Seals & Crofts Pop Hitmaker Jim Seals Passes

Jim Seals. Photo: Courtesy of Robert K. Oermann archive

Nashville pop star Jim Seals died on Monday (June 6) at age 80.

He was famed as half of the 1970s pop duo Seals & Crofts, who scored with such big hits as “Summer Breeze,” “Diamond Girl” and “Get Closer.” Seals sang lead in the act. He wrote the duo’s lyrics and co-wrote its melodies with partner Darrell “Dash” Crofts.

Both of them grew up in West Texas and began playing music together as teenagers. Jim Seals was born in 1941 into a highly musical family. His father was a musician in a western-swing band. Older cousin Johnny Duncan (1938-2006) became a 1970s country star.

Uncle Chuck Seals (1922-1997) co-wrote the country standard “Crazy Arms.” Younger brother Dan Seals (1948-2009) had pop hits as half of England Dan & John Ford Coley, then became a major solo country star of the 1980s. Another brother, Eddie Seals, performed music, comedy and impressions in the popular Printer’s Alley nightclub act Eddie & Joe. Older cousin Troy Seals has been elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Nephew Brady Seals gained fame in the country band Little Texas and has become a well-regarded solo artist.

At age 9, Jim Seals won the Texas State Fiddle Championship. By the time he was in junior high, he had mastered saxophone and guitar, as well. He made his disc debut in 1958 with a pair of instrumental singles.

The rock & roll group The Champs was on tour enjoying the chart-topping success of 1958’s “Tequila” when a dispute broke up the band. Seals and Crofts were recruited to become replacement members. When the tour ended, they moved to L.A. to continue performing and recording with The Champs.

Seals began to blossom as a songwriter. His “It’s Never Too Late” was recorded by Brenda Lee as the B-side of her chart-topping “You Can Depend on Me” smash of 1961. His songs were also recorded by The Knickerbockers, Gene Vincent, Rick Nelson, and Lenny Welch, as well as The Champs.

The band was an instrumental act that showcased Seals’ sax honking. But both he and Crofts wanted to sing, as did newer member Glen Campbell. They departed The Champs in 1965. By then, Jim Seals had recorded four more solo singles that went nowhere. After leaving the band, he took work as a session musician and played in several pop bands in L.A.

In the late 1960s, Seals and Crofts teamed up with a trio called The Day Sisters and formed a Vegas act called The Dawnbreakers. The group recorded for Dunhill Records, but the label never issued anything. The mother of the Day sisters was a key figure in the emerging Baha’i religious community in Southern California. Both Seals and Crofts were converted to this faith.

Crofts switched from playing drums to learning mandolin. He and Seals began writing and singing pop tunes, backed simply by guitar and mandolin.

Seals & Crofts debuted as a duo in 1969. They began to record their soft, folkie, exotic, acoustic sound on two small-label albums in 1970. They signed with Warner Bros. Records the following year.

Their songs’ lyrics, written by Seals, reflected their faith. The Baha’i religion, founded in Persia, espouses universal brotherhood and fosters complete equality of the sexes and all races. The sect’s peace-and-love beliefs and gentle mysticism were evident in such tracks as “Summer Breeze” and “Hummingbird,” which became career-launching hits in 1972-73. Seals sometimes even quoted verbatim from Baha’i scriptures in his lyrics.

“Diamond Girl” and “We May Never Pass This Way Again” became two more pop hits for Seals & Crofts in 1973. Like their predecessors, they became even bigger smashes on the A/C charts.

Seals & Crofts became a big-time touring attraction, assembling a large band, traveling in private jets and employing a huge entourage. The shows incorporated their tuneful hits, plus hoedown fiddling from Seals, humorous songs, romantic testimonials, jazz instrumental solos and spotlight moments for backup vocalists. After the encores ended and the applause faded away, the men would return to the stage for “firesides.” These were no-microphone chats about their faith with whoever stayed behind to listen. Seals & Crofts were never evangelists. The rap sessions merely shared the Baha’i message of love and tolerance.

