Diane’s Country Music Newsletter — 9 January 2019

The leader of country-rock band The Tractors has died. Steve Ripley, 69, died January 3 at his home in Pawnee, Oklahoma. He had been suffering from cancer, according to a statement from Alison Auerbach Public Relations. Born January 1, 1950, he grew up on his family’s Oklahoma Land Run homestead in Pawnee County. He played in bands from junior high through college, graduating from Oklahoma State University with a degree in communications.
In 1987, he purchased The Church Studio in Tulsa, which Leon Russell previously owned. There, his creative work included seven albums for The Tractors. Their first album, The Tractors, earned two Grammy nominations in 1994. A single from the album, “Baby Likes to Rock It,” remains the top-selling record of all time for a work recorded in Oklahoma.

Jimmy Work, 94, died December 22 at his residence Dukedom, Tennessee. A musician and a songwriter, he served in the U.S. Army during World War II. His most famous song, “Making Believe,” was honored in 1978 as one of 101 BMI award-winning country songs. “That’s What Makes A Jukebox Play” and “Tennessee Border” are two of the many that came from his pen. After his music career, he moved to Union City, where he eventually retired as a millwright with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. He is survived by his wife, Ruth Elizabeth, 93. The couple married on October 4, 1941.

The writer of “Colorado Kool-Aid” has died. Songwriter Phil Thomas, 74, passed away January 5. Saving Country Music reports he served with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division and then attended college where he was starting quarterback at both Oklahoma State and Mississippi State. He was scouted by the Washington Redskins and later became a high school football coach. He switched to songwriting in 1978. “Colorado Kool-Aid” was the flip side of Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It.” Other hit songs included Gene Watson’s Top 10 “Drinkin’ My Way Back Home” and Randy Travis’s “My Heart Cracked (But It Did Not Break).”

Steve Hall, 64, the voice of Shotgun Red, died of natural causes on December 28 in his hometown of Brainerd, Minnesota. He was there for an ice fishing trip, Nashville News4 confirmed with his son. Hall and puppet Shotgun Red had regularly performed on Ralph Emery’s Nashville Now TV show.

Saving County Music compiled a long, long list of country music personalities who died in 2018. While I mentioned many of them in my newsletter throughout the year, here are a few others.
Johnny Mosby, 84, died February 19. I couldn’t find an obituary for him, but I remember the duo of Johnny and Jonie Mosby. Their 1963 debut single was “Don’t Call Me from a Honky Tonk,” followed by “Trouble in My Arms,” “Just Hold My Hand,” and “I’m Leavin’ It Up to You.” They married in 1958 and divorced in 1973.
Royce Porter, 79, of Hendersonville, Tennessee, co-wrote “Ocean Front Property” and other songs for George Strait, along with “Miami My Amy” and many more. Hank Cochran was a frequent writing partner. Royce died May 31, after being hit by a motorist who ran a red light, Dominique Anglares tells us. Royce served in the U.S. Navy and later played piano on Kenny Rogers’ first record. The Texas native moved to Nashville in 1969.
Billy Ray Lantham, 80, died August 19. Born in Wild Cat Corner, Arkansas, he started playing banjo with The Kentucky Colonels in 1961. When the producers of the Andy Griffith Show asked them to play a hillbilly family of musicians called the Darlings, other commitments prevented them from accepting. They recommended their friend, Rodney Dillard, and The Dillards performed as the Darlings. A decade later, Billy Ray left the Colonels and joined The Dillards (1974-78). I reported the death of another Dillard, mandolin player Dean Webb, on June 30.
Legendary steel guitarist Herb Remington, 92, died October 27 in Houston, Texas, where he’d lived since the 1950s. He joined Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys in 1946, replacing Leon McAuliffe, and made his mark with “Boot Heel Drag.” Dominique Anglares tells us, “His legacy includes a number of ageless compositions and a distinctive approach to an instrument crucial to the sound of western swing. He played with Bob Wills and Hank Penny before settling in Houston and playing countless sessions at the famous Gold Star studio.” Herb designed the Remington Steel Guitar.
Billy Poe, 77, died October 31 in Nashville. The steel guitarist worked in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for many years and toured with Charley Pride.

