The Carter Family: Country Music's First Family by STACY
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While not specifically written for, let alone about, women in the music industry, Randi Braun's Something Major: The New Playbook for Women at Work has universal application.
the pronounced workplace inequities faced by the women of Music Row,
with the Row's emphasis on box-checking and often skewed definition of
leadership, Braun's book is particularly welcome and timely.
Row has never been accused of being ahead of the cultural curve. Hence
the rules of the "old playbook" ostensibly resist collective challenge
among its inhabitants.That said, women who embrace Randi (Fishman) Braun's presentation of a revised
and updated approach to how women present and represent themselves in
the workplace would seem to have a leg up on the upwardly-mobile
Braun's workplace self-help guide, while heavily-sourced, retains a
conversational tone. While acknowledging the familiar hot buttons
that create obstacles to success (Think inner critic, imposter
syndrome, what Bonnie Low-Kramen has termed "toxic femininity" et
author provides "real life" relatable examples of what businesswomen
encounter, how well they have handled these frustrations and, in some
instances, the suggestion of a better approach, such as how to thrive,
rather merely survive, courtesy of the "new playbook."
learning the specifics of "three reasons brilliant women go off the
rails" to the "new playbook"'s approach to building boundaries and
"owning your message by writing better emails," Braun's
handbook's emphasis on the tools of wellbeing ought to be utilized by,
if they are not already incorporated into, the counseling services
offered by MusiCares and the Music Health Alliance.
known as the focal point of The Anita Kerr Singers, the award-winning
background group, so essential to launching and/or sustaining the
careers of many of the pop and country hit makers of the latter half of
the 20th century, Anita Kerr has never been one to brag about her
Memphis-born (1927) musical prodigy took
her piano lessons
to a new level by age 10 when, doubling as a church organist, Anita
arrangements for a female vocal group featuring 14 classmates.
singing with her
sisters on their radio show (a family tradition begun by their mother, who hosted a WHBQ radio show), Anita Grill, as the prodigy was
then known, became a WHBQ staff musician. (Anita,
a church and skating rink singer and
organist, also worked at WREC Radio.)
age 18, having
graduated from parochial school the year before, the budding composer
perfecting her songwriting, moving to Nashville in 1948.
Nashville Anita found
work at radio stations WMAK where, as a staff musician, she formed a
caught on and Anita
performed sporadically on Nashville’s WLAC Radio before coming to the attention
of WSM Radio where she worked with an eight-piece
vocal group, enduring the
awkwardness of replacing the popular Alcyone Beasley after WSM’s Jack Stapp
Decca Records A & R
Director Paul Cohen hired radio announcer Al Kerr’s wife (since 1947) away from
WSM and it was Cohen who named the incarnation of the vocal group that
personnel changes, The Anita Kerr Singers.
sessions in 1949 and through the 1950s she sang background for singers
from Burl Ives to Ernest Tubb, traveling to- and-from recording
studios in New
York and an emerging recording center: Nashville.
aspect of her craft resulted in Dean Martin’s 1953 recording of Anita’s Til
I Found You.
in Music City Kerr
played accordion on the Grand Ole Opry.
She and her now eight-piece vocal group soon became regulars on
Opry’s Prince Albert-sponsored show.
Owen Bradley signed to Anita to
Decca Records in 1951 and, by the time The Anita Kerr Singers won the Arthur
Godfrey Talent Scouts competition, the singers were now a
Dottie Dillard and Gil Wright expanded their recording repertoire to
jingles when Anita wasn’t writing arrangements for Roy Orbison, including the
strings portions of Orbison’s biggest hits.
