HOT DISH: Country Music Had a Really Good Year

Artists and Record Label Execs Kept Nashville at the Industry's Forefront

(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

Happy New Year, one and all. 2010 has been a good year. A really good year.

I have to say, Mike Dungan at Capitol Records has proved to be the illustrious leader I always knew he was. Talk with him about his roster, and he’ll tell you right off the bat what a grand and wonderful bunch of talent he oversees. Major acts like Keith Urban, Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Eric Church and comedian Rodney Carrington. Now, now that’s a big load to haul around, but Dungan manages.

Plus, Dungan is smart. So smart, he’s still married to the same beautiful Jane. Their two sons found wives this year. Music and love continue to keep the Dungan family between the lines. Thanks for the wonderful card, Mike. All of the Dungans are looking good. They had a good year.

Brad Paisley, Jerrod Niemann and Little Jimmy Dickens
Mike Dungan was previously a big shot with Arista Records and pushed for Brad Paisley to be signed to the label, which also proves he knows talent when he sees and hears it. The “outsider” with the big mouth who pushed for Brad was yours truly, I’m proud to say. Brad, the CMA’s entertainer of the year, has become one of the all-time greatest musicians, songwriters and singers this town has ever produced.

Nice Christmas gift, Paisleys. I love you guys dearly and hope to see you soon.

Hey, I see where Jerrod Niemann will join Paisley’s H2O Frozen Over tour on Jan. 20 at in Green Bay, Wis., stopping in Music Town at the Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 26.

Lastly, everyone loves Little Jimmy Dickens, and Brad surprised him at the Grand Ole Opry in celebration of his 90th birthday. I swear, Dickens, you don’t look a day over 89! All the Smith’s love to Jimmy Dickens. Another good year in Nashville.

Taylor Swift and Big Machine Success
Taylor Swift has kept Nashville on the worldwide music map. Was Scott Borchetta lucky when he signed her to Big Machine Records? Or is he just dadgum smart? Garth, Shania and Billy Ray Cyrus all made big splashes early in their careers, but Taylor is like a kid showing the town how it is done her way. Not only is she the hottest entertainer in show biz, she’s also courting one of the hottest actors in Hollywood. And if you don’t know who she’s drinking coffee with these days, well, you haven’t been paying attention.

Meanwhile, Borchetta reinvented Reba McEntire — putting the feisty redhead into the mainstream again. He’s signed the marvelous Martina McBride and Rascal Flatts to his fold while Justin Moore is having hits, Jimmy Wayne is getting good press and Jack Ingram is still hot and handsome. Steel Magnolia have become a fine duet, The Band Perry is gold and chart-topping, and Jewel is everywhere. And the Eli Young Band, Sunny Sweeney and Melissa Peterman are making strides.

It wears me out talking about Scott Borchetta. By the way, though, he did promise to bring Taylor to my kitchen for CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks and never did! Still, it’s been a good year for all of us.

Broken Bow, Warner Bros. Make Big Strides
Broken Bow Records has done one hellacious job boosting Jason Aldean’s career. But believe you me when I say they’ve had some major help from Jason’s manager, Clarence Spalding. Clarence tells the story of when he first came to town. Nobody would give him the time of day, but he will tell you that I did. I loved the Kentucky boy and still do. He did a great job as manager of Brooks & Dunn and now Jason. Clarence is smart and hardworking. He had a great year.

I must mention Warner Bros. Nashville, too. That label had sat on Music Row with little or no action except for the marvelous Faith Hill, who seemed to be working more out of L.A. than Nashville for quite a while. Then John Esposito came to town to run the label. I don’t know him, but those who do tell me he is a real music man. And he must be. Under his tutelage, Blake Shelton, an act that I’ve forever wanted to be a major star, has had something like three No. 1 hits this year. He’s been inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry and was named the CMA’s male vocalist of the year. Blake even got engaged to his longtime girlfriend, the ever-wonderful Miranda Lambert. An unbelievable year for Warner Bros., Blake and, of course, Miranda, a Sony Music act who ruled at this year’s CMA Awards.

