In Our Archives:
Visits with David Davis, The Watkins Family, The CroweBrothers, The Marksmen Quartet, Archie Watkins and CarolChanning
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
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.
Grand Ole Opry’s Jim Ed Brown – In Style Again
It is not often that I become enthused by the release of a new music CD, but ever since I heard that my long-time friend Grand Ole Opry star Jim Ed Brown will have a new project, I have looked forward to it.
His new project “In Style Again” released January 20 from Plowboy Records is gaining him tremendous attention. The 13-track disc features guest stars Vince Gill, The Whites and The Browns and reunites Jim Ed with long-time duet partner Helen Cornelius.
Jim Ed is one of the nicest and kindest performers I have come to know in my entertainment career and he is one of country music smoothest vocalists.
As a youth I loved listening to his many hits with his sisters as The Browns like “The Three Bells.” Their harmonies still move me as some of the finest ever recorded. Fans of these sounds will be excited to know Bonnie joins Jim one song, "When The Sun Says Hello To The Mountain," which was released to country radio last November.
“I had the opportunity to tour Europe (in the early 70s) and I found a song that was perfect for the Browns,” he said. “The Browns had retired … so I held on to it… I asked the Browns to record, Bonnie was in complete agreement, Maxine could not travel so Bonnie came in and did Maxine’s part and her part.”
In the 1970s and 80s, Jim Ed’s wonderful partnership with Helen Cornelius gave us such a string of hit songs - "I Don't Want To Have To Marry You" and "Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye" and won them 1976 Duo of the Year.
“Carl and Pearl Butler had a big hit on (Don’t Let Me Cross Over) and ever since that time I always like the song,” he said. “Helen Cornelius and I we were singing around one day and started singing this song and we thought it fit is very well. If you like the magic of Jim Ed and Helen you will like this song.”
I was honored to have appeared with Carl and Pearl years ago and call them friends, there is no one else I would rather hear singing that song than Jim Ed and Helen.
Brown's signature lush vocals caress traditional Country songs that feature the talents of top-tier Nashville session players John Hobbs (Piano, Organ), Michael Baker (Guitar), Glen Duncan (Guitar, Mandolin, Violin), John McTigue (Drums), Dave Roe (Bass), Chris Scruggs (Guitar, Pedal Steel), Gary Prim (Keyboards), Daryl Hornburger (Steel Guitar), Michael Baker (Acoustic Guitar), Brent Mason (Electric guitar), Dennis Crouch (Upright Bass) and Greg Morrow (Drums).
Another song featured on the project is “It’s a Good Life.”
“I have lived this life to the fullest and I have done my best to do everything thing that I could the right way. I have worked hard,” Brown said. “Sometimes you have to fight, sometimes I have been sad, sometimes I have been happy, sometimes it just takes its toll on you as you are going down through this world. It is so great when you sit back and watch the world walking by and know you have did your best.”
There are impeccable background vocals on "Watching The World Walking By," "Laura (Do You Love Me)," "Lucky Enough" and "It's A Good Life" by Bergen White, Lisa Silver and Kira Small McConaghy. The title track was produced by Brown's close friend and Country Music Hall of Famer Bobby Bare, while the balance of the offering was produced by Don Cusic.
“I asked Vince (Gill) to come over and do the song (Tried and True) and he did,” Brown said. “He is doing the harmonies on it.”
Brown took a hiatus this winter to concentrate on his health after being diagnosed with cancer. Jim Ed returned to his doctors for a follow-up CT scan Jan. 19.
He said he is feeling good and looking forward to receiving a clean bill of health.
"The support of my family and the outpouring of positive thoughts and prayers from my fans has given me an incredible boost during this emotional time," Brown notes. "I'm grateful for every day I can spend on God's green earth - and thankful to everyone who gives meaning to my life."
He has just returned to host the nationally syndicated Country Music Greats Radio Show (heard on more than 200 stations per week) after a four-month absence.
The results of the CT Scan were that Jim Ed's cancer is in remission.
I encourage you, if you’re a country music fan, to add this collection to your music library. The disc is available for purchase through Amazon, iTunes and other retailers.
Is Southern civility gone with the wind?
