HOT DISH: The Greatest Singer, Songwriter and Musician

Hag Wows Hollywood Crowd, Brad Goes Home, Vince and Amy Give

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by former Country Music magazine columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at

In my humble opinion, the greatest singer-songwriter-musician who ever lived — and in any genre — is Merle Haggard. The Hag is a package deal. For 40 years, he has done it all … simply because he can do it all. He sings, he writes and he picks.

Recently re-signed to Capitol Records, Haggard went back to his roots — back to where it all started — to the Capitol Records tower in Hollywood. With just his guitar, Hag picked and sang just like in the beginning, before Brad, Kenny, Sara and Terri were born. And the men there were thrilled and the women shed tears, because it was better than good … it was great. It was Haggard-great.

Merle was in a good mood when execs from the Academy of Country Music presented him an award never before presented. The ACM’s biggest honor has always been its Pioneer Award. Merle received his Pioneer statue in 1995. But now, Hag stands alone as recipient of this most prestigious prize that will be called from this day forward the Merle Haggard Award.

And if that doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, then you do not have a hillbilly heart.
Oh! By the way, the award has yet to be created, according to ACM’s Tree. (That’s her name: Tree Paine.)

Wheeling It Back to Wheeling
Wheeling, W.Va., is where the Ohio River flows — and overflows sometimes to prove it will always be the mighty Ohio separating the states of West Virginia and Ohio. Situated on the narrow strip of West Virginia that reaches upward beside the river to Pennsylvania, the renowned Wheeling Jamboree is where a 12-year-old Brad Paisley grew calluses from picking a guitar and where he decided to wear a white hat like his picking and singing heroes. Search your map, and you’ll see Glen Dale about 20 minutes south of Wheeling.

Glen Dale is in a holler. Brad’s parents, Doug and Sandy Paisley, reside in that holler. A little piece of Brad’s heart is always in those hills and hollers near where the Ohio River flows. September rains caused the Ohio Valley to flood. His non-profit Brad Paisley Foundation has “charity begins at home” written in invisible ink, but Brad sees it as plain as the hurt he feels in his heart for his “almost heaven, West Virginia.” When his dad sent a picture of the old high school football stadium under water, that did it. Said Brad, “I can’t remember the river ever being that high.”

Brad knew what he had to do. So he did a big show in Wheeling on Jan. 15.

I got the biggest kick out of reading the local newspapers that covered Brad’s sold-out concert. Headlines screamed “Mudstock.” Nine-year-old cowboy hat-wearing girls got butterflies meeting Brad. Neighbors recalled young Brad running up and down the alley from his parents’ home to his grandparents’ house. Andy Griggs and Sara Evans opened the Wheeling concert, but it was Brad who brought the crowd to their feet with a roar like they’d never heard before, according to the local paper. They wrote about his kind heart, his awards, his hits and even a mention of People magazine naming Brad one of its sexiest men in 2001. Now, don’t you know how much the latter embarrassed Brad!

They say you can’t go back home, but Brad can and did — and we know why.

Sidebar: It’s a done deal. “He Didn’t Have To Be,” the song that jumpstarted Brad’s career, will be made into a TBS movie about an adoptive father.

So Easy to Love Vince and Amy
Plumb perfect Vince Gill and his wife, Amy Grant, are one of the finest couples on the planet. Following a recent Indianapolis concert, they were doing their usual “meet and greet.” One of my WFMS radio pals gave me an eyewitness account of an incident that I want to share with you fans.

Being a mom, Amy invited parents with children to the head of the line since it was a school night. A single mom and her daughter began talking with Amy when it came their turn. Amy was listening and nodding and talking. As she talked, the lady began to cry. No one could hear what was being said, but Amy began to wipe her eyes, too. She took the lady’s hand and said, “Wait here.”

Amy went around the corner to speak with Vince. Moments later, both Amy and Vince came back with their hands filled with money.

“I felt called to give this to you,” said Amy, as she and Vince filled the woman’s hands and purse with dollars of all denominations. No counting. It was a gift. It’s so easy to love Vince & Amy.

Boy, won’t they be surprised I know about this. God does work in mysterious ways.

Hall of Fame Got Hot
Not really, but the sprinklers in the main entrance of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, for some unknown reason, came on at 3 a.m. one day last week. The fire department responded immediately. No damage was done to the precious contents of the building, but there was a lot of mopping and vacuuming water from the area.