The duo’s progress was derailed in 1974. Seals & Crofts wrote and recorded “Unborn Child” as an anti-abortion single that year. Fearing controversy, many radio stations refused to broadcast it. Momentum was regained the following year with “I’ll Play for You.” A Greatest Hits album was issued in 1975, and it sold two million copies.

The comeback was solidified with 1976’s “Get Closer.” The duo’s artsy sound was updated with more thump in the production and an injection of soul from a third vocalist, Carolyn Willis from the hit-making R&B trio Honey Cone. The result was the biggest hit of their career. The films One on One (1977) and Foolin’ Around (1980) featured Seals & Crofts soundtrack songs. The 1977-78 premiere season of TV’s The Paper Chase used their “First Years” as its theme song.

In 1977-78, Seals & Crofts continued to be mainstays on the A/C charts with the hits “Goodbye Old Buddies,” “My Fair Share” and “You’re the Love.” But interest began to fade, and the albums of 1979 and 1980 failed to sell. Warner Bros. dropped the duo, and the two parted ways.

Seals continued to write songs, but moved to Costa Rica to operate a coffee plantation. Dash Crofts moved to Nashville and embarked on a solo career. The duo appeared at Baha’i gatherings and reunited for a tour in 1991-92.

Jim Seals had been living in Nashville on and off for several years before he officially relocated in 2004. A second Seals & Crofts reunion resulted in the 2004 album Traces. Jim and younger brother Dan Seals began to co-write songs, record and perform together in Music City. Dan was also a Baha’i. His cancer diagnosis and subsequent death in 2009 ended the brothers’ partnership.

“Summer Breeze” was revived by The Isley Brothers. The Voltage Brothers brought back “Get Closer.” “We May Never Pass This Way Again” was a high-school graduation favorite for many years. All of the Seals & Crofts hits became oldie airplay evergreens.

A stroke in 2017 brought Jim Seals’ performing days to a close. No cause of death was given at the time of his passing on Monday. He is survived by his wife Ruby Jean and by children Joshua, Juliette and Sutherland.

Alabama’s Randy Owen Mourning Loss Of Mother, Martha Owen

Pictured (L-R, back row): Rachel Carroll, Randy Owen, Reba Patterson; (L-R, front row): Martha Owen, Yeuell Owen

Randy Owen, lead vocalist of the iconic Alabama band, is mourning the loss of his mother Martha Alice Teague Owen, who passed away on Thursday (June 2). She was 90.

Martha and her husband Gladstone Yeuell Owen, who passed in 1980, introduced their son Randy and daughters Reba Patterson and Rachel Carroll to music. The family formed The Singing Owen Family when the siblings were children. The Gospel group performed in churches and at events in Alabama and the south during the ’60s and ’70s.

Randy would go on to form Alabama, one of the most iconic bands in country music. The group celebrated 80 million albums, charted 43 No. 1 singles, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Martha died surrounded by family in Fort Payne, Alabama following a short illness. Members of the Owen family are asking for privacy during this time.

Martha’s visitation will be held on Sunday (June 5) at 4 – 8 p.m. at the Rainsville Community Church in Rainsville, Alabama. Her funeral service will take place on Monday (June 6) with the timing to be determined.

Alabama is currently on a 30-city tour but is rescheduling this weekend’s concerts due to Martha’s passing. June 3 in Roanoke, Virginia will now take place on Dec. 9; and June 4 in Fayetteville, North Carolina will take place on Dec. 11. All prior ticket purchases will be honored at the new dates.

Nashville Soul Great Deborah McCrary Passes

Deborah McCrary

Deborah McCrary of the acclaimed soul/gospel/Americana group The McCrary Sisters, has passed away at age 67.

She and her three sisters — Ann, Regina and Alfreda — rose to become the most important Black female group in Nashville music history. Deborah McCrary was the low-harmony voice in the quartet and a beatific stage presence.

The McCrary Sisters have released five albums, serve in the “house band” at the annual Americana Awards ceremonies, are first-call session vocalists and have backed a who’s-who of popular music, including Elvis Presley, Stevie Wonder and Isaac Hayes.

