Tag Archives: Nashville

Rock for Our Man Kurtzy


Rock for Our Man Kurtzy


(click for larger version)
November 11, 2010

Rick Kurtz, considered one of the top guitarists to emerge from Birmingham (Nashville has been his home for the past several years), has impressed audiences for decades playing with Delbert McClinton, T. Graham Brown, the Amazing Rhythm Aces, and a couple of shows sitting in with the Allman Brothers, as well as dozens of local bands. In the past year, Kurtz suffered a stroke that left him unable to play the guitar. He continues physical therapy but faces daunting financial bills as he works toward resuming his musical career.

The Second Annual Wooden Nickel Reunion, which will be held at Old Car Heaven on November 27 at 7 p.m., will be a benefit for Kurtz. The evening will feature performers from the 1970s and 1980s that played at the old Wooden Nickel bar (now called The Nick), including the Nickelettes (Lolly, Louise, Beverly, Alice, and Suzan), the Gate Band, Dogwood featuring Don Tinsley, and the Broken Hearts. Tickets are $25. Old Car Heaven, 115 South 35th Street. Details: 324-4545 or www.oldcarheaven.com.

Tragic Song of Life

Tragic Song of Life

A new biography traces the career of a country music queen.

March 04, 2010
Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen
By Jimmy McDonough
Viking, 432 pages, $27.95Few things are more entertaining than Nashville’s colorful cavalcade of ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s country music icons, especially if any of those icons happened to have discovered drugs. Among the most hedonistic, in that context, were Tammy Wynette and George Jones, whose lifestyles are laid open by author Jimmy McDonough in Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen. Even those who loathe country music will be fascinated by this jaw-dropping tale.

Wynette’s dramatic, haunted existence (which lent itself to tabloid sensationalism) has always been realized in her music, thanks to producer Billy Sherrill, who frequently chose songs for Wynette that mirrored what the singer was experiencing in her life at the time, just as he did when producing records by her husband George Jones.

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Thoroughly researched, the book reads as if written by an obsessed fan, yet McDonough (author of the Neil Young biography Shakey and Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film) pulls no punches. He portrays Wynette as being perpetually out of control, on a downhill slide plagued by illnesses (real and imagined) that resulted in more than 30 surgeries during her 55 years. Her drug abuse is shocking. Fans are aware of Tammy’s battle with pills, but most may be stunned to learn of used hypodermic needles discovered beneath her mattress on her tour bus. She regularly injected herself with Dilaudid, Valium, or Demerol (or any combination thereof).

In the Beginning
Born in Tremont, Mississippi, Virginia Wynette Pugh married her first husband, Euple Byrd, shortly before graduating high school. When that marriage dissolved, she fled to Birmingham, where she worked as a beautician at the Midfield Beauty Salon. (Wynette kept her beautician’s license updated for 20 years after achieving success with “Stand By Your Man,” just in case her singing career faltered.) She supplemented her income by singing on “The Country Boy Eddie Show” in 1965. (McDonough devotes an entire chapter to “Country Boy” Eddie Burns, the retired Birmingham TV personality whose country music show aired from 5 to 7 a.m. for 37 years, mostly on WBRC Channel 6.) By year’s end, Wynette ventured to Nashville to record her first hit, “Apartment #9,” with producer Sherrill, who signed her to Epic Records and suggested that she change her name to Tammy Wynette.

When she had taken too many painkillers, a concert performance became a struggle. If Wynette was unable to hit a particular note, she’d give her backup singers hand signals so that they could cover for her.

Tragic Country Queen includes numerous anecdotes from Wynette’s fellow performers. Dolly Parton’s charms are recounted when the author describes Wynette at the 1968 Country Music Association Awards: “Skinny as a matchstick, wearing a fancy, futuristic housecoat dress, Tammy looks as though her ratted-out beehive and big lapels might consume her at any second. ‘Just a country girl’s idea of glamour,’ explains Parton. ‘Tammy didn’t have any more fashion sense than I did, really. I always say me and Tammy got our clothes from Fifth and Park—that is, the fifth trailer in the park.’”

Her life with third husband and singing partner George Jones was bizarre and unpredictable. In February of 1969, the couple was booked as a duo for the first time at the Playroom in Atlanta. A highly intoxicated Jones bolted mid-show on opening night. He hopped a ride to Las Vegas in a Lear jet with the club’s owner, forcing Wynette to finish the show alone. A few days later, Jones returned to tell Tammy he would never marry her. However, in classic Jones’ style he changed his mind and married her the next day.

