Author, Journalist and Syndicated Columnist
If you are one of the close to 1.5 million readers, be sure to read Randall's cover article
"Making Films in Georgia" in the
January 2010 Georgia Magazine.
It can be found here on the net:
of the Fiddle
Actor, Entertainer and Columnist
The Latest on Randall Franks TV
member Archie Watkins perform
Randall Franks hosts and directs
Still Ramblin' plus Trail of the Hawk
The story of Ramblin' "Doc" Tommy Scott
America's Last Real Medicine Showman
In Our Archives:
Visits with David Davis, The Watkins Family, The CroweBrothers, The Marksmen Quartet, Archie Watkins and CarolChanning
Sharing memories with the Oak Ridge Boys
Country Music Hall of Fame members the Oak Ridge Boys have entertained fans around the world for more than 40 years including numerous U.S. Presidents. They have earned every award in the industry.
From their roots in southern gospel to their chart-topping career in country music, the Oaks have become one of America’s most beloved music groups.
“When the lights dim, the theme music begins to play, and our band members begin to take up their positions, it’s just as exciting today as it has always been throughout our long history,” said Joe Bonsall, tenor of the group and author of On the Road with The Oak Ridge Boys. “We know that people have gathered to hear us sing our songs, and we never take one person in the audience for granted.”
The Oaks got their start back in the 1940s when a group from Knoxville, Tennessee began performing country and gospel music in the town of Oak Ridge, where the atomic bomb was being developed. Over the years, the group gained popularity and soon appeared on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. From there, members came and went but in 1973, the current group of Bonsall, William Lee Golden, Duane Allen, and Richard Sterban began singing together, and the rest is history.
“Through all these many miles we’ve traveled and everything we’ve been through together for more than 40 years, we haven’t really changed much as we’ve gotten older,” Bonsall said. “Singing, doing things right, honoring God and families in our lives... these things are still what really matter the most to each of us.”
In On the Road with The Oak Ridge Boys, Bonsall takes readers on a backstage tour of life in the country music industry and the multi-faceted career of the Oaks. Through colorful stories and a touch of nostalgia, Bonsall shares about the history behind the group, introduces readers to each of the Oaks, and gives readers a front row seat to what it’s like to travel the country in a tour bus equipped with lounges, technology, and multiple television sets. He also shares numerous stories of legendary fans (like 100-year-old Addaline Huff) as well as celebrities the Oaks have sung for and rubbed shoulders with throughout the years, including country stars like Garth Brooks and Kenny Rogers and Presidents from Gerald Ford to George W. Bush.
“When we’re asked about our most memorable moments as Oak Ridge Boys, we often recall the honor of singing in the White House and our friendships with many of our nation’s presidents,” Bonsall said. “And why not? It’s simply the truth that these events have provided us with some of our greatest memories.”
Over the decades, the Oaks have recorded and sung hundreds of songs, with their runaway hit, “Elvira,” racing to the top of the charts in 1981. “Elvira” crossed over into the pop market and the song won every applicable music award. The Oaks even found themselves at one time singing it with the prestigious Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Today, contemporary groups are still singing “Elvira,” even on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry.
“Our little song has passed down through the generations,” Bonsall said. “Perhaps it’s a big reason The Oak Ridge Boys are still around. Our music, our shows, and our own American spirit have been passed down from grandparents to parents to young couples and even on to their children. We see them all at our shows—still singing ‘Elvira’ with the Boys!”
For more information or to order, visit www.oakridgeboys.com.
Karen Peck urges us to "Pray Now"
In her latest project Karen Peck & New River are speaking on the power of prayer and the many ways in which it has touched lives.
“Pray Now” is Karen’s first release since her Dove winner “Revival.”
Pray Now was produced by Wayne Haun and includes songs written by Karen Peck Gooch, Kenna West, Gerald Crabb, Jason Cox and many more. The first single and title track, ‘Pray Now,’ shipped to radio in March and already charted.
No doubt the most popular mixed trio in gospel music, Karen Peck and New River including also her sister Susan Jackson and Jeff Hawes are a music powerhouse in the music industry. Karen was also recipient of the Susan Unthank Memorial Award, an award given by Absolutely Gospel Music only to women who have excelled in their work in a man's world. Karen had a feature role in the hit movie "Joyful Noise”, starring Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah. New River's hit song "Four Days Late” has become a classic in Gospel music.
Accompanying the CD, they also release a new music video “Pray Now” which will warm the hearts of any gospel music fan.
Karen sees the timing of her new song and video as an opportunity to make a difference as tensions are high in places around our nation. Whether at a flag pole, in a church, in an auditorium, or just together in our hearts the one thing we all need is prayer.
"We have drawn such strength by praying The Lord's Prayer every day. Let's bind together and pray for each other, our leaders, and our country. Will you share this video and help us to spread the word of encouragement and hope through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? He answers prayer!!”
With the trial of Karen's husband, Ricky, undergoing cancer treatment this song and video have touched Karen and her family in a very personal way and it is sure to touch you wherever you are in life.
This timely message resonates with a world searching for hope and encouragement that can only be found in the Lord.
“It amazes me how at times God provides the perfect message through song in such a way that we can’t deny it’s His doing,” said Scott Godsey, VP & Director of A&R at Daywind Records.
Pray Now is available at Christian retail stores across the country and digitally at iTunes and other outlets.
You can view the video by using the following link: https://youtu.be/rjKikMdbYaA .
To learn more about Karen Peck and New River go to http://www.karenpeckandnewriver.com or https://www.facebook.com/pages/Karen-Peck-and-New-River . You can Twitter her at https://twitter.com/karenpeckgooch.
An American composer
I was recently saddened to learn of the passing of one of America’s lesser known Christmas composers – Benjamin “Tex” Logan, 87.
Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, Mike Seeger, The Lilly Brothers and Don Stover, The Charles River Boys, Peter Rowan and the Green Grass Gringos and his Northeast Seaboard Blues Band.
