Alan Jackson Delivers Hit After Hit During Nashville Show

Alan Jackson; Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images


 CHUCK DAUPHIN • MAY 20, 2017 - 2:12 PM

There seemed to be an emphasis on a certain musical style at Friday night’s (May 19) Alan Jackson concert at Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater. More often than once, the term “Real Country Music” was uttered by Jackson, opening act Lee Ann Womack, as well as the fans in attendance for the show.

Taking to the stage with his 1994 anthem “Gone Country,” Jackson delivered one solid Country classic after the other, with each of the up-tempo songs transforming into a crowd sing-along in the process. With a video screen playing the original videos of the songs while Jackson and The Strayhorns performed them, the crowd was transported back in time with such hits as “I Don’t Even Know Your Name” and “Who’s Cheatin Who.” Jackson seemed to be in a very festive mood performing songs such as those, the rollicking “Good Time,” “Country Boy,” “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” and his signature hit, 1993’s “Chattahoochee.”

Of course, that’s only one side of the Alan Jackson success story. The Georgia native has had a multitude of successes with ballad recordings, and he performed many of his finest. The singer poured each and every ounce of raw emotion in such heartfelt performances as “Here In The Real World” and “Wanted,” which have lost none of their staying power since their release close to three decades ago.

Of course, fans were expecting the hits. That goes without saying. However, the singer was in more of a reflective mood during the show, sharing stories about the writing of the afore-mentioned hits as well as compositions as “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow.” Quite possibly, it could be where Jackson is at this stage of his career – ranking as one of the format’s more esteemed veterans, or maybe the recent announcement of his forthcoming induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame – just a few blocks away, but Jackson’s sharing of his memories about his career proved to make the evening a little more memorable than just strictly a collection of hit records. His recollections of his early life with wife Denise made the lyrics of such songs as “Livin’ On Love” and “I’d Love You All Over Again” even more memorable.


Quite a few times during the evening, Jackson mentioned the phrase “Real Country Music,” and that was very much in evidence even before he took the stage. Delivering a flawless set, Lee Ann Womack served notice that she is one of the most exceptional female vocalists to ever record in Music City. She peppered such material as “I May Hate Myself In The Morning” and “Never Again, Again” with as much raw emotion and power as she did when she originally recorded them over a decade ago. She displayed plenty of fire on her recent recording “The Way I’m Livin” and delivered perhaps her finest moment of her set with the under-appreciated gem “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger.” Womack returned during Jackson’s set to team up with the singer on a cover of Vern Gosdin’s “Till’ The End,” as well as “Murder On Music Row,” which caused headlines when Jackson recorded it with George Strait back in 2000. One could say the song was very prophetic, considering the boundaries that the format continues to push now. However, if you are looking for “Real Country Music,” it is still very much there. It all depends on where you look!

Keith Urban Stuns with NHL Playoffs National Anthem


 LAUREN LAFFER • MAY 16, 2017 - 7:17 PM

With just one round standing between them and the Stanley Cup finals, the Nashville Predators are playing more fiercely and athletically than ever before. As the team prepares to take the ice within Bridgestone Arena against the Anaheim Ducks for Game Three in the series, the team once again surprised fans with an all-star performance for the National Anthem.

Standing in as the team’s seventh man is Keith Urban, who breathlessly serenaded the electric crowd within the Smashville walls.

Urban’s “The Fighter” collaborator Carrie Underwood was in the arena during the performance as she’s been one of the Predators’ most devoted fans. The singer has been on hand at all of the home games to support her husband and Preds captain, Mike Fisher. The Oklahoma native tweeted about the crowd’s electric energy.

“The energy in this building is incredible,” she wrote.

Minutes after Urban’s spell-binding performance, Underwood posted a video as she sang along to the duo’s collaboration being played on the organ within Bridgestone Arena.

“Name That Tune: Arena Organ Addition… You know you you’ve made it when! #TheFighter,” she wrote as she sang along.

Having a country superstar performer has been a running theme throughout the playoff season for the Preds, who have hosted the likes of Carrie UnderwoodLuke BryanLittle Big TownLady Antebellum and Vince Gill since the games began.

Heading into Tuesday Night’s game, the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks are tied 1-1 with Game Three on the line. The following game will be hosted in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, before heading back to California for Game 5.

Loretta Lynn’s Team Updates Fans on Medical Status


 KELLY BRICKEY • MAY 15, 2017 - 5:15 PM


Loretta Lynn fans can breathe easy as her team has officially passed on an update of her medical status.

The iconic country singer recently suffered from a stroke at her personal residence, forcing her to be hospitalized for the time being. At the time, it was announced that she was expected to make a full recovery and was receiving great care from a handful of doctors after being admitted in Nashville.

Ten days following the medical emergency, Lynn’s team went to social media to let her adoring fans know that she was on the up and up in her recovery time.

“Loretta thanks everyone for their prayers love and support. She has moved to rehabilitation and we’re happy to report she is doing great,” the team wrote via her various social media channels.

Her sister, Crystal Gayle, also sent out a previous shout out to all of the love the family received throughout Lynn’s hospitalization.

“Thank you for all of the prayers and well wishes for Loretta. Keep them coming! We are lucky, in this day and age, to have wonderful doctors and nurses taking great care of her. Plus, they have to put up with our dramatic and crazy family and friends. #PrayersForLoretta Love you! Crystal,” she said.

