1) Did you ever go on tour with Loretta Lynn? Did you ever record together? I will forever miss her.
Many of our questions this month have revolved around Loretta and folks wanting to know more about my relationship with her. She and I came to town about the same time in the early sixties, and my first memory of her was seeing her in a white cowgirl outfit trimmed in red standing in the lobby of the old Cumberland Lodge Building downtown trying to get in to see the Wilburn Brothers. We all know how that turned out! Yes, I toured with her quite a bit in the early days, and used to love standing backstage watching her impersonate me during her performances. We never recorded together, but I sang with her on stage several times. In later years, when Conway Twitty couldn’t be with her, she would call me out to do Conway’s part on “God Bless American Again.” I wouldn’t take anything for those great times and all the memories.
2) I was reading in your autobiography about the song, “Saginaw, Michigan,” and your involvement in writing it. You say your name was added as a co-writer on the album copies, but I’ve never seen it there – even on the budget reissue that came out in 1973.
After Don Wayne asked me to help him finish writing, “Saginaw, Michigan,” I had every intention of recording it myself. And, as the artist, I was not going to ask for part of the songwriter’s share. However, when Don or Buddy Killen, the publisher, or somebody leaked the song to Lefty Frizzell, I felt I should be compensated. Don agreed, and my name was added to the song. By the time that happened, though, the first 45rpm copies of Lefty’s version had come from the pressing plant without my name on them. That was changed by the time his album was released, and my name has been on the song ever since. How it got left off that 1973 re-issue is anybody’s guess. The best part is that my name has been on the royalty statements for almost sixty years.
3) Do you think that country music has lost its identity? I certainly believe that is has.
I don’t know that country music has “lost” its identity, but its style and its sound has definitely evolved and changed in recent years. But that’s nothing new. I imagine when Bill Anderson and Roger Miller and Willie Nelson and Harlan Howard and Loretta and Dolly and all the rest of us came to town in the early 60’s that Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb and the other pioneers thought country music’s identity had been lost too. We wrote songs and recorded them differently from the way it had been done up to that point, and I’m sure some longtime artists and fans didn’t take too kindly to our innovations. The one constant in music is that it’s constantly changing. It always has and it always will.
Our Question of the Month comes from Diane in Michigan and is an insightful one: “Back in 1969 I saw you perform at the Ryman Auditorium. When the time came to move on, what was it like to no longer have the Opry at the Ryman?”
It was strange at first. The Ryman was the only Opry home that I had ever known, as both a fan and as an artist, and there was a certain sentimentality to leaving it behind. It felt weird to drive to another part of town on Friday and Saturday nights, even though for the first time we had free parking near the stage entrance and spacious dressing rooms inside. As a performer, the distance from the stage to the front row at the Ryman had been short and the fans always felt close to us and us to them, an intimacy that was compromised in the move to the new, larger Opry House. At the same time, it was a move that had to be made. The Ryman had fallen into a sad state of dis-repair, and the surrounding area downtown had grown neglected and seedy, nothing like it is today. Some people wanted the Ryman to be torn down, but fortunately wiser and cooler heads prevailed and the building has a vibrant life today. What felt awkward at the time has turned out to be a win-win situation for everybody.
Quickies: Several of you responded to last month’s question asking if Hank Williams ever recorded a Christmas song. Many referred to his version of, “At The First Fall Of Snow” as being his one and only Christmas recording. I checked out the lyric, and while that’s a wintertime country song, it is not “religious,” as some suggested, nor does it have any connection to Christmas. I think it stands that Hank never recorded a Christmas song. Who was your steel player on “Walk Out Backwards?” It was the legendary Hall of Famer, Pete Drake. Did you write the song, “Old Things New?” I know you have a version and so does Joe Nichols. I like them both. Thank you. I co-wrote it with Buddy Cannon and Paul Overstreet. What is Carol Lee Cooper doing these days? Does she still perform? I reached out to her to try and get an update on her current activities, but so far I have not heard back. I’ll let you know when I do.
Thanks for a great group of questions again this month. If you’ve got one rolling around in your head, feel free to send it to me, and I’ll try my best to answer. Write to me at email@example.com and watch for your answer in a future column. Win your choice of any item free from our online store if yours is chosen our Question Of The Month. See you back here in December.