HOT TALK: Kenny, Martina and Others Shine in Night of Stars

Plus, Doug Stone Looking For Songs, Conway Twitty's Estate Sues

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

By the Waters They Babbled On
Ah, the rigors I endure to keep you good people informed! The other night, I found myself caged for hours with hundreds of disc jockeys, each orgasming to the sound of his own voice. It was like consorting with locusts. But a job’s a job, so there I was, stranded on the General Jackson out in the middle of the Cumberland River in Nashville for the RCA Label Group’s annual “Boat Show.” It’s become one of the high points of the Country Radio Seminar, primarily because the entertainment is always good and the liquor never stops. You could craft an effective foreign policy on these two points alone.

A few moments earlier, I fought my way past a menacing 98-pound security guard who thought I should have a pass as well as an attitude. Diverting her attention by pointing and screaming “Kenny Chesney!” I melted into the crowd and went straight to a bar. I long ago discovered that I can completely neutralize the effects of vodka by mixing it with tonic; so I tossed back a couple by way of warming up and then set off to explore the cavernous hull. First off, I had to find the life jackets, just in case the occupants of a nearby hotel should all flush at the same time and send a tsunami downstream in our direction. Once I’d located the devices, I bounded upstairs to the quarterdeck (or mizzenmast, as I believe they call it) to stand pensively at the rail and marvel at the vast expanse of black water that rippled before me. That took about 15 seconds, since I’m a quick marveler. By now it was showtime. I eased inside and plopped down at a table so badly located that I felt sure no one would be tempted to share it with me. It is only in solitude that I can fully appreciate the human folly that swirls about me.

The show was one big surprise after another since none of us knew for sure who’d be performing. RCA had picked the team of Tim & Willie (of station KNIX in Phoenix) to host the show. While they fired off a few good jokes (“Welcome to the General Janet Jackson,” not being one of them), their main chore seemed to be avoiding the stagehands who rushed out to rearrange the setup every few minutes between acts. Clay Walker opened the show with a scorching, throat-searing reading of “I Can’t Sleep” that had the crowd cheering well before the song was over. Next up was Pinmonkey, who teased with a couple of lines from “Barbed Wire and Roses” before rolling into the raucous “Let’s Kill Saturday Night.” They closed with “Jet Airliner” as the crowd sang along. Jeff Bates followed with “I Wanna Make You Cry.” Rachel Proctor then joined him for a cover of the 1971 Conway Twitty-Loretta Lynn hit, “After The Fire Is Gone.”

Carolyn Dawn Johnson sang “Simple Life” and Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” Andy Griggs, accompanied by Randy Scruggs on guitar, did “She Thinks She Needs Me.” Proctor returned to the stage to perform her much-talked-about mother-daughter ballad, “Me and Emily.” Looking cooler than any West Virginian ought to look, Brad Paisley strolled out with his white hat and big guitar and riveted the room with Eric Clapton’s “Layla.” Then he beckoned Alison Krauss to his side, rightly branding her as “one of the greatest singers in any format.” Together, they did “Whiskey Lullaby.” He joked about the $2 million shoes Krauss wore for her appearance on the Academy Awards show. Tim, the co-host remarked later, “I saw a coupon for the same shoes for just $1.75 million at Payless.”

Ever the lady, Sara Evans walked out and greeted the crowd with, “I couldn’t come [here] last year because I got knocked up.” She opened with the whimsical “Suds in the Bucket,” after which Clay Walker joined her for a stops-out cover of “Suspicious Minds.” Fresh from singing the song on a tribute show to Alabama a few evenings earlier, Lonestar made their bow with a couple of lines from “I’m in a Hurry.” Then they moved on to their current single, “Let’s Be Us Again.” Lead singer Richie McDonald introduced the next song by telling the crowd that it was one that the band had been doing on its recent acoustic tour. After the first few notes of “Wildfire,” the audience began cheering; but it really went wild when Michael Martin Murphey ambled onstage to join the band in his 1975 classic. Yes, he still dresses and walks like a cowboy.

