Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dates of Note in Country Music, April 1-15

Category: News

(Hall of Fame members in bold)

April 1:

Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith born in Clinton, South Carolina, 1921 (now 88)
Jim Ed Brown born in Sparkman, Arkansas, 1934 (now 75)
Jules Verne Allen born in Waxahachie, Texas, 1883 (died 1945)
Jimmy Logsdon born in Panther, Kentucky, 1922 (died 2001)
CMA President Paul Cohen died (cancer), 1970 (was 71)
Rachel Veach joined Roy Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys, 1939. She was the only female member in the 55-year history of the group. Her presence gave rise to Pete Kirby's nickname "Bashful Brother Oswald:" a woman traveling with a group of men was scandalous, so Kirby was billed as Veach's "bashful brother" to quell any rumors.
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opened, 1967

April 2:

Warner Mack born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1935 (now 74)
Sonny Throckmorton born in Carlsbad, New Mexico, 1941 (now 68)
Emmylou Harris born in Birmingham, Alabama, 1947 (now 62)
Dean Townson of Pirates of the Mississippi born in Battle Creek, Michigan, 1959 (now 50)
Billy Dean born in Quincy, Florida, 1962 (now 47)
Cliff Carlisle died (unknown cause), 1983 (was 78)

April 3:

Billy Joe Royal born in Valdosta, Georgia, 1942 (now 67)
Curtis Stone of Highway 101 (and son of Cliffie Stone) born in North Hollywood, California, 1950 (now 50)
Hank Newman of the Georgia Crackers born in Cochran, Georgia, 1905 (died 1978)
Don Gibson born in Shelby, North Carolina, 1928 (died 2003)
Ella Mae Cooley murdered, 1961. Her husband, self-proclaimed "King of Western Swing" Spade Cooley, was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Red Allen died (cancer), 1993 (was 63) The
Louisiana Hayride debuts on KWKH, Shreveport, Louisiana, 1948. Among the artists who performed on the radio show were Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Johnny Horton, and one-time emcee Jim Reeves.

April 4:

Norro Wilson born in Scottsville, Kentucky, 1938 (now 71)
Steve Gatlin of the Gatlin Brothers born in Olney, Texas, 1951 (now 58)
Troy Gentry of Montgomery-Gentry born in Lexington, Kentucky, 1967 (now 42)
Cy Coben born in Jersey City, New Jersey, 1919 (died 2006)
Red Sovine died (heart attack), 1980 (was 61)

April 5:

Jack Clement born in Whitehaven, Tennessee, 1931 (now 78)
Bill Clifton born in Riverwood, Maryland, 1931 (now 78). In addition to being a bluegrass performer, Clifton is also credited with starting the bluegrass festival, when he organized a July 4, 1961 show in Luray, Virginia.
June Stearns born in Albany, New York, 1939 (now 70)
Tommy Cash born in Dyess, Arkansas, 1940 (now 69)
Bob McDill born in Beaumont, Texas, 1944 (now 65)
Stoney Edwards died (complications from diabetes), 1997 (was 67)
Gene Pitney died (natural causes), 2006 (was 65). In addition to his rock hits, Pitney recorded two albums of duets with George Jones.

April 6:

Vernon Dalhart (ne Marion Try Slaughter) born in Marion County, Texas, 1883 (died 1948)
Wade Ray born in Griffin, Indiana, 1913 (died 1998)
Merle Haggard born in Bakersfield, California, 1937 (now 72)
Tammy Wynette died (heart failure attributed to blood clot), 1998 (was 55)
The Grand Ole Opry's Saturday night show was canceled due to rioting in the wake of Martin Luther King's assassination earlier in the week, 1968.

