Warner Exec, Hit Songwriter Eddie Reeves Passes

Eddie Reeves

Longtime Warner Bros. Records Nashville executive Eddie Reeves died on Sunday, Nov. 18, in Texas.

Reeves, 79, had a varied music business career, having worked in song publishing, as a recording artist and in personal management prior to his record label leadership. He was also a hit songwriter.

He was a native of Amarillo, Texas, who began playing guitar and writing songs as a high school student. He attended the University of Texas in Austin. Reeves formed a band there called The Nighthawks, and it recorded two singles for the Dot subsidiary Hamilton Records.

In 1964, Reeves went to New York to be the representative of Norman Petty Productions. While on the East Coast, he was hired as a song plugger, recording artist and songwriter by United Artists. Most of his career over the next two decades took place in L.A.

In 1968, he joined UA’s Los Angeles office. During his subsequent tenure with the publishing company, he worked with such singer-songwriters as Billy Edd Wheeler, Andy Kim and Mac Davis. His own songwriting career took off around this same time. His co-written “Rings” was initially a 1971 hit for pop’s Cymarron and country’s Tompall Glaser & The Glaser Brothers. The song was revived by Lobo in 1974. Reeves co-wrote “All I Ever Need Is You,” a pop hit for Sonny & Cher in 1971 and revived as a country duet by Kenny Rogers & Dottie West in 1979. He also co-wrote the Ray Charles 1971 hit “Don’t Change On Me.”

In 1974, Reeves was hired as a West Coast vice president at Chappell Music. While with that firm, he signed a then-unknown Jim Ed Norman, among many other singer-songwriters.

He launched his own music publishing company, Quixotic Music, around 1977. His sideline business, Eddie Reeves Music, managed such pop stars as Kim Carnes and Jules Shear.

After a hiatus from the industry, Eddie Reeves moved to Nashville. Jim Ed Norman was now the head of the Warner Bros. Records Nashville division. He named Reeves as General Manager of the Warner-Nashville office in 1984.

Eddie Reeves became a Warner vice president in 1989 and an executive vice president in 1999, when he retired. He became a board member of the CMA and was a 1991 graduate of Leadership Music.

Following his retirement, he moved back to Texas. He died in Houston after a brief illness. Eddie Reeves is survived by his wife Lena, and three children. Arrangements are pending.

Services Set For CCM Star Kenny Marks

A Celebration of Life service for singer-songwriter Kenny Marks is scheduled for Saturday (Nov. 17); the CCM star passed away on Oct. 31 of a heart attack at age 67.

He was a Christian rocker, somewhat in the blue-collar mode of his fellow Michigan native Bob Seger. Kenny Marks was billed as “contemporary Christian music’s leading American roots-rock artist.”

A pioneer of the CCM genre, his best-known songs include “Right Where You Are,” “Soul Reviver,” “Make It Right,” “Friends,” ‘Nobody Else But Jesus” and “The Party’s Over.”
He was notable as his genre’s overseas ambassador. Kenny Marks took CCM sounds to seven continents. He had followers in Norway, Germany, England, Holland, New Zealand, Denmark, West Africa, Australia, Belgium, East Asia and Ireland.

Kenny Marks was the son of Yugoslav immigrants. Raised in Detroit, he initially came to attention in the Billy Graham organization during the 1970s. He subsequently recorded for the Word/Myrrh/Dayspring label group in Nashville.

His debut LP, Follow Him, appeared in 1982. His breakthrough occurred via 1984’s Right Where You Are. It yielded seven top-10 CCM hits, including its chart-topping title tune. In 1985, his album Attitude contained three more top-10 successes, including the No. 1 smash “Soul Reviver.”

The title tune of his LP Make It Right was the No. 1 Christian radio hit of 1987. The video for the album’s “The Party’s Over” was nominated for a Dove Award by the Gospel Music Association.

“The Party’s Over” lyric was addressed to young people and urged sexual abstinence prior to marriage. Other teen-oriented Marks messages occurred in such songs as “Growing Up Too Fast,” “Next Time You See Johnny,” “Say a Prayer for Me Tonight,” “Graduation Day” and “White Dress.”

His biggest CCM rock hit was “Nobody Else But Jesus.” It appeared on his 1990 album Another Friday Night. That collection also contained the No. 1 hit “I’ll Be a Friend to You,” whose video was another Dove nominee.

In 1992, he issued Fire of Forgiveness. Its “Turn My World Around” became the first Christian-music video to be filmed in the Soviet Union. His Kim Hill duet on the collection, “Like a Father Should Be,” was marketed as a Father’s Day ode.

The Kenny Marks hits-compilation CD Absolutely Positively was issued in 1994. The title tune of 1995’s World Gone Mad was another youth-oriented composition. The album featured contributions from members of Survivor and John Cougar Mellencamp’s band.

Later in the 1990s, Kenny Marks was a host on cable TV’s Shop-At-Home channel.

Marks is survived by children Allegra Crowder, Sebastian Marks and Shelby Nundahl; by sisters Karen Mrakovich and Kathleen German and by several nieces and nephews.

