HOT DISH: Bluegrass, Disc Jockeys and Special Requests

Hanging With the Governor and Jack Ingram

(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.)

I believe we are truly blessed that the lost tapes of Flatt & Scruggs’ syndicated television program were somehow found. Set for DVD release on March 27, Best of the Flatt & Scruggs TV Show is classic bluegrass from 1956-62, a time when Lester Flatt was young and singing out of the right side of his mouth. (Some say he was emulating Bill Monroe, who also sang from the right side.) And then there was Earl Scruggs picking the fire out of his banjo and all the while looking a lot like his sons do today. There are special guests, too, including Mother Maybelle Carter, who displays her original fingerpicking guitar style.

Watching an advance copy of the DVD with my grandson, Jeremy, I said, “That’s Curly,” as I pointed to Curly Seckler playing the mandolin and laying down some powerful tenor vocal harmonies.

“From our church?” asked Jeremy. I nodded that it was.

“That’s Johnny Warren’s dad,” I said as the great Paul Warren fiddled on “Dance All Night With a Bottle in My Hand.”

We laughed at the comedy songs and antics of Uncle Josh (Dobro player Josh Graves) and Cousin Jake (bass player Jake Tullock), smiled at the harmony singing and got teary-eyed during the gospel singing — just like fans did more than 40 years ago when the shows first aired. Like a loving partner or a handful of diamonds, these performances are keepers.

All of this leads to the segment of the DVD when Uncle Josh steps up to the microphone and dedicates songs to fans who sent letters to the show.

“Wow!” I thought. “They don’t do that anymore.” You see, I remember when you could request songs on the radio — and they’d actually play them — back before the days of playlists that are largely determined by programming consultants.

Biff Collie, my late friend who is my daughter-in-law Sharon’s dad, quit his job as a DJ in California when the powers-that-be started telling him what songs he had to play. Biff thought his listeners should request the songs they wanted to hear. I think that makes Biff a hero.

With that thought in mind and the recent Country Radio Seminar still in the news, I thumbed through a print edition of Country Aircheck and ran across editor Lon Helton’s list of nine huge moments in CRS history. The No. 1 event was a match made in heaven: Alabama lead singer Randy Owen’s idea for country stations to hold radiothons to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. At the 1989 CRS, Randy delivered a speech describing the need at St. Jude and the country music community’s obligation to help. Since that time, country radio stations have collected more than $280 million for the kids. Every time I see Randy or his wife or his children, I get in their face with thanks while assuring them that Randy has a throne real close to Jesus waiting for him in heaven. I seriously believe that.

Chatting With the Nation’s Coolest Governor
While lunching Thursday (March 15) at the fancy, smancy Palm restaurant in downtown Nashville with manager extraordinaire Clarence Spalding (Brooks & Dunn, Jason Aldean, Terri Clark, Sara Buxton, Pat Green and Ashley Monroe), imagine my surprise when up walked the coolest governor in America — Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen. After our handshake and hello, I introduced him to Spalding, and the governor asked if I received the photo that was taken of him, first lady Andrea Conte and me during a party at the Wildhorse Saloon following his recent inauguration. I told him I did receive it and thanked him.

The governor went on to say what a wonderful time he had with the music folks gathered at the Wildhorse party and told me it was good to see me again. Truth of the matter, I was thrilled to see him out and about, and I was absolutely astounded that he remembered me and my name.

There are 49 other governors in the good old USA, and I’m betting there’s not another as cool and as smart as Phil Bredesen. Having lunch with Clarence Spalding is something I’d like to do weekly!

Is Jack Ingram a New Face?
The cut flowers delivered to my home were lovely. The card was signed, “Great food … better company! Thank you, Hazel. Always, Jack Ingram.”

How sweet is that?

Unless you’ve had your head buried in rap or sand, I’m sure you’ve heard about Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith that airs on CMT. It’s dinner and a movie, but the food is not catered. I cook a complete down-home meal for a guest. And Jack was my latest guest.

To say Jack is Hollywood handsome is an understatement. He is so much more. Jack is in the category of a young Robert Redford or Paul Newman — tall, brownish hair, winning smile and a beaming personality. Besides that, the boy can sing. Jack has been in the music biz for 14 years, but he’s still young. His first gig during college was at a bar where he got free food and beer, and the job lasted three years.

Eager to please, the Texas-based Ingram is a honky-tonker. Like his hero, the late Waylon Jennings, he carved a niche out for himself in the honky-tonks and bars from Dallas to Houston and back. Jack and his Beat-Up Ford Band released a couple of indie records that were re-released by Warner Bros. He also released albums on Rising Tide Records and Sony’s Lucky Dog label, among others.

A few years ago, Jack moved his family to Austin, Texas, before his most recent CD, Live Wherever You Are, was issued by Big Machine Records. With his career finally breaking through in a big way, he had hits with two singles, “Wherever You Are” and “Love You.” These days, the family man is in the air as much as he’s on the ground while he’s touring, but he always heads back home to see his wife and three babies when there’s free time.

With all this musical history, it’s hard to believe that Jack only this month got a slot on the prestigious New Faces show during Country Radio Seminar in 2007, but he walked away with attendees saying he could very well be the next big thing.

On March 27, Jack will release his first full studio album in five years. Titled This Is It, the project includes his current single, “Lips of an Angel.” Brad Paisley chose Jack as the opening act for his upcoming Bonfires and Amplifiers tour. After hearing Jack perform, Waylon Jennings called him an incredible talent, and Billy Joe Shaver said, “He’s one of the best performers around.” And the great Willie Nelson has already recorded a duet with Jack. Friends, I do believe that gives the Texan some big-time credentials. Plus, girls, he’s so doggone cute.

Other News
Reba McEntire has completed production of her Reba sitcom where she flat-out proved she could act. Now she’s recording a duet album with a few country friends and several pop acquaintances. Hitting the high road in April, she’ll be performing for her fans at fairs, casinos and amphitheaters. On Aug. 3-5, she will again take on the role of Nellie Forbush for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific at the Hollywood Bowl. Then there’s her signature line of clothing at Dillard’s department stores. I believe we should call this Reba-ing.

Toby Keith has signed with Paradigm’s film division for motion picture, television and personal appearances. He’s currently working on a script based on his hit, “Beer for My Horses.”

Three members of the Country Music Hall of Fame — Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Ray Price — are performing to sold-out crowds all across the nation in support of their album, Last of the Breed. The trio’s two-disc, 22-song collection was produced by the legendary Fred Foster.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Stuffed Cabbage.