Atlanta, Georgia, is believed to have hosted the very first country recording session–in the early 1920s. Fiddlin’ John Carson recorded “The Little Old Cabin in the Lane”; it became the first hit of a genre that didn’t yet have a name. The 152 Nassau Street building where the recording occurred will be demolished, Curbed in Atlanta reports, if a proposal to build Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville high-rise resort is approved. “In June 1923, Ralph Peer and engineers from Okeh Records came down from New York to Atlanta to record Southern musicians–black and white,” Kyle Kessler, an Atlanta architect and preservationist, writes in an online petition to save the building. “This was the first time vernacular musicians had ever been recorded on ‘location’–before New Orleans (1924), Memphis (1927), Bristol (1927), or Nashville (1928).”

When Jimmie Allen arrived in Nashville in the winter of 2007, his roommates took his rent money and kicked him out of the apartment. He slept in his car for the next four months, The Tennessean reports, sending his paychecks to his mother and siblings in Delaware. The day someone gave him a dollar, he bought a McDonald’s chicken sandwich and tore it in half to last two days. Now that he’s made history with his debut single, “Best Shot,” he makes a point of giving away two dollars every day. “I know how a dollar can change someone’s week, something we throw away so frivolously,” he says. After growing up in a largely white town in Delaware, he attended a black university to learn about cultural differences from young adults who looked like him but were raised differently. “When kids get a Christmas present, they don’t look at the paper and say, ‘I don’t like this wrapping,'” Allen says. “They rip it off to see what’s inside. I feel like that’s what we should focus on as people. When they get past my wrapping — the color of my skin and where I’m from — what am I giving them as substance? I feel the same way about music.” He was the first artist signed when BBR Music Group (BMG) bought Stoney Creek Records in 2017.

Saving Country Music reports that Old Crow Medicine Show is apparently taking a performing break but has not confirmed that. Fiddle player Chance McCoy announced on social media that he’d played his last gig for this new year. “The band is going on hiatus for a while and I have no idea if and when I’ll be back playing with the lads,” he wrote. “It’s been an amazing six years. From living in a broke-down cabin on food stamps to winning a Grammy. My hats off to these fellas, now it’s time for them to take a much needed break.”

William Shatner, 87, of Star Trek fame, will make his Grand Ole Opry debut February 15. Jeff Cook, Alabama co-founder, will join him. The pair released a collaborative country album, Why Not Me, in August. They recorded it in Cook’s studio in Fort Payne, Alabama. “I love country music,” Shatner said in a recent press release. “The terrible truth is that I can’t sing, but what I do have is a feeling for poetry. I am trying to fuse the spoken word with music.”

Three upcoming Texas performances by Bobby Bare in March have been cancelled and will be rescheduled for the fall. His other shows are expected to go on as planned. According to Saving Country Music, Bobby’s management calls the cancelations a combination of health concerns and scheduling conflicts.

Rolling Stone Country reports two events that happened during the Friday night Opry on December 21. Opry staff guitarist Jimmy Capps celebrated his 60th anniversary of playing the Opry. He first appeared with the Louvin Brothers in December 1958 and later became a member of the Opry band. To recognize those six decades, Marty Stuart and Vince Gill announced that the band room in the Opry House is now officially the Jimmy Capps Music Room. His Opry bandmates performed a medley of songs Jimmy had helped record as a member of Nashville’s A-Team of session musicians. Also, Mark Wills, whose hits include “Wish You Were Here” and “19 Somethin’,” was invited by Vince Gill to become the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. He first played the Opry in 1996. He will be inducted this Friday.

A January 3 tweet from John Michael Montgomery‏ announces a successful procedure to remove a polyp from one of his vocal cords. He says he is home on vocal rest for three months and will resume touring in April.

