HOT DISH: A Happy Country New Year

Music Heals a Heart, Kenny Buys a Learjet and Dierks Looks Toward 2006

(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

Happy New Year, everyone! By the time you read this, you and yours — if you’re lucky — will be stuffed with black-eyed peas, collard greens and corn bread, and 2006 will be here. A clean slate is about the best resolution a body can make.

Country Music’s Healing Power
Ricky Skaggs and the Whites were among the guests who recently appeared at the White House for the lighting of the national Christmas tree. Also on the program was poet, author, teacher, performer and director Maya Angelou, who asked to speak to Skaggs.

This great lady explained that when her brother died, she could not let him go until she happened to hear Skaggs and Patty Loveless performing vocal harmonies while Vince Gill sang “Go Rest High on That Mountain.” Many times I’ve wondered how many lives Vince’s song has touched, including mine. It is my hope that someone will share this story with Vince.

Have a Kinky New Year
In Texas, a Zogby poll claims 21 percent of the voters in the Lone Star State are supporters of country music singer and mystery author Kinky Friedman in his political campaign against incumbent Gov. Rick Perry. Texans such as Willie Nelson and Billy Joe Shaver are supporting the Kinkster for governor — as are most hip New York news reporters who cannot legally vote in Texas.

How About a Gatlin New Year?
Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers are Texans, but I don’t know what they think of Kinky, the independent candidate. Larry and the brothers are real close with President George W. Bush. Therefore, it’s safe to assume the Gatlins are registered Republicans. Larry and the Gatlin Brothers began their career singing gospel, and their recent album, Family Gospel Favorites, is among the list of Grammy nominees for best southern, country or bluegrass gospel album. The Grammy folks like gospel so much, they slung three musical genres together with one Grammy to be presented. Lordy, lordy.

Or a Carrie Underwood New Year?
Young Carrie Underwood was named Oklahoma Today magazine’s Oklahoman of the year, a title once held by Trisha Yearwood’s hubby, Garth Brooks. An American Idol winner, Carrie continues to hold the No. 1 spot at the top of the country albums chart with her debut CD, Some Hearts.

It comes as no surprise Carrie’s album is platinum. Other heavy metal CDs for December are 16 Biggest Hits by Johnny Cash and The Road and the Radio by Kenny Chesney, both double platinum. Platinum albums include Songs About Me by Trace Adkins, Modern Day Drifter by Dierks Bentley, The Legend of Johnny Cash by Johnny Cash, Timeless by Martina McBride and Reba #1’s by Reba McEntire. Digging gold are Tough All Over by Gary Allan and Kerosene by Miranda Lambert. Under the heading of platinum video longform Blue Collar Comedy Tour Rides Again by Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy, Bill Engvall and Ron White. Congratulations to all the guys and gals who helped to keep country music looking good.

Phil Vassar Has a Jerry Lee New Year
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper recently compared Phil Vassar’s stage antics and piano playing to the wild man, Jerry Lee Lewis. The Fox network aired the singer-songwriter’s live performance from the Nashville Palace on New Year’s Eve. Also appearing on the telecast were Aaron Tippin, Jett Williams and Janie Fricke.

Cash at Folsom and on Broadway
The Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line, will be shown Tuesday (Jan. 3) at a special screening at Folsom Prison in California. The prison’s chaplain invited actor Joaquin Phoenix to screen the movie for the inmates in hopes it will inspire the prisoners as much as Cash’s concert did in 1968. Afterward the concert, Cash received thousands of letters from former inmates across the country explaining how his music at Folsom had put them on the path to rehabilitation and redemption.

Lari White is set to appear on Broadway in the new Johnny Cash musical tribute, Ring of Fire, at the Ethel Barrymore Theater. The production, set to begin March 12, will feature many of Cash’s most famous songs.

Chesney and Zellweger Get Unmarried
The marriage between Kenny Chesney and Renee Zellweger was annulled legally by the Superior Court of Los Angeles. An annulment declares a marriage never existed. You know, I’d wondered how Kenny could be deep sea fishing with Uncle Kracker in the islands one day and the next day be rumored to be dining with Zellweger in Connecticut. Well, let me tell you, Kenny’s got a brand new toy — a Learjet. He can just tell the pilot to fly … or take a flying leap.

The Year of the Dierks
As far as anybody can tell, Dierks Bentley and his new bride, Cassidy, are still happily Mr. and Mrs.

Minnie Pearl had a saying she lived by: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Although I’m wondering if Dierks even knows Miss Minnie swore by those words, he has adopted the saying for his New Year’s resolution.

Looking back at 2005 and ahead to 2006, Dierks’ aim is for bigger and better live shows as he expands his fan base beyond the U.S. He toured Canada in November and heads to Ireland, England, Scotland and Germany in January as a part of the CMA’s New From Nashville Tour.

His rearview mirror found him opening shows for George Strait during the first three months of 2005. By mid-March, his debut album was certified platinum, but it was near the end of April when he finally stopped long enough to celebrate. Dierks’ special guest at his party was Today host Katie Couric, who was cool enough to ride in his pickup truck with his dog, Jake. He performed on Today the next day.

Modern Day Drifter, Dierks sophomore album debuted at No. 1 on the country albums chart on May 18. He participated in the unveiling of the Legends in Bronze display at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, Calif., in May and, the following month, appeared on Good Morning America. He recorded with George Jones in July and was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry where he was officially made a member in October. In November, Dierks toured Canada and was presented the Horizon honor during the nationally-televised CMA Awards show from Madison Square Garden in New York.

Another appearance on Today took place in December just days before Modern Day Drifter was certified platinum He wrapped his 2005 tour on Dec. 10 with his 206th performance of the year. Two days later, his single, “Come a Little Closer,” hit No. 1 on the country chart.

Dolly Notes
With a birthday coming up in January, the incredible Dolly Parton was asked how she was preparing to face being 60. Replied the ever-vivacious superstar who is never at a loss for words, “Well, if something drags or sags, I have it tucked or sucked!”

Dolly’s recording of “Viva Las Vegas” with the Grascals resulted in some unexpected praise from Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires, the world-famous vocal group that worked extensively with Elvis Presley. In an item posted on the Grascals’ Web site, Stoker wrote, “Got your CD. … Love it, especially the number we did with Elvis, ’Viva Las Vegas.’ I want to catch your show.” A nice sentiment to start the New Year.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Buffet Potatoes.