The Carter Family: Country Music's First
Family by STACY
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Titled after The Nashville Network (TNN) travel show series, hosted by
the husband and wife team of Jim Ed Brown and Becky Perry Brown, in these 232
pages the latter summarizes her life, before, after and during 54 years
spent with “Jim Ed Brown, Grand Ole Opry Legend and member of Country
Music Hall of Fame.”
a young girl, Reggie Perry’s twin sister, Rebecca Sue was hardly a
country-music fan. But
Becky’s close friend sure was and so begins the story of how, as a
teenager, Becky eventually met and, not long after, married her
already-famous (as a member of the sisters-brother trio, The Browns) life companion.
and marriage got off to a bit of a rocky start for an otherwise golden
couple- think beautiful cheerleader pairing off with her handsome jock-
due not only to the pressures of her husband’s fame, but also
an age difference. The
nine years between Jim Ed and Becky quickly found Becky tagged as a
“trophy wife”; a term Becky, now the grandmother of triplets, embraces
even though the denigrating description more accurately describes a
woman who is not an achiever in her own right.
first laid eyes on her fellow Arkansan at a carnival, from the
fairgrounds grandstand, where, as a child, she sat with her family
watching The Browns perform.
and Jim Ed would, in fact, meet when, at age 12, Becky performed at a
Lions Club Minstrel Show. Brown, in his Army uniform, made a
point of introducing himself to Becky, int the high school auditorium,
and complimenting the preteen on her performance.
years later while cruising Main Street in Pine Bluff, Jim Ed and
Becky’s paths crossed again. Becky, a talented tumbler and beauty
queen, who had entered many contests, notably
“Miss Correct Posture,” before emerging as the first
runner-up in the Miss Pine Bluff pageant, couldn’t help but take notice
of Jim Ed because the group setting found
him “flirting with all of the girls.”
finding the harem atmosphere particularly appealing,
Becky’s ardor sufficiently cooled by
the time she next saw J.E., as she learned family and friends called
him, when she was 18 and he was 27.
rebuffing him only intensified Jim Ed’s interest.
While she played hard to get, Becky wasn't entirely
playing. She had a
full dance card and an independent streak but, once Jim Ed upped his
game by treating her special, Becky found him irresistible, seduced by
Jim Ed’s twinkling eye and courtly manner.
After six months of
dating, and much conversation about shared values, Jim Ed and Becky
Among those shared
values were a Christian faith and close family.
The latter did not bode well for Becky, whose relationship
with J.E.’s brazen, outspoken sister Maxine, always rocky, became
rockier still once Becky and Jim Ed became the parents of
impressionable offspring, namely James Edward “Buster” Brown, Jr. and
Kimberly Summer Brown. J.E.'s wife couldn't predict it, but,
in time, Maxine’s influence on Buster and Kim would become the least of
While Becky writes of
having lived a near “perfect” childhood and adolescence, adulthood came
with its own set of responsibilities for the wife of a country star
who, while at times content to be nothing more, often needed
challenge she found, when not raising children, through painting, bowling and playing tennis.
A dance teacher and
choreographer (Tom T. Hall credits Becky with
teaching him to dance in his Mr. Bojangles music video), Becky
performed on the Grand Ole Opry as one of Ben Smathers’ square dancers.
A model and makeup
artist for the Jo Coulter Modeling Agency, Becky
was hired to administer Ringo Starr’s makeup when
Nashville hosted the March 3, 1973 Grammy Awards.
But, again, life
wasn’t always fun. It
often called upon Becky to find an inner strength.
That was certainly the case when she battled breast
cancer, for the most part a private matter, in contrast to the public
humiliation Becky encountered during the fight to save her marriage
after learning of Jim Ed’s affair with his duet partner, Helen Cornelius.
was not happy with Nashville Banner entertainment
writer Bill Hance’s prolonged coverage of
the sordid situation; a period so painful Becky’s detailed narrative,
as it progresses, makes the reader wonder if she’ll ever get around to
mentioning Cornelius, who so prominently figured in Becky’s decision to
divorce Jim Ed, by name. (While Becky references Helen’s now
ex-husband, there is no mention in the book of Jerry Garren by name.)
does, providing faith-based justification for subsequent professional
reunions of Jim Ed and Helen, conflating what she terms “mistakes” with
deliberate actions bearing predictable consequences and not making
clear, for instance why Cornelius ever needed to pick up her paycheck
from the Brown home.
who share Becky’s strong Christian faith will best understand Becky
writing, in the aftermath of a physical confrontation, that she has
since taken up for Helen and that the two, following Becky’s brief
divorce from, and remarriage to, J.E. have even become “friends.”
ghostwriter, Roxanne Atwood, writes unobtrusively, preserving her
As Jim Ed’s former
publicist, who was in talks with J.E. to ghostwrite the autobiography
that ultimately he never wrote (J.E. didn't want to upstage Maxine,
whose jaw-dropping memoir was then in the works), I
am pleased that Becky included some of the things I had in mind when I
pitched the book, intrigued with the uniqueness of Jim Ed Brown’s three
include Becky’s many interests and activities, sprinkled throughout
these pages, such as the Eatin’ Meetin’s for which J.E. and Becky have
never received the recognition they deserve, even as these potluck
dinners among entertainers who would compare unedited notes and let
their hair down were the precursors of the commercialized and edited Country’s Family Reunion
As the author of
several books, one of which I thought was unfairly reviewed suggesting
I did not know the correct spelling of Eddy Arnold’s name, after my
review of the galleys did not catch a reference to “Eddie” among
several correct spellings of Arnold’s first name, I’m tempted to
overlook the same mistake as it relates to a photo caption in this, a
self-published book listing Roxanne Atwood as its editor and one of
Becky’s granddaughters as its copy editor.
