HOT DISH: Joe Nichols Honors Anna Nicole Smith

A Class Act, He Refuses Media Offers to Talk About Singing at Funeral

(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.)

Anna Nicole Smith met Joe Nichols, her favorite singer, in April 2005 when she visited the Grand Ole Opry with her son Daniel, attorney-manager Howard K. Stern and boyfriend Larry Birkhead. They sat on the front row. Born in Texas and a lover of country music, Anna Nicole danced with the square dancers and asked to be introduced to Joe, who was guesting on the show that night.

Joe traveled with his keyboard player, sound engineer, manager and Universal South Records exec Fletcher Foster when he hopped a private place for the Bahamas where he sang at the funeral of Anna Nicole Smith on March 2.

Spending the night on the island, Joe and the entourage arrived at the church about an hour early for the service. Paparazzi and locals mobbed the surrounding area but were not allowed to enter the church. Arriving 30 minutes late, Anna Nicole’s mother was booed by the locals when she arrived.

The 10:30 a.m. service finally began at 11:10. In a hushed Baptist church, the minister prayed and the congregation sang two hymns. The choir performed, dressed in robes and hats with plumes. Anna Nicole’s mom spoke so softly, no one was sure what she said.

When Joe sang “Wings of a Dove,” it was so soulful, there wasn’t a dry eye was in the church.

Larry spoke, the preacher read more scripture and then Joe sang the very moving “I’ll Wait for You.” The very sad service lasted just under an hour. By the time Joe’s plane landed in Music City around 5 p.m., Larry King, the New York Post and each-and-every tabloid show on TV and in print had called trying to get him to talk to them. One of country music’s class acts, Joe turned them all down.

Anna Nicole had very little peace on earth. Maybe, just maybe, she’s found peace at last.

Those Rascal Flatts Wives
The three members of Rascal Flatts are fairly good looking, but they’re not Hollywood-handsome by any stretch of the imagination. Joe Don Rooney is cute, Jay DeMarcus has gorgeous blue eyes and a drop-dead smile, while Gary LeVox is a really fine singer. (Just kidding, guys!)

I don’t know the pretty mama of LeVox’s two kids, but I do know the incredibly beautiful Tiffany Fallon (aka Mrs. Joe Don Rooney) and the incredibly beautiful Allison DeMarcus (Jay’s wife). You would think these two beauties would be full of themselves with asinine attitudes, but that is just not the case.

I met Tiffany when we served as judges along with Craig Morgan on CMT’s Karaoke-Dokey. Pretty, nice and bright, brunette Tiffany — Playboy‘s playmate of the year in 2005 — does not cook, but she is quite down to earth and is hoping to do more TV work and modeling. She is not Joe Don’s trophy wife. She’s crazy about her man. By the way, she prefers a sandwich and fries from the drive-through for lunch — not a salad.

Secondly, there’s former Miss Tennessee — the tall and blonde Allison DeMarcus. We also served as judges along with Steve Holy on another episode of Karaoke-Dokey. Allison hails from Memphis, Tenn., and is still associated with her college sorority there. Like Tiffany, Allison continues personal appearances, especially hosting duties. There’s nothing haughty or arrogant about this Southern miss. Allison does not cook. She, too, is crazy about her man. For lunch, Allison runs by Subway.

I’m impressed.

Garth Out of Retirement — Sort Of
Garth Brooks was among the mourners in Belfast, Ireland, for the recent funeral of his friend Jim Aiken, a well-known concert promoter. The Belfast newspaper reported that most of the packed congregation, including Garth, was moved to tears when the coffin was carried down the aisle. Word has it that Garth canceled all stateside appointments to fly across the Atlantic on short notice. The newspaper also reports Garth wants to play Belfast one last time as a tribute to his friend.

Garth came out of retirement — well, sort of — on March 6 when he performed a concert right here in Music Town at the Opryland Hotel for the 2,000-plus Wal-Mart employees during a company convention. Garth’s CDs are now sold exclusively at Wal-Mart. The concert was not to the public. If it had been, I would have been there.

Dolly Smiles Out Loud
Dolly Parton, who is currently touring in Europe, must be laughing out loud. I see where Mystery Mine, a $17.5 million steel roller coaster, the first in the U.S., is being installed at Dollywood. Nashville lost millions in tourist dollars to Dollywood years ago when the Opryland theme park closed. Each year now, Dolly and her partners keep adding attractions and updating Dollywood — and the fans keep on coming.

You know, I remember the year they built Dollywood. My dear journalist friend Robert K. Oermann and I were having lunch with some managerial know-it-all New Yorker who informed us, “Dollywood will fail. No one star can have their own theme park and have it become successful.”

Oermann and I nudged each other, giggled and nodded. Both of us were well aware that Dolly has one of the best business minds in all of show biz.

Hello, Old Friend
It’s special when you hear from an old friend. Last week, I got a call from Ken Mansfield, the man who produced “I’m Not Lisa,” Jessi Colter’s marvelous 1975 hit. Prior to that, Ken had been associated with the Beatles and is still close with the remaining two members, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. Before he called me, he said he’d spoken with Tompall Glaser and wanted to touch base with friends.

The much-married Ken finally met a Southern girl named Connie, and he changed his ways at the altar. Yep, Connie became Ken’s fourth wife. And proving that wonders never cease, he’s now a minister and author.

Like the rest of us who knew them, Ken misses Waylon Jennings, Roger “Captain Midnite” Schutt, John and Marie Hartford, Shel Silverstein and others who have gone on. It’s been a good life. I’m glad I’m still around to remember the good times.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Spanish Rice.