Dolly’s Mentor Bill Owens Passes

Pictured: Dolly Parton with her Uncle Bill Owens (left). Photo: Courtesy Dolly Parton

Bill Owens, best known as the man who launched Dolly Parton’s career, died at age 85 on Wednesday (April 7).

He wrote more than 800 songs, including the country standard “Put If Off Until Tomorrow,” which he co-wrote with Dolly, his niece. Owens was an entertainer, an environmentalist and a bon vivant.

Born in 1935, he was the younger brother of Dolly’s mother, Avie Lee Owens Parton. He began performing in the 1950s in East Tennessee, initially billed as “Little Billy Earl with the Spit Curl.”

Noting that niece Dolly showed an interest in music, he began teaching the 8-year-old to play guitar and took her to his small-town gigs. They sang together at supermarket openings, rallies, fairs, talent contests and other local events.

When she was 10 years old in 1956, he took her to Knoxville to appear on the local radio show of supermarket entrepreneur Cas Walker. She became a regular on it. The Cas Walker Farm & Home Hour soon became a TV series and was Dolly’s first big break in show business.

In 1959, Dolly Parton recorded “Puppy Love” for the Louisiana label Goldband Records as her disc debut. She and Bill co-wrote the song, and “Little Billy Earl” recorded for the label, as well.

Uncle Bill Owens also began ferrying her back-and-forth between East Tennessee and Nashville. Using “Puppy love” as an entrée, he sought song-publishing and record-company opportunities for them both. He finagled an appearance for the youngster on the Grand Ole Opry.

In 1962, they co-wrote “It’s Sure Gonna Hurt,” which became a Dolly Parton single on Mercury Records. This was a result of Owens landing them a contract with Tree Publishing. Back home in East Tennessee, he formed a small band to be fronted by the two of them and arranged bookings at regional clubs and little honky tonks.

While Dolly finished high school, Uncle Bill Owens moved to Nashville and was hired as a touring guitarist by Carl & Pearl Butler and other stars. When she moved to Music City to board with him, they landed songwriting contracts at Combine Music, as well as a recording contract for Dolly with Monument, the company’s record-label affiliate. Dolly and Bill co-wrote several of her Monument recordings.

They also co-wrote songs for Kitty Wells (“More Love Than Sense”), Skeeter Davis (“Fuel to the Flame”), Bill Phillips (“The Company You Keep,” “I Only Regret”) and other artists. Phillips recorded their “Put It Off Until Tomorrow,” which became a major hit in 1966 and earned Dolly and Bill a BMI Award.

Bill Owens and Dolly Parton formed Owepar Music to publish their songs in 1967. This was the commencement of Dolly owning her compositions, the foundation of her business empire.

They continued to write together after Dolly joined Porter Wagoner’s show and moved to RCA Records in 1967. Bill Owens contributed a half dozen songs that became Porter-and-Dolly duets.

Usually billed as Billy Earl Owens, he recorded for a number of independent labels in the 1970s and 1980s. His songs were recorded by Tammy Wynette, Bob Beckham, Red Sovine, Al Ferrier, Kris Kristofferson, Loretta Lynn, The Kendalls, Porter Wagoner, Jeannie Seely, Ricky Skaggs, Brenda Lee, Willie Nelson, Johnny Dollar and other artists.

In addition to Dolly, Bill Owens was a mentor and producer for many other young acts. For Circle B Records, he produced Ralph Loveday, Jim Wyrick, Larry Cooke, Don Handy, Johnny Ringo and Tom Hackney, as well as his brother Henry, billed as “John Henry III.”

When Dollywood opened in 1986, he and Henry both became musical headliners at the park. He also starred at his own venues nearby. Bill Owens was noted for his ebullience, good humor, charm and enthusiasm as an entertainer.

He planted approximately 70,000 of the trees at Dollywood. In later years, he became passionate about reintroducing chestnut trees to Appalachia. Bill Owens planted thousands of saplings resistant to the blight which had nearly wiped out the chestnut.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Dolly Parton wrote a eulogy for her mentor, which is published below.

