Jimmy Fortune: Sings the Classics

I remember standing backstage one night at one of the Country Music awards shows many years ago and as I watched rehearsals I looked over to my right and found a future Country Music Hall of Famer standing beside me – Jimmy Fortune, member of the legendary Statler Brothers,

He had stepped out of the studio from where they were filming their popular top-rated TV show as best I recall. We stood and passed the time and began a friendship that continues. I was excited to hear he has just completed an all-new recording, Jimmy Fortune: Sings the Classics. The album, which will be available April 21, features collaborations with some of my other longtime friends Ricky Skaggs, The Isaacs and also the Voices of Lee. The Gaither Music Group project will be available at music retailers everywhere, along with Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® locations nationwide.

“This project is very special and dear to my heart,” said Jimmy Fortune. “A lot of hard work and thought went into picking each song, songs that shaped my life. I love them all and I think anyone who hears it will feel the same way.”

Known for his unmistakable tenor voice that has captivated audiences since his 21-year tenure with The Statler Brothers, Fortune puts a new twist on some of his old favorites on the upcoming album. Jimmy Fortune: Sings the Classics features 14 new studio recordings of classic songs that have all left their mark in music history.

Standout tracks on the project include the classic Hank Cochran-penned “Make the World Go Away,” which has been recorded over the years by some of music’s greatest voices including Ray Price, Eddy Arnold and Donny & Marie Osmond. Another highlight is the country classic “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” which is one of the most well-known songs in the history of the genre. Paying homage to his Statler Brothers’ heritage, the project also features a new recording of the signature Grammy® Award-winning hit “Flowers on the Wall,” a tune which Fortune knows well, as it was the first major hit for the iconic quartet.

The past year has been a career-defining time for Fortune, who was honored by the Academy of Country Music at the 10th Annual ACM Honors with the “Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award” for his incredible contribution to country music, along with each member of The Statler Brothers. The Gospel Music Hall of Fame hit maker also received his first GMA Dove Award for “Bluegrass Recorded Song of the Year” for the track “Life’s Railway to Heaven” featuring The Oak Ridge Boys and found on his previous critically-acclaimed album, Hits & Hymns (Gaither Music Group). The ACM Award-winner will be hitting the road in 2017 in support of the upcoming album, with a 40-plus city tour where fans can hear him sing No. 1 Statler Brothers’ hits such as “Elizabeth,” gospel favorites, and classics featured on his upcoming album. Fans who want an up-close and personal experience can set sail with Fortune on the 14th Annual Jimmy Fortune Alaskan Cruise, set for departure this July.

Jimmy Fortune: Sings the Classics will be featured as part of a special television offer on DISH TV, DIRECTV, Gaither Television Network, TBN, RFD-TV, FamilyNet, CTN, GMC, GMTN, Guardian, Liberty, TCT and TLN. It will air in Canada on Vision TV, CTS, The Miracle Channel, and Hope TV.

The recording will be exclusively distributed by Capitol Christian Distribution and Universal Music. It will be available throughout general market stores and the Christian marketplace and through online retailers including iTunes, Amazon, Walmart.com, crackerbarrel.com and www.gaither.com.

For further information regarding Jimmy Fortune, visit www.jimmyfortune.com or follow www.facebook.com/jimmyfortune.

Randall Franks performs in honor of Fiddlin’ John Carson


Georgia’s Fiddlin’ John Carson contribution to country music as first recording star continues to be honored.

From left Randy Smith, Dan Daniel, Yvonne Smith, Pete Hatfield and Rick Smith perform in honor of Fiddlin’ John Carson.

Randall Franks joined Georgia artists at Sylvester Cemetery in Atlanta, Ga. recognizing the 149th Birthday of Country Music’s first recording star Fiddlin’ John Carson by playing his first hit “Little Ole Log Cabin in the Lane.”  The performance organized by the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame reunited Franks with musician Randy Smith who joined Franks as he produced a recording featuring TV icon Carroll O’Connor in 1990. Ken Starr was presented the Fiddlin’ John Carson Award at the event.

Randall Franks, Yvonne and Randy Smith pause in front of the Carson family monument in Atlanta’s Sylvester Cemetery.

Come as you are


If there is a place where folks come as they are these days, it’s on social media and often it does not reflect our best. Have you ever wondered what happened to dressin’ up when you go to town or when placing yourself in an environment to be seen such as online? When I was growing up in Chamblee, Ga. we would often make the trek to town.

In our case, town would either be downtown Atlanta or Decatur. Whether we were out for a day of lookin’ and feelin’ at Rich’s department store or a trip to Starne’s Barber Shop for a shave and a haircut on the square in Decatur, when we walked out our front door, we looked our very best.

