HOT DISH: Looking Into Willie’s World

Some Thoughts About Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban and Others at Grammys

(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.)

Willie Nelson has one of the most interesting fan club newsletters around. The winter edition of Willie’s World arrived at the house the same day the big snow fell, and since I enjoyed reading it so much, I decided to offer highlights from the pens of Dandy and Andrea.

Right off the bat, I saw the article titled “Please Save the Horses.” Willie has 68 horses, and 25-30 were rescued directly from slaughter. By that, I mean slaughtered and sent overseas for human consumption. Like Willie points out, “Horses were the way to travel to get where we are today.” Many of us have grandparents who depended on horses before they had a car. Think about it.

Then there’s the item about Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis Play the Music of Ray Charles. Released on DVD and Blu-ray in October, Blue Note Records will release a CD version of the performance later this year. It includes special guest vocalist Norah Jones.

Willie has signed with Rounder Records, and Country Music, his first album for the label, will be released on April 20. Containing classics such as “Dark as a Dungeon,” “Satisfied Mind,” “House of Gold” and “Freight Train Boogie,” it’s also his first album to be produced by T Bone Burnett, who describes the project as “songs that Willie has sung his whole life.”

From Willie’s pen, “Funny How Time Slips Away” is included on Elvis 75: Good Rockin’ Tonight to commemorate what would have been the King’s 75th birthday.

Along with Taylor Swift, Jewel and Steel Magnolia, Willie is on the Valentine’s Day film soundtrack album. Willie is crooning “On the Street Where You Live.”

The final season of the TV series Lost began last week. Surely you recognized Willie singing “Amazing Grace” in the 60-second promo on ABC.

Kellie Pickler says she prefers traditional country music and only listens to older country music. “Willie’s Place on Sirius XM Satellite Radio is all I listen to,” said the North Carolina native. Willie said, “Well, she’s my newest hero!”

The third season of the Nash Bridges TV series starring Don Johnson and Cheech Marin is now available on DVD. It contains 23 episodes, including one titled “Lost and Found” which also stars Willie.

Author Bonnie Christensen has written a children’s book, Django: World’s Greatest Jazz Guitarist, about the late gypsy guitarist, Django Reinhardt. Willie has been known to wear a Django T-shirt during his concerts. Of the instrumentalist, Willie says, “When I think about the best guitar players ever, the first name that comes to mind is Django Reinhardt. No one has ever equaled his sound or technique.”

Yes, Willie’s World lists all the dates now confirmed for his endless tour, but there are too many of those concerts to mention. However, he will host his annual Fourth of July Picnic again in 2010. This year’s event will take place at a new location, the Backyard, in Bee Cave, Texas, near Austin.

To all his fans, Willie is obviously like family. If someone is sick, they write and ask for prayer, and when someone dies, they write to tell Willie. It reads like a note from a friend or kin — and he probably knows them all by name.

My Grammy Observations
Following years of stepchild treatment, the Grammys treated country music and its people (our people) with the respect they deserve on the recent awards show. Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood and the Zac Brown Band went Grammy mainstream.

What about the 210-minute show? Well, add a pole and Lady Gaga would have gotten lots of dollars stuck in her britches before she segued into a Broadway-styled performance with Elton John. But, boy, did they sing!

Pink sings great, but did she have to perform a circus act to get on the show? When she emerged from backstage covered head to toe, I knew that girl had never had on that many clothes in her adult life. Then the clothes fell away … and Pink had what looked like strips of tape over certain body parts as she was seated in what appeared to be an elephant’s diaper! Lifted to the ceiling, she spun and spun, singing all the while — surely lip-syncing, I argued. When liquid began to squirt from her costume onto the audience below, I had to ask aloud, “Is she puking?” Like Gaga and Elton, Pink earned her standing ovation.

As beautiful as she is, Beyoncé reminded me of a sergeant while her marching privates paraded off to war through Afghanistan or Iraq. That girl can sing, too.

Did you feel you were watching CMT Crossroads during the Michael Jackson tribute that allowed Carrie Underwood to perform with Celine Dion, Jennifer Hudson, Smokey Robinson and Usher. Carrie proved she sings as good as the best.

Jamie Foxx was running all over the stage while what appeared to be a huge white-haired female, back to audience, seemed to lead the band. When the person turned, we found out it was a huge man with white hair sewn to the back of his coat.

Jennifer Nettles singing with Bon Jovi reminded me of the CMT Crossroads episode Sugarland did with the band a few years ago, and there was a similar pairing on the Grammys when Taylor performed with Stevie Nicks. And what about the wonderful Zac Brown Band, who won the best new artist award, performing with Leon Russell. Did you see Zac strut across that stage, almost picking the strings plumb off his guitar?

With four wins, Taylor had an armload when one spilled and crashed. I think her win for the big award of the night — album of the year for Fearless — just about puts her at the same level as Beyoncé, who won six Grammys this year.

I’m so glad Keith Urban took home the best male country performance award for “Sweet Thing.” He and Nicole sent roses to his label, Capitol Records, to thank them for their support. Who else is that nice — or that thoughtful?

So proud of Lady Antebellum for winning the Grammy for best country performance by a duo or group for their hit, “I Run to You.” That threesome is going to be huge. They sold 480,922 copies of their new album, Need You Now, during the first week of release and reached No. 1 on Billboard‘s country chart and the all-genre Billboard 200.

My dear friend Alison Krauss was one of the guests on cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s Yo-Yo Ma & Friends: Songs of Joy and Peace. When the project was named best classical crossover album, it became Alison’s 27th Grammy. That puts her in a tie with Quincy Jones as having more Grammy wins than anybody.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Cabbage and Carrots Medley.