(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.)
Jimmy Dean died suddenly but peacefully at his home on the James River in Varina, Va., on June 13. He was 81.
His passing brought back memories flowing from yesteryear. The Texas-born Dean founded the most successful sausage-making business in this country. Born into poverty, he became famous as the Sausage King, gaining media exposure to a new audience through his TV commercials for his company. After moving from rich to mega-rich status, he sold the entire kit and caboodle to Sara Lee.
Even before launching the sausage company, Dean was already a national celebrity after hosting daily shows for national TV networks during the late '50s and early '60s. Those shows helped introduce America to guests such as Roy Clark and Rowlf, a mangy-looking dog puppet that was part of Jim Henson's Muppets.
Dean's musical talent showed through in hits such as "Bumming Around," "P.T. 109," "Dear Ivan," "The First Thing Ev'ry Morning (And the Last Thing Ev'ry Night)" and "I.O.U." Everybody remembers his Grammy-winning recitation, "Big Bad John," a self-penned story Dean scribbled on the back of a brown paper bag on a flight to Nashville for a recording session. It went No. 1 on both the country and pop charts.
His career took him to appearances in Las Vegas as well as the Hollywood Palace, the London Palladium and Carnegie Hall. He dined and wined with the great and near great. I recall seeing Dean and his first wife, Sue, on a yacht at Kennebunkport, Maine, with their boating pals, George and Barbara Bush. The boat was filled with well-offs decked out in sailing shirts and white britches. Dean was smiling and talking. He was good at both. I never knew what caused the split with Sue, but I do remember how he and second wife, Donna Meade, got together.
Donna was a singer at Buddy Killen's Stockyard Lounge on Second Avenue in Nashville. The Chase City, Va., native was signed to Mercury Records in the late '80s. During her appearance on Ralph Emery's television show on TNN: The Nashville Network, Dean tuned in, saw Donna and became infatuated with her. So infatuated, in fact, that he sat down and wrote her a letter addressed to Mercury. The letter ended up in the hands of Sandy Neese, who for years ran the Mercury publicity department with a firm hand and a good heart. After reading the letter, Sandy contacted Meade. Shortly afterward, both Dean and Meade appeared together on Emery's show. It was obvious Dean was smitten by the pretty girl, while Donna just looked beautiful. They eventually got married and spent 18 years as husband and wife.
A member of the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame and the Texas Music Hall of Fame, Dean will be posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame during ceremonies in Nashville in October.
In addition to Donna Meade Dean, his survivors include three children and two grandchildren. Among his Nashville friends were the late Carl and Goldie Hill Smith, who named a son, Dean, after him.
CMA Music Fest Was Biggest Yet
Hotels were filled and fans spent $24 million in four days during the recent CMA Music Festival in Nashville. Attendance was up 17 percent over last year with 65,000 souls braving temperatures in the upper 90s. Thank you, fans, for coming to see one of the greatest lineups of country stars ever assembled. I wish I could say howdy to each one of you.
And if you couldn't make it to Nashville, Tim McGraw will host CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock, an ABC television special scheduled to air Sept. 1.
Joe Nichols Honors Wife at No. 1 Party
Joe Nichols and the songwriting threesome of Rhett Akins, Ben Hayslip and Dallas Davidson gathered at the ASCAP and BMI offices last week to celebrate their two-week stay at the top of Billboard's country songs chart with "Gimmie That Girl."
During the party, Joe, who has bounced back from substance abuse problems, introduced the audience to his wife, Heather. "She is, in the flesh, the reason I am here," Joe humbly but proudly said.
Grandson's Bonnaroo Report
My grandson, Adam, went to Manchester, Tenn., to attend the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival that took place the same time the CMA Music Festival was underway in Nashville. "Stevie Wonder was the best of the entire concert," Adam reported. "Jay-Z came on after Stevie and said, 'I'm gonna call Mama and tell her I sung on the same stage where Stevie Wonder sang."
What's the definition of fun for young people? Adam camped in a tent!
When I asked about the country artists at Bonnaroo, he grinned and said, "Miranda Lambert is hot!" And then he added, "Zac Brown Band did real good."
In its June 21 issue, People magazine highlights Jimmy Wayne and his Meet Me Halfway walk from Nashville to Phoenix. When the trek finally ends, Jimmy plans to write a book about his experience.
George Strait usually limits his touring to a few weekends in January and February, but he has extended his shows with Reba McEntire and Lee Ann Womack with 11 dates this fall, including a Sept. 11 stop at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville
Wynonna and Naomi Judd announced their Last Encore Tour during a press conference at the 2010 CMA Music Festival. It'll be an 18-city final reunion tour.
Garth Brooks continues to perform to sold-out crowds and rave reviews at the intimate Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas. He has added more concert dates in September, October and November. Tickets are now on sale via Ticketmaster.
Luke Bryan continues his hot streak as his current single "Rain Is a Good Thing" moves into the Top 5. He's also reeled in his first-ever Teen Choice Award nomination in the male country artist category.
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Green Beans and New Potatoes