More Holiday Greetings
Thanks to Dierks Bentley, one of the kindest and most thoughtful people in country music. Thanks for the card and e-mail. Praying for you, your wife Cassidy, daughter Evie and the family’s latest addition — daughter Jordan born on Christmas morning.

Thanks to superstar Alan Jackson for the Christmas card. You are so handsome, Alan, and I do love you, Denise and the girls.

Kenny Chesney, your sweet e-mail made my holiday. Thanks for remembering 15 years of friendship.

Trace Adkins, thank you for always remembering me. The Christmas card was so sweet. I love you, Rhonda and the girls.

Precious Alison Krauss is an angel if there ever was one. The special gift from you touched me deeply. We have so much visiting to do and so much coffee to drink. Alison had a wonderful year and managed to make my year better.

The first Christmas card I received this year was from those crazed and wonderful cowboys, Riders in the Sky. Thanks for always including me. It’s been a wonderful ride. Dolly Parton’s Grammy Honor
I see where our very own Dolly Parton will be presented the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in February around the time of the Grammy Awards. Let me tell you, Dolly is the smartest person ever born in the state of Tennessee. She is a self-made millionaire who arrived in Nashville on a Greyhound bus with a sack filled with dirty clothes.

Hollywood is not smart enough to depict this great woman who has written songs and performed music her entire life. I wish the upcoming Grammy Awards show could display her early poverty and celebrate the full extent of her success and generosity. There’s only one Dolly Parton, and we are so thankful she’s ours.

New Country Music Arrivals
Arriving a little earlier than expected, Madeline Leigh DeMarcus is the first child of Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus and CMT’s Allison DeMarcus. Well, of course Madeline came early. She’s a female and didn’t want to miss Christmas. Jay claims she’s beautiful and looks like him. I’d wager she looks like her pretty mama.

Are Josh and Jennifer Turner vying for a baseball team? With three sons, they’re off to a good start. Their latest addition, Crawford Marion Turner, joins 4-year-old Hampton and 17-month-old Colby. Josh and Jennifer like to have family on the road. They’ve got a busload now.

Shania Twain Engaged
I see where Shania Twain is engaged to Frederic Thiebaud, an executive with Nestle, the Swiss-based food and beverage company. After her divorce from Robert “Mutt” Lange, Shania confirmed she was dating Thiebaud, whose former wife Marie-Anne Thiebaud allegedly had an affair with Lange. Marie-Anne Thiebaud managed Shania and Mutt’s chalet in Switzerland and was said to be Shania’s friend.

No engagement details yet. However, People magazine reports the 40-year-old Thiebaud presented 45-year-old Shania a three-carat solitaire engagement ring.

Billy Ray Cyrus Home Is for Sale
Billy Ray and Tish Cyrus have put their home in Toluca Lake, Calif., on the market for $7 million. Sources say Tish was checking out a $4.6 million home in nearby Encino before she and Billy Ray announced their divorce in late October. Rumor has it that Tish was involved with Poison lead singer Bret Michaels, who last week proposed to Kristi Gibson, his girlfriend of 16 years and the mother of his three children.

A Final Note for 2010
Yes, 2010 has been a great year. I have been so blessed. One of the holiday church programs featured three of my grandchildren in lead roles. They brought tears to my eyes. Jeremy directed and starred, 12-year-old Trevor knew his lines and everybody else’s lines and 5-year-old Mattie knew her lines, sang a solo and a duet with Jeremy. Now, that is my greatest blessing ending a great year.

I’ve always said and will always say that country music fans are the greatest people on earth. Thanks to all of you who love country music like I do and who spend your time and money on it. Please continue to support our “troops” — those artists on the highways performing for your enjoyment and all of those in the military who are serving in harm’s way thousands of miles from home during this holiday season.

See the Hot Dish recipe of the week: [news id=”1654893″]Black-Eyed Peas.[/news]