I have had some requests to revisit one of my most popular topics, so I hope it will bring you a smile, with some recent experiences I encountered relating to interaction with others, I needed one too.
I have been blessed to travel to many parts of the United States. But there is no feeling to me like crossing those imaginary lines created to define the South.
I breath easier. I worry less. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the portrayals of Southern gentility in Hollywood movies.
In 1939, there was nothing more shocking in film than Rhett Butler’s “Frankly Scarlet, I don’t ...” You know the rest.
In the 1960s, television gave us shows like “The Andy Griffith Show,” which were still gentile on and off the screen. I remember George “Goober” Lindsey once relaying a story about him saying a few off-color words while waiting for the next shot on the set. He did this in spite of a warning by actress Frances “Aunt Bee” Bavier , paraphrasing, “That we don’t speak that way on this set.” She pummeled him with her umbrella. He didn’t do it anymore.
“Civility” refers to the politeness we see every day. The things that make the day a little nicer. These are the things that most Southern parents instill in their children. At least I hope they still do. “Yes, sir,” “No, ma’am,” “Please,” “Thank you,” “Respect your elders,” “Ladies, first,” and “Don’t cuss” are just a few of these civilities.
In my travels , I’ve been places where these acts are so alien to them they look at you like you’re from another planet. Where foul language flows like water from a faucet. Where if you stopped to show respect to a funeral procession, you would probably wind up in one yourself, in the lead car.
What is sad to me, in my recent travels around the South, I’m seeing more and more examples of Southern civility fading. The sales clerk or cash register attendant who ignores you or doesn’t respond to your greeting. The person who doesn’t respond to a kindness like holding a door with a “thank you.” Young people not showing respect for their elders. Foul language ringing out in public.
I don’t know whether these examples are due to a lack of parenting, a lack of respect for others, or the saturation of poor-quality TV, films and music in our society during the last few years. Variety of program choices is both a blessing and a curse. Unfortunately, language and visual images that wouldn’t make our series “In the Heat of the Night” in 1990 are now commonplace on the networks. I think Southern civility is becoming a victim of us trying to fit into what we are seeing on television and in film.
In recent years, Southerners in series television act more like transplants from Los Angeles or New York with a Southern accent. Considering that’s where they are probably from, it’s not surprising. The late Carroll O’Connor once told me that “we all say things to be polite.” For example, “Can I help you with that?” when someone is carrying a load, expecting, maybe hoping for, “No thanks, I got it.”
I hope we never lose that in the South. Kindness, politeness, Southern civility is not “Gone with the Wind.” It’s hopefully just swaying a bit in the breeze of popular culture. Maybe it’s just gonna take a few more Aunt Bee’s to remind all of us Goobers how things are suppose to be.
Numbers, what are all these numbers?
The year ends, the New Year begins and then like an avalanche of snow in winter, there they come – numbers.
All kinds of numbers begin covering me from head to toe. At least that is the way it seems to feel. Slowly, paperwork trickles in over the month of January telling me what I must report to the government and the state. Piles of receipts must now be sorted, itemized, added, subtracted, multiplied, and divided.
As I pour over the numbers, I come to realization that the height of enthusiasm that helped me ring out the old year was somewhat taller than it should have been.
My father use to have a sign hanging by his dresser saying “Why is there so much month at the end of my money?”
His humorous sentiment means more to me with each passing year as I glide through the rest of winter anticipating what is ahead for the coming year.
Each year as I go through this process, I promise myself to organize as I go. I have great intentions, but as time passes, the will becomes weak and the pile become taller.
Take heed my friends, take the advice of someone whose desk has Mount Everest and three volcanoes sitting side by side upon it. I say volcanoes because I never know which one is going to explode first scattering across the room extending my adventure into another day.
Take a few minutes each day, put away your receipts in a pre-organized file. Set aside a little time at the end of each quarter to organize and add up what you have so far in the important categories that are usable in your profession.
With just a bit of planning, you will enter the New Year and in no time everything will be ready to go to your accountant or tax preparer and you will miss out on all these piles of paper.
Let’s see, what did I spend $3.67 for in Louisiana? Was I even in Louisiana this year? I must have been. Guess it goes in the “Your guess is as good a mine” pile. I wish they had a line item for that on the tax form.
