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HOT DISH: Larry the Cable Guy Makes a House Call
More News About Reba McEntire, Joe Nichols, Dierks Bentley and Jewel
(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.)

Lord, Lordy! I'll never be the same. Larry the Cable Guy came to my kitchen as my guest on CMT's Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith.

When you write words on a piece of paper, it never crosses your mind that, you will meet someone who remembers what you wrote, especially 30 years down the road. "I've been reading your stuff since I was a little bitty boy about this high," Larry said, holding out his hand below his waist when he walked into my kitchen. "You wrote for all them country magazines, and now you're on CMT and write for them, too. Why, when I found out you was the Hazel Smith that'd been writing all that stuff I been reading all this time, I told 'em, 'Yeah, I wanna go to her house.'" Larry the Cable Guy is a star -- a major star -- and a heckuva nice guy.

My immediate family and all my relatives in North Carolina are crazy about Larry. We always loved country music and country music comics -- Minnie Pearl, Rod Brasfield, the Duke of Paducah, Jerry Clower, Homer & Jethro, Lonzo & Oscar and the wonderful Mike Snider. Porter Wagoner featured comic Speck Rhodes on his long-running television show, and Hee Haw kept us laughing each week by showcasing Stringbean, Grandpa Jones, Archie Campbell, Gaylard Sartain and Lulu Roman, and they kept us laughing. We loved the country antics of The Andy Griffith Show and The Beverly Hillbillies.

In recent years, it seemed that country comedy sort of went away until Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, Ron White and Larry the Cable Guy hit the small screen with their series of Blue Collar Comedy Tour DVDs. We loved it and finally had something funny to laugh about again.

I don't know when I've enjoyed anything as much as having Larry the Cable Guy at my house. And I don't know when I've met someone famous who was so down to earth, bright, kind, nice and funny. And he loves country music. George Strait is his favorite, and he says he loves what Garth Brooks has done for the genre. His favorite song is "Rollin' With the Flow" by Charlie Rich.

Larry can't help loving country music. His daddy was playing guitar with the Everly Brothers when he was just 18 and Don and Phil Everly were 16 and 17.

"Daddy played clubs all over the South until he went into the service and got saved in a foxhole in Korea," Larry said. "He gave his heart to God and became a Baptist preacher. They played music in Dad's church -- guitars and such. Nope, Dad never went to college. Preached from the Bible."

It's no wonder my grandkids are enamored by Larry. Nine-year-old Trevor was wearing his basketball shirt from the Bluegrass Baptist Church. "Hey, I had a shirt just like that when I was your age, except mine read 'Barryville Baptist Church,'" allowed Larry. Trevor had a nice conversation with Larry about the Disney/Pixar animated film, Cars.

"You sound just like Mater," offered Trevor, referring to the character of the tow truck in the film.

"I was the voice of Mater," said Larry.

"I know," Trevor said.

The movie conversation must have lasted five minutes, with all the kids looking on and listening to Larry. They'll be first in line to see everything Larry does.

Larry the Cable Guy's real name is Dan Whitney. His famous character was born 15-plus years ago when a friend asked him to call into his radio show as a cable guy. Eventually, Larry was phoning into 27 stations each week throughout the nation. He resides six months out of the year on a farm in his native Nebraska and spends six months in Florida. Happily married, he and his wife have two young children -- a 17-month-old son and a 2-month-old daughter.

He had no idea his Larry character would hit as big as it did, but he liked it because it made him write. While everybody else was hitting the bars after a show, he'd go back to the hotel room and write commentaries and jokes. He learned the only way to hold attention on radio was to be a little shocking. Jokes about farts and tits worked -- and they still do. If a joke doesn't get a laugh in 10 seconds, he throws it out.

At the moment, Larry is promoting his latest movie, Witless Protection, co-starring Ivana Milicevic, Eric Roberts (Julia's brother), Yaphet Kotto, Jenny McCarthy and Joe Mantegna. The plot, reminiscent of those wonderful Burt Reynolds car-chase flicks, features Larry as a small-town sheriff who accidentally gets involved in a high-profile FBI case.