April 7:

Cal Smith born in Gans, Oklahoma, 1932 (now 77)
Bobby Bare born in Ironton, Ohio, 1935 (now 74)
John Dittrich of Restless Heart born in New York, New York, 1951 (now 58)
Leon "Pappy" Selph born in Houston, Texas, 1914 (died 1999)
Clyde Moody died (unknown cause), 1989 (was 73)

April 8:

John Schneider born in Mount Kisco, New York, 1960 (now 49)
Jimmy Osborne born in Winchester, Kentucky, 1923 (died 1957)

April 9:

Margo Smith born in Dayton, Ohio, 1942 (now 67)
Con Hunley born in Fountain City, Tennessee, 1945 (now 64)
Hal Ketchum born in Greenwich, New York, 1953 (now 56)
Mark Roberts of the Red Clay Ramblers born in Wareham, Massachusetts, 1957 (now 52)
Dave Innis of Restless Heart born in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, 1959 (now 50)
Carl Perkins born in Tiptonville, Tennessee, 1932 (died 1998)
Mae Boren Axton died (natural causes), 1997 (was 82)

April 10:

Weldon Myrick born in Jayton, Texas, 1938 (now 71). The steel guitar great co-wrote the Wilburn Brothers' "Hangin' Around" and suggested the town of Big Spring, Texas to Bill Anderson for the line "If you've never been to Paris, France / Big Spring, Texas will suit you fine" in "At the Time" (a hit for Jean Shepard).
Fiddlin' Arthur Smith born in Bold Spring, Tennessee, 1898 (died 1971)
Sheb Wooley born in Enick, Oklahoma, 1921 (died 2003)
Former home of Johnny and June Cash destroyed by fire, 2007. Bee Gee Barry Gibb owned the house at the time of the fire.

April 11:

Jim Lauderdale born in Troutman, North Carolina, 1957 (now 52)
Harty Taylor of Karl & Harty born in Mount Vernon, Kentucky, 1905 (died 1963)
Millie Good of the Girls of the Golden West born in Mount Carmel, Illinois, 1913 (died 1993)
Eddie Miller died (unknown cause), 1977 (was 83). In addition to writing a number of songs, including "I've Loved and Lost Again" which was recorded by Patsy Cline during her stint on Four Star, Miller co-founded the Nashville Songwriters' Association International.
Lighnin' Chance died (cancer/Alzheimer's), 2005 (was 79)
Jerry Byrd died (complications of Parkinson's disease), 2005 (was 85)

April 12:

Ned Miller born in Raines, Utah, 1925 (now 84)
Judy Lynn born in Boise, Idaho, 1936 (now 73)
Vince Gill born in Norman, Oklahoma, 1957 (now 52)
Ernie Lee born in Berea, Kentucky, 1916 (died 1991)
Lewis Crook of the Crook Brothers died (natural causes), 1997 (was 87)
Boxcar Willie died (leukemia), 1999 (was 67)

April 13:

Sam Bush born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, 1952 (now 57)
Bob Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1908 (died 1980)
Milton Brown died (injuries received in automobile accident on April 8), 1936 (was 32)
Guy Willis of the Willis Brothers died (unknown cause), 1981 (was 65)
Johnny Dollar died (unknown cause), 1986 (was 53)

April 14:

Loretta Lynn born in Butcher Holler, Kentucky, 1935 (now 74)
Stuart Duncan of the Nashville Bluegrass Band born in Quantico, Virginia, 1964 (now 45)
Vito Pelletteri died (complications from a stroke), 1977 (was 87)
Burl Ives died (cancer), 1995 (was 85)

April 15:

Roy Clark born in Meherrin, Virginia, 1933 (now 76). Clark is one of three members of the "class of 2009" Hall of Fame inductions.
J.L. Frank born in Limestone County, Alabama, 1900 (died 1952)
Bob Luman born in Nacogdoches, Texas, 1937 (died 1978)
Junior Barnard of Bob Wills' Texas Playboys died (car wreck), 1951 (was 30)
Rose Maddox died (various illnesses), 1998 (was 72)
Otto Kitsinger died (heart attack), 1998 (was 56). Otto was the historian and writer for Opry Backstage.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Why Jukeboxes Get Shot

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Life is Too Short
Ira Louvin
ALBUM: The Unforgettable Ira Louvin
YEAR/LABEL: 1965; Capitol

I want you to sing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" at my funeral.
(Ira Louvin, to Bill Monroe, 1964)

Steve Goodman was a great songwriter, but with all due respect to Chicago Shorty there was a glaring error in his coda verse to "You Never Even Call Me By My Name." While listing all the things no self-respecting country song would be without, there was not a single mention of a jukebox (an odd exclusion, given the fact that Goodman repaid John Prine for coming up with the title of the song [Prine refused to be listed as co-writer because he thought the song was "goofy"] by buying him a jukebox).