Lynn just hit a milestone mark during her birthday a couple weeks back, turning the big 8-5. Like the legend she is, Lynn celebrated with close friends at the famous Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

Although Lynn seems to be doing well during her resting period, doctors still advised that she stay off the road in order to properly recuperate. Rescheduling a few tour dates for later on in the year, she keeps true to her word on plans to continue playing shows across the country once she is fully healed. For more information on those specific dates, supporters can go to her website for more details.

Chris Young Releases ‘Losing Sleep’ As New Single


 KELLY BRICKEY • MAY 12, 2017 - 9:31 AM

It’s getting hot in here, but not because the summer months are quickly approaching—it’s due to Chris Young’s sexy new single, “Losing Sleep.”

Not wasting any time getting back into the game after his No.1 “Sober Saturday Night,” Young decided to amp the tempo up a notch with his progressive new track that rocks into a night to remember with the one you love. Put together a guitar-driven chorus with a hand-clap beat and Young sets himself up for a relatable upbeat love song.

Written by Young with Josh Hoge and Chris DeStefano, the three nail the idea of intimacy mixed with the contemporary country sounds that ride throughout the strong chorus. With lyrics like, “Fall into me / let me breathe the air you breathe / I can take you anywhere you want to be,” Young strives to bring the sensual elements in while still maintaining his romantic personality from previous songs.

“I think it’s still very much me. I don’t think anyone is going to hear it and think it doesn’t sound like me as an artist. It’s very, very forward production wise and definitely once the chorus hits, it’s a tempo. It’s a nice balance, and I think you have to have all of that,” Young said in an interview with The Tennessean.

“Losing Sleep” is the first little taste of what to expect from Young’s upcoming album, which he just so happened to co-write on all of the tracks. Announcing the exciting news to fans via social media a couple weeks ago, the country singer continues to work hard in the studio on his anticipated project for his supporters to fall in love with from first listen.

“Everything has its own slot on the record. I really think you guys are going to be excited to hear it. Pumped that we get to do it this soon,” he said through a previous Facebook Live session.

As fans await even more new music from Young, they can check out his new track, “Losing Sleep,” and see him perform live on the They Don’t Know Tour with Jason Aldean this summer.

Chris Young is wide awake for 'Losing Sleep'

The Tennessean12:01 a.m. CT May 12, 2017

Chris Young (Photo: David McClister)

Chris Young (Photo: David McClister)

Chris Young was wide awake with excitement Thursday, the day before his new single “Losing Sleep” was released to country radio.The song is the debut single from his forthcoming seventh studio album. 

“It’s a very sexy song, people have already pointed it out,” Young said of the progressive up-tempo. Young penned the song with his frequent collaborator and friend Josh Hoge and prolific country hit writer Chris DeStefano. “Losing Sleep” starts with a smooth R&B groove that flips into a full-blown contemporary country chorus.

“I know it’s different for me from the last record,” said Young, who has had nine No. 1 country hits. “We’ll see what everybody thinks about it when it actually gets out there.”

The men wrote “Losing Sleep” in December of 2015, soon after Young released his gold-selling “I’m Comin’ Over.” Young came to the songwriting appointment with the hook and DeStefano had an idea for the track. It was the first time Young, Hoge and DeStefano had worked together on the same song, but Young said, “It obviously worked out well.”

“You don’t want to make the same song over and over or the same sounds over and over on every record,” Young said. “I think it’s still very much me. I don’t think anyone is going to hear it and think it doesn’t sound like me as an artist. It’s very, very forward production wise and definitely once the chorus hits, it’s a tempo. It’s a nice balance, and I think you have to have all of that.”

“Losing Sleep” sets the tone for Young’s upcoming album on which he co-wrote every song. Like he did with Hoge and DeStefano, Young wrote with new pairings of people. He recorded songs he’d written with writers he’d never cut songs from before. And, there’s songs he penned with writers who will be familiar to fans of his other albums.

“It was really a blend of trying to keep a lot of the parts on the last record that made it special, but add to it,” he said. “I’m just excited people are going to have new music … and for it to be something I’m vocally proud of, I’m proud of as a songwriter and a producer. I hope everybody just enjoys it.”

Breaking News: Loretta Lynn hospitalized after stroke

Loretta Lynn performs at the Ryman Auditorium Friday, April 14, 2017 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo: George Walker IV / The Tennessean)

USA TODAY NETWORK/Juli Thanki, The Tennessean   Published 7:38 p.m. ET May 5, 2017 

Loretta Lynn was Nashville's first prominent woman to write and record her own material, and was one of the first female music stars to generate her own hits. Karen Grigsby / USA Today Network - Tennessee

NASHVILLE — Country music legend Loretta Lynn suffered a stroke at her Tennessee home Thursday night and was hospitalized, according to a post on her official website.

Maria Malta, a publicist for Lynn, confirmed Friday that the 85-year-old singer and songwriter was admitted into a Nashville hospital after suffering the stroke at her home in Hurricane Mills, the Associated Press reported.

According to the Friday afternoon post on her website, Lynn is “currently under medical care and is responsive and expected to make a full recovery.”

Upcoming events on her tour schedule will be postponed; more information on those dates will be posted on Lynn’s website ( in the coming days.

In April, Lynn celebrated her 85th birthday by playing two sold-out shows at the Ryman Auditorium. She’s scheduled to return to the Ryman in August; those concerts will coincide with the release of her forthcoming album Wouldn’t It Be Great.

