Country memories with Margie Singleton and Mel Tillis

I have been blessed to meet some amazing performers who have for some period occupied the spotlight in many music genres but especially those who made a home in country music.

Through the 1950s and 60s, one of the female vocalists who kept the airwaves filled with her talents from Starday, Mercury, United Artists, Monument, and Ashley Records, whether as a feature artist, duet partner, songwriter or background vocalist is Margie Singleton.

Singleton, now in her 80s continues entertaining audiences, sharing interviews, videos, and blessing hearts and ears with her latest Christian music CD “On the Other Side of Life.”

Among her early hits are titles such as “Eyes of Love,” and with duet partner George Jones “Did I Ever Tell You,” and “Waltz of the Angels” and with Faron Young “Keeping Up with the Joneses.” She did a full album of duets with Jones which is now a legendary part of both their legacies.

Numerous artists yielded songs from her pen with just a few being Tammy Wynette, Charley Pride, and Brook Benton. She even joined the Jordanaires adding the feminine touch to countless classic country recordings of the era beside the famed back-up harmony group.

Her most recent Christian music CD features “On the Other Side of Life,” “I Chose You,” “Peculiar People,” “Follow Me,” “I Heard Him Knockin’,” “Making Payments,” “On My Father’s Side,” “His Destiny,” “Meet Me at the Altar,” “Flying with My Lord,” “You Can’t Go Back,” and “Heaven Bound.”

Her voice and musical stylings reflect the amazing sounds that made her a radio favorite. Check out her CD and she recently did a video of the single “Jesus Is My Pusher” which is seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeJgy2rJnFI&t=13s.

Learn more about Margie at http://margiesingletonmusic.com/ and order her CD at https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/margiesingleton. Like her at https://www.facebook.com/margiesingleton35/

The “Coca-Cola Cowboy” Mel Tillis, 85, passed away Nov. 19. As I was coming up as a country artist, he was one of the kings of country songwriting, singing, performing comedy and acting in movies. He created a home for his classic country style by building a theater in Branson, a town where he and Roy Clark reigned for many years.

Throughout his 60+ year career, the Grand Ole Opry member recorded more than 60 albums, had 35 Top Ten singles, six #1 hits (“I Ain’t Never,” “Coca-Cola Cowboy,” “Southern Rains,” “Good Woman Blues,” “Heart Healer,” and “I Believe in You”), was named the Country Music Association’s coveted Entertainer of the Year, and was elected a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He wrote over 1,000 songs, 600 of which have been recorded by major artists including Kenny Rogers (“Ruby, Don’t You Take Your Love to Town”), George Strait (“Thoughts of A Fool”), and Ricky Skaggs (“Honey, Open That Door”). Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) named Tillis Songwriter of the Decade for two decades. In February of 2012 President Obama awarded Tillis the National Medal of Arts.

For years my office base of operations in Nashville was in Mel’s building on Music Row. It was where meetings occurred, quick changes as I rushed into town for an appearance. I often found Mel there and shared a brief visit for a few words of encouragement or wisdom. He was an amazing talent that made us think, laugh and remember that we artists were there to entertain the audience…a true class act… Prayers for his daughter Pam Tillis and all his children, grandchildren and family.

The bottom of the pile

It is hard to walk away when you are at the bottom of the pile.

I remember fondly the springs and summers. Hours of play after completing my chores around the house. Of course, as I got older, I took on odd jobs like mowing neighbor’s yards to earn a little money.

In my neighborhood, we had a great group of children. We all would gather to play and race our bikes down suicide hill.

I remember one accident that sent me flying through the handlebars and sliding down the pavement for 20 feet or more. That still hurts just thinking about it. I had sores all over me from that adventure.

There were no cell phones — so the kids were kept on what I call time leashes. When we left the house, we were expected to come back by a certain time, usually meal time.

