HOT DISH: Alan Jackson, Gene Watson and Real Country Music

Updates on Keith Urban, Travis Tritt, Darryl Worley and More

(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.)

It was the great Bobby Bare who defined the difference in country and pop music this way: Country music causes wet eyes. Pop music causes wet crotches. Bare is always right in every way, and I do believe he is correct here.

Since I do not listen to pop music, I want to share with you songs that have caused me to have wet eyes — tears, if you will. When Fan Fair was still taking place at the fairgrounds in Nashville, flacks like me hung out onstage or backstage and sometimes heard once-in-a-lifetime performances such as Alan Jackson singing Gene Watson’s “Farewell Party.” It brought me to my knees with tears flowing.

Those little backstage cuties were flitting around like rabbits in heat without a clue as to what was happening onstage. I was weeping, and they wanted to take me to the first aid station.

“Shut up!” I told them. “Get me a tissue and listen to Alan!”

Through the years, tears fell when I’d hear Roy Acuff sing “That’s the Man I’m Looking For.” When I hear Brooks & Dunn perform “Believe,” the tears will not stop. Bill Monroe and Peter Rowan’s version of “Walls of Time” once caused me to pull my car off the road. (You can’t see through blinding tears.) Anytime Monroe sang “Wayfaring Stranger” I wept like a baby. The song I’ve cried the most over is George Jones singing “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” the greatest song ever sung, in my opinion. Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on That Mountain” makes my eyes run over, Kenny Chesney’s “Good Stuff” brings tears, and so does Brad Paisley singing “When I Get Where I’m Going.” When my sons and daughter-in-law harmonized “Angel Band” at mama’s funeral, I thought I could not stop crying. It was angelic.

But I still think back to A.J. singing “Farewell Party.” Of course, I’d wept for years when Gene Watson sang his signature song. Alan’s performance drifting through the outdoor heat on that June afternoon was too great for words.

On a related note, Watson lives in Houston and was on his way to the Grand Ole Opry recently — on Friday the 13th, to be exact — when his bus caught on fire. The fire ignited from a broken axle shaft spewing grease. Gene, who is a well-oiled mechanic, knew right off the bat what the trouble was. He wasn’t thinking about his hit, “Love on a Hot Afternoon,” on that blistering day in July as he and his Farewell Party Band used everything on the bus — even bottles of water and soft drinks — to douse the flames until firemen arrived 30 minutes later.

No one was hurt, but Gene singed his hair. After renting a bus and finally making it to the Opry, Gene said, “When we said we were smoldering hot in Nashville, we meant it.”

He must be a pretty good mechanic, but I can tell you this: Young folks, you can’t go wrong listening to Gene Watson. He’s truly one of our great country singers. I’d pay to hear him sing.

Keith Urban Update
In an interview with Peter Cooper of The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, Keith Urban said he’s never away from his wife, Nicole Kidman, for more than two weeks at a time. That means there’s been a lot of commuting this summer as Keith continues his summer tour in the U.S. and Nicole films a movie in Australia.

She was by Keith’s side when he checked into the Betty Ford Center for the treatment of his substance abuse just two weeks before releasing his most recent album. He said, “When I went to Betty Ford, I didn’t care if the whole record got scrapped. It was just time to take care of my life.”

There’s living — and there’s dying. Thank goodness, Keith chose to live.

Travis Tritt and an Idol Judge
After finishing up his work as producer of Travis Tritt’s new album, American Idol judge Randy Jackson called Tritt “a great artist,” adding, “He can sing Ray Charles songs, he can sing with Patti LaBelle and he can sing with David Lee Roth. The guy is an exceptional talent.”

The Storm — the CD Jackson terms “pure unadulterated Travis Tritt” — will be released on Aug. 21.

News and More News
Darryl Worley’s sixth annual Tennessee River Run will feature performances by Charlie Daniels, Trick Pony and hottie Jason Michael Carroll. The event runs Sept. 14-15 at Pickwick Landing State Park in Hardin County, Tenn.

Red Stegall has released Here We Go Again, a CD featuring duets with Toby Keith, Reba McEntire, Charley Pride, Neal McCoy, Charlie Daniels and others.

Vince Gill and Fruit of the Loom have partnered for the music video for “Daddy Was the Apple of My Eye.” Vince in boxers or briefs?

The incredible Willie Nelson will be honored as a BMI Icon at this year’s BMI Country Awards taking place Nov. 6 in Nashville. An elite list of past honorees includes Bill Anderson, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Charlie Daniels and Loretta Lynn.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of George Hamilton IV’s first visit to England, and he also celebrated his 70th birthday Thursday (July 19). While most country acts will be touring in the U.S., George has a 21-day tour planned for the U.K. in September.

My guest Sunday (July 29) on CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith is the cute and friendly Lance Smith, host of CMT’s Top 20 Countdown. We had gads of fun eating chicken salad, butterbeans, corn, fresh fruit, fried zucchini and a tiny tomato salad picked fresh from my son Billy’s garden.

Music Row Honors a Banker
When 45-year-old Brian Williams died in a swimming accident a year ago, tears fell like rain. The beloved Music Row banker had befriended the famed (such as Martina McBride and Alan Jackson) and the near-famed (like me). SunTrust Bank last week renamed its music industry branch office as the Brian Williams Music Row Financial Center. Down-to-earth Brian was crazy over songs and songwriters, so some of his friends gathered later that day at the Ryman Auditorium for a musical tribute to him. Among those performing were Radney Foster, Michael McDonald, Luke Bryan, Jason Sellers, Tracy Lawrence, Collin Raye, Hal Ketchum, Lee Greenwood, Jeffrey Steele, BeBe Winans, Rodney Crowell, Fred Knobloch, Bob DiPiero, Victoria Shaw, Jeff Hanna and Matraca Berg.

Brian’s heart was as big as Music Row. May God rest his soul. We will continue to miss him.

See one of Hazel’s favorite Hot Dish recipes: Corn Casserole.