1961, Chet Atkins
(who Anita first met backstage at the Grand Ole Opry) hired Anita as an
assistant A & R, signing the quartet to RCA
Victor with terms of a contract
that allowed them to continue to freelance for other labels. This was only fair if, as alleged, Kerr did
most of the work (for scale) while Atkins, Anita’s session producer
name only, would remain in the studio just long enough to sign the time
that would result in a hefty paycheck for Atkins' “contribution” (Kerr
was one of
founders), before leaving the group to essentially produce themselves
while Chet headed out to the golf course.
not recording in
Nashville with Al Hirt, Brenda Lee, Ray Charles, Jim Reeves, Rosemary Clooney,
Brook Benton, Pat Boone, and a host of other artists, The Anita
recorded their own albums in the countrypolitan style that was soon
from the fiddles
and steel guitars that dominated traditional country songs, a sound
dying at a time when rock ‘n’ roll was taking off, Kerr’s transition to
sound of stringed instruments, representing what Chet Atkins liked to
the sound of pocket change, meant adapting to self-taught studio
while they couldn’t read music, were able to read chords changes.
As the music because more sophisticated,
Atkins received the credit, though he would correct those who failed to
the roles Anita Kerr and Owen Bradley played in the development of the
of the first women
to produce country albums, Anita received her first Grammy nomination
nomination followed in 1964 and, in 1965, the Anita
Kerr Singers bested category competitors (most notably The
Beatles), winning the year’s “Best Vocal Group” honors.
the time of a repeat
Grammy win in 1966, after 17 years in Nashville (working as her vocal
composer, arranger and leader), at Henry Mancini’s urging, Anita abruptly moved
to California with her two children and second husband, Alex
given notice to Dillard,
Wright and Nunley, none of whom had any interest in joining Kerr and
the cross-country move, the vocal group disbanded (rebranding, with Priscilla Mitchell rounding out the
was not prepared
for the lawsuit that followed when Dottie, Gil and Louis learned that
would be using the erstwhile quartet’s name when she debuted on Lawrence Welk’s
network TV show.
1968, having already
begun the process of working extensively with Rod McKuen, Anita produced Pat
Boone’s final Dot Records album.
1969 Kerr signed with
Dot and, by 1970, after years recording, notably for RCA and Warner Brothers
Records and as the leader of the Anita Kerr Orchestra (Kerr was also known to
record under pseudonyms), Anita moved to Europe.
1970, heading the
latest incarnation of the Anita Kerr Singers, Anita commuted from
recording studios (where she recorded for Philips Records and oversaw the
production of a Royal Philharmonic concept album) to her home in
where Anita and Alex were raising their then-preteen
contracted with Word Records to compose, arrange and produce two
albums on an
annual basis. There were a total of nine such religious albums between
1975, after writing a Hollywood movie score (Limbo) and recording seven
albums for Philips, Kerr returned to Nashville.
Alex produced The
Anita Kerr Singers’ final album of the ‘70s: Anita Kerr Performs Wonder’s (A
vinyl salute to Stevie Wonder) and, in July of that year, Anita
invitation to appear at the Tokyo
followed: Anita’s 1979 album (with Harry van
Hoof and Pieter van Vollenhoven)
titled Together and her 1981 BBC Radioplay album With Love.
Switzerland’s Montreaux Recording
Studio (1975-1979) or commuting from studios
in London, Los Angeles and Nashville during the ‘80s, Anita remained
an arranger and songwriter.
1992, Anita Kerr
received a NARAS Award for Outstanding Contributions to American
outlived Gil, Dottie and Louis, at 94, Anita is a survivor for all of
the reasons Barry Pugh
suggests in a narrative abundantly in Kerr’s own words, supplemented by
of those with whom Anita has been associated.
a forward by Burt
Bacharach, this 285-page paperback features everything from Anita
practical guide to success in her polymathic disciplines to the story
of why she
refused to do an album with Frank Sinatra.
with a plethora
of photos, discographies, lists of awards, compositions and songs with
which Anita was
associated (be it a as singer, writer, producer, arranger or a
these contributions), Barry Pugh offers a detailed labor of love for
her astonishing body of work.
all of this tender loving care, it’s hard to believe anything has been
out. However, the addition of an index,
should this self-published book be updated, is highly recommended.
forewords by Mick
Foley, John Gibbons and Suzanne
Alexander, the author establishes from the beginning that where
and how readers
recognizes the Brooklyn-born, Italian son of a family with “Mafia”
be it from his own connection to wresting, baseball or country-music-
identification will serve as an introduction to this polymath’s range
interests and career changes.