Legendary Songwriter Dean Dillon Talks Career with George Strait, Modern Country


“I never wrote songs for George Strait,” says Dean Dillon, the hall of fame songwriter who penned more than 50 tunes for George Strait. “But I’ve been accused of it,” he chuckles.

Of course, what Dillon means is he never deliberately thought, “What would George sing?” But he wrote some of the most iconic songs Strait ever sang. In fact, the world’s introduction to Strait came by way of Dillon’s song “Unwound.”


That tune opened Strait’s debut album Strait Country, more than half of which came from Dillon’s pen. The album took off, and there was no turning back. Dean poured his heart out on the page, and George sang it to millions.

Of course, Dillon also wrote many other hits, including “Tennessee Whiskey” (originally pitched to Strait), for many other artists, including Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith.

And that’s precisely what makes Dean Dillon’s storybook career so compelling: “All that time I’m just writing Dean Dillon songs, man.”

An Unlikely Beginning

By his own account, Dillon and Strait met under pretty unlikely circumstances. The whole story is worth reading. Better yet, it’s worth watching — a new documentary all about Dillon’s life called Tennessee Whiskey: The Dean Dillon Story premieres in May. But here’s an abridged version.

In 1973, a teenaged Dillon moved to Nashville from tiny Lake City, Tenn. He had, as the cliche goes, nothing but a pep in his step and a song in his heart. To put it more starkly, he slept in a coal bin. “I’m not making this shit up,” he says. “For two weeks, until I got my legs under me, I slept in a coal bin.”

Dillon struck up a friendship with a fellow writer Frank Dycus, which led to years of songwriting together. One day, while sitting on a front porch on music row and writing — and drinking, as they often did — Blake Mevis swung by in his car and yelled out, “I got this new kid from Texas, y’all got any songs?”

Seriously, that’s how it started.

A Beautiful Friendship

The next three and a half decades saw Dillon riding a roller coaster existence, full of chart-topping successes, struggles as an artist, self-destroying addictions and personal redemptions. But Dillon’s relationship with Strait was a constant through it all.

The highs included 11 No. 1 singles with Strait and timeless songs like “The Chair,” “Marina Del Rey” and “Easy Come, Easy Go.” Despite two drastically different lifestyles at the time, Dillon and Strait always had a beautiful friendship, both professionally and personally.

“We had this unwritten rule that everything I wrote that I believed in, I would give to him,” Dillon says. “And I knew he’d sing it exactly how I gave it to him. I didn’t want anybody less than the best singing these songs, and to me George Strait is still the best country singer out there.”


In fact, much of what Dillon does nowadays — selling out theaters across the country a few nights a week — replicates how he’d go through songs with Strait. “I always loved the element of just me and a guitar sitting down, singing songs,” Dillon says. “That’s what made me a living and what I’d do with George.”

Eventually, Strait and Dillon went one step further, writing together. Dillon says he never doubted the pair could do that either, given Strait’s career-defining ability to pick good songs. “When he first started his songs weren’t great, and he’d tell you that, but if he hadn’t had the career he has as a singer, he’d be a chart-topping songwriter,” Dillon says. “Oh yeah, he’d be there.”

The Kids Are… Alright

So now that Strait is mostly retired, what does Dean Dillon think of music nowadays? Well for starters, he’s still a huge part of the industry. Dillon has recent cuts with all kinds of artists, from Mo Pitney (one of his current favorites) and Randy Rogers Band to Blake Shelton and Garth Brooks. But something is missing.

“You gotta understand, I live, eat, sleep and breathe songs,” Dillon says. “Where are all the great songs that I know get written in Nashville?” Needless to say, the bro country phase did not sit well with him.

On the one hand, he gets it. Paraphrasing Toby Keith, he says, “We were the circus once. And now it’s their turn and it’s all good and well.” But on the other, he’s not hearing the seriousness of music. Or the variety.

“Every song is about the same damn thing,” he says. “Daisy Dukes, trucks, beer, lake banks, time, after time, after time, after time. The bro country thing started 12 years ago, and 12 years later, they’re still singing the same things. Do they not evolve? Get older? Get married? Have kids? Get jobs and shift in society? There’s no movement in it.”

READ MORE: The Most Beloved George Strait Lyrics of All Time

But, at the same time, he believes the up-and-coming generation is smarter than the last. And that includes his daughter Jessie Jo Dillon. “She’s got it way more together than I did at that age,” he laughs. “Peanut can write her brains out.”

So don’t get it wrong — Dillon isn’t begrudging anybody else’s success, because Lord knows he has plenty of his own. But he’s refreshingly honest, pensive and gracious about the role songwriting plays in his life. He’s seen songs move and touch people profoundly. The whole thing is still kind of magical, honestly.

“The amazing part of Nashville writing is what it’s always been,” he says. “You can sit down in a room with somebody you’ve never met and know nothing about, and three or four hours later you write this great song. How we do it, I don’t know, but it happens every day.”

‘Pure Country’ ropes in 25th anniversary celebration this weekend


The instructions Rex McGee received when he was hired to write a screenplay for what became “Pure Country,” the 1992 George Strait movie, were simple but vague: Make sure it has 10 songs and a scene where Strait ropes something.