His Celebration of Life service will begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17, at The Village Chapel. The chapel is located at 2021 21st Avenue South. All are welcome. To send condolences or to sign the guest book, go to crawfordservices.com.

The service will be streamed online. To view the live stream, visit livestream.com. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Gospel Music Trust Fund or to the American Heart Association.

Breaking: Roy Clark Dies At 85

Roy Clark

Roy Clark, the legendary ‘superpicker’, GRAMMY, CMA and ACM award winner, Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Ole Opry member and co-host of the famed ‘Hee Haw’ television series, died Thursday (Nov. 15) at the age of 85 due to complications from pneumonia at home in Tulsa, Okla.

Roy Clark’s decade-defying success could be summed up in one word — sincerity. Sure, he was one of the world’s finest multi-instrumentalists, and one of the first cross-over artists to land singles on both the pop and country charts. He was the pioneer who turned Branson, Mo., into the live music capitol of the world (the Ozark town today boasts more seats than Broadway). And his talents turned Hee Haw into the longest-running syndicated show in television history.

But the bottom line for Roy Clark was the honest warmth he gave to his audiences. Bob Hope summed it up when he told Roy, “Your face is like a fireplace.”

“A TV camera goes right through your soul,” says the man who starred on Hee Haw for 24 years and was a frequent guest host for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. “If you’re a bad person, people pick that up. I’m a firm believer in smiles. I used to believe that everything had to be a belly laugh. But I’ve come to realize that a real sincere smile is mighty powerful.”

For a man who didn’t taste major success until he was 30, the key was not some grand plan but rather taking everything in its own time. “Sure,” he said, “I had dreams of being a star when I was 18. I could’ve pushed it too, but it wouldn’t have happened any sooner. I’m lucky. What’s happened has happened in spite of me.”

In fact, that’s what Clark titled his autobiography, My Life — In Spite of Myself! with Marc Elliot (Simon & Shuster, 1994). The book reminded many that there is much more to Roy Clark than fast fingers and a quick wit.

That he was raised in Washington, D.C., often surprises people. Born Roy Linwood Clark on April 15, 1933 in Meherrin, Virginia, his family moved to D.C. when he was a youngster. His father played in a square dance band and took him to free concerts by the National Symphony and by various military bands. “I was subjected to different kinds of music before I ever played. Dad said, ‘Never turn your ear off to music until your heart hears it–because then you might hear something you like.'”

Beginning on banjo and mandolin, he was one of those people “born with the music already in them.” His first guitar, a Sears Silvertone, came as a Christmas present when he was 14. That same year, 1947, he made his first TV appearance. He was 15 when he earned $2 for his first paid performance, with his dad’s band. In the fertile, diverse musical soil of cosmopolitan D.C., he began playing bars and dives on Friday and Saturday nights until he was playing every night and skipping school–eventually dropping out at 15. “Music was my salvation, the thing I loved most and did best. Whatever was fun, I’d go do that.”

The guitar wizard soon went on tour with country legends such as Hank Williams and Grandpa Jones. After winning a national banjo competition in 1950, he was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, which led to shows with Red Foley and Ernest Tubb. Yet he’d always return to D.C. to play not only country but jazz, pop, and early rock’n’roll (he’s prominently featured in the recent book Capitol Rock); to play with black groups and white groups; to play fast, to even play guitar with his feet. In 1954, he joined Jimmy Dean and the Texas Wildcats, appearing in clubs and on radio and TV, and even backing up Elvis Presley.

But in 1960, he was 27 and still scrambling. An invitation to open for Wanda Jackson at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas proved to be his big break. It led to his own tour, on the road for 345 straight nights at one stretch, and when he returned to Vegas in 1962, he came back as a headliner and recording star, with his debut album The Lightning Fingers Of Roy Clark. The next year, he had his first hit, The Tips Of My Fingers, a country song that featured an orchestra and string section. “We didn’t call it crossover then but I guess that’s what it was,” he says. “We didn’t aim for that, because if you aim for both sides you miss them both. But we just wanted to be believable.”

He was–on record and on TV, where his first appearances in 1963 on ‘The Tonight Show’ and ‘American Bandstand’ showcased his easygoing attitude and rural sense of humor. “Humor is a blessing to me. My earliest recollections are of looking at something and seeing the lighter side. But it’s always spontaneous. I couldn’t write a comedy skit for someone else.”

Throughout the ’60s, Clark recorded several albums, toured constantly, and appeared on TV variety shows from Carson to Mike Douglas to Flip Wilson. “I was the token bumpkin. It became, ‘Let’s get that Clark guy. He’s easy to get along with.'” Then came ‘Hee Haw.’ A countrified ‘Laugh-In’ with music, shot in Nashville, ‘Hee Haw’ premiered in 1969. Co-starring Clark and Buck Owens, it was an immediate hit. Though CBS canceled the show after two-and-a-half years, despite ranking in the Top 20, the series segued into syndication, where it remained until 1992. “I long ago realized it was not a figure of speech when people come up to me and say they grew up watching me since they were ‘that big’.”