Much can happen
between the time a manuscript is delivered and when a book is published
(e.g., the erstwhile Williamson County animal shelter Animaland is listed as Animal
Land). And I’d love
to know what led to the errors in the location of Dixie and Tom T.
Hall’s first home and the confusing of Tom’s hometown with that of Skeeter Davis.
with all of the presumed oversight, I’m not sure why the famous
Nashville Castner Knott department store got
the Eddy Arnold “treatment” (in the instance of the department store, a
text error “corrected” in a captioned photo) and how to justify the
typos a reader encounters.
in a book highlighted by so many priceless photos, many from private
collections, some of those photographed, correctly identified by name,
need to be further identified for the benefit of the average reader. While Music
Row veterans don’t need to be told that, for example, Charlie Lamb was known as the
honorary “Mayor of Music Row,” that Patsy Bradley was BMI’s director
of publisher relations, or that Ed Shea was ASCAP’s regional executive
director, these industry veterans lack general public name
reverse is true in a group photo caption identifying Brent Burkett, Sam Wellington, Bert Lyons and Rich Garratt by name but omitting
that collectively they were The Four Guys. The
same photo caption references “Alex and Elmer” as in ventriloquist Alex Houston and his dummy
will assume that more than a half-century after her tragic death, Jayne Mansfield still needs no
further introduction, yet a misspelling of the actress’ name made it
into this book.
that Becky and Jim Ed’s daughter has performed as singer, I thought my
curiosity re: her stage name might be rewarded somewhere in the text. A 1990 captioned publicity
photo of Kim Ed Brown is included, sans any explanation.
inclusion of an index and holding out for a major publisher might have
prevented some of these errors, but, should this first edition sell
well enough to be updated and reissued, any or
all improvements along those lines could only make a great
read even better.
“Father attempted to
write his life story various times without success.”
So writes the author,
Fender’s daughter, in beginning the preface to Tammy Lorraine
Huerta Fender’s book; Tammy's effort to finish Freddy’s project.
Tammy vainly tried to
assist her father in writing his autobiography; one he gave
the working title From
My Eyes, so Tammy's continuation of her father's work
completes Freddy’s expressed intention to “write a real book [about] …
cocaine… heroine, the penitentiary, divorcing
my wife, and why and all of that.”
Not that all of
Freddy Fender’s days and nights (certainly not during the six decades
of a 69-year-long life he spent entertaining) were wasted, by any means. Yet Fender dreamed of a
book that struck a balance between what Freddy valued and what he threw
away- as well as a movie based on that book, full of “things
written that were significant in my life.”
As Tammy explains in
the preface to these 493 pages chronicling the transformation of
Texas-born Baldemar “Balde” Huerta and the rise of Freddy Fender, this
paperback is but the first volume “of a two-part biography. It covers his music career
until 1979… The sequel covers “‘the fall’ and ‘the redemption’ of
A Huerta family tree
and pictorial provides the perfect prologue to a book that fulfills its
purpose of detailing the story of the Mexican American El Bee-Bop Kid as native Texan
Balde Huerta was first professionally known before eventually becoming
"the first established Chicano singer to record rock 'n' roll."
(Freddy was in his 20s when his recording of Wasted Days and Wasted Nights was
A U.S. Marine at age
16, the high-school dropout knew the hardship of childhood
poverty. Balde, who grew up in his migrant laborer family's
one-room shack, wasn't doing it for sport, but rather out of
real hunger, on those occasions when he would dumpster dive.
Always engaging and
optimistic, Balde could be disruptive. Debunking speculation,
Tammy tells the real story of how her father obtained the scar on his
In fact, Freddy was
not beyond sabotaging his burgeoning recording career due to his
recklessness. After taking on the responsibilities
marriage and fatherhood the recording artist (also professionally
known, however briefly, as Eddie Medina, Scott Wayne and for his work with
a pre-Texas Tornados group called Satan and Disciples- and
variations) sabotaged his first taste of stardom, and faced additional
charges, after jumping bail following Huerta's being arrested in Baton
Rouge on a "marijuana possession" charge.
Fender put his time
in custody to good use when he earned his GED and received his high
school diploma while in jail. But Freddy's imprisonment came
just as Balde was getting to know the first of his three children, his
namesake and while Fender's wife was pregnant with Tammy.
