Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dates of Note in Country Music, December 1-15

Category: News

(Hall of Fame members in bold)

December 1:

Darryl Ellis born in Norfolk, Virginia, 1964 (now 44)
Silm Willet born in Dublin, Texas, 1919 (died 1966)
Jim Nesbitt born in Bishopville, South Carolina, 1931 (died 2007)
Fred Rose died (heart failure), 1954 (was 57)
Carter Stanley died (cirrhosis of the liver), 1966 (was 41)

December 2:

John Wesley Ryles born in Bastrop, Louisiana, 1950 (now 58)
Herman Crook born in Scottsboro, Tennessee, 1898 (died 1988)
Marvin Hughes died (unknown cause), 1986 (was 75)
"Tennessee Waltz" recorded by Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart, 1947

December 3:

Ferlin Husky born in Flat River, Missouri, 1927 (now 81)
Paul Gregg of Restless Heart born in New York, New York, 1954 (now 54)
Rabon Delmore born in Dothan, Alabama, 1916 (died 1952)
Hubert Long born in Poteet, Texas, 1923 (died 1972)
Lew Childre died (various health issues), 1961 (was 60)
Grady Martin died (heart attack), 2001 (was 72)
Bob Wills recorded his last song, a Cindy Walker number, "What Makes Bob Holler," 1973

December 4:

Chris Hillman born in Los Angeles, California, 1944 (now 63)
Rabon Delmore died (lung cancer), 1952 (was 36)
Eddy Arnold's first record session as a solo artist, 1944
Sun Records' "Million Dollar Quartet" of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis record together, 1956
Connie B. Gay elected inaugural president of the Country Music Association, 1958
Connie B. Gay died (cancer), 1989 (was 75)

December 5:

Don Robertson born in Peking, China, 1922 (now 86)
Jim Messina of Poco born in Harlingen, Texas, 1947 (now 61)
Ty England born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1963 (now 45)
Molly O'Day died (cancer), 1987 (was 64)
Wilf Carter (Montana Slim) died (stomach tumor), 1996 (was 91)
The soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou released, 2000

December 6:

Helen Cornelius born in Hannibal, Missouri, 1941 (now 67)
Bill Lloyd of Foster & Lloyd born in Ft. Hood, Texas, 1955 (now 53)
Hugh Farr born in Llano, Texas, 1903 (died 1980)
Jim Eanes born in Mountain Valley, Virginia, 1923 (died 1995)
Roy Orbison died (heart attack), 1989 (was 52)

December 7:

Slim Bryant born in Atlanta, Georgia, 1908 (now 100)
Bobby Osborne born in Hyden, Kentucky, 1931 (now 77)
Gary Morris born in Fort Worth, Texas, 1948 (now 60)
Hugh X. Lewis born in Yeaddiss, Kentucky, 1932 (now 76)
Bill Boyd died (unknown cause), 1977 (was 67)

December 8:

Marty Raybon born in Stanford, Florida, 1959 (now 49)
Jack Stapp born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1912 (died 1980)
Floyd Tillman born in Ryan, Oklahoma, 1914 (died 2003)
Marty Robbins died (heart attack), 1982 (was 57)

December 9:

Billy Edd Wheeler born in Whitesville, Virginia, 1932 (now 76)
David Houston born in Bossier City, Louisiana, 1938 (died 1993)
Tommy Jackson died (unknown cause), 1979 (was 53)

December 10:

Johnny Rodriguez born in Sabinal, Texas, 1951 (now 57)
Kevin Sharp born in Weiser, Idaho, 1970 (now 38)
Eddie Miller born in Camargo, Oklahoma, 1919 (died 1977)
John Duffey of the Seldom Scene died (heart attack), 1996 (was 62)
Faron Young died (suicide), 1996 (was 64)
Jimmy Riddle died (cancer), 1982 (was 64)
Before the evening's WSM Barn Dance began, announcer George D. Hay commented, "For the past hour, you've been listening to selections taken from grand opera. Now we present Grand Ole Opry," 1927.

