Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 8 November 2017

Billy Mize (1929-2017)
One of the last remaining founders of the “Bakersfield Sound” has died. William Robert Mize, 88, died October 28 at a nursing home in Pleasanton, California. He was a singer, songwriter, steel guitarist, and television host. The Academy of Country Music chose him as TV Personality of the Year three years in a row, 1965-1967. His most famous song was Charlie Walker’s “Who Will Buy the Wine.” He played steel guitar on recording sessions for Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Merle Travis, and others. For a time, he was one of Merle Haggard’s Strangers. A stroke in 1988, at age 59, kept him from speaking clearly for many years. Billy Mize regained his ability to sing and performed at his 80th birthday party.

All In For The Gambler: Kenny Rogers’ Farewell Concert Celebration featured A star-studded cast at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on October 25. Nash Country Daily reports Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton sang “You Can’t Make Old Friends” before Dolly serenaded Kenny with “I Will Always Love You.” They closed the show with “Islands in the Stream” and then dropped their microphones like rock stars and walked off the stage.

The upcoming release of The Life and Songs of Kris Kristofferson was recently celebrated at the Nashville headquarters of William Morris Entertainment, with Kris Kristofferson, 81, singing “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Why Me, Lord.” The Tennessean reports his recollections of writing “Why Me” after attending a church service. “I wasn’t used to going to church,” he said. “It just came to me there, so I figured it was from somebody up above.” The previous evening, Kris had performed at Kenny Rogers’s farewell concert.

When the Country Music Association announced media guidelines for the 51st Annual CMA Awards ceremony, reporters were asked to avoid questions about gun rights and the Las Vegas mass shooting–or risk having their credentials “potentially revoked via security escort.” The CMA said the restrictions were to make artists feel comfortable talking to press, especially if they had been involved in the Las Vegas tragedy. Brad Paisley was one of many who objected, by posting on Twitter, “I’m sure the CMA will do the right thing and rescind these ridiculous and unfair press guidelines.” The next day, according to The Tennessean, the restrictions were lifted. “CMA apologizes for the recently distributed restrictions in the CMA Awards media guidelines,” a press release stated. “The sentiment was not to infringe and was created with the best of intentions to honor and celebrate Country Music.”

Bill Anderson turned eighty on November 1. “What a super party the Opry threw for me on the Saturday night before my big day,” he wrote to his fans. “Virtually all the artists sang one of my songs on their segment of the show, each song bringing back special memories, smiles, and even a few tears. They rolled out a big birthday cake, led the audience in singing Happy Birthday to me, then presented me with 80 shiny new pennies to spend as I please!” When asked if he’ll stop performing now that he’s eighty, he said, “I love performing…in fact, I’ve probably enjoyed it more these past few years than ever in my life. And I don’t have any plans to give it up just because I’ve reached a certain age. I’ve always said that as long as I am in good health and I enjoy it, I’ll keep doing it. Mostly I’ll keep performing because I don’t know how to do anything else!”

The SESAC Legacy Award was presented to Kenny Rogers at the SESAC Nashville Music Awards on Sunday. The award recognized his many outstanding contributions to the creative arts. According to a press release, the annual awards show celebrates the successes of SESAC’s songwriters and publishers. It was held at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.

The Merle Haggard Memorial Overpass was dedicated last week at the Interstate 5-Highway 44 interchange in Redding, California. The Record Searchlight reports the busy overpass sees 120,000 vehicles daily. Merle’s widow, Theresa, and daughter Jenessa attended the ceremony. Guest speaker was State Senator Ted Gaines, who authored the bill to name the overpass in Merle’s memory.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the Bellamy Brothers will take their “Let Your Love Flow Tour” to South Africa, Namibia, and Sri Lanka. A press release reports five shows have been added to their world tour.

The Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville dedicated The Jerry Kennedy Theatre last week. Jerry Kennedy wrote on Facebook, “A lot of people had some very nice things to say about me and I’m very humbled. Thank you to all of you. WHAT AN HONOR!”

President Donald Trump tweeted Lee Greenwood a special wish on his 75th birthday, October 27: “Happy Birthday to the great @TheLeeGreenwood. You and your beautiful song have made such a difference. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.” Lee recently participated in the “Deep From the Heart” hurricane relief concert that was hosted by all five living former Presidents. A press release reports that “God Bless the U.S.A.” is the only song in any musical genre to reach the top five on a singles charts three times. It placed on the country singles chart in 1991, 2001, and 2003. It also hit No. 1 on the pop chart after 9/11.

Heidi Parton, niece of Dolly Parton and daughter of Randy Parton, has released a debut album, This Kind of Love. The songs tell stories about different kinds of love. According to a press release, Heidi has been onstage since she was four years old and has been inspired by many in her family. Randy produced the album and sang back-up on several songs.

The Merle Haggard Museum and Merle’s Meat + 3 Saloon are scheduled to open next summer at 121 Third Avenue South in Nashville. The restaurant will be on the ground floor and the museum on the top floor of a building next door to the Johnny Cash museum. Theresa Haggard, Merle’s widow, has partnered with Bill and Shannon Miller (who own the Johnny Cash Museum, Nudie’s Honky Tonk, and Patsy Cline Museum) and The Swett Family (owner of Swett’s Restaurant). “Meat +3” describes a restaurant that offers a meat entrée with three sides. Theresa said in a press release, “Merle would be very happy knowing his museum will be next door to his dear friend Johnny Cash. I’m sure he is up there smiling about that. Our family is also very excited about the Merle-themed restaurant and bar featuring first-class, Southern home cooking and a saloon to boot. This museum will be a way to preserve and share the love Merle had for music and life.”

Webster Public Relations, which for years has represented a large number of country music artists, is now operating under the name of Westby Public Relations. Owner/CEO Kirt Webster, 43, stepped down from the firm last Wednesday amid a growing number of sexual harassment and abuse claims. Dolly Parton issued a statement that said, “I’ve worked with Kirt Webster for many years and he has done a wonderful job. I am hoping the accusations are not true.” The Tennessean reports that 27 artists immediately vanished from the roster on the Webster PR website. Eight artists confirmed their departure: Kid Rock, Justin Moore, Lorrie Morgan, Naomi Judd, Tim Rushlow, Billy Ray Cyrus, Gary Morris, and Exile. Westby PR launched its website on Thursday with 19 clients, including Kenny Rogers, Oak Ridge Boys, and Don McLean.

Brad Paisley sang the national anthem before Game 2 of the World Series. A press release announced, “Paisley managed to fit a couple of guitar licks into his performance, bringing a unique, country edge to his understated rendition of the anthem.”

Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro honored Jan Howard with the Gold Star Award for her tireless efforts in support of the U.S. military. Bill Anderson introduced her. After her speech and the award presentation, John Conlee sang “They Also Serve”: “They’re still in the war, let there be no mistake, they also serve, those who stand and wait.”

Tracy Pitcox of Heart of Texas Recording announced on October 26 that Darrell McCall had suffered a heart attack: “Darrell was hospitalized in Brady and then transferred to San Angelo where doctors fitted him with a pacemaker. He is doing very well and set to be released on Friday.” Darrell’s daughter posted on Facebook, “The heart Doctor, the specialist, and everyone at hospital said they had NEVER seen someone’s heart stop for 26 seconds and come back without CPR.”

MusicRow reports that Randy Travis has signed with the entertainment firm, 117 Publicity, to cover his multiple upcoming projects, which include an autobiography and a full-length documentary. “Randy Travis is easily one of the most accomplished and renowned superstars in the history of the music industry,” said Zach Farnum, President & CEO of 117 Entertainment Group. “He is an influencer of nearly every artist that has come onto the country scene since he first topped the chart in the mid ’80s.”