Remarkably, Tammy was born during her father's time in the
penitentiary and he met her for the first time when Louisiana
Governor (and famed singer/songwriter) Jimmy Davis got Freddy
out of prison in 1963, after Huerta had served three years of a five
Like Freddy, Huey Meaux, Freddy's record
producer and manager, also served time, though Tammy doesn't fully
disclose the much-publicized circumstances, and she is similarly
reticent, due to the nature of the crimes, to discuss Freddy's spousal
abuse, which, Tammy introduces in the context of how her mother,
Evangelina's reluctance to prosecute kept Freddy from more time in the
No doubt Fender, who
first wanted to be known as Flash (in tribute to a favorite
comic strip superhero), had a temper. The man who took his
stage surname when he glanced at an amplifier, had a jealous streak
that was activated whenever his wife or daughter's attention, however
innocent, was on another man. Such was the case when Ever and
Tammy were watching Tom Jones on television.
Hardly approving of Jones' gyrations, Freddy grabbed the TV
and threw it out the door!
left much autobiographical material upon which to draw and
Tammy exercises a great technique where those first-person accounts
survive. She inserts those snippets, quoting them verbatim,
in various places throughout this volume, under the title of the book
as Freddy imagined it, so that there can be no doubt that, where
possible, every bit of this book is from "the horse's mouth."
Fans and members of
the country-music industry will be as pleased as her father would have
been, to see that Tammy, with Freddy's intention, credits
both Jim Halsey and the late Jim Foglesong for their respective
boosts to Fender's career.
Tammy writes that
Fogelsong privately expressed doubts about Huey Meaux,
and, though it will be interesting to see what
more Tammy writes about Meaux in Volume 2 of her
biography, she reveals in this book that Meaux's stunned her with the
observation that Freddy did not serve time, as she had been led to
believe, for having broken the marijuana laws, but rather because he
had been "set up."
Tammy's turn as
storyteller also includes the interesting tidbit that Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards issued a
pardon on Fender's behalf that Freddy might perform in
Australia and in New Zealand (which would not otherwise honor his
passport) and yet, the gesture was not enough to gain Freddy entry to
clearly admired her father, she captures his gossipy side, such as
Fender's references to Tanya Tucker as "a cute
brat" and to The Oak Ridge Boys as being "like
As thorough as this
book is, there are some factual errors. Among them: Tammy
writes that Tammy was named after a TV show of the same name.
But, based on the date of Tammy's birth, September 6, 1961,
it was likely she was named after after the Debbie Reynolds movie character.
refers to a Dolly Parton TV series called
Butterfly. Tammy probably refers to Parton's Dolly syndicated series titled
featuring the singer's hit, Love Is Like A Butterfly as its
Tammy misinforms readers that Three Dog Night wrote their hit
recording of Mama Told Me Not to Come when, in
fact, the song was written by Randy Newman.
This lack of research and possible reliance on her father's
recollections should not take away from what is a superb read.
Presumably Charley Pride will agree, yet he
will not be happy to see his name repeated misspelled throughout these
Larry Gatlin writes in the
foreword to The Man in Songs… that,
upon being asked for his contribution to the project, Gatlin’s unspoken
reaction was to ask why “the world
really needs… yet another book on Johnny Cash.”
each new Cash book Larry’s question remains valid. Yet, after
reading John Alexander’s manuscript, it’s easy to see why Gatlin’s
historian and collaborator, Alexander has familiarized himself
with the work of several other Cash biographers and
discographers (with at least a couple of notable exceptions, Peggy Knight and Stacy Harris), duly crediting
them, in the course of adding his own insights and opinions
The result is
an impressive oversize paperback/coffee table remembrance of
Cash through the often semiautobiographical lenses of the lyrics, some
classic, others obscure, the Man in Black chose to record. John's is
clearly a labor of love and a great resource for future Cash
biographers, who will seemingly have the convenience of a lot
of prior research all in one place.
photos- several of Johnny Cash's album covers- adorn these pages.
Cash fans will be pleased to see these again, but they will
likely be disappointed that no ground is broken of the (previously)
unpublished photos- of which there are so many I even have taken them-
John Alexander writes for Cash scholars, Cash fans, country-music fans
and evidently millennials who may know nothing more than the name
Johnny Cash, if that, given that Alexander introduces Johnny Cash Show guest star Tex Ritter (one of the Country
Music Hall of Fame's singing cowboy movie stars who
otherwise needs no introduction) to the latter as John Ritter's father and Jason Ritter's grandfather.
As any author
knows, the more photos there are supplementing a manuscript, the higher
production cost of the book. University presses have smaller
budgets than the biggest-name book publishers and, as I suspect
Alexander's publisher is no exception. That being the case,
The University of Arkansas Press had
to weigh its expenses in light of its more limited (than the major
publishers' ) publicity and distribution budgets, deciding as it did
where to splurge on, and where to reduce expenses for, Alexander's book.
Cash research, to the extent that he includes specific citations, is
largely unassailable. But, in some instances, the
author's sources are unclear and the reader is left to wonder why, in
those instances where he fails to disclose that he is speculating, John
professes knowledge of conversations, events, and
motives to which he was clearly not privy.
on firmest ground when he writes about Johnny Cash. When John
writes about Marshall Grant, and briefly of
Grant's well-publicized 1980 lawsuit against Cash, charging J.R. with
wrongful dismissal and embezzlement of retirement funds, Alexander
notes that the parties reached an out-of-court settlement and
reconciled. He doesn't cite court records nor other sources
referencing the serious embezzlement accusation and its accuracy or
lack of justification.
though John writes of the rise and fall of Glen Sherley without whitewashing
what transpired, he is less candid about the circumstances and secrecy
surrounding Hillman Hall's demise.