The McCrarys are Nashville natives, the daughters of The Rev. Sam McCrary (1913-1991). He was a founder of the legendary and highly influential gospel quartet The Fairfield Four. Deborah and her sisters were steeped in that music from childhood.

As teenagers in the 1960s and 1970s, the sisters sang in Nashville’s BC&M Mass Choir. Deborah McCrary Person became a nurse and worked as such for most of her life. Younger sister Regina sang backup for Bob Dylan in 1979-85, while older sister Ann became prominent as a studio backup vocalist on numerous recording sessions for Christian-music stars. In 1988, Ann McCrary issued her solo CD What Is This?

The sensational sibling-harmony singing of the four sisters was first showcased on disc with the 2010 album Our Journey. Deborah sang lead on the record’s traditional tune “Dig A Little Deeper.” The McCrary collections All the Way and Let’s Go followed in 2013 and 2015. The sisters published their book Cooking With Love in 2015.

Meanwhile, a host of music greats sought them out as backing vocalists. The McCrarys have recorded with Sheryl Crow, Mike Farris, Carrie Underwood, Margo Price, Keb’ Mo’, Miranda Lambert, Mary Gauthier, Buddy Guy, Yelawolf, Allison Russell and Gary Nicholson.

On stage and/or recordings, they have also backed such stars as Delbert McClinton, The Black Keys, Martina McBride, Eric Church, Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, Jonny Lang, Robert Randolph, The Winans, Donnie McClurkin, Rosanne Cash, Hank Williams Jr., Dr. John, Widespread Panic, Maren Morris, Lee Ann Womack, Ray Stevens, Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, Steve Earle and Gregg Allman, among dozens of others.

They’ve been featured on television specials aired by the networks PBS, ABC, BET and CMT. They’ve entertained at numerous music festivals both in the U.S. and abroad. They’ve sung everywhere from The Country Music Hall of Fame to Saturday Night Live, from the Grand Ole Opry to Madison Square Garden, from The White House to the Ryman Auditorium.

In 2017, they resurfaced on their own with a live album. Deborah co-wrote that record’s track “Let It Go.” Rounder Records signed the group and issued A Very McCrary Christmas in 2019.

Deborah McCrary Person had experienced some strokes in recent years. She died on Wednesday, June 1.

A visitation will be held on Friday, June 10 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Highland Hills Funeral Home (2422 Brick Church Pike, Nashville). A service will take place on Saturday, June 11 at 12 p.m. at St. Mark’s Baptist Church (3903 Milford Rd., Nashville), following another presentation at St. Mark’s at 11.

Arranger / Conductor Bill Walker Passes

Bill Walker

Noted as one of the most prominent musical arrangers in the history of Nashville music, Bill Walker passed away at age 95 on May 26.

The musician was famed for his elegant written arrangements that gave extra polish to the Nashville Sound in the late 1960s. He was also the musical director of the Johnny Cash Show on ABC-TV (1969-71), led orchestras for the annual CMA Awards Show, provided charts for dozens of Nashville television specials and was the music director of The Statler Brothers Show on TNN (1991-98).

Born William Alfred Walker, he was born in Sydney, Australia. The keyboardist trained at the Sydney Conservatory. Walker went to work for RCA Records in South Africa in 1959. While working for the label, he produced some recording sessions for country superstar Jim Reeves (1923-1964) in Johannesburg. He also composed the score for the star’s South African movie Kimberly Jim. Reeves invited Walker to come to Nashville, promising him a job.

But the weekend Walker arrived in Music City was when Jim Reeves perished in a 1964 plane crash. So instead, Bill Walker went to work for Chet Atkins (1924-2001). Atkins hired him to write string arrangements for superstar Eddy Arnold (1918-2008).

These helped to fashion the uptown, tuxedo-clad style that revived Arnold’s career. Walker’s handiwork can be notably heard on the lush arrangement of Arnold’s huge 1965 hit “Make the World Go Away.” Walker also wrote orchestral arrangements for Arnold’s concert tours.

