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Wanda Jackson Speaks About Elvis, Kitty Wells, And Jean Shepard

October 8, 2009

I found this interesting, and trust my readers here at “Mother Church Of Country Music” will feel the same.

Her latest album , “I Remember Elvis,” finds her paying tribute to her former boyfriend, Elvis Presley. We caught up with Jackson, who rocks the Rhythm Room Sunday, Oct. 11, to talk about that Elvis and a younger Elvis who may have paved the way for her induction to the Hall of Fame.

Question: Congratulations on the Hall of Fame. How was the ceremony?

Answer: Fantastic. I got to visit some with Rosanne Cash, who presented me with my award. We got to sit and have dinner with her and also, Scotty Moore, D.J. Fontana and Bill Black’s two children. So it was like a family reunion.

Q: You did a lot of touring with Scotty Moore and those guys in the ’50s, right?

A: Yeah, in the early days, working with Elvis.

Q: Is it true that Elvis is the one who got you into singing rockabilly?

A: Yeah. Of course, I loved his stuff and being able to watch him perform on these tours. I was a teenager, so it was my generation’s music. But I didn’t think I could do it. I had it in my mind that I was just a country singer, because that’s all I’d ever done. So he gave me the courage to try to be more than what I was or what I thought I was. And rockabilly and country were like kissing cousins. It wasn’t too big of a stretch.

Q: I wondered if it felt that different, moving into rockabilly.

A: It is different. It’s wilder and more abandoned. That’s why I found it so much fun to sing. I started off with a song that was written for me by a friend in Oklahoma City called “I Gotta Know,” and it was my transition song. And then, I found a song that Betty Hutton did in some movie, called “Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad.” I loved singing that song. After that, I began writing a lot of my own songs because nobody was writing rock and roll for girls. There weren’t any other girls doing it.

Q: When you moved into writing, did you meet with much resistance at the label?

A: No. They were thrilled that I was coming up with some songs to record. My producer was a fantastic producer. He had so much faith in the artists and letting them do what they felt they could do. It took three years for me to get a hit in America with rock and roll. “Let’s Have a Party” was pulled off my first album and released as a single after it was beginning to get some exposure up in Iowa. A disc jockey was using it for his rock and roll record show theme song. He was getting so many phone calls from people wanting to hear it all the way through and wanting to know who that was that he took it upon himself to contact Ken Nelson at Capitol Records and suggest that they release it as a single. And for some reason they did.

Q: So you and Elvis dated?

A: It wasn’t traditional dating because we were on tour, but we’d go out after a show and eat or get a Coke and drive around. He was already popular enough that it was kind of hard to go into a restaurant or a café, because the word would spread and here’d come all the fans. So we’d go to a drive-in and have a hamburger or something, just getting acquainted. We liked each other a lot. It was a very sweet relationship. Nowadays, people try to muddy the waters with things that . . . you know, they weren’t done. He asked me to be his girl and he gave me his ring to wear around my neck. So we were dating, officially. It just wasn’t traditional-style.

Q: Was Elvis enjoying his success when you knew him?

A: Absolutely. He was more or less a kid himself. He loved the girls clamoring over him and screaming. He got a big kick out of it.

Q: What was it like to be a girl in the rock and roll world of the ’50s? It was kind of like a boys’ club at the time.

A: All music was. In country music, there was only three of us when I first started. Kitty Wells and Jean Shepard were two of the first, and then I came along. But I was first in rock and roll. That’s just the way it was, and I didn’t think a whole lot about it, although I was disappointed that I couldn’t get airplay, because when I would do songs like “Hot Dog” or “Let’s Have A Party” on a personal appearance, the audience just loved it. So I couldn’t understand why the disc jockeys wouldn’t help me. I was one of the few artists that could open for Elvis, because if they were men stars, even stars that he was thrilled to be working with – Webb Pierce or Hank Snow – that audience came to see him, and they didn’t want Webb Pierce and Hank Snow. It got to where they couldn’t work with him. It was just too degrading. And he’d say, “What’s wrong with those kids?!”

Q: You sang with another Elvis on your 2003 album, “Heart Trouble.” Were you familiar with Elvis Costello?

A: Not a whole lot. I knew his name, of course. I remember he came to Oklahoma City and our kids were teenagers at that point and wanted to go to his concert. But his drummer came by a rehearsal and said that Elvis was one of my biggest fans and he would love to do a song with me. I had to make a special trip back to California to get with him on his schedule. But it was worth the trip. He said, “I won’t do it unless I can be in the studio with Wanda, singing with her.” Then he became a real advocate for me to get me into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And his help really got things stirred up.



