(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.)
Imagine how foolish I felt.
It turned out to be an uncommonly cold January in Tennessee. When I got my mail out of the box that morning, the wind was whipping around me so hard, I had to hold to the post to keep my balance. Then and there, I imagined being frozen stiff, standing beside the street.
Carrying the mail, I caught a glimpse of the orange lettering of Guideposts magazine and got a warm feeling. That little magazine always gives me a special feeling.
"I wonder if there's anyone I know in this issue," I thought as I got into the car. Cramped and cold, I slowly drove out the driveway, wishing it was July.
"Who is that on the cover of Guideposts?" I said aloud. "Gary LeVox! Why, that's the lead singer of Rascal Flatts!" Quickly turning to page 32, I saw the cover story, titled "Living on Faith," that Gary wrote. The smaller headline read, "Before I started my band, Rascal Flatts, I had another job I loved, one that inspires me to this day."
I pulled my car into the line at the bank and began to read. When the horn behind me blew the second and third time, I pulled up, got my money and drove to a parking space in front of the grocery where I read the entire article.
Fans of Rascal Flatts, fans of country music, I beg of you to read what Gary has written. He tells about his childhood in Columbus, Ohio, explaining how close he and first cousin Jay DeMarcus were and still are. There is a thread that holds the fabric of their lives together. You see, Gary, his mom, grandmother and Jay's mom all worked at the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation. Gary had worked there 10 years when Jay tried to talk him into moving to Nashville to pursue music like he was already doing. After all, the boys and their families had played music together all their lives. Jay was situated in Music Town, waiting to grab the gold ring when it came by, so Gary finally gave it a try.
Gary piled his goods in the back of his pickup truck and drove south. He said when the glow on the dark horizon became speckled with the city lights, the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum were on his mind just as plain as day. He moved in with Jay in his tiny one-bedroom apartment. The cousins played music at night around town for tips, built swimming pools and delivered newspapers during the day and, like dozens just like them, lived off peanut butter and Ramen noodles.
LeVox, DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney have made Rascal Flatts one of the most successful country music groups ever. Not only have Gary and the guys recorded hit after hit single, their albums have sold millions, and their sellout concerts are a legend among their devoted fans.
Rascal Flatts will mark their 10th anniversary as a band with a tribute honoring more than 75 songwriters who have contributed to their albums. Those who honor the songwriters are touching the hearts of us all. But then, Rascal Flatts are the guys who have raised more than $3 million during the past three years for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville.
But imagine how foolish I felt when I realized that was Gary on the cover of Guideposts. I was just too cold to recognize him.
A Friend Reports From George Strait Concert
My friend George Fletcher, former country music journalist and mega-country music fan was on the staff of Country Music magazine until it sadly became history. These days, he lives outside New York City where he writes about trains, a subject he loves almost as much as he loves country music. Last month, he drove down to Baltimore for the country music tour of the decade -- the one starring George Strait, Reba McEntire and Lee Ann Womack.
Fletcher informs me that Lee Ann opened the show and rolled through most of her biggest hits. A real fan of songs, Fletcher had hoped to hear "I May Hate Myself in the Morning," a song he loves and so do I. She got a great response for her current single, "There Is a God," another great song. Fletcher and I agree on that, too.
"Reba still has it," according to Fletcher. But we all knew that, didn't we? He described Reba's set as "terrific," but said he got lonely for songs from the "Whoever's in New England" era. She apparently sang quite a lot from her current album on the Valory Music label.
Strait still does what he does best, Fletcher allowed. He walks out onstage wearing his finely-starched Wranglers, cowboy shirt, Resistol hat, cowboy boots and a western belt with a champ buckle -- looking like the superstar he is. And Strait stands there and sings hit after hit after hit while the audience sings along during the songs and screams when he finishes it. Every song is as great as the last one and as great as the next one. I'm almost jealous that my friend got to see that concert and I didn't. Fletcher hopes I go to see them if they do a show in Nashville.
Like I said, George Fletcher is such a fan. He attended Lee Ann's meet-and-greet and had a photo taken with her. She was looking great in a gorgeous gown of sequins. Fletcher was wearing a satin cowboy snap shirt with trim across the pockets and collar. Standing there beside the lovely Lee Ann, that New York boy was as close to heaven as he'll ever be on this earth. You should see his smile!
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Japanese Fruit Pie.