LifeNotes: Comic Singer-Songwriter Kacey Jones Passes

Kacey Jones

Kacey Jones


[Update]: A celebration of life has been set for singer-songwriter Kacey Jones, who died Sept. 1 at 66 years old.

The celebration will be held Wednesday, Oct. 5 at Douglas Corner in Nashville. Doors will open at 6 p.m., with the service running from 7 p.m.-9:30 p.m.

[Original post, Sept. 1, 4:31 p.m. CT]:

Nashville singer-songwriter Kacey Jones passed away on Thursday (Sept. 1). She was 66 years old.

She is best-known for her comedic songs as a member of Ethel & The Shameless Hussies, as well as on a series of humorous solo CDs. Born Gayle Zeller, Kacey Jones was raised in Gilroy, California. Early in her career, she recorded for an independent label in San Francisco.

She co-wrote the 1985 Mickey Gilley top-10 hit “I’m the One Mama Warned You About.” During that same year, David Allan Coe recorded her song “Cold Turkey.”

She moved to Nashville in 1986. Jones initially hoped to be recorded as a serious singer-songwriter. But then she formed Ethel & The Shameless Hussies with Becki Fogle (“Bunny O’Hare”) and Valerie Hunt (“Blanche Hickey”). Her character in the group was called “Ethel Beaverton.”

The act took its name from the Ray Stevens lyric in “The Streak.” Ethel & The Shameless Hussies signed with MCA Records and issued its debut album, Born to Burn, in 1988. They made the charts with the singles “One Nite Stan” (1988) and “It’s Just the Whiskey Talkin’” (1989). “Ethel’s” turns in the spotlight with the group included “Last Night I Really Laid Down the Law,” “Smokin’ in Bed” and “Up Against Your Love.”

The group was nominated as Comedy Act of the Year at the Music City News Awards. The trio remained together for four years.

Later in the 1990s, Jones embarked on a solo career. Her initial solo CD was 1997’s Men Are Some of My Favorite People on Curb Records. It yielded two music videos, “1-900-Bubba” and “(I Hate Your Lousy, Rotten, Stinkin’ Guts) But I’m Not Bitter.”

She eventually appeared several times on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion and in the pages of People and USA Today. Her songs have also been heard on film soundtracks, such as the Beau Bridges cult favorite Sordid Lives. Among the artists who have recorded her songs are Cledus T. Judd, Richard Fagan, Ray Stevens and Marshall Chapman.

Jones was also a record producer. She saluted Texas singer-songwriter Kinky Friedman by producing the multi-artist CD Pearls in the Snow. Featuring Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel, Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam and others, this album hit No. 1 on the Americana charts in 1999.

As an entrepreneur, she formed her own IGO Records label and the publishing companies Zamalama Music (BMI) and Mamalama Music (ASCAP). She signed country traditionalist Leland Martin to IGO, and he charted with “If I Had Long Legs (Like Alan Jackson)” (2002) and “Hey Love, No Fair” (2003).

Her own record making career continued with Every Man I Love Is Either Married, Gay or Dead (2000), Never Wear Panties to a Party (2001) and The Sweet Potato Queens’ Big-Ass Box of Music (2003). Her 2000 duet with Delbert McClinton, “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly,” was a big hit in Europe. In 2001, Jones became a regular on the nationally-syndicated ABC morning radio show, “Charlie & Darcy.”

She was dubbed “The Royal Minstrel to the Sweet Potato Queens’ Court.” This was a network of fans of Mississippi author Jill Connor Browne’s series of Sothern-belle “Sweet Potato Queen” books. Their anthem was Jones’s “Be Particular.”

Kacey Jones is remembered for such clever lyrics as “Christmas In Rehab,” “Whatever Happened to Kenny Rogers’ Face,” “Show Up Naked—Bring Beer,” “I Wanna Be Up Front Like Dolly,” “Dressin’ Up for the Pizza Man,” “I Can Always Get Skinny But You’ll Never Be Tall,” “Put the Seat Back Down” and “I Miss My Man (But My Aim’s Gettin’ Better).”

She flipped back to her serious side with 2006’s Kacey Jones Sings Mickey Newbury. The album garnered widespread critical praise.

Nipples to the Wind (2007), Kaceyoke (2008) and Donald Trump’s Hair (2009) returned her to light-hearted fare. Her most recent album was 2014’s Amen for Old Friends, which combined both comedic and serious tunes.

In recent years, she had doing a series of “in the round” shows with fellow tunesmiths Becky Hobbs and Benita Hill. They were billed as “A Cowgirl, a Diva and a Shameless Hussy.” The three also wrote together. Her other songwriting/performing trio was Phillybilly, alongside Richard Fagan and Joe Collins.

In 2014, Kacey Jones was diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer. Instead of chemo, radiation and surgery, she opted for alternative, holistic therapies. She launched a GoFundMe account to pay for these. Despite chronic pain, she was well enough in 2015 to compete on TV’s America’s Got Talent.

In February, the songwriting community staged a benefit show for her at Douglas Corner Café. Among those booked were Rafe Van Hoy, Alan Rhody, Kent Blazy, Roger Cook, Wood Newton and Jonmark Stone. In light of the current presidential campaign, she reissued “Donald Trump’s Hair” last spring. Kacey Jones entered hospice care in August.

LifeNotes: Opry Matriarch Jean Shepard Passes At 82


Jean Shepard


Honky-tonk siren, independent-female country pioneer, Grand Ole Opry matriarch and Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Jean Shepard has passed away at age 82.