John Thomas Arezzi was introduced to wrestling as
child of ‘60s TV, skeptical of the sport’s authenticity shortly
convinced the “professional” variety was “fake” when, in 1972, he
ticket to a Shea Stadium match.
from disillusioned, however, Arezzi became a
member of a wrestling fans’ organization and the networking teen found
bonding with other wrestling fans like Mike Omansky, a future RCA Records exec
and grandson of future Family Feud host, Richard Dawson. (Not
long after, Arezzi was a house guest in
Dawson’s Beverly Hills home.)
made inroads into the worlds of journalism and
photography, while attending a Boston junior college Arezzi was bitten
music bug even, as “Mr. Wrestling,” he was hosting early editions of Pro
Wrestling Spotlight on the college radio station.
Following junior college graduation, Arezzi
continued his education at Emerson College, where the sports fan, whose
interest extended to baseball, dreamed of doing play-by-play for the New York
Mets as he hosted the college’s TV station’s sports reports.
ABC’s Good Morning America host David
Hartman’s son, Sean with Johnny Bench almost led to Arezzi’s joining ABC Sports. That
missed opportunity led to another stint
as a wrestling trade magazine writer and yet another, where- billed as
Anthony”- Arezzi realized an additional dream by getting into the ring
for his first
mat match with Dusty
Rhodes (i.e. Virgil Riley Runnels, Jr., not to be confused
with RCA Records’ artist [Perry Hilburn] “Dusty” Rhodes).
industry followers won’t need to ask why Arezzi
left a job with Morris Levy’s Roulette Records, landing a behind-the-scenes
job, during the early 1980s, with the Mets’ organization's North
self-described “nutty New Yorker” wasn’t done with
the music business, however. Not when,
while still in North Carolina with the Mets organization, Arezzi
and booked- a struggling singer who would join him in drinking and
to New York where he took a job as an ad
salesman, Arezzi moonlighted as Loveless’ manager (a stage surname he
for the woman with whom Arezzi was, at that point, in love), planning
her in the Big Apple.
two even made it to Nashville, but the personal
and business relationship began to fizzle out at that point which
explains why “You won’t find John Alexander (or John Arezzi, for that
in any biographical information on Patty Loveless.”
American Country (GAC) cable TV
network’s former director of music marketing and the Black River Music Group ex-vice-president
of strategic marketing details professional relationships resulting in
advancing the careers of Sarah Darling and Kelsea Ballerini, setting the record
straight in the absence of having received the credit due him from an
best typified by the ingratitude of others he names including Country Music
Association CEO Sarah Trahern.
managing to avoid proximity to the WWF sex
scandals (reminiscent of the more recent victimization of Olympic
their team doctor) at a time when his involvement in the pro wrestling
community was his calling card, to, during his Music Row forays, being
steer clear of the implosions of acquaintances (Mindy McCready, Cyndi Thomson
and Jeff Bates), Arezzi regales and informs readers in
this 286-page cautionary
tale of professional sports and country music.
This book's title and subtitle say
it all, or otherwise summarize the formation of an historical
country-music footprint in a 184- page paperback.
While Vermont may not be the
first state that comes to mind when conversation turns to the average
country star's stomping grounds, Wayne Warner cut his musical
teeth in The Green Mountain State as a member of a family band bearing
for the touring band? Yes- and for good reason: Warner's Dance Hall, a Lowell, Vermont venue
well-known to rural Vermonters as having been built by Wayne's paternal
grandfather, was the largest such venue in the state.
the story of a tight-knit family fronted by (no pun intended) its
best-known member. (Wayne Warner made his singing debut as a member of Warner Band, playing to an audience at Westfield,
Vermont’s Buzzy’s Barn Dance at the ripe
old age of 6!)
curious and circuitous road to Nashville began with the odds stacked
against him, when, bullied, he dropped out of high school at the first
opportunity to do so. A regional
favorite with no national/international aspirations, Wayne recorded a
song at a local studio as he was turning 16 that was subsequently
passed around, resulting in Warner being summoned to Nashville to
record an album at Nashville’s Hilltop Studios.
