HOT DISH: Stars Should Remember the Importance of Country Music Fans

Dierks Bentley Calls, and an Old Friend Returns a Mandolin to Ira Louvin's Brother

(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

Unlike the girls on the silver screen, country music stars have always been smart enough to choose comfort over flashy. For instance, Faith Hill, better looking than any of those Hollywood heifers, is not ashamed to be seen grocery shopping wearing sneakers and would never dare wear high-heeled Manolos to Kroger or Wal-Mart. Ditto for Martina McBride.

Will the new crop of divas be wise or worldly? Will Miranda Lambert, Kellie Pickler, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood be so obsessed with flaunting fashion that they forget it’s country music they’re singing and that it’s country fans applauding them in concert? Will they be smart enough to wear their sneakers to the grocery store or Wal-Mart?

This brings me to Fan Fair, which begins this week in Nashville. Lord knows, we’ve gotten so uppity in this day and time, our fan party is now called the CMA Music Festival, but it’s still Fan Fair to me. I hate change. But I never wore Manolos either.

Yes, I did write that Jack Ingram was the sexiest man of the evening on the recent ACM Awards, but I must say the man I’ve thought about the most is George Strait. When it comes to singing country music, George Strait is the kingpin. He’s not ashamed to sing pure country music, and he’s not afraid to keep a fiddle and a steel guitar in his band.

With that said, it is my hope that every fan will be royally entertained from the moment they arrive in Music City for this week’s whoop-de-doo. May they feel a welcome in our city and may they go back home with stories of great music by wonderful stars. May they have so much fun that cannot wait until June 2009 to visit Nashville again.

Country stars are so richly blessed with God-given natural talent — more than any other genre, in my opinion. Stars, give the fans the best you’ve got. I always remind stars that country fans are the best fans in the world. They’re the reason stars can sing for a living, so don’t forget to tell them thanks.

A Call From Dierks Bentley
Had a call from the wonderful Dierks Bentley, someone I love dearly. Dierks is so excited about his career, including his songwriting, his fans and his U.S. tour. He’s touring in Europe in July and also working in Japan in October, but Dierks is most excited about becoming a daddy. He tells me his wife Cassidy has been in fine health. No morning sickness, and he enjoys watching her being pregnant.

“As much as I love Jake [the dog], I can just imagine how much I’ll love my child,” allowed Dierks.

“There’s nothing as precious as holding one’s own child, one’s own flesh and blood,” I assured the father-to-be. The baby is due in October.

Dierks said he and Cassidy enjoy camping on their 80 acres south of Nashville.

“I was raised in a cul-de-sac in town,” he said. “And I’m on the road so much, when I’m off the road, I like to go see my manager and my friends and leave the door open at home. But then we like to take Jake and live among the animals in our own private nature reserve.”

After Japan, Dierks plans to take off the remainder of the year and learn how to be a daddy, but says he’ll still be performing some weekends at the Grand Ole Opry.

Returning Ira Louvin’s Mandolin
My friend Greg Kaczor has told me an amazing story about a mandolin that had been owned by the late Ira Louvin of the Louvin Brothers.

“Back in the summer of 1985, my band, Live and Kickin’, hired a consultant to help us with staging, music and how to get to that ’next level’ that musicians hear about and strive for,” he began. The consultant’s name was Dale Strength.

“Dale has a great career in Minnesota as a pro guitarist, and he was Olivia Newton-John’s band leader in the ’70s,” Greg continued. “His roots ran deep in Nashville music from the ’50s and ’60s. His dad, Texas Bill Strength, was an artist who became a famous DJ and is a member of the DJ Hall of Fame. One of Texas Bill’s running buddies was one of the all-time great tenor singers, Opry legend Ira Louvin.”

Kaczor remembered, “Believing it would add to the band, Dale Strength gave me a mandolin that he said had belonged to Ira Louvin. I’m a guitarist, and I felt my fingers were too big to play the instrument, so I just kept it hanging on my wall for 23 years.

“In April 2008, I traveled to Nashville from Grand Rapids, Mich., and brought the mandolin with me, thinking I’d try and find out if it was indeed Ira Louvin’s instrument. I’d heard Charlie Louvin [Ira’s brother in the singing duo] had a souvenir shop near Opry Mills shopping center. I searched for it. No store. So I went online and found Charlie’s manager, a man named John. I e-mailed the manager with my info and included a picture of the mandolin. He quickly responded, saying he had forwarded my e-mail to Charlie.”

“Later that day, my phone rang. It was Charlie Louvin himself! My mouth hung open when he said, ’Oh, yes, I remember that mandolin very well.’ He asked about the missing pickguard which I had no answer for. It was missing when I got it 23 years ago.”

“I told Charlie if he had anything he’d like to trade for the mandolin, I’d gladly meet him somewhere for the exchange. I wanted him to have the mandolin, so I didn’t really care if he wanted to trade anything or not. I was just excited — thinking about meeting him and giving him the mandolin.”

Greg said Charlie told him, “Hey, how about 11 o’clock tomorrow near the Pancake Pantry? I’ll be the 80-year-old guy standing on the corner. I will have my golf cap on and my casino windbreaker, smoking a cigarette. Nobody lets you smoke inside anymore.”

The next day, Greg drove to Hillsboro Village near Nashville’s Music Row.

“Right on time, I spotted Charlie on the corner having a smoke. I park. We meet. I reach for the mandolin and see a sparkle in his eyes. That was really an awesome moment. Being a musician, I wish I had every instrument I’d let slip through my fingers. But this was his brother’s! A brother he lost in a tragic car wreck in the mid ’60s. An instrument that they used to sit around and jam with. To him, this mandolin is like an old friend he had not seen in 50 years. Musicians know that an instrument becomes a part of you — an extension of your soul. It can take you back in time — the tone of it, the feel of it, the smell of it and, of course, visually. … Both of us were smiling when he told me he always liked the sound of that mandolin.”

“I followed Charlie to John’s apartment,” Greg continued. “Charlie presented me a CD boxed set that includes all the songs ever recorded by the Louvin Brothers — eight CDs with 28 songs each. This is a great collection of the best songs and harmonies of the ’50s and ’60s and picking by a new guitar talent, Chet Atkins!”

The Louvin Brothers were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

“Charlie told me the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum had been asking him if he has anything to donate to them,” Greg said. “He says he plans to take this newly-found mandolin, plus an old guitar that he played back then, and give it to the Hall of Fame. Charlie says he wants to make sure that I get the credit as the donor of the mandolin.”

After Greg told me this unbelievable story, I contacted a few people who matter, and we all agreed that Greg Kaczor is the most unselfish human being on the planet. One thing’s for sure: When the mandolin is presented to the Hall of Fame, I want to be there.

More Mailbox Money for Bill Anderson
Bill Anderson has more money than Viagra has pills! He keeps writing hits, and mailbox money — otherwise known as royalty checks — keeps rolling in. But his latest “hit” was written almost 50 years ago and originally recorded by Kitty Wells in 1962. The recording of the song, “We Missed You,” by bluegrasser Doyle Lawson is now featured in a Sears commercial that is airing throughout the country.

We’re sending sympathy and prayers to Gibson Guitars CEO Henry Juszkiewicz and family following the death of his son, Zachary, who was killed in a car crash over Memorial Day weekend. He had just finished his freshman year at Clemson.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Country Style Steak.