It was that relationship that created the opportunity for one of his songs to become a Monroe standard – “Christmas Time’s A Comin’” released in 1951. It had been recorded prior by his band but it was Monroe’s version that would carry it around the world.
Christmas carols are an amazing part of the Christmas season but this particular one seemed to fit the country music genre perfectly eventually gaining cuts from most of the major stars, among them Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs, and the Oak Ridge Boys and even the cast of TV’s “In the Heat of the Night.”
After the Heat cast recorded the song, the late Carroll O’Connor chose it as the title cut for the CD saying it was the perfect selection.
The beautiful picture of the mountain home with holly in the window, white candle burning, bells a ringin’ evoked an image in the mind of any with a rural background of their childhood memories of home and a desire to quickly return.
Tex Logan and Randall Franks on stage in Nashville.
I was blessed as a Blue Grass Boy myself to know of Tex’s talents through most of my life, I was greatly honored to be among those with him as he was honored with the IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award in 2010. I was even more honored when he joined me at the Grand Master Fiddler Championship in Nashville to share some experiences about his career with the other fiddlers and the audience.
Of course this was not the only composition he created. Many artists also recorded his song “Diamond Joe.”
But like James Pierpoint’s “Jingle Bells,” despite the fact the days of us riding along in horse drawn sleighs are long behind us, we still sing the song. I think that as long as there is a memory of a little mountain home somewhere, there will be someone singing Tex’s song.
So this year when Christmas rolls around and you hear the song on country radio or perhaps play it at your own family gathering, remember Tex Logan and say a prayer for his family as they sing it for the first time without him.
A moment with Roe and Eden
Barbara Eden and Tommy Roe
The musical legend Tommy Roe and TV star Barbara Eden recently came together capturing a moment from the golden age of television and the golden age of pop-rock, when Roe presented Eden, television’s “Jeannie,” with the Timeless Beauty Award, bestowed by the Hollywood Beauty Awards. The 1st Hollywood Beauty Awards were held Feb. 15, at the historic Fonda Theatre in Hollywood.
Roe said he was honored to be a part of the 1st Hollywood Beauty Awards, but even more honored to be a part of presenting the Timeless Beauty Award to television icon Barbara Eden, an award he says she especially deserved.
“Barbara is well known as Jeannie on the hit TV series ‘I Dream of Jeannie,’ but her body of work spans decades and is well documented as one of the most illustrious careers in Hollywood. She has also won many prestigious awards and her generosity when it comes to her charity work is second to none,” said Roe. “My wife, Josette, and I have known Barbara and her husband Jon for years, and consider their friendship very special.”
Roe is the singer-songwriter behind genre-defining hits “Sheila” (1962) and “Dizzy” (1969), both of which are certified at more than 2 million airplays. In addition to “Sheila” and “Dizzy”, Roe helped define the 1960s music scene with a string of Billboard Top 10 hits, including “Everybody”, “Sweet Pea” and “Hurray for Hazel”. Eden was the star of the hit television series “I Dream of Jeannie” which aired for five seasons from 1965 to 1970, and in Flaming Star (1960) alongside Elvis Presley.
The 1st Hollywood Beauty Awards were presented by LATF, a daily news site and monthly online magazine covering entertainment and lifestyle content worldwide. Information about the HBAs is available on the LATF Web site, www.latfusa.com.
Tommy had a total of eleven records reach the Billboard top forty, and twenty three Billboard top 100 chart records. With similar chart success in England, and throughout Europe, Asia, and Australia, Tommy is considered one of the early pioneers of American pop culture. Born Thomas David Roe, on May 9, 1942, in Atlanta, Georgia, Roe, who is sometimes known as the "father of bubble-gum music," has sold more than 60 million records, including six Top 10 hits, and four Gold Records.
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself” were some words that the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt shared with the nation at a time when the people were in need of comfort.
Do you ever find yourself afraid?
It manifests itself differently sometimes depending on the circumstances.
In some folks their insides curl up and squirm; the heart beats faster; there is and increased sensitivity to everything in their environment, while others feel trapped within themselves sinking into crying or freezing from dread.
I have felt fear several times in my life. There is what we may consider good fears - those spurred from watching a scary film or TV show or going through a haunted house. I did that quite a bit as a youth but find myself steering away from that now.
There are also fears that tell us when we are steering from the path we should be on whether physically or spiritually.
I know that I have felt this in both cases, it is sort of a sixth sense that you need to be cautious and aware.
Do we always listen to the fear? No at times we don’t and sometimes that is to our detriment and other times it is to our benefit.
I am sure that many people who serve and protect us experience a sense of fear as they do their various jobs as police, fire fighters and military but they must overcome them to help others.
As individuals we can sometimes allow our fears to become so pervasive that they dominate our lives. From a fear of germs we are constantly using antibacterial lotion; from a fear of making a mistake, we check a job over again and again.
From childhood I have fought to overcome fears - fears of being bullied by others, fears of failure, fears of not being good enough. I have awakened in the night in a cold sweat, heart beating fast, stomach in knots, simply afraid. I fear the consequences of something I have said; some perceived error in judgment, failure in character, shortcoming that makes me feel inadequate in the goals I have set for myself or in the expectations of others.
These have not all brought on the extreme fear reaction mentioned above but they are all concerns that I think each of us face in our own way at some point in our lives.
Fear can be an all-consuming force that will destroy our lives if allowed but if recognized for the barometer it is meant to be, fear is there to help protect us.
For me, when I find myself with a spirit of fear invading my well being when it is especially unwarranted, I stop and pray for God to ease the fear and forgive me for whatever known or unknown action may have brought it about.
While this does not eliminate the ultimate possibility that whatever was feared may come to pass, it does help center my mind, body and spirit back to where it needs to be - on God.
Everyone makes mistakes that could throw our lives into unanticipated turmoil and bring on that sense of fear for the consequences, the measure of each of us, is how we face those fears.