Of course, if any of us got into mischief, the news traveled faster than us and the punishment was waiting for us when we got home. In my case, a few choice words from Mom followed by “You just wait ‘til your father gets home.”

Those waits coupled with the sound of my dad pulling his belt out of his pants were always worse than the whipping themselves.

One thing about it, my father never punished me undeservingly, and while I can’t remember a single whipping, I sure learned the life lessons that accompanied them.

My friends and I had about a two to three-mile radius in which we played that encompassed, fields, woods, several neighborhoods and some stores. We had a Colonial Grocery Store, a Krystal, a gas station, dry cleaners and a Gulf Service Station within our travel patterns.

We would get in our share of disagreements with each other. That would lead usually to some hurt feelings and some rolling around on the ground ‘til someone would say “Uncle.” We always seemed to come through it. There really were no children who caused trouble in my age bracket. A few older ones sometimes got into mischief, but we always managed to keep out of trouble.

Do not get me wrong, there were bullies. We were just blessed not to have them on our street, at least for very long. I remember when I was about seven there were two brothers who took great pleasure in picking fights with me. At least, it seemed that way at the time.

A boy my age named Chris Sands moved in. His parents had just divorced, and at that time, it was not as usual, as it is now. I’ll never forget one meeting with those brothers that had me at the bottom of a wrestling match that I just could not win. Chris was the new guy in the neighborhood and saw that I was being unfairly targeted for this fight and stepped in to pull the other boys off me. From that moment on, he was my friend — that is until he later moved away, and I lost track of him.

While time has erased many of the memories of the time we spent together hanging out as kids, that one action by the new boy on the block sticks in my mind. He saw something that was not right, and he did something about it. Not knowing the social lay of the land and the dynamics of the neighborhood hierarchy, he stuck his neck out for me. That is bravery.

Now I’m not advocating fighting as a way to resolve issues for children or adults. I was taught that it takes much more courage to walk away than to actually fight. But when they jump on you, there are just a few hurdles you have to get over before you can walk away.

I learned a valuable lesson from Chris that day. I have always tried to stick up for others, but sadly, especially since starting to serve in local politics, I have found there are few willing to stick up for you as the bullies come out to tear you down, especially during an election.

Folks often do not like to stick their neck out to help other people, but when someone does, it makes our community a better place. Even during an election, it is better to walk away and not engage in the lowering of the standards of decency often practiced by other candidates and their backers.

We are truly blessed with people who work every day to help those who face many kinds of battles.

His steel could really sing

Barney Miller on the set of Lawless in 2011. (Randall Franks Media)

Barney Miller performs on the stage of the Ringgold Depot in Georgia in 2007.

From my earliest memory of country music, the sound and mix of fiddle
and steel working together to augment the vocalist has electrified my
interest in what some call classic country.
From the 1940s until Nov. 2, a talented Alabama steel and resonator
guitar man named Barney Miller has shared his talents alongside some
of the greats in Country and Western music, TV and film. He
eventually became a Georgian, where many of his musical recognitions
were achieved.
It was the early cowboy sidekicks Dub Taylor and Al “Fuzzy” St. John that took him from walking rows of crops on the farm to standing in
the footlights of stages across America. They put him in the ornate western costumes and helped him learn the inner workings of Hollywood stardom and Country & Western music touring.
Though his life and career carried him to be field engineer, construction company operator, deep-sea fishing charter boat captain, music teacher, and heating and air technician, just to name a few, his music carried him to contribute to the legacies of Grand Ole Opry stars such as Billy Walker and Ramblin’ Tommy Scott, TV personalities such as Claude Casey, and to appear in numerous films and TV shows himself. A major auto accident sidelined his musical efforts for a
time in the height of his demand as a musician, but he overcame the injuries to regain his ability to play the instrument he loved.
I was honored to be one of those artists who benefitted from his experience, his talents and his amazing storytelling. I knew him since my youth when he supported my young Peachtree Pickers. He loved to share a story about my mom and dad and one of our early performances for Buckner’s Restaurant where we both performed.
Later as my career moved to TV and country music notoriety, he became part of my musical legacy. I can’t put a finger on when it happened exactly, but one day, there was Barney and after that, he was always there, ready to go perform – county fairs, music festivals, and concerts, or a film or TV appearance whatever the opportunity. You can catch him performing from the set of Lawless with my Cornhuskers String Band on Randall Franks TV on YouTube. When I started our Share
America Foundation (www.shareamericafoundation.org) encouraging youth in Appalachian music, he became one of our
strongest musical contributors, helping us send numerous youth to college.
Barney left his slide and steel behind Nov. 2 for a brighter stage alongside many of the artists he knew in life, he was 87, though to me, I never thought of him as anything but eternally young, because of his uplifting spirit and amazing outlook on life. I can still hear his voice, see his smile and feel his steel meshing with my fiddle as we gave what is now considered a classic country feel to one of my songs – I’d just look over from center stage and say “Here’s Barney
Miller on the steel guitar” and the audience would come alive as he wowed them and me.