“I went, holy mackerel, what am I going to write about?” McGee says during a recent phone interview. “I went to cowboy poetry readings, I went to rodeos, and I was just stumped for a while.”

But McGee, who had only 12 weeks to write the screenplay, eventually would have an epiphany that allowed him to break that creative block. And for several weeks in 1992, “Pure Country” filmed in Fort Worth, Cresson, Midlothian and other North Texas locations.

Pure Country Screenplay Writer Rex McGee 

Pure Country Screenplay Writer Rex McGee 

Concert scenes were shot at the Will Rogers Auditorium, Cowtown Coliseum, Billy Bob’s Texas and the Tarrant County Convention Center. Strait was spotted eating enchiladas at the then relatively new Dos Gringos Mexican restaurant and chowing down at Michael’s Cuisine on West Seventh Street in Fort Worth, and hundreds of locals appeared in the movie as extras or in bit parts.

One of the locations was Western Kountry Klub, a 50-year-old dance hall that was used in honky-tonk scenes in the movie. It’s there that the 25th anniversary celebration of the movie will take place, beginning at 6 p.m. Friday (it’s an early celebration; the film premiered in October 1992). Jim Lauderdale and Steve Dorff, who wrote songs for the movie, will appear, as will McGee, who will tell stories about the movie’s cast and production. 


The event, which will benefit the nonprofit Downtown Mansfield Inc., is also being filmed for a May special on Haltom City-based cable/satellite channel The Country Network (which does not currently have a DFW affiliate but streams live on its website). The event will include a silent auction, featuring autographed guitars, posters, a movie script and paraphernalia.


A musical version

But as much as Friday’s celebration is about looking back, it’s also about looking forward: McGee, Dorff and Lauderdale, as well as John Bettis, who wrote lyrics for a couple of the movie’s songs, are getting ready for the premiere of “Pure Country: The Musical,” presented by Lyric Stage on June 9 at the Irving Arts Center. Julie Johnson, who appeared in the movie, will perform songs from the musical at the Midlothian event.

But in a way, that will be looking back, too, because “Pure Country: The Musical” has been in the works for some time.

“It’s been 10 years, really,” McGee says. “We had a big workshop in New York in ’08, and New York — they don’t like country shows at all. Anything to do with country music at all. The Broadway people just don’t care for that.”

The musical’s original producer died — in a sad coincidence, on George Strait’s birthday — and that sent the show adrift for five years. But McGee reconnected with Michael Skipper, a veteran Broadway producer (his credits include “In the Heights,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s breakthrough show) who happens to be from Fort Worth.

“The guy Mike went to that usually finances his shows [had] never heard of George Strait, had never heard of the movie, the title itself seemed to be a downer,” McGee says. “So we figured we’d start in George Strait country and then work our way to Broadway, if ever. Our goal is to take it on tour. To take it on a Texas tour first, then a national tour, because George’s fans are everywhere, and they know this movie.”

The musical will use two songs from the movie, “Heartland” and “I Cross My Heart,” but don’t expect the musical to just be a stage re-creation of the movie. 

“When I saw the movie, I was sort of stunned, because there were scenes that I know I saw shot that never made the movie,” McGee says. “I guess the scenes just weren’t working. But I think the idea of the musical was born the minute I saw the movie: ‘Where’s this scene? Where’s that scene? That doesn’t make sense.’ It was shocking for me to see it the first time.”

The musical, which McGee is co-producing, is a way of getting back some creative control. But he had to learn how to write for the stage, in a production that now has 18 songs.

“The story’s the same, but details have been changed,” McGee says, adding with a laugh: “We can’t have a barrel racer on stage.”

Based on a true story

The movie’s roots are both simple and convoluted. Movie producer Jerry Weintraub, acting on a suggestion from his mentor, Colonel Tom Parker, was looking for a vehicle to turn music superstar Strait into a movie star as well, the way Parker had, for better or worse, done with Elvis Presley. It was Weintraub who told McGee that the movie needed to have 10 songs and a roping scene in it.

In the movie, Strait plays Dusty Chandler, a country megastar who walks away from his concert world (which is more Garth Brooks than George Strait) to get back to his country roots, and finds love along the way. McGee, after struggling with Weintraub’s mandate, loosely based the movie on his own story.

“I had been in L.A. for many years, making a great living as a scriptwriter, rewriting other scripts,” says McGee, who was born in Cleburne and raised in Fort Worth and Burleson. “But nothing was getting made. About that time, the last member of my family died and left me this old house in Texas where I’d spent much time as a child. I just packed everything up and moved back to Texas so I could figure out what I wanted to write about.”

McGee had been in Hollywood for 20 years — he had even befriended and worked for legendary director Billy Wilder after Wilder unexpectedly responded to one of McGee’s fan letters — but felt like he’d hit a dead end. He came up with a script about a singer who had gone about as far as he could with his career and decided to walk away from it.

McGee was only at some of the North Texas locations, but he recalls Strait being reluctant to be an actor. “If you’ve seen him onstage, you know he really doesn’t move that much,” McGee says. “He just stands there and sings 27 songs and that’s it. I don’t think he’s done any [acting] since then. He wasn’t going to be an Elvis-like movie star.” (Internet Movie Database lists one other acting credit for Strait: a 2003 episode of the animated series “King of the Hill” for which he voiced a character named Cornell.)

