Singing the praises

I enjoyed the great honor of attending the Singing News Fan Awards recently at Dollywood. This was the first time the event was held at Dollywood as they partnered also with the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame for its annual inductions. The Hall of Fame and its museum are at Dollywood.

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Bluegrass Honors

In recent weeks I have seen a lot of great bluegrass performers honored in their craft and sharing their talents with enthusiastic audiences.

This adventure in musical joy began with the Front Porch Fellowship Bluegrass Gospel Music Awards held at the National Quartet Convention in Louisville, Ky. Read more

The faith of Palin

Bluegrass gospel music filled the Freedom Hall Expo Center in Louisville, Ky. for over two hours before the annual 2010 National Quartet Convention turned its focus on one of the leading political figures since 2008 – Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
The former Republican candidate for United States vice president stood before thousands of gospel music fans and shared her personal thoughts about faith, family and our country. Read more

We don’t do that here anymore

Have you ever taken your shoes to be worked on? Does anyone do that anymore? I remember when fixin’ shoes was cheaper than buyin’.

Of course, back then they were quality made and lasted a long time if cared for properly. I’ve been looking for a brand new pair of blacks and a brown for about a month now. Every where I look they are just not quite right. The pair I am trying to replace is about new but they are worn out with a few holes. I was looking at them and found that a percentage was made in one country – Mexico, another percentage in the European Union and then assembled in China.
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Southern gospel music and Dolly too…….

Hearing good four-part harmony is something that has always made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Ever since the days when the sounds of “The Gospel Singing Jubilee” helped me energize sleep out of my pre-school eyes as we got ready to go to church, Southern gospel music has been part of my life.

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Grand Ole Opry star Jesse McReynolds urges America to unite

I have heard Jesse McReynolds called the iron man of bluegrass. He is certainly one of the strongest and most innovative musical talents that I have ever known.

From the first time as a youth that I looked up on the stage of the Lavonia Bluegrass Festival at he and his late brother Jim, I knew that they were the most polished musical act I had seen.

Jesse’s musical talents were at the core of that polish and today at 81, he is still creating and working to find new ways to reach audiences that may be unaware of the body of work that brought him to the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.

But he is the first to say his latest venture is more an attempt to leave a legacy of encouragement to his fellow Americans.

Throughout his career he has shared his love of the United States of America and his home state of Virginia through live performances, numerous recordings and through his own military service.

McReynolds said with the trends he has seen in America over the last few months, he was led to write an anthem from his heart that reflects the feeling he wanted to share with his fellow Americans.

What happens when you bring together a Bluegrass Hall of Famer Jesse McReynolds (, Grand Ole Opry star John Conlee (, Country Music Hall of Famer Jimmy Fortune of The Statler Brothers (, Gospel Music Hall of Famer Duane Allen of the Oak Ridge Boys (, and some of Nashville’s hottest pickers?

Jesse’s anthem for Americans – “United We Stand”

“I love this country. I served in Korea. There is hardly a town across this great nation that my music has not taken me,” McReynolds said. “I’ve come to know its people and the strength we have when we work together. We are Americans, citizens of the United States of America; our future depends upon us pulling together. I have the faith that if we do, we can turn this country towards a positive future – ‘United We Stand – Divided We Fall.’”

The Grand Ole Opry star, who is known as an American master of the mandolin, wrote the song and created two versions welcoming Charlie Cushman on banjo, Steve Thomas on fiddle and guitar; Kevin Grant on bass for the bluegrass version.

For the country version, he welcomed even more stars including RFD-TV’s Marty Stuart ( playing guitar and Grand Ole Opry star Buck White of the Whites ( playing piano; Steve Thomas on guitar; Kevin Grant on bass; Chris Wood on drums; and Tommy White on steel guitar.

J&J Music released the new single in association with Crimson Records to over 1,500 radio stations featuring country, bluegrass, gospel and folk music.

“I hope that fans of my music will call in and request it,” McReynolds said. “But more than that, I hope that all those who love this great country will take this song to heart and unite for the future of America.”
United We Stand is available for digital download at itunes, and more information can be found at

Jesse is not letting any grass grow under his feet since coming Oct. 5, musically he will push the lines of bluegrass again as Woodstock Records releases Jesse McReynolds & Friends with David Nelson & Stu Allen, Songs Of The Grateful Dead: A Tribute to Jerry Garcia & Robert Hunter.

Rufus A. Doolittle

One of the more interesting characters I have met in my life is my second cousin twice-removed Rufus A. Doolittle. No matter how many times the family removed him he just kept coming back. If you meet Rufus on the street, he will always have on his old blue Bibb overalls covering nearly 300 pounds of his favorite dishes. He always said he was built more for comfort than for speed.