Wayne met many of the name session musicians whom he admired and
parlayed the trip into a meeting with famed producer and veteran record
label executive (James) Harold Shedd.
the majors, Shedd founded the independent Tyneville
Records label, signing Wayne. However,
the ink on Warner’s contract was hardly dry when routine details about
Wayne’s family came to light, alarming the Tyneville “team.”
the makeup of Wayne’s birth family (including his sister/manager) that,
in part, torpedoed Warner’s first record label contract. Rather, it was
Wayne’s “modern family,” its legal status, and particularly
composition, being one of personal preference (that, in any other
industry, would likely remain so), that raised questions.
Questions gave way to second thoughts in the form of jitters among the
suits charged with promoting the artist and his recordings.
Wayne’s chosen family came first and and, amid a desire to keep the
peace, an amicable parting between Warner and Tyneville was forged.
supportive birth family unit and chosen family intact, the
introverted-but-driven singer/songwriter, used to doing things his way,
at least initially mollified the image-makers and those unwilling to
give the artist creative control. Wayne even lied about his age
when advised to do so, in order to accede to even the silliest of
demands, in gratitude for the opportunities he had been given while
those opportunities was a second chance, when (another) industry mogul Barry
Coburn, the new head of Atlantic/Nashville chose Wayne
as his first signee.
Atlantic closed its Nashville office, Wayne took it as a sign that,
independent by nature, his best days were ahead of him as an
independent label artist.
his own B-Venturous record label, Warner
blossomed. During the early 21st century
Wayne turned out singles, EPs and albums, including a self-titled album, released in 2002, that featured
what became Warner’s signature song, Turbo Twang.
Turbo Twang attained
recurrent status when it found new life, four years later, on Wayne’s Turbo Twang’n album. At
a time when Wayne had never heard of the country dance chart, Warner
suddenly learned that Turbo Twang, a club favorite, was dominating it.
success of God Bless The Children (a
philanthropic venture featuring Nashville' All-Star choir), Warner’s fans affirmed
their devotion for an artist who enlisted the participation and support
of a number of the heavy-hitters with whom he has interacted, since the
early days of a “cold call” to one he did not know: Charley
that time, one of the biggest names crossing Warner’s path was another
singer/songwriter; a 15-year-old Nashville area transplant Wayne came
to know, during the course of their brief musical collaboration, as Taylor Swift.
Wayne’s name recognition accorded him an opportunity to record Something Going On with Bonnie
58, Wayne reflects back on his career (so far) with a lot of great
stories about names you will recognize. (Warner also includes
some blind items, but either provides some strong hints that will
either refresh memories for those who had knowledge of the same people
and/or events or otherwise makes full disclosure easy enough for anyone
who knows how to use a search engine.)
Backstage Nashville... is peppered with wonderful
photos, but the self-published paperback lacks an
index and a proofreader. The
latter would have prevented typos such as the misspelling of Charley
Pride’s name (Page 7), a reference to “Music Square, East” (Page 64), a (Page
to the “Country Music Awards” rather than the Country Music Association Awards (so as
not to be confused with the Academy of Country Music Awards) a mention of Kentucky as the Blue Grass State
(Page 57) and a Page 153 malapropism (“except” rather than “accept”).
Think of Backstage Nashville... as
the diary of an entertainer who, if he has not seen and done it all,
could certainly fool you with his documentation of the people and
events who have shaped his career.
a "how to" and, at times, "how not to"
succeed in the music business based on either Wayne’s earning a diploma
from the school of hard knocks or the lessons he’s learned from both
those who have paved the way and his contemporaries.
a lot to pack into one breezy paperback, but Wayne Warner is not only
up to the task, he’s made the book a “must read” for music fans as well
as anyone considering a career in the music business.