December 11:

Charles Whitstein born in Colfax, Louisiana, 1945 (now 63)
Brenda Lee born in Atlanta, Georgia, 1944 (now 64)
Arthur Q. Smith born in Griffin, Georgia, 1909 (died 1963)
Fiddlin' John Carson died (natural causes), 1949 (was 81)
Commercial plane with Tex Ritter aboard as a passenger hijacked to Cuba, 1968

December 12:

Hank Williams III born in Houston, Texas, 1972 (now 36)
LaCosta Tucker born in Seminole, Texas, 1951 (now 57)
Clifton Chenier died (kidney disease related to diabetes), 1987 (was 62)

December 13:

Buck White born in Oklahoma, 1930 (now 78)
Randy Owen of Alabama born in Fort Payne, Alabama, 1949 (now 59)
John Anderson born in Orlando, Florida, 1954 (now 54)
Wesley Tuttle born in Lamar, Colorado, 1917 (died 2003)
Lulu Belle and Scotty Wiseman wed, 1934

December 14:

DeFord Bailey born in Smith County, Tennessee, 1899 (died 1982)
Charlie Rich born in Forest City, Arkansas, 1932 (died 1995)

December 15:

Ernie Ashworth born in Huntsville, Alabama, 1928 (now 80)
Doug Phelps of Kentucky Headhunters born in Leachville, Arkansas, 1960 (now 48)
Alvin Pleasant Carter born in Maces Spring, Virginia, 1891 (died 1960)
Jerry Wallace born in Guilford, Missouri, 1928 (died 2008)
Nudie Cohn (ne Nuta Kotlyarenko) born in Kiev, Ukraine, 1902 (died 1984)
Hank Williams marries Audrey Guy, 1944

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Category: Personal

"But tell me, what are riches
But contentment after all?
Other folks may think I'm poor
But I know it's not so
'Cause when I count my blessings
I'm the richest man I know"
--"The Richest Man in the World," written by Boudleaux Bryant (made famous by Eddy Arnold)

Have a happy Thanksgiving, filled with the contentment that'll make you the richest man (or woman) in the world!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dates of Note in Country Music, November 16-30

Category: News

(Hall of Fame members in bold)

November 16:

Troy Seals born in Bill Hill, Kentucky, 1938 (now 70)
Larry Cordel born in Cordell, Kentucky, 1949 (now 59)
Will Goleman of the Cactus Brothers born in Shreveport, Louisiana, 1963 (now 45)
Ronnie Pugh, Ernest Tubb's biographer, born in Texas, year unknown
Earl Bolick born in Hickory, North Carolina, 1919 (died 1998)
J.D. Sumner died (heart attack), 1998 (was 73)

November 17:

Gordon Lightfoot born in Orilla, Ontario, Canada, 1938 (now 70). The legendary folk singer has written such hits as Marty Robbins' "Ribbon of Darkness" and Bill Anderson's "Did She Mention My Name."
Eva Foley (Red Foley's wife) died (suicide), 1951 (was 33)
Don Gibson died (natural causes), 2003 (was 75)

November 18:

Jessi Alexander born in Jackson, Tennessee, 1976 (now 32)
John McFee of Southern Pacific born in Santa Cruz, California, 1953 (now 55)
Doug Sahm died (heart attack), 1999 (was 58)

November 19:

Billy Currington born in Savannah, Georgia, 1973 (now 35)
Jerry Foster born in Tallapoosa, Missouri, 1935 (now 73)
Bobby Russell died (coronary artery disease), 1992 (was 51)

November 20:

Curly Putman born in Princeton, Alabama, 1930 (now 78)
George Grantham of Poco and Ricky Skaggs' band born in Cordell, Oklahoma, 1947 (now 61)
Dierks Bentley born in Phoenix, Arizona, 1975 (now 33)
Josh Turner born in Hannah, South Carolina, 1977 (now 31)
Judy Canova born in Starke, Florida, 1913 (died 1983)
Eck Robertson born in Madison County, Arkansas, 1897 (died 1975)
RCA buys the contract of Elvis Presley from Sun Records for $35,000, 1955

November 21:

Jean Shepard born in Paul Valley, Oklahoma, 1933 (now 75)
Jim Eanes died (congestive heart failure), 1995 (was 71)
Charlie Daniels pulls out of "Country Freedom Concert" after being told not to perform "This Ain't No Rag, It's a Flag," 2001