Olivia Newton-John, 70, has refuted a tabloid story that claimed she was near death and hoping to last until her daughter’s wedding. She posted a video on Twitter, quoting Mark Twain by saying, “I just want to say the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated, to quote a very famous quote, and I’m doing great and I want to wish all of you the happiest, healthiest 2019 that’s possible.” Taste of Country reports, “She appears thin, but vibrant and healthy, wearing a sapphire blue sweater over a black top.” She is battling cancer for the third time. After beating breast cancer in 1992, she was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and 2018.

After joining the Grand Ole Opry on January 4, 1969, Dolly Parton is celebrating her fiftieth anniversary as a member. “It was always my dream to be on the Opry,” she says on the Opry website. “I actually got to sing on the Grand Ole Opry when I was about 10 years old. I officially became a member back in 1969 and I cannot believe next year I will celebrate 50 proud years of being a member of the Grand Ole Opry!” To celebrate, the Opry has announced Dolly Week 2019 in October. The multi-night event will include other stars performing her hits, a concert that celebrates her roots, and two performances by Dolly.

Terry Burford writes from KZHE Radio in Magnolia, Arkansas, “I would love to do an interview with you on Wednesday, January 16, at 12.30 pm Central. With all your knowledge of traditional country, I think this would be fun.”
Diane: I look forward to our conversation, Terry, and hearing some great classic country music. I invite my readers to join us. Click on “Listen Live.”

Marlene Nord says, “Thank you so much for interviewing Tony Booth. I had the distinct honor of interviewing him a few years back for a small radio show I do called ‘The Rare Jewels of Country Music.’ He was as kind and gracious as he was in your interview, and it is an experience I shall treasure always. I love his music and am so thrilled his career has made a comeback. Your newsletters are the highlight of the Tuesdays when they arrive. I can’t wait to open them, revealing the treasure trove of information they contain. Happy New Year, and keep up the good work, hopefully for years to come.”

Jenny Jones writes from Texas, “Once again enjoyed your newsletter……hope you had a wonderful holiday….enjoyed all the news you passed along…I was glad to hear Alabama are going to go on tour this year…..my daughter is big fan of theirs…and has been for quite a few years…..thank you for mentioning my pen pal…she sent me a long snail mail, catching me up on all the news we had missed this past year, due to my health problems……you not only caught us up on the news, but passed along all the good news about the country artists…….keep up the good work….Wish I could talk to you sometime, but I will settle for passing these notes, letting you know how much your news is appreciated.”

Gary Robble, former lead singer for Sonny James’s Southern Gentlemen, says, “I just finished reading your December Music Newsletter on Norma Jean. It was great to read a current piece on her.”

David Frederick writes from England, “Thank you for a sad news on the passing of another singer/songwriter, Jerry Chesnut. He will be sadly missed by us all. R.I.P. Jerry–God Bless your wife and family and country music friends, last but not least your Fans. As I’ve mentioned some time ago, I was a close friend for 36 years with the Late Jim Reeves Wife Mary and she invited us over with my wife in 1986/7. Have you ever written about James Travis Reeves? As I think after all these years a story from you would be very interesting to tell the world what a lovely man husband and son he was to his Mother and family. It would be a great honour coming from you.”