James Best and Randall Franks
Sheriff Rosco – “Good googly oogly”
While Friday nights during youth are often filled with dates or an evening out with friends, for much of my generation, there was an hour set aside for an evening in with friends - “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
The show became a regular part of the lives of many viewers and the characters became an extension of family.
The squeaky clean family entertainment filled with car chases, pretty girls such as Daisy Duke (Catherine Bach) and funny situations enhanced by the talents of the amazing cast members such as James Besr (Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane) , Sonny Shroyer (Enos Strate) Sorrell Booke (Boss Hogg) and Denver Pyle (Uncle Jesse) made it a favorite for young males and I am sure the Duke boys – Bo and Luke (John Schneider and Tom Wopat) were a favorite among the young female viewers.
I seldom missed an hour with this unusual collection of characters that kept Hazzard County humming with misadventures.
I never imagined as I watched, that one day I might come to know many of these talented actors as I pursued my own acting and performance career. Actors who have appeared on Southern shows often find themselves making the same rounds so to speak with personal appearances or guest star roles in films and television.
Since co-starring on “In the Heat of the Night,” I have been honored to come to know many cast members doing country music appearances with Tom, personal appearances with Ben Jones (Cooter), working with Peggy Rea (Lulu Hogg) on “Grace Under Fire” and co-starring with John in the film “Lukewarm.” My work on “In the Heat of the Night” brought me together with Sonny, James, and Byron Cherry (Coy Duke).
I was deeply saddened by the passing of James “Jimmie” (1926-2015) When we met on the set while he played “Nathan Bedford” in “Sweet, Sweet Blues,” I was blessed to be able to spend much of his off-camera time with Jimmie talking about many of his experiences working on shows such as “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Twilight Zone,” and with legends such as Gene Autry and Jimmy Stewart.
As I was young in my acting work, Jimmie gave me a great deal of encouragement. I have called him the greatest actor of the 20th century, and after watching his roles in countless episodics and movies, with each one, his talents always stole the scene. To have someone of that level of talent to share a bit of wisdom and advice with you, it makes a difference. That is especially true when their most endearing role was a big part of your youth. Jimmie’s Rosco kept me in stitches as I laughed at his antics with Enos, created by my other dear friend Sonny and Boss Hogg.
It is safe to say my life would have been much different without the influence of “The Dukes of Hazzard” and the friendships offered me through the years by its stars.
Jimmie was a class act one of the greatest who ever appeared on film and television.
I encourage you to visit his website jamesbest.com and get his book “Best in Hollywood” or one of his original pieces of art at jamesbestart.com.
Digging out from beneath
Sometimes there are points in life when one reflects on topics that bring worry, sadness, concern or even depression.
They can pile up on our mind like leaves falling from the trees in autumn covering the roots that feed our soul.
Beneath the pile it gets hard to see a way out of the depths. Even the beauty of the arrival of spring or families gathering to celebrate the joy of days such as Easter, which normally should uplift our spirits, can also find a reason weigh down upon the pile.
I wish I could say, it’s a beautiful day, so go buy a rake and bag up the leaves, so the flowers that are emerging beneath the tree can shoot their blossoms up with greater ease.
But oftentimes, we find that beneath the leaves the potential has withered due to the heavy covering.
It is in times like these, spiritually that I must make effort to connect even more to the roots beneath those leaves - the people who care about me, and the Word of God which is the main food of my soul.
By engaging in the Word and in the lives of those around me, especially those who need a helping hand, I find that I can breath again and the layers of sadness and concern seem to weigh less heavily.
The problems that seemed so heavy are lightened when compared with the needs of others.
As I reach out to help, the worry that permeated each moment seeming to take my breath is replaced by the effort to make a difference for others.
Sometimes when we feel like we are trapped down in the mine, the only way to feel less trapped is to join those who are trying to dig us out of the hole.
We can make a difference in the world even when we don’t feel we can, in fact sometimes we will find ourselves in the reactions and response of others as we work to make things better around us.
So head to the hardware store, buy a rake, a shovel, and anything else you need to make the world around you better and get to it.
You may find those heavy feelings replaced by hope, kindness and enthusiasm.
The Browns to the Country Music Hall of Fame
The announcements came recently for this year’s additions to the Country Music Hall of Fame including Jim Ed Brown and the Browns, the Oak Ridge Boys and musician Grady Martin. I was glad to see all these performers receive this honor.
"This is all very overwhelming not just for me, but for the Brown family" said Jim Ed Brown. "Receiving this honor with my sisters, Maxine and Bonnie, is something I had dreamed about for years, but never knew if it would happen or not. Fame is fleeting, hit records change every week, award show winners and nominees change every year, but being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame will be forever!"
CMA created the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961 to recognize noteworthy individuals for their outstanding contributions to the format with Country Music's highest honor.
Jim Ed Brown and his family trio The Browns helped define an era while also taking Country Music to wider, more cosmopolitan audiences.
Jim Ed (born April 1, 1934 in Sparkman, Ark.), Maxine (born April 27, 1931 in Campti, La.) and Bonnie (July 31, 1937 in Sparkman, Ark.) got their start performing at church and social functions as teenagers in Southwestern Arkansas.
Perhaps the most important vocal group of the Nashville Sound era, The Browns' harmonies were among the most influential of the time, immediately influencing groups like the Beatles and the Osborne Brothers. And the trio's take on what Country Music can aspire to be can still be felt decades later in the music of modern vocal groups like Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town.
Maxine signed up Jim Ed for a talent contest on Little Rock radio station KLRA's "Barnyard Frolic." Brown didn't win, but he was invited to join the cast. Maxine eventually joined him on a stage and the two found quick success as a duo, landing a spot on the popular and influential "Louisiana Hayride" in 1954 and recording "Looking Back to See," a surprise hit that rose to No. 8 on Billboard's Country chart.
