HOT DISH: Fans and Radio Will Determine Fate of Chris Cagle’s Career

He's Just One of Several Country Artists Who Has Faced Serious Personal Issues

(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

Nobody on this earth is perfect. We all have faults, some bigger than others. Drug addicts, alcoholics, thieves, overeaters, robbers, cheaters, gossipers, liars … there’s one in every crowd. On every street corner. In every movie theater. In every barroom. On every church pew.

Which is worse? Well, I’d wager the worst would be the one in somebody else’s family — not our own family. All of us have our own short list of those who are perfect, usually topped by our very own flesh and blood. Such is the case with me, except for the fact that I do always call him — with a small “h” — plumb perfect Vince Gill. That’s because he sings like an angel, writes like David wrote Psalms, plays a guitar as good as anybody on the planet and has a good, kind, helping and loving heart.

Yes, Vince is an exception to the rule. Vince is right up at the top of my totem pole mingled with family. Most folks will agree with me that Vince is the most beloved person in all of country music. I’ve never been to his house and he’s never been to mine, but I’ve been to his heart. I’ve seen and heard of kindness he has shown to those less fortunate, and I believe in my heart of hearts that Vince is blessed and is a blessing to others because it is his nature to be the way he is. It’s of my opinion that God made Vince the way he is.

Created equal? How many times do we hear these two words in a week? If we were created equal, I’d be driving a Bentley like record producer Mark Wright. I’d live in a house as big as record company owner Mike Curb’s in Nashville. I’d own property in Switzerland and New Zealand, like Shania Twain and her estranged husband, Mutt Lange.

We are all different. Our talents are not the same. Like the late Waylon Jennings said, “If we could, we’d all sing like George Jones.” We are not created equal, and we are not financially equal.

For instance, as of now, John Michael Montgomery is in rehab. He had just started his own record label and was recording. He was focusing to get his career back on track, but apparently he knew he needed help — and is getting it. Hopefully, John Michael’s longtime problems will come to an end. I applaud him and hope he will come out of this problem healed, standing tall and proud and looking great.

Rehab did wonders for Keith Urban, who came through the program clear-eyed, sober and happy. Ditto for Trace Adkins, who is healthier and much wiser than he ever was. There’s Billy Currington and others who were strong enough to say, “I need help.”

Alcohol is a drug. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. One drink and an alcoholic is right back hooked again. The only way off is back to rehab. AA helps many alcoholics. By all means, it is definitely worth a try. Strange as it sounds, though, I recall when I was working with the band, Dr. Hook. One of its members could drink just about anything, but if he drank bourbon, he’d try to climb the freaking wall. It made him crazy. Beer, wine, Scotch and vodka would get him high, but bourbon was his enemy. He’d fight, scream and virtually go nuts.

When Chris Cagle came to my kitchen a couple weeks back to shoot CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith, I was impressed with his kind manners. I knew he’d gotten into a scuffle in New Mexico and was arrested outside in a bar after a disagreement with a fan and her boyfriend. The case is still pending and I didn’t see any reason to bring it up, so the incident wasn’t mentioned. I’ve had 40 or more stars in my kitchen, and Chris was the first who wanted to cook for me in his kitchen. “The fans would love to learn about you,” Chris said. It was a thoughtful gesture.

Recent headlines screamed the names of Chris Cagle and his girlfriend when they were jailed after getting into an argument. They left a Nashville-area bar at closing time and went to Cagle’s condo. Both were drunk, according to police, and arguing when girlfriend raised a knot on Cagle’s head with an umbrella and he grabbed her purse and hit her across the face. It was ugly. Some people in Nashville laughed, some shook their heads and some even suggested Cagle’s career is now history. Cagle denies being intoxicated.

Honestly, I sensed no anger whatsoever in Chris Cagle while he was in my kitchen. He was calm and respectful. He thanked me over and over for having him on my TV show. So when the news hit locally, I began thinking, “Maybe bourbon makes Chris wild, or is it Scotch? Is he an alcoholic? Where will he go from here? His single, ’No Love Songs,’ is on the charts. What will radio do? What can I do? Was he really drunk like the police indicated?”

Mike Dungan, head of Capitol Nashville, is a good guy. I called him on his cell phone. Mike was in Ohio for his niece’s graduation, but he texted me right back saying he had talked with Cagle three times in two days. “I’m behind him 100 percent,” allowed Dungan. “So is … my entire radio promo team. We’re doing all we can. It’s left up to radio.”

It’s like I told the Tennessean newspaper when they called to talk to me, saying this was his second offense in six months. They asked if I thought fans would forgive Cagle or if his career is over. I said, “No, he’s not over. Country music fans are the most forgiving on earth.” And I reminded them that Johnny Paycheck served almost two years of a seven-to-nine-year sentence for aggravated assault after shooting a man in the head at an Ohio bar in 1985. When he was released and walked out from behind those prison bars, Waylon Jennings and George Jones were standing there with handshakes and hillbilly hugs. Paycheck cried. So did I. I’m a fan.

Radio, it is my hope that you will give Chris Cagle the same respect you’d give a family member who has made a mistake. Yep, I know you’ve got Jessica Simpson’s “Come On Over” to play, and it’s looking really strong, and you’ve also got that killer Jamey Johnson tune, “In Color.” Between Jessi and Jamey, it is my hope you’ll give Chris a little time, too, if you don’t mind.

Maybe on My Birthday
When I learned Tiffany Fallon and Rascal Flatts member Joe Don Rooney were expecting in May, I told Tiffany, “Maybe the baby will be born on my birthday.” He was! Jagger Donovan Rooney, the littlest Rascal was born at 3:50 p.m. on May 31, weighed 6.45 pounds and measured 20 inches long. I wonder if Mick knows Jagger is in the world.

Steve Wariner Honored
Noblesville, Ind., must be busting at the seams! Their favorite son, Steve Wariner, was awarded the Hope Award from the Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital Hall for his tireless work on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. This is the first time the Hope Award has been presented to someone from outside the medical field. Steve accepted the award during the Champions of Diabetes Dinner at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. Juvenile diabetes has had a personal effect on Steve, whose stepdaughter Holly was diagnosed with the disease as a child. Steve said, “I’m deeply honored to receive the Hope Award. Mount Sinai does incredible work and research, and we’re all committed to finding a cure for diabetes.”

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Potato Soup.