HOT DISH: A Kind Word Can Mean So Much

A Simple Card Causes Reflection on Friendships Made With Country Music Stars

(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.)

Regardless of what we do for a living, I think everybody occasionally feels unappreciated. Sometimes my mind not only wanders, it leaves completely. And that’s when I wonder if anybody is reading what I write or noticing what I do on TV. But when I get a note like I received this week, it touches the heart and makes it all worthwhile.

It was a thank you card from Wendy Carroll, the wife of singer Jason Michael Carroll. Wendy wrote about watching the movie, Cold Mountain, when her husband was guesting on CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks. After mentioning that the chocolate pie, which I’d baked for the show, is her favorite, she wrote, “I want to thank you for being so nice to us and speaking so well of me and Jason on your show.” Wendy signed her card with “God Bless You.”

Wendy Carroll doesn’t know me. We’ve never met. But from reading this card, I know she must be a very sweet and thoughtful girl. Thanks, Wendy, for the wonderful message. I enjoyed Jason’s visit to my kitchen. Take care of 3-year-old J.W., and hopefully someday we can say hello face to face.

Thankful for Friends
It was at the ASCAP Awards some time back when I was approached by a beautiful couple — Denise and Alan Jackson. Denise began to thank me for “the things you write about us,” and Alan joined in adding thanks. It meant the world to me.

I remember getting all up in arms because radio wouldn’t play the music of one of the biggest stars and best singers on earth — my friend, Alison Krauss. So I wrote an uppity item in my column that resulted in oodles of positive e-mails and comments. But nothing was sweeter than when Alison, herself, called to chat. Since then, she has earned another four or five Grammys and managed to take a semi-retired rock ‘n’ roller named Robert Plant back to the top of the charts.

When plumb perfect Vince Gill looked at me and said thanks for something I had written, I almost lost my breath. Vince, the most loved star in country music, thanked me! Nothing is better on this earth than being thanked by Vinny.

It must have been 1994 when I predicted Kenny Chesney would be a superstar. Nobody believed me. Kenny thanked me then — and he’s thanked me many times since. Kenny knows we are friends forever.

Years ago, the wonderful Keith Urban sat cross-legged on the floor in front of me and said, “Everybody tells me I need to know you.”

“And they are correct,” I replied.

That’s when a 10-plus year friendship began. I would walk on coals for Keith, and he knows it. An excellent singer-songwriter and a great human being, he’s not ashamed to be a friend.

As long as I can remember, I have loved the music of George Jones, so it’s hard to believe that he and his wonderful wife, Nancy, have been in my home. George and Nancy are such down-to-earth, good, kind, God-loving people, I could not thank them enough for coming to my kitchen for CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks. I am still in shock over that! I do love those people.

Brad Paisley and his beautiful wife, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, are two of my all-time favorite people. I fell in love with Brad and his music when he first began his career. I remember him secretly telling me about Kim, and I never said a word to anyone. But I was hoping she was the one for him. I’ll admit the movie star part concerned me deeply because Brad was, after all, a West Virginia hillbilly and Kim was a Hollywood celebrity. But it has worked. Now they have two sons and a farm south of Nashville. Brad has thanked me a zillion times for my help. He’s a true-blue friend.

Trace Adkins is a real sweetheart. He’s had a lot of breaks. Most aren’t the kind of breaks that are easily mended, but he’s managed to hold himself together. Trace is a good guy. He knows I am here for him if he needs me. He’s crazy about his kids and his wife, Rhonda. I’ve been thanked many times by this man.

The world knows that Garth Brooks flew from Oklahoma to Nashville in August 2008 to present me a trophy from the Source Foundation. That proves what a great human Garth is. He remains one of the finest friends I’ve ever had in my life. I’m not afraid to say I love Garth, and I’m sure he’s not ashamed to say he loves me. It’s one of those God-made friendships that will last until my last breath is gone. I do hope one of these days his youngest daughter will say, “Dad, I’m old enough. Tennessee is calling!” I miss Garth with the same heart that I love him with. It would be perfect if he would come back to Tennessee.

A lot of my dear friends are also friends with my sons. Like Dierks Bentley. Before he got a songwriter’s deal or a record deal, Dierks would hang out at the Station Inn, digging the musicians and the bluegrass music they made. He loved to hear Terry Eldredge sing, and he loved the great harmony singing and all the great players who have helped make the Station Inn so special. After getting his deal with Capitol Records, Dierks has included bluegrass on his records. I’ve thanked him, and he’s thanked me. He’s just a great guy. I’m betting on Dierks.

Brooks & Dunn have had hits for almost two decades and won awards all the while. But they have not changed. They are still the same sweet guys they were since day one. Of course, they’ve got way more money that they used to have, but that hasn’t made any difference with the way they treat friends. They are great songwriters and are truly loved by their peers and fans. “Red Dirt Road,” “Believe” and their other songs will stay with us as long as there’s time. I’d like to thank them again for that great poetry that must make God more proud than it can make us mortals.

Phil Fills In
Rascal Flatts were recently set to perform in Columbus, Ohio, for a concert in support of the Make-a-Wish Foundation when lead vocalist Gary LeVox became ill just 24 hours before show time. As the band’s team worked with the event organizers to find a last-minute replacement, a call was made to Greg Hill of Red Light Management to see if Phil Vassar happened to be available.

When Greg made the call, the always wonderful Phil immediately replied, “If I can get a sitter for my two girls.” Finding a sitter for his daughters, Phil headed to Columbus and put on an extraordinary show, so I’ve been told. Flatts member Jay DeMarcus, who grew up in Ohio, was at the concert to extend the band’s regrets for having to cancel their planned acoustic performance. After the show, Phil waved goodbye to the crowd and headed back to Nashville to relieve the sitter.

Superstars in the Works
I am crazy over Jack Ingram. I have big dreams and high hopes for that Texan. He’s one of my favorites of the newbies, and it looks like he’s about to have a huge hit on his hands with “Barefoot and Crazy.”

They don’t make ‘em any sweeter than Georgia boy Zac Brown. There’s not a lazy bone in Zac’s body. He’s a worker and a doer. Zac is a true musicmaker who will capture the heart of fans everywhere.

Another Georgia lad is Luke Bryan. Cute, funny and oozing with talent, big things are in store for him.

Blake Shelton deserves to be headlining shows in football stadiums. He’s a great singer, and God never make a finer looking man.

Joe Nichols is another mighty fine singer that I don’t hear enough of these days.

Is LeAnn Rimes Moving to L.A.?
After one movie and one rumored affair, the word is that LeAnn Rimes wants to move to L.A. Remember the last time she moved out there? Remember all the nasty things she said about Nashville to TV Guide? She came back to Tennessee and moved into a huge house in the Green Hills section of Nashville. But there wasn’t enough closet space for her clothes, so she had another house built with plenty of closets and four bedrooms. After living there for seven or eight months, she’s now trying to sell it. Did you see the photo of her and her actor friend, Eddie Cibrian, after they just happened to run into each other at a bar in the huge Staples Center in Los Angeles? Now, that’s why God invented cell phones!

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Fried Green Tomatoes.