Bonnie filled out the trio by joining formally in 1955 and The Browns quickly scored another hit with "Here Today and Gone Tomorrow." It was an exciting time for the siblings, as chronicled in Maxine's autobiography Looking Back to See and famed author Rick Bass' fictionalized account of their lives,Nashville Chrome. They found themselves on the road with good friend Elvis Presley early in their career and helped establish Nashville as Music City, USA, along with acts like Presley and the Everly Brothers. Together they all pushed the boundaries of popular music.
They signed with RCA Records in 1955, teaming with legendary producer Chet Atkins, and eventually recorded 250 sides with the label, including sizeable hits "I Take the Chance" and "I Heard the Bluebirds Sing." They toured the U.S. relentlessly during this period and also went to Europe with fellow RCA acts.
The Browns reached new levels of popularity with the recording of 1959's "The Three Bells," a song originally performed by Edith Piaf in France. The song displayed The Browns' willingness to explore folk and pop modes in their music and the public responded, making it No. 1 on the pop and Country charts. It even rose to No. 10 on the R&B charts, showing its universal appeal.
The song and subsequent hits like "The Old Lamplighter" also proved widely popular and led the group to huge television appearance opportunities including "The Ed Sullivan Show," "American Bandstand," and "The Perry Como Show."
The Browns: Bonnie, Jim Ed and Maxine
Rick Diamond/Getty Images
After initial friction because of their pop leanings, The Browns joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1963. The trio, which was occasionally augmented by younger sister Norma, formally disbanded in 1967 when Maxine and Bonnie chose to retire to raise their young families.
The Browns have made occasional appearances over the years, recording a reunion album in the mid-1980s and appearing on the Opry. Jim Ed, meanwhile, remains a beloved figure in Nashville. He continued his solo career after the trio separated, scoring Top 10 hits like signature songs "Pop a Top," "Morning," "Southern Living," "Sometime Sunshine," and "It's That Time of Night."
Jim Ed Brown managed to recapture the magic of boy-girl harmony again in 1976 when he began recording duets with Helen Cornelius. They were named the CMA Vocal Duo of the Year in 1977 and recorded memorable hits like "I Don't Want to Have to Marry You," which went to No. 1; "Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye"; "Lying In Love With You"; "Fools"; and "Morning Comes Too Early."
Brown hosted a number of television shows in the 1980s, including the contest show "You Can Be a Star," and has remained a notable figure in Nashville, occasionally appearing on the Opry and hosting "Country Music Greats Radio Show" for more than a decade.
I encourage you to seek out and learn more about the Browns…
60 Years of Lessons Learned with Ronnie Reno
I have had the honor of knowing and admiring the work of Bluegrass personality Ronnie Reno for much of my own career.
I was honored to appear on his popular TV Show “Reno’s Old Time Music Festival” many years ago. As an award-winning television producer, his show was the first nationally broadcast show featuring Bluegrass music, earning him a prestigious Cable Ace nomination and the nickname the Dick Clark of bluegrass.
His new show, “Reno’s Old Time Music,” airs in prime time on Saturday nights on RFD-TV with 1.2 million monthly viewers.
Ronnie is celebrating 60 years in entertainment with the release of his new album, LESSONS LEARNED. It is Reno’s first album in nearly a decade and his debut album on Rural Rhythm Records. Reno’s singer/songwriting talents really shine on this 11-song album containing 9 songs penned by Reno. Among the titles are Lower Than Lonesome, Lessons Learned, I Think Of You, Sweet Rosa Lee, Deep Part Of Your Heart, Reno’s Mando Magic, Reno & Smiley classic Trail Of Sorrow, All That’s Worth Remembering, Our Last Goodbye, Bad News At Home, and the Lefty Frizzell classic Always Late with David Frizzell. Each song tells a story about life, love and relationships that pull from his rich experiences as an artist, songwriter and TV host.
The CD features the Reno Tradition including Mike Scott - banjo; Heath Van Winkle - bass; John Maberry - mandolin; and Steve Day - fiddle, Ronnie’s current band and the house band on his TV show. Reno’s warm passionate vocals are combined with harmony vocals by Heath Van Winkle and award-winning vocalist Sonya Isaacs.
Over the past 60 years, Reno has had one of the most colorful, diverse and distinguished careers in the music industry — the lineage of which is a study of both traditional country and bluegrass music history. His musical talents have provided the foundation for a long list of seminal performers in both genres, including Reno & Smiley, the Osborne Brothers, Merle Haggard, the Reno Brothers, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and many others. As a songwriter, his music was cut by artists such as Vassar Clements, Sammi Smith and Merle Haggard, and his song “Boogie Grass Band” was a pivotal #1 smash hit for Conway Twitty.
I encourage you to learn more about Ronnie by ordering some of his music or watching his television show. Visit RonnieReno.com to learn more.
New music coming from country’s Conlee and Tucker
Two country music stars have some new musical adventures ahead.
Grand Ole Opry star John Conlee is releasing a new emotional single entitled ““Walkin’ Behind The Star,” released on his own RCR (Rose Colored Records).
The song was written by Nashville industry veterans Ronnie Scaife and Phil Thomas, who collaborated on the Johnny Paycheck hits “Colorado Cool Aid” and “Me and the IRS.”
The touching lyrics were inspired by Phil’s grandfather and great-grandfather, both of whom served in their local sheriff’s department.
“Recent deadly attacks against the people who keep us safe is unprecedented in America and I wanted to sing this song in honor of their sacrifice and willingness to serve,” Conlee said.
Conlee said he was touched by the song’s honesty.
“Walkin’ Behind The Star,“ can be found on his upcoming release Classics 2, which will feature some new material along with many of Conlee’s latter classics.
The set features Conlee hits such as “Harmony,” “Mama’s Rockin’ Chair” and “Hit The Ground Runnin.”
Conlee recently celebrated the 36th anniversary of his breakthrough hit “Rose Colored Glasses,” and can be found on the road throughout 2015 as well as the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, where he has been a member since 1981 and through which I was honored to come to know John.