Notice how I said “lookin’ and feelin’” rather than shopping. That is what women folks would do with youngsters in tow. They would look and feel, only occasionally would the trip bear fruit with something being bought. In those days, many folks, like us, didn’t have air conditioning at home. A trip to the store on a hot summer day was a welcome relief.

I never did get a shave at Starne’s but I sure did lose a lot of hair. Mr. Starnes gave me my first haircut as my cousin Arthur, who was in barber training, watched. I would soon be turned over to Arthur for several of my early haircuts. In looking at early pictures, I can only say they were fond of flattops.

Course as a child, being dressed up often would include a little bit of dirt within just a few minutes of putting on those clothes. I can still hear my mom saying “What am I going to do with you, you get dirtier than an east Tennessee coal miner.” But what is a young boy to do when there is a perfectly good mud puddle just waiting there to be jumped in?

I can still see my mom in a pretty dress gray gabardine outfit with matching black hat, gloves, handbag and high heel shoes.

Maybe the concept of being dressed up has changed. Maybe folks look at designer jeans and a T-shirt or sweats as the fashion of the day. All of them are ridiculously expensive. They are a lot easier to upkeep than walking out in a crisply starched shirt, tie and slacks each and every day.

I just don’t understand what happened to the custom of looking your best. I remember even when we would spend time on my grandparents’ mountain farm, folks worked hard and wore clothes that would carry that load. But when it came time to go to town for something, I remember grandma Kitty going to her cedar wardrobe and pulling out her blue Sunday dress to put on.

Even if folks were dirt poor, they made sure that when they went to town or school or wherever they looked the best they could afford.

Folks generally still dress up to go to church. However, in some churches they don’t even do that anymore. They just say ‘come as you are.’ Now, there is nothing wrong with this. Cause I know God welcomes anyone no matter if they are in overalls or hole-y jeans. But there is just something to be said to giving God your very best effort.

In the past, folks took pride in the way they looked, their dress, their grooming. My dad would never leave the house with a hair out of place. Was that vanity, possibly. But that is one impression of him that people who knew him still remember today.

Now I am not saying that I have never left the house without being perfectly dressed and groomed. I do occasionally run out to the grocery or the gas station in a less than dressed-up fashion.

While I never owned a pair of blue jeans until I was in my teens, I do wear them to town with a nice shirt and even on stage when appropriate.

My parents use to say “We’ve worked hard to get off the farm and out of overalls, there is no reason for you to wear them.”

That was no slight on farming or farmers on their part. When they were coming up, farmers like other country folk were looked down upon by city people and I am sure they endured their share of negative comments from those well-meaning city folks while trying to make a place for themselves in the city. While nostalgic to us today, their roots of walking barefoot behind the mule as the fresh-turned earth came up between their toes was something many folks worked to get away from, especially during the depths of the depression.

With some pairs of jeans these days costing more than a pair of slacks, in a way, I guess they are dressy in their own right. If you really want to get fancy you can buy them with holes already worn in them. I heard of folks in east Georgia making a fortune by firing buckshot at jeans for some company. They can be pre-washed and I imagine somewhere you can buy them pre-worn and be charged extra for somebody else breaking them in. No matter what, they are here to stay.

I guess the days of everyone wearing their best when they go to town is a thing of the past. It is amazing what new coat of paint and little fixing up can do to a house. It only makes since that we do the same for ourselves or we can just “come as we are,” no matter where we go. It could be a little embarrassing for some folks though, depending on what they were doing when they get the invite.

Country music’s Merle Kilgore focus of new book

When my country music career was in full swing in the 1990s, I loved spending a little time in the office of a country luminary who built credentials as a performer and behind the scenes in the business – Merle Kilgore. I was honored to know and work with him and included him in my Encouragers book series.

Known widely as the manager for Hank Williams, Jr., his career intertwined with some of country’s greatest names and those branches of his experience are explored in a new book “These Are My People” (WriteLife Publishing) available for purchase now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and local bookstores across the country.

Merle Kilgore co-wrote “Ring of Fire,” carried Hank Williams Sr.’s guitar, managed Hank Jr. for more than two decades, and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.  Now, his grandson, Mark Rickert, gives readers an insider’s look at Merle’s larger-than-life world.


“We had a very close relationship,” Rickert recalls.  “I listened to his stories for hours on end, summer after summer.  He was a character and his friends were superstars.  His was a story I always believed should be told.”