Life is Hell
Wynette’s fourth marriage lasted only 44 days. After the divorce, painkillers played a larger role in the singer’s life due to her many physical ailments. Band members were instructed by her doctor on how to give Tammy her shots. Doctors in Nashville eventually caught on to her addictions and refused to prescribe any more narcotics, forcing her to search nationwide for doctors willing to write her prescriptions. In an attempt to score drugs, trips to emergency rooms after shows became routine.

McDonough writes of these indulgences as though Wynette had picked up a few tips from Keith Richards; she often had her supply of painkillers flown to her Nashville hometown. When she had taken too much, a concert performance became a struggle. If she couldn’t hit a particular note, she’d give her backup singers hand signals so that they could cover for her. A fist behind the back indicated she couldn’t sing the high F during the climactic final chorus in “Stand By Your Man,” while an open palm meant “Get this song over with as quick as possible.” During her final years, she sometimes nodded off between tunes. Her longtime drummer, Charley Abdern, bluntly observed: “She seemed kind of desperate to me. . . . I wish she would’ve quit. She really should’ve. It’s a sad story.”

In 1978, Wynette went missing for a few days, later claiming to have been kidnapped. Many doubted her story. She did not press for an investigation, and her daughter said the subject was taboo in the house. Two days after the alleged kidnapping, she performed in Columbia, South Carolina, her face still bruised. Tammy appeared nervous, whispering to the audience, “He could possibly be here, I just don’t know.” A mysterious, crumpled note was found backstage that read: “I’m still around, I’ll get you.”

Some ventured that it was George Jones trying to scare her, although Jones himself was skeptical that the kidnapping was real. “The whole affair was bullshit,” he surmised. “Somebody beat the hell out of Tammy, that’s for sure. But I don’t think it was a kidnapper.” Eight years after the incident, Wynette felt compelled to bring it up again, informing the press that she had received a letter from a prison inmate who told her that his cellmate had confessed to kidnapping her. Her daughter later wrote that Wynette told her the crime never occurred, and that fifth husband Richey, with whom Wynette reportedly had a rocky relationship, was the one who inflicted the bruises. Tammy’s hairdresser later confirmed that the singer shared the same story.

Hillary Clinton made headlines when she and husband Bill appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” in 1992. When asked about her husband’s alleged affair with Gennifer Flowers, Hillary responded, “I’m not sitting here like some little woman, standing by my man like Tammy Wynette.” Wynette was watching that evening and exclaimed, “How dare that bitch say that about me!” She wrote Hillary a seething letter. Clinton attempted to call but Tammy refused to talk to her until Wynette’s sometime-boyfriend Burt Reynolds persuaded her to do so. Amid the controversy, Sony Records promptly re-released “Stand By Your Man.” Barbra Streisand later invited Tammy to her Malibu home to perform at a fundraiser for Bill Clinton. According to Tammy, a shocked Hillary refused to speak to her.

Wynette continued to record and tour in the 1990s, though her last five years were spent connected to a portable IV unit, which she removed only to appear on stage. UK dance music outfit KLF had Wynette sing on their track “Justified and Ancient,” which went to number one in 18 countries and introduced Wynette to a new audience. Wynette recorded Honky Tonk Angels with Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn in 1993 and recorded a final duet album with George Jones. She was also the voice for Tillie Mae Hill (Hank Hill’s mother) on the animated TV series “King Of The Hill.”

Tragic Country Queen is a thoroughly entertaining read that tells a sad story loaded with enough sordid details for several albums’ worth of country songs. McDonough sums up Wynette’s tragic life: “Tammy Wynette never found what she was looking for. A white knight, a Prince Charming. . . . She wanted life to whisk her off her high-heeled feet, to be as passionate as the feverish cover of some romance novel. Instead Wynette wound up dying in public an inch at a time, her emaciated, addicted, tormented face plastered across the cover of every grocery store tabloid.” &

Author Jimmy McDonough will sign copies of Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen on March 8, 7 p.m., at the Colonial Brookwood Village location of Books-a-Million.


Book Review: Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?


Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?


The story of the Carter Family, also known as the First Family of country music.


July 29, 2004

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?
By Mark Zwonitzer with

Charles Hirshberg.
Simon and Schuster, 417 pages,

$15, softcover.