Learn more about John and his latest at johnconlee.com.
One of the earlier stars who I heard coming out of my parents car radio was Tanya Tucker, with her first recording Alex Harvey’s classic Delta Dawn in 1972. I never imagined that teen star would be someone I would appear at country events with years later.
While she has taken time off these last few years to raise her children, but the legendary songstress is now prepping to hit the road once again.
"I’ve taken a few years off and it is time to get back on the road," Tucker said. "I am really excited to perform all the hits that the fans love so much, and sing a few new songs that I have been working on.”
A new tour and new music is slated for release later this year, Tucker has enjoyed an incredible career that garnered her four Platinum albums, eight Gold albums, and hits such as “The Jamestown Ferry,” “Down To My Last Teardrop,” and “Soon.” In 1991, after almost two decades in the business, the CMA rightfully recognized her unique talents with Female Vocalist of the Year.
You can find out more about Tanya, at www.tanyatucker.com.
Is the more to the future or the past?
My brother asked me recently, ‘Are you living in the past?’ I often do find myself lingering within my memories. As time passes, I think it is easy to place more emphasis on what has gone by in your life than what is ahead.
That is probably especially so for someone who spends a great deal of time writing. You depend on your memories of experiences, people, places to bring your writing to life, add color, excitement and depth.
The summer days running through a spraying sprinkler with friends with slippery green grass beneath you bare feet. A call from the porch brings us running and dripping as my folks cut up an ice cold watermelon on the back porch handing a piece to each of the kids. As we smiled while chewing it to the deep green rind the red juice ran down our faces and hands leaving us so sticky but oh so satisfied.
Standing outside the closed green apartment door, I wait for my first date to or someone to answer it. Fearing that I was going to do something that would embarrass her and I in some way as the evening progressed. And finally when the evening was over the success finding that I didn’t make a fool of myself and there was some hope she might actually like me.
Looking out from behind the deep burgundy curtains to see one of the first audiences for which I would perform at my elementary school, feeling my heart beat faster and faster; hearing the parents and students talk amongst themselves as the play came close to the curtain opening.
Standing outside the tour bus anxiously waiting to catch a glimpse or maybe even shake the hand of an icon as he entered the Cathedral Caverns to record an album. I had not yet met the man who would play such a huge role in my life - Bill Monroe.
Looking across the wooded area where we were filming to see the arrival of television icon Carroll O’Connor and never being able to imagine the impact these steps would have on the rest of my life.
Holding the hands of my father and mother as they stepped through to the other side leaving their shared memories, deepest cares, greatest concerns, highest hopes and wonderful dreams with me.
I have been in the midst of writing a book series that has kept me embedded in the past for a couple of years now. It has provided me with some wonderful times folding myself into the past. It can be a great inspiration to look back and it can also bring great sorrow if one dwells more on what is gone than what is to be.
With the conclusion of the writing stage of my Encourager book series coming to a close, I am hopeful and excited to be looking towards the future to create new opportunities, new adventures and new memories to write about someday.
Each day that dawns gives us the chance to write another chapter in our life or the life of another we may not even have met yet. Will you use the day to create a great adventure and make a difference?
Country talents on tour - Gilley and Fortune
A illuminating part of my early career was participating in the Country Music Association’s Country Music Fan Fair in Nashville, Tenn.
I will never forget the years that Mickey Gilley’s booth was next to Grand Ole Opry stars Jim and Jesse. Jim and Jesse's booth is where I started meeting fans before I earned one of my own.
It was just a few years after the height of the popularity of the film “Urban Cowboy” starring John Travolta and Debra Winger, and was filmed at and based on Gilley’s Nightclub in Pasadena, Texas which was known as the world’s biggest honky tonk. The film included a cameo by Mickey Gilley, plus a few of his recordings were featured on the star-studded soundtrack that included songs by Kenny Rogers, The Charlie Daniels Band, Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Buffett, Eagles, Anne Murray and other acclaimed artists.
Mickey and all those who worked with him through his club Gilleys were riding high. It was such a thrill to spend the time next to Johnny Lee, Dallas star Charlene Tilton and the other who were visiting with fans from the both.
These thought came rushing back to me when I heard Mickey was launching his North American concert tour, dedicated to the 35th anniversary of his iconic “Urban Cowboy” single. He will appear across the country and each show will include Gilley’s greatest hits as well as a pre-show video presentation on his exceptional life and career.
“I’ve been in the music industry for more than 50 years now, and it never gets old,” he said. “I look forward to the areas we’ll be visiting during the tour, and celebrating the Urban Cowboy anniversary. I’m truly honored by the continued support of fans over the years.”
Grammy-winning Mickey Gilley has scored 17 No. One hits, 39 Top Ten singles and 8 ten Top Ten albums. Notable songs for the six-time ACM winner include “Room Full of Roses,” “I Overlooked an Orchid,” “City Lights,” “Window Up Above,” “Stand by Me,” and “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time.”
Mickey Gilley has released more than 30 albums, and has a star along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is a member of the National Traditional Country Music Hall of Fame and Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. The legendary singer and his famous cousins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart, are proud Delta Music Hall of Fame members.
Learn more to find out if his tour is coming near you by visiting mickeygilley.com.
Country Music Award Shows were always a great opportunity to meet other country stars that an artist might not get to appear with on the road. Standing back stage one day looking out at the rehearsals, now Country Music Hall of Famer Jimmy Fortune walked up beside me and we met for the first time.
Though many years have passed from that initial meeting in the days when he was a member of the Statler Brothers, we have kept in touch and I am excited to say he is also hard at work on the road. He’s known as one of the most distinctive tenor singers in the history of Country Music, with a resume that includes CMA and IBMA Awards, Gold and Platinum records.
Fortune first came to the attention of Country Music fans in 1982, when he was selected to replace Lew DeWitt as the tenor singer of the legendary Statler Brothers. The singer spent two decades with the group until their retirement in October 2002.
