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HOT DISH: Two Greats of Country Music -- George Jones and Merle Haggard
Buck Owens Wanted to Record an Album With His Longtime Friend
(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 shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

George Jones and Merle Haggard have recorded an album of each other's hits for release this fall. George Jones is, of course, the greatest singer that's ever been, and Merle Haggard is the greatest singer-songwriter that's ever been, so I'm so thankful these two great men of music recorded the CD. Let's also thank God that they didn't wait until it was too late. Read on.

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is Nashville's Mecca with a mission. It not only houses the plaques of the HOF inductees, it contains the history of country music from day one. For instance, a Ray Charles exhibit is currently on display. The Ford Theater, located in the museum, presents performances by songwriters and musicians on a regular basis, and it also provides a place for special interviews, such as the one disc jockey and historian Eddie Stubbs recently conducted with Haggard.

Merle began the interview by talking about the many times he shared with his old pal, Buck Owens. "We even married the same woman," said Hag with a smile, speaking of Bonnie Owens. Haggard said he received a handwritten letter from his friend just a few weeks before Buck died. In the letter, Buck said they should get together and record an album. Merle read the letter but set it aside and went off on tour. He thought it odd that Buck wrote down his thoughts, rather than calling him. He just never got around to calling Buck back.

When Merle's wife, Teresa, called to tell him Buck had died, the first thing Merle did was find the letter. Teresa said, "Wait. There's another letter from Buck that came yesterday." Per Merle's instructions, Teresa opened the letter and read it. Buck wrote saying he wondered why Merle didn't respond to his letter. And he added, "We're gonna have to put the album project on hold. I'm not doing too good." The letter was dated the day before Buck died.

Merle wept. Needless to say, there was not a dry eye in the Ford Theater that day.

Another Great in Country Music and Beyond -- Willie Nelson

"Sister Bobbie and I have been going to this church since we were born," said Willie Nelson to friends and congregation members present at the Abbott Methodist Church in his hometown of Abbott, Texas. Nelson recently purchased the church that had closed in May. On July 2, Willie went back to the place where he first sang and played a guitar, back to the church of his childhood.

Willie, sister Bobbie and friend Leon Russell gathered in the church and sang hymns such as "Uncloudy Day," "I'll Fly Away," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "Precious Memories." Willie wasn't about to let anyone silence the church that he and his sister attended with their grandmother every Sunday, Monday and Wednesday when they were children. Boyhood friend Donald Reed, who graduated with Willie from Abbott High School in 1950, will coordinate church services the first Sunday of every month.

My sweet brother, Henry Boone in Caswell County, N.C., called me on July 4 to say he was awakened that morning at 4 a.m. after talking to Willie in a dream. He heard Willie, Bobbie and Leon singing during a news report on a bedside TV that stays on all night. Says Henry, "Leon sang 'Amazing Grace.' Beat all I ever heard."

Yet Another Great -- John Anderson

Just when you think John Rich of Big & Rich has done all he can for the betterment of country music, he comes out of left field with another project. This latest one may very well be the makings of a third comeback for John Anderson.

Before he hit the charts in the '70s with songs such as "The Girl at the End of the Bar" and "Your Lying Blue Eyes," Anderson had helped nail on the roof at the Grand Ole Opry House. During the '80s, he scored with such No. 1 hits as "Wild and Blue," "Black Sheep" and the memorable "Swingin'." The CMA's single of the year for 1983, "Swingin'" remains the best-selling country single in the history of Warner Bros. Records. In the '90s came Anderson's second surge with hits like "Straight Tequila Nights" and "Money in the Bank."

That brings us up to 2006 and a project that finds Rich producing Anderson's upcoming album. I've lost count of the acts Rich has helped turn into stars by writing or producing their hits, but the list includes Gretchen Wilson and Jason Aldean.

On his prospects for the future, Anderson notes, "It's like my good friend Waylon said, 'This is a cyclical business.'" And Anderson's world seems to be turning for yet a third time.

Keith and Nicole Return to Music City

The world's most popular couple -- Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman -- returned home to Music City on July 1 following their island honeymoon. On the Fourth of July, along with everyone else, they journeyed to downtown Nashville and, from a rooftop, enjoyed the fireworks and music on the banks of the Cumberland River at Riverfront Park. Later in the week, Nicole was seen casually shopping for groceries at a Wild Oats supermarket.

Hank Jr.'s Big Album Debut

When Hank Williams Jr. debuted at No. 3 on the country albums charts with That's How They Do It in Dixie: The Essential Collection, you would have thought it was his first No. 1. "I have the most loyal fans in the entire country music business," Hank says. "I have not had an album to debut that high in many years. It is a wonderful feeling, let me tell you."

And the Eagle Flies

When my friend Kay e-mailed me photos taken high over the terrain of British Columbia of a pair of eagles parenting their fledgling, I immediately thought of Terri Clark and her hubby Greg Kaczor, who own a log house on a B.C. mountain overlooking the Pacific. Right away, I forwarded the photos Terri and Greg. The e-mail I received back from Terri and Greg thanked me and went on to say they are fortunate to be able to look from the window of their house and see eagles flying across the sky. Their yard is creature-friendly, and they're often visited by deer, rabbits, quail and raccoons. They actually feed seals from their deck. Included was a photo of Greg and his two brothers after a day of fishing. I kid you not, there were four fish -- and each one was 4-feet long!

Even More News

Photos reached me from Spartanburg, S.C., of Miranda Lambert hanging with her A-teamers: Sony BMG Nashville chairman Joe Galante and booking agents Tony Conway and Joey Lee of Buddy Lee Attractions. Some 8,000 screaming fans turned out to see the talented Texan, and she did not disappoint. Miranda had her photo snapped with another guest -- her honey Blake Shelton.

Speaking of Blake Shelton, my 19-year-old niece Emily drove to the famed speedway at Martinsville, Va., over the Fourth of July holiday to see him. In her review to me, she said, "Aunt Hazel, you are so right. Blake Shelton is great. He has all the makings of a superstar about to explode: good looks, great singer, incredible stage presence, winning smile and really good songs."

It's taken six years, but Steve Holy finally has a new album ready for release on Aug. 8.

Vince Gill hosts his 14th annual Vinny Pro-Celebrity Invitational golf tournament Monday and Tuesday (July 10-11) at the Golf Club of Tennessee near Nashville. An invitation has been extended to 125 junior golfers to play in the event. The Vinny has raised more than $3.3 million for junior golf programs in Tennessee.

Darryl Worley's fifth annual Tennessee River Run is set for Sept. 15-16 at Pickwick Landing State Park near his home in Savannah, Tenn. Diamond Rio, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Neal McCoy and John Corbett will join Worley for the event which benefits the local hospital and several area charities.

I remember so well her laughter when I explained to Maude Gilman-Clapham that she -- like record executive Joe Galante and journalist Robert K. Oermann -- was a born Yankee but became an adopted child of the South. Adopted children are truly wanted, I told her. It's with sadness Music Row had to say a final goodbye to Maude, who suffered and passed away from a heart-related illness on June 28. A noted art director, she operated her own design business in recent years. During her 23-year career at Arista Records and Arista Nashville, she was involved in the production of album and CD covers for the likes of Aretha Franklin, the Kinks and Barry Manilow, not to mention country acts such as Alan Jackson, Diamond Rio, Brooks & Dunn, Pam Tillis, Brad Paisley, Phil Vassar, Steve Wariner and many, many others.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Green Pea Salad.
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