The story of the Carter Family is the story of Appalachian mountain music, the genre that would later spawn country, bluegrass, and folk music. Along with Jimmie Rodgers, the Carters were among the biggest stars of the late 1920s and ’30s. Their 78 rpm recordings of “Wildwood Flower” and “Keep on the Sunny Side” sold close to 100,000 copies at a time when the recording industry was still relatively new. Carter Family songs have been recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and Woody Guthrie, among others. They’re also credited with the first recording of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

Maybelle, Sara and A.P. Carter. (click for larger version)

For nearly half a century, the real story behind the breakup of the original Carter Family remained a mystery. Ensconced as the first family of country music, A.P. Carter, his wife Sara, and her cousin Maybelle never spoke publicly of the split. Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?, however, reveals the family secrets in agonizing, intriguing detail worthy of a John Steinbeck novel. It’s a fascinating, eye-opening journey into the desperation that not only defined the Great Depression, but that also was the essence of Carter Family songs.

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? is more than the Carters’ story, though. It’s also the story of the birth of the recording industry and the hoodwinking quackery of a millionaire “medical practitioner” named Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, the man who broadcast the Carter Family to much of the western hemisphere over his million-watt border radio station XERA. In fact, it’s the bizarre introduction of Brinkley’s cure for male impotence (which he regularly hawked over the airwaves) during the book’s prologue that initially prompts the reader’s jaw to drop before the Carters ever show up in their own book. The doctor was pocketing $750 to $2,000 a pop in the 1930s performing operations that involved grafting bits of goat testicles onto the gonads of gullible men who were seeking to regain their virility. One can hardly wait to find the Carters’ connection to this freak show.

Raised in Poor Valley, Virginia, at the bottom of Clinch Mountain in the foothills of the Appalachians, Alvin Pleasant “A.P.” Carter possessed a slight tremor from childhood on. The affliction (“nervous energy” the locals called it, as A.P. constantly talked to himself and could not sit still) was attributed to his mother having been struck by lightning while pregnant. His constant shaking added a distinctive vocal quiver to his bass voice that lent an ethereal, tender quality to the Carter Family sound. On the other side of Clinch Mountain, his future wife Sara lived in Rich Valley, so named for its fertile soil. Sara’s cousin Maybelle eventually married A.P.’s brother Eck, and soon Maybelle and Sara were close as sisters, spending their free hours singing and playing guitars together.

Keep on the Sunny Side: a grinning June Carter and her first husband, singer Carl Smith, in the early 1950s. (click for larger version)

If having a woman [Sara] as lead singer made the Carters a unique act, A.P.’s role made them even odder. His bass dropped in and out of songs unpredictably, and there were some nights he didn’t bother to show up for concerts or recording sessions at all. A.P.’s number-one contribution was roaming the hills of Tennessee and Virginia in search of songs that he could adapt to the group’s sound. Though his name is listed as the writer on most of the Carter songs, he rarely wrote anything.

A.P. was unique in another way: he sometimes stayed with black families while traveling to collect blues songs and then reciprocated by allowing blacks to stay with him and Sara, much to the consternation of the locals. A.P.’s incessant travels left Sara to tend to the farm and raise the family, offering the first clue that their marriage would soon unravel. That Sara fell in love with his first cousin Coy, who moved into the Carter house to help Sara with the chores while A.P. traveled, made the divorce even more bitter.

Ralph Peer, the man who made a fortune off of musician Jimmie Rodgers and who introduced the terms “hillbilly” and “race” into the lexicon as new rural musical genres, recognized the Carter Family genius. Peer literally grew up with the recording industry. He was born in 1892, the same year that Thomas Edison introduced his Electric Motor Phonographs for $190 each. After the Carters’ audition in Bristol, Tennessee, Peer signed the trio to his Victor recording label, paying the group $50 for each song recorded. Steeped in opera and classical music, Peer despised the hillbilly and black blues from which he was making a fortune, but he made the Carter Family a household name by 1928. Soon, Maybelle’s graceful, thumping guitar style that incorporated rhythm and lead at the same time would be the most widely imitated picking technique around. Their harmonies grew incredibly tight. Because three minutes was the maximum space available on a 78 rpm record, they whittled a song down to its essence.