Larry Jordan announces, “A NEW, UPDATED version of my award-winning 672-page book, Jim Reeves: His Untold Story, has been released and is available worldwide at a discounted price for shipping. It is being simultaneously printed in foreign countries so people who live outside the U.S. will only have to pay local postage rates instead of the exorbitant price USPS charges to have a book shipped abroad. My book has been praised by Billboard and Country Music People magazines, The Nashville Tennessean, and I guested on a 1-hour BBC documentary on Jim said to be heard by 12 million. It took me 13 years to research and write Untold Story. I did over 500 taped interviews and had access to thousands of pages of private documents, including Jim and his wife, Mary’s private diaries. (I knew Mary Reeves for 33 years, from the time I was 13, and was a guest in the Reeves home). So it’s virtually a day-by-day account of this iconic country music star’s fascinating life. Among the NEW revelations is that Reeves had first-hand knowledge of a Lee Harvey Oswald/Jack Ruby connection (he and his band played Dallas when JFK was killed) and was so shaken by this he feared someone was following him. He started hiring guards to watch his plane 24/7 when he flew. (The FBI informed me files on Jim are locked up with Kennedy assassination papers). I also have new info on the mysteries surrounding the plane crash that took the lives of Jim and his piano player, Dean Manuel, and how the young woman who ran the small Arkansas airport and was the last to see the two men alive was murdered in a hit-and-run car crash shortly afterward. The book has anecdotes about Marty Robbins, Faron Young, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Chet Atkins, Roger Miller, Dottie West, Minnie Pearl…the list goes on. Fans can read more details and order the book at: http://www.jimreevesbook.com.”

Eric Calhoun says, “Nice to see Norma Jean is still singing, and that Reba McEntire will have a third television show. Jerry Chesnut: Is he related to Mark Chesnut? Margie Singleton’s ‘Heaven or Hell’ is a great song, but if I sing that song in Arkansas at Camp Yorktown Bay (Christian Record Services for the Blind), I’ll be kicked off. Can you find a more positive song for me to sing this summer? I’m a huge Ronnie Millsap fan, nice to see the pride of the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind is doing well at 76. Are there any up-and-coming blind country singers in Nashville? Last question: What happened to Natalie Stovall?”
Diane: Natalie Stovall has been the lead singer of the American country music group, Natalie Stovall and the Drive, since 2012. She has a website and a Facebook page. I don’t have answers for your other questions.

Jean Earle writes from England, “Thank you for your newsletter…as always very interesting. I enjoyed reading the story of the recording of ‘Four in the Morning.’ Fascinating to read about all the details and work that goes into making a hit song. I have a little story of my own that may be of interest to you. Thinking back to the happy days of the Wembley Festivals, that were organized by Mervyn Conn, when so many of the top Country singers first came over to England, to the great delight of the Country Music fans over here. The 1980s were the BEST years for seeing and watching the artists they had only known via their record collections. My story is about Faron Young. We had been lucky enough to have met Faron and his lovely family while we were visiting Nashville in 1975 and were most happy to have a correspondence with him and his office for a few pleasant years afterwards. When we heard he was to appear at Wembley at Easter time 1980… we looked forward to seeing him …..Faron, while in the London area took the time to travel a few miles out of the city to come and visit us in our home in Croydon, Surrey. We were so THRILLED and delighted. He was very busy but took the time to call on us and he spent a lovely, relaxing afternoon with our family …sipping tea and eating salmon sandwiches. My husband Alan took this photograph in our front sitting room…….A proof for me now, that I had not dreamed the whole happy meeting!!!! Faron was such a lovely gentleman, greatly loved and admired by his fans and sadly missed.”

Monte Boulanger in Bentonville, Arkansas, writes, “I’m Leon Bolulanger’s nephew. I never met him, and I was wondering if you had any more research on him other than what you had in Faron’s biography. I worked in Branson for several years, but I’ve been in Bentonville working at Walmart home office since 1999. Johnny Cash told me once that Leon was the best fiddle player he ever heard. If you have any pictures of him or any other information you could share, could you please contact me?”
Diane: I don’t have much information on Leon other than what’s in the book. I don’t recall the Deputies telling stories about him. Readers, do you have any Leon stories or photos to share with Monte?

I called Hillous Butrum in January 2002 to talk about the early days of Faron Young. He died only three months later, a few days after his 74th birthday. His comments about Marty Robbins didn’t hold interest for me at the time of our conversation. When I started on Marty’s biography several years later, I regretted not having captured those memories.

I was one of Hank Snow’s Rainbow Ranch Boys. I was an original Drifting Cowboy, then an original Rainbow Ranch Boy, then an original Teardrop with Marty Robbins. I played rhythm guitar for Hank. The first year I played bass. My bass flew off the top of the car. I switched to rhythm, because dragging the big bass fiddle back and forth–everything was upright back then. So I played rhythm and bass. Then I played lead guitar and bass and fronted the show for Hank Snow.