(James) Layng Martine, Jr. brings
the same candor to Permission to Fly: A Memoir of Love, Crushing Loss and
Triumph as he does the songs he's
written that have propelled him into the Nashville
Songwriters Hall of Fame. The title refers to a gift from his
mentally and emotionally-challenged mother; shorthand for allowing a
creative child to express his creativity and early-developed sense of
direction in the face of a father who was a barrier to that sort of
This, despite the fact that Martine's nudist parents were rather
free-spirits in their own right.
mother, a Family Circle columnist, raised
her son among New York celebrity neighbors ranging from Vivian Vance to Gene Tunney. Layng,
enterprising son that he was, at 13 had a job mowing his neighbor, Benny Goodman’s lawn and generally acting as the
famed clarinetist’s handyman.
learning, upon impending high school graduation, that he was not Princeton material,
Layng who was voted “King of the School” and “Class Lover” at the
Catholic Mount Hermon School (in
Massachusetts) was admitted to Denison University in
sold magazines and later slippers, of all things, door-to-door during
the summer of 1960, even managing a trip to Quebec City, Canada before
returning to school for his freshman year, joining Denison’s football
and track teams, while becoming a frat boy alongside his future
brother-in-law, Lee Schilling.
1961, Denison dropout Layng arrived in New York City where he took a
job a TIME
magazine copy boy, commuting via train to his job
from his parents’ then-home in Connecticut.
hob-knobbing at TIME,
for a year, with the likes of Calvin Trillin, Layng resigned, heading for a
vagabond’s adventure in Wyoming before resuming his formal education;
this time at New York’s Columbia University.
with John Kennedy's presidential news conferences, an
enterprising Layng Martine, Jr. parlayed a friendship with a CBS News reporter into a 1962
Oval Office visit.
after walking past JFK’s casket a year later, Layng caught the
songwriting bug. Martine
wrote his fist song, Swagger,
cut a demo, got a publishing deal and became a successful New
York-based pop songwriter, all in rapid succession.
serving as the Lee Schilling’s best man at Schilling’s Georgia wedding,
Layng met Lee’s sister, Linda.
mother vomited on the way to that wedding,
while the forgotten marriage license had to be delivered to the
officiating minister via a state trooper. Then,
after a three-day honeymoon in Quebec City, Layng’s draft card arrived.
to return to Canada, for the duration of the Viet Nam war or
permanently, if necessary, to avoid having to possibly pay the ultimate
sacrifice during a war in which he did not believe, Layng pulled some
strings, survived some glitches and, for not the first nor last time in
his life, against all odds, achieved the impossible; managing to remain
permanently stateside to boot!
unsuccessful stint as a songwriter (save
for an undisclosed Glenn Yarbrough cut Martine
only learned about years later) for a
division of CBS (at a time when Linda was working as a successful New
York fabric designer) ended when Layng secured and, shortly thereafter,
lost a job as a Madison Avenue ad agency copywriter.
‘’like I’m wasting my life,’’ and learning that another of his songs
had been recorded by Bo Diddley, after
the births of two of his three sons and yet
another disastrous professional detour as a fast food franchisee, Layng
focused on his muse. That
rededication led him to connect and sign with Ray Stevens.
to Nashville with Linda, Layng’s namesake and Layng’s brother, Tucker, Martine
became a beneficiary of lenient (later tightened) bankruptcy
out from a bankruptcy ethicists would agree a fiscally-responsible
Layng shouldn’t have declared in the first place, the hits started
coming when Billy ‘’Crash’’ Craddock had a
hit with Martine’s Rub It In. (Craddock’s
summer sensation, following the inevitable end of its chart success,
found new life as a memorable jingle, thanks to a TV ad campaign for S.C. Johnson &
Son cleaning products that had an astounding 18
of Layng’s song by artists ranging from Barry Manilow to The Pointer Sisters followed
before Martine landed what turned out to be Elvis Presley’s posthumous hit, Way Down.
on a roll, Martine secured a Pam Tillis cut, only to see it
yanked from distribution shortly after its release, due to the
unfortunate news of the day.
long after, Layng re-invented himself as a cowriter. Martine’s
collaboration with Richard Leigh resulted in Reba McEntire’s hit recording of The Greatest Man I Never
Knew while Layng and Kent Robbins co-wrote Trisha Yearwood’s hit, I Wanna Go too Far.
professional success came devastating personal
pain that Layng first detailed in a 2009 New York Times Modern Love essay. The
graphic account is revisited in Permission to Fly’s closing chapter and epilogue,
giving the reader a more complete understanding of the book’s subtitle
and choice of cover art.