Fortune’s songwriting helped to give the quartet some of their biggest hits, such as “Elizabeth,” “My Only Love,” “Too Much On My Heart” and “More Than A Name On A Wall.” Since embarking on a solo career, Fortune has released the well-received albums When One Door Closes and I Believe.
He also continues to flourish as a songwriter, with collaborations with such tunesmiths as Bill Anderson, Kenny Beard, and Kevin Denney. It was with Denney and Tom Botkin that he wrote “On The Other Side,” which was recorded by Bluegrass superduo Dailey and Vincent, and netted the trio an award for Recorded Gospel Song of the Year from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA).
I encourage you to learn more about his show dates and what’s new with Jimmy, visit, www.JimmyFortune.com.
Marking 60 years of music - the Gatlin Brothers
A sound synonymous with country radio when I was coming up is that of three brothers Larry, Steve and Rudy, Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers have been dazzling audiences for 60 years and they are bringing that sound to audiences celebrating the milestone. It all began in 1955, when Larry was six, Steve was four, and Rudy was two. Their music has taken them around the world endearing millions of fans,
"We’re not calling it a farewell or a final tour. We’re calling it the 60th Anniversary Celebration,” Larry said. “By no means are we retiring, but after this tour, we are going to slow down a little bit. The promoters are going to have to want us about three times more than they want us right now.”
After performing as youths, Larry went to college to study law. He sought new musical opportunities auditioning for Elvis Presley’s backup singers – The Imperials. That door did not open but he found a champion in the talents of country singer Dottie West through the experience who encouraged him to begin writing songs.
After the gig in Vegas, Larry went home to Houston, wrote eight songs, sent them to Dottie, and she sent him a plane ticket to Nashville.
Through Dottie, Larry met Kris Kristofferson, who opened doors for Larry’s first record deal at Monument Records yielding - The Pilgrim.
Steve and Rudy moved to Nashville in 1975 and teamed up with brother Larry to form Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers. It wasn’t a year before the hits began rolling in beginning with the chart-topping success of the Grammy-winning "Broken Lady." The hits continued throughout the rest of the decade, with seven more number one songs: "I Don’t Wanna Cry," "I Just Wish You Were Someone I Love," "Statues Without Hearts," "Love Is Just A Game," "All The Gold in California," "Houston (Means I'm One Day Closer To You)" and "Night Time Magic." In addition to being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, the trio was nominated for awards by the Country Music Association, the Academy of Country Music and the Music City News Awards, among others.
"We won some of 'em too," Larry said.
A new Gospel album on Curb Records, titled, Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers 60th Anniversary Celebration is currently in the works.
"We were going to call the album, The Gospel According to Gatlin because some of the new songs are a little edgy, a little bit different. Then we realized it was our 60th anniversary, so we went with that as the title" Larry said. "Steve and Rudy and I didn't get where we are by playing it safe. We have always pushed the envelope, we have always crossed borders others were afraid to cross and we're not going to stop now... and that is the Gospel According to Gatlin."
I encourage you to check out their music or see a concert, it will be well worth your time.
"We're not cutting back because we can't draw a crowd or that we can't sing anymore. Today, we sound just like we did 40 years ago.... pretty dad-burn good,” Larry said. “We're not being run out of the business. We're not going broke. We're not down to bread and milk money. We just think it's time to do some other things, slow down a little bit, and do it with class and dignity – on our own terms.
"There are other priorities in life. I have two granddaughters. Brother Steve has seven grandchildren and Rudy has two kids,” he said. “We still love the fans and the road and we still love to sing but we want to spend more quality time with our families. We are grateful to God for our fabulous run and we can't wait to see what else He has in store."
For more information, visit www.gatlinbrothers.com.
Lee Greenwood Instills patriotism
I have had the honor to know the talented Lee Greenwood for much of my country music career.
He has earned multiple CMA and ACM Awards, a GRAMMY for Top Male Vocal Performance on "I.O.U," in 1985, and seven No. 1 hits, and thirty-eight singles including songs like “Ring On Her Finger, Time On Her Hands,” “Dixie Road,” and “Somebody’s Gonna Love You.”
His gift to our country is one of the most performed patriotic songs of the last century “God Bless the USA.” It has been in the top five on the country singles charts three times (1991, 2001 and 2003), giving it the distinction of being the only song in any genre of music to achieve that feat. It was also No. 1 on the pop charts after 9/11.
The song was penned from his heart in the back of his tour bus in 1983
He is now focusing on encouraging our youngest generation with pride in our country through his latest book - Proud To Be An American.
The book marks his third professional work as an author, and features poignant lyrics from "God Bless The USA" paired with colorful, thought-provoking illustrations by Amanda Sekulow. The book also includes a FREE song download, and its foreword tells the true story of his childhood upbringing that led him to become an American patriot:
"Growing up on my grandparents farm in California gave me an appreciation for folks who worked hard and got by on very little,” he wrote “My grandparents lost their farm after government regulations prevented them from farming the more profitable fields. But they didn't question why it happened; they just started a new business.
“They believed no matter what difficulties we experienced, we would be okay because we were free. ‘America is still the greatest country on earth,’ he said. As you sit reading the words of my song to your child or grandchild in my new book, it is my hope that young and old alike will feel tremendous pride in being citizens of the United States of America,” he wrote.
This project from Clovercroft Publishing in Franklin, Tenn.will be available Memorial Day Weekend. The son of a World War II veteran, his authentic life-long patriotism of the United States compelled him to write two former books, Does God Still Bless The USA: A Plea For A Better America (2012), and God Bless The USA: Biography of A Song (1993).