Mark Rickert grew up in a Country music household, just a few miles from the Opryland USATheme Park and the Grand Ole Opry, and only a block from the home of Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager.  Mark’s father even worked as a Nashville tour guide. But it was his grandfather, Merle Kilgore, who showed him the backstage side of the business.  Before publishing his first novel, Mark served eight years a photo-journalist for the U.S. Army Reserve, spending a year of that service in Baghdad, Iraq, writing for military publications.  In 2008, he earned a Master’s in English Literature from Middle Tennessee State University.  Today, he works as chief of public affairs for an Army recruiting battalion.

Mark has told it well; imbuing each chapter with details that only Merle or those closest to him would know. Kilgore died in 2005 and his funeral service was held at the Mother Church of Country Music: The Ryman Auditorium.


For Rickert, Johnny and June Carter Cash, Johnny Horton, Faron Young, Elvis, and other legends were the people who ruled the radio airwaves and populated “Daddy Merle’s” tales.  From wrecking hotel rooms with Cash to explorations into the “other side” with Horton and the often-hilarious anecdotes of his life as a disc jockey and as a performer on the Louisiana Hayride and the Grand Ole Opry, Merle lived life to the fullest.  Blazing new career paths into the industry itself, Kilgore was undeniably a critical strand in the fabric of the Country music storyline.


“These Are My People” offers chapter after chapter of insights into the private lives of Merle and his friends, and includes a selection of more than 20 unique black and white photos.  It is an engaging read ably presented in a unique format. Published by WriteLife, “These Are My People” is in bookstores now. It is Rickert’s second book and follows the horror novel, “The Tone Poet.” 


As someone who knew and respected Merle and who had the opportunity to work side by side with him, I can attest, he was larger-than-life and this book provides a unique look into his life. You will enjoy it even if you didn’t know him or his contributions.

Faces from the past and present

Have you ever sat down and looked through your photo albums or boxes of photos and not known whose face you were looking upon?

Just the other day I was looking at images from my kindergarten.

You would think I would be able to name every one of those kids; I mean it was just yesterday that we were sliding down the stair banisters at the Presbyterian Church, fighting in the church playground and arguing over who got to sit with Julie Badger, my kindergarten sweetheart.

Other than Julie, the rest of those kids’ names have just faded away. As I looked at photos of birthday party after birthday party, I saw so many classmates I could not even begin to remember.

You would think I could easily remember when, while blindfolded, I accidentally pinned the tale on the wrong donkey.

I never liked Jamie much anyway. He was only invited because of diplomacy. If I left him out, then I wouldn’t get invited to his house. There would have been a crushing domino effect which could have set my second grade social life on its ear.

I often sit and peruse photo albums that feature faces of people who I do not know. The photo had or has some significance to my mother, late father, or late grandparents or another relative, so it found its way into the family collection.

In my room hangs the portrait of a great, great, great grandfather that meant much to my grandmother.

I will say it was not a favorite of my mother’s, as she saw this stern man whose eyes almost follow you as you enter the room. It reminded her of the haunted house paintings that scared Don Knotts and Jim Nabors to death on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

It took me years of coaxing to finally get grandma to part with it and let me be its caretaker. The same is true of so many other images I have gathered through the years.

I recently forwarded a photo from the collection of my grandmother Allie Bunch Franks to a distant cousin via e-mail.

I was hoping it may be one of her ancestors. All the information I had was that it was my grandmother’s cousin Dave Bunch, who had an affinity for building different creations inside bottles. Three were featured in the postcard. Grandma even had one that sat upon the mantle.

I always remember marveling at how he could have gotten his creation inside that bottle when I peered in it as a child. I thought he must have had very small fingers to reach up in there and do that.

Beside him in the photo were two girls, one younger than the other, and unfortunately paint had covered the older girl’s face years ago.

From my cousin’s review, she made the educated guess that due to clothing styles, it was likely her great uncle rather than her great grandfather who shares the same name.

It is amazing how we can easily forget the names of those kids who were at our birthday parties or the cousin we seldom see. It is so important to take the time to mark your photos in pencil not pen as to the details of who, what, when, and where.

Through the 60s and 70s, many film developers were kind enough to put the date of development on the photo, which helps. I think many of those new developing machines may include that info in the code it leaves on the back of the image.

As I look at the fading images, it is amazing to me how older images from the 30s, 40s and 50s endure literally unchanged while those of the 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s are already fading into obscurity.

It is hard to imagine birthdays and Christmases simply gone because of poor film or film development, but that is much like our memories, they will likely fade with time as well.

I encourage those of you who have moved into the computer era, to scan your photos from every era into a computer database and then have several backups. Generally, you can include information about the photo right in the file in many programs. Make several CDs of the completed photo files and disperse them to your children, grandchildren. Put a copy in your safety deposit box.