A generation or two has also grown up listening to him. In 1969, Yesterday, When I Was Young charted Top 20 Pop and #9 Country (Billboard). Including Yesterday, Clark has had 23 Top 40 country hits, among them eight Top 10s: The Tips Of My Fingers (#10, 1963), I Never Picked Cotton (#5) and Thank God And Greyhound You’re Gone (#6, 1970), The Lawrence Welk-Hee Haw Counter Revolution Polka (#9, 1972), Come Live With Me (#1) and Somewhere Between Love And Tomorrow (#2, 1973), and If I Had It To Do All Over Again (#2, 1976). In addition, his 12-string guitar rendition of Malaguena is considered a classic and, in 1982, he won a Grammy (Best Country Instrumental Performance) for Alabama Jubilee.

A consummate musician, no matter the genre, he co-starred with Petula Clark at Caesar’s Palace, became the first country artist to headline at the Montreux International Jazz Festival and appeared in London on ‘The Tom Jones Show.’ Clark was amazed when guitarists from England credited his BBC specials and performances on variety TV shows with the likes of the Jackson 5 for inspiring them to play. But the highlight of his career, he said, was a pioneering, sold-out 1976 tour of the then-Soviet Union. “Even though they didn’t know the words, there were tears in their eyes when I played Yesterday. Folks there said we wouldn’t realize in our lifetime the good we’d accomplished, just because of our pickin’ around.”

When he returned in 1988 to now-Russia, Clark was hailed as a hero. Though he’d never bought a joke and doesn’t read music, the self-described, and proud of it, “hillbilly singer” was that rare entertainer with popularity worthy of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and respect worthy of the Academy of Country Music’s Pioneer Award and membership in the Gibson (Guitar) Hall of Fame; an entertainer who could star in Las Vegas (the first country artist inducted into its Entertainers Hall of Fame), in Nashville (becoming the 63rd member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1987), and at Carnegie Hall. Roy was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

Roy’s many good deeds on behalf of his fellow man led to him receiving the 1999 Minnie Pearl Humanitarian of the Year Award from TNN’s Music City News Awards. In October, 2000, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, and he was actively involved with school children who attend the Roy Clark Elementary School in Tulsa, Okla.

From his home in Tulsa, where he moved in 1974 with Barbara, his wife of 61 years, Clark continued to tour extensively. For him — and for his legion of loyal fans — live performance was what it was all about. “Soon as you hit the edge of the stage and see people smiling and know they’re there to hear you, it’s time to have fun. I keep a band of great young people around me, and we’re not musically restrained. It’s not about ‘let’s do it correct’ but ‘let’s do it right.’”

At the end of each of Roy’s concerts, he would tell the audience, “We had to come, but you had a choice. Thanks for being here.” With responding smiles, audiences continued to thank Roy for being there, too.

Roy is preceded in death by his beloved grandson Elijah Clark who passed at the age of fourteen on September 24, 2018. Roy is survived by Barbara, his wife of sixty-one years, his sons Roy Clark II and wife Karen, Dr. Michael Meyer and wife Robin, Terry Lee Meyer, Susan Mosier and Diane Stewart, and his grandchildren: Brittany Meyer, Michael Meyer, Caleb Clark, Josiah Clark and his sister, Susan Coryell.

A memorial celebration will be held in the coming days in Tulsa, Okla., details forthcoming.

Dave & Sugar Lead Singer Dave Rowland Dies At 74

Dave Rowland
, the founder and lead singer of country group Dave & Sugar, died Nov. 1 in Nashville, following complications from a stroke. He was 74.

Prior to forming Dave & Sugar, Rowland toured with Elvis Presley as part of the J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet, and later with the Four Guys. He also toured as part of Charley Pride’s road show.

By 1975, with Pride looking for a backup band, Rowland hired Jackie Frantz and Vicki Hackeman, and Dave & Sugar was formed.

After signing on with Pride’s management team, Dave & Sugar signed with RCA Records and recorded their first album. The trio’s first single, “Queen of the Silver Dollar,” penned by Shel Silverstein, reached the Top 25 on the country singles chart in 1976. The group’s second single, “The Door Is Always Open,” went to No. 1.

The group would earn approximately a dozen Top 10 singles, as well as two additional No. 1 hits, 1978’s “Tear Time,” and 1979’s “Golden Tears.”

Rowland disbanded the trio briefly during the early 1980s to try a solo career, releasing the album Sugar Free and charting two singles of his own. He toured with Conway Twitty, Waylon Jennings, Barbara Mandrell and Hank Williams, Jr. He spent two years as Kenny Rogers’ opening act.

Rowland later reformed the trio with two new sets of “Sugar” partners.

Rowland is survived by his wife Terri Rowland, mother Ruby Rowland and sister Donna Fort and her husband Bob of Palm Desert, California, sister-in-law Angie Billis of Nashville, Tennessee, niece Vicki Martinka and husband John in Pennsylvania, and nephew Bobby Fowler and wife Belen and their two children in Argentina.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations in the name of Dave Rowland be sent to the Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2014, Rowland was honored by the Music City Tennis Invitational in recognition of four decades of event participation with proceeds to benefit the hospital.

Arrangements are pending for a celebration of life service.