The musical, McGee believes, is better than the movie, although he has yet to see a full production: He’s seen a lot of staged readings, including one at Casa Manaña in 2013. But then he and the songwriters have been at this for a while.

“We’ve hung in there, I tell ya,” McGee says. “I don’t know if we’re hardheaded or persistent.’



George Strait's Tequila Is as Smooth and Regal as He Is

Photo by Marco Torres

Photo by Marco Torres


TUESDAY, APRIL 11, 2017 AT 10:48 A.M.


TUESDAY, APRIL 11, 2017 AT 10:48 A.M.



Save the "Strait tequila night" jokes, please.


"Well, hello there, young man. Whatcha got there?"

Those were the words that country legend George Strait offered my way Monday evening at Perry's Steakhouse Memorial City, site of a media gathering to hail the launch of the new Código 1530 Tequila, in which Sir George is an investor. Strait was referring to the camera gear hanging around my neck and lighting contraptions I was carrying. Now, rarely do I ever get star-struck, but when the King of Country Music asks you an unexpected question, you struggle to find any words for a response.

"Oh, these are my pictures, I mean my photos, I mean my cameras, sir. I'd like to take a photo with you, and of you, please?" I stuttered. Real smooth...Nailed it! Well, at least the photos came out okay.

Besides not wearing his signature cowboy hat, Mr. Strait was exactly as imagined: kind, strong and regal. From his handshake to his voice to his piercing green-gray eyes, he was a complete professional and welcoming at the same time.


photo by Marco Torres

As the room settled in for the tequila tasting, we were offered The Strait Paloma, the newest signature drink available at Bar 79 inside Perry's Steakhouse & Grille. A traditional Mexican Paloma is a tequila-based cocktail mixed with grapefruit-flavored soda and lime juice. Here is the signature recipe:

1.5 oz Código 1530 Blanco
.5 oz Sour Mix
.25 oz Lime Juice
1 oz Blood Orange Puree
1 oz Grapefruit Juice
.5 oz Agave Nectar
1 oz Topo Chico Saborés Grapefruit Soda


Scanning the room, I noticed many familiar faces in the crowd. The most prominent were the array of news anchors and weathermen, including Rita Garcia (Fox 26), Shern-Min Chow (KHOU), Tom Koch (ABC 13) and David Paul (KHOU). All were excited to meet Mr. Strait, as well as sample his top-shelf tequila.

Photo by Marco Torres

Federico "Fede" Vaughan, Código CEO and co-founder, introduced the crowd to the brand, which was traditionally a private stock of tequila available only for close friends and family. Fans of the tequila, who include his amigo George, pushed to make the spirit available to the general public.

"Normally, when we think of tequila, we shoot it and try to drown out the taste with a lime as soon as you can," said Strait as we sipped on our cocktails. "Código is not like that at all."


photo by Marco Torres

That much was certainly true. As I sipped on the reposado on the rocks, I kept waiting for the distinctive bite one expects while drinking tequila, but it never materialized. In its place was a clean, smooth and clear taste down the palate. The añejo was a bit stronger and harsher, but the Origen (their ultra añejo) was by far the best. It was extraordinarily smooth, much like an aged Scotch or premium whiskey.


photo by Marco Torres

Vaughan continued to convey details about their tequila, like how the water used is purified through volcanic rock and the agave was naturally growing. The product is then aged in French white oak Napa cabernet barrels. One of the more innovative bottles is the Código Rosa, which is the first pink tequila I've ever tasted. It was silky smooth and light, with a pleasant finish.

"We strive to be the best, not the biggest," he added.

If only the best is good enough for George Strait, we predict a successful run for Código 1530. We check "YES" on this note.


Photo by Marco Torres


Marco Torres

Marco Torres

When he's not roaming around the city in search of tacos and graffiti, Houston Presscontributor Marco points his camera lens toward the vibrant Houston music scene and beyond. ?

Alabama’s Jeff Cook Has Parkinson’s Disease

Alabama; Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum


 LAUREN JO BLACK • APRIL 11, 2017 - 11:37 AM


Jeff Cook, fiddle player and guitarist for Country Music Hall of Fame group Alabama, has Parkinson’s disease.

The Tennessean exclusively broke the news to fans Tuesday morning (April 11) with a statement from Cook, who has been keeping his diagnosis under wraps for several years.

“This disease robs you of your coordination, your balance, and causes tremors,” the 67-year-old shared, reading aloud from a previously prepared statement. “For me, this has made it extremely frustrating to try and play guitar, fiddle or sing. I’ve tried not to burden anyone with the details of my condition because I do not want the music to stop or the party to end, and that won’t change no matter what. Let me say, I’m not calling it quits but sometimes our bodies dictate what we have to do, and mine is telling me it’s time to take a break and heal.”

Cook and his bandmates, Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry, have kept the news of his condition a secret until now as he plans to take a step back from touring with the award-winning band starting April 29. While he may pop up at a few shows here and there, Cook plans to take time off to focus on his health.

His longtime bandmates are completely supportive of his decision, telling the publication that his microphone will always be set up on stage, whether he is there or not.

“We could hire 10 people, but we can’t replace Jeff Cook in the group Alabama,” Gentry told The Tennessean with tears in his eyes. “Like Jeff said, when this is all you’ve ever known and you love the music, you want to see it go on as long as possible. Alabama has surpassed what any of us ever dreamed of, but I still love to play more or as much as I did (yesterday), and I know Jeff does, too.”