The Grand Ole Opry House recently hosted the Eagles in an invitation-only show for two dozen country celebrities, including Reba McEntire. Taste of Country reports, “It’s easy to spot flaws in Don Henley and Joe Walsh’s voices, but when Timothy B. Schmidt, Vince Gill, and the late Glenn Frey’s son Deacon are added, it’s an unmistakable, impenetrable wall of harmony you wish you could bottle and sell.” After the closing song of “Desperado,” and during the enthusiastic ovation, the five men walked silently offstage.

John Allen writes, “Thanks again for the newsletter Diane it is awesome as usual.  As a fan of country, I didn’t see Crystal Gayle listed with her sister Loretta Lynn in her brother’s Donald Ray Webb obituary. However, after doing research myself I found that Brenda Gatzimos is Crystal Gayle. I am happy to save you some research. Give you more time to get the rest of the list ready. If you ever need any artists looked up please feel free to ask me. I don’t mind at all giving you a hand looking up things about different artists.”
Diane: Thanks, John. I realized as I posted it that there was no mention of Crystal.

Dean Mann in Sioux Falls says, “A very nice write up on Jeannie Seeley’s show in Sisseton. I enjoyed the show. The credits you gave to the Just Between Friends Band were very good also. They are great entertainers and certainly could put on their own classical country music show as you stated. I really enjoy their music. It was nice to visit with you there and meet your sister and Perry.”

Sandy Young writes, “I would like to receive your newsletter.”

Clarke Morris says, “I heard about your newsletter from Bill Mack, and I would like to get signed up to receive it.”

Brian K, Lingard in Ottawa Canada, requests, “Please subscribe me to your Country Music Newsletter. Provides a lot of information I never knew about Nashville and the artists.”

Eric Calhoun says, “I’d like to receive your newsletter, Diane, please.”

Nancy Shackelford in southeastern Oklahoma requests, “Please subscribe me to your newsletter.”

Alberta Hall says, “I would like to be added to your newsletter.”

Martin Nemecek asks, “Will you place me on your newsletter list?”

Roy Bodden writes from the Cayman Islands, “I’ve been getting your emails via djstu. Could you please add me to your email listing? My wife, Reva, and I are avid fans of Marty, Faron and Hank (Snow that is). Marty was the most versatile artist country music has ever seen. The only area he didn’t tackle was opera. And he probably would have excelled in that genre as well if he had tackled it! I’ve been enjoying your email letters. The Cayman Islands have a 24/7 country music station. The only problem is they only play contemporary country, which we don’t care for. On Sunday mornings they play traditional C/W, at which time we’re in Church. The government-owned radio station, Radio Cayman, plays the C/W top 40 every Saturday afternoon, which we don’t listen to. But for 2 hours, 4-6pm, following the Top 40 stuff, they play the good stuff, traditional C/W and bluegrass! Marty and Jim Reeves are the 2 big favorites here in the islands.”

Peter Trenholm reports, “On Jan. 1st, 2018, I will be presenting a 2-hour tribute to Hank Williams Sr. at CFTA 107.9, or www.cftafm.com. The program will be titled Hank Williams By Request. If you could reply with your favorite Hank song, I will be totaling the most requested songs for the program. I would appreciate replies to hankfan@ns.sympatico.ca.”

