HOT DISH: John Rich Is Country’s Defender on Celebrity Apprentice

More News About Keith Urban, Ronnie Dunn, Dolly Parton 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 CMT.com.)

John Rich‘s face reddened when he said, “I will not be happy if anybody stereotypes my audience as low intelligence.” In a demanding tone, he growled, “Do not disrespect country music fans.”

The remark was even more impressive because he said it on national primetime TV during an episode of Celebrity Apprentice. Fans of country music, please know he was speaking on our behalf.

Through the years, I’ve seen John get all riled up and strut around like a gamecock with its spurs ready to attack the first person to get in his face. Some people compared him to a bantam rooster — the one who crows the loudest but isn’t afraid to end a fight someone else started. He’d squawk and blow and threaten. Rumor has it he’d sometimes start a fight and, once in a while, he’d haul off and hit someone in the face, maybe with a beer bottle, if he’d had too much to drink. But John is doing a great job representing country music and its fans during his time as a Celebrity Apprentice contestant.

In the March 20 episode, John and several other men were on one team while the women were on an opposing team. Picture this: The men are riding in a van down a very busy New York City street with John playing his guitar and singing a catchy ditty about Camping World, the retailer that sells RV parts and accessories. Former baseball star Jose Canseco had the audacity to smart off that John’s song was “hickish country.” Even worse, the arrogant Richard Hatch, a reality TV veteran, called the song “‘backward.” And that’s when it hit the fan!

The two smart alecks’ comments stuck in John’s craw. His lips curled, his eyes squinted and his face was one of anger when he told them, “If anybody in this van wants to step up on that subject, I’d be more than happy to square off with them. Please be careful when you talk about my audience. Be careful how you bring it up. Do not disrespect country music fans. To keep harmony, do not challenge the intelligence of my audience.” Yes!

I think John is pretty dad gum smart — smart enough to go the distance on Celebrity Apprentice and also smart enough to get with Big Kenny to put Big & Rich back together. The duo will headline a summer tour with Gretchen Wilson and special guests Cowboy Troy and Two Foot Fred.

As for the remaining Celebrity Apprentice episodes, I don’t intend to miss any as long as John is in the running. Wouldn’t it be great to see John punch out Conseco (who used steroids when he was a Major League Baseball player) and Hatch (who won $1 million on Survivor and forgot to pay the IRS)?

Alan Jackson’s Reunion With an Old Friend
It came as no surprise to me when the great Alan Jackson moved to Capitol/EMI Records Nashville, helmed by friend and former Arista Nashville exec Mike Dungan. For 22 years, since the beginning of his recording career, Alan recorded for Arista. As a matter of fact, Alan was the first artist signed to the label when Tim DuBois opened the country division.

“Mike Dungan and I go way back,” Alan remembered. “He was right there during my early days at Arista. I’m happy to be joining the hottest label in Nashville.”

Grinning like a mule eating briars, I’m sure, Dungan said, “Everyone here at Capitol/EMI is beyond thrilled to represent Alan Jackson, a true all-American.”

One of the all-time top singer-songwriters, Alan has sold over 60 million records worldwide.

Goodbye, Mr. Moon
When the recording session or tour was over, you’d see steel guitarist Ralph Mooney fidget. A longtime member of Waylon Jennings‘ band, Moon was always ready to go to Texas to see his Mrs. Moon.

Moon died last week at age 82. He loved his home state, but he loved his wife even more. I sure hope Waylon brought Buck Owens with him to the pearly gates to welcome Moon, one of the best steel guitar players to ever walk onstage.

ACM Awards
Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line) of Hollywood and Nashville and Robert Pattinson (Twilight) will be presenters at the ACM Awards taking place Sunday (April 3) in Las Vegas. Also presenting awards are American Idol‘s Ryan Seacrest and Entertainment Tonight‘s Nancy O’Dell.

Reba McEntire and the wonderful Blake Shelton will co-host the show. Performers include Blake’s fiancée, the ever-lovely Miranda Lambert, along with Brad Paisley, Jason Aldean, Toby Keith, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Ronnie Dunn, Dierks Bentley and three all-American beauties — Martina McBride, Carrie Underwood and Sara Evans. And like adding real whipped cream on your banana split, the Zac Brown Band will do a song with James Taylor, and Alabama will also perform.

Did I say, “Alabama”? Yep, I sure did.

Crossing Over to Country
I guess you heard that Lady Gaga released a “country” version of her hit, “Born This Way,” late last week. Well, will wonders never cease? Cher is reportedly recording a “kind of” country record with Music Town’s Mark Bright producing. Bright has served as producer for Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood and others.

And also trying a new genre, Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw went to the Grand Ole Opry to pick — Lord help us — bluegrass. Said Shaw, “The one thing I like about bluegrass is all the virtuosos out there, and you’re just standing there having your face burned off from all those acoustic instruments.” The late Bill Monroe might be apt to burn Shaw’s butt off if he thought for one moment the musician was poking fun at the music he invented.

More News
Keith Urban will visit The Ellen DeGeneres Show airing Monday (March 28). He then heads for Las Vegas to perform on the ACM Awards. Then it’s way Down Under to his native Australia to debut his Get Closer 2011 World Tour. Keith returns to the U.S. to perform in Biloxi, Miss., June 16.

Ronnie Dunn’s first solo album is set for a June 7 release.

Country Music Hall of Famer Dolly Parton will kick off her world tour June 17 in Knoxville, Tenn. She’ll hit some high spots in the U.S. during her three-month trek to promote her upcoming album, Better Day, before heading to Scotland, Ireland, Sweden and England, to name just a few stops.

By the way, Diana DeGarmo, the little Georgia beauty who adapted Dolly Parton’s film role for the national stage tour of 9 to 5, visited me in my kitchen. She’s going big time. The American Idol finalist has landed a role in the upcoming film, The First Ride of Wyatt Earp. Co-starring Val Kilmer, the movie is based on the true story of the frontier sheriff and jack of all trades whose story has lasted generations.

A Final Word About Billy Ray Cyrus
I want to thank all the people who e-mailed, called and wrote regarding the recent column I wrote about Billy Ray Cyrus and his family. Please understand that nothing I could have written had anything to do with Billy Ray and his family reuniting. I am, however, so happy to learn the Cyrus family is putting their family back together. Billy Ray and wife Tish have dropped their divorce proceedings, and he says he feels like he’s got his Miley back.

Good preachers will tell you in a heartbeat, when there’s trouble in a marriage or a family there is one remedy — “Let go and let God.” Listen, I don’t mean to sound preachy, but no matter how rich or how famous a body might be, God’s way is a surer and safer way than any highway in this world. That’s the only recommendation I know.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: [news id="1660716"]Apple Casserole.[/news]