In conjunction with the release of Proud To Be An American, Greenwood will continue his long-standing position as the National Ambassador for Helping A Hero, a non-profit organization committed to providing specially-adapted housing and support to military personnel severely injured in the war on terror. Greenwood first appeared at a Helping A Hero event in January 2012 as part of ABC's “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” where he sang the iconic anthem "God Bless The USA," for a Christmas tribute, while welcoming severe burn victim SSG (Ret) Shilo Harris to his new home. For the past three years, the music superstar has continued to be a part of numerous house-gifting and "Welcome Home" ceremonies, holiday concerts for veterans and their families, volunteer appreciation luncheons and more, bearing witness to the real-life struggles our servicemen and women face after returning from combat with life-altering injuries and emotional distress.
"I'm consistently blown away with the impact Helping A Hero makes on veterans and their families. To know that heroes like SPC (Ret) Jay Briseno, USAR in Manassas, VA, who was hit by a sniper and is semi-conscious as a result, now has a fully-accessible home that includes a lift system, a 300 sq. foot bathroom with a shower bed, heated towel warmers, and a therapy room for his daily physical therapy needs, really fuels my passion for helping those who have made such great sacrifices for our freedom. No one is more deserving of outreach and care than our nation's heroes, and I'm just grateful I can be a small part of giving back to them," he said.
For more information on Helping A Hero and to find out how you can contribute to the cause, please visit helpingahero.org. For more information on Lee Greenwood's “Proud To Be An American” children's book, please stay tuned for updates on his website at LeeGreenwood.com.
Ray Price – his music still creates good times
One of country music’s greatest singers was the late Ray Price. Even now, over a year after his passing in 2013, his music continues to receive accolades through his 2014 CD “Beauty Is…” Price fought pancreatic cancer to complete his final album project with legendary producer and longtime friend Fred Foster. Beauty Is ... the final sessions was released in April 2014.
It debuted at #22 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart. The CD garnered a unique Honorable Mention on Billboard.com's The 10 Best Country Albums of 2014 list, and grabbed the #1 spot on TheNashvilleBridge.com's Top 10 Albums list.
His duet with Martina McBride, "An Affair To Remember," scored as #8 on the Hotdisc International Chart's Top 30 Most Popular Songs of 2014 list after three consecutive weeks at #1. His music is even finding new uses as ESPN-TV used "For The Good Times” in College Football Playoff ads.
Price was a Texan from Peach who had a mastery of the sounds that appealed to audiences whether he was performing the classic honky-tonk sounds of the 1950s or the smooth string infused ballads of the 1960s and 70s.
His iconic Kris Kristofferson smash was "For The Good Times." Known by the nickname of the Cherokee Cowboy, he charted over 100 times with 46 Top Ten hits, nine #1 singles and five #1 albums.
He was a member of the Grand Ole Opry who enjoyed Gold and Platinum album sales, won two Grammy® awards, took home a CMA trophy, earned two ACM awards and his place in the Country Music Hall of Fame and in the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame.
The latter of those, the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame is honoring him with a special exhibit entitled "For The Good Times” to be unveiled on Saturday, February 28 at the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage, Texas. The new display will feature over 60 of the star's personal items, and represents Ray's many career accomplishments and his lifelong commitment to his craft. Following a 10 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony, fans can tour the exhibit for the day, free of charge.
The Texas Country Music Hall of Fame Band will provide entertainment, and numerous special guests are expected to appear throughout the day.
Ray's widow, Janie Price, will be on hand to discuss the exhibit's special items and to sign autographs.
"With the excitement of his new CD, ‘Beauty Is ... the final sessions,’ the museum wanted to enhance Ray's display, and that tied in nicely with a 3,000 square-foot expansion to their existing exhibit space,” she said. "Ray was so proud that he was able to accomplish his dream of becoming an international star, but he was most proud to be a Texan, and to be able to give back to his home state. To have this new exhibit so close to home, as we continue to write the last chapter in his life story, is a special honor."
If you do visit, you can also see the Tex Ritter Museum. Learn more at http://www.carthagetexas.com/HallofFame/index.html.
Recently, a new single, "I Wish I Was 18 Again," was released. The CD, on Amerimonte Records, can be purchased at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® locations, Hastings Stores, Wal-Mart, Amazon and other retailers.
NBC and Dolly’s family films
I was recently pleased to discover that my former television home NBC is to partner with my longtime friend and former movie co-star Dolly Parton.
The network signed a development deal with the American icon for a series of films.
"I am so excited to be involved with my friend Bob Greenblatt, who produced the Broadway version of '9 to 5: The Musical' with me, and my longtime friend and former agent Sam Haskell,” Dolly said. “We want to create projects for NBC that are both fun and inspirational with a family audience in mind."
In conjunction with production partner Sam Haskell of Magnolia Hill Entertainment and Warner Bros. Television, NBC will develop a slate of two-hour TV movies based on the songs, stories, and inspiring life of Dolly Parton.
The movies are aimed to appeal at the family audience, something greatly needed in the current television landscape and a perfect outlet for the moving storytelling created by Dolly.
"I don't know anyone in the world who doesn't love Dolly Parton, and the idea of developing television movies inspired by her incredible life and the stories she has sung about for decades is exciting to all of us at NBC," said Robert Greenblatt, Chairman, NBC Entertainment." I hope we will create some uplifting movies that the entire family can enjoy together, a genre of programming that still seems largely untapped on television."
Over the past 40 years, Parton has 41 albums that have reached the top 10 in the country charts - the most for any artist - as well as 25 albums have either been certified gold, platinum or multi-platinum. In addition, 110 singles have reached the country charts. She has won 10 Grammy Awards, 10 Country Music Assn. Awards and 7 Academy of Country Music Awards. In fact, Parton has been nominated for 46 Grammys as both she and Beyonce are the most Grammy-nominated women of all time.
"We all feel so lucky to be in business with Dolly,” said Jennifer Salke, President, NBC Entertainment: “We're so excited about working with her to infuse these movies with her incredible work ethic and that genuine hopefulness and positive outlook that has been her trademark for years. And you can bet there will be a lot of her music in them too."
Dolly was twice nominated for an Oscar for her original songs "9 to 5" and "Travelin' Thru," for the film "Transamerica." As an actress, Parton was nominated for three Golden Globes and won two People's Choice Awards.
