Monday, January 26, 2015

Last week in Country Music

Last week in Country Music

Interesting new development in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  A large grocery store chain "Puckett's Grocery" with a large restaurant serving delicious home-grown style food, the specialty of the house being cherry wood smoked BBQ, and of all things, a stage where the unlimited fountain of singer-songwriters from Nashville play and sing. Created by Andy Marshall, who formerly owned a cluster of Piggly Wiggly supermarkets, he sold all of them to begin his "Puckett's Grocery."  Chattanooga is not the first one either.  In 2000 the Marshall family opened their first store, and the new one in Chattanooga brought the Marshall Family stores to be listed among the fastest growing companies in America.  What the family does is look for a large enough building, restaurants that are failing, or even another grocery selling out, buy them and convert them to the down-home facilities they have become. They do well by marketing to the locals, and they keep the music standards high by only inviting singer-songwriters that have had a least one country hit song.  What this does is take the rogue control of music away from a licensing agency like ASCAP and puts it back in the hands of those who create it.  At their grocery store in Nashville they are getting as many as 100 inquiries a week from singer-songwriters who control their own music.  The philosophy of the grocery store is, if it becomes a go-to place for the locals, the tourists aren't far behind.  They permit good local backing musicians to work behind the songwriters who control their own songs.  In the evening hours the restaurant dims the lights and diners feel like they're in a separate entity.  On Sundays it's gospel music, and the church goers come by the droves soon as church is out.  The owners wanted the entire grocery-restaurant-performance center to have a genial family atmosphere, away from the smoke and rowdiness of the Music City bar scene.  The formula seems to be working, they simply call it pork and jeans as far as food and clothing is concerned.  Wow, I would say Crackerbarrel, also a Tennessee based corporation, should raise it's shaggy head, and pay attention.  Many of you know we did a couple of years of old-time music on the front porch of the Council Bluffs Crackerbarrel Restaurant.  Didn't make a lot of money (neither do the singer-songwriters in Chattanooga).  It's amazing isn't it?  In Iowa we have a home-state employee-owned grocery called HyVee, who are already converting their sit-down quick-lunch space into up-scale restaurants, including alcoholic beverages no less.  The Puckett stores have declined the liquor in favor of more family-friendly atmosphere.  But the big question is??? WHY doesn't HyVee include an evening down-home old-time music staging area???
Many readers of this Sunday Bulletin are familiar with Curt Shoemaker, the outstanding steel player from Kansas.  He's the excellent steel sound behind Martina McBride, who is being singled out for her good works.  The Music Business Association will give McBride their Harry Chapin Memorial Humanitarian Award at a luncheon in Nashville on May 14.  McBride is being recognized for her work against domestic violence and cancer.  She says in a statement her goal was never to be recognized for her charitable efforts, but his award is proof everyone and anyone can make a difference.
Big article in the Washington Post this past week: "Everyday Zen: On The Road With Willie Nelson at 81"  Willie is in Las Vegas for his 7th gig of the new year, and after this one he'll have a least 100 more concerts to go to the end of the year.  Once labeled the "Hillbillie Dala Lama" Willie feels his road in life is like a spiritual path, an asphalt Mobiums strip, the long way to enlightenment, or both.  His most devout fans (me among them) think of him as a messenger, or even a manifestation of God.  According to Willie, "It's not a responsibility that's mine. It's everybody's.  They all have the obligation to set an example.  Do unto others, "The Old Golden Rule."  It's an easy one to follow.  Sometimes, "People flock to Vegas to escape their own heads, however a Willie concert won't allow that.  Nelson's songs pull us deeper into ourselves.  With Willie singing about the weight of yesterday and the uncertainty of tomorrow it's the the easiness of right now.  His songs are essentially about time which makes them about life, which makes them about everything.  "It's been that way as long as I can remember," Nelson says of his multi-generational flock.  "When you go to church, it's young and old.  The audience, for me, is very similar to a congregation.  It's all ages out there." Willie believes that God speaks through all of us.  His sense of humor and his spirituality are inextricable.  Life is a joke.  The funniest one we'll ever know.  When Willie is writing songs, he writes the lyrics first, confident that good melodies are more plentiful than good words, and easier to locate too.  As for cutting his songs, he's quick.  He released two fine albums just last year, and when he presses a button on the tour-bus stereo, out jumps a zesty new duet he recorded with Merle Haggard a few weeks ago.  So, this never-ending odyssey that requires an increasingly fragile body to breathe melody 100 nights a year - this is actually the thing that keeps him alive???  "Oh Yeah," he says with a firm nod.  Then he smiles.  The idea makes him feel either deeply contented, a little frightened, or nothing at all.  This amazingly good story written by Chris Richards is an excellent journalist for the Washington Post.
