(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.)
One of the finest PR persons ever in Music Town was Sandy Neese, who retired from Mercury Records some years back. It was Sandy and her capable assistant, Kevin Lane, who helped in the push to make Shania Twain a superstar and to turn the wonderful O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack into a multi-platinum CD. Sandy put Billy Ray Cyrus on the hillbilly map, that's for sure.
I recall when Harold Shedd signed Billy Ray to Mercury Records. The label was located in a house on the corner of 18th Avenue South and Chet Atkins Place. Sandy was the first one who told me about Billy Ray and introduced me to that cute guy from Flatwoods, Ky., who drove a red car.
"He's gonna be big as Elvis," Sandy assured me. Of course, everybody remembers that "Achy Breaky Heart" topped the charts worldwide and Billy Ray ran himself ragged touring. It was at the house on the corner where Shedd, at Sandy's suggestion, played me "Achy Breaky." (That house now serves as an office for music biz attorney, Linda Edell Howard.)
"Holy cow!" I said upon hearing the song. "He just might be big as Elvis."
And I think Billy Ray's career would have even been bigger had it not been for opinions up and down Music Row. Remember when one of our greatest singers, Travis Tritt, made the tacky remark about Billy Ray shaking his ass. It hurt Billy Ray's feelings, but it also hurt Travis' career. Women loved Billy Ray -- and men were jealous of him.
I'll never forget the day Sandy called and told me Billy Ray's wife, Tish, had delivered their first child, a little girl named Destiny Hope.
"But Billy Ray calls her Miley,'" allowed Sandy. Of course, I thought Sandy was mispronouncing the name. I was sure the brand new baby was already smiling, hence, the name -- Smiley. Finally, Sandy drove it into my hard head, "Billy Ray calls her Miley!"
Until this day, I don't know why she's called Miley, but I do know that the 15-year-old is the hottest act in music today. Miley is so hot, they can't print up tickets fast enough for tweens and teens to buy them.
Who would have thought Billy Ray's kid would score as an actress and as a singer? Well, Billy Ray did. From the time she was really little, Billy Ray would talk about Miley's singing. I remember when he was still on Mercury, label head Luke Lewis had a party at his house, and both Billy Ray and Shania Twain attended. Miley was poised and smiling, looking starry-eyed at Shania while her dad chatted on and on to Shania about show biz and how talented Miley was. Even then, Miley had the want-to's. Most kids would've been acting their age -- racing through the house screaming like a banshee. Not Miley. She had her mind on show biz and her eyes set on Shania.
With Billy Ray's continued success and Miley's double-barreled career, it appears to me that the Cyrus name could one day be right up there with the biggest and most successful families ever. Billy Ray is such a good guy -- a family man, spiritual and good-hearted. It is my hope that he can help his daughter and all his children stay true to their Southern birth and raisings. Hollywood can be a scary place, but so can Nashville.
My advice to Miley: Sell out the venues and save your money. I've never seen so many girls all lined up like they were at the Sommet Center in downtown Nashville recently just to see Miley Cyrus. They could have filled that building twice, and it's been like that at every city of the tour.
Musicians Hall of Fame Gets Prime Coverage
The headline in Tuesday's (Nov. 27) edition of The Tennessean newspaper caused me to smile. On the middle of the front page was a story about the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum awards show and a big headline that read, "For one night, all eyes are on music's 'unseen people.'" Below the headline was a marvelous color photo of the incredible Bob Moore with his upright bass. The story was about the importance of the session musicians who are among the first inductees into the Musicians Hall of Fame -- the only place of such honor in the world for the people who make the music. The event was held at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville.
Unseen heroes recognized included Detroit's Funk Brothers (from Motown Records), Nashville's A-Team, Los Angeles' Wrecking Crew, the Memphis Boys, Johnny Cash's Tennessee Two and Elvis Presley's Blue Moon Boys. Thanks to Hall of Fame founder Joe Chambers, these wonderful players of songs have a home sweet home in Music City.
Brooks & Dunn Headed to the Far South
Yes, I love Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn and their manager, Clarence Spalding. The duo's been hauling butt down hillbilly highways since '92. They've performed over yonder, down yonder and up yonder. When approached about doing concerts down under in Australia, they got all bug-eyed and doubtful. "Nobody knows us there," they supposed. After the first show sold out, they added another in the same city. I suspect Kix and Ronnie are smiling and saying, "Yep, our buddy Keith Urban probably told those folks about us."
The first shows take place Feb. 29 (a leap year!) and March 1 in Brisbane followed by concerts in Melbourne and Sydney. It's a long plane ride to teach kangaroos and koalas how to go honky-tonking.
Willie's for the Dogs
The great Willie Nelson has filmed a television spot supporting legislation that would strengthen the laws against dogfighting in Georgia. In the ad, "Georgia on My Mind" plays in the background while Willie looks into the camera and says, "Dogfighting is against the law in Georgia, but the laws are so weak, the beautiful state of Georgia has become a haven for dogfighters around the country." If the bill passes, dog-fighting would become a felony in the state.
Vince Gill on Bill Gaither's Upcoming DVD
The all-star lineup joining Bill Gaither & the Gaither Vocal Band for the latest Gaither Homecoming DVD includes Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Ralph Stanley, Rhonda Vincent, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, the Isaacs, the Easters, Jimmy Fortune and the Grascals. Filmed this past week in Nashville, the project is set for a 2008 fall release.
Sympathy and Love
Sympathy and love to Troy Gentry (of Montgomery Gentry) whose mother succumbed to cancer. Patricia Ann Gentry, a native of Lexington, Ky., was 65.
Continued sympathy and love to the family of steel guitarist John Hughey, who helped craft the incredible stage and studio sound for both Conway Twitty and Vince Gill. The 73-year-old musician lived in Hendersonville, Tenn., and died Nov. 18.
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Coconut Pineapple Pie.