Well, in any event, may the whirlwind of numbers headed your way in the coming weeks find you in the black and hopefully the list will not string you along as everything adds up as it should.
Elly Mae and Little Jimmy
A love for critters of all shapes and sizes is one of the traits that audiences came to know about “Elly Mae Clampett.” That attribute combines along with her ability to whip Jethro or anything else that came her way that needing whipping.
She was beautiful to look at on TV and I spent endless hours being taken away from my childhood and pulled into the Beverly Hills world of Uncle Jed, Granny, Jethro and Elly Mae. There were many days as a kid that I will say were less than fun for various reasons, ill health and bullies among them. But through the 30-minutes spent with these folks, their comedic antics pulled me into a smile and I would lose myself into their uplifting look on their experiences.
The late Donna Douglas provided such a beauty of innocence for “Elly Mae.” When I had the honor to become an actor and entertainer, I never imagined Donna would join my friends and encouragers.
The light I saw her portray and kindness she brought to “Elly Mae” were so much part of her. I saw it in her smile and in her willingness to share herself with all those who loved her. When I brought together a country music package adding Donna and Sonny Shroyer “Enos” from “The Dukes of Hazzard” to my show, she was such a gracious cast member.
She was definitely a child of God who showed His love in her everyday life. I am thankful to have known this great lady.
Another great friend who took his final bow in Nashville is the late Country Music Hall of Fame member Little Jimmy Dickens. With a country music career that spanned from the 1940s to the present, he was one of final links to early stars of the Grand Ole Opry, serving as its patriarch.
I met Jimmy on one of my first trips to Nashville and we visited at a performance at one of the local hotels. Jimmy was presented an honor by the organizers and at the time while he waited, he and I talked about his career.
He commented at the time that he had not really received that many awards in his career and each one was special for him. He asked me about what I hoped to do in my career, and I shared my dreams about my music and the future.
When I finished, he turned, looked at me and said, “You sure have the enthusiasm to reach your goals,” he said. “I think you will go far in our business.”
Our paths would cross again and again especially as I began guest starring for the Grand Ole Opry. He would always have a joke or a light-hearted word of encouragement for me.
Eventually, I was blessed to be able to not only produce Jimmy in the studio but record with him. I was proud to be part of his legacy and have him as part of mine. With Jimmy's departure, he takes with him some of the final shimmers and shines left in Nashville's glittering western suits.
Dreaming of the new year
A new year is upon us and with its arrival is the promise of another opportunity.
Perhaps it’s the practice of making resolutions, or the celebrations of ringing out the old and ringing in the new. I always see Jan. 1 as a new chance to do things more effectively.
So, let’s see what can I do?
The house, it needs to be kept cleaner, I can do that, let’s get started, vacuum hose in hand, dust cloth in back pocket, Pledge in the other back pocket. I need a bucket, full of water, with ammonia for the floors. OK that’s all ready, what else, where’s that extension to clean the dust off the fans? There it is. OK I need some Comet to clean the bathrooms, and a sponge.
Great, I am ready now, cleaner house here we come, but before I get started, its about lunch time, let me make a sandwich.
That’s another area I can improve. I should eat healthier - more leafy greens, and drink more water. OK lettuce on the sandwich… what else can I put on it? There is nothing else in here. I need to go shopping.
I need to more efficiently stock my kitchen. O.K. Let’s make a list. I will open all the cupboards and see what is missing. Peanut butter, I need that, soup is always good. What about spaghetti? What’s wrong with this pen?
Now I have to find a pen. There are none here so, into the office. I’ll check by the phone. I don’t know why, pens are never there when I need one.
Right, no pens. Look at this office, files everywhere. Look at that, I sat that file there last year and haven’t touched it. I really need to get organized in my office.
No better time to start than the present. We will start with this file on that mystery book, I want to finish. Hmm. I better take a look at this before I file it.
That’s a good story. Why haven’t I finished it? That’s it, that’s what’s needed, a twist to take us in a new direction. Let me just get this typed in the computer before I forget it.
I’ll get this new book finished in no time at all.