Gospel Executive John T. Benson III Dies

John T. Benson III

By Robert K. Oermann

Visitation and services for Gospel Music Hall of Fame member John T. Benson III will be held today, Nov. 2.

He died on Wednesday, Oct. 28, at age 90. The executive was the former president of the John T. Benson Publishing Company and a longtime leader of the Gospel Music Association. At various times, he served as the GMA’s president, secretary and board member.

The Benson Company is Nashville’s oldest permanent music business. It was founded in 1902 by the deceased’s grandfather, John T. Benson. Following the death of the firm’s founder, John T. Benson Jr., took over the company in 1931.

Between 1948 and 1951, the company’s revenues increased tenfold. This was also the era when John III entered the family business. He initially worked in its commercial-printing division.

John III’s brother, Robert, joined the gospel company in 1960. He added recording to the firm’s publishing business. By 1965, The Benson Company was grossing $500,000 a year.

In 1969, John III joined the gospel firm. This coincided with a period of even more growth for the business.

As a publishing firm, the company already had songs recorded by nearly every Southern Gospel act. Its catalog includes thousands of copyrights, many of them standards in the field. “He’s Coming Back,” “He Looked Beyond My Faults,” “I Go to the Rock,” “If That Isn’t Love” and “Somebody Prayed for Me” are just a few representative titles.

Its record labels — HeartWarming, Benson, Greentree, RiverSong and other imprints — had been specializing in Southern Gospel sounds since 1960. Affiliated artists included The Speer Family, J.D. Sumner & The Stamps, The Singing Rambos, The Oak Ridge Boys, The Lewis Family, The Hemphills and The Imperials.

John III’s arrival occurred just as the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement exploded in the 1970s and 1980s. To Benson’s publishing division, he signed the early works of such top CCM composers as Michael W. Smith, Gary Chapman, Brown Bannister and Gary McSpadden.

The recording division kept pace, too. Benson-affiliated labels’ big acts in the new genre included DeGarmo & Key, Sandi Patty, dc talk, Yolanda Adams, Larnelle Harris, Bob Carlisle, Dallas Holm and Carman. It also marketed the records of The Bill Gaither Trio, Gold City, 4Him, The Archers, The Cathedrals and The Kingsmen Quartet, among many others.

In 1976, The Benson Company moved into a Metro Center building that was then the biggest music headquarters in Nashville and boasted the city’s largest recording studio.

John III rose from a vice presidency to becoming president of the firm. Brother Robert died in 1984.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the company changed hands via acquisitions by Paragon, Zondervan, Harper Collins, the Music Entertainment Group and the Zomba Music Group. Family control of the business ceased.

But the song-publishing arm of The Benson Company continued to thrive. By that time, it held more than 42,000 copyrights, including the catalogs of the defunct Stamps-Baxter Music and Singspiration Music.

In 2001, the record labels were folded, and Zomba merged Benson with Brentwood Music. Benson celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2002 by being named ASCAP’s Christian publishing company of the year.

Today, Brentwood-Benson specializes in printed choral, worship, Sunday school, choir, Christmas and church music arrangements. It is estimated that half of the people now working in Nashville’s CCM industry learned the business by working at Benson at one time or another.

John T. Benson III served as the president of the GMA in 1978-80, during which time the association established its now annual Gospel Music Week convention in Nashville. He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2006.

The executive is survived by his wife of 70 years, Jane Cartwright Benson. Also surviving are children Ann Benson Vincent, John Benson IV, Joe Benson and Tricia Benson, as well as three sisters, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be held from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. on Nov. 2 at Spring Hill Funeral Home and Cemetery, 5110 Gallatin Pike. It will be followed by a Life Celebration and Graveside service.

Country Great Freddie Hart Passes

Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Freddie Hart passed away in Burbank, California, on Saturday, Oct. 27, at age 91.

Hart is best known for his country mega hit “Easy Loving” of 1971. It was named Song of the year by both the ACM and the CMA in 1971, and it repeated the accolade a second time at the 1972 CMA Awards.

His songs were also recorded by Carl Smith, Porter Wagoner, Buck Owens, Patsy Cline, George Jones, Billy Walker, Waylon Jennings, Eddy Arnold, Loretta Lynn and dozens of other country stars. As a recording artist, his career stretched from the early 1950s into the present century.

He was born Frederick Segrest on Dec. 21, 1926, one of 15 children of Alabama sharecropper parents. When he was 5, an uncle fashioned the boy his first guitar out of cigar box and some wire. Hart ran away from home for the first time at age 7. His schooling ended with the second grade. By the time he was 12, he was so rebellious that his parents put him into the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Freddie Hart lied about his age and enlisted in the Marines at age 14. He was in combat during World War II at Guam and Iwo Jima. But he also entertained in servicemen’s clubs. After the war, he drifted from job to job, working as a cotton picker, sawmill worker, dishwasher, pipeline layer and nightclub bouncer.

He hitchhiked to Nashville in 1949 and met his idol, Hank Williams. Hank’s songwriting advice to the youngster was, “Set people to music.” Hart’s first taste of songwriting success came when George Morgan recorded his “Every Little Thing Rolled Into One” later that year.