Maybelle and her husband Eck, however, stayed above the frayed edges that haunted A.P. and Sara’s lives. While singing songs about what the book refers to as “the fine art of hard living,” they lived like royalty, spending their money on cars, motorcycles, and other luxuries their neighbors could only dream about. Even Maybelle was a motorcycle enthusiast. The image of June and Maybelle careening around the dirt roads of Poor Valley at 100 miles per hour does not match the backwoods Grand Ole Opry image projected by the simplicity of their music or June’s dumb-girl comedy routine. Maybelle and her clan were actually quite sophisticated for a bunch of Clinch Mountain yokels. Eck, an entrepreneur at heart, introduced electricity to the valley in 1930 when he rigged a turbine wheel in a nearby creek. He was so successful that the Appalachian Power Company of Bristol bought him out when he began plugging in his neighbors. As part of the deal, Eck demanded—and received—every electrical appliance on exhibit at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. Daughter Anita, the youngest of Maybelle and Eck’s three daughters, said she could not recall ever being without a dishwasher. It’s almost surreal, the way the Carters lived. Every Sunday afternoon, Eck would set up huge speakers in his yard and baffle the surrounding hillbillies by blasting Mozart and Beethoven into Poor Valley.


By the time Dr. John Romulus Brinkley entered their lives in 1938, Maybelle and family had been living well for quite some time. At Eck’s behest, Maybelle, Sara, and A.P. moved to Del Rio, Texas, where Brinkley paid them $75 a week each, with six months paid vacation thrown in. The Carters did two shows a day for six months on XERA, an outlaw radio station with the miraculous power to “shrink a vast continent down to the size of a small village.” Brinkley had been run out of Kansas after being stripped of his medical license. Fleeing to Texas, where medical standards were less stringent, he built a couple of hospitals for his libido-rejuvenating procedures. He even had pens out back for his many goats, allowing patients the opportunity to pick out their own goat testicles. Because of 50,000-watt restrictions on U.S. radio stations, Brinkley built XERA across the border in Mexico, where his million watts not only broadcast his surgical skills, but also sent the Carters across America, into Canada, and as far south as South America.

At this point, the story is only half-told. There’s still the anecdote of a drunken Hank Williams trying to shoot June Carter. And, of course, June will eventually marry Johnny Cash, who adds another dimension to Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? by performing such wild antics as kicking out the stage lights at the Grand Ole Opry. Night after night, the Carters went on perpetual searches of Cash’s dressing room to flush the many pills he had stashed away. Trying to find Cash’s pills was “like an Easter egg hunt,” said June’s sister Anita. A.P. does not have a happy ending, and most appropriately, neither does Dr. John Romulus Brinkley. Sara settles down in California with her true love, Coy. And as for Maybelle and her family, the best is yet to come. &

Loretta Lynn

By Ed Reynolds

Loretta Lynn has always cherished her role as a rebel in the country music industry. In perhaps the oddest collaboration in Nashville’s storied history, Lynn’s newest release, Van Lear Rose, was produced by rocker Jack White of The White Stripes (the band dedicated its third album, White Blood Cells, to Lynn, and White has called her the greatest female singer/songwriter of the 20th century). The result is the most gloriously unrefined recording of Lynn’s long career. White’s signature guitar is evident throughout the CD, especially his red-hot slide work. He even joins Lynn at the microphone on “Portland, Oregon,” a charming duet about a drunken one-night stand, an endearing track since White is 28 while Lynn is 70 years old.

An afternoon telephone conversation with Lynn that took place before her new album was recorded reveals a woman completely unaffected by notoriety. Lynn sounds as though she were still a Butcher Holler farm girl, speaking in a rural dialect that contradicts her stardom. The singer doesn’t pull any punches. Hit her once and she’ll hit back twice. Her husband Doolittle’s (Doo) philandering and chronic alcoholism provoked more than a few violent episodes during their 48-year marriage. She knocked two of his front teeth out one night, pleased as she could be that his cheating was put to rest until he could get new teeth. Their marriage is tumultuously detailed in her second autobiography Still Woman Enough, an entertaining but brutally honest account of Lynn’s life as one of America’s greatest country music performers.

Loretta Lynn

. . . Lynn told Sinatra it was the worst song she’d ever heard and suggested they sing “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.” Sinatra told her when she had her own television show she could sing whatever she wanted.