There are also
the occasional typos found here, such as the repeated misspelling of Dixie Deen as well as that of the
aforementioned Sherley (the later as Glen's surname appears in the
for those he wrote himself (ghostwriters don't always get it right),
every Johnny Cash book that's ever been written could be better,
though the reasons differ in each case.
But when an
author is able to compile and write a Johnny Cash book that all but
replaces some of the earlier efforts, that's no small accomplishment.
If I wore a hat, I would doff it to John Alexander.
2013 with limited distribution, this semi-autobiographical
memoir has been updated for distribution now to a wider
audience in tandem with the rerelease (also to wider distribution) of
a Billy Burnette's CD, recorded
last year, of the same name. (Look for my
CD review here).
William Dorsey Burnette III writes that the motivation
for writing his first book was, and remains, a desire to "set
the record straight" about his father's and uncle's place in rock music
history. Simultaneously, Billy, who grew up in Los Angeles,
shares his own storied musical journey, in the words of the book's
subtitle "From Memphis and The
Rock 'n' Roll Trio to Fleetwood Mac."
It's a tall
order, in a sense, as bridging a musical gap of over one-half century
can only be a lesson for readers who are too young to remember the Trio
whose members were Billy's uncle, Johnny Burnette, his dad, Dorsey Burnette and the
less-remembered electric guitarist Paul Burlison; this, despite the
fact that it was Dorsey's leaving that broke up what was, at one point,
also variously known as The Johnny Burnette Trio or Johnny Burnette and The Rock 'n
fans of The Fleetwoods may not be as
knowledgeable about the musical history and cultural significance of Fleetwood Mac...
Some of us
remember when Johnny and Dorsey had success pursuing solo careers.
And when Johnny's son, Rocky Burnette (Billy's younger
cousin- by one month) had a Top Ten hit with Tired of Towin' the Line, the
publicity machine went to town explaining the derivation of the
Burnette scions' fathers' genre: rockabilly. There are
different apocryphal accounts, but the ones that stick include
Billy Burnette's. (Billy explains that when he and his cousin
Jonathan were toddlers, the cousins' dads, Dorsey and Johnny, wrote a
song, inspired by the near fusion of their sons' nicknames, called "Rockbilly Boogie.")
By the time
of Johnny Burnette's untimely death on August 14, 1964, less
than five months after Johnny's 30th birthday, Burnette had
come into his own with hits like Dreamin',
Little Boy Sad, and his highest
charting hit, (yes, even before Ringo Starr's version) You're Sixteen.
time to flourish, Dorsey Burnette, the older of the Burnette brothers,
had written hundreds of songs, 391 of which are included in
the BMI database. Some of
those songs (Believe What You Say, It's Late, Waitin' In School) were hits for Ricky Nelson and, when Nelson
passed on the song, Dorsey recorded his biggest hit as a solo
artist, (There Was A) Tall Oak Tree,
following it up with the distinctive classic, Hey, Little One.
At one point
Dorsey Burnette wrote and produced a Stevie Wonder recording (and,
Dorsey's son writes, co-wrote Dang Me with Roger Miller, though Dorsey never
received co-writer's credit) before transitioning to what had
become a promising career as a country artist, derailed by Dorsey's
early death on August 19, 1979 at age 46.
(who, like his father, was known as Dorsey- until Billy sought refuge
in the nickname suggested by his middle name after too many taunts
addressing him as "Dorothy") cut his first record in 1960 at age seven,
courtesy of the then 20-year-old Ricky Nelson with whom Billy shared a
May 8th birthday. At age 11, Billy Burnette cut a Herb Alpert-produced record
and, the following year, Billy toured with Brenda Lee.
stuff, considering that Billy didn't play guitar until he was a
teenager. The self-taught guitarist and
singer/songwriter, the oldest of Dorsey Burnette's seven children,
finished high school positioned to accept the first of several offers
from producers and record labels, after, at age 16,
having turned down an offer from Warner Brothers Records to record Windy (The song went on to become
a #1 hit for The Association.)
part, to introductions from his father, Billy Burnette worked with a
dazzling array of greats, eventually putting him in the
enviable position of being able to amicably cancel the solo record deal
he had received, that he might seize the moment and accept an
invitation to join Fleetwood
Mac. Burnette writes candidly
about the group's historic internecine squabbling; dissention that did
not end with either Billy's joining or his leaving
In the series
of vignettes that make up this book, Billy writes with equal candor
about his big Catholic family whose members' behavior is all the proof
the Vatican needs to justify the necessity of Confession.
Dorsey and Johnny were rough guys who took red devils and beat
up record promoters who didn't promote their records.
Then there was the time Johnny confronted Hank Snow with a profanity-laced
escapades range from a run-in with Charles Manson to a missed
opportunity to co-star with Rob Lowe in an Eddie Cochran biopic.