Two farewells that will keep music coming

Country music experienced two farewells recently, one from Kenny Rogers and another from John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Rogers completed his farewell performance to Nashville Oct. 25, All In For The Gambler, which reflected the amazing impact his musical career has had upon many genres and several generations.

An all-star cast of Rogers’ contemporaries – and many of today’s hottest musical artists – turned up Oct. 25 at the Bridgestone Arena in Music City to pay tribute to the Country Music Hall of Fame member, who is in the midst of his farewell tour, “The Gambler’s Last Deal.”

Perhaps the most emotional moment of the night belonged to Dolly Parton, who teamed with Rogers one last time on their 1983 hit “Islands In The Stream” after surprising both Rogers – and the audience – with a heartfelt performance of “I Will Always Love You” to her friend and collaborator. The two also reminisced about their lengthy friendship – which dates back to a Rogers appearance on her syndicated TV show from the mid 1970’s – almost a decade before they first teamed up. The two also closed out their performing career together with the Grammy-nominated “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” a single from 2013.

Star after star performed Rogers hits as the evening progressed beginning with earliest songs from the First Edition throughout his solo career. There were spellbinding performances taking place from The Oak Ridge Boys (“Love Or Something Like It”), Chris Stapleton (“The Gambler”), and Lady Antebellum (“She Believes In Me”). Many of the 80’s and 90’s hits of the singer were featured during The Gambler’s Last Deal as well. Billy Currington delivered a sensual take on “Morning Desire,” with Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley and Idina Menzel teaming up for “We’ve Got Tonight,” a 1983 Rogers hit with Sheena Easton. Two of the singers’ most frequent collaborators figured prominently in this era with appearances with Lionel Richie giving a beautiful take on “’Lady,” a number one Pop and Country hit that he wrote for Kenny’s Greatest Hits album in 1980, and Alison Krauss saluted the singer with a pristine version of his romantic ballad “Love The World Away.” Another incredible performance came from Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott and mother Linda Davis – who has toured extensively with Rogers over the years – uniting on stage for the singer’s 1987 chart-topper “Twenty Years Ago.”

There were several other great musical moments during All In For The Gambler, with Naomi and Wynonna Judd reuniting for “Back To The Well,” and an all-star group of Rogers’ former opening acts paying tribute to the icon with a sing-along performance of his 1982 hit “Blaze Of Glory,” including Travis Tritt, The Gatlin Brothers, Kim Forester, T.G. Sheppard, Crystal Gayle, Lee Greenwood, T. Graham Brown, and Billy Dean.
John McEuen, one of the founding members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (NGDB), has announced his immediate departure from the iconic group stating “enough is enough,” McEuen exited upon the conclusion of the NGDB 2017 tour in October.

