HOT DISH: What a Year It Turned Out to Be

Looking Back at 2007 and Country Music's Biggest Newsmakers

(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.)

Let’s end the year with Kid Rock, who for the second year in a row spent the holidays with soldiers overseas on a massive USO tour that took him to seven different countries for 13 shows in five days. God, protect the soldiers and thanks for Kid Rock for giving them music and smiles.

Country Music Hall of Famer Porter Wagoner succumbed to cancer on Oct. 28. Time flies. Has he been gone two months? The 80-year-old Missouri native never failed to spread his lips in a smile when he walked onstage wearing one of his rhinestone-studded outfits. He was country music showmanship from his pompadour hair to his boots. As time will prove, though, Porter’s music mattered more than his clothes. Porter hadn’t participated in recording for quite a spell because no one seemed to be interested in real country music. But Marty Stuart was interested in real country and in Porter Wagoner, so he produced Porter’s last album, Wagonmaster. God bless Marty Stuart for a deed worth doing.

We lost another great Hall of Fame member, Hank Thompson, to cancer. Hank died at his home near Fort Worth, Texas. Like Porter, Thompson favored rhinestone-studded stage clothes and also wore a big smile beneath his cowboy hat. His honky-tonk, Western-style music fit the Texas clubs and dancehalls where he made most of his appearances.

Brad and Kimberly Williams-Paisley became parents of William Huckleberry Paisley in February. The best guitar player on the road, Brad became a genuine superstar in ’07, filling venues, winning awards and recording 5th Gear, one of the most cleverly- written albums on the shelf. After seven tries, my friend finally was named CMA male vocalist of the year — the award he wanted.

It was great having Garth Brooks around again. Only Garth could release a single and a week later celebrate it with a No. 1 party. Of course, Garth’s nine-night concert stand that followed in Kansas City was one for the books. His wife, singing machine Trisha Yearwood, recorded a wonderful album titled Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love.

My favorite single of the year is “Never Wanted Nothing More” by Kenny Chesney. When I unwrapped the CD and read the lyrics, they virtually blew me away. Written by Ronnie Bowman and Chris Stapleton, the celebration of the single’s five weeks at No. 1 called for a two-party day at both ASCAP and BMI in mid-December.

My favorite album of 2007 was Joe Nichols’ Real Things. I gave this album five stars upon its release and compared Joe’s singing and songs to another great country star, Merle Haggard. This year, Joe had some health issues that required rehab, which he did — and not in secret. He stood up and shared his problem like a man. We continue to pull for Joe Nichols, a great country singer. And we wish him and his bride, Heather, a continuing happy marriage.

I’m betting on Miranda Lambert in 2008. I love her singing, her album, her guitar playing and her attitude. Besides that, her boyfriend, Blake Shelton, should be one of country’s next superstars. He’s handsome, funny, talented and sings like a saint.

Dierks Bentley seems to be lining up to become a superstar, too. Is he the upcoming Kenny, Keith, Brad, Tim, Alan or George? I do think so. He’s got that sexy, growly-sounding voice, writes like his musical forefathers and is, by far, the cutest guy on the road.

Another act I really like is Rodney Atkins. I’ve been watching him for a decade. His last four singles topped the charts, so hopefully his next 24 or more will follow suit.

Congratulations to Mel Tillis, Josh Turner and Charlie Daniels on their inductions as Grand Ole Opry members. (Although Charlie recently learned of his induction, the official ceremony takes place Jan. 19.) And a great big congratulations to Tillis, Vince Gill and Ralph Emery for the highest honor in country music — induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. I’m still grateful they introduced the Hall of Fame inductees during the CMA Awards show. Lord knows, they deserved to be seen.

The biggest smile of 2007 was Hank Williams Jr.’s induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Hank and his dad share this honor. His smile was almost as big on the TV special, CMT Giants: Hank Williams Jr. I’m glad Hank is getting his due.

One of the year’s finest performances was Kellie Pickler singing “I Wonder” on the CMA Awards.

I was so proud of Keith Urban at the CMA Awards. While he did not get a trophy, his wife, actress Nicole Kidman, was the classiest female there. I am proud she is supportive of Keith. The fact she walked across the street with Keith to greet the fans at the awards show was huge. Keith and Carrie Underwood’s co-headlining tour will be one of the hottest tickets of 2008.

The funniest acceptance speech ever in the history of music was when songwriter Jamey Johnson thanked his ex-wife when he was awarded CMA’s song of the year prize for “Give It Away,” the George Strait hit he co-wrote with Buddy Cannon and Bill Anderson. I thought Buddy and Bill’s faces would break from laughter.

The cowboy, King George Strait, proved he still can — by winning CMA album of the year for It Just Comes Natural along with co-producer Tony Brown. Strait still makes great country music and proves country music sells. His 50 Number Ones just went seven-times platinum. Now, that’s a lot of bling, even for the cowboy.

Other wonderful items of the year: Shooter Jennings and Drea de Matteo’s daughter, Alabama Gypsy Rose, was born in New York. Rascal Flatts’ Joe Don Rooney and his beautiful wife, Tiffany Fallon, announced that their baby is due in May 2008. The international rumor floating around is that Nicole Kidman hopes she and Keith Urban have a child.

Alison Krauss shared her angelic vocals with Robert Plant and recorded the album, Raising Sand. The amazing Alison is one of my favorite people.

The best words I heard all year were “cancer free” following my surgery in April. Other great news is that CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith has been extended through 2008. Thanks to all my wonderful guests who stopped by the kitchen.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Collard Greens.