HOT DISH: Garth Brooks, George Jones Partying in Nashville

Garth Celebrates a History-Making No. 1 Single, George Surprised on 76th Birthday

(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 hosts CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith and shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

A few hundred invited guests gathered in the rotunda of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville to celebrate the success of Garth Brooks’ “More Than a Memory,” the fastest rising country single in history and the only one to top the chart right out of the chute.

Hosted by ASCAP, BMI and Pearl Records, the Sept. 7 party toasted songwriters Lee Brice, Kyle Jacobs and Billy Montana and Big Machine Records, the label responsible for generating the single’s radio airplay. It was ASCAP’s Connie Bradley who pointed out with all of the “firsts” in Garth’s career, this was the first No. 1 party put together so fast — in a matter of something like two days.

I couldn’t help but smile at Garth’s apparel: Wal-Mart brogan shoes, a well-worn baseball cap, faded orange T-shirt and blue jeans — his comfort clothes. What he’d wear to write songs is what he wanted to wear to honor the songwriters. He felt at home, and Garth wanted them to feel at home, too.

Garth praised the songwriters and two people he has worked with for years — producer Allen Reynolds and studio engineer Mark Miller.

“I’m surprised my producer, Allen Reynolds, showed up. He’s never come to a No. 1 party before.” said Garth, who was equally surprised with Miller’s presence. I asked him about Mark specifically.

“Mark is the only engineer in Nashville who sits down at a non-automatic board, starts from the song’s beginning and goes over and over until it’s mixed,” he explained. “He might take 150 to 200 swings. He has to do it with just one pass from start to fade to make sure it’s right. Understand, if there is a string out of tune or any little thing, Mark has to start all over and do it again.”

I asked Garth if he thinks the single will remain in the Top 10 until his new album, Garth Brooks: The Ultimate Hits, is released in November.

“Realistically,” he replied, “I think we may see the single fall in the charts to the twenties or into the thirties, then start its run. This song may hopefully have two lives if it’s strong enough to hold the weight. The song’s gonna do what it’s gonna do, and if it drops on the charts and comes back to No. 1, we will have another No. 1 party. (laughs) Songs have to earn their way up the chart.”

Referring to his latest No. 1 as “a gift from radio,” he said. “The boss is the fans. I want to hear more about spins than anything … about phones lighting up in a good way. Requests. I’m old-school. That’s what I want to hear.” He added, “If I was on tour, this song is a ballad like people sing along with, like they sang along with ‘Friends in Low Places.’ … It’s easy to remember.”

After attending the morning party, Garth flew back to Oklahoma that afternoon to be with his daughters.

“We’ve got soccer practice tonight,” he said. “Opening day for the season is tomorrow. Great new uniforms will be out. Colors will be out … flags waving.”

“Garth Brooks,” I told him, “you’re a great man but a better father.”

The day after his Nashville visit, Garth invited the Grascals to lunch in Claremore, Okla., where the band was appearing. Fiddler Jimmy Mattingly was Garth’s on-the-road fiddler and was also in one of Garth’s commercials for Dr Pepper.

George Jones Surprise
There’s nothing more fun that a surprise party, especially when the party honors the greatest country singer who ever lived — George Jones. “Hot damn,” exclaimed the Possum when he entered Logan’s Roadhouse Restaurant on Baker’s Bridge Road in Franklin, Tenn.

Hosted by Nancy (Mrs. George) Jones and Ronnie Gilley of Gilley Properties, Wednesday’s (Sept. 12) party was a “who’s who” of country music. I’ll try to remember the names of all the famed and near famed in attendance, but forgive me if I forget someone. Those I remember include Alison Krauss, John Waite, Dierks Bentley, Trace and Rhonda Adkins, Sonny James, Tom T. and Dixie Hall, Buddy Cannon, Billy Sherrill, Mark Chesnutt, Joe Diffie, Norro Wilson, Buddy Jewell, Fletcher Foster, Keith and Emy Joe Bilbrey, Michael Campbell, Ted Hacker, Susan Nadler, Evelyn Shriver, Two Foot Fred, Hargus “Pig” Robbins and members of the Oak Ridge Boys.

I had a great big time. Thanks, Nancy, for the invite. Thanks, Fletcher, for driving me. Thanks, George Jones, for all the music. And thank God for giving me a good life.

I’m not sure about everyone George heard from to wish him a happy 76th birthday, but I know Kenny Chesney called from New York, where he was busy with media appearances, and Joe Nichols called from his honeymoon!

Speaking of Honeymoons
In a candlelight ceremony attended by family and close friends, Joe Nichols wed Heather Singleton on Sept. 9 in Savannah, Ga. The couple agreed on a traditional wedding in the most romantic city in the world.

Singer-songwriters Jon Randall and Jessi Alexander were married on Sept. 7 near Nashville, where the couple will reside.

Bill Monroe Celebration
The Bill Monroe Bluegrass Celebration will be held Oct. 2 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. This year’s event will feature the Del McCoury Band, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Jesse McReynolds, the Grascals and Steep Canyon Rangers.

Pulling for Kenny
All of Music City is hoping that Kenny Chesney’s new album will debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 pop chart. Kenny released Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates on Tuesday (Sept. 11) — same day Kanye West and 50 Cent released their new CDs. Those guys are both betting on claiming the top chart position, but Nashville is betting on K.C.

Kenny’s hot. He’s sold more tickets in 2007 than anybody, which should count for something. He co-wrote “Take Me There” for Rascal Flatts’ new album. The track was selected as a single, and it’s currently No. 1 on Billboard‘s country singles chart.

Nashville Songwriters Honored
The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Foundation has announced this year’s Hall of Fame inductees. From the songwriters category, hitmakers Bob DiPiero and Mac McAnally will receive the honor. Two inductees were selected in the songwriter/artist category — bluegrass duo Flatt & Scruggs and superstar Hank Williams Jr. (Hank Jr. and his dad are the only father and son ever inducted.) Gospel music legend Dottie Rambo will also be honored for her incredible lifetime achievements during the ceremonies in Nashville on Oct. 14.

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