Many even take the time to create little photo documentaries of the family history and their lives. Sit down and share these with your young grandchildren at the computer.

The main reason is to disperse the copies to make sure that many people have them in their collections in case of a natural disaster or fire. Then you might have a better chance of rebuilding your family photos.

When you consider all the time and money we spend on photos, you would think we would take the time to document the events that surround them.

Whenever I go into Cracker Barrel, I look up at the large portraits hanging on the walls and wonder if only someone had taken the time to write down a little about that person and put it with the portrait if they would now be staring out at thousands of Cracker Barrel customers or on the wall of a relative who knew they had an important life.

Like a newspaper documents the story of a community through its coverage, a well-kept photo collection documents the story of your family’s life. Will your teenage children or grandchildren care you took the time to do this? Probably not until they have children of their own, but who knows, the effort may prove beneficial to each of us as we look back later and get the benefit of knowing who is staring back at us.

I am still wondering who that blonde kid with the flattop, big ears, with my birthday cake on his nose is, oh wait, that’s me.

Randall Franks appears with Stella Parton

Randall Franks made a special musical appearance with friend, country music star and former film co-star Stella Parton at her appearance for the Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce in Ringgold, Ga. in February 2017.

(Photos by Mike Key)


Is 24-hour news and information good for the American experiment?

As a former newspaper journalist, who covered government, I am perplexed and baffled by the last few weeks as we have watched the American media and the American president debate the place of the press in our joint endeavor of our American experience.

For those who take the time to study history, the relationship between our press and the elected leaders have always been that of a give and take, back and forth, love and hate. Presidents from the earliest days of our nation have expressed their concerns about media coverage they have felt to be detrimental to the relationship and the experiment.

That is in essence what it was, up until current day, a relationship between the doers and those who were tasked with watching the doers to make sure they were on the straight and narrow path.

Now, that relationship is not as necessary, the media gatekeepers have been usurped by the advent of the internet and social media, allowing leaders to carry their unedited message straight to the people. At a time when the normal news delivery platforms are struggling, this adds even more tension for media to fight to stay relevant.

I think the constitutional charge for the press by the founders is to seek out and expose excesses which break the laws of our great nation, our states, our communities.

That was why our founders gave us freedom of the press, so that leaders may be held accountable to the people. I think that is the badge of honor that anyone who has carried a press card in their pocket wears.

Unfortunately, in this world of 24-hour news brought on by cable and now the internet, sometimes, it looks like the need to feed the beast in that open drain, outweighs good journalism. Also, there are many now credited with being journalists, who are not.

Probably, my standards are different than some of my former colleagues but I have never believed in use of anonymous sources. If they won’t go on the record and stand behind what they are saying under the light of day, then I question their ultimate motives. Also, every effort must be made to have both sides revealed in the story before it is taken to the people, so that the news recipient can decide the truth for themselves. There is nothing I hated more than writing the words: “After repeated attempts, …. was unavailable for comment” or something similar. Sometimes though that is what you had to go with when someone simply did not want to provide a “No comment.”

Today, often “expert” opinions are provided as facts for a story. Cable news brings on a panel of paid or unpaid talking heads, generally with a majority on one side of the issue and one on the other to provide an entertaining forum on whatever story premise they are putting forward. It doesn’t matter whether the story has any legs to stand on, just whether it will make a good debate for a television segment. I may be mistaken, but that is why I think there is such a bad taste in the mouths of the American people in relation to their respect of what journalists do. I think news for entertainment brought on by the need to fill endless broadcast hours started putting the nails in the news media coffin years ago.

Do I consider journalists the enemy of the American people? No, but sometimes I consider us our own worst enemies. I have lived through the media coverage of more presidents than I care to count, I have never seen the level of media animosity and focus on negative stories tied to a president expressed in the first 30 days of a presidency. I have seen headlines and reports that have no relevance to anything President Donald Trump has said or done while in office but yet the president has been connected in some way. That is simply stretching it a bit folks. I don’t blame him for his response, in his shoes, I might have considered doing something similar. I am reminded of the story of the boy that cried “wolf,” when something comes up and we really need the American people to listen, will they? At this point, I doubt it. They are tuning out by the millions.

In answer to my opening question, is 24-hour news good for the American experiment. In my humble opinion, no, it is not. Providing the news that keeps our democracy strong takes time and often feeding the media beast results in sloppy reporting to meet a deadline. Will our experiment continue? Yes. Will the role of the press continue to lessen? I hope not, but the current course doesn’t look good.