Jerry Rivers called me and asked me would I want the job [as bass player with Hank Williams]. I said I’d like a job with anybody. I went up and we run through a few songs. Hank asked us could we leave that night. So that’s how we all got together.

I first met Faron in Memphis, Tennessee, when he was coming to Nashville to join the Grand Ole Opry. His manager was Hubert Long. Well, Hubert and I run around together. So he stopped by Memphis, and came backstage, and that’s the first time I met him.

Hubert started booking Faron on some of the shows we were doing with Hank Snow and the Rainbow Ranch Boys. In fact, we were playing a show one time, and I was rooming next door to him and Hubert. Me and the boy I roomed with. Faron had his guitar up in the room, and he kept on singing over and over, “Me and”–“goin’ steady.” Over and over and over. And he was stuck in a lyric. I could hear him through the wall. That melody started–I got the melody right away. I knew what he was doing. But he couldn’t go no further with it. He’d try another line. “Me and my baby are goin’ steady, we ain’t married but we’re gettin’ ready,” and he’d try something else. I was going to breakfast, and I went over to see if they wanted to go to breakfast. I said, “Whatcha doin’, writing a song?” He said, “Yeah, I’m trying to write a song.” I said, “Sing me your first line.” So he sung it to me. “Me and my baby are goin’ steady. We ain’t married, but we’re gettin’ ready to tie the knot and I’m gonna make her my own.” I said, “Now that I’ve found her, I’m gonna keep her. Finders keepers, losers weepers. She’s my baby, and she’s goin’ steady with me.” He said, “Hey man, that’s good.” So he wrote it down. He said, “Sit down. You want to write it with me?” I said, “Whatdyu got?”

Back in those days, we didn’t consider–if you gave somebody a line or something like that in a song, you didn’t want nothing for it. Because he would have done the same thing for me. If I had writer’s credits on every one that I’d ever done a line in, with all the guys that I’ve known down here, I’d have my name on a bunch of songs. I don’t consider it writing part of “Goin’ Steady.” I don’t consider giving anybody eight bars is writing part of it. Everybody used to do the same thing.

We was doing a show–they had Bill Walker’s orchestra–well Faron was on the show. They kicked off “Cold, Cold Heart.” But when they did, Faron didn’t come in when he should. So Bill Walker stopped, and Faron said, “Whatdidya stop for?” It was a black-tie affair with the people in the business here in town. Bill said, “You missed a bar.” He said, “Hell, I never thought I missed a bar in my life.” That was Faron. They counted down and got the intro again. Faron walked over to the edge of the stage, and he said, “I’ll get it right this time, Hillous.” I was sitting right over at the edge of the stage with Fred Rose, Jimmy Dickens, and some other people. When they tried to edit that off, they couldn’t get it off the tape. So when the special run on TV, you see Faron says, “I’ll get it right this time, Hillous.” Then he goes into singing.

The only thing I can ever say about Faron Young, he’s one of the greatest guys that’s ever came down here, and I’ve been here for a lot of years. I started here when I was 15 years old, and I’m 73 now. So that’s how long I’ve been here. I went out with Ernest Tubb when I was 15. I’ve seen ’em all come down the road.

Jerry Chesnut’s obituary listed his song, “T R O U B L E,” as a hit for Elvis Presley in 1975 and Travis Tritt in 1992. Of all the songs he wrote, Jerry told me, “I’d say ‘T R O U B L E’ I like number one.” I’m well familiar with the Travis Tritt recording, but I didn’t know Elvis had recorded the song. When I searched YouTube, it brought up Elvis singing “Trouble” in the 1958 movie, King Creole. Wrong song—that one was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. I tried again and found the correct one. I was really surprised to check Billboard’s Top Country Singles and discover Elvis’s version made it to # 11, while Travis’s cover only reached # 13.

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