November 22:

Wiley Post born in Grand Saline, Texas, 1899 (died 1935)
First Disc Jockey Convention held in Nashville, 1952
Keith Whitley and Lorrie Morgan married, 1986

November 23:

Jerry Sullivan born in Wagarville, Alabama, 1933 (now 75)
Charlie Sizemore born in Richmond, Kentucky, 1960 (now 48)
Spade Cooley died (heart attack), 1969 (was 58)
Grady Nutt died (plane crash), 1982 (was 48)
Roy Acuff died (congestive heart failure), 1992 (was 89)
Smokey Rogers died (unknown cause), 1993 (was 76)

November 24:

Johnny Carver born in Jackson, Mississippi, 1940 (now 68)
Stoney Edwards born in Seminole, Oklahoma, 1929 (died 1997)
Teddy Wilburn died (congestive heart failure), 2003 (was 71)

November 25:

Amy Grant born in Augusta, Georgia, 1960 (now 48)
Eddie Stubbs born in Gaithersburg, Maryland, 1961 (now 47)
Biff Collie born in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1926 (died 1992)
Ralph Emery debuts on WSM in overnight slot, 1957

November 26:

Joe Nichols born in Rogers, Arkansas, 1976 (now 32)

November 27:

Eddie Rabbitt born in Brooklyn, New York, 1941 (died 1998)
Charlene Arthur died (illness), 1987 (was 58)

November 28:

WSM Barn Dance (later known as the Grand Ole Opry) born, 1925 (now 83)
Carrie Rodgers, widow of Jimmie Rodgers, died (cancer), 1961

November 29:

Merle Travis born in Rosewood, Kentucky, 1917 (died 1983)
Jody Miller born in Phoenix, Arizona, 1941 (now 67)
Joel Whitburn born in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, 1938 (now 70)

November 30:

Bob Moore born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1932 (now 76)
Jeannie Kendall born in St. Louis, Missouri, 1954 (now 54)
Mindy McCready born in Ft. Myers, Florida, 1975 (now 33)
Teddy Wilburn born in Hardy, Arkansas, 1931 (died 2003)
David Houston died (brain aneurysm), 1993 (was 54)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I Still Miss Someone

Category: Tribute/Personal

The laugh. I really miss that laugh.

Robert Whitstein didn't have a guffaw-type of laugh; rather, it started as a smile, then a chuckle, and built up from there. He loved to laugh, too. Sometimes a memory running through his mind would trigger the smile, and you knew what was next. He wouldn't always pass along just what was on his personal highlight reel, although when he did the results were more laughter.

Bob had a long list of jokes, some of which were so notorious that all he had to do to break people up was deliver the punch line. My favorite:

A little boy went to a holiness church with his grandfather. The grandfather, having arthritis and a cold, went to the altar to have the elders pray over him for healing. The elders gathered around, laid hands on him, and began singing "The Old Ship of Zion." The little boy jumped up, screamed, and ran out of the church and all the way home. When he arrived his mother asked what was wrong. He replied, "Grandpa went up to the front of the church, and they're beating him up and singing, 'The Old Shit's a-Dyin'!'"

To this day, I cannot see the title of "The Old Ship of Zion" without breaking up laughing. Thanks a lot, Robert, you ruined a great song for me.

The Whitstein Brothers went all over the world with their wonderful Louvinesque harmonies, earning a Grammy nomination in 1990 for Old Time Duets. The old adage of "you can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of boy" was never more true than for Robert and Charles Whitstein. The pains of being a professional musician were too much for Robert, who would have been as content sitting on his front porch playing all day if he had never received the Grammy nod. He retired from the business and returned to his farm in Louisiana, not unlike the one depicted in the Jimmie Davis song "Where the Old Red River Flows" (which the Whitsteins recorded for their first album on Rounder Records, Rose of My Heart). Although I saw him very little after that, we talked frequently. He even thought to call me while I was in the hospital recovering from surgery. I had to warn him, though, to not make me laugh because my freshly-cut abdomen didn't need the exercise just yet.