I’ve lost my beloved Uncle Bill Owens. I knew my heart would break when he passed, and it did. I’ll start this eulogy by saying I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t been there. He was there… there in my young years to encourage me to keep playing my guitar, to keep writing my songs, to keep practicing my singing. And he was there to help build my confidence standing on stage where he was always standing behind me or close beside me with his big ol’ red Gretsch guitar.

He was there to take me around to all of the local shows, got me my first job on the “Cas Walker Show.” He took me back-&-forth to Nashville through the years, walked up-&-down the streets with me, knocking on doors to get me signed up to labels or publishing companies.

It’s really hard to say or to know for sure what all you owe somebody for your success. But I can tell you for sure that I owe Uncle Billy an awful lot.

Uncle Bill was so many things. He loved the music, loved to play, loved his guitar and loved to write and sing. He wrote great songs, at least 800 of them through the years. We wrote several songs together, the biggest one being “Put It Off Until Tomorrow.” We won our first big award on that one back in 1966. It was the BMI Song of the Year.

He wrote songs that were recorded by Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner, Ricky Skaggs, Kris Kristofferson and many others. He also traveled the road with many big artists playing his guitar, including playing on stage with me in my early years in Nashville.

Uncle Bill worked at Dollywood from the time we opened in the family show for many years. He was funny, friendly and generous. He always had a kind word for everybody and gave good advice to young people starting in the business. He joined forces with Dollywood, The American Chestnut Foundation, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and The American Eagle Foundation to bring back the endangered chestnut tree to the Great Smoky Mountain area. That was his passion. He also championed the cause of protecting the natural environment at Dollywood in 1986. During that time, he took it upon himself, with his wife Sandy, to plant 70,000 trees on the Park property.

I bet a lot of our own relatives don’t even know all of the great things that Uncle Bill did behind the scenes through his life. But the greatest thing he ever did for me was to help me see my dreams come true and for that I will be forever grateful. I’m sure that Uncle Bill’s friends, fans, his wife Sandy, his kids, grandkids and great-grandkids will join me when I say that we will always love you.

Rest in peace, Uncle Bill.

Country Indie Entrepreneur Gene Kennedy Passes

Gene Kennedy, who was best known as the man behind the durable Door Knob Records, has died at age 87.

According to journalist John Lomax III, Kennedy was battling pneumonia when he contracted COVID-19. The producer, songwriter, recording artist, publisher and record-label executive passed away on Thursday, April 1.

Kennedy’s Door Knob Records is believed to be Nashville’s longest-lived independent label. During the company’s 1976-2015 existence, it recorded more than 100 country artists, including such charting acts as Wayne Kemp, Bobby G. Rice, Gary Goodnight, Big Al Downing, Tom Carlile, Jerry Wallace, Bonnie Nelson, Perry LaPointe, Jeris Ross and Sonny Wright. Door Knob reportedly placed more than 140 titles on various country popularity charts.

Among the more prominent Door Knob artists was Loretta Lynn’s sister and longtime backup vocalist Peggy Sue, who had 13 charted singles on the label in 1977-80. Gene Kennedy, himself, recorded for Door Knob, both as a solo and as the duet partner of Karen Jeglum. She became his wife and business partner in 1982.

Gene Kennedy was a native of Florence, South Carolina who began his career by playing in a band while serving in the Air Force in 1956. WLAC Nashville disc jockey Hoss Allen became his manager in 1960 and placed him with Chicago’s Old Town Records as a pop artist. Kennedy toured on package shows with Connie Francis, Ace Cannon, Roy Orbison and other teen favorites.

Back in Nashville, Allen and Kennedy formed Music City’s first independent promotion company. This brought Kennedy to the attention of Acuff-Rose Publishing. Wesley Rose hired him to promote discs issued on Hickory Records, the label affiliated with Acuff-Rose.

