HOT DISH: Sarah Johns Delivers Genuine Country

Reba McEntire Dominates Charts, Rascal Flatts Make a Difference

(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

If you love down-home music with a fiddle and steel guitar playing songs as country as Loretta Lynn, then you might just be calling Sarah Johns “Sarahlicious.” Like Loretta, the Pollard, Ky., native is not ashamed of where she’s from and not afraid to sing about it. Sarah hasn’t had the privilege of exposure on a national talent contest like American Idol or Nashville Star. She’s having to climb that hillbilly ladder one rung at a time.

Her debut CD, Big Love in a Small Town, is on the shelves and in the bins with her smiling face on the cover, and the title song offers this insight, “We got a diesel dually/Twenty acres out in the boonies.” On “The One in the Middle,” she adds in her wailing Kentucky twang, “I would’ve given you the finger on my left hand/The one that you use for a wedding band.” That’s as good as Loretta’s “Don’t Come Home a’Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind).” On “When Do I Get to Be a Woman,” she says, “A longneck night in a real short dress/Make him stare like we just met” and the incredible line, “If you could hold your woman like you hold your whiskey.” The girl’s a writer.

America, I dare you to make this woman a superstar as big as the great Loretta Lynn was in her day and time. I’d love to hear real country music sung on the radio once again by Sarah Johns. It would be “Sarahlicious.”

Reba Enjoys Biggest Chart Week Ever
After Reba McEntire had numerous No. 1 hits and won virtually every award offered in country music, she appeared in several movies and went on to become the belle of Broadway in New York City where she starred in Annie Get Your Gun. That’s enough for most, but not Reba. She starred in the sitcom, Reba, and got compared to the great Lucille Ball when she’d roll her eyes or smart off to the camera. After six successful seasons, when the WB network dropped the show, did Reba stop? No, she restarted. Reba reinvented Reba.

I don’t know her reason for recording a duets album, but it was a brilliant decision. Reba Duets, her 31st album, has given the superstar taskmaster her biggest sales week ever and her first No. 1 debut on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart. The hardest working woman in country music is sitting on top of the country chart and the pop chart and couldn’t be any higher if she was sitting on top of the world! Congratulations to Reba. I am agape and in wonder at what her next giant step might turn out to be.

Thanks, Rascal Flatts
During my recent illness, I didn’t go into the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, but I did see the little sick children in the radiology waiting room for their daily treatments, so let me please thank Rascal Flatts for caring. Not only did the three superstars donate the $829,581 from their recent Nashville concert to help the children’s hospital, they also visited the kids and sang for those who were able to attend the acoustic performance. They also went from room to room visiting the young patients who were unable to get out of bed.

Talk about making a difference: In just three years Rascal Flatts have donated $2.2 million to the hospital. Isn’t this just the finest way to tithe? God must be smiling.

Dierks Cycling for Kids at Vandy
For the second year, Dierks Bentley hosted his Miles & Music for Kids celebrity motorcycle ride and concert to benefit Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. Besides Dierks, those who were scheduled to participate in Sunday’s (Sept. 30) event near Nashville were Jason Aldean, Big Kenny Alphin, Luke Bryan, Ira Dean, Shelly Fairchild, Halfway to Hazard, Shooter Jennings, Buddy Jewell, Shannon Lawson, Little Big Town, Rockie Lynne, Craig Morgan, Jon Nicholson, James Otto, Ray Scott and Marty Stuart. God bless Dierks and all the others on this ride to help sick children.

Tim McGraw on Forbes List
Tim McGraw is the lone country artist listed in Forbes magazine’s list of the top-earning musicians of the past year. After netting $37 million, McGraw takes the No. 7 spot as the Rolling Stones come out at the top of the list.

Brad Paisley and G.I. Joe
Today, some parents don’t allow their kids to play with toy guns or Army action figures. When Brad Paisley was a kid, he and his pals were on their knees building forts and playing with G.I. Joe and toy guns. They turned out just fine. Brad’s attraction to G.I. Joe may have been because of his dad’s Army background. His childhood memories obviously contributed to his buying a G.I. Joe T-shirt he saw in the window of Saks Fifth Avenue. He wears T-shirts all the time onstage, but the G.I. Joe shirt is the one the little kids respond to like it’s a toy.

Honoring Jerry Lee Lewis
The Rev. Jimmy Swaggart, first cousin of the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis, will play piano during a Nov. 10 concert at Playhouse Square’s State Theater in Cleveland during the American Masters series. Jerry Lee is the first living artist to be honored during the series sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Case Western Reserve University. Others honoring “The Killer” on this occasion are Kris Kristofferson, Shelby Lynne, Wanda Jackson, Cowboy Jack Clement, George Thorogood, Narvel Felts, Billy Lee Riley, Jason D. Williams, NRBQ’s Terry Adams and Jerry Lee’s sister, Linda Gail Lewis.

Is Jerry Lee’s other famous first cousin, Mickey Gilley, too country for this event? Just asking.

Country Scores in Switzerland
Randy Travis, Riders in the Sky, Julie Roberts and Rhonda Vincent just returned from two sold-out performances in Gstaad, Switzerland, where they were treated to four days of Swiss culture. In addition to riding a rollercoaster amidst a snow-topped glacier, they viewed the Matterhorn and listened to the songs of the cows as they paraded through town decorated with flowers and bells of all sizes, shapes and sounds. You’ll never see cows do that in the States!

Dolly Tells ’Em
Hosting a press conference announcing the location of the new Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame on Music Row, the great Dolly Parton was asked about retiring. The 61-year-old superstar answered in her own inimitable fashion, “When my time comes, I hope I fall dead in the middle of the stage, and I hope it’s to a song I wrote.” Lord knows, Dolly has never needed a writer!

Mark My Word
One of country music’s finest voices belongs to Mark Chesnutt, who has signed with Lofton Creek Records. His first single, a cover of the Charlie Rich smash “Rolling With the Flow,” is already getting some radio airplay. A new album is set for release in early 2008.

The Bob McLean I Knew
It’s with deep sadness I try to write this. The Bob McLean I knew saved Mother Maybelle Carter’s guitar and Bill Monroe’s mandolin for safekeeping at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. This was deeply important to those of us who work in the music business and love the music. It is with a hurting heart to hear Bob died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound last week. He was forced into bankruptcy after clients filed lawsuits against him claiming he misspent their money, but his charitable acts will long be remembered. Bob will be greatly missed. May God rest his soul.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Double Layer Pumpkin Pie.