There have been songs about jukeboxes almost as long as jukeboxes have existed, especially in country music. Some have celebrated the joy of the music (the pop classic "Music! Music! Music!" by Teresa Brewer), while others have cried over the songs pouring from the speakers (such as Johnny Paycheck's early composition "A-11"). Ira Louvin's 1965 gem "Life is Too Short" is in the latter category. This song was among the very last Louvin recorded (in March, 1965, just three months before his tragic death in an automobile accident), yet it is the highlight of the album he never lived to see released.

"Life is Too Short," written by Louvin's wife Anne Young (who also perished in the crash along Interstate 70 near Jefferson City, Missouri on June 20, 1965), speaks of the heartache of a lost love with such heartache that one is almost glad the unnamed song on the jukebox isn't the song being presented here. This song almost plays like a movie, with the lyrics painting a picture so vivid no video was necessary. One can see Louvin sitting at a barroom table, drink in hand, agonizing as the song played. "And if he felt as empty and helpless as me," Louvin mourned, "I can see why he wanted to die." That theme continues with the punch line to the song, "life is too short and I've lived it too long."

If there were a hall of fame for verses from songs, the song's climatic verse would certainly hang there. "How can the jukebox play that song without crying?" Louvin sang. "How can the record keep from breaking apart?" Louvin then answered his own question: "I guess a record is only an echo from the past, and a jukebox just don't have a heart."

Ira Louvin, along with his brother Charlie, are in three Halls of Fame: Songwriters, Alabama Music, and Country Music. He is best remembered for his work with Charlie, but this solo recording proves that he was great, whether he was singing with Charlie or by himself.


"These Two Eyes" (from The Unforgettable Ira Louvin) -- bluegrass acts have recorded this song, but they cannot match the original.
The entire Tribute to the Delmore Brothers album (Louvin Brothers) -- Ira and Charlie's heroes were Alton and Rabon Delmore, and this tribute to their boyhood idols presented some long-forgotten music to a new generation. It is most fitting that both acts went into the Country Music Hall of Fame the same year.
The entire Tragic Songs of Life album (Louvin Brothers) -- not for the faint of heart (there's a good reason the word "tragic" is in the title), but when rock critics name an old country album one of the "1,001 albums you must hear before you die," you know it's something special.
"Make Him a Soldier" (Louvin Brothers, from The Family Who Prays) -- after a song like this WSM DJ Eddie Stubbs usually says, "Are there any questions?" Exhibit "A" on why the Louvin Brothers are revered as the act that perfected harmony in country music.
"There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea" (Louvin Brothers, from Live at New River Ranch) -- from Ira's opening remark, "I love kids, we used to go to school with 'em," you know you're in for some fun. This song won the Louvins a spot on WNOX radio in 1942, essentially sending their career on its way.
"Bringing in the Georgia Mail" (Charlie Monroe & the Kentucky Partners, available on Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Hillbilly Music 1947) -- while Charlie Louvin was in the army Ira hooked up briefly with another Charlie -- Bill Monroe's brother -- for some session work. This is noteworthy not so much for Ira's galloping mandolin playing in the background but for the fact that country music's greatest tenor singer was the bass singer on this track.

I Want a Home in Dixie
I Lost Today
Down to the River to Pray
Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyeballs
A Death in the Family
Dark as a Dungeon
Bottomless Well

Heart of Rome
Harriet Tubman's Gonna Carry Me Home
Entella Hotel
Desperados Under the Eaves
Crossing Muddy Waters
Cliffs of Dooneen
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dan Seals Dies

Category: News/Obituary

Dan Seals, who began his career as a pop singer with John Ford Coley and moved to country music in the 1980s, has died.

Seals died March 25th of complications from mantle cell lymphoma.

Seals, the brother of Jim Seals of the pop group Seals and Crofts and cousin of Troy Seals, saw his career take off in 1976 with the song "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight." He scored numerous other hits in pop with Coley before becoming a solo artist in country in the 80s. His country credits include "Bop," "Love on Arrival," "You Still Move Me," and "Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold)." His duet with Marie Osmond, "Meet Me in Montana," resulted in the two winning a 1986 CMA Award for Vocal Duo of the year.