In 1965, the company’s big pop act The Newbeats recorded Kennedy’s co-written song “Mean Woolly Willie.” Gene Kennedy also recorded for Hickory in those days.

After becoming head of national promotion for Hickory, Kennedy was hired by Owen Bradley to assume the same position at Decca Records. There, he promoted the releases of such stars as Jack Greene, Jeannie Seely, Bill Anderson, Jeanne Pruett, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Brenda Lee, Crystal Gayle, Cal Smith and Ernest Tubb.

In 1974, country star Bobby Lewis charted with Kennedy’s song “Lady Lover.” Lewis also recorded the songwriter’s “Your Love,” as did Jerry Wallace.

Following brief stints at the 4-Star and Ace of Hearts labels, Gene Kennedy formed his own record-promotion company in 1975. His first client was Loretta Lynn, who was then introducing “The Pill,” “When the Tingle Becomes a Chill” and “Somebody Somewhere.”

Gene Kennedy created Door Knob Records in 1976, and he produced most of its artists. Based in Mount Juliet, his company also encompassed three song-publishing firms, record promotion and artist management.

In addition to its own products, Door Knob distributed such imprints as Gold Spin, Horse Shoe, Silver Star, Tug Boat, Swanee and Tapestry. Among the artists on Tapestry was ‘60s pop star Bobby Vinton. Future Country Music Hall of Fame member Bill Anderson was on Swanee.

After founding Door Knob, Kennedy continued to contribute as a songwriter. The label’s Big Al Downing, Peggy Sue and Mark Brine recorded his co-written songs. Other notables on the roster included Rusty “Koko the Clown” Adams, Kent Westberry, Bo Harrison, Buford Pusser, Don Sepulveda, Billy Wilcox and Tim Tesch.

Door Knob hosted its own autograph booth at the annual Fan Fair celebrations throughout the 1980s and 1990s. It began to wind down around 2010 and filed for a reorganization bankruptcy in 2011.

Gene Kennedy was a founder and lifetime member of R.O.P.E. (Reunion of Professional Entertainers). The organization honored him with its Business award in 2006 and its Media award in 2014.

He was selected for the second annual Leadership Music group and graduated from the program in the class of 1991.

Gene Kennedy is survived by his wife, Karen. Also surviving are his children: Daryl Jean Chansuthus of Jackson, TN; Debra Gail Kennedy, Cathy Denise Velasquez, Victoria Kennedy, all of Nashville; and Kenneth Kennedy of LaVista, NE; plus a sister, seven grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

The visitation for Gene Kennedy will be at noon today (April 5) at Hermitage United Methodist Church (205 Belinda Dr., Hermitage, TN 37076). The funeral service will begin at 2 PM.

Average Joes’ New Artist, Tommy Chayne, Passes Away

Tommy Chayne

Average Joes Entertainment’s newly added recording artist, Tommy Chayne, died on Monday (March 22). He was 32.

Chayne’s most recent song and video, “Captain America,” was released just days before his passing, on Friday, March 19.

Born Thomas Alan Herring, he grew up in Citronelle, Alabama. During his time at Average Joes he celebrated several milestones, including having over 1 million streams worldwide. In his free time he enjoyed being around his family and friends listening to music or watching Alabama football.

Funeral services for Chayne will be held Friday, March 26 in Citronelle.

Iconic Music Industry Leader Connie Bradley Dies

Connie Bradley

Iconic industry leader Connie Bradley, who spent more than three decades with ASCAP, passed away Wednesday morning (March 24) in Ft. Meyers, Florida.

Bradley joined ASCAP in 1976, and rose to Senior Vice President and Nashville Head. Under her leadership, ASCAP signed and supported the careers of Kenny Chesney, Dierks Bentley, Garth Brooks, Rodney Crowell, Billy Currington, Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Rascal Flatts, John Rich, George Strait and Chris Young, among many. She led the ASCAP Nashville office until 2010, when she stepped back to take the role of strategic advisor.

