HOT DISH: Emerson Drive Cruises Into My Kitchen

Canadian-Born Musicians Also Welcome the Arrival of a Brand New Fan

(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

Emerson Drive spent lots of time on the road in 2008, but after 14 years of touring, they felt like they needed to cut back. And while they did cut back, they still traveled almost 200 days this year.

When the band visited my kitchen recently to tape a new episode of CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith, we talked about their music and their personal lives, and I found out that their current single, “Belongs to You,” reminds them of “Moments,” their biggest hit so far.

They are two songs shy of completing their third album. Lead singer Brad Mates said, “We’re going for 12 songs on this CD and we wrote five of the tunes. Since we cut back, it gives us a chance to co-write — which we’ve done. Our producers Teddy Gentry [formerly of Alabama] and Josh Leo are songwriters. Josh and Shawn Colvin wrote a song called ’Believe’ that has some incredible lines.”

The five native Canadians now live in Nashville, and three are married. “To American girls!” they said in unison. Brad has only been married six weeks, but he has already managed to get out of the house to go deer hunting. “With my father-in-law,” he quickly interjected.

Fiddler David Pichette and his wife Jill had a baby girl, Emma Victoria, on Nov. 21 in Nashville. With the group visiting my house just two days before Emma was born, the proud daddy was already sharing photos of the baby from his wife’s ultra-sound exams.

The band members had some funny stories to tell, including the time “up home” when they went out on a frozen lake with an auger and drilled 18 holes in the ice just so they could play golf. And showing how far they’ve come in their career, they told me their first tour bus was an old school bus painted blue with built-in bunks assembled by the band members. They just bought their second Prevost bus to make things a little more comfortable.

The band members are fans of Alabama, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Restless Heart, Diamond Rio — groups that had great vocal harmonies and recorded great songs. Their dream is to achieve career longevity by staying on the road and creating great music. They want a career that’s something to be proud of 20 to 30 years from now. What makes this group different from many others is that they are truly great musicians. They not only play their own instruments live on the road, they also play in the studio, preferring to record without the assistance of studio musicians.

They are happy with their new association with the Valory Music Group. And they’re proud of the trophies they won earlier this year at the Canadian Country Music Association Awards. They look forward to the CMA Music Festival every year as an opportunity to see fans from different parts of the world. Their big dream is to be members of the Grand Ole Opry, a show they’ve played more than 30 times.

They work mostly fairs and festivals spring, summer and fall, performing at clubs and private events during the winter months. And, yes, they also look forward to heading back to Canada for two weeks during the holidays. Their scheduled vacations include two weeks in the summer and two weeks at Christmas.

You can see Emerson Drive on the episode of CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks airing on Dec. 21. The movie will be Something to Talk About starring Julia Roberts and Dennis Quaid.

Larry the Cable Guy Does Christmas
I don’t know when I’ve laughed as much as I did when Larry the Cable Guy’s Star-Studded Christmas Extravaganza debuted on CMT. Larry did everything funny you can think of — from trying to ascend the “stripper’s pole” to breaking wind under the covers with Tony Orlando.

The special included lots of laughable slapstick comedy, along with Larry’s slightly off-color versions of various Christmas songs. But Larry, the preacher’s kid, also had Montgomery Gentry perform a touching version of “The First Noel.” Rodney Atkins and Emily West also performed.

If you like to laugh out loud, do not miss the repeats of this show. You can check the schedule for air dates, but the special is also available on DVD.

Julianne Hough Will Concentrate on Singing
Julianne Hough has announced that she will not participate in the upcoming season of Dancing With the Stars. Pretty Julianne wants to focus on her singing career. She and Darius Rucker will join Christian and pop acts for the Christmas in Washington special airing Dec. 17 on TNT.

Country Couples on Hollywood List
According to Forbes magazine, two showbiz couples with Nashville connections made some big bucks this past year. At No. 4 on the list of Hollywood’s highest-earning couples are Tim McGraw and Faith Hill with $35 million. Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman made $25 million to come in at No. 8. The couple who raked in the most moola were BeyoncĂ© and Jay-Z who made a whopping $182 million. Pocket change!

Kenny Chesney Wins Another Touring Award
For the fourth consecutive year, Kenny Chesney received the top package award at the fifth annual Billboard Touring Awards banquet at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. With all of those stadium shows featuring a rotating lineup that included Keith Urban, Brooks & Dunn, LeAnn Rimes and others, Kenny does know how to put together an impressive concert.

Reba’s Busy With More Than Music
Reba McEntire is busy working on her new album for the Valory Music Group but is not too busy to oversee her Reba clothing lines at Dillard’s. In addition to her clothing for working women, she has launched new lines of bedding and footwear. On deck for next year is a luggage line. The New York Post also says Reba will be back on Broadway.

Jimmy Wayne’s “Paper Angels” Download
Remember Jimmy Wayne’s seasonal hit, “Paper Angels”? Jimmy wrote the song a year or so back after being involved with the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. Most of us recall that Jimmy was raised in various foster homes, so the song has a special heartfelt meaning. The song will be released this year to all digital retailers on Dec. 16.

Zac Called
Zac Brown called from Atlanta to let me know his band’s single, “Chicken Fried,” went No. 1. Congratulations to Zac and his bandmates. Welcome to the world of country music. You are a keeper.

Presidential Bluegrass
The Grascals entertained 15,000 troops and their families last Tuesday (Nov. 25) when President George W. Bush spoke at Fort Campbell, Ky. Several thousand servicemen and women in the audience recently returned from tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. After watching the president speak and seeing Air Force One, the Grascals kept things in bluegrass perspective by enjoying a meal at a fancy restaurant — Wendy’s.

The members of the Grascals, who now include IBMA banjo player of the year Kristen Scott Henson, will travel to Washington on Tuesday (Dec. 2) to perform at the White House during a private party honoring President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their families and staff. I hear John Rich will also perform — and maybe others.

A Final Word
Hope you had a great Thanksgiving and are looking forward to a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Kiss your children and the old folks. Family is the backbone of all that’s good and true.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Pecan Tassies.