Seals just turned 61 in February.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Dates of Note in Country Music, March 16-31

Category: News

(Hall of Fame members in bold)

March 16:

Jerry Jeff Walker born in Oneonta, New York, 1942 (now 67)
Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1951 (now 58)
Tim O'Brien born in Wheeling, West Virginia, 1954 (now 55)
Stan Thorn of Shenandoah born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, 1959 (now 50)
Ronnie McCoury born in York County, Pennsylvania, 1967 (now 42)
Robert Whitstein born in Colfax, Louisiana, 1944 (died 2001)
Plane crash kills Chris Austin, Kirk Capello, Joey Cigainero, Paula Kaye Evans, Terry Jackson, Michael Thomas, and Tony Saputo of Reba McEntire's band, 1991

March 17:

Jim Weatherly born in Pontotoc, Mississippi, 1943 (now 66)
Paul Overstreet born in Newton, Mississippi, 1955 (now 54)
Dick Curless born in Fort Fairfield, Maine, 1932 (died 1995)
Hugh Farr died (unknown causes), 1980 (was 77)
Sammy Pruett died (unknown causes), 1988 (was 61)
Terry Stafford died (liver failure), 1996 (was 55)
Bill Carlisle died (natural causes), 2003 (was 94)

March 18:

Billy Armstrong born in Streator, Illinois, 1930 (now 79)
Charley Pride born in Sledge, Mississippi, 1938 (now 71)
Margie Bowes born in Roxboro, North Carolina, 1941 (now 68)
James McMurty born in Fort Worth, Texas, 1962 (now 47)
Smiley Burnette born in Summum, Illinois, 1911 (died 1967)
John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas died (heart failure), 2001 (was 65). His solo hit, "Mississippi," was a country hit in 1971.

March 19:

Henry "Friendly Henry" Maddox born in Boaz, Alabama, 1928 (died 1974)
Speck Rhodes died (natural causes), 2000 (was 84)
Randall Hylton died (brain aneurysm), 2001 (was 55)
Tootsie's Orchid Lounge opened in Nashville, 1960

March 20:

Tommy Hunter born in London, Ontario, 1937 (now 72)
Douglas B. Green (Ranger Doug) of Riders in the Sky born in Great Lakes, Illinois, 1946 (now 63)
Jim Seales of Shenandoah born in Hamilton, Alabama, 1954 (now 55)
Jerry Reed born in Atlanta, Georgia, 1937 (died 2008)

March 21:

Carol Lee Cooper born in West Virginia, 1942 (now 69)
Tommy Hill died (liver and heart ailments), 2002 (was 72)

March 22:

Charlie Poole born in Randolph County, North Carolina, 1892 (died 1931)
Hoyle Nix of the West Texas Cowboys born in Azel, Texas, 1918 (died 1985)
Uncle Dave Macon died (illness), 1952 (was 81)
Stoney Cooper died (heart attack), 1977 (was 59)
Carl Perkins injured in automobile accident, 1956

March 23:

David Grisman born in Passaic, New Jersey, 1945 (now 64)
Fiddlin' John Carson born in Fannin County, Georgia, 1868 (died 1949)
Jim Anglin born in Franklin, Tennessee, 1913 (died 1987)
Smokey Rogers born in McMinnville, Tennessee, 1917 (died 1993)
J.D. Miller died (complications from heart bypass surgery), 1996 (was 73)
Ray "Pop" Lewis of the Lewis Family died (natural causes), 2004 (was 98)
Cindy Walker died (natural causes), 2006 (was 88)

March 24:

Peggy Sue Webb born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, 1947 (now 62)
Carson Robison died (unknown causes), 1957 (was 66)
Howard Dixon died (unknown - possible work accident), 1961 (was 57)
Henson Cargill died (complications from surgery), 2007 (was 66)

March 25:

Bonnie Guitar born in Seattle, Washington, 1923 (now 86)
Robbie Fulks born in York, Pennsylvania, 1963 (now 46)
Hoyt Axton born in Duncan, Oklahoma, 1938 (died 1999)
Jack Kapp died (cerebral hemorrhage), 1949 (was 47)
Buck Owens died (heart attack), 2006 (was 76)