Among her 45 charted country titles over three decades are such enduring favorites as “A Dear John Letter,” “A Satisfied Mind,” “Second Fiddle” and “Slippin’ Away.” Her fiery, outspoken manner made her one of the most memorable country personalities of her era. Born Ollie Imogene Shepard on Nov. 21, 1933, she was the fifth of 10 children born to an Oklahoma sharecropper. The family moved to California during the Dust Bowl Migration. Desperately poor during the Great Depression, her parents hocked their furniture to buy her an upright bass so that she could pursue a career in music.

Shepard joined The Melody Ranch Girls all-female band while still in school. At age 15, she was singing every weekend in the towns around Bakersfield, CA. Honky-tonk superstar Hank Thompson discovered her and brought her to Capitol Records. When her first efforts didn’t hit paydirt, the label paired her with Ferlin Husky. On 1953’s “A Dear John Letter,” he spoke a Korean War soldier’s recitation while she sang the song’s refrain. Because she was only 18 when they toured together, her parents made Husky her legal guardian.

Beginning at age 21, she scored a string of hits on her own, including “A Satisfied Mind” (1955), “Beautiful Lies” (1955) and “I Want to Go Where No One Knows Me” (1958). Her 1954 LP Songs of a Love Affair was country music’s first female “concept” album. Shepard’s 1955 hit “I Thought of You” was later the song that launched the career of her fellow Hall of Fame member Connie Smith. Jean Shepard joined The Ozark Jubilee in Missouri, then became a breakthrough female solo singer on the Grand Ole Opry. She became a member on her birthday, Nov. 21, 1955. She was named Cash Box magazine’s Top Female Country Singer of 1959. During her early career, she was chaperoned by Husky and then by Hawkshaw Hawkins, whom she married in 1960. After Hawkins died in the 1963 plane crash that also killed her friend Patsy Cline, Shepard was left to fend for herself in a male-dominated industry.

She was the single mother of two sons, battling for her rights. She said she developed her feisty, sassy personality as a result.

Jean Shepard. Photo: Chris Hollo/Grand Ole Opry

Jean Shepard. Photo: Chris Hollo/Grand Ole Opry

Her hits of the 1960s included the yodeling standout “Second Fiddle” (1964), the peppy “Many Happy Hangovers to You” (1966), her Ray Pillow divorce duet “I’ll Take the Dog” (1966) and the classic “If Teardrops Were Silver” (1966). Other memorable singles during this era included “Heart We Did All That We Could” (1967), “Your Forevers Don’t Last Very Long” (1967) and the standard “Seven Lonely Days” (1969). In the 1970s, she continued to score with such hits as her Grammy Award nominated “Then He Touched Me” (1970), plus “A Woman’s Hand” (1970) and “Another Lonely Night” (1971).

Shepard moved from Capitol to United Artists Records and reignited her chart fortunes with the Bill Anderson songs “Slippin’ Away” (1973), “At the Time” (1974), “Poor Sweet Baby” (1974) and the evergreen “The Tip of My Fingers” (1975). When Skeeter Davis was suspended from the Opry for being outspoken about her born-again Christianity, Jean Shepard went to bat for her with the show’s management. Davis was reinstated as a result.

Also during the 1970s, Music Row and country radio promoted the “countrypolitan” sound. Honky-tonk music was pushed aside in favor of Vegas-influenced pop stylings. In protest, Shepard became the mouthpiece of The Association of Country Entertainers (ACE), a group dedicated to preserving country’s heritage. Shying away from controversy, radio programmers gradually dropped her records from their playlists. She lost her major-label contract in 1977. Her final charted song was 1978’s statement of traditional-country loyalty “The Real Thing.”

She continued to record for independent labels in the 1980s and 1990s and retained her popularity as one of the Grand Ole Opry’s most dependable stars. During the 1980s, she toured Europe, where she maintained a solid fan base. She also began doing shows to raise funds for Vietnam veterans’ causes.

Jean Shepard had married Roy Orbison band member and road manager Benny Birchfield in 1968. After flying model airplanes with Birchfield in Hendersonville, Orbison died of a heart attack in 1988. The couple organized Orbison’s Nashville memorial service.

In 2011, Jean Shepard was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. She published her memoir, Down Through the Years, in 2014.

By 2015, she was the longest-lasting member of the Opry cast. She retired from the show, again on her birthday, Nov. 21, 2015. It was her 60th anniversary as a cast member.

She entered hospice care last week. Shepard reportedly died of complications from Parkinson’s Disease on Sunday, Sept. 25.

Her sons are Don Robin Hawkins, Harold Franklin Hawkins II and Corey Birchfield. She is also survived by husband Benny Birchfield and by several grandchildren and great grandchildren.

LifeNotes: Songwriting Great John D. Loudermilk Passes

John D. Loudermilk
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member John D. Loudermilk has died at age 82 following a struggle with bone cancer. He died on Wednesday (Sept. 21), according to a Facebook post by songwriter Bobby Braddock.

Loudermilk’s classics include “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” “Break My Mind,” “Tobacco Road,” “Abilene,” “Talk Back Trembling Lips” and “Waterloo.” He is unusual as a Nashville songwriter of his generation who had as many pop successes as country hits.

The native North Carolinian worked in a variety of occupations before becoming a songwriting professional. As a youngster, he was a shoeshine boy, janitor, door-to-door Bible salesman, sign painter, grocery bagger, bulldozer operator, radio entertainer and telegram delivery boy.