Famed Record Producer Shelby Singleton Dies

October 7, 2009

Image the life that Shelby Singleton lived. 

 Famed record producer and label executive Shelby Singleton died Wednesday (Oct. 7) at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville, following a battle with cancer. He was 77.

As a record producer, Singleton was responsible for hits such as Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.” and Leroy Van Dyke’s “Walk on By.” A key figure in the careers of Roger Miller, Ray Stevens and others, Singleton spent his later years administering the release, licensing and marketing of Sun Records, the legendary label he purchased in 1969.

Born Dec. 16, 1931 in Waskom, Texas, he began working for the Starday and Mercury labels in the late ’50s, overseeing their regional radio promotion and retail business. He was named chief of A&R for Mercury’s Nashville division in 1961 before moving to New York to head the company’s A&R operations in New York and Nashville. During his tenure at Mercury and its Smash Records imprint, he signed Roger Miller, Jerry Lee Lewis and Faron Young to the company’s roster.

Singleton’s legend includes producing three major hits in a single day at Nashville’s Quonset Hut recording studio: Van Dyke’s “Walk on By,” Stevens’ “Ahab the Arab” and Joe Dowell’s “Wooden Heart.” He left Mercury in 1966 and created the Shelby Singleton Corporation in Nashville. After launching Plantation Records, he produced Riley’s recording of “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” a pop crossover record that sold more than 8 million copies.

In purchasing Sun Records, Singleton controlled the Memphis-based label’s extensive catalog of recordings, including early sessions by Lewis, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich and Roy Orbison, along with blues legends such as Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Parker and Little Milton, among others. In addition to promoting the recordings, Singleton was also aggressive in marketing the Sun Records logo on a wide variety of merchandise aimed at fans of the legendary label.

Comic Strip “Nancy” Features Montgomery Gentry And Grand Ole Opry

October 7, 2009

This does not happen to every star who steps onto the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.  To see the cartoon strip click on the link.

Montgomery Gentry recently took an animated form as characters in “Nancy,” one of the most beloved comics of all time. The duo’s June 23rd induction to the legendary Grand Ole Opry became inspiration for an episode of the internationally syndicated comic strip.

Upon seeing his cartoon alter-ego in print, Troy Gentry said, “What a nice surprise in my Sunday paper! I think we might have made Nancy’s aunt’s shirt once, but to be the subject and for them to include our Opry induction is very cool. And I’ve always wondered what I’d look like as a cartoon. Very flattering.”

Michael Dean Rick Schulman Finney Dies, Sang With Many Country Stars

October 7, 2009

Michael Dean Rick Schulman Finney died in early October 2009.  To say he had one remarkable resume is an understatement, as shown here.

For years, he sang bass and toured with the legendary Johnny Cash.  He also appeared on Austin City Limits as a member of John Prine‘s band.

Over the year Rick  had a prolific career as a songwriter for some major Music City artists including: George Jones, Johnny Paycheck, Charlie Rich, Bobby Bare, Freddie Hart and O.C. Smith.  

Early on, Rick garnered local popularity and acclaim for regular appearances on Nashville‘s Night Train, where he shared the stage with the likes of Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, Bo Diddley and Chubby Checker.  He also became the main opening act in the early days of Nashville’s famed Exit/In, where he performed such humorous originals as I Picked A Lemon In The Garden of Love and Mamma’s Ugly Baby.  While at the Exit/In, Rick opened shows for such legends as the B-52’s, Doby Gray, Johnnie Rivers, Steve Martin, Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson and B.B. King among others. 

When TNT and its successor, CMT took to the airwaves, Rick‘s larger than life presences was in high demand, appearing in music videos for Ray Charles, Waylon Jennings, Prine, Keith Whitley, Dr. Hook, Cowboy Jack Clement, Hank Williams, Jr., Roy Orbison and Tammy Wynette to name a few.

Uncle Pen’s Fiddle Makes Music Again

October 7, 2009

At  Jerusalem Ridge, in Rosine, Kentucky this past weekend the famous fiddle known by all in  “Uncle Pen” was brought to life again.


Last night, after Ralph Stanley’s set, Uncle Pen’s last fiddle was presented on stage by the family who has owned it since Pen’s passing. Pendleton (Pen) Vandiver was an uncle to the father of bluegrass music, Bill Monroe. The fiddle was played as the sisters sing a beautiful gospel song. This fiddle is the one that Uncle Pen played when Bill Monroe lived with him in his log cabin from 1927-1929.