March 26:

Bud Isaacs born in Bedford, Indiana, 1928 (now 81)
Vicki Lawrence born in Inglewood, California, 1949 (now 60). The Carol Burnett Show actress had one hit, "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," which made both the pop and country charts.
Ronnie McDowell born in Fountain Head, Tennessee, 1950 (now 59)
Michael Bonagura of Baillie & the Boys born in Newark, New Jersey, 1953 (now 56)
Dean Dillon born in Lake City, Tennessee, 1955 (now 54)
Charly McClain born in Jackson, Tennessee, 1956 (now 53)
Kenny Chesney born in Lutrell, Tennessee, 1968 (now 41)

March 27:

Bill Callahan of the Callahan Brothers born in Madison County, North Carolina, 1912 (died 2002)
David Rogers born in Houston, Texas, 1936 (died 1993)

March 28:

Roy Dean Webb of the Dillards born in Independence, Missouri, 1937 (now 72)
Charlie McCoy born in Oak Hill, West Virginia, 1941 (now 68). Charlie was selected for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame for 2009.
Reba McEntire born in Chockie, Oklahoma, 1955 (now 54)
Jay Livingston born in McDonald, Pennsylvania, 1915 (died 2001). The pop songwriter's many hits include "Silver Bells," which has been recorded by many country performers.
Rusty Draper died (heart disease/throat cancer), 2003 (was 80)
Glenn Barber died (heart ailment), 2008 (was 73)

March 29:

Brady Seals of Little Texas born in Hamilton, Ohio, 1969 (now 40)
Moon Mullican born in Corrigan, Texas, 1909 (died 1967)
Jerry Byrd born in Lima, Ohio, 1920 (died 2005)
Texas Ruby died (house fire), 1963 (was 54)

March 30:

Bobby Wright born in Charleston, West Virginia, 1942 (now 67)
Connie Cato born in Carlinville, Illinois, 1955 (now 54)

March 31:

John D. Loudermilk born in Durham, North Carolina, 1934 (now 75)
Greg Martin of the Kentucky Headhunters born in Louisville, Kentucky, 1954 (now 55)
Howdy Forrester born in Vernon, Tennessee, 1922 (died 1987)
Tommy Jackson born in Birmingham, Alabama, 1926 (died 1979)
William O. "Lefty" Frizzell born in Corsicana, Texas, 1928 (died 1975)
Anita Carter born in Maces Springs, Virginia, 1933 (died 1999)
Skeets McDonald died (heart attack), 1968 (was 52)
Carl Story died (complications from heart bypass surgery), 1995 (was 78)

Oh, What Harmony Can Do

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: I Want a Home in Dixie
ARTIST: Wayne Raney
ALBUM: none, B-side of "I Had My Five"
YEAR/LABEL: 1951; King

Having no money with which to buy guitars and fiddles, I decided to become a harmonica player.
(Wayne Raney)

In the years immediately following World War II, "music city" was not Nashville, Tennessee. It was Cincinnati, Ohio. King Records was headquartered there. Their arsenal of performers included future Hall of Famers Grandpa Jones, Homer & Jethro, Bill Carlisle, and the Delmore Brothers, along with should-be Hall of Famers Al Dexter, Reno & Smiley, the Stanley Brothers, and Cowboy Copas. Several of these artists, along with a young guitar player by the name of Chester Atkins, could be heard over Cincinnati's WLW radio station.

Another Cincinnati station, WCKY, was the home of Wayne Raney, who was also on King. Raney's initial claim to fame was his wizardry on the harmonica (and it is his lasting legacy: Bob Dylan considers Raney a major influence). While a number of other artists hawked songbooks on their radio shows, Raney was selling harmonicas at a brisk pace.

Raney was also a good singer and songwriter. He had a number of regional hits on King Records before 1948's massive #1 hit "Why Don't You Haul Off and Love Me," a song that has been covered by the likes of Pat Boone, Rosemary Clooney, Les Paul, and Little Willie John. None of his subsequent releases matched the popularity of that song, and it became his only charted hit.

