Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 8 October 2014

“My calendar for October and November is totally insane,” Jeannie Seely said when I called to see what’s happening in her life. “I tried to slow down this year, but so many opportunities came in.” She’s reached the point in her career to be able to choose what she wants to do. “I finally worked my way up to a ‘senior position’ and I’m enjoying it,” she says. In addition to her regular Grand Ole Opry and Nashville Nightlife shows, she’s going to North Carolina with Bill Anderson and to Wisconsin Dells. She’ll be doing a new-style acoustic show in Houston, at a small intimate theater called the Dosey Doe, with Tim Atwood singing harmony and playing keyboard. Right before Thanksgiving is a tour to Ireland. “Gene and I will be celebrating our fourth wedding anniversary in Wexford, Ireland,” she says.

She and Gene will be guests of Hank Cochran’s widow at the Medallion Ceremony when her former husband is posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. “I was there a good part of Hank’s career,” she says. When he was writing songs, “I would write down the words and remember the melody.” She told me he wrote “Don’t Touch Me” one evening in her dressing room when she was traveling with Porter Wagoner, and he called her the next morning to say, “I think I wrote a smash last night. Tell me you remember it.”

Jeannie used to fill in for George Hamilton IV as host of the Opry backstage tours when he was on tour, and now she’s taken over that job since his death. Six groups came through last Saturday night, and she talked to 200 people.

I asked her about the recent Alaska cruise, and she said, “It was absolutely wonderful. I’d go again tomorrow if I could.” The shows were easy to do, after the rough seas the first day, and “all the side excursions were so exciting and so refreshing.”

The Nashville flood seems both recent and distant. “It’s amazing how you still look for things–you’re just so sure you have it,” she says. She told me about working with her plants and asking Gene to get an Oriental vase from the bookshelf. He brought the wrong one, and he insisted it was the only vase on the shelf. “I just couldn’t believe it,” she says. She had to check for herself. “I looked in the china cabinet and I said I guess it didn’t survive the flood.” When she first bought her cottage, it was uninhabitable, and rebuilding it after the flood gave her a chance to fix the things she hadn’t done correctly the first time. “Everything is fine here in this little cottage on the river,”she says. “I love this little place so much.”

She also loves the music business and her singing career. “If it all ends tomorrow, I’ve had a wonderful run,” she says. Jeannie feels the responsibility of carrying the tradition from her era into the future. She’s delighted to see the young talent on the Opry that brings in the crowds, because she realizes that is what keeps the Opry alive and vibrant. She knows that “out there somewhere is a little 12-year-old girl who wants to be on here as much as I did.”

“I was so happy when the doors finally opened for women to host the Opry,” she says. And Jeannie was the one who opened that door, when Bob Whitaker offered her the opportunity. She felt the responsibility of doing it right, so that she’d get another chance and so would other women. She did her homework, she told me. And she did it well, I”d say; she makes a great emcee. A proper introduction is one thing performers can always count on from Jeannie Seely. “I never ever want to introduce anyone like I’ve been introduced some times,” she says. She remembers the demeaning and chauvinistic comments and “not knowing who I was.”

Jeannie concluded our conversation with, “Your newsletter seems to be a total hit with everybody. You do a wonderful job on it.” I told her it would really be a hit this week, with her interview in it.

Dicky Overbey, a steel guitarist who was once one of Faron Young’s Country Deputies, died this past weekend after a long illness. He had come from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Nashville in 1963 to pitch his songs. He was trying out a new ten-string Sho-Bud in a guitar store when he looked up to see Faron Young standing in front of him. The store owner knew Faron needed a steel player to replace Ben Keith, and he’d called Faron to say someone in his store was playing Faron’s music. Dicky accepted Faron’s offer of a job and moved to Nashville, becoming a renowned steel player rather than songwriter.

The Oak Ridge Boys have joined with the American Legion to bring attention to the needs of U.S. military veterans. They will participate in a national fundraising campaign to support the detection and treatment of mental health issues among veterans. The American Legion, chartered in 1919, is the country’s largest veterans service organization, with 2.4 million members. The Oak Ridge Boys have been around since the end of World War II, and the current foursome has been together for more than forty years: lead singer Duane Allen, bass singer Richard Sterban, baritone William Lee Golden, and tenor Joe Bonsall. Joe’s father spent his life dealing with physical and emotional war wounds, and Joe wrote a biography of his parents, G.I. Joe and Lillie: Remembering a Life of Love and Loyalty.

Nancy Jones, widow of George Jones, has purchased a nightclub complex in Nashville for $4.35 million. The named buyer is Possum Legend LLC, and the money comes from the Jones estate. The four-story, 44,000-square-foot Graham Central Station on Second Avenue North has been vacant since March. According to the Tennessean, the George Jones Museum and event center is expected to have a music venue on the third floor and rooftop and a gift shop, restaurant, and museum on the first two floors. Nancy’s goal is to open the complex April 26, the second anniversary of George’s death.

