(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.)
I'd heard Matt Kennon's co-written single, "The Call," and was totally impressed by both the lyrics and melody. Then I saw the video on CMT.com. After watching it over and over, I knew I liked this artist and his song.
Even before that, I'd heard Ronnie Gilley speak about Matt. Ronnie, who's the big kahuna at Ronnie Gilley Entertainment in Enterprise, Ala., is producing the upcoming BamaJam festival down there with more than 40 top acts, including Kenny Chesney, Hank Williams Jr., Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser, the Zac Brown Band, Gregg Allman, Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert, Buddy Guy -- and Matt.
When Matt came to the kitchen to taste my cooking and talk music, I still didn't know him, but he'd seen me on CMT's Southern Fried Flicks, and we hit it off right off the bat. He told me how when he was still a youngster, he was sick at home one day and was listening to the radio. He heard Travis Tritt's "I'm Gonna Be Somebody" and Alan Jackson's "Chasin' That Neon Rainbow." That's when the thought crossed his mind that it might be cool to sing country music. Since he was a Georgia boy like Travis and Alan, the thought stayed with him.
Matt learned to play drums and performed in church and in a high school jazz band. He enjoyed music more than sports. Encouraged by family and friends, he began to sing. He'd sing in karaoke bars and eventually became part of the Atlanta club scene, performing covers of Southern rock and country songs.
He began writing songs and recorded a homemade CD that included three originals. After moving to Music City and finding work at a Harley-Davidson dealership, he struck up a conversation with Gary Falcon, Tritt's former manager. Gary advised Matt to write lots of songs and introduced him to record producer Kyle Lehning. Kyle produced some tracks on him and also served as producer when Randy Travis recorded one of Matt's songs, "Turn It Around."
Matt eventually found a home with record producer James Stroud, who signed him to BamaJam Records, an imprint of Stroudavarious Records. For his first album, Matt co-wrote eight songs, including "The Call."
Matt wants his music to speak the truth. That doesn't mean he ever contemplated suicide like the young man he mentions in "The Call." Nor does it mean he told his 18-year-old girlfriend to get an abortion but then changed his mind and married her. What it means is that he's heard of similar incidents and leans toward songs about real life. His new album will be released this month.
Let's Join the Choir
I see where my Trailer Choir friends -- Butter, Big Vinnie and pretty Crystal -- sang the national anthem at Fenway Park where the Boston Red Sox lost to the New York Yankees. The terrific trio's "Rollin' Through the Sunshine" is a perfect song since the weather finally turned partly perfect. It's been a long, cold winter.
A Note to the Wonderful Country Fans
From the ratings, I know you wonderful fans are tuning in to CMT's Southern Fried Flicks, and I thank you for it. Coming up Saturday (April 17), my guest is the wonderful Chris Young, a real good-looker who sings 'em and writes 'em. And the movie that night stars a real king. You won't want to miss King George Strait in Pure Country.
A New John Henry
Surely you recall the old folk song about John Henry, the steel-driving man. Well, folks, we have a brand new John Henry -- John Henry Earle, the son of Steve Earle and Allison Moorer. John Henry was born last week. Former Nashville residents, Steve and Allison reside in New York City. Steve has a way with words and melodies. Just give a listen to one of his early hits, "Guitar Town."
The First Song He Heard
I have to tell you this story about Peter and Charlotte Cooper's son, Baker Wiley Cooper, who was born last week. Peter is a music writer for The Tennessean newspaper, and he's a fine singer-songwriter, too. Named Baker for Peter's best friend back home in South Carolina and Wiley for his dad, the baby weighed 6 pounds 15 ounces. The minute this child was born and was cleaned up, Peter took him into his arms and walked over to a boom box to play Tom T. Hall's "I Love" for his son. This story so precious, I wept when I heard it.
Love and Theft Member Weds
Ever since Love and Theft came to my kitchen, I haven't quite been the same. I don't think I ever met three cuter boys -- and all in the same band. I knew Eric Gunderson had a girlfriend but did not know he had marriage on his mind. With 200-plus friends, Eric and his girlfriend of four years, Emily Hagar, were married on April 3 at Hazel Path Mansion in Hendersonville, Tenn., before taking off to the Dominican Republic for an island honeymoon.
I wonder who will snag Love and Theft's Stephen Barker Liles. He's the one Taylor Swift wrote "Hey Stephen" about. If I were Taylor, I'd be after him like a duck on a June bug. He's much cuter than Taylor Lautner, the actor.
In the meantime, Eric needs to hurry back to the U.S. for Love and Theft's opening slot on Tim McGraw's tour with Lady Antebellum later this month.
God Smiles on Legendary Songwriter
"God smiles on me," says songwriter Hank Cochran. And He sure smiled on ol' Hank on March 31 after doctors discovered an aortic aneurysm the size of a grapefruit. Rushed into surgery, the 74-year-old legend reportedly came through the operation with flying colors and is in good spirits. His songwriting credits include "I Fall to Pieces" and "Make the World Go Away."
Sympathy to Terri Clark
All of us at CMT and the entire music business send love and sympathy to Terri Clark during this sad time. Terri's mom, Linda, fought a brave battle against cancer for a long time. She passed away on April 4 at her home in Canada.
Kenny Chesney will donate $1 from each ticket sold to his upcoming film, Kenny Chesney: Summer in 3-D, to help raise up to $500,000 for the National Parks Conservation Association. The donation will fund restoration at the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Biscayne national parks.
If you hear somebody screaming, "Yeah!" ... that's me screaming for Steel Magnolia. Their debut single, "Keep On Lovin' You," has hit the Top 10. It's the first time a debut single by a male-female duo has reached the Top 10 in the history of Billboard's country chart.
Zac Brown is gearing up for his third trip to perform for the troops in the Persian Gulf. It's his second trip there with his band.
Miranda Lambert's new single, "The House That Built Me," is taking off like a car at a NASCAR race. Look for Miranda on the ACM Awards. I think she's ready for superstardom.
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Amy's Ambrosia.