HOT DISH: When Country Hears Hollywood’s Call

Is Phil Vassar Preparing to Follow in Some Famous Footsteps?

(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 CMT.com.)

Remember when Kris Kristofferson no longer had to push a broom at Columbia Records’ studio on 16th Avenue South in Nashville? That was back before the Tally Ho Tavern, where he tended bar, was mentioned in one of his songs.

Remember when Roger Miller was writing and recording hit after hit in the mid ’60s and owned the King of the Road hotel near downtown Nashville?

Remember Dolly Parton cruising down 18th Avenue to her publishing company in a baby blue Cadillac Coupe de Ville with “Dolly” written on the front license tag? Remember when Mac Davis used to be around town?

And remember Jerry Reed? Before he met Burt Reynolds and started doing movies, he was Chet Atkins’ favorite guitar player. He was making records and performing and was just about the hottest session guitarist on the planet. Remember when Reed came back to Music Town wearing a street length fur coat when it was barely cloth coat weather?

Hollywood and Los Angeles does things to country boys and girls. Sometimes irreparable things.

Kristofferson, one of the all-time great songwriters became quite the movie star. And although he has written and recorded some fine albums through the years, I don’t believe he’s written a hit since Hollywood came calling. As an actor, Kris is successful, but I wish his songwriting pen was still filled with hit-making ink.

Following quite a successful Music Town run, Miller moved to Hollywood and hadn’t written a song in five years until, thank God, he was given an assignment to write Big River, the Broadway musical based on Huckleberry Finn. The cleverness of a Roger Miller lyric has yet to be equaled. Pure unadulterated genius, he took home six Grammys in 1965 alone. But after that early success, did Hollywood, by chance, strip Roger of part of his genius?

Determined Dolly saw through all of the Hollywood know-it-alls who really knew nothing about the South, the Great Smoky Mountains or her family, but she managed to write the hit “9 to Five,” for the movie of the same title that she co-starred in. But Dolly left Hollywood in her rearview mirror wearing her stiletto pumps and has continued to do what she wants with her career. She wasn’t about to let the bastards grind her down. Not that she needs it financially, but Dolly believes there’s another “I Will Always Love You” in her future.

Always cool and in control, Willie Nelson waltzes into Hollywood, shakes hands, says howdy, does his gig, collects his pay and gets in his bus to cruise off to his next gig. Willie never allowed wives, lawyers or Hollywood to control his destiny. He keeps his home on wheels greased, fueled and running while supporting farmers, family and friends in the same manner he’s done for the 35 years I’ve known him. Hollywood does not impress (or depress) Willie any more than Austin, Boston or the Big Apple. He’s Willie in his kitchen or at the White House.

I say all the above to ask this: Do you remember those wonderful hits Phil Vassar wrote for Jo Dee Messina, Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson and Collin Raye? Remember when Phil was named ASCAP’s songwriter of the year? And remember his very first Arista CD that was filled with killer songs? They were so great, I called each tune a mini-book.

I want some more Phil Vassar hits to hear on country radio, but I won’t hold my breath because now it may or may not happen. Why? Well, I see in the local newspaper that Phil and songwriting bride Julie honored filmmaker Jamie Redford, son of Robert Redford, during a dinner at their home with 40 power couples, including such as Tim McGraw and Faith Hill and Tony and Anastasia Brown. Is Hollywood getting ready to put a ring in Phil’s once-hillbilly nose?

Troy Gentry Regrets
Troy Gentry of Montgomery Gentry regrets he listened to what he refers to as “experts” in Minnesota. Not because he ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of falsely registering a captive bear as being killed in the wild or because of the $15,000 fine he had to pay but because Troy truly regrets that it appears he had no respect for the law. This was a humbling experience for the Kentucky native, a lover of hunting, fishing and outdoors. I’m glad it’s over for the big guy, and I’ll bet he’s glad to get rid of the bear rug.

Bits of News
Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving. We did. On Thanksgiving eve, I got a call from my friend, Sammy Kershaw, who wished me a happy holiday and reported he’d like to work 250 days next year. (Hear ye, casinos!) I also heard from Greg Kaczor and his bride Terri Clark on Thanksgiving morning while they were visiting Greg’s kin in Minnesota.

Trace Adkins felt the aftermath of his People’s Choice nomination for favorite male vocalist when sales of his Dangerous Man CD bolted up 107 percent.

Toby Keith calls his loyal fans his “warriors” and credits them for his win as favorite male country artist at the fan-voted American Music Awards.

I see where 71-year-old Jerry Lee Lewis moseyed out onstage at the House of Blues in Anaheim, Calif., looking like a slow-moving senior citizen. However, once his fingertips touched the piano keys, Jerry Lee became the Killer. Needless to say, he gave the audience members what they came for.

While Keith Urban is in rehab, folks have noticed Billy Ray Cyrus has snatched his look — hair streaked and parted down the middle with mustache and beard shaped verbatim.

Sympathy to Brenda Lee on the passing of her mom and to Tanya Tucker on the passing of her dad. Both parents supported the career of their children.

Four months ago, Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson wed four times — the last time at the famed Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Music City’s Lower Broadway. Cledus T. Judd reports he had Thanksgiving dinner with the seemingly happy couple on the beach outside Pamela’s home in California, but by Monday (Nov. 27), all the goods were all gone. Kid Rock told a Nashville pal he bolted to the Los Angeles courthouse to file for divorce before Pamela got the chance. Both cited “irreconcilable differences” — whatever that means.

Graceland in Memphis has fired up 2 million lights that will burn until Jan. 8 — Elvis’s birthday.

John Anderson was welcomed into the MuzikMafia by Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson during a performance at the Mercy Lounge.

On Dec. 10, the late Faron Young will be honored with a place on the Walk of Stars in Shreveport, La., at the Municipal Auditorium, the original home of the Louisiana Hayride. This marks the 10th anniversary of the legend’s death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He’s another artist deserving of a plaque in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Vince Gill’s wonderful These Days boxed set is certified gold.

Congratulations are in order to my dear friend, Connie Bradley, an ASCAP senior vice president and a recognized trailblazer for women in the music business. Connie is set to receive the Nashville Symphony’s highest honor, the Harmony Award, on Dec. 9 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb is set to entertain at the event.

See this week’s Hot Dish Recipe of the Week: Pecan Pie Bars.