I am anxious to see what this partnership brings for all of us to enjoy. I pray it is something that will raise the bar of television and give other producers a goal for which to strive.
A Constant Man of Music – Dr. Ralph Stanley
With each passing year, I look around and find fewer of my musical heroes still contributing to the great America music legacy.
I am honored to call Dr. Ralph Stanley a friend and to have produced and recorded with him.
When I heard he had brought together a new project for Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® with Red River Entertainment and Bob Frank Distribution, I just couldn’t wait to share the news.
“Man of Constant Sorrow” combine the three-time GRAMMY Award winner on songs with other performers who I am sure lined up for the chance to support him in the effort: Dierks Bentley, Elvis Costello, Del McCoury, Buddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale, Old Crow Medicine Show, Robert Plant, Ricky Skaggs, Nathan Stanley, Josh Turner, Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings and Lee Ann Womack, while also performing two solo songs. Ronnie McCoury and Womack’s daughter, Aubrie Sellers, also appear on the album, along with Stanley’s band The Clinch Mountain Boys. The 87-year old International Bluegrass Hall of Honor inductee recorded the album in Nashville with Miller and Lauderdale as producers.
“I've always enjoyed singing with other artists," said Stanley. "Everyone who joined me on this record did a fine job. I think this will be a project that my fans will really enjoy.”
Among the titles are “We Shall Rise,” “I Only Exist,” “We’ll Be Sweethearts in Heaven,” “Rank Stranger,” “I Am the Man, Thomas,” “White Dove,” “Red Wicked Wine,” “Pig in a Pen,” “Two Coats,” “Brand New Tennessee Waltz,” “Short Life of Trouble,” “Hills of Home,” and “Man of Constant Sorrow.”
“Cracker Barrel is delighted to bring Dr. Ralph Stanley and Friends’ CD, Man of Constant Sorrow, to our guests,” said Cracker Barrel Marketing Manager Julie Craig. “The performances are wonderful, the music is timeless and the project is a great addition to our exclusive music program. We know our guests will look forward to discovering this album.”
When I was a boy, the sounds of Carter and Ralph Stanley – The Stanley Brothers of Virginia still dominated the bluegrass scene despite the passing of Carter in 1966. Ralph continued the tradition as a solo artist.
Through the years, he helped mentor several future bluegrass and country music artists who performed in his band before embarking on solo careers, including Ricky Skaggs, Larry Sparks and Keith Whitley.
In 1976, Stanley received an honorary doctorate from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn., and he has been known as “Dr. Ralph Stanley” ever since. Yale University gave him a second honorary Doctorate of Music degree in 2014.
President Ronald Reagan presented him with the National Heritage Award in 1984, elected into the International Bluegrass Hall of Honor in 1992 and inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2000. His performance of “O Death,” featured in the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” earned him his first GRAMMY Award in 2001 for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. The soundtrack album for that movie also earned Stanley both a GRAMMY Award and a CMA Award for Album of the Year.
He received the Living Legend Award from the Library of Congress and the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush and was elected as a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2014.
He released his autobiography, Man of Constant Sorrow in 2009. His CD is now available exclusively at Cracker Barrel and online at crackerbarrel.com for $11.99. The digital album also will be available for purchase at select digital retailers. For more information, visit www.Dr.RalphStanleyMusic.com.
The sun swept across the dark wood floor forming a light spot in the shape of a heart that I noticed as my mother buzzed around the room with dishes in her hand setting the table.
On the kitchen stove, pans were gurgling as meatballs simmered in a sauce, angel hair pasta boiled with a hint of basil filling the air.
The evening was close at hand and she was expecting the neighbors over for a light spaghetti dinner and an evening of cards and conversation.
In the fall prior to election, the conversation often leaned more to political strategies of mustering the neighbors and friends to get out and campaign or vote for one of the candidates my mother was sold upon. After election, the dialogue kept to local gossip and plans for the holidays.
For me an evening such as this meant I would be relegated to the children’s table for supper and the other children and I would be occupying us in another room with a board game of some nature.
While I didn’t mind these evenings generally, unfortunately, often times my mother’s friends had an abundance of female children. While I guess that wasn’t unfortunate to them, for me, that meant in addition to being relegated to eating with them at the children’s table and minding my manners, I would have to mind my manners all evening as we played. With the girls, there was no running like wild Indians, no rough housing, we played civilized games such as Go Fish, Monopoly, Operation, Life or whichever board game suited my guest’s fancies.
Cheating was out of the question in these circumstances. I was the host; I had to make sure everyone was following the rules including me. This action sometimes got me into some very heated discussions with my guests. I realized that sometimes girls were not the frills and lace I was led to believe, as some of them would get right mean when they didn’t get their way.
If it had been a guy, we could have settled our differences with a short wrestling match or a few exchanged fists, with the victor getting their way in the disagreement and the game continued. You couldn’t do that with the girls. They might have won and then I would have never heard the end of it. Of course, I am kidding, I was taught not to fight with a girl, even though a few of them needed a whoopin’, I would have to leave that to their folks.
Now that is not to say a girl didn’t hit me a couple of times in these engagements. They did and then they would escape to the safety of the living room where the adults were engaged in civilized pursuits.
Did I ever do the same, well, let’s just say, I usually found a way to get even by pulling a return prank of some description.
After all it was my job to see all the kids had a good time. If one was acting out of line, the best way to accomplish a good time were to bring the askew kid back into plum with the rest of us. Sometimes that took some creative comeuppance.
Despite whether my guests were female or male, I did always enjoy these times when I was asked to entertain. It was an opportunity to learn some of the basic expectations for treating friends in your home,
So friends, have you taught your children and grandchildren how to be a host. Not just a friend but also a host in their home. Depending on your customs and traditions, such a skill can lay the groundwork for opportunities in which they will serve them both in their daily lives at home and work.