Boy, I am getting hungry. What did I do with that lettuce sandwich? Kitchen. I was hunting a pen. Here’s one.
Will you look at this mess, all these cleaning things in the middle of the floor. Look at the kitchen, cabinets open, refrigerator door open. It looks like I have been robbed.
I have got to get this place cleaned up, close the doors, the fridge. Now let’s get the cleaning stuff back where it goes.
Now, doesn’t everything look better? There is nothing like making things neater to give a new year prospective. I am still hungry, where’s that lettuce sandwich? Here it is. Look here’s a coupon on pizza delivery. That’s a great deal. Where did I put the phone?
May your 2015, bring to fruition all your dreams, but add one resolution to your list, make a difference in someone’s life, a child, an older person, or a new friend. Use this year to be the person you always dreamed of being.
The Christmas doll
The winter of ’34 in the valley below the Gravely Spur was an especially hard one. A Christmas snow had blanketed the valley, making travel through the mountain passes treacherous, even if taken by foot.
With one false step, even those who knew the routes by heart could find themselves slipping into a snow drift hiding a potential fall.
However, for most of the children of the valley the snow turned it into a winter wonderland. Pearl, Ruby and the Wood boys were finding whatever they could ride to go sledding down Turner’s gorge. At the bottom of the gorge lay a pond formed from Frog Leg Creek which was covered in a thick coat of ice almost strong enough for skating. No one had any skates so they would simply slide across on the soles of the new shoes they received when the crops were sold.
While the children were unaware, most of the parents of the valley knew that the reality of the year had left them all in dire straits.
Toys at Christmas were largely a luxury in the valley. Even the well-to-do families were having trouble this year. The customary apple, banana or piece of peppermint stick candy that most of the children found in their stocking might be missed this year.
Pearl had sensed the concerns of her parents and with six children and four share-cropping families to help, she knew her father was doing all he could that year.
The unexpected snow however made it difficult for anything not already on hand to be brought into the valley.
Still Pearl hoped that she might find a little something for her Christmas morning that she could call her very own.
As she was sliding on the ice, she listened as the Wood boys laughed about what happened to what they got the year before.
“I can’t believe what George did to our present last year,” Woody said. “We got a whole string of firecrackers to split between us boys and he nearly run us out of the house with them.”
“He got up early Christmas morning and found them. They had this long string running through connecting them, so he took that loose and was counting them and splitting them up so we all had the same amount,” he said. “He threw that long piece of string in the fire. That thing jumped back out right in the middle of his pile. You should have seen George when those firecrackers started going off in every direction. They even jumped up in the bed with the rest of us and got everybody up in the house.”
But in spite of the snow, Santa would be making his usual stops at the Gravelly Spur no matter what. Because of the terrain, this year he would only make one stop in the valley and all the neighbors would go by Christmas morning and pick up what he had brought for the valley children.
Santa’s helper in the valley was Rev. Ben Smathers, who waited patiently Christmas Eve for Santa’s arrival. As the families came to Big Lick Church Christmas morning, he would then, one by one, distribute the gifts and the community would then gather for a celebration of Christ‘s birth.
Christmas morning, Pearl was up early, anxious for the trip to the church. In her stocking she found an orange and a stick of candy. When the family arrived at the church, she joined the other children in line at the tree and stepped up to Rev. Smathers. He placed in her arms a little blonde doll in a woven basket lying upon a blue cotton pillow.
“It is so beautiful,” she said. “Is she really mine?”
“Yes, just for you my dear,” he said. “So you take good care of her.”
As she looked in the eyes of her new friend, Pearl beamed with the joy of Christmas.
It was not stacks of gifts which made her eyes glimmer and her face shine with the light of the season. It was one simple gift of her very own given by the heart of a pastor who knew without his help many children would do without that Christmas.
This Christmas story is from the book "A Mountain Pearl : Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes" by Randall Franks and available at randallfranks.com.
Lights are flickering and the halls are decked
Flickering lights shimmered in the breeze hanging from trees, light poles, porch eaves and buildings as I drove around my hometown last week.
It is such a heartwarming sight to see the efforts made both by our city staff and individual property owners to raise people’s spirits during the Christmas season. For me the warmth generated within by the beautiful decorations helps to make my hopes swell watching to see the goodness and kindness that so many exhibit during the season.
