HOT DISH: Let’s Hear It for the Pioneering Girls

Eight Women Who Made a Difference on Music Row

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

Eight great ladies were honored in Nashville recently. Were it not for these girls, Music Row might not be.

Back when country music was born as a business, there was Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins on Music Row. As good as Owen and Chet were at creating music, neither was worth a flip answering phones, keeping books, being a secretary. Fortunately Owen had his sister, the late Ruby Bradley Strange, who was the first secretary on Music Row. She worked for Owen and brother Harold making them look like they were real together guys.

Over at Columbia, Peggy Bradley, wife of engineer Lou, was virtually running Columbia Records. Rumor has it, while CBS men played golf, Peggy kept the music playing. She knew the biz of music inside out and is sorely missed. Peggy passed away in July.

Dean May worked at Acuff-Rose Publishing for 36 years for both Fred and Wesley Rose as well as Roy and Mildred Acuff. Hank Williams would come by her office on Franklin Road with his guitar and sing his newly written tunes for her. Dean worked with the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, John D. Loudermilk and many, many others.

During her 38 years at Tree (Tree International/Sony/ATV Music), where she is still employed, Judy Roberts has worked with greats, past and present, like Hank Cochran, Willie Nelson, Mae Boren Axton, Harlan Howard, Ray Price, Conway Twitty and Gretchen Wilson.

In 1977, Dianne Petty became the first female vice president of a music publishing company at ABC Music Group where she’d worked with artists as varied as Brenda Lee, Red Foley and Bob Wills. She eventually became senior vice president of the SESAC creative department and was largely responsible for the success of the “80’s Lady” K.T Oslin. Today she runs her own company CDP Music.

Longer than anyone else, 36 years, Peggy Sherrill has been employed at the Country Museum Hall of Fame & Museum. She started as manager of the gift show, moved up to Deputy Director and presently serves as Human Resources Administrator. Our 19-year old grandson, Jeremy Smith, works in the gift shop, loves Miss Peggy and she loves him. They enjoy having lunch together.

As a female, Marijohn Wilkin is the first to make it in a man’s world as a successful songwriter, leader of the Marijohn Singers and running her own publishing company, Buckhorn Music. A visionary, in 1965 Marijohn signed Kris Kristofferson to his first publishing contract. She was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1975. Her international hit, the self-penned “One Day at a Time,” has been recorded almost 200 times.

For over 50 years, Louise Scruggs has guided the career of her husband, Earl Scruggs. During her significant role as manager/booker for Flatt & Scruggs, 1948-1969, she guided the duo and their band, the Foggy Mountain Boys, to become the most successful act in bluegrass music. Their Martha White radio and TV shows, Grand Ole Opry membership, soundtracks for The Beverly Hillbillies and Bonnie & Clyde as well as their recording and touring wore Louise’s stamp of approval. After the Flatt & Scruggs breakup, with Louise the guiding light, the Earl Scruggs Revue, that consisted of Earl and their three sons Gary, Randy and Steve, became a popular act on the folk/rock circuit. Till today, Louise is the force behind Earl and their sons. Louise Scruggs, a great lady and good friend.

These eight women were honored at a Nashville dinner as a vital source in the success of Music Row and Nashville Music Industry. Unsung heroines who made men look better, music sound sweeter and work look easier. They are still on the Row today, working stiffs with names like Judy Harris, Areeda Schneider-Stampley, Judi Turner, Pat Rolfe, Kay Smith, Barbara Turner and Judy Wray. Host and presenters for the fun sit-down dinner and program were Brenda Lee, Charlie Monk, Devon O’Day and Robert K. Oermann.

Let me tell you about another working woman, Katherine Varnell, wife of the late Lon Varnell, owner of Varnell Enterprises. Mrs. Varnell is 89 years old and until this day, she goes into the office daily where Ben Farrell and others busy themselves booking shows for top acts in country music like George Strait, Toby Keith and others. Yes, Katherine is on top of anything and everything that goes on, and she works the phone like the champ she has always been.

Around Town
Seen at the Cracker Barrel on Sidco Drive: Earl Scruggs, Eddy Arnold, Keith Urban, Little Jimmy Dickens, Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts with his lovely family, Stonewall Jackson and Alan Jackson. Alan Jackson also frequents the Cracker Barrel in Cool Springs. Spotted lunching almost daily at the Sylvan Park Melrose meat and three: George Jones, Jerry Reed and Ray Stevens. Now there’s some real stars who like real food.

Grammy lauded its winners at Music Town’s Loews Vanderbilt Plaza Hotel. One of Alison Krauss’ favorite singers, Larry Sparks, honored the princess, the top female musician winner of 17 Grammy Awards, by singing “Doin’ My Time.” Earl Scruggs was recognized by his former band member, the great Charlie Daniels performing “Maggie’s Farm” for the banjo master. Sons Gary and Randy Scruggs were also on hand to help present their dad with the award. Tim McGraw family friend, Martina McBride, sang “Please Remember Me” for Tim, and his beautiful wife, Faith Hill presented him with his award. 2003 American Idol winner Reuben Studdard told the crowd he sang BeBe and CeCe Winans songs in church when he was 10 years old. Dionne Warwick commented she’d known the Winans a long time, and they were true to their gospel music.

Just a-Wondering
Listening to Kenny Chesney’s new single and album, The Road and the Radio, I could not help but wonder if the song was written before “I don’t” was said. It sure fits the part and may be the best song on his CD. Willie Nelson, the man who said, “Divorces are expensive because they are worth it,” gave Kenny positive and practical advice when he told him. “Kenny, if there’s no solution then there is really no problem.” Can we force Willie to become president?? Kenny stopped in at The Ellen DeGeneres Show and the The Tonight Show, which are located around the corner from each other.

Congratulations to the little girl with the big voice, Martina McBride. Her album, Timeless, spent a three-week run at No. 1! She’s a wonder.

In case you wondered, Brad Paisley’s Time Well Wasted CD, certified gold, and he spent some time well spent on the The Late Show With David Letterman.

How about that Trace Adkins CD Songs About Me in the stores 33 weeks — sales up 60 percent last week. I’m a-wondering if the fans are getting what I got long ago — that Trace is a big star.

Let me ask, why, oh, why doesn’t the great Patty Loveless do more TV? She appeared in NYC on Imus in the Morning, sang three songs at 7:30 a.m. and hit every note on the money. If you are a real country music fan, do yourself a favor, get a copy of Dreaming My Dreams by Patty Loveless. Breathtaking.

Rumor has Trisha Yearwood has blocked off personal time in December. I’m wondering.

Attention Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy, Bill Engvall and Ron White. There is another guy. His name is Bill Whyte and he is a wonder. He has an album titled Off the Wall that sounds so Blue Collar. He used to work here at WSM-FM radio and WFMS in Indianapolis, works now at WUBE in Cincinnati.

My friend Doug Howard, senior vice president of Lyric Street Records and Disney Music Publishing, tells me he signed Kevin Denney to a songwriting deal. Kevin is a wonderful traditional singer-songwriter from Monticello, Ky.

Lastly, I’m wondering if the media (myself included), management and publicists are working off the same page. Fans buy records, buy magazines, go to concerts, buy merchandising, listen to radio, watch TV and they want info regarding their favorites. After all, fans are why all of us have a job. It is our job to filter info to fans. Right?? Last week, I asked a star’s representative a simple question about that artist and got zilch for an answer. My media friends, maybe it’s high time we cease and desist — refuse to write about artists whose manager and/or publicists are abusive and have a holier-than-thou attitude. Should we take names?

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Waldorf Salad.