By the late 1960s, Bill Walker was the busiest arranger-conductor in Music City. Johnny Cash (1932-2003) hired him for his network TV series and closed each episode by shouting “Goodnight, Bill Walker!” Walker also worked on many of Cash’s subsequent TV specials, including his annual Christmas extravaganzas.

Walker’s other TV credits include Ann-Margret: Rhinestone Cowgirl, Music Hall America, Nashville Remembers Elvis on His Birthday, Perry Como and His Nashville Friends, Lynn Anderson & Tina Turner in Nashville, Conway Twitty on the Mississippi, Opryland in Russia, Crystal Gayle in Sweden, George Burns in Nashville and the Music City News Awards. He was retained by the CMA for 15 of its awards telecasts throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Hits featuring Bill Walker’s string arrangements include Johnny Cash’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (1970), Marty Robbins’ “My Woman My Woman My Wife” (1970), Eddy Arnold’s “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” (1968), Roy Clark’s “Come Live With Me” (1973), Sammi Smith’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (1971) and George Jones’ epic “He Stopped Loving Her Today” (1980). Walker also worked as a session musician, providing piano, harpsichord, vibraphone or organ accompaniment.

As either an arranger or a sideman, Bill Walker worked on records by Claude King, Carl Perkins, Slim Whitman, Connie Smith, Al Hirt, Floyd Cramer, Merle Haggard, Jerry Wallace, Bobby Bare, Skeeter Davis, Bobby Vinton, Hank Locklin, Jerry Reed, the Rev. Billy Graham, Grandpa Jones, Hank Snow, Boots Randolph, Dolly Parton and many more.

His studio work led to romance. Beginning in 1968, singer Jeanine Ogletree worked as a member of The Anita Kerr Singers in Nashville, often on Eddy Arnold recording sessions. She and Bill Walker married in 1971.

In addition to working as an arranger and studio musician, Walker was a record producer. He was contracted by Capitol Records in 1971-73 to work with Wanda Jackson, Roy Rogers, Billy Walker, Ferlin Husky and others. Bill Walker also produced Donna Fargo’s award-winning 1972 hits “Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” and “Funny Face.”

Bill Walker and his son Jeff Walker (1950-2015) formed Con Brio Records, one of the most successful independent country labels of the 1970s. Its artists, many of whom he produced, included Jan Howard, Reg Lindsay, Dale McBride, Don King, Terri Hollowell (who married Jeff Walker), Lori Parker, Sheila Tilton, Chester Lester and Scott Summer. Con Brio operated from 1975 to 1979.

During the 1980s, he branched out into film soundtrack composing. His instrumental work backed such actors as Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas and Gregory Peck.

Between 1991 and 1998. Bill Walker was the musical director of The Statler Brothers Show. The TV series was the top-rated show on TNN throughout its seven-year existence.

In 2015, Bill Walker was saluted by the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in its “Nashville Cats: A Celebration of Music City Musicians” program. Also that year, the Nashville Musicians Union honored him for 50 years of service.

In recent years, Bill and Jeanine Walker frequently collaborated on musical projects. They have recorded four gospel albums together and performed at various venues both in the U.S. and abroad. She has also taught voice at Belmont University.

Son Jeff Walker founded the Aristo Media publicity and promotions firm on Music Row in 1980. Since his sudden death at age 65, that business has been run by his daughter, Christy Walker Watkins. Son Jon Walker. Is a Music Row technology professional with the associated AristoDigital firm.

Walker is survived by his wife, singer Jeanine (Ogletree) Walker, daughter Beth Walker, son Colin Walker, sister Julianne Smith, brother Robert Walker, 13 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren. Walker was predeceased by his son, Music Row leader and AristoMedia Group Founder, Jeff Walker, son Peter Walker, and daughter Lisa Gibson.

Details surrounding the service will be released at a later date.

