HOT DISH: Blake Shelton Finally Hits It Big

More News About Brad Paisley, Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney and Other Country 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.)

Label head John Esposito and the rest of the gang at Warner Bros. Records have flat got their bragging rights this time. “Blake Shelton is No. 1 in America,” the headline screamed in their press release.

For the first time in his career, the reigning CMA male vocalist of the year has debuted at the top of the country chart and the all-genre Billboard 200 with his new album, Red River Blue.

Blake’s been around for a decade. For six of those 10 years, my friend, Deborah Honeycutt, and I have wondered why Blake wasn’t already the superstar we believed he should be. It’s 2011, and now he’s the No. 1 man on the sales chart, and the entire U.S.A. is buzzing and humming his hit single, “Honey Bee.”

May I remind the powers that be at the label, as well as CMT, that Lance Smith, the former host of CMT’s Top 20 Countdown, and the show’s producers were the first to give TV hosting duties to Blake. Lance left Blake to host the show while he was on vacation.

I spoke with my friend Lance last week, and we talked about how proud we are of Blake, his “Honey Bee” single and his new album. And we agreed that his coaching gig on NBC’s The Voice was tops.

Brad Paisley, Bill Anderson and Alison Krauss
Eight years ago, Brad Paisley called me early one morning and said, “Meet me at the Waffle House on McGavock near the Opry.”

After I arrived there, Brad drove up beside me in his black pickup truck.

“C’mon. Get in,” he requested.

His wife, actress Kimberly Williams Paisley, got out of the truck and went into the Waffle House to eat breakfast. We left her there.

As I climbed into the cab of the truck, Brad slid a copy of his album, Mud on the Tires, into the CD player. As I listened to those great lyrics, I was once again reminded that Brad is the only person who writes country songs as great as those made famous by the late Roger Miller.

We rode in silence as the songs played, and then “Whiskey Lullaby” came through the speakers. I was so taken, I could barely speak.

“Alison,” I whispered, referring to Alison Krauss‘ vocal on the track.

Brad nodded.

I wiped my eyes and finally, as the song slowed, I ordered, “Stop.”

“What is it?” asked Brad.

“That song,” I said. “That’s your ‘Friends in Low Places.’ Can you play it again?”

He played it again and half-heartedly agreed with my thoughts about Garth Brooks‘ biggest and best hit. Until today, with all the great songs he’s recorded and the awards he’s been presented –and even though the subject matter of the two songs is completely different — I still think “Whiskey Lullaby” is Brad’s “Friends in Low Places” as far as being a song that helped define his career. It’s my favorite Brad song.

By the way, I should mention that after Kim finished breakfast, she rode with us while we listened to the last half of the album.

That story brings me all the way to Bill Anderson‘s recent celebration of his 50th year as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. They had a beautiful cake and were honoring him for his career highlights, beginning with “City Lights,” his first hit as a songwriter, which Ray Price took to the top of the chart in 1958.

Bill has had hits every decade since that time. He co-wrote “Whiskey Lullaby” with Jon Randall, and it won song of the year honors from the CMA. Since I’m writing about how hot Bill is, let it be known that he co-wrote “Give It Away” with Jamey Johnson and Buddy Cannon for George Strait.

Paisley and one of Bill’s other close pals, Steve Wariner, were on the road, so they sent congratulations via video. Unbeknownst to the honoree, Randall, Krauss and Dan Tyminski were at the Opry House and walked onstage to surprise Bill by singing “Whiskey Lullaby.” It was quite a surprise and quite a night.

Bill Anderson Leads Campaign Against Parole of Stringbean’s Killer
Speaking of Bill Anderson, he was among more than 450 people who wrote to the Tennessee Parole Board to oppose the release of John A. Brown, who with his cousin, Doug Brown, murdered Opry member Dave “Stringbean” Akeman and his wife, Estelle, outside their Ridgetop, Tenn., home in 1973. Each killer received two life sentences for the horrendous crime. Doug Brown died in prison, and John remains there. The board ruled against Brown’s release, and his next parole eligibility is April 2017.

Anderson started an email campaign urging people to write letters of opposition to Brown’s release. It was Anderson’s email that encouraged me to write an email opposing the release.

A friend of String and Estelle, Opry member Jan Howard, spoke at the hearing and said she never wants John Brown to breathe fresh air again. Steel guitar player Wendell Myrick, who worked with Stringbean during the ’60s and ’70s, said Brown was lucky he didn’t get Mr. Sparky (the nickname for Tennessee’s electric chair).

Locals recall the horrible way the Akemans were murdered — shot down like animals in the dark. The Browns were not only greedy and wanted their money, they were drunk and drugged.

SOURCE Awards Honor Hardworking Women
Brenda Lee and Jeannie Seely will once again host the SOURCE Awards coming up Aug. 25 at the Noah Liff Opera Center in Nashville. Once again, I was asked to be the date of Fletcher Foster for the event, and once again I said yes.

SOURCE, a nonprofit organization, is 10 years old, and the annual event honors the hardworking women in the music business. This year’s honorees include Roberta Edging (Eddy Arnold Enterprises), Millie Kirkham (WSM Radio, Tree Publishing), Barbara Orbison (Barbara Orbison Productions, Roy Orbison Publishing, Pretty Woman Perfume), Evelyn Shriver (Evelyn Shriver Public Relations, Asylum Records, Bandit Records) and Janice Erickson Wendell (Noble Dury and Erickson Advertising). There will also be a posthumous recognition for Georgia Twitty Chellman, a multi-taskmaster who worked for Gospel Jubilee, Music City Hotline, Veeson Travel and Tennessee T-Cake.

More News
I see where John Michael Montgomery is recording an album with his brother, Eddie Montgomery, best known as part of the hit duo, Montgomery Gentry. Also, John Michael and Eddie are co-writing a book of their memoirs with famed journalist Alanna Nash.

Kenny Chesney outsold everybody when he sold out the giant Heinz Stadium in Pittsburgh. With 53,753 fans attending, the concert gross was $4.6 million.

Having recovered from bronchitis, Taylor Swift‘s Speak Now tour is up and running again. She’s north of the border. Her Canadian fans, like those in Singapore, the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Spain, Germany and Italy, all sing along while she performs her songs. Says Taylor, “You look out, and they know every word.” Her new fragrance is called Wonderstruck.

Rascal Flatts‘ Jay DeMarcus and his beautiful wife Allison have been married seven years. The band’s single, “Easy,” is about a marriage breakup. Jay doesn’t claim to be an expert on marriage, but he said his pastor gave him some words of wisdom when he told him, “Don’t marry someone you think you can live with. You’ve got to marry the person you can’t live without.”

Hank Williams Jr. recently visited Orlando, Fla., to shoot a video for Monday Night Football. I’m glad they keep it country — and keep Hank, too!

Josh Turner‘s recent charity concert in Ringgold, Ga., raised more than $150,000 for the local high school and middle school’s band and athletic fund. Earlier this year, an F4 tornado hit the school and destroyed half the town.

Keith Urban has always been out of this world. As a musician, entertainer, singer and songwriter, the man is out of this world and always has been. But did you know that our very own Keith awoke the Atlantis space shuttle crew with “Days Go By” ? The crew heard his recording of the song before getting a message from mission control.

A Personal Note
Sending love and sympathy to Lady Antebellum‘s Hillary Scott and her mother, singer Linda Davis, on the recent passing of Lois “Onita” Davis in Carthage, Texas. Onita was Linda’s mom and Hillary’s grandmother.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: [news id="1667762"]Zucchini Casserole.[/news]