He met Lefty Frizzell in 1950 and became the star’s opening act. Capitol Records signed Hart in 1952, but none of the ensuing singles charted. Hart remained with Frizzell until 1953. In that year, Freddie Hart joined the cast of the Los Angeles country TV show Town Hall Party. He appeared regularly on the program for the next three years.

Hart was a physical-fitness aficionado who earned a black belt in judo and taught self-defense classes during his early years on the West Coast. He reportedly even trained the Los Angeles Police Department.

He had his first hit as a songwriter when Carl Smith took his “Loose Talk” up the charts in 1955. The song has also been recorded by Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, Patsy Cline, Hank Locklin, Jean Shepard and more than 40 others. It became a hit a second time in 1961 via a duet version by Buck Owens and Rose Maddox.

As a singer, Freddie Hart began to make the charts on Columbia Records in 1959-61, initially by recording the Harlan Howard songs “The Wall,” “Chain Gang,” “The Key’s in the Mailbox” and “Lying Again.” He made his first appearances on the Grand Ole Opry during this period.

A stint at Monument Records in 1963-64 proved fruitless. He was absent from the country charts before reappearing on Kapp Records in 1965. He wrote his Kapp singles “Hank Williams’ Guitar” (1965) and “Togetherness” (1967). Following another “dry spell,” Hart re-signed with Capitol Records in 1970. He was also signed as a singer-songwriter by Buck Owens’s publishing and management companies around that time.

Lacking any top-10 hits as a recording artist, he steadily provided songs to others throughout the first two decades of his career. These included “Farther Than My Eyes Can See” for Frizzell (1959), “Blue” for The Louvin Brothers (1959), “Lovin’ in Vain” for Patsy Cline (1961), “My Tears Are Overdue” for George Jones (1965) and “If the Shoe Fits” for Waylon Jennings (1967).

“Willie the Weeper,” sung by Billy Walker (1962) and “Skid Row Joe” by Porter Wagoner (1966) were both top-10 hits written by Freddie Hart. Joe Simon made the soul-music charts with Hart’s “Too Many Teardrops” in 1966.

Other notable early Hart tunes included “Sing the Girls a Song, Bill” for Jennings “Who Done It” for Burl Ives and “It Takes One to Know One” for Jimmy Martin.

Hart’s evergreen “Drink Up and Go Home” was recorded by Mitchell Torok, Carl Perkins, Johnny Bond, Tex Ritter, Bobby Bare, The Wilburn Brothers and himself.

The singer-songwriter’s big breakthrough as a recording artist finally occurred with “Easy Loving.” Written and recorded by Hart, it became his first top-10 hit and first No. 1 hit in 1971. At age 44, he became a star.

“Easy Loving” garnered him two Grammy Award nominations. It earned a Gold Record, a BMI Two-Millionaire award and a Billboard honor as the No. 1 country single of the year. Hart swept the Academy of Country Music Awards for 1971, winning Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Album and Single as well as Song of the Year as a result of this song’s huge impact.

In 1972, he scored the biggest hit of his career with his self-penned “My Hang-Up Is You.” His next four Capitol singles also made No. 1 – “Bless Your Heart” (1972), “Got the All-Overs for You” (1972), “Super Kind of Woman” (1973, the only one he didn’t write) and “Trip to Heaven” (1973), Hart wrote and sang three more top-10 smashes, “If You Can’t Feel It,” “Hang In There Girl” and “The Want-To’s,” in 1973-74.

His toured extensively behind those hits. During his career, Hart appeared in every state in the union as well as in Germany, Holland, England, Thailand, China, Japan, France and Saudi Arabia.

In 1975, he turned to other songwriters for his next three top-10 hits – “My Woman’s Man,” “I’d Like to Sleep ‘Til I Get Over You” and “The First Time.” He wrote his final top-10 hit of 1975, “Warm Side of You.”

Freddie Hart’s songs also continued to be successful for others during this era. Buck Owens & Susan Raye turned “Togetherness” into a hit duet in 1970. Raye released Hart’s “Greatest Gift of All” as a solo in 1972. Charlie Rich issued Hart’s “I’m Not Going Hungry Anymore” in 1973 and revived “Too Many Teardrops” in 1974. Bobby “Blue” Bland turned Hart’s “If Fingerprints Showed Up on Skin” into an r&b song in 1975.

As a singer, Hart returned to the country hit parade with 1976’s “You Are the Song,” “She’ll Throw Stones at You” and “That Look in Her Eyes..” His co-written “Why Lovers Turn to Strangers” became a top-10 hit late in that year.

Freddie Hart’s last top-20 country hits were “Thank God She’s Mine” (1977), “The Pleasure’s Been All Mine” (1977) and “Sure Thing” (1980). He continued to make the charts regularly until 1988. By then, he had placed 48 titles on the country hit parade, earned 22 top-20 hits and scored six No. 1 singles.

Among his later songs, Hart’s co-written “While the Feeling’s Good” was particularly successful. It made the charts for Mike Lunsford in 1976, for Kenny Rogers in 1976 and for Tammy Wynette & Wayne Newton as a duet in 1989. It has also been recorded by B.J. Thomas (1981), Rex Allen Jr. (1976), J.J. Barnes (1999) and Vince Hill (2004), among others.

