HOT DISH: Toby’s Announcement Is No Surprise

Trace Adkins Climbs Mountains, Rascal Flatts and Josh Gracin Turn Lyric Street Into Prime Address

(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

I was not one bit surprised to hear Toby Keith told the crowd at Country Radio Seminar (CRS) he may start his own record label. Turn back time to my CMT Hot Dish column dated Oct. 18, 2004, and titled “Toby Keith Keeps Standing.” I pretty much documented all the obstacles Toby has had to face during his career and through no fault of his own.

Six years ago, when Mercury made it clear it didn’t want his music, Toby made a deal to buy back his tracks from the label. James Stroud signed Toby to the DreamWorks label, and his CD titled How Do You Like Me Now?! sold something like 4 million copies. That album moved DreamWorks into the country music mainstream.

I knew when the Universal Music Group (the big dog that owns Mercury and was distributing DreamWorks) purchased DreamWorks that it would place Toby into another uphill struggle as it put him back with the same people who didn’t want him just a few years back.

Trace’s Uphill Battle
Another great act who has been climbing mountains after hills is Trace Adkins. Trace took off like a rocket when his first album went platinum. However, it took Trace eight hard hillbilly years to score a second platinum CD, but he did it with Comin’ On Strong.

Was it Trace’s fault? No, I don’t think so. Trace went through about a half dozen changings of the guard at Capitol Nashville before Mike Dungan landed the gig as label chief and truly believed in Trace’s unique talent. Trace’s recognizable vocals, excellent stage presence and knack for song selection seem to have the Louisiana native heading for much bigger success.

Trace is busier than a set of jumper cables at a country funeral as he prepares for the release of his new CD, Songs About Me. He’s off to the Big Apple, so make sure you stop, look and listen for him on Sirius satellite radio and Late Night With Conan O’Brien on March 22. He also has appearances scheduled on programs as diverse as CBS Newspath, Fox & Friends, MSNBC’s Entertainment Hot List, King of the Hill and Emeril Live.

Chris LeDoux: A Truly Great Man
Almost 30 years ago now, Chris LeDoux was the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s world champion bareback rider. He later survived a liver transplant and thought he’d beaten cancer of the bile duct.

As recently as January, we were told LeDoux was coming along fine with his cancer treatment. The 56-year-old cowboy was looking forward to future concerts that were on the books beginning in June. He was at his ranch in Wyoming on March 6 when he began experiencing complications from the cancer treatment and was admitted to the hospital in Casper, Wyo. His wife and kids and all his family and friends were called in on Tuesday (March 8). Chris passed away at 10 a.m. the following day.

May God rest his soul. Chris LeDoux — a great man — leaves his wife, Peggy, five children and a bevy of friends.

I shall never forget when I put out the word that I was compiling a cookbook called Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars. Chris was about to go to the hospital for liver transplant surgery. In the mail came a manila envelope with a note that read, “Before Chris went to the hospital, he said he wanted you to have these recipes for your cookbook.” I still cannot tell this without weeping.

Without a doubt, LeDoux’s biggest fan was Garth Brooks. Garth honored LeDoux in 1989 with his single “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),” when he sang about “a worn out tape of Chris LeDoux.” This led Capitol Records to sign the cowboy who had already recorded 22 “homemade” albums he sold at rodeos. Garth also admitted he fashioned his stage show after LeDoux’s very lively onstage performances.

Everybody Wants Their Own Label
Scott Borchetta, senior vice president of promotion and artist development for the Universal Music Group Nashville, is departing the company that oversees Lost Highway Records and the country divisions of MCA, Mercury and DreamWorks. “I’ve had a burning desire to run my own record label for quite some time now,” said Borchetta. No doubt, that’s true.

However, I am just doggone nosy enough to want to know what went on behind those closed doors. Facts are facts, and it’s a fact Scott promoted the heck out of Toby Keith’s records at country radio and pushed and shoved until he recently got Reba her first No. 1 in almost a decade. It would be very interesting to know what the various press releases did not reveal. Nobody is saying anything — for fear their head might roll.