Garth Brooks will play four concerts at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 14-15, with shows at 6:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. He personally called local radio station BUZ’N 102.9 to announce this fifth city on his world tour. He last played the Twin Cities in 1998, when he sold out nine shows. Garth has been announcing the cities one at a time. Before that comes two shows in Lexington, Kentucky, on October 31 and November 1. The first three cities were Chicago, Atlanta, and six nights in Jacksonville, Florida.

The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame’s 44th annual induction ceremony and dinner took place Sunday evening in Nashville. The four songwriters inducted into the hall were John Anderson, Paul Craft, Tom Douglas and Gretchen Peters.

Jim Ed Brown was diagnosed in mid-September with lung cancer. During the next four months, he will be undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments to shrink the cancer cells, before he resumes his touring schedule.

Folsom, California, is memorializing Johnny Cash. According to the Sacramento Bee, city leaders advertised nationally for art proposals. A committee chose two proposals from a group of 32, and the City Council approved them. Adan Romo of Sacramento will do seven works of art, including a 40-foot sculpture of Cash, a large replica of a guitar pick that includes a trail map, and a “Ring of Fire” display made up of swirling red guitar picks. RRM Design Group of San Luis Obispo will design a two-acre park that includes a replica of a guitar built into the ground and stretching into the street. The first section of a 2.5-mile Cash Trail was dedicated Saturday — a pedestrian and bike bridge designed to echo Folsom State Prison’s east gate guard towers.The trail will cross prison property and link to area trails. The city is planning a $3 million fundraising drive to pay for the project.

Jo Wenger writes from Glendale, Arizona, “Marty’s day was a muggy one with some nice welcome breezes now and then. I saw many old friends, had my picture taken with Ronny and got his autograph. Ronny Robbins was so pleasant and accommodating to his father’s many fans. My big thanks go to the City of Glendale, Ron Short and Bill and Gertie Hickman. One of the most heartening things I heard was the Mayor saying this was just the beginning of honoring Marty Robbins in Glendale. My hope, of course, is for an Annual Marty Robbins Festival in downtown Glendale just prior to the first NASCAR race at Phoenix International Raceway. It is just so wonderful to see Marty Robbins finally beginning to get the respect and acknowledgement that is years and years overdue for him. I can’t wait to see how much more fans can make happen for our very own native son in his hometown. I hope to have some photos and video for you from this event soon. I wish the city or Historic Society had sent out press releases about this event statewide as I have gotten feedback that folks on the eastside including Scottsdale had fans wishing they had known about this most welcome award event for Marty Robbins. Keep up the good work you are doing.” http://www.glendalestar.com/features/feature_stories/article_80ab16f8-480f-11e4-870c-cb9ffba17015.html

Jean Earle in the U.K. reports, “I heard this morning [9/27] that Alan Potter’s wife Betty has just died. They had been married for 59 years. We never met Alan but have known him for years because of our love of Country Music.” She also says, “Thank you for your newsletter…always interesting. I see in our weekend paper that the Patsy Cline Show is now advertised with George Hamilton V. I would think it will be very hard, emotionally, for George V to play his father’s part in the show.”

Johnny Western says, “As per your letters column today, if you have something that I know that you would like to do a story on, let me know. I’ll try to help.”
Diane: Readers, send your questions for Johnny if you want to hear his stories.

Here’s a Johnny Western memory posted on Facebook: “May 17th, 1958, I appeared in both Have Gun-Will Travel and Gunsmoke as an actor, back to back. CBS had a special show that preempted Gunsmoke a couple of weeks before, when mine should have run. So when it did play, it followed Have Gun that night. CBS-TV later told me it was the first time the same actor had ever appeared on those two shows on the same night. Back then, over 35 million people in the U.S. watched those shows every Saturday night. Today, with all the cable channels etc., if the networks get 16 million they think they’ve got a big hit. Ah, those were the good ole days.”

Elroy Severson writes,PRIDE: The Charley Pride Story sounds interesting. Will have to see about reading it. ‘What should the process (and criteria) be for selecting Country Music Hall of Fame Members?’ Seems like evaluation should be on at least the following and I may miss some: Singing and performance abilities including attracting large audiences over many years. Writing songs that others do well at recording (longevity important here also). Being ‘well known’ as a ‘contributor’ in the County Music entertaining field. I will mention longevity again since I believe the ability to change with the times while attracting audiences and/or writing songs over a long period of time should rank high. Since all good singers and entertainers are not necessarily good songwriters and vise versa, I suppose a point system could be used for evaluation. For example, using zero to 100 points for each category and totaling the results.”