(The movie was never made, but the idea screams
Once Flip Wilson's opening act, Billy
Burnette recorded a duet with Bonnie Raitt. A Delaney&
Bonnie acolyte, Billy chronicles his brief stint as the duet
partner of the Bramletts' daughter, Bekka. The pairing,
professionally known and Bekka & Billy, produced an
album that, along with Burnette's move to Nashville, should
have positioned Billy Burnette as a mainstay of country music's
and Billy were critically-acclaimed, disappointing album sales
reinforced Burnette's realization that, musically, he is as "country as
In a book
detailing lessons learned, like a cat with nine lives, Billy Burnette
doesn't sweat the small stuff. He aims for a longevity denied
his dad, uncle and Billy's sister, Katina, having already survived
hereditary health issues in general, and a quintuple bypass in
repetitious in spots, and nuanced by typos and an unusually-formatted
index, Crazy Like Me is an undeniably
good read that delivers as promised.
This book is a
love letter to and for Clarence "Leo" Fender,
acknowledged by Guitar Player as the
father/inventor of the first solid body guitar.
Written by his
widow and ghostwriter Randall Bell (the latter a
guitarist whose father, a mechanical engineer, oversaw Fender’s "lab"
research and development), largely from the perspective of a second
wife who met her husband in the autumn of his life,
its emphasis is on Leo the man. Leo's creations, the
origins of which remain in historical dispute due to the competitive
nature of musical inventors such as Les Paul and lesser-known guitar
masters), serve as background to the larger story of the late in life
romance of an indisputable music icon who was also indisputably a man
of quirks and, at times, contradiction.
while Leo's musical tastes ran toward Roy Clark and other country-music
singers (despite the fact that Clark seems to favor Gibson guitars), it was Keith Richards who was on hand for
Leo's posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and
Richards who contributed a promotional paragraph to this book.
secured his place in musical history well before 2005 when the Fender Stratocaster, the highest
priced music memorabilia ever commanded at auction went for $2.7
million; quite a tribute to an unassuming man who, by that time was
used to achievements and honors probably bigger than any dreams the
Fender family could have imagined following Leo's birth in a California
barn back in 1909.
still a child when the farm boy lost his right eye.
Disability didn't stop Leo from graduating from Fullerton
Jr. College with a degree in accounting, nor from marrying
fort he first time, but, as a newlywed at a time when men wanted to
serve their country, Leo's blue glass eye disqualified him from
a a tinkerer, Leo made a career change when the accountant
decided to open his own radio repair shop. Fender
Radio Service would be the first of Leo’s own startups, including the
Fender guitar factories.
when he wasn’t isolating himself Leo only wanted to talk about what he
considered to be important things. Fender shunned the spotlight but
liked to talk with guitar players, spending many hours designing,
testing and watching guitars come off production lines.
Usually dressed like a factory worker, Phyllis and Randy
indicate Leo was often mistaken for one.
never made a guitar nor amp for himself. Fender
didn’t even play guitar. He left
the performance of music to his favorites: Glen Campbell (Leo’s favorite
musician), Ray Price and Janie Fricke (Fender’s favorite
singers) among them.
and charitable, Fender’s interest in, and development of, the electric
guitar and amplification stemmed from
his desire that live music, played by creative musicians who
loved their work as much as he did, be heard by as large an audience as
Fender’s innovative design made others nervous. Several
of those who laughed at Leo, readers are told, later took credit for
and Randy minimize the competition between Leo and Les Paul, insisting the two
musical innovators were good friends; acknowledging, even emphasizing
that Fender’s creation of the Telecaster, the Stratocaster, the electric bass
guitar dovetailed nicely with Les Paul’s (and lesser-knowns') equally
important, linear historical contributions.
earning the respect and admiration of technicians and musicians, the
visually-impaired man, to whom sound became of increased importance,
subsequently lost most of his hearing after a freak amplifier-related
accident shattered his eardrums.
his own illness (an incurable, nearly fatal staph infection
purchase of Fender Sales), Fender, by then a consultant (whose other
physical challenges would include Parkinson’s Disease) paving his
way toward retirement, retired.
retirement didn’t stick. Leo
partnered with a couple of former business associates and, following
the death of his first wife, Esther, concerned friends- Esther and Leo
were childless- tossed Leo, by now a septuagenarian, into the
unfamiliar “dating” waters.
for Leo, Phyllis was his guide and, once the couple married, Leo became
the father of Phyllis’ three children and a grandparent to the second
Mrs. Fender’s grandchildren.
section within the 12 chapters of this book titled Our Wedding Night
might be considered TMI- but not for the reason you think!
thrifty, patriotic Republican who like to eat lunch at Carl
Jr.’s and who loved the Country
Music Association awards ceremonies, even before he received
the CMA’s Founders Music Award.
did not expect that award. Fender
would have also been surprised, had Phyllis told him, that the joke was
on him, as she recounts in an anecdote about a gay pride parade.
did Leo stock up on Christmas tuna (Phyllis doesn’t eat seafood) and
collect cameras when photography didn’t interest him? As the
narrative makes increasingly clear, Fender was a little odd,
but otherwise a neat, organized and punctual, humble, workaholic whose
ambition never extended to wealth, fame nor glory.