Bradley was born Connie Darnell in Fayetteville, Tennessee on October 1, 1945. She grew up in Shelbyville, Tennessee, studied at Middle Tennessee State University, and worked at News Channel 5 and in the mortgage industry before starting her career in the music industry. She spent time at Famous Music/Dot Records, the Bill Hudson & Associates public relations firm, and RCA Records before joining ASCAP.

Bradley was among a handful of pioneering women in the Nashville music industry that also included Jo Walker-Meador, Donna Hilley, Frances Preston, and more.

Connie Bradley with husband Jerry Bradley at his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2019. Photo: Donn Jones/CMA

The Music Row stalwart was honored many times for her legacy and contributions to the music industry. Bradley was awarded the Nashville Symphony’s highest honor, the Harmony Award, in 2006. She was inducted into the SOURCE Hall of Fame in 2012.

The main conference room at ASCAP’s Nashville office was named the Connie Bradley Board Room in 2010.

She received the Country Music Association’s Irving Waugh Award of Excellence in 2018. Bradley served on the CMA Board of Directors from 1983 to 2012, having been elected both President and Chairperson.

(L-R) Connie and Jerry Bradley with Harold and Patsy Bradley at the Owen Bradley statue on Music Row. Photo: Courtesy of Jerry Bradley

Bradley is survived by her husband, renowned music executive Jerry Bradley, and step-children, Leigh Jankiv and BMI’s Clay Bradley.

Plans for memorial services have not been announced at this time.

“As head of ASCAP’s Nashville office for more than three decades, Connie Bradley was a mentor to so many of country music’s greatest songwriters and an indelible part of ASCAP’s history. She was a maverick leader in country music with an enormous heart who passionately advocated for the songwriters she loved so much. ASCAP and country music lost an iconic leader today. Our hearts go out to her family and the large community of songwriters who loved her,” says ASCAP Chairman and President, and songwriter Paul Williams of Bradley’s passing.

“I am so saddened to hear the news of Connie’s passing. She was one of the many trailblazers, along with Frances Preston and Jo Walker Meador, for women in the Nashville music business. Her passion for artists, songs and the Country Music industry as a whole paved the way for so many. Personally, I will miss her class, her stories and her humor. I am heartbroken for Jerry, and offer my deepest condolences to him and their family during this time,” says Sarah Trahern, Country Music Association CEO.

The Station Inn’s JT Gray Passes

JT Gray. Photo: Courtesy The Station Inn

Earl “JT” Gray, the owner of Nashville’s world famous bluegrass mecca The Station Inn, died on Saturday (March 20) at age 75.

He was a 2020 inductee into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.

On March 14, Gray appeared on international television during the Grammy Awards salute to America’s independent nightclubs. He always described The Station Inn as “a listening room.” The venue was a destination for lovers of acoustic music and hosted virtually all the top names in bluegrass for more than 40 years.

Gray was a guitarist and singer who was born in Corinth, Mississippi. He moved to Music City in 1971 to become a member of the Nashville-based bluegrass band The Misty Mountain Boys. The group played at venues throughout the city, including The Bluegrass Inn and Old Time Picking Parlor downtown and the Opryland theme park.

In 1976, he formed his own band, J.T. Gray & The Nashville Skyline. He took a hiatus from the group to become a member of Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys in 1979-81, then resumed leading Skyline. At various times, he also backed Vassar Clements, The Sullivan Family and Tom T. Hall.

He left Martin’s group to acquire The Station Inn in early 1981. Founded in 1974, the club was originally at 104 28th Ave. N., near Vanderbilt. In 1978, it moved to 402 12th Ave. S., in a then nearly deserted industrial area called The Gulch. It has remained there, now surrounded by modern condos, upscale retail establishments and fancy restaurants.

Gray renovated the club, which included installing some seats from the Flatt & Scruggs tour bus and decorating its wood-paneled walls with vintage posters. At first, he featured his Nashville Skyline band and other local acts. The Bluegrass Cardinals were the first national bluegrass stars to play the venue, followed the next day by Country Gazette. The humble, 150-seat club was soon full of bluegrass lovers.

