HOT DISH: Visiting With Phil Vassar and Remembering Willie Nelson’s Friend

More News on Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood and Others

(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

The producers at CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks have done it again. This time, they brought Phil Vassar to my kitchen — and was I ever proud to have my longtime friend drop by. Still as handsome as ever, we had tons of fun talking, laughing, eating and taping the show.

“Does he have a girlfriend?” somebody asked me later.

Sorry, I didn’t think to ask. Phil is so devoted to his daughters, 10-year-old Haley and 5-year-old Presley, if he was doing any heavy dating these days, he never mentioned it. Besides, between bites of yummy hot chicken salad, squash casserole, “beanfeast” and pecan pie cake, we were smacking our mouths and chatting about his current single, “Bobbi With an I.”

Like many other stars, Phil was under the impression if he came to my kitchen, he’d have to cook. Not true. I cook the food before the guests arrive. Then we talk about the food and eat while we discuss what is happening with their career. During our visit, I learned that Phil has a whole passel of concerts booked this summer at fairs, casinos and festivals. Traveling to and from concerts, Phil is the only artist I know who writes songs in the privacy of his space in the back of his tour bus.

A gifted composer, Phil has twice been named ASCAP’s songwriter of the year. I’ve always called Phil’s songs “mini-books.” His songs are so well crafted from beginning to end, they tell an entire story using every line with not one wasted word. I’m looking forward to hearing his next album.

Whatever it takes to make this guy a superstar, let’s do it. Nobody sings better, writes better or performs better. And he’s got great manners, too.

As he left, my son Billy pointed out, “Phil makes three, Mom.” He was talking about the Southern Fried Flicks guests who took the time to bring their dishes to the sink. The others were Trisha Yearwood and Emerson Drive.

Remembering a Man Called Poodie
Everybody called him Poodie. He was important to Willie Nelson. For 34 years, Randall “Poodie” Locke was Willie’s stage manager. He was always there with a smile and a hug and an answer to any question. He worked for Willie, but the truth is that he really worked with Willie.

“What Would Willie Do” is a song written by Bruce Robison, but my mind keeps speaking to me: “What will Willie do without Poodie?” I don’t know the answer.

Michael Corcoran, who has covered the Texas music scene for many years, wrote an article in the Austin American-Statesman newspaper that said all the right things about the man known as Poodie. I’d like to thank him for that. He even explained why he was called Poodie and not by his given name. According to his mama, he was such a pretty baby, his sister called him “Pretty,” but since she had a slight childish lisp, it came out “Poodie.”

Dark was the day when word reached the Nelson family — those who travel with Willie and his band of gypsies — that their ringleader had died. As it stormed and the rain fell in torrents in Tennessee, all I could think was that the angels were crying — crying because the gentle and kind man who held it all together for Willie had left the bus, this time for good. He was 61.

According to Corcoran’s article, during all the years Poodie traveled with Willie, he met lots and lots of celebrities, yet he only asked for two autographs — from John Wayne and Walter Cronkite. As sad as I felt about Poodie’s death, this made me smile. Poodie recognized true greatness. That’s why he stuck with Willie in a job that often kept him on the road for 275 days a year.

May God bless Willie and all those who matter to him. And God bless Poodie’s girlfriend, Shaye, his mama and sister and all those who loved him.

Is There a Doctor in the House?
Dolly Parton received an honorary doctorate during the spring commencement at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. The award-winning businesswoman, entertainer and education advocate is excited about her new title. “Just think, I am Dr. Dolly!” she said after receiving the honor. Always joking about her figure, Dolly added, “So when people say something about ’double-D,’ they will be thinking of something else.”

Dr. Dolly greeted the 1,069 graduates with a rousing rendition of “Rocky Top,” the university’s theme song, and encouraged them to follow their dreams. The first in her family to finish high school, Dolly found success in Nashville, Hollywood and now on Broadway with 9 to 5: The Musical.

I’m always proud to tell the world: In my opinion, Dolly Parton is the smartest person ever born in the state of Tennessee.

People Country’s Hot Issue
People Country, a special issue from the editors of People magazine, is now on newsstands with a list of “Country’s Hottest Guys.” The cover photo shows
Brad Paisley flanked by Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban. That’s about as hot as it can get without setting a fire.

Across the very top of the magazine’s cover are photos of four women who are prettier than any movie stars — Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill, Martina McBride and Taylor Swift.

Carrie Underwood Maintains American Idol Connection
As part of American Idol’s humanitarian efforts, Carrie Underwood recently made her second trip to Africa to visit orphanages and health centers in Angola to help in the fight against malaria. Carrie delivered bed nets and backpacks with school supplies to the girls in the orphanage.

She’ll appear Tuesday (May 19) on American Idol to perform this year’s farewell song, “Home Sweet Home,” as part of the show’s two-night season finale.

More News
Martina McBride lit up the Windy City when she performed at Joe’s Bar in Chicago. More than 1,000 fans packed the club. “Joe’s has hosted a lot of girl singers,” said the owner. “But none of them hold a candle to Martina’s raw talent.”

Reba McEntire appeared on the Grand Ole Opry on May 9. And while she was at the Opry House, the Okie redhead also taped a performance for CMT’s Invitation Only series.

Keith Urban spent Mother’s Day in Nashville with his girls — wife Nicole and daughter Sunday Rose — before traveling to Canada for a two-day promotional tour in support of his album, Defying Gravity.

Brad Paisley is featured in the current issue of Billboard magazine. He’s planning to take his American Saturday Night Tour to New York’s Madison Square Garden on Oct. 21.

“Lonestar Strikes Out for the Kids” is what the band is calling their June 8 charity event at Hermitage Lanes in Nashville. Joining Lonestar to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital are Chris Young, Buddy Jewell, Trent Tomlinson and Bo Bice.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Hot Chicken Salad.