Country Guitar Great & Top Showman Thom Bresh Passes

Thom Bresh

Hotshot guitar picker Thom Bresh, who scored a top 10 country hit with 1976’s “Home Made Love,” has died at age 74.

Bresh was widely admired as a showman by his peers. In addition to his dazzling instrumental skills, he was a fine humorist, a songwriter, an impressionist, a designer of guitars and a TV personality. He was the son of Country Music Hall of Fame member Merle Travis (1917-1983), whose guitar legacy he carried forward. On disc, he collaborated with Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Hank Thompson, Lane Brody and Steve Wariner, as well as his father.

Following her 1947-48 liaison with Merle Travis, Bresh’s mother Ruth Johnson married photographer Bud Bresh. They raised Thom as their son in Southern California. As a young man, Thom Bresh learned that Travis was his biological father, but he vowed out of respect to not speak of it until after Bud Bresh’s death (in 1987).

He was precocious as a musician, initially performing at age 3. By age 7, he was working as a juvenile stunt man in cowboy movies. He first entertained as a musician on TV at age 11 in Los Angeles.

During his high school and college years, Thom Bresh studied music theory and orchestrations. He appeared on stage in productions of the musicals Finian’s Rainbow, The Music Man and Harvey. He performed in a rock band called The Crescents, which charted with its instrumental “Pink Dominos” in 1964. At age 16, he appeared with western-swing bandleader Hank Penny in Las Vegas.

In 1971, he recorded the topical single “D.B. Cooper Where Are You” for Kapp Records. He next signed with MGM for a flurry of singles in 1974. He hit pay dirt on Farr Records with “Home Made Love,” followed by “Sad Country Love Song” (1976).

Bresh relocated to Nashville, signed with ABC-Dot and issued two albums and six singles in 1977-79. These included a remake of Merle Travis’s co-written “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! That Cigarette” (1978), on which Bresh included 13 celebrity impersonations. All of his best remembered discs were produced by Jimmy Bowen. Thom Bresh was nominated as the ACM’s Top New Male Vocalist in 1977.

He hosted a Canadian TV series titled Nashville Swing. He also branched out into record production. His 1981 work with his father, Travis Picking, was nominated for a Grammy Award. He also produced Lane Brody’s 1983 recording of “Over You,” which occurred on the soundtrack of Tender Mercies and was nominated for an Oscar. He and Brody charted with a 1982 duet on Liberty Records, “When It Coms to Love.”

In the 1990s, Thom Bresh became popular in Europe. He opened for Brenda Lee in Las Vegas and appeared on the national television shows of Rich Little, Dinah Shore, Lee Greenwood, Barbara Mandrell and Mike Douglas. In 1996, he issued his instrumental CD, Wires to the Wood.

Thom Bresh became a producer/director for music videos, concert TV specials and home-video packages. He also designed several guitar models and was featured in the pages of Guitar Player and similar publications. Bresh was particularly noted for his double-sided stage guitar, dubbed Dualette. One side had steel strings, while the other was in a classical mode with nylon strings.

In the 2000s, Bresh became widely respected as a Nashville guitar instructor. He also indulged his passion for photography.

Thom Bresh was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in 2021. He died on May 23. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

TV Titan & Source Honoree Jane Dowden Grams Dies At 90

Jane Dowden Grams, a major figure in transforming Nashville into a center for television production, passed away on March 24 in Arizona at age 90.

She made her mark at WSM-TV, Noble-Drury & Associates, Show Biz Inc., WCTV in Chattanooga, Opryland USA and the Gaylord Syndicom Entertainment Group. Dowden was particularly noted for her production of nationally syndicated country-music TV series in the 1960s and 1970s. She was given a Source Foundation Award in 2006, “honoring the women who have been a vital source in the success of Music Row and the Nashville entertainment industry.”

Born Jane Elizabeth Clabough and raised in East Tennessee, she began her career at WGAP radio in Maryville, Tennessee. After marrying Robert Dowden in 1951, she moved with him to Nashville. She joined WSM-TV, which was later rebranded as WSMV. Dowden initially worked in advertising and sales.