The then-unknown family group The Whites began building a following via regular appearances at The Station Inn in 1981-82. The Nashville Bluegrass Band and The Dreadful Snakes got their starts at the nightclub. The venue was also a training ground for future country stars Dierks Bentley, Alison Krauss, Chris Stapleton and Vince Gill.

Bill Monroe began dropping by unannounced to sit in with whoever was on stage. Ralph Stanley became a visitor, too. At one point, Stanley was joined at the club by his former band members Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley for an impromptu reunion. Such serendipitous events became common at The Station Inn. Among other notables known to drop in to “jam” were Bela Fleck, Stuart Duncan, Mark O’Connor, Alan O’Bryant, Roland White, Tim O’Brien, Sam Bush, Vassar Clements and Jerry Douglas. The club’s weekly Sunday night jam sessions were famous. Opry stars often dropped by following their Friday and Saturday night WSM broadcasts.

The Station Inn had a number of regular performers. Gray formed his band 16th Avenue in 1985, then assumed leadership of The JT Gray Band in 1988. That group endured as Station Inn mainstays until his passing. Peter Rowan & Crucial Country were resident Station Inn entertainers, as was the Sidemen group formed by Rob & Ronnie McCoury, which appeared at the club for 16 years. The Time Jumpers were weekly visitors at the venue for 13 years beginning in 1998 before outgrowing its capacity. The hilarious Doyle & Debbie country parody shows were also fixtures at The Station Inn. Jim Rooney staged his annual birthday celebrations there with John Prine. The old-time country band Old Crow Medicine Show was also a resident attraction.

But keeping the little club afloat was a constant challenge in the early years. Gray sometimes took work as a coach-bus driver for various touring music stars and did other “outside” jobs.

By 2000, the nightclub had become known worldwide as a bluegrass shrine. It was used for photo shoots and as a location for music videos. It was the site of live albums by singer-songwriter Shawn Camp and Grand Ole Opry comic/musician Mike Snider. Celebrities who visited the venue included Robert Duvall, Reese Witherspoon, William Shatner, Mel Gibson and Peyton Manning.

In 2003, JT Gray was given a Distinguished Achievement Award by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). Filmmaker Pat Isbey created a feature-length documentary in 2004 called The Station Inn – True Life Bluegrass with commentary by Roland White, Del McCoury, Fleck, Bush, Skaggs, Krauss and Stanley.

Gray began to face health challenges around this time. He had a series of heart-bypass operations while still in his 50s. Nevertheless, in 2005 he issued his first and only album, It’s About Time.

In recent years, the nightspot has launched a web channel—Station Inn TV—to live stream performances. Thousands of fans worldwide have tuned in.

The Country Music Hall of Fame opened a new exhibit devoted to The Station Inn this year. During the Grammy telecast, Gray announced the Best Country Album award going to Miranda Lambert. This year’s Bluegrass Grammy went to Station Inn graduate Billy Strings.

Throughout his life, JT Gray was a kind soul, a Southern gentleman and a generous spirit. He created a warm, welcoming environment for acoustic musicians and their fans, a venue where connections were made, collaborations were born, songs were auditioned and talent was nurtured.

Funeral arrangements are private, for the family. A Station Inn celebration of the life of JT Gray will be announced at a later date.

Nashville Rock Innovator Robb Earls Passes

Robert Earls

Robb Earls, one of the founding figures of Nashville’s new-wave rock scene of the 1980s, has died at age 69.

A vocalist, songwriter and synthesizer performer, Earls led the acclaimed techno-pop bands Factual, Warm Dark Pocket, Big Bong Theory and This Midnight Stream. He was also active as a producer/engineer for David Olney, Lambchop, Webb Wilder and many others.