Lynn literally defines country. The names of her children read like a hillbilly sitcom: Betty Sue, Ernest Ray, Patsy, Cissie, and Jack Benny. Married at age 13 in Kentucky coal-mining country, Lynn and her husband moved to Washington State a year later so Doo could pan for gold and Loretta could pick strawberries. Though noting there were anecdotes in her autobiography that she couldn’t have written if her husband were still alive, Lynn is unwavering in her devotion to the man directly responsible for her success. Doo convinced Loretta to sing in Northwest honky tonks despite her severe stage fright. Lynn began to build a following in Canada but noticed that her most loyal fans were suddenly absent for a couple of months. When she finally confronted them about where they’d been, they explained that they had given up Loretta for Lent. The singer said the only “Lent” she was familiar with was the kind that gets on your clothes. Doo later chauffeured her on a blitz tour of radio stations around the country to convince disc jockeys to play her first single “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.” And it was her husband who got her on the Grand Ole Opry after her first record entered the charts. She was invited to sing on the Opry for the next 17 weeks, receiving $18 per night (with three additional bucks if she sang an extra song).

Being an Opry star didn’t change Lynn much. She continued to slaughter her barnyard chickens for dinner and shop for material at the Salvation Army thrift store to make her own stage outfits. She was once chastised by a ranking Opry official who saw her coming out of the store. He told her it “cast a bad light on the Opry when local folks saw the show’s singers acting like poor people.” She didn’t know how to use a credit card until Conway Twitty instructed her in the late 1970s.

Influenced by nothing more than Saturday night Grand Ole Opry broadcasts and her delight in rhyming words with siblings as a child, Lynn displayed a remarkable ability for writing songs. “Doo got me a book that showed how you wrote ‘em. It was called Country Roundup, I think. I just looked at the songs and I said, ‘Anybody can do this.’ The first spanking Doo ever give me was because I rhymed a word. And it rhymed with door—you know what it was—and I didn’t know what it meant. It was raining and cold and he let the door open and I said, ‘Shut the door you little. . . .’ And I got a whippin’ for that—and he’d promised Daddy he’d never put a hand on me. And that was the next day after he’d married me. He throwed me over his knee and busted my butt.”

In 1963, the singer was asked by her childhood idol Ernest Tubb to record a series of duets. “I never dreamed I’d ever sing with him, ’cause when Daddy had that little radio, we’d listen to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night and the news, ’cause the war was goin’ on. But I’d start to cry when Ernest Tubb started to sing. And Mama would say, ‘I’m gonna turn the radio off if you don’t quit cryin’.’” Tubb was instrumental in establishing Lynn as a country institution. “When I come to Nashville, MCA Records, which was Decca at the time, they asked Ernest to record with a girl. And he said he wanted to record with me. He did so much for me. The last time I sang with him, it was like standin’ up by a big monument. I even went to Billy Bob’s [famed Fort Worth bar, the largest honky-tonk in the world] and did a show for him to buy medicine with, ’cause he had run out of money. He helped everybody in Nashville, but no one would go help him.”

But it was her series of duets with Conway Twitty that placed Lynn on the same “classic duo” pedestal occupied by George Jones and Tammy Wynette. “Yeah, I loved Conway. He was like a brother, and he would give me advice. If he thought I wasn’t doing things right, he’d tell me, ‘This is how you do it,’ and I’d say, ‘No, that’s how you do it. This is how I’d do it,’” she laughs. Their string of soap-opera-style hits included “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly,” and “Backstreet Affair.” In a strange twist of fate, Conway Twitty unexpectedly died with Lynn at his bedside in a Missouri hospital in 1991 after Twitty was overcome with a stomach aneurysm while touring the Midwest. He was rushed to the nearest hospital, where Lynn happened to be waiting as Doo recovered from open-heart surgery. She thought that Twitty had decided to drop by to visit her husband. “I watched Conway’s bus come off the exit. I run downstairs to let him know what room Doo was in, and they come draggin’ him in. Blood’s comin’ out of his mouth and his eyes was tryin’ to focus on me and he couldn’t. I almost fell out right there. The chaplain came in and told me that Conway would not live through the night, so he told me if I wanted to see him I should go on back there. I went in his room and patted him on the arm and said, ‘Conway, you love to sing, honey, don’t you leave me.’”