He was a graduate of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. His first cousins were Ira and Charlie Loudermilk, who found country fame as The Louvin Brothers.

Loudermilk was working for a local TV station, painting sets and doing commercial artwork when he began to write poems and songs. In 1956, he wrote “A Rose and a Baby Ruth.” Fellow North Carolinian George Hamilton IV turned it into a teen pop smash.

Recording as “Johnny Dee,” Loudermilk, himself, scored a modest teen pop hit in 1957 with “Sittin’ in the Balcony.” Rockabilly sensation Eddie Cochran also scored with the tune that year.

Loudermilk moved to Nashville in 1958 and continued to pursue dual careers as a songwriter for others as well as a recording artist.

RCA executive Chet Atkins took a shine to him. He hired Loudermilk to screen songs for the label’s Nashville artists and signed him to make records. Atkins used him as a session musician and backup vocalist, as well. Loudermilk’s career was also bolstered when he signed as a staff writer for Cedarwood Publishing, then Acuff-Rose Music.

His Nashville career took off in 1959. “Grin and Bear It” was a hit for Jimmy C. Newman and “Half Breed” did the same for Marvin Rainwater. But it was “Waterloo,” sung by Stonewall Jackson, that made Loudermilk a songwriting star. Co-written with Marijohn Wilkin, the song became a No. 1 country smash and a No. 4 pop-crossover hit.

In early 1960, Loudermilk scored again, this time as the cowriter of the Kitty Wells country hit “Amigo’s Guitar.” Meanwhile, on the pop charts, Johnny Ferguson hit with 1960’s “Angela Jones” and Connie Francis had 1961 successes with Loudermilk’s “(He’s My) Dreamboat” and “Hollywood.” Mark Dinning had a minor pop hit with “Top Forty News, Weather and Sports.”

Also in 1961, Loudermilk began writing a string of pop hits for Sue Thompson. These included “Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)” (1961), “Norman” (1962), “James (Hold the Ladder Steady)” (1962) and “Paper Tiger” (1965). The Everly Brothers had a big 1961 pop hit with Loudermilk’s classic death ballad “Ebony Eyes.”

The songwriter returned to the pop charts as an artist in 1961-62 with self-penned RCA singles including “Language of Love,” “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” “Callin’ Doctor Casey” and “Road Hog.”

Chet Atkins recorded the songwriter’s “Windy and Warm” in 1961, and the instrumental has since been recorded by many other guitarists. Bobby Vee had a 1961 pop hit with the teen-themed “Stayin’ In.”

The following year, Loudermilk’s pop activity included “Torture,” sung by Kris Jensen. The song later achieved camp status via its inclusion in Kenneth Anger’s 1963 underground cult film Scorpio Rising.

Loudermilk’s “Talk Back Trembling Lips” was a country and pop audio icon of 1963, thanks to recordings by Ernie Ashworth and Johnny Tillotson, respectively. George Hamilton IV solidified his transition from pop to country stardom thanks to Loudermilk’s “Abilene” in 1963. Stonewall Jackson also returned to the songwriter’s catalog for “Can’t Hang Up the Phone” that year.

Hamilton had two more country hits with Loudermilk’s “Linda With the Lonely Eyes” and “Fort Worth, Dallas or Houston” in 1964. In addition, Johnny Cash scored on the country hit parade with “Bad News.” Bobby Lord’s version of “Life Can Have Meaning” and Bob Luman’s recording of “The File” were also significant country chart entries of 1964.

But the songwriter’s biggest triumph that year was in pop. The “British Invasion” band The Nashville Teens scored a rocking hit with his “Tobacco Road,” and the song went on to be recorded by dozens of bands. The group followed it with his “Google Eye,” which became a big hit in England.

Also in the pop world, “Thou Shalt Not Steal” (Dick and DeeDee), “Everything’s Alright” (The Newbeats) and “This Little Bird” (Marianne Faithful) were successful John D. Loudermilk songs of 1964-65.

Meanwhile, the songwriter continued to work as a recording artist. Following his LPs The Language of Love (1961), 12 Sides of John D. Loudermilk (1962) and Presenting John D. Loudermilk (1963), he resumed making RCA albums with John D. Loudermilk Sings a Bizarre Collection of the Most Unusual Songs (1966), Suburban Attitudes in Country Verse (1967), Country Love Songs (1968) and The Open Mind of John D. Loudermilk (1969). His liner notes for Suburban Attitudes won him a Grammy Award.

As a songwriter, he continued to have simultaneous success in both the country and the pop worlds. Sandy Posey posted a pop hit with “What A Woman in Love Won’t Do” in 1967. In the country genre, Hamilton returned with “Break My Mind,” “Little World Girl” and “It’s My Time” in 1967-68. The last-named was also recorded by Jody Miller, Dolly Parton and Lynn Anderson, among others. “Break My Mind” also became much-recorded, entering the repertoires of Linda Ronstadt (1969), Vern Gosdin (1978) and many more.

But the biggest news for Loudermilk during 1967 was “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” a major pop hit for The Casinos that year. The ballad has gone on to become a huge success on various charts for such performers as Eddy Arnold (1968), Glen Campbell (1976), Toby Beau (1979) and Neal McCoy (1996). It has been recorded by more than 200 artists.

Campbell scored a No. 1 country hit with Loudermilk’s “I Wanna Live” in 1968. The songwriter’s final pop No. 1 hit occurred in 1971 with “Indian Reservation” by The Raiders. This song returned him to the spotlight when it was used in Tim McGraw’s 1994 country smash “Indian Outlaw.” The McCoy hit with “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” two years later also kept the songwriter’s name on the charts in the 1990s.