Born Robert W. Earls Jr., the pop/rock pioneer was a Nashville native who came of age musically at the nightclub Phranks ‘N’ Steins (1909 West End Avenue, the basement of where the St. Mary’s Bookstore is today). During the venue’s heyday in 1979-80, the punk, new-wave and techno-pop scenes in Music City were born. Early Nashville modern-rock acts during this era included Cloverbottom, File 13, The Ratz and Committee for Public Safety.

After a brief stint in the group Actuel, Robb Earls formed Factual in early 1981 with drummer Bone Brown, bassist Johnny Hollywood and guitarist Skot Nelson. Unlike most studio synth acts, Factual was equally potent as a live band.

The group swiftly grew from being a Nashville club attraction to a touring as a popular phenomenon in Atlanta, Louisville, Chapel Hill, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Indianapolis, Athens, Raleigh, Memphis, Birmingham and Chicago. It eventually scored a showcase at the famed Danceteria in New York City.

Factual made its disc debut with tracks on the local-rock compilations Never In Nashville (1981) and The London Side of Nashville (1982). In the summer of 1982, it issued its debut single “Think to the Beat” / “Your Way” on red vinyl. Reviewers favorably compared the band to Joy Division, Ultravox and Human League. The sound was catchy and highly danceable, yet shot through with socially conscious lyrics.

In 1983 came a blue-vinyl, four-song, mini-LP, which was also favorably reviewed. Factual headlined that fall at the Nashville Music Association’s multi-act extravaganza at Municipal Auditorium called Entertainment Expo.

Robb Earls next formed Warm Dark Pocket with vocalist and synth player Marilyn Blair. The act issued a four-song, techno-pop mini-LP in 1986. Following that, Big Bong Theory was his experiment in psychedelic rock.

Since the 1990s, Robb Earls had been working as the Sound Vortex studio owner, as well as an engineer and producer. In addition to Olney, Wilder and Lambchop, he worked with DeGarmo & Key, Bonepony, Tom House, Doug Hoekstra, Jet Black Factory, Clockhammer, Paul K., Silvain Vanot, Tom Ovans, Dessau and more, including a number of European artists.

While working on a solo project, Earls discovered the work of Nashville rock songwriter Carole Edwards. The two formed This Midnight Stream and issued a full-length, dance-pop CD titled Cinematic in 2001. He was a strong advocate of the Nashville independent-music community by then and remained so thereafter.

Robb Earls died on March 11. He is survived by children Emily and Edwin, sister Karallyn Earls Streit and six cousins. A Celebration of Life will be held at a future date. Condolences may be offered online here.

GrassRoots Promotion’s Scott Whitehead Passes

Scott Whitehead, business manager for Nashville-based GrassRoots Promotion and FanTheJam.com, passed away suddenly on March 12.

Whitehead and GrassRoots’ Managing Partner/co-owner Nancy Tunick recently celebrated their 29th wedding anniversary. Whitehead was also a musician, songwriter (formerly signed to Acuff-Rose), producer, manager, and a former member of the country duo Hometown News, which scored two charting singles, “Minivan” and “Wheels,” on VFR Records in 2002. Prior to his music career, Whitehead served for eight years in the U.S. Navy flying the F/A-18 Hornet, including missions over Iraq. He is a graduate of the Naval Fighter Weapons School (Top Gun).

In addition to Tunick, survivors include the couple’s two teenage children, an adult son from a previous marriage, three grandchildren and Whitehead’s parents. No immediate funeral services are planned. The family hopes to host a celebration of his life in the summer or fall.

 

Carman, CCM Trailblazer and GMA Hall of Fame Member, Dies

GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame member Carman passed away Feb. 16, 2021 in Las Vegas following complications from surgery on a hiatal hernia. He was 65.