The quality of his music, however, was far from limited to that one song. In 1951 a session with his label mates, friends, and co-writing partners Alton and Rabon Delmore (Raney co-wrote and played one of the two killer harmonicas on the Delmore Brothers' biggest charted hit, "Blues, Stay Away From Me") yielded one of his greatest songs: "I Want a Home in Dixie."

The lyrical content of the song is homesick for the south blues ("I'm riding my last train tonight...and there's just one thing can set me right") delivered with beautiful harmonies from Raney and the Delmores on the chorus ("I want a home in Dixie, for that's where I belong in this world") that show just why the Louvin Brothers considered the Delmores their biggest influence. Raney did not provide any harmonica for the song, but what he did provide was an excellent performance that was elevated to greatness by the backing vocals of his friends.

Raney eventually retired from full-time performing and turned to another method of performing on the radio: disc jockey. Shortly after his death from cancer in 1993 he was inducted into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame.

Although Raney passed away in 1993, fans are discovering his music through reissues of his recordings. He frequently pops up on compilations chronicaling the roots of rock and roll or rockabilly (as do the Delmores). He left a discography mixed with serious, novelty, and gospel songs (he really did write and record a song called "We Need a Lot More of Jesus [And a Lot Less Rock and Roll]") as well as his performances on others' recordings. Among the best in that discography is this simple but lovely tribute to the south.


"I've Gone and Sold My Soul" (from Songs From the Hills) -- this song is a must-have, if for no other reason than the line "she drinks carbolic acid and she totes a Gatling gun."
"I Want to Know" (from Gospel Favorites) -- one of Raney's finest gospel tunes, complete with his harmonica playing.
"Lonesome Wind Blues" (available on More Hot Boogie) -- another vocal collaboration between Raney and the Delmores, this shows they should have recorded together much more than they did.
"Freight Train Boogie" (the Delmore Brothers, available on Freight Train Boogie by the Delmores as well as the box set Roots of Rock and Roll 1946-1954) -- one of the Delmores' best and most influential songs with Raney on harmonica. An additional treat: Homer and Jethro play on this session as well, with mandolin wizard Jethro Burns playing lead guitar.

I Lost Today
Down to the River to Pray
Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyeballs
A Death in the Family
Dark as a Dungeon
Bottomless Well

Harriet Tubman's Gonna Carry Me Home
Entella Hotel
Desperados Under the Eaves
Crossing Muddy Waters
Cliffs of Dooneen
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Clinic on Country Music

Category: Concert Review

When Don Helms passed away last June he left behind a legacy of great music as well as a large number of friends and fans. Unfortunately, he also left behind quite a few medical bills. So on Sunday, March 8, some of his friends and fans gathered at the Texas Troubadour Theater next to the Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Nashville's Music Valley Drive to celebrate the steel guitar legend's life and raise money for those expenses. The results were nothing short of a clinic on traditional country music, with professor emeritus Ray Price providing the headlining.

The jukebox outline behind the stage at the Texas Troubadour Theater seemed to be more of a doorway to a time machine on this Sunday afternoon, beckoning the capacity crowd back to the era of some of Don Helms' greatest accomplishments. Helms was the steel guitarist for the Drifting Cowboys Band (and was the final surviving member of Hank Williams' band), and most of the music presented reflected Williams' era -- the truly classic period of country music.

The first half of the show was presided over by Jesse Lee Jones and Brazilbilly. Jones, a native of Brazil, worships at the altar of Marty Robbins, and that's a good thing: his voice is very much like Robbins'. The band opened with "El Paso" and continued for three more classic country songs. Their presentation quickly brought to mind the classic line about Waylon Jennings: like the late country great, Brazilbilly couldn't go pop with a mouth full of firecrackers. They were excellent.

After their own songs they turned into the house band for the remainder of the first half of the set, backing the other regional acts who came to appear on the tribute. The best of the "unknowns" was far and away David Church, a regular on RFD-TV's Midwest Country program. He dressed like Hank and he sang like Hank, providing enjoyable renditions of three Williams songs.

Gail Davies stopped by to do three songs. Her bigger contribution to the show, however, was her son, Chris Scruggs. This man is absolutely amazing on a steel guitar. He does NOT play pedal steel (Don Helms did not, either), but rather relies on his talent and ability to coax every sound out of the instrument. As emcee Eddie Stubbs accurately stated, "The future of country music is bright with young men like Chris Scruggs around."