Martine’s memoir contains a disclaimer that he has changed names of
individuals and locations, in the name of privacy. In
some instances that detracts or otherwise misleads, as in when a
songwriter to whom Martine refers as simply “Lou” is obviously Lou Stallman. Indeed,
Martine identifies “Lou” as the “writer” of Perry Como's Round and Round and Clyde McPhatter (The Treasure of Love)
when, in truth, the greater good would have been served by properly
identifying Lou Stallman as the cowriter of both songs and crediting
the songs’ other composer, Joe Shapiro.
also worth noting that while, recounting his songwriter’s credits,
including Wiggle Wiggle, Martine
omits mentioning the name of the artist for whom the song was a Top 20
hit (Ronnie Sessions).
self-published memoir is also missing an index but, apart from these
shortcomings, Layng has produced an entertaining and inspiring read
that deserves a permanent place on the bookshelf.
you've listened to Nobody Makes It Alone (Track
#9 from Erica Stone's Antidote) you understand the importance of a
support system. You likely also sense that Stone's lyrical
message of "pain and hope" was borne of experience.
chronicles, as she channels, the depth of that experience in Gray: A Story of Loss.
the natural order of things, children outlive their parents. Whenever
this particular natural order is disrupted it is incomprehensible.
it happened to Stone, whose Midwestern sensibilities and idealism took
her to Sierra Leone where she became an advocate for orphans and
other disadvantaged children caught up in their African homeland’s
history of civil war, the pain and inability to justify was magnified.
by then, Erica was "all in." Stone's initial human rights
advocacy extended to joining her husband, Jason in opening an orphanage
and adoption agency, though not until Erica, a singer whose dream of a
career in music was about to be realized, was forced to find a Plan B
as her major label record deal fizzled.
door that closed opened the door to a dramatic change in direction. Parent
of a son, Justin, Erica became an adoptive mother for the first
time when daughter Jayda (one of Erica's now six living children)
joined the family.
3,000-day journey to adoption, involving navigating through the
obstacles of corruption, violence, brutality and deprivation,
underscored Erica’s need for further adoptions, though the
afore-referenced death of Erica’s daughter, Adama was the impetus for
Stone’s determination to make another career change to that of author.
her story is Erica’s vehicle for communicating the injustices visited
upon refugees and those who seek to rescue them.
silver lining for Stone, apart from the therapeutic value of writing it
all down, is that a detour that turned into an opportunity to make the
world a better place has given Erica a larger opportunity to get the
word out about the urgency of ending the collateral damage of war and
Stone’s humanitarianism, amid enormous obstacles that have left many
merely cursing the darkness, has not only resulted in her unlikely
platform of published author, a movie based on the book is to follow.
in the meantime, busy mom and new author Erica Stone is making good on
that second chance at her dream of a recording career.
again, with faith and determination, she is beating the odds.
her fans know, this is not Lulu Roman’s first autobiography.
than four decades after the publication of her first book (no
ghostwriter credited), Lulu offers expected updates but also an
unexpected apology: Two pages into
her collaboration with ghostwriter Scott England Lulu
writes of her first effort at autobiography “As soon as that book was
released, I hated it.
was totally embarrassed. It
was full of made-up stories and complete lies, and for some reason it
barely mentions Hee-Haw.”
makes up for the latter with some great Hee Haw-related trivia.
Among these revelations is an acknowledgment that, country music
being an acquired interest, at the time she met him Lulu had never
heard of Buck Owens!
there’s that affair Lulu volunteers she had with Don Rich…
Hee Haw’s only living cast member’s revelation that not only, in 1969,
was every Hee Haw guest artist- star or newcomer- paid $1000 for an
appearance on the show, 25 years later these special guests received
the same amount!
the way readers learn of Lulu’s abusive upbringing, resulting from the
circumstances of her birth, subsequent abandonment and associated
feelings of being unwanted and unloved.