Skip Jackson, former Country Deputy steel player and current instructor of photography at Nashville State Community College, writes, “Your newsletter is wonderful. I have saved every copy. It is always great to read Bill Mack’s post. When I was growing up in Ft. Worth, Texas, he was a staple of the country radio. He was the MC on Bob Wills shows when Bob would do a Saturday afternoon radio show at Seminary South when Bill was on KCUL in the ‘60s. Went down every Saturday when Bob and the Playboys were on the air. KCUL was in the lower part of the mall during that time and there was a large picture window in the studio where me and my brother could go and watch Bill and Horace Logan do their show on the weekends. Fond memories. I’m attaching an image of Bill and Willie at Panther Hall I found on line, in the late ‘60s when I had the privilege of working with a band that was on the road with Willie for a while. Notice Willie’s guitar. Trigger was new at this time and didn’t have a scratch on him. Do miss Bill on Willie’s station. He is an encyclopedia of country music history and has made country music history. He would tell stories of the inner workings of the industry which was a privilege to hear. He was and is a major part of country music. Thank you for keeping us informed of the past and present. You are now the link.”

Lee Shannon writes from Port Charlotte, Florida, “Thanks for another interesting newsletter. I always look forward to receiving it. I wanted to let you know my new book, My 38 Years Between the Country Music Turntables, has been published and is available on Amazon. This started out as a journal to give the kids and grandkids an idea of what I did for a living. My daughter, Debbie, decided it needed to be made into a real book. I am so glad she followed through. My book covers my broadcast career from my beginning in 1958 at a small 100-watt radio station in Falls City, Nebraska, to my 1998 induction into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee. Lots of photos of me interviewing the Country Artists from my 1981-82 remote radio broadcasts from Nashville. My thanks to Bill Anderson for writing the Foreword.”

Reading My 38 Years Between The Country Music Turntables made me realize I was once a Lee Shannon listener. WQIK in Jacksonville, Florida, was my radio station from 1982-85, and he was there twice in that period. The number of stations he worked at during his 38 years wore me out reading about them; I couldn’t imagine moving that many times. Lowen Slagle grew up in Nebraska and started in the radio business after a US Navy tour on USS Colahan (DD 658) in the early 1950s. One of his first hard-learned lessons, he says, was this: “Do not leave a good paying job until you have a better one.” At about his fifth radio station, he acquired a new name when his WQUA boss in Moline, Illinois, did not want to give free advertising to the Schlegel drug stores. That’s when Lowen Slagle became Lee Shannon. He retired from radio after a mini-stroke in 1996. This story will bring back memories to individuals familiar with the stations where Lee worked during those 38 years.

The only person inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993 was Willie Nelson. Born in Abbott, Texas, in 1933, he is still touring at age 84. Following his US Air Force enlistment, he worked as a deejay and musician and began to make his mark as a songwriter. His early hit songs included Ray Price’s “Night Life,” Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” and Faron Young’s “Hello Walls.” There are many, many more. His own recordings included the time-honored albums of The Red Headed Stranger and Stardust. After his supporting role with Robert Redford in the movie The Electric Horseman, Willie starred in Honeysuckle Rose, The Songwriter, and Red Headed Stranger. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) honored Willie with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. His Farm Aid concerts are still going strong. Since its beginning in 1985, Farm Aid has raised more than $50 million to help family farmers.

The only person inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994 was Merle Haggard. The son of Depression-era migrants from Oklahoma, he was born in Bakersfield, California, and he spent his teenage years playing music and getting into trouble. After jail time for theft and writing bad checks, he and friends were arrested for trying to break into a Bakersfield roadhouse in 1957. He was sent to San Quentin because of his history of escaping from local jails. Paroled in 1960, he became a spectacular songwriter and entertainer. Jimmie Rodgers, Lefty Frizzell, and Bob Wills were his major musical influences. In 1970, he was named Entertainer of the Year for both the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music. He was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994. His band, The Strangers, won eight awards as ACM Touring Band of the Year. Merle was the father of six children, four by his first wife, Leona Hobbs, and two by his fifth wife, Theresa Lane. Other wives included singers Bonnie Owens and Leona Williams. His three sons are entertainers who look and sound like their father. In 2015, Willie Nelson and Merle released a duet album, Django & Jimmie. In spite of occasionally canceling concerts due to health issues, Merle continued to tour. He died of pneumonia on April 6, 2016, his 79th birthday.

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