Co-host Willie announced that Arista Records, one of the RCA labels, had just signed Rebecca Lynn Howard and that she was in the audience. At that point, he tossed her his microphone and commanded her to sing something. She responded with a verse from “Forgive,” after which the regular show resumed.

In keeping with the hands-across-to-pop tenor of the evening, Martina McBride made her entrance with “Blue Bayou.” Then she summoned Evans and Johnson to the stage to help her sing “Reluctant Daughter,” a cut from her latest album. She wrapped up her set with “In My Daughter’s Eyes.”

Last up was Kenny Chesney, who opened with “There Goes My Life.” He was one verse into “When the Sun Goes Down” when Uncle Kracker came out to help him finish the song. Kracker followed with his own hit, “Follow Me,” to which Chesney added his own vocals. The two closed the show with “Drift Away.”

As the lights dimmed and the disc jockeys began to feel the first wrenching pains of flattery withdrawal, I pocketed my notes, gulped down the remains of my drink and shouldered my way into the sullen night. It was a territory I knew well.

Doug Stone Sifting Songs; Joe and Moe Together Again
I ran into Doug Stone at last week’s Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame ceremonies. Newly signed to Lofton Creek Records, he told me he’s now listening to songs for his first album for the label. He said he’ll co-produce the album with Lofton Creek’s head honcho, Mike Borchetta.

Also circulating in the Hall of Fame crowd were Louisiana cats Joe Stampley and Eddy Raven. Stampley, who graced country music with such hits as “Soul Song” and “All These Things,” was buzzing about Just Good Ol’ Boys/Hey Joe Hey Moe, a re-release album of songs he recorded during the ’70s and ’80s with Moe Bandy. He said one song from the album, “Country Boys,” which was never released a single, is getting some serious airplay now on XM Satellite Radio. Joe and Moe kicked off their series of duet hits 25 years ago with the No. 1 single, “Just Good Ol’ Boys,” and they’ll be touring together again this year.

Twitty Estate Sues to Stop Sale of TV Special
The executors of Conway Twitty’s estate have sued a Nashville television producer and associated businesses for the unauthorized sale of CD, DVD and VHS copies of the 1982 TV special, Conway Twitty on the Mississippi. The suit was filed Feb. 20 in the Davidson County Chancery Court in Nashville by executors Hugh C. Carden and Donald W. Garis against defendants James W. Owens and his company, Jim Owens Entertainment; Eagle Rock Entertainment, a British company, and its American subsidiary, Eagle Vision; and Jim Brandhorst and his company, Country Music Legends, which the complaint identifies as owning a “substantial interest in Jim Owens Entertainment’s catalog of shows.”

According to the complaint, Twitty (whose real name was Harold Jenkins) signed a contract with Jim Owens Entertainment on July 2, 1982, agreeing to star in a television special that was provisionally titled Conway Twitty, Delta King. In return, Owens agreed to pay Twitty $50,000 as “full compensation for his services.” Twitty also agreed to help secure other stars to appear on the special. Ultimately, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charley Pride and comedian George “Goober” Lindsey took part in the production.

The contract, the complaint continues, entitled the Owens company to two airings on “free television” in the United States and Canada, with the first such broadcast to occur on or before Jan. 31, 1983. Specifically excluded by the contract were the rights to “phonorecords and audio visual devices produced for home use.” The complaint says that Twitty’s daughters, Kathy and Joni Jenkins, told the executors this past November that both complete and edited copies of the special, “using Conway Twitty’s name and likeness,” were being offered for sale on the Internet in CD, DVD and VHS formats.

The complaint says that Eagle Rock Entertainment and Eagle Vision maintain that Brandhorst authorized their use of the special and that Jim Owens Entertainment asserts its contract with Twitty gives it the authority “to sell the reproduction rights to this special and use Mr. Twitty’s name and likeness to promote [these] sales.” Complicating matters, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants are using the same photo of Twitty on the DVD package that MCA Records used on Twitty’s last album, Final Touches, which was released shortly after his death on June 5, 1993.

The suit asks the court for an early hearing of the case, an injunction against further sales, an order for a full accounting of product already sold, a judgment for real and punitive damages in an amount to be determined, plus the costs of the case.

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