HOT DISH: Love and Theft Trio Grabbing Lots of Attention

More News About Reba McEntire, Dierks Bentley, Vince Gill 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

It’s Bob Dylan’s fault. He titled his 31st album Love and Theft, so that’s the name picked when Music Row’s newest trio of singer-songwriters started making the rounds in Nashville with their three-song showcase. At ASCAP, the performing rights organization, listeners began calling labels to say, “You’ve gotta hear this band.”

When the trio stopped in the office of Lyric Street/Carolwood Records, A&R chief Doug Howard right off the bat declared, “You should have never made it to my office. You should have already been signed. Please don’t play for anyone else.” The label quickly signed Love and Theft to its roster.

After Taylor Swift heard the band in 2008, she brought them on board as an opening act for her concert tour. Audiences were swept away by their soaring harmonies and onstage charisma. Fans stood in line for as long as three hours for an autograph.

Love and Theft members Stephen Barker Liles, Eric Gunderson and Brian Bandas were well-mannered, handsome and some of the nicest young men ever to come into my kitchen for CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks. Each member sings lead and each member adds harmony. They rehearsed for six months before singing for anyone else. All for one, all for two and all for three. But there’s only one “Hey Stephen,” and he’s the one Taylor Swift wrote the song about.

Stephen grew up in Palm Harbor, Fla., where he was exposed to the contemporary Christian music of Michael W. Smith and the gospel music of Elvis. As a teen, his musical tastes expanded to include Johnny Cash, Tim McGraw and George Strait. Taylor Swift’s song, “Hey Stephen,” is featured on her Fearless album. If you ever meet him, you’ll understand.

“Taylor is the nicest girl, and her family is as nice as can be,” he says. “Yeah, we still talk, but she’s so busy and we are so busy.”

Eric is from Charlotte, N.C. Knowing he must love NASCAR, I asked and, of course, he loves it big time. Not only that, his granddad, a preacher who played bluegrass banjo, was the chaplain at the race track in Charlotte. With young Eric by his side, he held hands with all the drivers and prayed before and after every race. It was Eric’s granddad who led the great Dale Earnhardt to the Lord. “Dale was a Christian,” Eric said. In my heart, I knew that.

Growing up in Austin, Texas, Brian was surrounded by music from birth. His grandfather and uncle were jazz musicians. He started playing piano after hearing Michael W. Smith. During his second year of college, he was playing music on Tuesday nights and wearing his basketball warm-ups. His parents talked with him about his options in life, and he jumped at their mention of Nashville, taking off on what he viewed as an adventure and a life calling.

Earlier this year, they released “Runaway” as their first single. ABC selected the title track of their upcoming album, World Wide Open, as the featured song in its marketing campaign for two of the network’s daytime dramas, All My Children and One Life to Live.

They’ve spent most of this year visiting radio stations. Carolwood Records, part of the Disney Music Group, will release their debut album on Aug. 25.

It’s Reba Time
Talking with Reba McEntire, you hear the Oklahoma drawl and her honesty. When she tells you she is so proud of Keep On Loving You, her first album in six years, you know it’s true. And when you listen to the album, there’s not a doubt in your mind that Reba personally chose each and every song and that she could give you a reason why.

One of the things you’ll find on the album is a song she co-wrote titled “She’s Turning 50 Today.” She’s singing to the women of Middle America who loved her in her 20s, 30s and 40s — women who will never become fickle. They still have Reba’s picture on their wall, even if it is a black-and-white photo like the one by my computer with Reba and Brooks & Dunn with producers Tony Brown and Tim DuBois. We don’t change. We don’t even change pictures.

Some people say she’s had Botox or a facelift. Maybe so, but if she has, I can’t tell. Her hair’s still red, her eyes still blue and she never tried to enlarge what lips God gave her. She’s still Reba. Early on, her hair got bigger and curlier, but when the style changed, Reba went with it. I hated it at first, but now I like her hair almost as much as her music and the woman she is.

The lady who grew up as a barrel rider at rodeos and worked like a field hand on her daddy’s ranch can pretty much call her career shots these days — and she definitely does call her life shots. She’s happy with her son, Shelby, and is still in love with her handsome husband, Narvel Blackstock, who also is her manager. The two of them look ahead and plan for tomorrow.

Thinking ahead drew Reba to the Valory Music Co. It’s a new label headed by Scott Borchetta, who worked with her at MCA Records and helped her earn more than a dozen No. 1 singles during his tenure there. Reba loves Scott’s enthusiasm and that of his great team, making it feel like it’s a family reunion. Plus Sandi Spika-Borchetta, who is married to Scott, worked as a clothes, hair and makeup stylist for Reba until the singer left for New York to star in the Broadway production of Annie Get Your Gun.

Reba was once known for her lavish concert productions, but she says she will no longer work herself to death by changing clothes 15 times during a concert. “Four times is plenty,” she allows, and I agree. Besides the recording and performing, she has the Reba Collection of clothes, shoes and household items at Dillard’s.

With 55 million album sold, she’s outdone all the females in country music, but she’s still looking for new mountains to climb.

More News
Dierks Bentley will host his fourth annual Miles and Miles for Kids motorcycle ride and concert on Oct. 11 in Nashville. His special guests will include Darius Rucker and Eric Church. All proceeds benefit the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.

The late Keith Whitley’s 1985 Corvette — with 64,400 miles on the odometer — sold for $13,821 on eBay.

Music industry veteran Brad Allen has launched a new multi-faceted company called ALL Entertainment and signed Buddy Jewell as the label’s first artist.

In recognition of outstanding community leadership and considerable contributions to numerous causes, Vince Gill and Amy Grant are this year’s recipients of the Jack C. Massey Leadership Award presented by the Mental Health Association of Middle Tennessee.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Fried Apples.