HOT TALK: Vince Wisecracks, Andy Dazzles

(HOT TALK is a weekly column by longtime CMT.com contributing writer and former Billboard country music editor Edward Morris.)

Nashville Hot and Cold
Hot Talk is in the deep freeze this week. As this is being written, Nashville shivers under a slick, six-inch-thick rebuttal to the theory of global warming. The snow swirled in Thursday morning (Jan. 16), hours before predicted, and turned Music City into a hockey rink, with SUVs and minivans doubling as pucks. Offices closed early or failed to open at all. People I absolutely had to talk to — publicists, managers, secretaries with secrets to tell — were out retrieving kids from school and gripping their steering wheels so tightly they couldn’t pick up their cell phones. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment! And it just got worse. By late afternoon, Vince Gill , who would cheerfully play in a hurricane, had to cancel his evening show at the Exit/In. Hapless TV reporters stood wincing on highway overpasses to illustrate the obvious. As one industry wag put it, “I wouldn’t send a songplugger out on a day like this.” That’s cold.

Gill-ty Pleasures
Vince Gill wisecracks as well as he picks — never a hesitation or false note either way. Half the fun of seeing him open his Back 2 Basics tour at the Exit/In Tuesday night (Jan. 14) was hearing him riff between songs. Standing on stage and looking out at Nashville’s most famous (and often reconstructed) music club, Gill reminisced that he first played there in 1976 as a member of Ricky Skaggs’ band. “It was about half this size,” he observed, “but then so was I.” When a woman shouted suggestively at him, he quipped, “That sexual harassment works both ways, ladies.” As the banter continued, he warned that his wife, the always regal gospel singer, Amy Grant, is the “jealous type. She’s been known to have a few beers, and she might kick your ass.”

Later, after explaining he was feeling a bit under the weather, Gill asked dramatically, “Is there a doctor in the house? There’s a few nurses.” He spoke of his daughters, Jenny, who’s now in college, and Corrina, who’ll turn 2 in March and is already asserting her musical preferences. “I figure everybody should have a kid every 20 years,” he said. Returning to the point of the evening, which was to preview his forthcoming album, Next Big Thing, he announced, “My goal is to sell more records than Garth and the Beatles. Just kidding!”

Andy Griffith: Still the Dazzler (View Flipbook)
A couple of hundred folks from Music Row trekked to the BMI building last Wednesday (Jan. 15) in search of their youth. And they found it in the person of 76-year-old Andy Griffith. It’s hard to be starstruck when you work around stars every day, but most of us stood wide-eyed and tongue-tied in Griffith’s presence. Even the eloquent Marty Stuart stumbled for words as he talked about the grand old man of American television.

Stuart, as it turns out, is producing Griffith’s album of gospel music for Sparrow Records and wanted to share his good fortune with his friends. “I’d call and say we were having a party for Andy Griffith,” Stuart said, “and they’d say, ‘I’ll be there.’” The man who made sheriff Andy Taylor seem so wise and attorney Ben Matlock so wily arrived without fanfare, neatly dressed in a tan sport coat and brown trousers. White-haired and slightly stooped, he leaned on his wife Cindi’s arm as he moved slowly through the deferential crowd. He wore the fixed, Buddha-like smile of one who’s grown used to adoration.

After a few minutes, Stuart took the stage to tell about the album and describe what it’s been like working with Griffith. “You hang around Andy,” he beamed, “and you get hot real quick. … Bob Dylan said it best, ‘If you want to learn, you’ve got to sit close to the teacher.’” Stuart, who knows more about country music than almost anyone else, pointed out that the cast of Griffith’s first big movie, A Face in the Crowd (1957), included Grand Ole Opry comedian Rod Brasfield and bandleader Big Jeff Bess, whose wife founded Nashville’s world-famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. He also noted that when country and bluegrass music was still a rarity on network television, The Andy Griffith Show gave the Dillards (who played the Darlings) and the Kentucky Colonels a home.

“I ‘preciate it,” said Griffith, bowing to the applause that followed Stuart’s introduction. “I’m not a musician. I don’t have a good ear. But with the miracle of electronics, I think we’re going to make it.” Holding a wireless microphone, he seemed to draw power from it, like a battery. Before long, he was pacing back and forth and gesturing with far more energy than his entrance suggested he still possessed. He told of being a music major in college and of the discouragement he met as a singer after he moved to New York. “Gradually, I drifted into acting,” he said, “and that’s been my good life. Now, here at the back end of my life, I’m a singer again. It took me 76 years, but I made it.”

More Adventures of a Man and His Fiddle
Mark O’Connor ’s fiddling graced many of the best country albums of the past two decades and earned him seven CMA awards. But in recent years, he’s turned his restless genius toward enriching other musical formats. He currently heads a jazz group, the Hot Swing Trio, whose first album, In Full Swing, has just been released on Sony Classics. Guesting on the album are trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and vocalist Jane Monheit.

The trio, Marsalis and Monheit will perform music from the album Feb. 4 at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in New York. That same evening, the choral ensemble Gloriae dei Cantores will debut O’Connor’s “Folk Mass,” a commemoration of the events of Sept. 11, at New York’s St. Thomas Church. O’Connor’s fiddling can also be heard on the soundtrack of the Civil War film, Gods and Generals, which is scheduled to open Feb. 21. Sony Classics will release the soundtrack album Feb. 4.

The Case of the Shredded T-Shirt, or, Delbert Makes a Call
Kathleen Hayslip was wearing her favorite Delbert McClinton T-shirt when she suddenly fell ill and had to be rushed to a hospital. While she was unconscious and being prepared for surgery, an attendant scissored off the prized garment. Hayslip, who works for the Country Music Hall of Fame, was unaware of the sartorial sacrilege until she was returned to her room, whereupon she made loud lamentation. “I’m a huge Delbert fan and have been since I was about 17,” the 56-year-old tells Hot Talk from her home, where she’s still recovering from pneumonia and a near-fatal staph infection. “I’m from Texas, and I’ve gone to hundreds of his shows.”

A friend of Hayslip, who also knows McClinton, told the eminent bluesman about the tragedy. “Delbert called me,” Hayslip continues, “and said, ‘Hey, who are we gonna have to sue over cutting up that T-shirt?’ I thought it was really neat.” Indeed so. But there is yet another upside to this cotton calamity. Hayslip’s daughter was at her mother’s bedside when the garment was so callously sundered. Dutifully, she gathered up the shredded shroud and bore it home, where it now reposes, one imagines, surrounded by lighted candles. Delbert, you da man.

Give me your news, your queries, your rumors longing to be free. E-mail me at HotTalk@cmt.com

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.