During the mid-1950s, she became one of the South’s most influential women in advertising as Vice President – Media Director at Noble-Drury & Associates in Nashville. She began working in television production in 1959.

In 1965, she became President of Show Biz, Inc., and guided it to become the largest producer and syndicator of country television in the world. TV Guide magazine once dubbed Show Biz, “the General Motors of country music television.” Dowden oversaw the production of more than 1,200 country shows.

Two of the most successful Show Biz series were The Porter Wagoner Show (1960-79) and The Wilburn Brothers Show (1963-74). The former introduced the world to Dolly Parton and the latter showcased newcomer Loretta Lynn.

Other Show Biz productions included The Country Place with Jim Ed Brown (1970-72), Billy Walker’s Country Carnival (1968), Del Reeves’ Country Carnival (1969-73) and the company’s leading program, Pop! Goes the Country, hosted by Ralph Emery, followed by Tom T. Hall. This series ran from 1974 to 1983 and at its peak was carried in 140 markets nationwide.

Jim Ed Brown, Jerry Clower and Jim Stafford variously hosted Nashville on the Road (1975-83). Show Biz also syndicated The Bobby Goldsboro Show (1973-76), Marty Robbins Spotlight (1977), Dolly (1976-77), Flatt & Scruggs Grand Ole Opry (1961-65), National Life Grand Ole Opry (1965-69) and That Good Ole Nashville Music (1969-77).

Dowden produced the 1966 feature film Nashville Rebel, starring Waylon Jennings. She was also behind “Nashville in the Garden,” two live, multi-artist concerts at Madison Square Garden in the early 1970s.

In 1981, Multimedia Inc. purchased the Show Biz empire for $4.4 million. Dowden had departed by then. In 1975, she was named President and General Manager of WTVC in Chattanooga, becoming the first woman general manager of a network-affiliated television station. She served for four years on the ABC Affiliates Board of Directors, another first for a woman.

She married Harold Grams in Chattanooga in 1977. Her volunteer work included the Chattanooga Symphony, The University of Tennessee and Chattanooga Public Television.

In 1984, she returned to Nashville to join Opryland USA. As Vice President of its new division Gaylord Syndicom, she was charged with developing new syndicated television programming. While at Gaylord, she became the recipient of the Silver Circle Award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS).

Jane Dowden Grams retired in 2006, the year she was honored by the Source Foundation in Music City, alongside such key figures as Anita Kerr, Mae Boren Axton, Hattie Louise “Tootsie” Bess and Brenda Lee.

In retirement, Jane Dowden Grams became a Master Gardener in Sedona, Arizona. She passed away in Scottsdale, Arizona and is survived by daughters Janie Dail Dowden of Scottsdale and Jennifer Dowden Burritt of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, as well as by a sister and two nephews.

Country Singer & Actor Mickey Gilley Dead At 86

Mickey Gilley

Country singer and actor Mickey Gilley, known for launching the Urban Cowboy movement in country music, died Saturday in Branson, Missouri. He was 86 and had just come off of the road after playing 10 shows in April.

Gilley celebrated 39 top 10 hits and 17 No. 1 songs throughout his career, including the enduring “Stand By Me,” “Room Full of Roses,” “Lonely Nights,” “Chains of Love,” “Honky Tonk Memories,” “She’s Pulling Me Back Again,” and “Here Comes the Hurt Again.”

A native of Natchez, Mississippi, Gilley was known for his signature blend of Louisiana rhythm and blues with country-pop. His two famous cousins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart, also influenced his music.

Mickey Gilley

In 1971, Gilley opened his world-famous honky-tonk Gilley’s in Pasadena, Texas, which sparked a chain of the famous nightclubs. In 1980, he appeared in the hit movie Urban Cowboy alongside John Travolta, Debra Winger and Johnny Lee. Gilley’s served as the backdrop for the film. After appearing on the hit movie, Gilley went on to star in popular television series including Murder She Wrote, The Fall Guy, Fantasy Island and Dukes of Hazzard.