Many years ago I wrote a song called “Let’s Live Every Day Like It Was Christmas.”
The sentiment for me still rings true today. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the charity and good will that we see shown in the weeks around Christmas were part of our lives each and every day?
I have been blessed to know so many people in every walk of life, rich and poor, well known and unknown, mean-spirited and generous beyond measure.
I have seen some of the greatest of charity come from those who have the least to give.
I have seen some of the kindest actions given by those who are otherwise detestable.
Each year I watch countless individuals gathering toys to change the lives of children in our community. I saw my parents do this time and time again trying to encourage families who needed more than we did.
I have watched our church family gather to provide Christmas dinner, gifts and food and supplies to hundreds of families that would otherwise have a less merry season.
I see people smile more; they stop to open a door for someone with an arm full of packages, or allow another driver an opportunity to go before them.
Now that is not to say, there aren’t those who selfishly push their way around the season trying to get what they want without consideration for others. Many times, unfortunately,
these folks do live that way all year around.
It would not only be nice to live every day like it was Christmas but to remember that the greatest gift shared with us during the season was God’s love for all of us through the gift of His son, Jesus Christ.
Peace, love for one another and hopes for a greater tomorrow is within our grasp, if we only strive for it within our own lives, our own families and our own communities. When we put them all together, wouldn’t the world shimmer in the glow of Christmas lights that each of us might hang to raise spirits.
Family ties should not be broken
The importance of one’s family connections is something that I believe we are losing in America.
With each generation there are fewer individuals who live close to their extended families, unlike the days when grandma and grandpa lived just in the next room or uncles, aunts and cousins were a short walk down the road.
Many Americans today do not really know the members of their extended family. We spend a few awkward moments together at funerals, family reunions, Christmas and Thanksgiving gatherings and then off we go back to our own lives.
As families build lives miles away from their home many grasp the anonymity of their new surroundings with fervor, often dreading when a distant family member might drop in, disrupting their lives.
Despite the fact that my parents chose to move away from their homes to build a life for themselves in Atlanta, I grew up in a home where our door was open to members of both my mother and father’s families. It was not unusual for there to be cousins stretched out on quilted pallets sleeping on the living room floor; uncles rummaging through the refrigerator for green dill pickles as a late night snack; aunts blanching red tomatoes from the garden in the kitchen; or distant kin moving in for an extended stay while they looked for a job or planned a new start.
Because of the time I spent with these people growing up, I feel a much closer connection to them; the shared experiences make chance meetings and gatherings less of a strain today.
It was not unusual for my Mom to get up and start cooking a batch of turnip greens, cornbread and some fried chicken, while cleaning the house from end to end. When asked why she was doing it, she would say “so and so” will be here directly. Sure enough, after a while they would knock at the door. My Mom has a second sense about that. With no forewarning she knew some relative was on their way.
Sundays were a big visiting day. It was not unusual for Uncle Harvey, Aunt Lois and all their kids to load up in the car and be knocking at our door before dinner. Sometimes Grandma Allie and Grandpa Jesse would come along for the ride.
Us cousins would spend the afternoon playing as the folks caught up on all the family news. We might ride over to the airport to watch the planes land or go downtown to sight see. We would eat dinner, and then they would load up in the car and head back up to Tunnel Hill.
I remember one trip when they came down to see Joe Don Baker in “Walking Tall.” Of course, us kids were not old enough to go to the drive-in and see it so we had a sleepover instead, while most of the adults took in the hit movie.
Just like their visits there, we also visited regularly. Despite the distance it was like we were one family experiencing life together rather than living separate lives and putting up with one another for a few hours at the holidays.
God has called many of those family members for an extended stay at his house. While they are absent here, the experiences still live within me, giving me a sense of the extended family even if there are fewer of them now than there once was.
The stories they told of relatives I never knew made those people alive to me. Through those stories many of my characters come to life on the page in columns and in scripts.
As this holiday season rolls by, take the time to experience more than just the ordinary. Help create an experience that will last for yourself and your children throughout the lifetime. It is not the number of presents, the lights upon the tree or the elaborate meal that will stick through time. It is the shared moments of life that will make the basis for what we know as family.
