work and effort you put in preparing them. Please keep up the great work. Once again, Dolly Parton exhibits what a beautiful Christian and quality human being she really is for publicly forgiving Elle King for no doubt uttering the few worst words of her life. God Bless Dolly.”

Judi Myrick asks, “Would you please add Gloria Ellingson, formerly with the Ernest Tubb Record Shop for 50+ years, to receive your newsletter? I really enjoy receiving your newsletters and I know she will also.”

Bobby Fischer says, “My favorite radio station in Nashville called me for a long interview. Pretty nice of them to have a format about older country music (I’m older).“

Mary Mitchell writes, “Friday night my son Scott took his eighty-six-year-old mom to see Marty Stuart. Was a great concert. He sang a Merle Haggard song, Marty Robbins, and a Dave Dudley song. He is a true showman. However, Connie Smith was not there. Have seen him twice in a year. His band is beyond great. If you get a chance to see Marty–don’t miss it.”

Diane: He will be in Sioux Falls on March 12. I have tickets. It will be my first time, and I’m looking forward to his show.

Eric Calhoun in Los Angeles, says, “Thank you for such a great newsletter. It’s nice to hear that Life’s Too Short will be out. I hope there will be an audio download on this book for those who are blind or visually impaired, such as myself. I am saddened to hear about the Kentucky crash of former American Idol singer Alex Miller, and I’m glad no one on the bus was hurt. It’s great that Dolly Parton can forgive El, but to me, what she did, even though she deserves compassion, has put a stint on would-be Opry performers. Lastly, I do know what yodeling is about; if you listen to LeAnn Rimes’s music, she is a great yodeler. P.S. Congratulations on the 17th anniversary of KKGO, Go Country 105, (105.1 FM). KKGO was returned to the air, after Country 93.9 KZLA was pulled off the air by Emmis Communications, saying, ‘Country music will never make it in Los Angeles.’ We all know this is a lie, and that 14th- or 13th-place finish is all the ratings you will get from country music in Greater Los Angeles. Always a reminder to support your country music stations and call your Program Directors, they care!”

Diane: I regularly listened to KZLA when I lived in LA. Mac Davis had a program at the time.

Ron Oates, The Lone Arranger, writes from Nashville, “Thank you. As always, I have enjoyed the read.” 

Jackie Allen Thomas in Arizona says, “Thanks so much for doing this newsletter for all of us to enjoy. Really look forward to it. Sorry to hear about Johnny Western, I believe he still lives here in the Phoenix valley area. Wishing him a good recovery.”


Country duo War Hippies has released an official music video of their cover of the Randy Travis song “Promises.” The video is filmed at an evening campfire, with Randy Travis and wife Mary enjoying the performance. Tears streak down Randy’s face as it ends. He and John Lindley wrote this song so long ago it appeared on Randy’s first album, Randy Ray Live at the Nashville Palace, in 1983, before he was Randy Travis. He rerecorded it for his third album, Old 8×10, released in 1988. Because of the overwhelming success of his first two albums, producer Kyle Lehning had gained enough confidence to showcase the new star. “I felt like putting other musicians on it would be an intrusion,” Lehning said. Warner Bros. released it as a single, but radio stations wouldn’t play such a slow song. It broke his string of consecutive chart-topping songs at seven. It’s an emotionally wrenching performance: “And I’ll make promises, Promises to change,” but “her love can’t last forever And someday soon I know she’ll Leave without a trace.”


My editor sent the results of the peer reviews on my Randy Travis manuscript. Both reviewers praised my research and the quality and thoroughness of my writing. They thought it was too long and would benefit from cutting many of the details. My editor wants me to get the manuscript down to the contracted word count, which means cutting 15,000 words. Sadly, that will get rid of some of my interviews. I’ve started working on it and have discovered there is a lot that can be taken out to tighten the story and make it smoother to read. It’s been relaxing to have a two-month break from thinking about this project, and now it’s time to get back to work. We’re still on track for publication in 2025.


I called Leon “Wahoo” Sutton on March 3, 2002, to talk about his days in Faron Young’s Country Deputies band (1964-1967) after replacing Odell Martin as lead guitarist. He wasn’t much of a talker, as you can see by this interview. I was so thrilled when he and his family came to Nashville from Florida for the book release party for Faron’s biography in 2007. Leon was born February 26, 1933. He died at age 90 on January 16, 2024, in Winter Haven, Florida.