Leland Martin enlisted Hart to sing on their songwriting collaboration “Freddie’s Heart” in 2002. “Drink Up and Go Home” was revived by Jerry Garcia, Larry Cordle, Audie Blaylock, Sleepy LaBeef and Dave Evans.

While he was riding high, Freddie Hart established his Hartline trucking company, formed a song-publishing company, bought 40 acres of plum trees, acquired 200 breeding bulls and opened a chain of martial arts studios. He also founded a school for disabled children in California.

In the 1990s, he began issuing gospel albums and entertaining at Branson, Mo. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004. Hart is also a member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the Colorado Hall of Fame and the Idaho Hall of Fame.

His classic songs continued to be recorded by a new generation of stars in recent years. Among those who have revived Hart’s works are Carlene Carter, Lorrie Morgan, Raul Malo, The Gibson Brothers, John Prine, Jesse Winchester, The Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Deke Dickerson and Rosie Flores.

In addition to many brothers and sisters, Hart is survived by his wife of 61 years, Ginger and sons Freddie Jr., Andy, Joe and Victor. Funeral arrangements are pending.

“Swamp Fox” Tony Joe White Passes

By Robert K. Oermann

Internationally known Nashville singer-songwriter Tony Joe White has died at age 75.

Equally known as the recording artist behind classics such as “Polk Salad Annie” and as the songwriter of “Rainy Night in Georgia,” among other chestnuts, White was known as “The Swamp Fox.” His distinctive style drew equally on blues, country and rock traditions.

Tony Joe White was one of music’s great minimalists. He needed nothing more than his smoldering baritone voice and “whomper stomper” guitar to hypnotize an audience. His husky, growling voice, sinuous guitar leads and colloquial Southern manners mesmerized crowds in Europe as well as America.

Born in 1943, he was one of seven children raised on a cotton farm in Oak Grove, Lousiana. Inspired by a Lightnin’ Hopkins album, he began playing blues guitar at age 16. After his high school graduation, he played clubs in Louisiana and Texas as Tony & The Mojos, then Tony & The Twilights.

In 1968, he came to Nashville and auditioned for Bob Beckham at Combine Music. Within hours, the Music Row executive had him in the studio with producer Billy Swan for Monument Records.

White’s first few singles went unnoticed. Then the label got a cable from overseas requesting a rush shipment of Tony Joe White records, bios and photos. Radio stations in France were playing his disc “Soul Francisco.” Then stations in Belgium picked up the tune, and fans there began clamoring for White to appear in their discotheques. Radio stations in Germany, Spain, Japan and the Philippines started airing the single as well.

Once overseas fans got a load of his charismatic, brooding, sexual appeal his transformation into international music idol was complete. He continued to tour Europe regularly for the rest of his life.

Back in the states, Tony Joe White began promoting his single of “Polk Salad Annie” in the clubs around Corpus Christi, Texas. The record had been out for nine months, and Monument had written it off as a dud. But Texans began buying the single. Then a radio station in Los Angeles began broadcasting it.

“Polk Salad Annie” entered the U.S. charts in July 1969. By early fall, it was in the top-10 on the pop charts. White followed it with “Roosevelt and Ira Lee” and “Save Your Sugar for Me” in 1969-70. He toured with Steppenwolf, Sly & The Family Stone, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Eric Clapton and other big rock acts of the 1970s.

Despite his individualistic, tough-to-classify sound, superstars began lining up to record his tunes. Dusty Springfield (“Willie and Laura Mae Jones”), Elvis Presley (“I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby,” “For Ol’ Times Sake”), Brook Benton (“Rainy Night in Georgia”). Jason & The Scorchers (“Polk Salad Annie”), Ray Charles (“3/4 Time”) and Tina Turner (“Steamy Windows,” “Undercover Agent for the Blues”) are just a few of the major pop headliners who were drawn to Tony Joe White’s songs.

His “Out of the Rain” has been recorded by Etta James, Joe Cocker, Jefferson Starship and Elkie Brooks. “Rainy Night in Georgia” has been recorded by more than 100 artists, including The Crusaders, Johnny Rivers, Conway Twitty & Sam Moore, The Persuasions, Little Milton, Boots Randolph, Herbie Mann and Chuck Jackson.

Country artists were equally enthralled. White’s songs have also been covered by George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Reed, Hank Williams Jr., Charlie Rich, John Anderson, Tim McGraw, Emmylou Harris, Kenny Chesney, Willie Nelson and Jessi Colter, among others.

White recorded three LPs for Monument (1968-70), then three for Warner Bros. Records (1971-73) and one each on 20th Century (1976), Casablanca (1980) and Columbia (1983). All of them are considered collectible, since Tony Joe White attained the status of a true cult figure.

A stab at mainstream country success led to the self-penned charting singles “Mamas Don’t Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to Be Babies,” “The Lady in My Life” and “We Belong Together” in 1980-84. In 1986, he began marketing albums on his own Swamp Fox label.