If we as a country do not work to strengthen our families individually what will the future hold for the American family as a whole? I guess we will be a country of individuals seeking a group in which to belong.
Seeing through the masks
Have you ever wondered what is beyond the face someone is showing you?
Is there another series of thoughts running through their head that is different than the words coming out of their mouth or the expression on their face?
There is probably not a soul on earth that has not faced a situation where someone they respected or liked for some reason revealed himself or herself as someone other than anticipated.
In a recent small group Bible study I attended, we discussed how in the South, it is not unusual to find someone who is so sweet and caring with an amazing ability to turn a phrase, adding “Bless their heart,” to deliver a socially acceptable put down. Others will often smile or sometimes roll their eyes, should they catch it.
As an actor, I am honored to understand that we all have masks that we use. We begin creating them in childhood to gain acceptance, love, and friendship from our parents, friends, and teachers.
We create them over time to help us succeed, allow us to get along, improve our relationships. By a certain point in life we have them for all occasions, almost like the clothes we wear. The spouse/loved-one mask, the parent mask, the close family mask, the kin but not close mask, the work mask, the club mask, the church mask, the close friend mask, the acquaintance mask, the those in the same business mask, the classmate mask and the list goes on and on.
We are so good at keeping them at hand, we can change masks in mid conversation if the social event requires it depending upon whom we are with.
The thickness of the mask relates upon how much we want the people we are with to really know about us. The goal is often to have the thickest mask with strangers and acquaintances, with the level thinning, the closer the friend or family member allowing hopefully for our heart to be seen more clearly.
When dating, we often begin with the thickest mask hoping that as we put on the thinner ones they will remember us putting our best foot forward and forgive what we really are like. In many respects, I think this works against that process but the process is repeated over and over again by each new hopeful seeking to find their soul mate.
As I have traveled through life, I have watched some of the greatest imitators of life develop and share the human condition for film and television. Watching them peel away their own mask and put on someone else’s for a role was an amazing learning process.
Through the years though, it has given me a great insight into the underlying intentions of those I have met and come to know.
I have found comfort in knowing that at least in my sphere of experience, you can generally tell when someone is earnest and honest in his or her deeds, actions and words.
I am still surprised sometimes though, often it is when I have not looked close enough at the wrapping to see beneath the mask and realize that what is beneath truly deserves to be hidden from the rest of the world. If we would see it, we would only desire to turn away.
At times there are those who pose with a smile, then slyly berate another or try to tear them down to elevate their own standing.
I wish I could say that people like this don’t exist, but unfortunately, they do.
These days, most bad folks don’t even bother to put a mask on except for those they are trying to evade being caught by.
But the neat thing is, at least from my experience, there are more good folks revealed when they remove their mask than bad folks. I pray you are one of the good folks, no matter which mask you are wearing, and I hope you always use your masks to uplift and encourage others
Adding color to one's roots
You might think I was aiming at getting you to pick up a bottle of hair dye and the drug store based on the title but my target is family roots, one's ancestors and finding the colorful characters in your history.
As I began my search for ancestors, I never knew what wonders the stories would open to me. Seeing history come to life through people to which I am related helped to make historical events more than just words upon a page.
I am sure that some of the tales have grown with time and the accuracy of some would not hold up in a court of law, but for the 10-year-old and avid history buff I was when I started, reading about an uncle who traveled with the Lewis and Clarke expedition or discovering a long lost branch of the family that no one knew existed gave me such a thrill.
My search carried me to homes where members of my family have lived since the country was founded. I have stood with a musket in hand on the battlements where my ancestors staved off the Cherokees when the United States were still British colonies. I have touched the soil which once ran red with their blood as they fell fighting the red coats.
There have been presidential candidates, congressmen, governors, state legislators, sheriffs, soldiers, cowboys, farmers, businessmen, lawyers, educators and even royalty.