“In assessing the situation surrounding our performances, business disagreements and ongoing difference of opinions, the timing is appropriate for my departure. As a catalyst to my decision, in December 2015, I received confirmation from Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Inc. that I was an ‘employee’– no longer a member of the corporation that I helped to build,” McEuen said.

He however is not ending his career but expanding his own solo career.

McEuen was instrumental in the NGDB band formation in 1966 and has celebrated groundbreaking and historical success alongside his counterparts over the past 50 years for the group’s significant contributions to the expression and expansion of American music worldwide. McEuen is most-widely recognized for his signature talents as “an extraordinary, multi-instrumentalist;” he has recorded more than 30 NGDB albums and created a lasting legacy for his seminal work on the Will the Circle Be Unbroken album, which McEuen initiated in 1971. Circle has been noted as “the most important record to come out of Nashville” by Rolling Stone and “the most important record in country music” (ZAGAT Survey/2004).

“It has been a great privilege to work alongside the others; together, we made history. After 50 years, the time has come for me to bid adieu to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band stage,” said John McEuen. “I will move forward with great pride in my personal and musical contributions to NGDB and now can fully concentrate on my independent endeavors. I have much to do and many more creative ideas to pursue. Because of this relationship, I have more stories than you can shake a pick at. (…That will come later!)”

McEuen has enjoyed a successful solo career with six albums to his credit; his most recent MADE IN BROOKLYN. McEuen has assembled an exquisite band of talented musicians to join him: Les Thompson (original founding NGDB member), John Cable (NGDB alumnus) and Matt Cartsonis. The foursome has created a multi-media show catering to some of the country’s most breath-taking opera houses and performing arts centers. He was recently inducted in the American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame. Visit johnmceuen.com for more information.

Halloween is better the second time around

I could not have been more than four or five when I decided that Halloween can only be better the second time around. It was the day after Halloween. I was playing in the den in my spider man costume that I had worn so proudly the night before as my mother took me from house to house to gather an abundance of candy.

My mother was busy ironing in the doorway of the den. She of course had the ironing board strategically placed blocking my exit from the room. But like any four year old super hero, I anxiously watched for my opportunity to escape from my captivity and when it came I was out of there like 40 pound cannonball and headed for the door.

Of course at the time I’m sure I gave no thought to doing anything wrong. In my four year old mind, I decided I wanted to have as much fun as I did the night before. So with my costume on and my bag emptied out, down the road I went.

I rang door bells, and knocked on doors. Everyone greeted me graciously, as a few pointed out I was a little late, most all managed to come up with something. Several folks even emptied what they had left in my bag. As I worked my way down the street, my mother realized that I was no where to be found and began a frantic search of the house and yard. She called the neighbors immediately around us but most of them were at work so they had not come to the door when I rang.

Of course, I was oblivious to all this in my quest for a full bag, so I kept going. Our neighborhood was a semi-circle with around 50 homes on one half with an intersecting street. With my little two legs, I had managed to work my way all the way down the street and had started around the other. My mother had already called my father at work and I believe she may have called the police. About that time, our next door neighbor arrived home for lunch and he had seen me rounding the corner. Immediately, mother jumped in the car coming after me. It was not long before I was seated beside her in our 1964 Chevy Malibu knowing that I had done something that I should not have done.

By the time I arrived home, I think my Dad may have arrived home from work. While much of what happened after is a blur in my childhood memory, I know that I did not enjoy that extra bag of candy as much as I thought I was going too at least initially.

In the excitement of the costumes, the candy, children often forget little things like the rules they need to remember like looking both ways before crossing the street, to trick or treat with an adult or responsible older child, not to eat your candy until your parents or guardians have checked it out.

I am thankful that my parents cared enough about me to almost call out the national guard when I disappeared on my little Halloween excursion. I was blessed to live in a community of caring people that looked after me as I wondered along. If I could go back and not put my mother and father through that I would.

But you know, that was an awfully big bag of candy and you should have seen those jawbreakers. Well, it is needless to say, I never did anything like that again.