Ths fiddle also the one referred to in the famous lyric “they hung up his fiddle, they hang up his bow, they knew it was time for him to go.”

After Pen passed away in 1932, the fiddle was inherited by Cleve Baize who played it until he died and then left it to his children. The have lovingly kept it safe all these years.

The fiddle, immortalized in the song, “Uncle Pen” was frequently performed by Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. The song has been performed by thousands of bluegrass music groups and has become a staple of bluegrass songs for jams, festivals and concerts.

Bill Monroe’s parents both passed away before Bill turned 16. Bill lived with his Uncle Pen, in a two-room hilltop house in Rosine, Kentucky. Both Bill and Uncle Pen are resting in Rosine today.

Walters Family “Humbled” To Perform At Ryman

October 6, 2009


I have no doubt that my legs would give out if I were to ever walk onto the stage of the famed Ryman Auditorium while the assembled crowd applauded.  It is not that I have stage fright.  Instead my legs would buckle knowing where my feet were about to tread, knowing who else had walked that stage over the many historic decades that the Grand Ole Opry performed there. 

It is with that preface that I lead into this story about the Walters Family that was invited to sing on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium.  What an honor!!   Considering the Walters Family performance at the Ryman parallels the 84th Birthday Celebration of The Grand Ole Opry….now you feel the history and drama!

It’ll be a little different experience from the barn stage they usually perform on several times a week.

The Walters family will be in the company of greatness when they take to the stage this Friday at one of the world’s most prestigious music halls.


“Many artists wait their whole lives to perform there,” Kimberly Walters said.

The local country music band has been asked to perform at the Ryman Auditorium, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry.

“It’s dripping with history,” Walters said of the 2,362 seat theatre that has been home to Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Garth Brooks, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and The Judds.

The Walters family, which includes Kim Walters’ seven-year-old son, Schyler, will be packing up their musical instruments and heading to Nashville on Tuesday.

“It’s cool we’re performing there,” Walters said. “It’s very prestigious — you have to be asked.”

The family received the invitation after two Grand Ole Opry reps came to one of their shows.

“They scouted us out and gave us an invitation,” she said. “We were honoured to accept it.”

And they are not going alone.

About seven motorcoaches of loyal Ontario fans will travel to Nashville to watch the show.

“We’re very humbled by that. That’s a very nice thing,” Walters said.

The story of the Walters Family begins in the early 1960s when Shirley, the daughter of George and Ann Matheson, married Garry Walters after they met while square dancing on a television show.

Matheson bought the farm where the Walters Family Theatre now resides and the Walters family eventually settled there after years of renovations.

It was George Matheson’s fiddling that would lead the Walters Family to their ultimate destiny.

He inspired all the Walters children to learn how to play an instrument of their own.

Darren Walters, who can now play 10 instruments, began performing at age four with his siblings.

They called themselves the Walters Family Trio and played every weekend at dances, weddings and family affairs.

Darren Walters eventually taught his parents to play instruments so they could also join the band. Eventually they commissioned a tour bus and performed throughout the United States and Canada.

They started playing at dances and then larger venues like fairs, corporate events and rodeos.

In mid-1980s they were hired for a television special by CKCO. The program was syndicated across the United States.

The family watched what was happening in Branson very carefully, where people travelled to the city to watch the acts.

In the mid-1990s they established a base at the Paris Fairgrounds where they played several shows a month during the summer.

In 2000, they opened the Walters Family Dinner Theatre in a barn renovated into a 160-seat theatre, and the family thrived.

Next year the theatre will celebrate its 10th anniversary with performances by Marty Haggar, Jimmy Fortune, Merle Osmond and Walter Ostanek.

“2010 tickets are going like crazy,” Walters said. “For most shows, they are already half sold out.”

Grand Ole Opry Went Pink On Saturday Night

October 6, 2009


The lights went pink Saturday night at the Grand Ole Opry in an effort to support the fight against breast cancer.  Country music star Carrie Underwood flipped the switch for the Opry barn’s pink backdrop. When ordering tickets for Opry shows, customers can mention the code “OPRY-PINK” and $5 of the ticket price will be donated for the fight against cancer.

During Friday’s shows, the Opry’s signature barn backdrop turned pink in support of the groups Women Rock for the Cure and Susan G. Komen for the Cure®. The shows also included performances from Underwood, Terri Clark, Jo Dee Messina, Lorrie Morgan, Mindy Smith, and others along with special activities recognizing breast cancer survivors and the continuing fight against the disease.