HOT DISH: Nashville Will Always Be a Song Town

News About Colt Ford, Jennifer Nettles, Tim McGraw, the Mavericks and More

(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.)

“It all started with a song,” said the great Frances Preston, and it sure did for Kenny Rogers.

I recall sitting in the Exit In nightclub in Nashville beside Luke Lewis, who eventually became CEO of the Universal Music Group Nashville. At the time, Luke was getting started in the biz with a job at Record World, a music trade magazine. He was really cute back then. No swear words and no wrinkles.

Kenny Rogers, sans the First Edition, came to Music Town looking for a home or a gig. Living in the red, the sorta chubby Rogers was a solid singer who had recorded a major hit with the song “Lucille,” but he didn’t realize it yet. Radio had not yet blessed him with airplay for the single. But it would.

“I don’t think Kenny knows what he’s got with ‘Lucille,’” offered Luke.

“He don’t,” I agreed.

I knew “Lucille” was a killer song about a woman who left her farmer husband with four hungry children and a crop in the field. Those are the kind of lyrics that are the very making of a hit country song. It’s believable. It was 1977, and I surmise that the song’s co-writers, Roger Bowling and Hal Bynum, gave all they had to the words and melody.

Larry Butler produced Kenny’s recording of “Lucille.” When radio disc jockeys heard it, they liked it, so they played it. It spent two weeks at the top of Billboard‘s country songs chart and reached No. 5 on the Top 100 chart.

But it was Don Schlitz’s magic songwriting pen that touched a legal pad with a song simply titled “The Gambler.” It fit Kenny like the black suit he wears and the white hair he’s grown. “The Gambler” made him a country music superstar and an actor in a movie of the same title. It also made Schlitz a world-renowned songwriter with plenty of money in the bank.

Yep, Frances said, “It all started with a song.” And, Lord knows, it does.

Now in his 70s, Kenny has 8-year-old twin sons, and he’s still on the road, encoring nightly with “The Gambler.”

Schlitz was honored recently at the 2012 Songwriters Hall of Fame induction ceremony and awards gala in New York City. The longhaired boy from Durham, N.C., was inducted into the Hall of Fame along with Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Seger and others. And the same week Schlitz was so honored, Frances Williams Preston, the first female executive in the music biz in Nashville, went home to be with the Lord.

No one I’ve ever known in this town was loved more and will be missed more than Frances. My mind wanders back to the time when Frances had created BMI as a mainstay on Nashville’s Music Row. Financial records and other business activities were kept here, thanks to that great lady.

At every meeting, gala, party, luncheon or dinner she attended, Frances was always heard making comments that lifted songwriters. With Frances leading the pack, songwriters ceased to be second-class citizens. She gave them respect and took care of their needs.

It’s no wonder great artists like Waylon Jennings loved this powerful woman, and no wonder great songwriters like Harlan Howard adored her. And when the powers that be realized her value, they put her in charge of all of BMI. Harlan’s exact words were, “Frances is Queen Bee of the whole world.” Aside from being their friend, she was the BMI banker who didn’t ask a lot of questions. Frances always took care of those who deserved to be.

I’m so thankful Vince Gill, the most loved singer in country music, sang “Go Rest High on That Mountain” for Frances to provide a marvelous send-off at her memorial service.

Colt Ford Is a Star
Colt Ford joined the likes of Brad Paisley, Jamey Johnson, Alison Krauss, Craig Morgan, the Grascals and others when he made his second trip to my kitchen last week. Colt hit the door smiling and smiled even more when he bit into my mighty fine chicken.

He was also smiling about Average Joes Entertainment, where he hangs his hat these days, and the two No. 1 singles he co-wrote with Brantley Gilbert“Dirt Road Anthem” for Jason Aldean and “Country Must Be Country Wide” for Gilbert. Two No. 1′s in a year is something to brag about.

“Mailbox money. I’ve not made a whole passel — not yet anyway,” he drawled.

Average Joes has released “Back,” the lead single from Colt’s forthcoming album, Declaration of Independence. The song also features hot-as-a-pistol Jake Owen. The 15-track album, set for Aug. 7 release, also features heavy hitters like Aldean, as well as Boyz II Men, Kix Brooks, Montgomery Gentry and Darius Rucker.

“Miss Hazel, is the movie you are featuring today really Smokey and the Bandit?” Colt asked.

I nodded yes.

“Hot dog! My all-time favorite movie,” allowed my guest, clapping his hands together.

And Colt lit into doing Jackie Gleason imitations from the movie. Colt can imitate Jackie Gleason almost as good as Gleason did himself! Of course, Colt’s cowboy hat and Burt Reynolds glasses made him look more like the part.

The new episode of CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks premieres July 1. You don’t want to miss this, especially Colt doing Jackie.

Mavericks Put a Hat On
I like the Mavericks‘ hats! No, not cowboy hats. Hats like my dad wore when I was a child. Hats like Uncle Sam, Uncle Wade, Uncle Hous and Uncle Jess wore back in Caswell County in North Carolina.

Raul Malo and Robert Reynolds look good in those hats. I hope they wear them onstage … so the Mavericks’ song, “Born to Be Blue,” will be a hit and not a fact of life.

CMT Music Awards Set a Sales Fire
The recent CMT Music Awards sets a fire under sales. According to Nielsen SoundScan, five of the Top 6 country singles of the week were performed on the awards show — with Luke Bryan‘s “Drunk on You” taking the top spot. Little Big Town‘s summer song, “Pontoon,” tore up the crowd, and sales of the track following the concert increased 202 percent.

Kenny Chesney, The Band Perry, Eric Church, Lady Antebellum and Toby Keith posted double-digit gains in sales. The Zac Brown Band‘s new single, “The Wind,” debuted at No 18, and the Pistol Annies generated the largest percentage increase with sales of individual tracks up 601 percent and album sales up 107 percent.

Drew Barrymore Cites Shel Silverstein Classic
In a recent issue of USA Weekend, newlywed Drew Barrymore was asked to name some of her “essentials” in terms of clothing, food, etc. When it came to a book, I found it quite interesting that the 37-year-old actress chose The Giving Tree. Written by the late, great Shel Silverstein, Barrymore described the book by saying, “It’s selfishness and selflessness in one perfect metaphor. It’s for children, but it’s really the greatest lesson for adults.”

I cannot imagine anyone on the planet having never read this book. All of Shel’s children’s books are favorites, but this is my all-time favorite. I’ve been blessed to know a lot of talented people. I have to say that with his cartoons, Playboy articles, songs and children’s books, Shel has to be the most talented of them all.

I will always miss him. And I hope you will buy The Giving Tree for your children.

More News
Sugarland‘s Jennifer Nettles announced she and husband Justin Miller are expecting their first child in November. The couple exchanged vows in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee on Nov. 26, 2011.

Brad Paisley and The Band Perry will be off to Sweden and Norway for a series of concerts in November.

A shirtless Tim McGraw was pictured on his Twitter page holding a classic Nike high-top shoe that was all white with red tongue and strings. Tim looked awful good, too. The best I remember, anyway, of a guy looking good shirtless.

Tracy Lawrence spent a week in Mobile, Ala., with other cast members on the set of L.A. Dirt. He’s making his acting debut in the upcoming movie. The story line is about a dirt track racer, and I do believe Tracy might just fit right in.

Justin Moore, who loves to fish, took his wife Kate and 2½-year-old daughter Ella fishing. Justin bought his daughter a Mickey Mouse rod and reel at Walmart. He swears the baby watches the bobber. My sons were three before they’d watch a bobber.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: [news id="1688219"]Crunchy Hot Chicken Salad.[/news]