Staunchly defiant, Lynn was a fly in the conservative ointment of the Nashville music industry. She was the first to write and sing about women’s issues. “The Pill” was the first of several of her songs to be banned, but Lynn was smart enough to recognize a marketing opportunity as women flocked to her side. “It’s all because I’d get down and talk to the women. All of ‘em were taking the pill and they weren’t wearin’ bras [pronounced 'braws']. Everybody was taking the pill, why not talk about it. Everybody was havin’ kids just like I was, why not say, ‘One’s on the way.’ I couldn’t understand why the public was worried about my songs. And when ‘Rated X’ come out, just the title of it, they started banning the record. And they didn’t listen to it. It was about a divorced woman. Nothin’ in it was bad. When ‘Don’t Come Home a-Drinkin” come out, the big 50-watt [sic] station in Chicago didn’t play it, ’cause they thought it was dirty. It went number one, they started playin’ it.”
Loretta Lynn’s music was a stark contrast to Tammy Wynette’s songs that advised women to stick with their man, regardless. Ironically, Wynette went through five husbands, while Lynn’s only husband was Doo. “Tammy Wynette was outspoken about standing by her man, and I’d done hit mine over the head with a rollin’ pin,” Lynn laughs. “Tammy said, ‘I’d be afraid to sing that, afraid they wouldn’t play my record.’ But it didn’t hurt me. They’d ban ‘em and they’d go number one.” Lynn took Wynette under her wing when she arrived in Nashville, just as Patsy Cline had done for her when Lynn first moved to town as an unknown. “Oh, Tammy was my best girlfriend. First girlfriend I had, except Patsy. I never did get that close to all the artists. All of ‘em have their own way of doin’ things, and I think they kinda stayed away from me because of the songs I wrote. They shoulda liked ‘em, they might’ve rubbed off on ‘em. They could’ve wrote their own.”

Lynn also didn’t think twice about crossing racial divides. “When Charlie Pride won Singer of the Year, I was the one that was supposed to give the award. So they said, ‘Loretta, if Charlie wins, step back one foot and don’t touch him.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearin’ ’cause I’d been livin’ on the West Coast for 13 or 14 years,” Lynn remembers, still appalled. “Charlie is just another singer to me. When it comes to color, I’m colorblind, ’cause I’m part Cherokee. So when Charlie won, I stepped up and hugged him and kissed him. They got a little upset about it. I thought, ‘Well, Charlie shouldn’t even sing for ‘em if that’s the way they feel about him.’”

One of her champions in Nashville was the Carter Family, who at one time asked her to join the group. Lynn refused because she felt she couldn’t sing their harmonies properly. She remembers trying to get a sulking Johnny Cash on stage. “Poor little ol’ Johnny. They couldn’t get him out on stage. Johnny Cash has always been good to me. He was the first one that took me out of Nashville on a tour. Him and the Carter Family, we went to Toronto and Ontario [sic]. He was not having too good a night. Mother Maybelle, June . . . they were all mad at him. I said, ‘Come on, baby, it’s time for you to go on.’ He jerked his coat down and there was a bottle of pills—a hundred-aspirin bottle of pills, but it wasn’t aspirin. I didn’t know what they was ’cause I’d never seen a diet pill in my life. And they went all over the floor and they was all different colors. And Johnny said, ‘Don’t leave any,’ and I sat down on that floor and picked up every pill and put them back.”

Refusing to sway from her convictions, Loretta Lynn has remained her own woman. Her forthright honesty provoked a showdown with Frank Sinatra, who invited Lynn to duet on what had been his first hit, “All or Nothing at All.” She told Sinatra it was the worst song she’d ever heard and suggested they sing “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.” Sinatra told her when she had her own television show she could sing whatever she wanted.

Her simple approach to life and refusal to bow to showbiz expectations also left a lasting impression on Dean Martin. Martin had been so taken with the Carter Family’s performance on his show that he asked them to recommend another Nashville artist. They suggested Lynn, who refused to sit in Martin’s lap, as was customary when he sang duets with female performers. Instead of being offended, Martin decided her spunk was the perfect ingredient to spice up the “Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roast” show featuring Jack Lemmon. Lynn picks up the story in her autobiography: “Well, I’d never heard of a ‘roast.’ I thought Dean Martin was inviting me to dinner with his Hollywood friends. So I dressed up real nice. They made a special dress for me out of material flown from Paris, France. I couldn’t understand why they wanted me to eat in that fancy dress. They made me read from a Teleprompter and I told Dean I was scared to death and didn’t read so good. But I didn’t have a choice. I was stuck. Making me feel worse, I started in saying the most awful things about Jack Lemmon. I didn’t know they was jokes. So each time I said something, I turned to Jack and said, ‘I didn’t mean that, honey. I don’t even know you. I’m just saying what’s on that there card.’” &

Loretta Lynn performs at the Blockbuster stage on Sunday, June 20, from 8:40 p.m. to 9:55 p.m.