Among the hundreds who have recorded his songs are such rockers as The Allman Brothers, Edgar Winter, David Lee Roth, War, Jefferson Airplane, The Animals, Johnny Winter, Jerry Lee Lewis and Rare Earth. Pop stars Petula Clark, Perry Como, Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison, Tracey Ullman, Sammy Davis Jr., The Box Tops, Rick Nelson and many more have dipped into his catalog. So have soul music makers such as James Brown, Solomon Burke, Nina Simone, Norah Jones, Bettye Swann, Jay Z, Kanye West and Barbara Lynn.

Virtually everybody in country music has sung a John D. Loudermilk song, including Skeeter Davis, The Browns, Connie Smith, Webb Pierce, Barbara Mandrell, George Jones, Bobbie Gentry, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Doc Watson, Sonny James, Anne Murray, Conway Twitty and Willie Nelson.

Loudermilk’s last significant country chart success, to date, was in 1973. This was George Hamilton IV’s Top 30 treatment of his “Blue Train,” which has since become a bluegrass favorite.

John D. Loudermilk’s later-career solo albums included 1971’s Volume 1 – Eloree, 1975’s Rockin’ Styles and 1977’s Just Passing Through. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976.

In 1981, he helped to establish the Nashville office of The Songwriters Guild. The organization fights for better contracts for composers.

Loudermilk was long regarded as an eccentric, “unforgettable character” in Nashville. During the 1990s, he devoted himself to travelling, studying ethnomusicology, chasing hurricanes and doing research on Native American burial mounds.

He was honored at the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007 in its “Poets and Prophets” speaker series. Also in 2007, Loudermilk donated approximately 2,000 items of career papers, photos, recordings and memorabilia to the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina. He was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2011.

Following his cancer diagnosis, an all-star group gathered to honor him at The Franklin Theater in March 2016. He said he didn’t want a memorial service after his death, so the Nashville music community gave him one while he was alive.

Performing his catalog of hits were such talents as Rodney Crowell, Bobby Braddock, Lee Roy Parnell, Jimmy Hall, Doyle Lawson, Ricky Skaggs, The Whites, Billy Burnette, Emmylou Harris, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Marty Stuart and Deborah Allen.

LifeNotes: Beach Music Kingpin Clifford Curry Passes

Clifford Curry

Clifford Curry

Funeral services for Nashville’s soul music mainstay Clifford Curry were held in Knoxville on Saturday (Sept. 17).

Best known for his evergreen hit “She Shot a Hole in My Soul,” Curry became a star on the “beach music” circuit in the 1980s and 1990s. He toured with such R&B greats as Maurice Williams, Percy Sledge, Archie Bell, Clarence “Frogman” Henry and his fellow Nashvillians Earl Gaines and Roscoe Shelton.

Clifford Curry Jr. was born in Chicago on Nov. 3, 1936 and was raised in Knoxville. He originally gained local notoriety in 1956 in East Tennessee as a member of the doo-wop group The Echoes.

In 1959-63, Curry sang lead for the touring Bubba Suggs Band. Suggs dubbed him “Sweet Clifford.” For years thereafter, Clifford Curry commuted between Knoxville and the Nashville area trying to further his music career.

He sang with a variety of groups, including The Five Pennies, The Bingos, The Hollyhocks, The Fabulous Six and The Midnights. Curry became popular on the Southern fraternity-party circuit in the early 1960s. Billed as “Sweet Clifford,” he released singles on Nashville’s Excello Records in 1963 and 1965.

Music City songwriters Mac Gayden and Chuck Neese co-wrote “She Shot a Hole in My Soul.” After Curry recorded it in Nashville, Buzz Cason put it out on his Elf Records label. It topped the charts on many radio stations in Tennessee, Kentucky and other Southern states, was a hit on the national R&B charts and also became a minor pop success in 1967.

Curry followed it with recordings of such Nashville tunes as Arthur Alexander’s “We’re Gonna Hate Ourselves in the Morning,” Bobby Russell’s “I Need a Little Help, Girl” and Cason’s “Good Humor Man.” He continued to record in Nashville throughout the 1970s.

As a songwriter, Curry tasted gospel success with “He’s Gonna Smile on Me,” which became a hit for The Oak Ridge Boys in 1974.

Meanwhile, Clifford Curry records such as “The Natives Are Restless Tonight” and “Soul Ranger” became popular on the “Northern Soul” scene in England.

It turned out that his oldie “She Shot a Hole in My Soul” had a longer shelf life than expected. Its loping, easy-rocking tempo made it an ideal single for a dance called The Shag, which steadily grew in popularity in the beach-resort culture of the Carolinas. As a result, during the 1980s, Clifford Curry found himself in demand as an entertainer in the nightclubs of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and the surrounding area.

He became a permanent Nashville resident in 1985. Curry reignited his recording career with such Music City albums as Then and Now, Cold Beer and Hot Women, The Soul of Clifford Curry, Blues I Can’t Lose, The Provider, Clifford’s Blues and She Shot a Hole in My Soul Again!

He also recorded a tune called “Shag With Me” to capitalize on his “beach music” notoriety. His 1986 single “Mr. Lonely”/”25 Hours a Day” was also aimed at the beach-music market.