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“M.A.S.H.” memories

When considering the monumental shows of television, one of these would have to be the series “M.A.S.H.” starring Alan Alda and a cast of hilarious character actors who seem to face an endless stream of war-time horrors with levity and courage.

I remember sitting with 130 million other Americans on February 28, 1983 as the cast said their final good-byes as the war came to an end. It was television’s most watched show in history, according to the Neilsen ratings.

“‘Hawkeye’ Pierce,” Alda’s character, and “B.J. Honeycutt,” played by Mike Farrell could not seem to get together to say goodbye. Honeycutt just could not say the words. As the helicopter took off and in stones upon the ground B.J. wrote the word “Goodbye.” I remember welling up as if I had just lost my best friend. In many ways, I had.

When the show started I was too young to watch but my parents enjoyed watching the show so, from time to time, I got to see it.

As I reached high school, I had grown up enough to watch the show regularly, and it became a regular Monday night ritual.

The characters in a way worked themselves into my life. I was vested in what happened to them.

Thanks to “M.A.S.H.,” for a generation of military, Korea was no longer in the past; a new story came into homes every Monday night.

People were amazed at the staying power of the series that went on for over 10 years — seven years longer than the war itself. As cast members moved stateside, such as “Cpl. ‘Radar’ O’Reilly,” played by Gary Burghoff, or to the great reward, such as McLean Stevenson’s character “Lt. Col. Henry Blake,” who died on his way home when his transport crashed into the sea, the war machine just kept on going, much as it did in real life.
Someone else filled his or her shoes and the story went on.
Even after the war ended, the comedy series “AfterM.A.S.H.” followed several characters home.

I have had the distinct pleasure to work with several of the people who made the show a success.

One of these began his acting career at age nine. Gene Reynolds appeared in a string of films from 1934-56. He also made numerous television appearances. In the 1950s, he shifted his attention to directing and, later, producing.
Reynolds was one of the masterminds behind the “M.A.S.H.” phenomenon, acting as an executive producer, writing, and directing several episodes. He also was one of the creators of “Lou Grant.”

I worked with Reynolds as he came to direct an episode of “In the Heat of the Night” entitled “First Girl.” It was in this episode that the Sparta Police Department received its first woman officer. She unfortunately lost her life in a shootout but was quickly replaced in the same episode by Crystal Fox who played “Luann Corbin” throughout the rest of the show.

After attending an Atlanta Falcons football game with fellow cast and crew members, assistant director Paul Chavez, script supervisor Jill Freeman, and I visited with Reynolds at his condo and had the opportunity to hear a few of his stories from his long career. Throughout my time with him working behind the scenes on that episode, I found him a creative, enthusiastic director.

I could easily see why “M.A.S.H.” was such a success.
We were also blessed to have Allan Arbus, psychiatrist “Dr. Sidney Freedman” to guest star as “Dr. Atwill” in a couple of episodes on our show.

In March 1996, while working with Alan Autry on the set of “Grace Under Fire,” I had the pleasure of meeting another “M.A.S.H.” alumnus, that great ball of fire known as “Col. Sherman Potter” — Harry Morgan. Yet another TV veteran with some 50 years on the screen playing roles such as “Officer Bill Gannon” on “Dragnet.”

Morgan played “George,” a beau to “Grandma Jean,” portrayed by Peggy Rhea. Getting to see this legend work up close was a treat. The audience welcomed him warmly, and each of his lines reflected flawless comedic timing.
I only shook hands with him in passing as Alan Autry introduced us outside the studio following the evening’s filming. In that brief moment, however, I did get to tell him how much his performances on “M.A.S.H.” brought laughter into my life. The meeting was even more poignant for me because only a few weeks before, his much younger predecessor on the show, Stevenson, had passed away suddenly. I remember I was driving my truck down Hollywood Blvd. when I heard the news of his passing over the radio.

Another small connection to the series that I have is Tony Packo’s Café, a restaurant in Toledo, Oh. The restaurant started in 1932, and received extra attention when Jamie Farr’s “Klinger” character placed it on the “M.A.S.H” roadmap.

Before that, however, they began collecting signatures of celebrities on small artificial Packo’s buns for display. The first on a real bun was Burt Reynolds. I am honored to be one of those who has signed a Packo’s bun and now have a place in Toledo history and, in a way, another connection to “M.A.S.H.”