Throughout his career, Gilley was honored with numerous accolades as a musician, actor and venue owner. He earned six Academy of Country Music Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2011. He was one of only a handful of artists to receive the Academy of Country Music’s Triple Crown Awards.

Gilley was preceded in death by his wife, Vivian. He is survived by his wife Cindy Loeb Gilley, his children Kathy, Michael, Gregory and Keith Ray, four grandchildren and nine great grandchildren and his cousins Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart.

The family respectfully requests privacy at this time.

Family, friends and invited guests will gather on Friday, May 27, 2022, at 1 P.M. CST for Gilley’s Celebration of Life at the Mickey Gilley Grand Shanghai Theatre in Branson, Missouri. A live stream of the event will also be available and more details will be posted on the Mickey Gilley Facebook page.

There will be a public memorial later this summer in Nashville with more details to follow soon.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to be made to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary at bestfriends.org or the Animal Shelter of your choice.

Country TV Pioneer Bayron Binkley Passes

Nashville producer/director Bayron Binkley died at age 89 on Monday (April 25).

Known as “Bink,” he was one of the first television executives to specialize in country music. He created local programming at WSMV-TV in the 1950s and 1960s, worked on country stars’ syndicated shows of the 1960s and 1970s, then graduated to cable television when TNN was launched as The Nashville Network in the 1980s and 1990s. Binkley produced and/or directed specials for such stars as Willie Nelson.

Bayron Binkley

After graduating from Lipscomb High School, Bayron Binkley began his career in Nashville by working as a cameraman at WSMV in the late 1950s. He created a children’s TV character named “Happy A. Clown” and portrayed him for several years before shifting to directing local series such as Opry Almanac, The Ralph Emery Show and The Noon Show. He also provided stories for the station’s evening news telecasts.

The WSMV studios were used as locations for the production of weekly country-music series that were nationally syndicated by Show Biz. Binkley became the producer/director for the shows hosted by Flatt & Scruggs, Jim Ed Brown, Kitty Wells & Johnny Wright, Del Reeves and others. He also created programming for Opryland Productions. In 1981, he created the groundbreaking cable series Nashville Alive.

When TNN launched in 1983, Binkley was tapped to create some of its early shows. These included Church Street Station (1984), New Country (1986) and Rock n Roll Palace (1988). He created TNN specials for such stars as Bobby Goldsboro (1989), Ricky Van Shelton (1989) and Willie Nelson (1990).

In 2005, he directed the all-star special celebrating Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.

Bayron Binkley was known for his ebullient, larger-than-life personality, sense of humor and fun-loving spirit. He made many close friendships with country music’s stars.

He is survived by sons Bayron Jr. and Blair, by six grandchildren, six great grandchildren and by numerous nephews, nieces and cousins.

There will be a visitation with the family on Thursday (May 5) from 6-8 p.m. at the Church of Christ of Green Hills, 3805 Granny White Pike adjoining Lipscomb Academy. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the charities of your choice.

Bluegrass Mandolin Great Roland White Passes

Roland White

Bluegrass Hall of Fame member and Grammy Award winner Roland White died at age 83 on April 1 following complications from a heart attack.

White was a top-flight mandolinist noted for his work in The Kentucky Colonels, Country Gazette and The Nashville Bluegrass Band. He was widely loved for his musical generosity, for his welcoming of newcomers, for his mentorship of youngsters and for being a kindly ambassador of Nashville music.

 

White was born in Maine, where he began his career in a band with his siblings. When he was 16, the family relocated to California. He and his guitarist brother Clarence White (1944-1973) formed The Kentucky Colonels in Burbank in 1954. It became one of the most influential bluegrass bands of the 1960s.

The Kentucky Colonels disbanded at the end of 1965, and Clarence White joined The Byrds. Roland White moved to Nashville and joined Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys for two years, 1967-69, then became a member of Lester Flatt’s band, The Nashville Grass in 1969-73. While in Flatt’s group, he was instrumental in recruiting as a band member the 13-year-old Marty Stuart, a fellow mandolinist.