study in eccentricity, this largely selective portrait of Leo Fender is
a good read, if repetitious in spots. Supplemented with both
black-and-white and color photos, such care was taken with
expanding Phyllis' 2009 reminiscence of Leo that it's a little
surprising this book was published without what would have been a
industry polymath Peter Cooper (perhaps
the only one of us who knows “every word to all of Guy Clark’s songs”)
finds inspiration for the title of his latest book, not from
Clark’s pen, but rather, as Jack Clement and Mac Wiseman fans
don’t need to be told, from Cowboy
the famed music and film producer, arranger, performer, studio owner
and novelty songwriter, is the first of many Music Row stalwarts,
country-music industry icons and characters Peter introduces, or
reintroduces (e.g., Cash, Pride, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, et al) as the case
may be, to readers in remarkably rapid succession. (Cooper
artfully manages to cram in an astounding number of observations,
experiences and insights into his 243-page narrative. Kudos
are also in order, in a cost-cutting era of publishing, for
inclusion of an index.)
Armed with all
of the nearly-singular rights and privileges befitting the young Tennessean entertainment
reporter he once was, Peter enjoyed a backstage pass to the dazzling
panoply of unvarnished, behind-the-scenes conversations and events
before ubiquitous media-training could sanitize many of them.
even got to co-write with Don Schlitz before
leaving the morning daily (grind) amid administrative changes, layoffs
and all the newspaper business changes that aren't supposed to
stifle, nor otherwise impact, talented, creative
self-starters, but often do.
As a reward
for the trust, well-earned industry-wide adulation and respect Peter
continues to enjoy- without objection even from a
once-offended Lee Ann Womack- what is now a
permanent pass to the parade has been issued to the Grammy-nominated
music producer in Cooper's current capacity as the Country
Music Hall of Fame and Museum's senior producer, producer and
moonlights as an industry-validated songwriter, musician and senior
lecturer at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music.)
While a fan
might not have washed his/her hand for days, if afforded the
luxury of a handshake from the King of Country Music, Peter
Cooper has enjoyed a degree of access that, he reveals, landed
him a “prize possession” (that evidently means more to Cooper
than any swag bag): Roy Acuff’s last tube of Super Polygrip Dental Adhesive,
even as “I won’t tell you the name of (The) New York Times best-selling
author who gave it to me.”
us in blind-item suspense, Peter entertains readers with
appropriately-placed asides about events that, he suggests, don’t
necessarily warrant entire chapters.
knowledgeable command of subjects like click tracks makes
such subject matter of interest to readers who may not be musicians,
aspiring or otherwise.
doesn’t write much about his early life (he makes a passing reference
to his stepmother), Cooper notes in his narrative that when he moved to
Nashville, while still a young man, the native South Carolinian was
warned that meeting his heroes could lead to disappointments warned him.
Peter had been
down that road when, as a 14-year-old baseball fan he met major league
baseball great Warren Spahn, winner of 363 games-
more than any other left-handed pitcher in the history of the game.
response to an admiring teen's polite request for an autograph? A
loud, cursing refusal!
Cooper’s take on country-music artists, songwriters and others is that
the bigger they are, the nicer they are.
Many of his
colleagues will agree with him, but, as with most generalities, there
are notable exceptions. The very existence of the fabled
code of the road, to which Cooper alludes (and which deserves to be the
subject of a book all its own), gives rise to the hush-hush
environment that discourages, and makes it appear unseemly,
for Nashville reporters who value their press passes to name names and
dates that otherwise provide the proof, when those in a position to do
so abuse their authority.
Anyone who has
read Crook & Chase: Our Lives, the Music
and the Stars (Charlie and Lorianne’s 1995 career
retrospective, penned with ghostwriter Mickey Herskowitz) can’t help but
notice why Nashville’s entertainment news and TV variety hosts would
never be so candid as to assure the certainty that
they’ll never have lunch in this town again.
all of the gushing about, and name-dropping of, the country stars of
the day, Crook & Chase reserved their less-than-flattering
comments about celebrity guests on their show to those who were not
based in Nashville and who had little, if any connection, to the
has been conveniently dead since 2003. But the safety of
candor without repercussions is not so much my point as is the fact
that those of us, with not only print and broadcast credentials, but
years of greater experience covering country-music, its legends and
wannabes, than Lorianne, Charlie and Peter, realize a chasm; the
contrast between the way those who naively live in a bubble are treated
by gatekeepers and celebs alike, versus the disregard and dismissal
those of us of lesser visibility have been known to experience from
those who feel no incentive to so much as acknowledge, let alone
assist, us as messengers of their messages. (In
a sexist industry, Lorianne's being married
to the her show's producer might have had a little something to do with
the show not being called Chase and Crook.)
begets hagiography among those victims of the bubble in
which high-profile, Music
Row journalists and media
personalities are ensconced, oblivious to the fact that, as
anointed Nashville royalty, they are first among equals.
The late Tom C. Armstrong, another Music
Row polymath, knew this. As
he once confided to me about a prominent Music Row executive: “He’s
just being nice to me because he thinks I can do something for him.”
is one of the most likable (as opposed to “likable enough”) people I
know. When people treat you well it's easy to believe they
treat everyone that way. You might have to dig for
dirt in order to find it. (Knowing the truth of
a statement intellectually
amid quite different
personal experience makes for cognitive dissonance.)