Clifford Curry eventually became known as “The King of Beach Music.” He was regularly honored at the annual Carolina Beach Music Awards (known as The Cammys). He was inducted into the Beach Music Hall of Fame in 1995. His version of Joe Turner’s “Boogie Woogie Country Girl” was named Beach Music Record of the Year at the same ceremony.

This musical genre was notably saluted in the group Alabama’s 1997 country hit “Dancin,’ Shaggin’ on the Boulevard.” Around this same time, Curry saluted his hometown and his UT loyalty with his single “Pat Summit, Dad Gummit.”

Clifford Curry recorded blues albums in Nashville during the 1990s. He toured Europe to promote these in 1995 and 1997.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001. The Nashville music community organized a benefit show for Curry’s medical expenses. Billed as “An Evening of Classic Rock ‘n’ Roll,” the event starred Cason, Dobie Gray, Bruce Channel, Dennis Yost, Dickey Lee, Ray Peterson, Bucky Wilkin, Troy Shondell, Robert Knight, Larry Henley, Gene Hughes, Freddy Weller, The Sons of the Beach and more.

Curry came back into the spotlight via the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Night Train to Nashville exhibit in 2004. “She Shot a Hole in My Soul” was included on the exhibit’s companion CD, which won a Grammy Award.

Clifford Curry suffered a stroke on Aug. 29 and was hospitalized at UT Medical Center in Knoxville. He died there on Sept. 7 at age 79.

He is survived by sons Tony, Jackie and Clifford III, by daughters Deborah Curry, Jessica Blaylock and Lydia Holmes, by brother Floyd and by several grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was buried in Knoxville’s Highland Memorial Cemetery.

LifeNotes: Pedal Steel Pioneer Bud Isaacs Passes

bud-isaacsBud Isaacs, who made country music history as the first person to play the pedal steel guitar on a hit record, has died. Isaacs was 88 years old. He passed away in Arizona on Sunday, Sept. 4.

He was born Forrest Isaacs in Indiana on March 26, 1928 and developed his love for country music by listening to Hawaiian steel guitarist Jerry Byrd on WLW’s Midwestern Hayride out of Cincinnati.

After his radio debut on WIBC in Indianapolis, Isaacs began traveling to perform on various barn-dance shows in 1944. He worked in Texas, Arizona, Michigan and elsewhere during the following decade.

Jimmy Dickens hired him as a sideman. This association led to Isaacs performing on the Grand Ole Opry in 1950-54, then to a stint in Red Foley’s band at the Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri in 1954-57.

Isaacs was experimenting with different instrumental techniques throughout the early 1950s. In 1953, he added foot and knee pedals to a steel guitar. By manipulating these, he was able to vary the tension on individual strings to create bending, warbling, sustained, highly expressive notes.

In November 1953, Webb Pierce tapped him to play the then-new pedal steel guitar on his recording of “Slowly.” It became a massive hit in 1954, revolutionized the instrument and led to country music’s wholesale embrace of its sound. Dozens of instrumentalists rushed to imitate the playing style of Bud Isaacs. The stylist, himself, became an in-demand session player.

In addition to Pierce, Dickens and Foley, his playing can be heard on records by Jim Reeves, Skeeter Davis, Chet Atkins, Kitty Wells, Justin Tubb, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Buck Owens, Wilf Carter and more.

bud-isaacs-cd-master-of-steel-guitarIn 1954-56, he was a solo recording artist for RCA. Among his tunes for the label is the steel standard “Bud’s Bounce.” His 1955 RCA EP Crying Steel Guitar is highly collectible. He also recorded as a member of The Country All Stars alongside Atkins, Jethro Burns, Homer Haynes and Dale Potter. In 1956-57, he worked with Gibson Guitars as a steel designer.

Bud Isaacs was married to singer, yodeler and bass player Geri Mapes. They toured for years as The Golden West Singers before retiring to Yuma, Arizona.

He was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1984. Since then, German record companies have issued three compilations of his recordings, Master of the Steel Guitar (2005), Swingin’ Steel Guitar of Bud Isaacs (2005) and Bud’s Bounce (2006).

Bud Isaacs will be cremated in Yuma, and a memorial service will be held at a later date.

LifeNotes: Fiddle Great Hoot Hester Passes

Hoot Hester

Hoot Hester

Longtime Opry staff fiddler Hoot Hester died Tuesday (Aug. 30) at age 65. Hester joined the Grand Ole Opry staff band in 2000 and remained there until 2014.

He also appeared with the Western swing ensemble The Time Jumpers, was once a member of Wylie & The Wild West and had an extensive resume as a session musician. Though best known as a fiddler, Hester was also proficient on mandolin and guitar.

Born Hubert Dwane Hester in Kentucky, he was inspired by his fiddle-playing father, piano-playing mother and four uncles who were also musicians. Following high school, he joined the Louisville bluegrass band Bluegrass Alliance.

He moved to Nashville in 1973 and was hired by The Whites. Stints touring with Jerry Reed, Mel Tillis and Donna Fargo ensued.

In the 1980s, he decided to focus on studio work. He joined forces with steel guitarist Buddy Emmons and guitarist Phil Baugh to form Sound Factory. They formed the basis for the “house” bands on the TV shows That Nashville Music and Nashville Alive.

Beginning around 1983, Hoot Hester became a regular at Nashville recording sessions. Throughout the rest of that decade he backed Gary Morris, Randy Travis, Dan Seals, Moe Bandy, Vern Gosdin, Conway Twitty and more on their hit records.