It was a harrowing life for little Bertha
Louise (as Lulu was christened) who was placed in an
orphanage at age four, courtesy of her maternal grandmother, and Lulu’s
having reason to believe that her paternal grandfather was actually her
upside of her genealogical inheritance would be (the proof is not
disclosed) Lulu’s assertion that she
is Larry Gatlin’s distant cousin.
attributes her history of obesity, from an early age, to turning to
food, in general, and sugar, in particular, to bring her solace in
times of pain and loss. She has
also had thyroid issues.
sexual awakening, Lulu’s promiscuity was not far behind. Her
excesses extended to drugs.
16 Roman was a drug addict.
gifts for comedy and music amused herself and others before the public
became aware of them. Some of us are only learning, through this book,
that Lulu can play Chopsticks with her toes!
she is a certified Red Cross lifeguard.
Lulu credits her
discovery of religion with turning her life around and for Roman's
success performing gospel music.
testimony is a familiar one: She
hit rock bottom and, finding redemption, cleaned up her act.
appears to be oblivious to the notion of exchanging one drug for
another or that the zealotry at which she once scoffed may now be the
“my way or the highway” world view in which she,
arguably, is ensconced.
is for certain: There is no shortage of famous
friends showing their love and support of Lulu in these pages.
Randy Travis wrote the
introduction. Sharon White Skaggs and Lorrie Morgan each contributed a
her part, Lulu returns the sentiments toward Travis, Skaggs and Morgan
and is equally generous in her praise of a score of others, most of
whose names readers will recognize.
a stunning amount of life experience packed into these 160 pages and
Scot England does a great job of letting his subject tell her story the
way she now indicates it should have been told in the first place.
"Johnny Lee's attempt
at an autobiography is to be commended for its few-if-any-holds-barred
candor, straightforward style and insight."
the opening paragraph of my review of Lookin’ For Love,
Lee’s first book; a critique published in the December 1990 issue of Country Song Roundup
review of the 1989 book, ghostwritten by Randy Wyles,
cited a number of factual errors. I also pointed out that “the
photo gallery,” supplementing the text, depicted “Johnny with his arm
around celebrities” whose link to/relationship with Lee seemed
“tenuous,” given the fact that were not “otherwise mentioned in the
I read all but the closing page of Still Lookin’ For Love,
I wondered why Johnny had not referenced, to that point, his earlier
book. With the same candor evident in that earlier book, Lee not
only finally got around to mentioning that this is not his first
autobiography, but also to explain that he was unhappy with that first
venture. Further, Johnny allowed Scot England, in Scot’s own words, to
amplify how England and Lee got together, using Lookin' For Love,
and reaction to it, as a springboard for much new material chiefly
about Johnny’s life during the nearly three decades since the
publication of the book titled after Lee’s signature song.
Still Lookin’ For Love is
conversational and anecdotal with a “can’t put it down” quality to
boot! Moe Bandy and Mickey Gilley are
among those who have contributed their observations to Still Lookin’ For Love,
but it is Johnny Lee’s own breezy style that keeps readers
the unexpected, such as how it came to be that Johnny shook astronaut Alan Shepard’s
foot. Readers will also learn of Lee’s friendship with Ellison Onizuka,
one of the astronauts who died aboard the space shuttle, Challenger, his
bout with colon cancer and why Johnny wears a black rubber
Lee’s story is one of overcoming obstacles that began with the
circumstances of his birth. Prone to repeating rather than
necessarily learning from the mistakes of others, Johnny largely owns
his self-destructive tendencies, though he is not above blaming others
when the evidence points toward the proverbial shoe fitting.
some of it elusive, and repeated loss also loom large in Lee’s life,
but he approaches joy and challenge with a sense of
humor. Those who have the papers on Johnny Lee will be
hard-pressed to suggest anything that Lee has left out of these pages,
be it about Charlene Tilton,
Gilley, Sherwood Cryer or
even someone as tangential as Luke Bryan.
may never master the art of money management (England Media holds
the copyright to the self-published Still Lookin’ For Love),
but he is self-aware (although arguably selling himself short) to the
extent that, for example, he opines that, were Lee not also a
celebrity, arm candy like Tilton would have been totally out of his
is that endearing quality that will enable easily offended readers to
overlook any offense they may take to a section of the book titled
“Adults Only.” Much of the content is no more bawdy nor off-color
than other parts of this book that also may cause some readers to
conclude the always descriptive Johnny Lee, on occasion, provides that
which may be diplomatically described as too much information.