The first signs of the disease came when Cook was unable to cast his fishing lure accurately. Later, he noticed that he was struggling to hit his guitar notes. That’s when he sought help and his doctor decided to test him for Parkinson’s disease. He said he felt “empty” after learning the devastating news.

Since rising to fame in 1980, Alabama has sold more than 75 million albums and singles and earned 43 chart-topping singles. The group holds eight Entertainer of the Year trophies and was crowned the Academy of Country Music Artist of the Decade in 1989.

Other notable celebrities who have suffered from Parkinson’s disease include Michael J. Fox, Robin Williams, and Muhammad Ali.

Album Review: Trace Adkins - “Something’s Going On”


Posted By Matt Bjorke 

Now with Wheelhouse Records, Trace Adkins has selected a collection of songs which suit his rich voice and overall style. 

It’s been a few minuets since Trace Adkins scored a massive hit but that doesn’t mean he’s been idle. Instead, he’s been hard at work making Something’s Going On, a record which is the first of hopefully many more to come from Wheelhouse Records. The album features the strong single “Watered Down,” a slight throwback to 90s and 2000s country where honest stories of confronting aging and life in general were more likely to be heard. The melody is strong and the lyric is relatable. It’s Real. Honest. Country. The title tune “Something’s Going On” showcases the romantic side of Trace Adkins’ music that has often been a staple of his live show with his rich baritone showing nuance and verve in the smoldering baby making song.

There are a few moments of modern country radio influence in “Gonna Make You Miss Me” and “Ain’t Just The Whiskey Talkin’” But they’re still very much Trace Adkins songs even if they feel like they could have been sung by anyone. “Still A Soldier” is a song which any retired military member will relate to while the romantic power ballad “Hang” serves as a strong closing song to the album.

Trace Adkins has nothing to prove to anyone yet he’s still out there making the kind of records fans have long admired from him. While there are a few misses on the record, the majority of Something’s Going On works and makes for the best record he’s released since the height of his Capitol days. Check it out below on Spotify.

Trace Adkins Reveals Which Songs on his New Album Moved Him to Tears

 CHUCK DAUPHIN • APRIL 4, 2017 - 6:10 AM


Trace Adkins; Publicity Photo

Something’s Going On is the twelfth studio album from Trace Adkins dating back to 1996’s Dreamin’ Out Loud. It’s also his first since 2013’s Love Will… Nobody is more surprised by the amount of time between records than Adkins himself. “I didn’t think it had been that long,” he admits to Sounds Like Nashville. “I was surprised by that. It didn’t seem like it had been that long, but we took our time. We didn’t get in a hurry.”

The disc is Adkins’ debut project for his new label home, BBR Music Group / Wheelhouse Records. After self-releasing his holiday album The King’s Gift in 2013, he considered staying on his own. But, the chance to join the growing team at Broken Bow was too good to pass up.

“I’ve jokingly said it, but there’s some truth to it, I had my career exactly where I wanted it, but then I screwed around and got another record deal,” he says, adding that he is hitting the road with the work ethic of a new artist. “Last year was the busiest for me, as far as being gone from home that I’ve had since 1997 or so. We were gone a lot last year between touring and getting back in the radio game and doing all of that stuff. That was the biggest change, going back out and doing all of that again.”

BBR / Wheelhouse has turned out to be a great pairing Adkins, he says. “There was some interest, and management got to talking to me about it. They said the label was excited about it. So, I went and had some meetings with them, and said ‘Let’s do it.’ I was impressed by all the people at Broken Bow. They’re all such good folks, and have been having such big success, it seemed like a good idea.”

The album is full of material that will his longtime fans will undoubtedly embrace, but Adkins says there was some new musical territory on the disc that he was encouraged to tackle by his producer, Mickey Jack Cones. “He challenged me on this record, and I liked that. But, he’s always done that. I’ve been doing vocals with him for years, but this was the first time that he produced the record. There were a few songs that I would tell him ‘I don’t hear my voice on that,’ and he’d say ‘Dude, that’s what’s going to be cool about it – your voice on this song. People aren’t going to expect that. I did it, and ended up being one of my favorite tracks on the record. I had a lot of fun doing this record with him.”

The centerpiece of the album might very well be “Watered Down,” the current single from the project. Adkins says that it’s a lyric that he might not have been able to deliver as strongly early on in his career. “It’s not a song that a young kid can sing. You need to have seen a few sunsets to sing that one, and lived the kind of life that I’ve lived, and get to that point where you realize that you’re going to have to temper your vices. It’s like that old Waylon song, ‘Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This,’ You have to realize that you can’t do that stuff anymore, and you’ve got to calm down a little bit. It doesn’t mean that you’re not as passionate or as crazy as you once were, but you’ve just got to calm down a little bit.”


If – in the words of Brad Paisley – Adkins could write a letter to himself when he broke onto the scene, what would he say? “I’d tell myself to be a little more patient. I think that’s been a problem with me throughout my career,” he says, adding that the pace of the music business differs from his previous career. “Coming from the background that I did, working in the oil field ten years before I did this, it was always zero patience. It was assholes and elbows every day. If your boss came to you and told you to do something, that meant you were in trouble. You should have already done that. That was the background I came from. Everybody was expected to do their job. It was a team sport working on a drilling rig. Everything has to work and is choreographed to make it all work right. When somebody drops the ball, you come down on them. Then, you get in this business, and it’s not like that. There is no sense of urgency in this business, it doesn’t seem. Everything moves at its’ own pace, and no matter what you do, you can’t speed that up. That was hard for me, and it still is to this day. I don’t understand why people aren’t as light on their feet as they should be. You start dealing with the bureaucracy of not just this business, but the corporations that are considering sponsorships or whatever. It just gets frustrating, and tests your patience.”