The second half featured two greats in country music. Bobby Bare performed for 45 minutes, opening with "Me and Bobbie McGee." He asked the audience to sing along on the "la la la's" at the end of the song, then quipped, "You know, Kristofferson's a great songwriter, but you'd think he could've come up with a better last verse." He continued through a number of hits, and even threw in a joyful obscure number, "The Mermaid," from his 1973 classic Lullabys, Legends and Lies. He had four of his grandchildren join him onstage for "Singin' in the Kitchen" near the end of the set before closing with "Marie Laveau." Bare sadly did not have enough time allotted to him, but he certainly made the most of his time onstage.

The Hall of Fame great Ray Price, who began his career using Hank Williams' Drifting Cowboys, was the final performer of the evening. The 82-year-old walked out on stage, stood in the middle, and lectured the audience on country music for the next 75 minutes. Opening with "San Antonio Rose," Price hit several of the highlights of his career. He introduced "Release Me" as being "B.H. - Before Humperdinck." Price even let a 13-year-old fiddler play "Faded Love" with his band. How many modern superstars would do that?

There is absolutely nothing lacking in Ray Price's voice. He made that clear from the first note. The classics such as "City Lights," "A Way to Survive," "The Other Woman," and even the "Nashville sound"-era ballads "I Won't Mention It Again" and "For the Good Times" were delivered with beautiful clarity, even though Price said he was suffering from allergies. "They told me when I left Texas that Nashville is a good place for allergies," Price said as he wiped his nose with a handkerchief. "Damn straight," he added with a laugh.

Price close out the afternoon of music magically, a fitting tribute for one of country music's greatest session men.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Best Friend the Mandolin Ever Had

Category: Birthday/Tribute

The mandolin's best friend ever, Jethro Burns, was born 89 years ago March 10. To celebrate, here's a little picking from the master. (If your speakers melt, it isn't my fault!)

Happy birthday, Jethro. We sure miss your humor -- and your playing.

The Pillow You Dream On is Empty

Category: Obituary/News

A week that ironically commemorated the 46th anniversary of one of the darkest weeks in Opry history following the deaths of four members (three in a plane crash, one on the way to the funeral of one of the crash victims) has been rough on the Grand Ole Opry. Ernie Ashworth died Monday, and Barbara Mandrell's father passed away on Thursday. On Sunday the Opry suffered its third loss in six days.

Hank Locklin, the country performer who began his career in his early 40s with the #1 hit "Let Me Be the One" and scored one of the biggest hits of the entire decade of the 1960s with "Please Help Me, I'm Falling," passed away at his home in Alabama on Sunday (3/8). No cause of death was immediately given.

Locklin's hit list is quite extensive: "Let Me Be the One," "Send Me the Pillow You Dream On," "Geisha Girl," "Happy Journey," "Happy Birthday to Me," and "The Country Hall of Fame" were all top ten hits.

That last song brings to mind the fact that Locklin should have been enshrined there years ago. After all, when an artist does a song that stays at #1 for one-fourth of an entire year on the country charts (finally becoming the #3 song of the 1960s) and makes the top ten of the POP charts (and spawned an answer song), he has accomplished something. He also had hits across four decades and released a total of 65 albums.

Locklin was the oldest member of the Grand Ole Opry. That title now falls to Little Jimmy Dickens, who just turned 88. Dickens is back on the Opry performing following successful surgery and rehab following a subdural hematoma in January.

A sad, fond farewell to the great Hank Locklin. He was 91.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Heart Don't Let Her Know That You're Breaking in Two

Category: Obituary/News

It was just one song, but oh, what a song. The John D. Loudermilk composition, "Talk Back Trembling Lips," was such a major success that Ernie Ashworth's Nudie suits all featured lips on them.

Ernie Ashworth passed away in Nashville today (3/2). The suspected cause was a heart attack. Ashworth had just undergone heart surgery in December.

In addition to "Talk Back Trembling Lips," Ashworth's hits included "The DJ Cried," "Everybody But Me," and a cover of the Browns' "I Take the Chance."

Ernie Ashworth was 80.