Still Lookin’ For Love,
with a quality, embossed cover, easy on the eyes layout, and plentiful
photo section, suggesting no expense was spared, is a “must have”
book for Johnny Lee fans. It will not disappoint anyone who is
remotely interested in a well-written celebrity autobiography that,
unlike many if not most such endeavors, delivers on its promises.
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, in 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
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
his game by treating her special, Becky found him irresistible, seduced
by Jim Ed’s twinkling eye and courtly manner.
six months of dating, and much conversation about shared values, Jim Ed
and Becky married.
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 Becky’s problems.
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 the creative challenge she found,
when not raising children, through painting, bowling
and playing tennis.
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.
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.
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 provide faith-based justification for the 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
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
careers. These 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 multimedia
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
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
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
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 recognition.
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
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, Freddy
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
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 Freddy Fender.'"
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 cheek.
In fact, Freddy was not beyond
sabotaging his burgeoning recording career due to his recklessness.
After taking on the responsibilities of
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"
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 year sentence.
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 slammer.
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!
Apparently, Huerta 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 Foglesong
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 New Zealand!
While Tammy 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 giggly kids."
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.
Similarly, Tammy 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.”
new Cash book Larry’s question remains valid. Yet, after reading
John Alexander’s manuscript, it’s easy to see why Gatlin’s caution
A Johnny Cash 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 to mix.
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.
Familiar 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- variety.
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.
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.
Alexander is 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.
Similarly, 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 latter as Glen's surname appears in the
Except perhaps 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.
Copyrighted in 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
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 Roll Trio.
Then again, 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.
Given more 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.
Billy Burnette (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.
Pretty heady 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.)
Thanks, in 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; dissension that did not end with either
Billy's joining or his leaving the band.
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
Billy's own 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 revisiting.)
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 charts.
While Bekka 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 particular.
While repetitious in
spots, and nuanced by typos and an unusually-formatted index, Crazy Like Me is an undeniably
good read that delivers as promised.
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.
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.
that 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.
Fender 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.
was 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 military service.
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 possible.
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
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 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
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 Clement’s quill.
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.
Why Cooper 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
writer. (Peter 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.”
While keeping us in
blind-item suspense, Peter entertains readers with appropriately-placed
asides about events that, he suggests, don’t necessarily warrant entire
knowledgeable command of subjects like click tracks makes such
subject matter of interest to readers who may not be musicians,
aspiring or otherwise.
While Peter 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.
Spahn’s response to an
admiring teen's polite request for an autograph? A
loud, cursing refusal!
In contrast, 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.
Indeed, amid 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 country-music industry.
Warren Spahn 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.)
False intimacy 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.”
Peter Cooper 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...
When taking 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
So 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
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 dexterity. (Was
it not “autonomic neuropathy,” along with a handful of
contributing maladies, that ultimately claimed the Man in Black?)
On 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.
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.
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.
is the first to admit that he is “not very good with dates.”
find further confirmation of that by talking with current Tennessean entertainment
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.
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.”
It’s 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.
I trust that Peter Guralnick, who wrote the forward to Johnny’s Cash… would agree.
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
With 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
Turning 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 Guard.
While 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.
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.
Arriving 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.)
At 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 daughter, Debbie,
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
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.
Even 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.
Stevens 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
Dubbing 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 Rabbitt's records.
Malloy's 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.)
When 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 Ramone, A 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
Stevens 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 Galdston.
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).
On balance, Even Stevens'
memoir is informative and, at times, humorous and insightful.
It 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 professional!
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