A lot of stuff comes down the pike via the Internet to me, some of it even seems legitimate.  Planet Blue Pictures is a film company in Australia, and is currently looking for new songs for both film and TV.  What with the stupendously stupid moronisitic music coming out of Nashville these days, this is probably a good opportunity for good songwriters.  Check their website at
January 20 would be the birthday of Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, who passed away in 1949.  All of his works is still available at Smithsonian-Folkways, the same label Sheila and I work and record for.  The Smithsonian let me know that they will be celebrating Leadbelly's birthday with a new social media series, "Lead Belly: Song By Song," in anticipation of the February 24th release of "Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection."  Lead Belly was the 2nd black country artist (after Deford Bailey) into our America's Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame.
Ernie Ruth, one of our local promoters, singers, comedian, and whatever, reported that Junior Wittstruck, one of the better upright bass players in the upper Midwest, has been placed in a hospice with cancer.  Junior showed up at nearly all the local and regional gatherings of acoustic old-time music as well as the more classic country events. He had a great 60's & 70's band that played regular in the Starlite Ballroom in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Please send a prayer his way, he might need it.
Bob Dylan just kinds of stays in the news.  "Blowing in the Wind" creator has a solution for unemployment.  "Let the billionaires step up" is what he told the AARP.  "The government's not going to create jobs.  It doesn't have to. People have to create jobs, and those big billionaires are the ones who can do it."  But instead of doing that, he said, he sees inner cities festering with crime and people turning to alcohol and drugs.  "They could all have work created for them by all those hotshot billionaires.  For sure that would create a lot of happiness.  Now, I'm not saying they have to, I'm not talking about communism, but what do they do with all their money?"  He also told the AARP (of which he is old enough to be a member), if he wasn't a musician he would probably have been a teacher, preferably teaching Roman History or Theology.  Of course all of this media attention is about his new CD "Shadows in the Night," songs that Frank Sinatra recorded, and Dylan apparently trying to improve upon.  At least he is generous.  He's giving 50,000 elderly folks (readers of the AARP magazine) free copies of his new album.  Release date is expected to be February 3rd.
Short note just came out on Face-Book, Jim Ed Brown has been declared cancer free as of January 19th. Prayer works folks.  Jim Ed, a member of our Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame, has a new album that just came out.  Check his website out, you'll like it!
A group has formed in the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, called GCMA meaning "Genuine Country Music Association."  It's amazing isn't it, how many hundreds of thousands, millions of people, disgusted with the so-called country music today coming out of Nashville.  Anyway, this new one in Missouri is a non-profit with a strong desire to keep the 'real thing' alive.  According to Jack Farrell, the president of the Association, "Traditional country music is nearly dead.  The Country Music Association and the Grand Ole Opry have lost their roots."  Membership in the organization is $25 a year (same as the NTCMA has been charging the past 40 years) and they meet once a month to play at Farrell's barn.  They are absolutely not going to allow some no-good modern country music maker entry, the barn is only open to close friends, relatives, and the members of the association.
Loretta Lynn is working hard on a new album with John Carter Cash producing.  Like Bobby Bare's latest album, Loretta is reaching back to her childhood to reintroduce her fans to songs like "Wreck On The Highway" and "Beautiful Brown Eyes" and "The Great Titanic" and a host of other old-time country songs.  She will also include some re-recordings of the songs she wrote for other artists.
Country music legend Alan Jackson took his 25th anniversary "Keeping' It Country" tour to Springfield, Missouri, recently.  The two-time Grammy winner with his band the Strayhorns, performed many of his country hits from a songbook spanning a quarter of a century.  It was a completely sold out SRO concert.
Sheila and I have been asked to open for LuLu Roman, you remember her as the large woman on Hee-Haw, and she was just at our LeMars Festival last year.  Also on the show we are opening for is Dion, remember him from the Belmonts who recorded "The Wanderer" and "A Teenager In Love" and "Runaround Sue." Dion's most successful recordings were in the 60's.  By 1988 he was deeply involved in Christian music which is what he records and performs today.  He is also involved with prison ministry and reaches out to men going through addiction recovery.  He currently lives in Boca Raton, Florida.  On June 24th we'll all gather for Gloria'sGloryFest, in Stewartville, Minnesota.
Bob Everhart for Country Music News International

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