Jo Dee Messina Going Bowling
Super bowling, that is! Joining Dwight Yoakam, Josh Gracin and Chris Cagle, Jo Dee Messina is set to perform in Jacksonville, Fla., on Feb. 4 at the Pepsi Smash Super Bowl. On the following night, Messina will appear live on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Super Bowl Saturday Night Special on CMT.

Hot ’n’ Happening
There’s a new group in town called Hot Apple Pie with a lead singer I recall and you may remember, too: It’s that cute Brady Seals, formerly with Little Texas.

Bill Ivey has been named president-elect of the American Folklore Society. Ivey will remain in his position as director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University. Ivey was serving as director of the Country Music Foundation when President Bill Clinton appointed him to head the National Endowment of the Arts in May 1998. Bill Ivey is a good friend to country music.

Friday Night Lights is now for sale on DVD. Folks close to Hollywood tell me the hope is that Oscar voters will look at the movie again, realize how great it is and nominate it for an Academy Award. Wouldn’t it be nice if Tim McGraw got a best supporting actor nom?

Young Amber Dotson got a standing “O” in Charlotte and so did too-cute-for-words Dierks Bentley, but the man of the hour was the cowboy in the starched plaid shirt with snaps, creased Wranglers, good guy white Texas cowboy hat and boots. The great George Strait can still fill a concert hall, bring a crowd to their feet and sing like an angel.

Sellouts besides Charlotte include Lafayette, La., Richmond, Va., and two towns in Texas — Austin and Lubbock. Can’t help loving that Strait man for 24 years.

Trace Adkins and Shania Twain’s singing partner, Billy Currington, join host John Hiatt on Feb. 23 at the Ryman Auditorium for an annual concert benefiting Cumberland Heights, a non-profit center assisting those with substance abuse problems. Cumberland Heights is where Trace Adkins received treatment for alcohol problems about two years ago. I’m proud to say, Trace is clean and sober. He looks better than he ever has.

Montgomery Gentry, the Charlie Daniels Band and Sara Evans will perform on this year’s Nashville Star. The judges for the third season are Phil Vassar, Anastasia Brown and Poison frontman Bret Michaels. What credentials does Michaels have to judge country music? I’d like to know.

Columbia Records, led by prez John Grady and A&R chief Mark Wright, announce the signing of Van Zant, a brother duo of Southern rock mainstreamers. Johnny Van Zant is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lead vocalist, while brother Donnie fronts 38 Special. Wright and Joe Scaife are set to produce the act. Even the Grammy Awards are featuring Southern rock and country artists. Lord knows, that is better than the rap/hip-hop crowd grabbing their crotch.

Kenny Chesney is taking the keg out of the closet and hitting the college towns again. Mothers and dads, lock up your daughters … ’cause the Kenny-man is not announcing what and where he will set up and sing until 24 to 48 hours before each show. Kenny cannot sit in his recliner and relax. He wants to pick and sing, and he’ll start the college tour Friday (Jan. 28).

Music City is coming together for tsunami relief this Wednesday (Jan. 26) at Belmont University. Volunteers set to perform include Kathy Mattea, Oak Ridge Boys, Diamond Rio, Lee Greenwood, Michael Martin Murphey, the Whites, Ricky Skaggs and several gospel acts like Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman and others.

Chad and Natalie Brock named their 7-pound, 11-ounce son Chad Cameron. Born Jan. 11, he’s the first boy born into the Brock family since his dad. Big sister Kennedy is 2.

Superstar Alan Jackson gears up for his What I Do tour in late April with opening acts Sara Evans and the Wrights. The husband and wife duo of Adam and Shannon Wright were on a radio tour and went to dinner at Ditka’s Steakhouse in Chicago. They were surprised when the restaurant’s owner, NFL great Mike Ditka, stopped by their table to chat and autograph a football. If you pay attention, you know Adam Wright is Alan’s nephew.

I Do magazine took its own good time to feature the wedding of Rascal Flatts member Jay DeMarcus and wife Allison on the cover of the latest issue. They were married on May 15 — eight months ago.

The Grascals’ CD in the stores Feb. 8.

A Dollywood team is on the road auditioning talent, wonderful PR maven Trish McGee tells me.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Curried Chicken Soup.