Editor’s note: After this issue went to press, Loretta Lynn cancelled her tour due to back problems. She will not appear at this year’s City Stages.

Wax Country Music Stars Face Homelessness

Wax Country Music Stars Face Homelessness

Someone in Nashville is moving a ton of wax, and they’re not selling records.


“Nobody’s ever tried that in their life, to sell a whole wax museum!” laughs John A. Hobbs, his booming Southern drawl reminiscent of Looney Tunes rooster Foghorn Leghorn. Hobbs currently has his entire 55-figure Music Valley country music star wax museum in Nashville up for auction on eBay. He’s asking $750,000, but will settle for $450,000. The current leading bid is $200,000 as of press time. The auction ends May 7, after which Hobbs will consider options to sell the stars individually. “We were trying to sell the whole family at one time, to keep the family together. But if we have to, we’ll deal them one at a time. Some of the stars wanted to buy their own, some of the managers of the stars wanted one . . . [television comedy host] Jimmy Kimmel wanted to buy Minnie Pearl.” Hobbs says that the individual figures should fetch $3,000 to $15,000 each.Music Valley Wax Museum, the last wax museum in Nashville, will shut its doors for good on July 31. The city’s original wax museum, The Country Music Wax Museum, closed in 1997 after 26 years. “We had a big tourist attraction back then, but now we’re changing our whole look in Nashville,” grumbles Hobbs. “It’s not that much toward country music, it’s more toward conventions and football. And they put country music on the backburner. The other museum closed up ’bout several years ago. This ‘un done pretty good [Music Valley] but the land’s too valuable to leave a museum on it.”

Wax likenesses of country music artists Minnie Pearl and Alan Jackson. (click for larger version)


Hobbs also owns the Nashville Palace, a swanky nightclub where real live country music legends, as opposed to wax figures, can be spotted almost nightly. Many of the young stars got their start there, according to Hobbs. “Randy Travis washed dishes for four years; Lorrie Morgan worked there at age 16. Alan Jackson sang there for free. Vic Damone and the Smothers Brothers worked there. George Jones used to be there nightly, where he’d often hop on stage,” laughs Hobbs. “I’ve seen George at his worst and at his best. I’ve seen George when we wouldn’t let him go on stage!”

Most of the museum’s figures were made in California by wax artist Rio Rita, who created the replicas of film stars in the Hollywood Wax Museum. Hobbs sent Rio Rita four photos of each country star’s face, including a facial front shot, two profiles, and an angular shot combining face and profile. Each figure is garishly displayed in shiny, waxy living color on the eBay web site, with “Dueling Banjos,” the theme song to Deliverance, casting a surreal pall over the macabre auction. The stage outfit worn by the Ernest Tubb mannequin is the same one he wore throughout his career, as is the flowing gown adorning Loretta Lynn. Lynn’s figure also includes a plate used in her famous Crisco commercials. The Chet Atkins figure includes one of his original guitars, while Buck Owens is wearing the actual hillbilly overalls and straw hat that he sported on the “Hee Haw” set. The cornfield where the buxom “Hee Haw” babes popped up to shake their breasts and deliver ridiculous one-liners is also included. While a few figures resemble their breathing—or once-breathing—counterparts, most require an observer to use some imagination. Willie Nelson looks more like hobo singer Box Car Willie, who in turn looks like NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Roy Acuff favors crooner Andy Williams, while Minnie Pearl is a dead ringer for the puppet Madame from the “Waylon and Madame” ventriloquist act.


“Marty Robbins liked his wax figure so well he used to come down there ’bout once a month, and he’d bring a beautician and get her to comb his hair.”

Hobbs’ personal favorite is one of the newer figures, country singer Alan Jackson. “Alan looks like he could just walk right up and talk to you. Marty Robbins liked his so well he used to come down there ’bout once a month, and he’d bring a beautician and get her to comb his hair and everthang . . . Ernest Tubb wouldn’t even look at his figure,” remembers Hobbs. “He’d say, ‘My God, I’d think I was dead. I don’t want to go and look at that damn thang.’” &

The web site address for the Music Valley Country Music Star wax museum auction is: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=15825&item=2393694283&rd=1

Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Nashville Rebel: Waylon Jennings, 1937-2002.