I was also honored recently when Alan Alda and Allan Arbus helped me with my latest cookbook “Stirring Up Additional Success with a Southern Flavor” sharing their favorite recipes to help raise funds for our literacy program in my hometown. It is available on our Randall Franks Store page with PayPal.

If you have never watched the show and are looking for a change from reality television, I encourage you to catch a rerun of “M.A.S.H.” on TV Land.

I caution you, there is some adult humor and situations. How else could they depict war without some things that children should not see? Considering what networks are putting on the tube today in most teen-age shows, what was pushing the envelope a bit in the 70s is tame today.
While that does not say much for today’s shows, “M.A.S.H.” came along at a time when producers still respected the audience and tried to develop a show that the family could watch.

Although at times there were themes or stories viewers may not wish to share with younger family members, it was the vast number of characters and their stories that truly brought the viewer back to watch each week.

Lifting the burdens of others

Have you ever known need? Have you ever been hungry and not known where your next meal is coming from? While I have been blessed not to know this sense of desperation, I have seen the face of despair in many and heard stories of desperation from years past.
I was recently standing at a gasoline pump filling my tank. When a car pulled in next to me. After hearing the engine, I immediately thought, they are lucky to be going anywhere.

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A fiddle and a fireplace

Some say it was a coal mine cave-in. Others say it was the fever, but whatever the reason my Grandpa Harve found himself orphaned in a time when if children were lucky some relative or caring neighbor took them in.

I don’t know much about his childhood, although I am told his tales of life on the Tennessee River rivaled those of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn.”

When my dad was a boy, Harve gathered the children around the fireplace and before bed told a story of an orphaned boy named A.J. (his real initials), filled with intrigue of riverboat gamblers and the dangers of riding the rapids on a handmade raft.

By this point in his life Grandpa Harve had become what my late cousin, Reece Franks, called demanding. Of course, Reece often found himself out tending to his horse and buggy after he came in from a visit to the general store where he sat and reminisced with his friends.

For some reason, as Harve became a man the waters of time brought him to Catoosa County where he courted a young girl named Emily Jane Bandy.

Already a talent at the fiddle, he brought the fiddle along while he courted. Although I think Grandma Emmer often thought he spent more time a fiddlin’ than he did a courtin’.

He eventually won her heart and the couple settled into a life of farming and raising children.

The love of music was something he shared with several of his children, teaching the fiddle to his son Tom. Henry took up the banjo, Ethel learned the piano, Jesse played along on the harmonica and the juice harp, while another one of the boys took up guitar.

As the sun lowered itself behind the hills, the clan would often gather in the parlor after supper and play a few tunes like “Turkey in the Straw,” “Leather Britches,” and “Camptown Races.”

Lester and Griff would roll back the rug and, although she’d probably not admit it the next Sunday at the Baptist church, Emmer and Harve danced a jig or two.
Harve had already passed his love of music along when a farming accident injured his left hand, making him unable to play anymore. That was probably one thing that pained him deep within his soul.

Henry’s death would eventually take the strains of the frailing banjo from the group, and as the family grew and the boys and girls married they took their music with them.
As the grandchildren came buzzing around, I know he would have given anything to pick up his old black fiddle and play them a tune but instead Harve entertained them with his stories of a youth making his way into adulthood in the reconstruction-era South.

I wish some of them had written the stories down but, alas, they are lost with time and even the memories that they ever existed are about gone.

It was from my great-uncle Tom, who made his life in Gordon County’s Sugar Valley, that I first heard someone play the fiddle close-up. He played some of the same licks that his father played before him.

While Grandpa Harve was not there, I could imagine him sitting at the fireplace, his old black fiddle in hand, playing with all his great-grandchildren gathered around him.
While many gather their earthly musical inspiration from the pop icons of this era that parade across the Grammy Award stage, I still draw my strength from family musical roots that run deep into the Appalachian soil.

Now we gather around computers, televisions and many other means to find our entertainment.

So many of us have lost something through the coming of so many choices – the ability to entertain ourselves by playing music with each other, sharing stories, telling jokes, and giving the next generation shoulders of those behind us to stand upon.

Without those connections often given in the experience of sharing life from one generation to the next, it is easy to see how so many folks waver in with little meaning or purpose to daily activities or lifetime goals.

Hundreds sweated, toiled, lived, fought, birthed, struggled, flourished, suffered, smiled and hoped so that we could walk after them and hopefully have a better life and make a difference for the family, the faith, the country or even mankind.

How much of a difference each day means that we are given when put into that prospective.

I encourage you to build upon the gifts you were given, make a difference in the lives of those you love and those you don’t even know.