Diggin’ Doug, the Flatts and Josh
Doug Howard, Lyric Street Records’ senior vice president of A&R, is one of Music Row’s good guys with a set of “ears” to die for. He birddogs songs like it’s going out of style, and it’s paid off big time. These days, Doug has earned a mile-wide smile across his face that will not leave.

Why? For six weeks, Lyric Street’s Rascal Flatts reigned at No. 1 with “Bless This Broken Road.” Immediately after that, former Marine and American Idol contestant Josh Gracin ascended to the top of the charts with another Lyric Street single, “Nothin’ to Lose.” Even American Idol judge Simon Cowell — with arrogance out the yin yang — suggested Gracin would make it country. Making it he is. Word I get is Gracin’s self-titled CD is 100,000 units shy of going gold.

Friends, the boutique label known as Lyric Street has quietly hit the big time. Watch their smoke.

Seeing Double
Congratulations to Diamond Rio drummer Brian Prout and his wife, singer-songwriter Stephanie Bentley-Prout. On Jan. 23, Stephanie gave birth prematurely to twins — Bentley Harrison (weighing 2 pounds, 11 ounces) and Sophie Elizabeth (2 pounds, 12.5 ounces). The twins required an extended hospital stay for a healthy and happy start. Finally, Brian and Stephanie brought them home last week to hang out with big sister Lily. I’ll bet there’s not a dull moment 24/7 at the Prout Palace — and not a whole lot of sleeping, either.

Paris and Nicole Go Hillbillying — Almost
Country as cornbread, Aaron Tippin got a call in January from the producers of The Simple Life TV series wondering if Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie could make a pit stop at the Tippins’ place in Liberty, Tenn. Wife Thea, a tad skeptical, agreed the producers could come for a visit. Aaron showed ’em around the place, including the barn, his helicopter, airplane and an arsenal of guns in the vault. Aaron shot a few rounds before handing his automatic rifle to one of those L.A. producer dudes and about scared the pants off him.

While they had hot dogs at Aaron’s country store, Thea laid out a couple rules: No cussing in front of 7-year-old Ted and 4-year-old Tim — and no walking around the house in the buff. So The Simple Life did not stop at the Tippin home.

News (Not Gossip)
Gary Allan previewed his next single, “Best I Ever Had,” during the recent Country Radio Seminar in Nashville.

After being arrested a couple weeks ago in Nashville for punching out a DJ in a nudie bar, you’d think maybe Kid Rock would not head for another strip joint. But he did. After he and Vince Gill sang harmony in the recording studio with Bob Seger, Vince headed home and Kid went to a CRS party where he sang “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” before departing for yet another nudie bar. Rumor has it Kid is house hunting in the hoity-toity Belle Meade section of Nashville. But does anybody know which one of Vince’s tunes Seger cut?

Little Jimmy Dickens was visiting the very ill bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin when Dave Talbot, Shad Cobb, Dave Peterson and Terry and Billy Smith showed up with their acoustic instruments. The word I got is both Dickens and Martin wept when those boys harmonized on “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hands.” Martin’s daughter Lisa joined in the chorus. Keep Jimmy Martin in your prayers.

On April 29, the great Vern Gosdin will be inducted into the Alabama Hall of Fame.

Blake Shelton’s handsomeness graces the cover of Country Weekly’s April 11 issue.

SHeDAISY and Restless Heart were the stars when the Tennessee chapter of the American Red Cross held its annual fundraising ball at the Opryland Hotel.

With his injured ankle the size of a softball, Kenny Chesney’s Be As You Are: Songs From an Old Blue Chair has turned platinum. It appears that no matter where Kenny’s heart goes, his fans follow. With more than a million fans this loyal, Kenny has to know he is truly blessed.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Candied Sweet Potatoes.