Waylon Jennings was addicted, no question about it. Skipping meals and going for days without a bath, Jennings spent hours wallowing in self-absorbed, hedonistic pleasure as bells rang and colors flashed before his eyes. Life was getting out of hand. He’d drive all night after a show in Louisiana just so he could wrap his fingers around his favorite Nashville pinball machine. His habit eventually reached $35,000 a year — in quarters.

Jennings’ childhood in Texas epitomized the drama of country songs. He picked cotton from dusk to dawn, his mother openly wept every time she heard Roy Acuff sing “Wreck on the Highway,” and an alcoholic uncle regularly consumed grapefruit juice with brake fluid. Jennings was an outlaw long before his music was literally marketed as such. Refusing to conform to ideals defined by the Nashville music establishment, Jennings grew his hair long and boycotted the Grand Ole Opry for 10 years because the show did not allow performers to use a full set of drums. His disdain for the music industry took root in his teens when he played with his Texas pal Buddy Holly. Jennings gave up his seat on the doomed airplane that killed Holly, J. P. Richardson [the Big Bopper], and Richie Valens. Holly had teased Jennings about being afraid to fly to the next show 400 miles away, laughing that he hoped the bus Jennings and others were traveling on would freeze. Jennings replied, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.” Guilt and remorse about the remark haunted him for years.

The promoter found a local teen who had won a talent show to fill in for Buddy Holly the night of his death. Jennings was convinced to play the show with assurance that he would be flown home to Texas the next day for Holly’s funeral. The flight home never materialized, and the tour proceeded for another three months across the Midwest. At tour’s end, Jennings received only half of what he had agreed to play for; promoters had short-changed the musicians since the stars had been unable to appear.

Jennings revolutionized music, creating an irreverent blend of country and rock ‘n’ roll that introduced a generation of drug-addled hippies to a warped version of 1950s cowboy singers Roy Rogers and Tex Ritter. Music critics branded the sound “Outlaw.” A string of duets with Willie Nelson, including “Good-Hearted Woman,” “Luckenbach, Texas,” and “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” drew an audience that Nashville had failed to snare with its marketing of “folk-country.” In truth, Jennings had never set foot in Luckenbach, and absolutely detested the song because he thought it sounded too much like “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues.”

“I left all my ex-wives. They didn’t leave me,” Jennings bragged in his autobiography. “I went through my marriages like Grant went through Richmond.” The singer boasted that all of Hank Williams, Sr.’s, ex-wives had hit on him, and claimed to have often had several women in one night, hiding them on different floors of the same hotel. Jennings even tried to pick up newscaster Jane Pauley when she interviewed him on NBC’s “Today Show.”

Getting high became a way of life for Waylon Jennings. The Telecaster Cowboy, as he often referred to himself, ate a couple dozen amphetamines a day for 15 years, citing Johnny Cash, Roger Miller, and himself as “world champion pill-takers.” Loretta Lynn used to walk Jennings around the dressing room when he got too high before a show. A friend finally convinced him to take up cocaine to kick the pills. Over the next decade, Jennings spent $1,500 a day feeding his cocaine habit. He ignored a White House meeting with President Jimmy Carter to do drugs with a Washington Redskins football hero, and he shared his cocaine with members of the Oakland Raiders at halftime while the Raiders were trailing the Chiefs 6-0 during the Kenny Stabler years. The Raiders scored 54 points in the second half to win. Jennings played poker and drank beer with Mother Maybelle Carter, introduced Nashville to the 12-string electric guitar, narrated The Dukes of Hazzard (“I aimed the narration at children and it made it work”), and once had a run-in with Grace Slick while filming a television special, calling her a communist for her criticism of America.

In 1984, he took his fourth wife, Jessi Colter, to Arizona, where the couple leased a house in the desert so that Jennings could end his years of cocaine addiction. Jennings, forever the outlaw, kicked the drug his own unique way. Stashing $20,000 worth of coke on his tour bus parked in the driveway of his temporary desert home in case the cocaine urge got too strong, Jennings quit cold turkey. One of his favorite anti-drug quotes was from former boss Chet Atkins at RCA, Jennings’ record company for over 20 years. “You’ve only got so many beats in your heart. Why shorten the number?” &