Ladies of Country
I had an unforgettable experience some years ago, when I was invited to the home of country music superstar Loretta Lynn. Located near Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, the ranch is a gathering spot for her famous barbeques. It was a small group of a hundred drivers, roadies, advance people, and security officials. We had two instructions: Show up hungry, and (2) don’t bother celebrities.
That was easy for me, because I’m always hungry, and (b) never impressed by famous people. One way or another, throughout my life, I’ve crossed paths with a lot of buffets and many famous people. The food is infinitely more interesting!
Long about mid-afternoon or so, I was asked to join a line of people waiting to meet Ms. Loretta. Sure, I thought, why not? Within minutes, breath mints firmly planted in my cheek, I stepped up to shake her hand. Taking my hand firmly in both of hers, this most beautiful woman in a traditional stage gown did something that trips my EKG reading to this day. She curtsied.
A weaker man might have fainted, but I’m big and tough and un-intimidated, so I just smiled and said it…it…it’s g-good to um, m-meet you. Then I stepped away and cried. She pretended to not even notice, because she’s a class act, and I remember today because she still is.
Connie Smith is another country music superstar, discovered by ‘Whispering Bill’ Anderson in 1964. I discovered her about 5 years later, when we bumped into each other in a Nashville alley. You know the one, right between Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and Ryman Auditorium, then home of the Grand Ol Opry. She didn’t know who I was and, after recognizing her, I didn’t know who I was, either.
Marty Stuart, one of the most sought-after musicians on the Nashville circuit, likes to brag he fell in love with Connie when she was 29 and he was 12 years old. Well, I fell in love with her too, but had about a million dollars less in the bank than he did. That may explain why Marty eventually did marry Connie, and I married another plaintiff.
Dottie West is considered by some to be a pioneer in classic country music who came of age at the same time as Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. Patsy was in fact one of Dottie’s early inspirations and fellow performers. So were the top songwriters of the day, including Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Hank Cochran, and Harlan Howard.
I met Dottie the way most beautiful women come into my life—by accident. It was at Ryman Auditorium, and I was in the audience of the early show, when an usher asked me to come backstage. Dottie told me she had backed into my rental car. They gladly signed a release form. I gladly kept it as an autograph!
Wanda Jackson is the undisputed queen of rockabilly music. My next door neighbor then was a feisty old widow with a treasure trove of rock & roll trivia. We went to see Wanda perform in 2009 at the Surf Ballroom in in Clear Lake, Iowa, because the neighbor lady had the money, and I had a car.
It was the 50th anniversary of The Night The Music Died, and I didn’t recognize Ms. Jackson. But that’s okay. She didn’t recognize this sixty-year-old truck driver, either.
Singing as she walked through the audience, Wanda hugged my 90-year-old companion, then winked at me. “So good to meet your wife!”, she said, without missing a beat. I was shocked, of course, but the lady at my table couldn’t stop laughing.