HOT DISH: Great Songwriters Are a Different Breed

Dennis Linde Was One of the Great Poets of Country Music

(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.)

When the sad news reached me on Dec. 22 that award-winning songwriter Dennis Linde had passed away at age 63 from a rare lung disease, my mind went back to the time many moons ago when my compadre, CMT editorial director Chet Flippo, and I were having lunch at Maude’s restaurant in Nashville. At the time, Chet was living in New York and working for Rolling Stone.

Combine Music’s legendary Bob Beckham walked over to the table and thanked Chet for mentioning his stable of songwriters that included the great poets of the day — Kris Kristofferson, Donnie Fritts, Billy Swan, Chris Gantry, Mickey Newbury, Dennis Linde and the rest of the best. Beckham specifically said, “Especially Dennis Linde.” As Bob walked away, I told Chet that Linde was married to Beckham’s daughter.

In the years I’ve spent in Nashville, I only saw Dennis Linde twice — once at the old Combine office (where Reba’s building now stands on 17th Avenue South) and once at EMI’s offices. Record producer Blake Chancey always talked about Dennis Linde’s songwriting. Blake knew his catalog and produced the Dixie Chicks’ recording of Linde’s “Goodbye Earl.”

Bob Tubert wrote a wonderful obit about Linde’s love for his wife, family and home for the daily newspaper, but it was a piece written by Phil Sweetland in 2005 that summed up Linde for me. It seems that Phil convinced EMI’s boss man, Gary Overton, to put him in touch with Linde, a man who made it a point to stay out of the spotlight. With Overton’s help, Phil made several visits to Linde’s home in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., near Nashville.

Phil wrote an article for the New York Times that was accompanied by a photo of a “song map” Linde had drawn and hung on his wall. On the map were the bar where “Bubba Shot the Jukebox” (in Mark Chesnutt’s hit), the trailer park where the “Queen of My Double Wide Trailer” lived (in Sammy Kershaw’s smash), the spot where Elvis Presley found “Burning Love” and the water tower painted “John Deere Green” (in Joe Diffie’s Top 10 single).

Truly great songwriters are a different breed. Always reclusive, Dennis Linde left a legacy of songs to prove his genius.

Jessica Simpson Does Us All a Favor
Only 5 feet tall, our very own charming, talented and beautiful Tennessee-born Dolly Parton stood as tall as Steven Spielberg, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Zubin Mehta and Smoky Robinson, the others who were also honored during the Kennedy Center Honors telecast that aired Dec. 26.

In this column, I had previously questioned Jessica Simpson’s ability to perform in such an important and honorable presentation. As it turned out, I was right. During the taping, Simpson bolted from the stage when she forgot the words to “9 to 5.” She was given a second chance, but that didn’t turn out that great, either. After viewing a tape of her second try, Jessica did herself — not to mention the great Dolly Parton and the world of music — a huge favor by asking that her performance be cut from the TV special.

Honoring Dolly on the telecast were Cheryl White and Suzanne Cox harmonizing with Alison Krauss on “Jolene” and Shania Twain singing “Coat of Many Colors.” Carrie Underwood was joined by Kenny Rogers and surprised Dolly by singing the No. 1 hit, “Islands in the Stream.” Vince Gill did a killer version of “I Will Always Love You” that received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Remembering James Brown
When James Brown was appearing years ago in a circus tent at the North Carolina State Fair, I went inside with my then-small sons to see him. Afterward, we agreed, “Wow!” In the ’70s, there was a lot of media attention when Porter Wagoner invited Brown to appear on the Grand Ole Opry. Porter caught a lot of grief, but the audience loved James Brown as much as Brown loved the Opry. James Brown died on Christmas Day from pneumonia at age 73.

The 2006 Roll Call
The man with the velvet voice — my friend, Lou Rawls — died Jan. 6. Donnie Fritts’ friend, Wilson Pickett, passed away on Jan. 19. … Janette Carter, A.P. and Sara Carter’s daughter and the last member of that generation, died on Jan. 22 at age 82. She was a cousin to Maybelle Carter’s daughters June, Helen and Anita.

Feb. 2 was a sad day for me when one of my dear friends, Louise Scruggs, passed away. … The much-loved Don Knotts, who won five Emmys for his role as Barney Fife on Andy Griffith’s long-running television show, died on Feb. 24. … Actor Dennis Weaver, who actually once recorded a country album, also died on Feb. 24.

The country music world was saddened by the passing of Buck Owens on March 25. A major influence on Dwight Yoakam and Brad Paisley, both artists sang at Buck’s memorial service in Bakersfield, Calif. … Songwriter Cindy Walker, the 87-year old Country Music Hall of Fame member, died on March 23 in Texas.

I remember standing in the Opry wings and watching the Pointer Sisters sing their 1974 country hit, “Fairytale.” June Pointer died April 11 of cancer. … Phil Walden, the 66-year-old co-founder of Capricorn Records, passed away April 23. … Singer Bonnie Owens, the former wife of both Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, died April 24 in Bakersfield, Calif.

The Nashville music community was deeply saddened on May 21 when 77-year-old Grand Ole Opry member Billy Walker and his wife, Bettie, were killed in a one-vehicle crash while returning to Nashville from a performance in Gulf Shores, Ala. Band members Charles Lilly Jr. and Daniel Patton were also killed in the accident.

The former head of creative services at Arista Nashville, the wonderful Maude Gilman-Clapham, left us in June.

Tears fell like rain and hearts were breaking over the tragic death of a beloved banker, 45-year-old Brian Williams, while boating on July 8. Not only was Brian a best friend and banker to Music Row, he was SunTrust Bank’s head of its sports and entertainment banking division. “No” was not in the man’s vocabulary.

Johnny Duncan, the great country singer whose biggest hit was “She Can Put Her Shoes Under My Bed (Anytime),” passed away in Texas on Aug. 14 at age 67. … On Aug. 23, renowned dulcimer player David Schnaufer succumbed to cancer.

The bluegrass world was brought to its knees during the International Bluegrass Music Association’s convention in Nashville on Sept. 30 when word reached the event that Burkett “Uncle Josh” Graves had passed away. A true innovator, the 81-year-old bluegrass legend was to the Dobro what Bill Monroe was to the mandolin and Earl Scruggs is to the banjo.

Freddy Fender, 69, died Oct. 14 at his Texas home from lung cancer. His biggest hit was “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.” … On Oct. 26, 86-year-old songwriter, booking agent, artist manager and musician Tillman Franks passed away. … Oct. 28 was a sad time on Music Row when 86-year-old songwriting and music publishing pioneer Marijohn Wilkin died in Nashville.

Beginning as an upright bass player, Buddy Killen was also a record producer who wrote songs and a very successful businessman who made millions when he sold his Tree Publishing company to Sony Music. Buddy was 73 years old when he died on Nov. 1.

The Ryman Auditorium was still the Grand Ole Opry’s home in downtown Nashville when I was driving down Broadway on a Saturday night years ago. Lo and behold, standing out front of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge was actor Jack Palance, who had just been to the Opry. Palance died on Nov. 10.

And on Nov. 20, director Robert Altman, the brainchild of the award-winning movie, Nashville, passed away — but not before he directed the film version of A Prairie Home Companion.

A New Year’s Message
Fans, your New Year will be as happy as you make it. Keep in mind: “Love your neighbor” is mentioned something like 27 times in the scriptures. I believe that’s important.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Broccoli Casserole.