Over the years, White acquired a reputation as a Deep South iconoclast and a brilliant eccentric who inspired passionate reviews and an underground following. He became the subject of the quirky, highly entertaining 1998 documentary film Searching for Tony Joe. He also appeared in the 1974 rock musical film Catch My Soul.

White resumed recording in the 1990s with such CDs as Closer to the Truth (1991), Lake Placid Blues (1995), Groupy Girl (1998), One Hot July (2000), Snakey (2002), Night of the Moccasin (2004), The Heroines (2004), Hard to Handle (2005), Uncovered (2006) and The Shine (2010). His most recent works have appeared on Yep Roc Records — Hoodoo (2013), Rain Crow (2016) and his blues album Bad Mouthin,’ which was released last month.

Tony Joe White was nominated for an Americana Music award in 2004. He made his Grand Ole Opry debut on Sept. 28, 2018.

He passed away suddenly on Wednesday afternoon (Oct. 24) at his home in Leipers Fork, Tennessee. He is survived by his wife LeAnn, by daughter Michelle, by sons Jody and Jim Bob and by several grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

LifeNotes: Alan Jackson’s Son-In-Law Ben Selecman Dies

Samuel Benton “Ben” Selecman, husband of Mattie Jackson Selecman and son-in-law of country artist Alan Jackson, died unexpectedly Wednesday, Sept. 12, in West Palm Beach, Florida. Selecman, a Nashville resident, had recently suffered severe traumatic head injuries in a fall. He was 28 years old.

Selecman was an East Tennessee (Knoxville) native and University of Tennessee Knoxville graduate. He earned his law degree at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law and was employed as an Assistant D.A. by the Nashville-Davidson County District Attorney’s Office.

Selecman married wife Mattie, the oldest daughter of the country singer-songwriter and his wife Denise, last October. In addition to his wife, Selecman is survived by parents Mark and Brenda Selecman, brother Cole Selecman and his wife, Morgan.


Country Music World Embraced Burt Reynolds

By Robert K. Oermann

Few of the obituaries for Burt Reynolds noted that the Hollywood icon was also a “country star.”

The movie great, who died Thursday (Sept. 6) at age 82, only made one country album and appeared just once on the country-music hit parade. But he was massively popular with country fans, incorporated country music into his film soundtracks and cast more than a dozen country stars in his features.

Although Burt Reynolds played many roles, his portrayals of moonshiners, cowboys, outlaws, NASCAR drivers, rebels and other country archetypes became his most famous film characters.

The soundtrack of Reynolds’ breakthrough film, 1972’s Deliverance, yielded the Grammy-winning country hit “Dueling Banjos” by Eric Weissberg. The plots of such Reynolds vehicles as White Lightning (1973), Gator (1976) and Stroker Ace (1983) were rooted in country culture.
Reynolds came to Nashville in 1973 to create Ask Me What I Am as his country LP. Issued by Mercury Records, it was co-produced by Bobby Goldsboro and Buddy Killen. Despite songwriting contributions from Goldsboro, Red Lane, Ed Bruce and Dick Feller, the album was a commercial failure.

Burt Reynolds returned to Nashville in 1975 to film W.W. & The Dixie Dancekings. Its premiere was held in Music City, as well. In it, he portrayed a crook who promotes a country band. The cast included Don Williams, Roni Stoneman, Lorene Mann, Tootsie Bess and several other country personalities.

The film launched the movie careers of Jerry Reed (1937-2008) and Mel Tillis (1932-2017). Both would be featured in several other Reynolds films, and Reed, in particular, would have a successful acting career on his own. Reed’s second feature with Reynolds was Gator in 1976.
Already a sizable movie star, Burt Reynolds ascended to superstardom with 1977’s Smokey and the Bandit. Although panned by critics, it found a massive audience in Middle America and grossed more than $100 million.

Reed again appeared opposite Reynolds in this film. He also co-wrote the movie’s soundtrack and sang its big country hit, “East Bound and Down.”

Also appearing in Smokey and the Bandit was John Schneider, unbilled in a crowd scene. Two years later, he would inherit Reynolds’ redneck/outlaw persona in the smash hit 1979-85 TV series The Dukes of Hazzard. The two became friends in Hollywood, and Schneider succeeded in Nashville via a string of hit country records in 1984-88.

In the 2016 documentary film Bandit, Brad Paisley, John Rich, Toby Keith and others discussed Smokey and the Bandit’s indelible relationship to country music. In the days following Reynolds’ death, Bandit was screened repeatedly by CMT.

Smokey and the Bandit II was issued in 1980. In addition to Reed, Tillis and Don Williams, the cast included Brenda Lee and The Statler Brothers. All five contributed songs to its soundtrack, as did Tanya Tucker, Roy Rogers and The Sons of the Pioneers. Burt Reynolds sang “Let’s Do Something Cheap and Superficial” on the soundtrack, and his single of it made it to No. 51 on the country charts.

The handsome headliner had a long-term relationship with his Smokey movies co-star Sally Field, whom he later described as “the love of my life.” But he also had notable romances with Nashville-bred pop vocalist Dinah Shore (1916-1994), who was 20 years his senior, and with country superstar Tammy Wynette (1942-1998).