Adkins’ female following will definitely gravitate toward the saucy title track, which brings to mind some of the 80s records from acts such as Conway Twitty and Charley Pride. “I can hear Conway doing that one,” he admits. “It’s a suggestive song. My records are always going to have those on there. I remember with ‘I Left Something Turned On At Home,’ my mom told me ‘You’re going to have to explain to your two little girls what that song is about.”

One of the more emotional cuts on Something’s Going On is the wistful “Whippoorwills and Freight Trains,” where the singer definitely tapped into some deep emotional waters. “There are a lot of songs on this record that are reflective, and kind of express where I’ve been in my head for the last few years,” he reflects. “There were about three songs on this record where I vividly recall getting halfway through the song as I was doing vocals, and I told Mickey ‘You’re going to have to give me a minute. I’ve got to compose myself,’ because they were tearing me up. That was one of them, along with ‘Watered Down’ and ‘If Only You Were Lonely.’ It’s cool that songs like that can still move me in that way. I’m not jaded to the point that I can’t still be broken down by that kind of poignant song.”

Adkins’ new album, Something’s Going Onis out now.


Willie Nelson Pays Tribute to Merle Haggard with ‘He Won’t Ever Be Gone’



Today, the country music community is marking the one year anniversary of Merle Haggard’s passing. One of his closest friends and fellow country legend Willie Nelson chose this difficult day to release a fitting musical tribute to the Hag.

“He Won’t Ever Be Gone” describes the incredible friendships Merle had with Nelson and many others over his long and incredible career. The song’s simple but powerful video shows footage of Nelson and Merle’s son, Ben Haggard, recording the track. Those moments are set alongside vintage clips of Willie and Merle having a ball in the studio. It’s a reminder of just how much joy Merle brought into a room.

Watch the touching music video below.

Remember When Merle Haggard Released ‘Mama Tried?’


 LAURA HOSTELLEY • APRIL 6, 2017 - 2:24 PM

Today we celebrate what would have been country legend Merle Haggard’s 80th birthday. In honor of the occasion, we’re going all the way back to the release of his iconic hit that has been played in honky tonks all over the country ever since, “Mama Tried.”

“Mama Tried” was the first single off his album of the same name and was released in July 22, 1968. The semi-autobiographical tune tells the story of the pain a young man caused his mother after living a reckless life and ending up in jail.

“I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole/No one could steer me right but Mama tried, Mama tried/Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading, I denied/That leaves only me to blame ’cause Mama tried,” the chorus sings.

Though Haggard was never sent to prison without parole, he did spend some time in the slammer in his youth prior to making it big as a country music star. “Mama Tried” was one of 38 singles that hit the top of the charts for Haggard and won him the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999 in addition to its preservation in the National Recording Registry which was announced just two weeks before his death.

“Mama Tried” is reminiscent of the Bakersfield sound that Haggard had a hand in making popular. The track features heavy steel guitar focus and a rougher sound on the recordings.

Haggard was a staple in country music until his death in April of 2016 due to complications with pneumonia. Though gone, his music is still a heavy influence for artists throughout the genre still today. To honor the legend some of country music’s biggest names are gathering today on his birthday, for a tribute titled ‘Sing Me Back Home.’ Some players on the bill include Kenny ChesneyDierks BentleyWillie NelsonMiranda LambertJohn MellencampDierks BentleySheryl CrowLoretta LynnHank Williams Jr. and Toby Keith

Country Music Hall of Fame to Induct Alan Jackson, Jerry Reed, Don Schlitz

Alan Jackson; Photo Credit: Kristy Belcher

 CHUCK DAUPHIN • APRIL 5, 2017 - 11:44 AM



The 2017 class of the Country Music Hall of Fame were announced to the media this morning at the Hall’s Rotunda in a ceremony presided over by 2007 inductee Vince Gill, and as always, the Hall will add three more members to the list this fall that represent the best in Country Music both today and yesterday – Jerry Reed (Veteran), Alan Jackson (Modern), and Don Schlitz (Songwriter).

Many in the industry have been actively campaigning for Reed to finally receive his due into the hallowed ranks of Hall members. His musical career definitely qualifies as an undeniable success story – on many levels. Born March 20, 1937 in Atlanta, Georgia, Reed told his family – and whoever would listen of his career intentions to become a popular recording artist in Nashville when he grew up. An early recording contract with Capitol Records failed to yield the singer any hits. He served a couple of years in the United States Army, and decided to give the music business another try. This time, he was considerably more successful. His first hit came while still in the service – as a writer, with Brenda Lee’s “That’s All You Got to Do.” Word of his talent soon found its’ way to RCA’s Chet Atkins, who promptly signed the singer to a recording contract.