Studio success continued in the 1990s, with Hester appearing on the recordings of Ricky Van Shelton, Kenny Rogers, Ray Price, The Statler Brothers, George Strait, Gene Watson, Steve Wariner and more. In the 2000-2010 era, he could be heard on the discs of such stars as Charley Pride, John Conlee, Radney Foster, Dale Watson, Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Larry Gatlin, Merle Haggard and many others. More recent clients have included Alan Jackson and Charlie McCoy.

He was one of the original members of The Time Jumpers when the band was formed in 1997. In 2012, he appeared on The Time Jumpers debut album. Hoot Hester has also recorded with such diverse talents as Alabama, Manhattan Transfer, Hank Williams Jr. and Ray Charles.

In recent years, he has been performing with his daughter Rachel Hester. Billed as Rachel Hester & The Tennessee Walkers, they had a regular weekly gig at Robert’s Western Wear on Lower Broadway.

LifeNotes: Limeliters Singer Glenn Yarbrough Passes

Glenn Yarbrough

Glenn Yarbrough

Singer Glenn Yarbrough, famed for his 1965 pop hit “Baby the Rain Must Fall” passed away in Nashville on Thursday (August 11) at age 86.

Yarbrough first came to prominence as the lead singer of the folk group The Limeliters in 1959-63. He toured and recorded for more than five decades.

Born in Milwaukee in 1930, he grew up in New York City and attended university in Annapolis, Maryland. His college roommate was Jac Holzman, later the co-founder of Elektra Records. Folk-music great Woody Guthrie met the roommates after a concert and sang all night for them in their dorm. Inspired, Glenn Yarbrough bought a guitar and took up folk singing.

After serving in the Army, Yarbrough moved to South Dakota and starred in his own local TV show. He launched his recording career with his debut LP in 1957 on Holzman’s Elektra imprint. Yarbrough also recorded a duet LP for the company with California folk stylist Marilyn Childs.

He also began to tour as a performer. Following an extended booking at Chicago’s Gate of Horn club, Yarbrough went to Aspen, Colorado, to run his own folk venue, The Limelite. There, he formed The Limeliters with Lou Gottlieb and Alex Hassilev.

The group’s debut LP appeared on Elektra Records in 1960. The following year, The Limeliters hit the pop charts with their single “A Dollar Down.”

Other songs associated with the group include “There’s a Meetin’ Here Tonight,” “The Midnight Special,” “This Train,” “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Gotta Travel On.” Bass player Gottlieb was the Limeliters comic spokesman. Banjo player Hassilev was also an actor and a linguist. Yarbrough played guitar, and his clear tenor was the act’s lead voice.

Glenn Yarbrough left the trio in 1963 to resume his solo career, but he often returned for Limeliters reunion concerts and tours. Group member Lou Gottlieb died in 1996 at age 72. His son is Nashville artist manager Tony Gottlieb.

“Baby the Rain Must Fall” was the title tune of a movie starring Steve McQueen and Lee Remick. Following his hit with the song on RCA, Yarbrough returned to the hit parade with 1965’s “It’s Gonna Be Fine.”

Among his other notable songs of this era were versions of Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is a Long Time,” the Jay Livingston/Ray Evans favorite “All the Time” and Rod McKuen’s “Channing Way,” “The Lonely Things” and “The World I Used to Know.”

For the rest of his life, Glenn Yarbrough divided his time between making music and sailing the boat he built. He’d sail it until he ran out of money, then he’d do shows until he’d saved up enough to take to the water again. He kept this up until he reached 80.

He moved to Nashville in 2010 to be cared for by his daughter, Holly Yarbrough Burnett. Glenn Yarbrough is survived by her, by daughter Stephany Yarbrough, son Sean Yarbrough and son-in-law Robert Burnett. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

LifeNotes: Country Songwriter Richard Fagan Passes


Richard Fagan. Photo: Bev Moser/Moments By Moser

Richard Fagan. Photo: Bev Moser/Moments By Moser

Hit Nashville songwriter Richard Fagan has succumbed to liver cancer.

He died Friday (Aug. 5) with his wife by his side, The Tennessean reported.

Working with a variety of collaborators, Fagan was responsible for such country hits as John Michael Montgomery’s “Be My Baby Tonight,” “I Miss You a Little” and “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident),” as well as George Strait’s “Overnight Male.”

As a writer, Fagan had six Top 10 hits, 20 charted songs and more than 65 recorded titles.

His songs were sung by Shania Twain, Hank Williams Jr., Neil Diamond, George Jones and The Blues Brothers, among many others. Albums containing his songs have sold more than 25 million copies. His works have appeared on the soundtracks of five feature films and in national television sports broadcasts.

Noted for his colorful lyrics and novelty numbers, Fagan was just as colorful as a personality. His high-strung personality often manifested itself in an irreverent sense of humor.

Richard Fagan was born in 1947. His father died of tuberculosis when the boy was 3, and he was raised in the housing projects of South Philadelphia. His mother cleaned homes and offices for a living. Fagan’s education was on the rough streets of his hometown.

He picked up the guitar at age 14 and began leading street-corner harmony groups shortly thereafter. Fagan was drafted and sent to Vietnam, where he turned 21. His tour of duty included singing war protest songs, going AWOL, growing his moustache and being arrested for having subversive literature.

Following his discharge in 1968, he became a homeless vagabond. He married and had a son, but when the marriage ended in 1975, he sank into drug and alcohol abuse. He again became homeless.