Robert Whitstein, outside the Opry House,
following a performance of the Whitstein
Brothers on the Grand Ole Opry

In the seven years since a heart attack claimed Robert Whitstein's life at 57 on November 14, 2001, I have found that I miss that jocularity the most. The one good thing about art is that it lasts and enriches long after the artist leaves us, which enables people whose grandparents were not alive when Jimmie Rodgers died to discover his music. (Barry Mazor has a great book on that subject coming out next year.) I have the Whitstein Brothers' music: all the commercially-released material, a video of their reunion showcase at IBMA in 1993, and lots and lots of live tapes. But that laugh of Robert's is silent now, and I miss it. That laugh was the essence of the man: a warm, funny, happy guy who was a friend first, and a musician second.

The hole in our lives is still as large as that laugh.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Don't You Know Him, He's Your Native Son

Category: Book Review

Last year when I mentioned Steve Goodman in my "dates of note in country music," I received a reply from author Clay Eals. He thanked me for remembering Steve and mentioned he had a biography due. That biography is now out.

To call Steve Goodman: Facing the Music just a biography is to do Eals' book a disservice. Yes, it is a detailed look at Steve Goodman's life. It's also, secularly speaking, one of the most life-affirming books you can hope to read.
This book is not to be missed. Goodman fans, and indeed fans of country or folk music, will eat it up; however, the book is a must for anyone who loves life.

Steve Goodman: Facing the Music

For those who aren't familiar with Steve Goodman, he wrote "City of New Orleans," first a hit by fellow folk singer Arlo Guthrie in 1972 then a Grammy-winning country version by Willie Nelson in 1984. He also penned (along with fellow Chicago native, folk/country icon, and lunatic John Prine) "You Never Even Called Me By My Name," in which they "tried to cram everything that had been in every country and western song into one song." The David Allan Coe version stands as Coe's biggest hit as a singer, and even non-country fans know the punch line verse about mother, prison, trucks, and trains. If you watch Cubs baseball games on WGN, it is Goodman's voice you hear at the conclusion of victories: his "Go Cubs Go" is played after every win at Wrigley.

In a loving, thoroughly researched narrative, Eals takes the reader through Goodman's life and career. The book begins with an account of Goodman's final concert in Kansas City, where he struggled through his set because of the ravages of leukemia and the medication he had to take. The reader knows from the onset that the story has no happy ending (the complications of a bone marrow operation to treat the leukemia claimed Goodman's life at the far-too-young age of 36), which is a risk for a biographer to take. Yet, Eals builds the story masterfully through Goodman's childhood in Chicago, where he learned a love of music and performing at his synagogue, through the horrid diagnosis and the initial prognosis of "maybe three years" into the remission and recurrences, and a career where Goodman became a "songwriter's songwriter" (with artists such as Kris Kristofferson singing his praises).

Yes, the story is sad. It would be a cold-hearted individual who could read the passage about Goodman's life support machines being disconnected on that fateful September day in 1984 without being at least misty-eyed (or, as some of Goodman's friends and fans admitted to, crying openly). However, Goodman's life was one of jockularity, and Eals follows that trail as far as it leads, even to near the bitter end when Jimmy Buffett played some songs in Goodman's hospital room and reported that all of the alarms on the machines keeping the comatose Goodman alive started going off and concluded Steve didn't care for the latest Buffett tune. (Buffett has recorded a number of Goodman compositions, including "This Hotel Room," "Banana Republics," "Door Number Three," and one of my personal favorite Goodman songs, "California Promises.") Given that Goodman, like his lifelong friend Prine, could break your heart with one song ("My Old Man," about the death of his father) then have you crying from laughing with the next (such as "Sdrawkcab Klat [Talk Backwards]"), it would only stand to reason that Eals' work would follow that theme. You will cry, but you will also laugh out loud in response to Goodman's lyrics, his antics, and even his friends carrying out the lyrics to "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" for Goodman (scattering some of his ashes at Wrigley Field).

The book, currently in its second printing, is over 800 pages in length, meticulously cross-referenced. That is not a drawback. This is an easy book to read, because the writing is as warm and friendly as one of Steve Goodman's perpetual smiles.