The 1981 Reynolds road-race feature The Cannonball Run again featured Tillis. By this time, Burt Reynolds was in the midst of a five-year reign as Hollywood’s top box-office moneymaker. During this same era, he won six consecutive People’s Choice awards as America’s favorite movie actor.

So his pairing with country superstar Dolly Parton in 1982’s Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was headline news. In the film, Reynolds sang “Sneakin’ Around” as a duet with her. Parton’s remake of “I Will Always Love You” became the soundtrack’s big hit. Whorehouse continued Reynolds’ success streak, becoming a huge box-office hit and winning a best-picture Golden Globe Award.

Jerry Reed co-starred in 1983’s Smokey and the Bandit Part 3, with Reynolds taking a backseat via a cameo appearance. The soundtrack included contributions by Lee Greenwood and Ed Bruce. Mel Tillis reunited with Reynolds for 1984’s Cannonball Run II.

Burt Reynolds next triumphed as a television star. His Evening Shade series of 1990-94 was a major hit. Once again, he offered screen roles to his country-music favorites. During its five-year run, the top-rated Evening Shade featured such guest stars as Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, Tammy Wynette, K.T. Oslin, Kenny Rogers and Jerry Reed, as well as Terry Bradshaw.

Similarly, his 1991-92 TV talk show Burt Reynolds Conversations With booked Gill, Parton, Randy Travis and Tanya Tucker as well as Hollywood royalty.

Reynolds and McEntire co-starred in the 1993 TV movie The Man from Left Field. Goldsboro composed the soundtrack music, a job he performed the same year for the TV western movie The Wind in the Wire. This co-starred Reynolds with Randy Travis. The movie star also appeared in the 1993 music video for the Travis tune “Cowboy Boogie.”

The 1997 film Boogie Nights restored Reynolds’ status as a respected actor. The film garnered him his finest reviews since Deliverance, won him a Golden Globe award and earned him an Oscar nomination.

In 2005, Reynolds co-starred in the hit movie update of The Dukes of Hazzard. Willie Nelson and Junior Brown were also featured.

The aging cinema thespian returned to Tennessee to portray a washed-up actor in 2016’s The Last Movie Star. It was shot and premiered in Knoxville and featured the Nashville Film Festival in its plot. Again, his performance was roundly praised by reviewers.

Burt Reynolds had been ill, but his death last week was unexpected. Over the weekend, Parton, Schneider, Travis and McEntire all offered memorial tributes to their fellow “country star.”

Nashville Music Industry Veteran Mike Owens Passes

Beloved music industry Radio Promotion and A&R professional Mike Owens passed away suddenly on Sunday evening, Sept. 2, from a massive heart attack at age 53. A longtime member of the music industry, he most recently served as VP Creative at Sea Gayle Music.

An admired and respected music industry veteran, Owens first began his career working in radio when he was a teenager in Oklahoma. He became Music Director for powerhouse station KXXY in Oklahoma City, where he was discovered and hired in 1989 by the newly-formed country label Arista Nashville. He served as part of their flagship radio promotion team, where he worked for 11 years. Because of his natural instinct for picking hit songs, Owens was later hired as Vice President of A&R for Universal South Records where he worked for five years, and most recently served for six years as Vice President of Creative for Sea Gayle Music. During the course of his long and celebrated time in the music industry, Owens contributed to the careers of some of country music’s biggest superstars.

“Mike’s passion for songs and knowledge of the music business was unparalleled,” says Chris DuBois, Owner/Managing Partner, Sea Gayle Music. “His career impacted more songwriters, recording artists and industry executives than I could possibly count. Most importantly, he was one of the finest human beings that I have ever known. He will be greatly missed in this community.”

“When I hired Mike I realized that he had a world of knowledge about country music from his years at radio and his absolute love of the format,” says Tim DuBois, Former President, Arista Nashville. “His passion for songs and songwriters made him ideally suited to make the transition from promoting hit records to finding great songs for great artists. He was not only my employee but one of my dearest friends.”

Music For Mike, a benefit concert previously announced and scheduled for Sept. 25 at War Memorial Auditorium, is moving forward as planned. Proceeds will go to the Mike Owens Family Trust. Current and former Arista Nashville artists set to take the stage that night include recent Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Alan Jackson, superstar duo Brooks & Dunn, and critically acclaimed entertainer Brad Paisley, along with Blackhawk, Diamond Rio, Lee Roy Parnell, Pam Tillis, Phil Vassar and Steve Wariner. Backing this line-up is veteran touring band, Sixwire.

Click here to purchase tickets. Donations to the family’s GoFundMe page can be made here.

In 2014, Owens was diagnosed with end stage renal disease and had been placed on dialysis awaiting a donor kidney. His treatment had led to other health issues and mounting medical bills.

He is survived by his wife Radeana Menhusen Owens and their daughter Savannah.

Services were held on Thursday, Sept. 6 at West End United Methodist Church located at 2200 West End Avenue in Nashville, Tennessee. Visitation was from 10 a.m. until 12 p.m., with the service beginning at 12 p.m.