But he also began writing songs. Philadelphia music entrepreneur Tom Oteri recorded Fagan singing his works in 1976 and began sending the tapes to industry tastemakers. Producer Bob Gaudio heard and liked one of them. Gaudio had famously worked with The Four Seasons, Diana Ross, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. He took Fagan’s “The Good Lord Loves You” to Neil Diamond, and it became an adult contemporary hit for the singer in 1980.

Guadio also got the songwriter a pop recording contract with Mercury Records and produced his debut LP Richard Fagan. It was released in 1979. But the follow-up LP was shelved by the label two years later and Fagan lost his recording contract. In 1985, he made his first exploratory trips to Nashville.

Up to this point, he had mainly written songs alone. In Nashville, he discovered he enjoyed co-writing. His collaborators over the ensuing years included Larry Alderman, Robb Royer, Ed Hill, Patti Ryan, Ralph James, Rich Grissom and Gordon Kennedy.

Fagan and Oteri moved to Music City in January 1986. Within a week, Con Hunley became the first country star to record one of his tunes, “Blue Suede Blues.” In 1988, Fagan had his first Top 10 success when Moe Bandy recorded his “Americana.” It became an official campaign theme song for President George H.W. Bush, who was a big country fan.

Next, Opry star Mel McDaniel had a Top 10 success with Fagan’s “Real Good Feel Good Song.” McDaniel also recorded 1989’s “You Can’t Play the Blues (In an Air Conditioned Room),” which was covered by The Blues Brothers in 1992. In the early 1990s, the songwriter also began providing novelty tunes to such comedy acts as Pinkard & Bowden, Ethel & The Shameless Hussies, Cledus T. Judd, Kacey Jones and his own band, Phillybilly.

In 1992, Strait included “Overnight Male” on the multi-million-selling soundtrack album of his movie Pure Country. Twain sang Fagan’s “Crime of the Century” on the soundtrack of the Nicolas Cage thriller Red Rock West the following year. Kevin Costner’s 1996 film Tin Cup included Patty Loveless singing the songwriter’s “Where Are You Boy.”

Meanwhile, Tom Oteri’s daughter, Cheri Oteri, gained national fame as a manic comic force on NBC-TV’s Saturday Night Live in 1995-2000. She memorably lampooned Barbara Walters, Judge Judy, Kathie Lee Gifford and other celebrities and starred opposite Will Ferrell in the “Spartans Cheerleaders” segments.

During this same period in Nashville, Tom Oteri ran Fagan’s publishing company as Collin Raye, B.B. Watson, Jason Ringenberg, Ray Kennedy, Chris LeDoux, The Crickets, Jeff Carson, Shenandoah, Ricochet and others were snapping up the songwriter’s compositions. The team’s publishing company was called “OF music,” the “O” standing for Oteri and the “F” standing for Fagan.

The songwriter reached the peak of his success when John Michael Montgomery hit the top of the charts with a trio of his works in 1994-97. Clay Walker had a big 1996 hit with “Only on Days That End in ‘Y.’”

Fagan’s band Phillybilly released its self-titled CD in that same year. As the lead vocalist of a later group called Superfan, Fagan was widely heard singing the rocking “My House” promoting the 2002 Winter Olympics for eight months on NBC-TV. That song has subsequently been used in more than 30 major-league sports facilities nationwide.

Fagan had a comeback on the country charts with Hank Williams Jr. singing his “Why Can’t We All Get a Longneck” in 2004. He also had cuts with a number of independent-label artists.

Then old demons returned to haunt Richard Fagan. According to The Tennessean, he and Oteri drank heavily on Saturday, April 26, 2008 and had a huge argument around 9 p.m. Fagan slashed Oteri’s wrist with a pocketknife. They were roommates, business partners and longtime friends.

Oteri, 69 at the time, was not a big drinker and was noted for his congenial personality, fatherly manner and gentle disposition. He was not argumentative. He was also weak and ill at the time. Fagan had never been violent and was much loved by Oteri’s adult children.

At about 10:45 p.m. that night, Fagan was arrested on a D.U.I. charge while driving in East Nashville. He called a friend to check on Oteri. After entering the home, this friend called the police. Gaetano Thomas Oteri was pronounced dead at the scene.

Fagan was charged with homicide. He was ordered to enter an alcohol and drug treatment facility. Tom Oteri’s death was later ruled an accident.

Kacey Jones and Cledus T. Judd continued to record his songs, but mainstream country stars stopped recording his works. He reportedly had been ill for some time before he was correctly diagnosed.

LifeNotes: Music Industry Security Director Rusty Martin Passes

Rusty Martin. Photo:

Rusty Martin. Photo:

ASCAP security director and former Mississippi highway patrolman Roy L. “Rusty” Martin passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, July 30. He was 62 years old.

A native of Cleveland, Mississippi, his experience in law enforcement set him on a path in the music industry where he provided security services to Arista Records in the 1990s, under the direction of Tim DuBois, and subsequently in similar roles at RCA Label Group and most recently at ASCAP.

Martin’s main responsibility may have been security, but his cheerful personality and warm persona greeted guests and employees with such sincere interest, the security he provided went way beyond the gun in his holster. Absent of any agenda, Martin was always interested in other peoples’ lives, their families, triumphs and trials. He often served as advocate and cheerleader for everyone he knew which was one of his most endearing traits.

He had a boundless passion and love of country music which equally matched both his love of people and his prior experience in law enforcement. As evidenced by the many comments on social media after hearing of his passing, friends will remember Martin as someone who took the time to become personally invested in people.