See? (As Jimmy Martin would
say.) There's that bubble again...
the high road comes naturally, it is nothing if not a blessing. I’m
reminded of Claude King’s 1970 hit, Mary’s Vineyard in
which the protagonist weaves a narrative of seducing three sisters.
He brags about ignoring an implied threat from the young
beauties' father who “don’t know” and “I ain’t gonna tell him” about
what the suitor and his harem are up to. The
idea, served up with equal parts sexism and machismo being that the
patriarch believes “he’s raised three little angels” and “I think
I hasten to
add, should it not be already clear, that Nashville’s music industry is
truly full of wonderful people, many of them mentors, who have no more
than to be themselves to be on their best behavior.
Still, we all
make mistakes. As I was more focused
on content than typos when presented with the rush review of
galleys for one of my books, I felt it somewhat unfair when a reviewer,
who could find no (other) factual errors in my book, indicated that I
misspelled Eddy Arnold’s name. (I
responded to the review by indicating that, of the several mentions of
Eddy in The Best of Country: The Official CD Guide,
only one rose to the level of the otherwise embarrassingly inaccurate
I offer the following with a hope that the first
edition of Johnny’s Cash… (clearly
one of the best- if not the best- book I’ve read all year) will sell so
well that Cooper’s publisher will find it worthy of more pressings and
an opportunity to add a few minor edits in the process: In Johnny's Cash..., the
“Eddie” gremlins took possession of correct spellings of the
first Mrs. Johnny Cash’s name turning Vivian into
“Vivien,” while elsewhere the word “fist” becomes “first.” (I
pray for same attention to detail when proofing my own manuscripts. Repeat: This
is neither a challenge nor invitation. Something
about people who live in glass houses, overreliance on spell-checkers,
old age, congenital eye disease and other assorted excuses for
Peter details (Mr.) Johnny Cash’s being initially
misdiagnosed as having Parkinson’s disease, indicating
that “we still don’t know” the source of Cash's palsied loss of
it not “autonomic neuropathy,” along with
a handful of contributing maladies, that ultimately claimed
the Man in Black?)
a related note, while Peter references Kris Kristofferson’s incorrectly
being led to believe that his increasing memory loss could be
attributed to dementia, a second edition of Cooper’s book would include
the welcome news that Kris’ symptoms abated once he was apparently
given, and treated for, the correct diagnosis: Lyme disease.
the first edition of Johnny's Cash..., music historians
and fans alike will be treated to Peter Cooper's literally retracing Hank Williams’ final ride. For,
after having hopped in the car and been privy to Hank’s journey in a
way, even in the age of interstate highways, Williams’ biographers have
not, Cooper advances the suggestion that, historical accounts to the
contrary, Hank Williams may not have taken his last breath in Oak Hill,
West Virginia on January 1, 1953.
Cooper breaks from investigative reporting when he takes, at face
value, oft-repeated claims by Tom T. Hall, including the one
that Hall arrived in Nashville on January 1, 1964.
Ralph Emery, known for a
photographic memory, kindly provides the time line that
indicates his good friend Hall’s account
is not factually possible.
Tom is the first to admit that he is “not very good with dates.”
will find further confirmation of that by talking with current Tennessean entertainment
reporter Cindy Watts.
Watts was initially dismissive of my post-publication
insistence that, on one occasion writing about Tom, she had her facts
wrong- Watts’ having gone to "Hall's people"- until I produced public
records that forced a retraction.
perhaps because Hall has been so successful at creating his own image,
full of demonstrably-provable falsehoods stated and repeated so often
they are uncritically accepted as fact, I respectfully disagree with
Cooper’s suggestion that Tom’s song, The Man Who Hated Freckles is
Hall’s “only song of overt judgment.”
a good idea, in general, for writers to steer clear of absolutes, and,
in particular, when at least a couple of country-music
writer/historians have referenced in their writings (see Nick Tosches' Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock 'n' Roll and Stacy
Harris' Kosher Country: Success and Survival on
Nashville's Music Row) the lyrics of another Hall-penned
(recorded but unreleased) polemic: I Was Born in A One-Nigger Town.
joining Charlie Worsham, John Prine, Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams, Jr. and
the late Porter Wagoner in
contributing blurbs for Johnny’s Cash…, when pressed, has
been known to concede as much.
trust that Peter Guralnick, who wrote the
forward to Johnny’s Cash… would
Cincinnati-born songwriter/music publisher/producer/singer and current
Nashville radio show host, Even Stevens turns memoir author with the
publication of this short (198 pages) but compact hardback (or kindle
edition, if you prefer).
a foreword by Duane
Allen (an early and influential player
in Stevens’ career) who, referencing the title of this book, opining
that Stevens already “owns this town,” the author takes
readers on his path to Nashville, beginning with the circuitous route,
years prior to Stevens' career change, as a barber,
first in Springfield, then in Lima, and Lakeview,
18 during the Viet Nam war, and faced with the prospect of being
drafted, Stevens hung up his clippers and enlisted in the U.S. Coast
an escape from the front lines, the move was insufficient to keep the
enlisted man from being targeted by "Crazy Darleen," his high
school sweetheart, who attacked Stevens with a knife- but not before
she talked him into marriage and cheated on him, prompting a final
separation after Stevens' several attempts to break up with her.