Born Carman Dominic Licciardello in Trenton, New Jersey, Carman began his career playing drums in his mother’s band at 15. He holds the world record for having the largest audience at a solo Christian artist concert, set the record for the largest concert at Texas Stadium with more than 71,000 fans, and led more than 80,000 fans in worship in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In 1985, he released his first No. 1 song, “The Champion,” and began solidifying his place in music history and defining his career as one of endurance, grit, dedication, and pure talent. Among his many awards, Carman received the House of Hope of Humanitarian Award for his positive influence in the lives of American youth in 2006. Other noted recipients of the award include Ronald & Nancy Reagan and Billy Graham. He was inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2018.

Billboard named Carman Contemporary Christian Artist of the Year in 1992 and 1995, and in 1993, his album, Addicted to Jesus, earned the distinction of Contemporary Christian Album of the Year. Carman was nominated for Grammys multiple times as the Best Pop Contemporary Gospel Artist, and his album, A Long Time Ago in a Land Called Bethlehem, was nominated for Album of the Year by the Recording Academy in 1986.

Those close to Carman know that he counted only this as his greatest lifetime achievement—winning millions of souls to Christ.

“When Carman resumed touring again a few years ago, he was concerned that no one would care that he was back,” said Matt Felts, Carman’s manager. “He was wrong. Every night fans packed out venues and his ministry was as powerful as it ever was. This world has lost a light in the darkness but today Carman saw firsthand the fruit of his labors.”

At the time of his death, Carman was planning to embark on a 60-city tour later this month.

Memorial service details have not yet been announced.

Producer, Engineer Brian Tankersley Passes

Brian Tankersley. Photo: Courtesy Tankersley Family

Grammy-winning producer and engineer Brian Tankersley passed away on Feb. 5, after having fallen sick with an illness in January.

Among his numerous credits are projects by artists including Brooks & Dunn, Israel Houghton, Sawyer Brown, NewSong, Trick Pony, Charlotte Church and Shania Twain.

Gordon Brian Tankersley was born in 1956 in Houston, Texas, and would later pioneer the worship facilities and studios at Lakewood Church in hometown. Loved ones say he was strong Christian, and an encourager who “believed in possibilities more than limits.”

Brian Tankersley. Photo: Courtesy Tankersley Family

Tankersley is survived by widow Suzanne; daughters Amanda, Shelby, and Ashley, and their mother Joan; and many others.

The family is planning a celebration of life, but details have not been finalized. Visit thememorytank.com for more information. Friends can also send remembrances to [email protected].

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to International Medical Outreach or IC13 Ministry.

Sideman, Songwriter, Producer Richie Albright Passes

Richie Albright. Photo: Courtesy Country Music Hall of Fame

Influential drummer Richie Albright, best known as the founder of Waylon Jennings’ band The Waylors, died at age 81 on Tuesday (Feb. 9).

The Arizona native teamed up with Jennings in Phoenix nightclubs in 1964. They came to Nashville together in 1966, and Albright became the superstar’s producer on such hits as 1980’s million-selling “Theme From The Dukes of Hazzard (Good Ol’ Boys).”

He was known as the “right arm” of Country Music Hall of Fame member Waylon Jennings (1937-2002). In addition to appearing on many million-selling Jennings LPs, Albright co-wrote the Jennings/Hank Williams Jr. duet hit “The Conversation” of 1983.

His career spanned more than 50 years and included backing such stars as Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, Tompall Glaser, Johnny Cash, Tony Joe White, David Lynn Jones, Johnny Rodriguez and Billy Joe Shaver, as well as Jennings and Williams.

He also produced records for Williams, Colter and Shaver.

In 2019, Richie Albright was featured in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s “Nashville Cats” series.

He was responsible for the pounding “drive” in the Outlaw Sound of Jennings. Albright brought a rock edge to country music that has influenced the genre’s drummers ever since the 1970s.

“I have marveled at this man’s musicianship since I was a boy,” posted Jeff Stevens on Facebook. “He was at the heart of Waylon Jennings’ sound. His music will live forever as some of the best country music ever made. Godspeed Richie Albright.”

Albright is survived by his wife, Linda, his sons, Brian and Trey, his daughter, Richel, and his brother, Jerry. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.