With each turn of the page through another generation, my search would become more fascinating. A distant cousin enlightened me to an aspect of our family I never knew about how some of our ancestors from Portugal came to the Americas even before the Pilgrims settled in eastern North Carolina in the late 1500s. Their settlements were destroyed at some point, and survivors intermarried with Native American tribes and eventually migrated to the mountainous areas in western North Carolina and Southern Virginia, remaining together as a tribe. These folks became known as the Melungeons.
What young boy is not fascinated by the tales of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett? To find a link to one of these larger than life frontier men was a delight to me. One of my ancestors apparently was the mortal enemy of Daniel Boone. While that may seem a weak link, it only says to me that at some point in their lives these men were on opposite sides of a fight so they did know one another.
I am told one of my Confederate ancestors, Robert Shields, came to the fight when he was already in his 50s. He left behind a wife and 13 children, some of whom were already grown and had families of their own.
Shields was captured and sent to prison in Rock Island, Ill. Upon returning, he discovered that his death had been reported to his family earlier in the war.
His wife had re-married and re-settled in Alabama with a new husband. He then went in search of his wife. Only the wind now knows what transpired when he found her, but following the meeting, Robert returned to Georgia and started over. He married again. His second wife also gave him 13 children. He became a minister and started a church where he and his wives now rest.
Yes, both wives. After the death of his first wife’s second husband, he brought her home and built a place for her. He looked after her until his death.
I stood at the foot of their graves only wishing I could hear the real story told.
Once our loved ones are gone, however, we are left with only the paper trail and some remnants of memories in the wind.
While history is a wonderful place to spend time seeing the colors that make up your family tree, if you would like to know the story of your family, start with those around you. Holidays like Thanksgiving is a perfect time to get the ball rolling. Don’t forget that those stories which are right at your fingertips will one day be history, too. One day, you might just wish you had written them down.
The advantage of knowing how to cook
When I was growing up one talent that both my parents stressed I should acquire was learning to cook for myself.
Perhaps it was their foresight that it would not be easy to find women in my generation willing to dedicate themselves totally to cooking, cleaning and raising children, or perhaps it was my mother’s independent spirit as someone who was before her time.
My mother began operating her own restaurant when she was in her 20s, so needless to say she was a career woman long before I entered her life.
I think she knew that more and more women in my generation would be entering the workforce and spending more time in the workplace.
However, with my arrival and due to some of my unforeseen health issues, she left the business world to look after me until my health improved enough for her to work again full time.
As I grew I helped out all I could, and one of my chores once she returned to work was to help with evening meals.
With her help I learned to cook a variety of dishes from Hungarian goulash to Southern style meatloaf. My favorites were the sweets, pineapple upside down cake, pecan and sweet potato pie, which of course barely lasted to the table.
When I was around 13-years-old I had the opportunity to solo on my very first holiday meal — turkey, cornbread dressing, sweet potato yams with marshmallows, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and turkey gravy, slaw and pumpkin pie. Of course, like any good teacher she quietly coached and helped with some of the odd jobs like peeling potatoes, grating the cabbage and carrots, opening cans, and of course getting the turkey started soon enough to be done by meal time. You know, if you do not take that thing out of the freezer a day before you’ll be having fried Spam instead.
One thing that to this day I just cannot deal with is those little turkey giblets you put in the gravy. I think gravy is just fine without them swimming in the gravy boat.
For the occasion we invited our neighbors, Millie Dobbs and Bessie Yarbray, to join us.
I was also in charge of setting the holiday table with our finest linens, bone china, crystal glasses and silver ware. These were always reserved for special occasions and guests.
I will never forget my excitement as the meal was set on the table and the guests arrived to see what I had done.
The image looked like it could have come right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
I am pleased to report that everyone said they enjoyed the meal and the portions evidenced that. As far as I know there were no late night visits to the emergency room, so I guess you can say the event was a success.
I also may have been inspired to pursue this endeavor by the fact that my brother’s wife could not boil water. They spent many evenings sitting around our table.
As an adult these lessons have served me well, and while cooking is no longer what one might call a passion for me, I do know how. As long as food is available in the absence of someone desiring to cook, I won’t starve. As years go on, I am sure that will be plain to see as I develop an ailment, which afflicts many of my kinfolk, Dunlap disease. My belly dun lapped over my belt. Bon appetite!
An Evening Among Friends
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.