Tim DuBois shared via Facebook, “Rusty was an amazing friend to all of us. He was always there to greet us with a smile, and we always knew we were safe when he was around. We all loved this man and knew he loved us right back.”

Rusty Martin and his late wife of 28 years, Becky, were the inspiration of Kenny Chesney‘s No. 1 hit “The Good Stuff,” after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and courageously fought her illness until her death in 2000.

“Becky was just a mother and a best friend, and she always had something positive to say about somebody,” Martin told CMT in 2002. “We were so blessed in a bad situation, because she was home and we were all around the bed holding hands until the last breath was taken.” He shared that experience with songwriters Jim Collins and Craig Wiseman and the tale inspired the tunesmiths to pen “The Good Stuff” which became the second single from Kenny Chesney’s album No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems.

Love you my brother.

Arrangements are as follows;

Visitation: Tuesday, August 2,  5:00 p.m.- 9:00 p.m. CST
Funeral Service: Wednesday, August 3, at 1:00 p.m. CST
The family will also receive visitors Wednesday morning up until the time of the service.

Booneville Funeral Home
506 N 3rd Street
Booneville, MS 38829
(662) 728-6607

The Rusty Martin Memorial Fund has been established at Avenue Bank to help cover funeral expenses and will be managed by Rusty’s 3 children, Shane, Shannon & Jason.

Anyone desiring to make a donation can stop by any Avenue Bank branch and make a contribution to the account titled: Rusty Martin Memorial Fund.

If you live out of state or prefer to mail in a contribution, you can send a check to;

Avenue Bank
Attention: Ron Cox
209 Tenth Avenue South, Suite 250
Nashville, TN 37203


Rusty Martin. Photo:

Rusty Martin. Photo:

Country Music Hall of Fame Member Bonnie Brown Dies At 77

Bonnie Brown

Bonnie Brown

Funeral services were held for Country Music Hall of Fame member Bonnie Brown on Saturday, July 23 at 10 a.m. at the Presbyterian Church in Dardanelle.

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Bonnie Brown, who entered the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015 as a member of The Browns, died Saturday (July 16) at age 77.

With her siblings Jim Ed Brown and Maxine Brown, she created a dulcet-singing harmony trio that achieved success on both country and pop hit parades. The Browns’ 1959 smash hit “The Three Bells” was the first true “Nashville Sound” single to “crossover” and become a No. 1 pop success. Bonnie, Jim Ed and Maxine also had simultaneous pop and country hits with the tender folk-flavored, ballad singles “Scarlet Ribbons” and “The Old Lamplighter.” Bonnie Brown sang with her siblings throughout most of the 1950s and 1960s, placing 20 titles on the country charts.

She was the youngest member of the trio, being four years younger than her brother and seven years younger than her sister. All of the singing Browns were raised in Arkansas. Jim Ed and Maxine came to local prominence as a duo, then achieve national success with the 1954 hit “Looking Back to See.” Bonnie Brown joined them the following year, just after she graduated from high school.

From the start, the trio’s sibling harmony blend was exquisite, with Jim Ed’s fluid baritone, Maxine’s resonant alto and Bonnie’s lilting soprano creating memorable audio overtones. They scored immediately on the country charts with “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow” (1955), “I Take the Chance” (1956) and “I Heard the Bluebirds Sing” (1957).

The Browns’ country successes continued with “Would You Care” (1958) and “Beyond the Shadow” (1959). All three Brown siblings were pitch-perfect harmony singers, but the pattern became Jim Ed singing lead with Bonnie and Maxine as his blending vocalists. They became stars at both The Louisiana Hayride and The Ozark Jubilee. In the early 1950s, The Browns toured with the then-emerging star Elvis Presley, who took a shine to both Bonnie and Maxine.

Bonnie Brown provided the group with much of its visual appeal. Her striking beauty remained with her throughout her subsequent life, onstage and off. The trio’s elegant harmony singing was nowhere better illustrated than on 1959’s “The Three Bells.” This charming, chiming story song was adapted by The Browns from a French pop hit. Produced by Chet Atkins, it was No. 1 on the country charts for 10 weeks and No. 1 on the pop charts for four weeks. Then as now, this was a stunning feat for a Nashville country record.

Bonnie and her siblings replicated that hit’s sound on the pop and country successes “Scarlet Ribbons” (1959) and “The Old Lamplighter” (1960). Then The Browns solidified their country stardom with “Send Me the Pillow You Dream On” (1961), “Then I’ll Stop Loving You” (1964), “Everybody’s Darlin’ Plus Mine” (1964), “I’d Be Just Fool Enough” (1966), “Coming Back to You” (1966) and other hits.

Bonnie Brown

Bonnie Brown

The Browns joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry in 1963.

Bonnie Brown withdrew from the group in 1967 to settle back home in Arkansas with her husband and raise their daughters. Jim Ed Brown went on to have a hugely successful solo career. Maxine Brown also made solo records. The trio reunited several times over the years, usually at the Opry. Bonnie and Maxine also appeared on Jim Ed’s final album, 2015’s In Style Again. Later that year, Jim Ed Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died in June 2015, but was presented with his Hall of Fame honor at his bedside before he passed away. Bonnie and Maxine attended the group’s official Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Nashville that fall.

Bonnie Brown also had lung cancer. She died of the disease on Saturday afternoon, July 16, at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock.

Dr. Gene “Brownie” Ring, her husband of more than 56 years, died in January. Bonnie Jean Brown is survived by their daughters Kelly and Robin, by several grandchildren and by her sister Maxine.