Leon and me at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Lower Broadway


John Bettis of Long Beach, California, born in 1946, began singing and playing when he was eight. While attending California State University, he met Richard Carpenter, who became his first songwriting partner and mentor. He is mainly a lyricist who co-writes songs, and his have been recorded by over 200 people. He moved to Nashville permanently in 1996. His biggest country hits include “Only One Love in My Life” (Ronnie Milsap), “One of a Kind Pair of Fools” (Barbara Mandrell), “Heartland” (George Strait), “Top of the World” (Lynn Anderson), and “Slow Hand” (Conway Twitty). He wrote the themes for the TV sitcom Growing Pains (“As Long as We Got Each Other”) and the 1988 Summer Olympics (“One Moment in Time”). In 2011, he was inducted into both the national Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He lives in Nashville and is 77 years old.

The following four all appear in my Randy Travis biography.

Troyal Garth Brooks, born in Tulsa in 1962 and raised in Yukon, Oklahoma, has been certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as the #1 selling solo artist in U.S. recording history. After graduating from Oklahoma State University, he traveled to Nashville in 1985, but was intimidated by Music Row and went home to Oklahoma. He returned the next year and was signed as a songwriter to the Major Bob publishing company. Capitol Records signed him in 1988 and released his first album in 1989. Garth Brooks retired from the road in 2001 and returned in 2008, after signing a five-year concert contract in Las Vegas. Now married to Trisha Yearwood, he continues to make history with his stadium tours. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012 and is 62 years old.

A native of Newnan, Georgia, Alan Jackson was born in 1958 and spent his young adult years playing the club circuit there and writing songs while he worked as a car salesman, construction worker, and forklift operator. In 1985, his wife noticed Glen Campbell waiting for a flight and gave him her husband’s demo tape. Glen signed him as a songwriter, and Alan and Denise moved to Nashville. In 1989, he released his major label debut on Arista Records, Here in the Real World. He opened for Randy Travis during 1991, and the pair wrote their hit songs of “She’s Got the Rhythm (And I’ve Got the Blues)” and “Better Class of Losers.” Alan has had 35 #1 hits, writing or co-writing 26 of them. That places him in an elite group of songwriters (with Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and Merle Haggard) who’ve written and recorded more than 20 #1 hits. Alan, now 65, stopped touring due to a degenerative and incurable nerve condition known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. He is a 2017 inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame and a 2018 inductee into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York.

Thom Schuyler wrote one of my all-time favorite songs, Lacy J. Dalton’s “16th Avenue.” His other hits, some with co-writers, include “Love Will Turn You Around (Kenny Rogers), “I Don’t Know Where to Start” (Eddie Rabbitt), “I Fell in Love Again Last Night” (Forester Sisters), “Love Out Loud” (Earl Thomas Conley), and “Long Line of Love” (Michael Martin Murphey). Born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1952, Thom worked at various jobs before signing a publishing contract in 1981 and beginning to write hit songs. In 1985, he joined with Fred Knobloch and Paul Overstreet to develop a hit-making trio called S-K-O. In 1989, he and Don Schiltz wrote “Point of Light” at the request of the White House. Randy Travis recorded the hit that was used as the theme song of President George H. W. Bush’s volunteerism campaign. While an active songwriter, Thom worked as an RCA Records executive and a choir director at Woodmont Christian Church. He is 71 years old.

Allen Shamblin, born James Allen Shamblin II in 1959 in Cleveland, Tennessee, grew up in Texas. He was a real-estate appraiser in Auston before moving to Nashville in 1987. He had his first country hit when Randy Travis recorded “He Walked on Water.” He and Mike Reid wrote “I Can’t Make You Love Me”(Bonnie Raitt) and “Walk on Faith” (Mike Reid);  he and Tom Douglas wrote “The House That Built Me” (Miranda Lambert). He-cowrote “Don’t Laugh at Me” (Mark Wills), “Where the Blacktop Ends” (Keith Urban), “Life’s a Dance” (John Michael Montgomery), and “Thinkin’ Problem” (recorded by co-writer David Ball). Allen Shamblin is 64 years old.

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