I feel a bit like Ebenezer Scrooge. My past came back to visit me a couple of times this week.
One visit made for a happy occasion, the other not quite so. But in their own way, each visit touched me deeply.
First, and I’m sure you’re ‘way ahead of me here, was Connie Smith’s election to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
When I heard the news, I was taken back to that long-ago Sunday afternoon at a place called Frontier Ranch outside of Columbus, Ohio, when I heard the pretty little girl with the long hair and oversized guitar sing for the first time. It was a talent contest, and I knew the minute she opened her mouth that her talent far exceeded that of her competitors. I’ve often been quoted as having said that I thought at first she was lip-synching a record. She was that good.
Nobody can predict what will or will not happen in this crazy business, but I knew instantly that she had the talent to become a singing star. The planets lined up right, and that’s what happened. Did I know she was destined for the Hall of Fame? Of course not. But she persevered and she made it. And I couldn’t be happier.
My second visit was not so pleasant. I got the news Wednesday morning that he man who opened the very first door for me in Nashville had passed away.
Unless you’re in the music business yourself, you probably never heard of Charlie Lamb. He was a wiry, comical little man who had a passion for country music that exceeded that of virtually anybody I’ve ever known. It was that passion and nothing more that led him to producer Chet Atkins’ door that day back in 1958 with a TNT Record by some Georgia kid named Bill Anderson tucked up under his arm.
At the time, Charlie Lamb didn’t know me from a sack of salt. And he didn’t know anybody at TNT Records. He simply had heard a song I had written and recorded called “City Lights,” and he liked it so much that he wanted to share it with one of the top record producers in country music. Chet bought into Charlie’s enthusiasm, and produced a record on the song by an artist named Dave Rich. Ray Price heard Dave Rich’s record on the radio en route to a golf game with Ernest Tubb, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I’ve often wondered what my life might have been like had Charlie Lamb not done what he did. If he had not taken the initiative and walked those few blocks from his office to Chet’s office, would I have ever made it to Nashville? If so, how much longer might it have taken? I’ll never know.
I do know this: I owe a tremendous debt to Charlie Lamb. He was 91 years old, and insofar as I know, didn’t have an enemy in the world. And I will always be extremely proud of Connie Smith. She has exceeded every expectation that I ever had for her.
Congratulations, Constance, and rest in peace, Charlie. You have both earned your rewards.