Billed as The New Kentucky Colonels, the Whites’ original star-making group reorganized in 1973 and began touring again. The reunion was short lived. Clarence White was killed by a drunk driver while loading band equipment into his car following a concert.

Grief stricken Roland White carried on, becoming a member of the progressive bluegrass group Country Gazette in 1973-77. He became a part of the “founding family” of The Station Inn when it opened in 1974. The venue has since acquired a worldwide reputation as a bluegrass-music Mecca. White was a welcoming presence there, particularly after its relocation to The Gulch in Nashville in 1978.

J.T. Gray bought The Station Inn in 1981 and it became a proving ground for The Whites, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss, Sam Bush and other up-and-comers. Roland White was their resident greeter. During this period, White also recorded solo albums in 1976 and 1984.

Bluegrass superstars began dropping into the venue, often after appearing on the Grand Ole Opry. Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Peter Rowan and Bobby Osborne were known to stop by to pick and sing in the 1980s. Since then, a who’s-who of bluegrass has played at the club.

In 1989, Roland White became a member of The Nashville Bluegrass Band. During the next few years, he recorded five albums with the group, including the Grammy winning Watin’ for the Hard Times to Go (1994) and Unleashed (1996).

A singer and guitarist as well as a mandolin virtuoso, Roland White formed his own group in 2000. The Roland White Band recorded albums in 2003 and 2018.

He continued to sit in at Station Inn jam sessions. He curated an annual Bill Monroe Tribute night at the club and organized many benefit shows for musicians in need.

During his long career, White appeared on recordings with Mac Wiseman, Doc Watson, Clint Black, Ry Cooder, Marty Stuart, Alan Munde, Bernadette Peters, Ricky Skaggs, Valarie Smith, Stuart Duncan, David Grier, Gene Wooten, Glenn Duncan, Bobby Hicks, The Whites, Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Butch Robbins and many others.

Roland White was inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2017. His band The Kentucky Colonels was inducted in 2019.

He is survived by his wife and musical partner Diane Bouska, daughter Roline Hodge, son Lawrence Lee LeBlanc, sister Rosemarie Johnson, two grandchildren and a great-grandchild. There will be a visitation from 3-7 PM on Wednesday (April 6) at Spring Hill Funeral Home and Cemetery, 5110 Gallatin Pike. A celebration of life will be organized at a future date.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the International Bluegrass Music Association Foundation at bluegrassfoundation.org.

’90s Country Hitmaker Jeff Carson Dies Of A Heart Attack At Age 58

’90s country hitmaker Jeff Carson has died from a heart attack at Williamson Medical Center in Franklin, Tennessee. He was 58.

Born Jeffrey Lee Herndon in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Carson began his musical journey singing in church. After forming a band in Rogers, Arkansas, he eventually moved to Branson, Missouri where he wrote songs and played locally before moving to Nashville. In Nashville he began recording demos and his voice caught the attention of Curb Records, who signed him in 1995.

He released several singles with Curb including “Yeah Buddy,” and “Not On Your Love,” which went to No. 1. Carson’s single, “The Car” became a top five hit and won him his first Academy of Country Music award for Video of the Year.

In 2009, Carson retired from music to become a law enforcement officer with the Franklin Police Department in Williamson County, Tennessee, where he remained on the force until his death. He returned to music in 2019 signing a singles deal with MC1 Nashville to re-cut and release a previously recorded song “God Save The World,” which charted on the MusicRow CountryBreakout Radio chart.

Carson had most recently signed with Encore Music Group and had been in the studio recording a specialty album to be released later this year that included duets with Michael Ray, Darryl Worley, Mark Wills, and Craig Morgan.

He is survived by wife Kim Cooper Carson, son Dayton Grei Herndon Carson, mother Virginia Norton, brother Steve Herndon, sister Karen Spurlock, as well as aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews.

A funeral service for Carson will be held on Saturday, April 2 at Brentwood Baptist Church at 10:00 a.m. A procession and police motorcade to a brief graveside service at Williamson Memorial for follow at 11:30 a.m.