Dave Barton writes from Nashville, “Don’t get me started on the Country Music Hall Fame………I have written an article called ‘What Does Take.’ All I know it’s a crying shame that Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie Brown are not in the Hall, they had POP hits back when nobody in Country Music could get airplay, they are on American Bandstand, Ed Sullivan TV show, I’m talking network TV, before cable, not many Country Acts can say that, Jim Ed had his own television show for 30 years, been on the Opry 51 years, had hit records on his own, and a number of hits with Helen Cornelius, So you tell me ‘What Does It Take?’”

Ross, the PROUD father of an American Soldier, suggests:
1, Start with a panel of 8 to discuss his/her participation and reason for eligibility.
2. Musicians should be US citizens. The HOF IS in the US, and who would be willing to travel from North Korea to tour it?
3. Had 20 or more songs on the charts, with at least one reaching no. 1 slot.
4. Primary music form should be country.
5. Backup musicians who help ‘make the world turn’ should participate in at least 50% of the songs in Line 3 stipulation.
6. Years of service – 20 minimum (waived in the case of a musician with premature death).
7. Should participate at least once in a live Saturday country music show (Opry, WWVa Jamboree, Louisiana Hayride, Cowtown Hoedown, etc.).
8. Election committee should require qualified songwriters – musicians in same genre. (Not a forgone conclusion.)

Janet McBride writes, “My trips to Iowa and also Hastings and Holbrook Nebraska festivals were great and at each I picked up an award. I am writing to say THANK YOU for printing my Faron Story. He was truly a REALLY BIG STAR and we lost him way too soon. Let me also say that I became A Big, Big, Big Marty Robbins Fan with his very first airplay hit. It was the ‘tear in his voice’ that did it for me. He sang like he might have lived it and he made us believe he had. To me that is COUNTRY MUSIC. Thank you seems like such a small word but, IF I TYPE IT BIG, MAYBE IT IS BIGGER.”

Chuck Walker, of Walker Texas Surveyors in Cedar Park, Texas, writes, “Can you add me to your Newsletter. I’d love to connect with you to bring your knowledge and insight to our listeners. We are solidly Country Music based with our outreach, and our guitar player sent me one of your newsletters. Thanks for all you do. God Bless and I’m looking forward to being part of each other’s success.”

Tom Barton says, “I am sorry to hear of George Hamilton IV’s passing. He had some great country hits, but my absolute favorite album of his was Folksy, which also featured ‘The Urge for Going.’ I don’t think the album has ever been reissued on CD (which is a shame), but I was delighted to find ‘The Urge for Going’ a few years ago on another CD. He did a wonderful job on it. RIP George.”

James Akenson writes from Nashville, “Good Wednesday Morning Diane: Enjoy receiving your newsletter!”

Linda Elliott Clark in Virginia says, “I’m so sorry to hear about the passing of George Hamilton IV. He always appeared to be a nice gentleman and a gentle soul. God bless him, and may he rest in peace. I’m certain I saw him at the Ryman years ago. Happy for Vince Gill. He deserves it! My man – Alan Jackson!! Congrats to Loretta Lynn — you go girl!! Congrats to Jeanne Seely also! Hope Lynn Anderson is getting the support she needs. Thanks for all the info Diane.”

Randy Travis is on the radio again! I’ve been hearing him sing the old Merle Haggard song, “What Have You Got Planned Tonight, Diana,” which is on his new Influence: The Man I Am CDs. It takes me back to Oklahoma City in 1976. One evening at the Paddock Club, my favorite cowboy played Merle’s new song on the jukebox, took me in his arms on the dance floor, and asked, “What have you got planned tonight, Diane? Would you consider lying in my arms?” Then, sometime during the evening, he vanished. Yes, one of my numerous don’t-trust-men experiences, but I still like the song. And Randy’s version sounds as good as Merle’s did.

Barbara Mandrell‘s autobiography, Get To the Heart: My Story, was coauthored with George Vecsey and published six years after the 1984 car crash that almost killed her. She was an anti-seatbelt person until the day in Nashville when she saw children playing in the back of an open station wagon and she told her two to buckle up. Seconds later, her Jaguar was hit head-on. The other driver died, and Barbara barely survived. Her son and daughter escaped with cuts and bruises. “I’m different now,” Barbara says in the prologue. The book begins just before the accident, and the chapters alternate between her recovery and the years of her life before 1984. Coming home from the hospital, she recalls, “Maybe I was in mourning for Barbara Mandrell the performer, who the world saw as beautiful, talented, energetic, caring . . . and I could not live up to that any more. I wouldn’t even autograph a picture of that other Barbara Mandrell.” Get To the Heart carries a universal message for all caregivers who have felt the wrath of an ill loved one. Barbara says the neurosurgeon explained to her husband that “my behavior was quite logical. Because I know how much Ken loves me, I could vent my anger on Ken. Even in that traumatized state, I did not want to make other people mad at me, but I knew Ken was always going to be there.”

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