"It's real funny," promises Larry. "If it didn't make me laugh, I wouldn't do it." Set for Feb. 22 release, Larry's hoping for the same luck he had with the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. Witless Protection follows his starring roles in Larry the Cable Guy, Health Inspector and Delta Farce.

I asked Larry about his sister, Moley, who had moles all over her face, hence her nickname. "She got religion. We called her Holy Moley. Later she married our neighbor, a Mexican. We called her guacamole," he said without a smile.

He's been on a diet and has lost 43 pounds. My meal of tender beef roast, party potatoes, peas au gratin, rolls and derby pie was hard for Larry to resist. Stay tuned for air date of this episode of CMT's Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith. This is one you won't want to miss. Larry is hilarious. Me and my whole family fell in love with him.

Country in the Rockies Update

The word I got from the Country in the Rockies event that ended Sunday (Jan. 27) in Steamboat Springs, Colo., is that Montgomery Gentry and friends pulled in more than $100,000 for the T.J. Martell Foundation and its research for leukemia, cancer and AIDS. On top of that, a good-hearted yet unknown donor gave another $100,000 to match the original amount raised. Troy Gentry shaved his beard for $20,000, and Eddie Montgomery donated three of his black hats to help the cause.

There was one bit of negative news to report, though. Eddie's wife fell on her first trip down the ski slopes and tore the ligaments in both knees.

Hillbilly Money

Reba McEntire, hubby-manager Narvel Blackstock and son Shelby -- along with artist manager Clarence Spalding (Brooks & Dunn), his lovely wife Ann and their son -- just returned from a vacation in Fiji. Friends, that is hillbilly money.

Conway Twitty Musical Being Planned

It's Only Make Believe, a musical about the life of the late, great Conway Twitty, is in the making, so I'm told. If all goes as planned, the Broadway-type show with 26 songs will be on the road this fall. With Conway having sold 9 million records since his death in 1993, there is definitely an interest in him and his music. He will be portrayed in three different ages with Jeff Bates in the latter role in certain concert venues.

Joe Nichols Sets the Record Straight

Having recently completed a stay in a substance abuse rehab center, Joe Nichols had to set the record straight last week when he suddenly canceled a series of radio interviews. Rest assured, Joe hasn't relapsed. Unfortunately, though, his wife, Heather, suffered a miscarriage. On his Web site, Joe explained that Heather had been in the early days of her pregnancy. He said, "My family is the most important thing in the world to me, so it was necessary to postpone these interviews." Let's keep both of them in our thoughts and prayers.

Dierks Bentley Is Hot in '08

Dierks Bentley ended 2007 on a high note with his fifth No. 1 hit, had a CMA nomination for album of the year and four Grammy nominations. Dierks is hot with appearances on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson and E! Entertainment's happening late night talk show, Chelsea Lately, not to mention a private pre-Grammy concert at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. His new single, "Stop Your Leaving," is out this week, and his Throttle Wide Open tour continues Valentine's Day in Gainesville, Fla.

Jewel's Country Credentials

How far off the beaten path of country music is Jewel? I first heard of her when Tompall Glaser's former country band member, Ben Keith, produced an album on her. A native of rural Alaska, she grew up the old-timey way, listening to albums of traditional music by Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn. She learned yodeling, played music and sang with her parents and siblings. Hillbilly?

She moved to the city, played in small clubs, wrote songs and lived in her van. It sounds to me like you don't even have to turn a page. This girl is one of us.

The Importance of Respect

Without sounding preachy -- for that is not my intent -- I'm humbly suggesting to youth and their parents to try and respect those worthy of your respect. Sadly, Britney Spears seems to be headed down into the same endless darkness as Anna Nicole Smith. Even sadder, actor Heath Ledger was way too young to die.

Teachers, doctors and scientists who lead and heal deserve our respect. So do great singers, great musicians and great actors. Be careful when you choose a lifestyle. We are only given one life. And, hey, you are the best. So respect the best.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Dump Cake.
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