Noel Stevens' Coast Guard adventures took him to Groton,
Connecticut, and then San Francisco where, intoxicated by the city’s
music scene, during his off-duty hours the serviceman became a
“full-fledged stoned hippie.” While in the famous
City of Love, Stevens immersed himself in the San Francisco music
scene, variously writing poetry, dabbling in songwriting and becoming a
roadie, of sorts.
in Nashville, apparently at some point with a nickname/stage name,
presumably and playfully derived from the idiomatic expression for a
equal division or otherwise fair transaction, the transition is one,
unless I missed it, Stevens does not disclose in this book, as he
apparently omits any mention of his given name in these pages. (Lacking
an index, reviewing a memoir, autobiographical is spots, that
is not strictly in chronological order can be frustrating, as it must
be to the many, mentioned by name, who have impacted Stevens' life;
book browsers who may seek to confirm that they are mentioned in in the
pages of Stevens' story before they invest in the printed version.)
any rate, Music City appeared to be welcoming and Music Row fast and
easy to navigate: At least that's what Even thought when an
introduction to Webb
Pierce was soon followed by Pierce's
an aspiring singer herself, making Stevens' day by indicating an
intention to record one of Even's songs. Pierce's plans took
an unexpected turn, demoralizing Even, when, as Stevens was learning
instant success as a Music Row songwriter is largely an anomaly, no
less than Norbert
Putnam considered the young hopeful's
prospects and concluded Even should "Go back to Ohio."
Stevens' songwriting ability was not immediately evident to Putnam.
Even found a mentor in another Music Row stalwart, Jim
Malloy. Through the music publisher
and Grammy Award-winning recording engineer Even eventually developed a
professional partnership with Jim's son, David
Malloy. David, who carved an
impressive career as a songwriter and producer, served as Stevens'
introduction to one of the artists he produced: Eddie Rabbitt.
and Eddie briefly roomed together as they attempted to reach their
respective professional dreams as singer/songwriters. While
Eddie's recording career took off, Even's lukewarm reception doing "the
artist thing" convinced him he should stick to writing songs.
wrote or co-wrote nearly 60 of Rabbitt's recordings, including Eddie's
biggest hits. Even's songs have been recorded by 55 other
artists (including Stella
Parton, who was once married to Jim Malloy).
Each of the artists, and the names of the Even Stevens songs
they recorded, is documented on these pages.
themselves "the Trinity," (Stevens and David Malloy
bought Music Row's Emerald
Sound Studio in
1983), Even, Eddie and David enjoyed a comradery
lasting until 1984 when Malloy was no longer interested in producing
reasons became more apparent two years later when Emerald Studio was
sold and David moved to Los Angeles, selling his Nashville publishing
interests that, thanks to a lawyer's intervention, impacted Even's
income as a music publisher when Stevens was not allowed to buy out
his business partner. The
publishing company was sold, and then resold, before being
absorbed by Sony/ATV Music. (After
scaling down during a period in the mid-90s when Even stopped
producing records and sold the two office buildings and recording
studio he owned at the time, Stevens leased The Garage studio and
formed ESP Music.)
Even wasn't writing a song with Eddie Rabbitt, he co-wrote with several
other songwriters who are named and whose work is credited in this
book. But there is another instance, mentioned in Stevens'
memoir, in which, thanks to Phil
World Without Love, a song Eddie and Even
co-wrote, resulted in the unwelcome addition of an unnamed third
co-writer and a rift with Rabbitt.
is forthcoming about names (he generally speaks in
superlatives when describing people he says he admires- which evidently
doesn’t include Richard
Landis) and dates in these pages, when
he wants to be, (such as in his description of the
circumstances leading up to the distance created between he and Eddie,
though Even's was a welcome presence at Eddie's funeral) and
while it is understandable why, in an increasing litigious society,
Stevens' omits "Crazy Darleen"'s surname, though Stevens elected not
to acknowledge same, it is public knowledge that
Even's unwanted co-writer was Phil
Similarly, Stevens shares only a little information about his oldest
son, Seth, the result of a relationship between Stevens and a
woman he identifies only as Lynn (again, perhaps for obvious
Even identifies his wife only as "Korene," mentioning that Korene gave
birth to the Seth's half-brother, Luke in 1997.
(Stevens married the former Korene Debra Wolters on April 20, 1997.)
If a paperback edition of Someday
I'm Gonna Rent This Town is to follow,
Stevens' editor might want to pay a little more attention to
punctuation, including the placement of a question mark where an
exclamation mark is in order (page 12), an ellipsis (on page
116), generally sloppy writing ("I wondered around Music
Row," on page 183, a reference to a "fourteen year
old" and the exclamation "Yea, right" on page 147) "try to
emulate those hit's" on page 186, "Sure I'd love too" on page 190),
and spelling errors including "recon" (as reckon is
misspelled on page 95), Frances Preston's first name (listed as
"Francis" on page 124) and Randy Owen's surname (which appears as
"Owens" on page 165).
balance, Even Stevens' memoir is informative and, at times, humorous
is an honest read, as far as it goes. The book lacks an
introspection that might be remedied if Even chooses to write
an autobiography- including a foreword written by a mental health
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