Reed’s first chart hit for the label was 1967’s “Guitar Man,” which hit No. 53 on the Billboard charts. The record featured his unique guitar-work, which many artists of the day were fans of, including Elvis Presley, who recorded several Reed compositions. Atkins himself would record several albums with the singer, and proclaim him his favorite guitarist. As talented as Reed was, radio was slow to catch on to his style. His first top ten hit was actually on the Hot 100 – 1970’s “Amos Moses,” which narrowly missed the Country top-10. His next release, “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” hit the pinnacle of the Country chart, and also was a top-ten Pop hit. Throughout the 1970s, Reed maintained a popular recording career, as evidenced by his hits such as “Lord, Mr. Ford,” which also hit the top of the charts.

As the 1970s progressed, Reed’s celebrity grew thanks to his roles in several popular movies, such as Burt Reynolds’ Gator. It was another Reynolds vehicle, Smokey and the Bandit, that would make him an A-lister. Playing the role of Cledus “Snowman” Snow, Reed perfect the role of the sidekick, and worked with Reynolds on two sequels to the film. The movies also served as the inspiration behind two of his biggest hits of the era, “East Bound and Down,” and “Texas Bound and Flyin.” He also appeared in many of the era’s popular television series, such as Alice and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?

Reed topped the chart one final time in 1982 with “She Got The Goldmine (and I Got The Shaft),” and remained on the RCA roster through 1985. He teamed up with Atkins one final time on the 1992 album Sneakin’ Around, and was part of the 1998 Old Dogs pairing with Bobby Bare, Mel Tillis, and Waylon Jennings. That same year, he also played a crazed football coach in the Adam Sandler film The Waterboy, his last major film role. A two-time CMA Instrumentalist of the Year winner, Reed died on September 1, 2008 at the age of 71.

Jackson’s induction comes as no surprise to anyone in the industry. Also a native of Georgia (Newnan), Jackson was born October 17, 1958. Growing up, he was a fan of Gospel music. He later became influenced by many of the traditional artists of the day such as Hank Williams, Jr. and George Jones. In 1985, he and his wife Denise moved to Nashville. His first job was in the mailroom at The Nashville Network, but Jackson would soon be getting mail of his own rather than sorting that of the network’s popular personalities, such as Ralph Emery.

Denise helped to connect her husband with Glen Campbell, and that connection would eventually lead to his signing with Arista Records as their flagship artist. His first single, “Blue Blooded Woman,” barely dented the charts, but his second – “Here In The Real World” took him all the way to No. 3. By 1991, he had topped the chart with “I’d Love You All Over Again” – the first of twenty-five chart toppers. Those titles read like a best-of of the past quarter-century: “Don’t Rock The Jukebox,” “Little Bitty,” “Livin’ On Love,” and “Right On The Money.” The singer won the 1995 Entertainer of the Year award from the CMA, and saw no slowdown in the new millennium. Records such as “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” and “Remember When” added to his list of chart-toppers, and he seemingly spoke to a nation during the 9/11 tragedy with his “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning),” which helped him to several more awards – including the 2002 and 2003 Entertainer of the Year prizes from the CMA. Each of his studio albums have hit the top-five on the Country Albums chart, including his latest, 2015’s Angels and Alcohol, which topped the list.

Don Schlitz stands tall as one of Nashville’s most prolific songwriters of all time, beginning in 1978 with “The Gambler,” which Kenny Rogers took to the top. It was the beginning of one of the most successful writing careers in Music City, with trademarks including “When You Say Nothing At All,” “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” “One Promise Too Late,”“On The Other Hand,” and “Strong Enough To Bend.” He was voted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1993, and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in New York City in 2012.

Reed, Jackson, and Schlitz will all be officially inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame during the annual Medallion Ceremony at the Hall this fall. Their inductions bring the total number of inductees to 133.

Luke Bryan Makes Billboard Chart History with ‘Fast’


 KELLY BRICKEY • APRIL 4, 2017 - 10:44 AM


Luke Bryan surely moved “Fast” up the country radio charts and made his way to the No. 1 spot for the 18th time in his career with his most recent single.

Not only did the poignant track notch Bryan his 18th career No. 1 song, it also broke records by making Kill the Lights the only album in the 27-year history of the Billboard Country Airplay chart to produce six No. 1 songs overall. Written by Bryan, Rodney Clawson and Luke Laird, the emotional message resonated with listeners applying the song to their everyday lives moving forward.

“Fast” marked as the follow-up to his other successful singles off of Kill the Lights, including “Kick the Dust Up,” “Move,” “Strip It Down,” “Huntin’, Fishin’, and Lovin’ Every Day,” and “Home Alone Tonight,” featuring Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town.

Using his party time in Vegas as a pre-celebration to the news, Bryan got crazy while in Sin City after his hosting duties at the ACMs by jumping in a pool with pal Thomas Rhett. Although fans could only guess what else went down during that thrilling night, the country star did his genre proud with his hilarious jokes throughout the broadcast.

Bryan will kick off his Huntin’, Fishin’, and Lovin’ Every Day Tour on Friday, May 5, in Nashville.

Two Decades Later, Deana Carter Looks Back on ‘Did I Shave My Legs For This?’


 CHUCK DAUPHIN • APRIL 4, 2017 - 2:44 PM


Twenty years ago, Deana Carter was riding high on the musical seas with her debut album, Did I Shave My Legs For This? Listeners instantly became fans of the five singles that became hits off the disc – “Strawberry Wine,” “We Danced Anyway,” “Count Me In,” “How Do I Get There,” and the humorous title track. But……did you know that there is an interesting back story to the multi-million selling album? As it so happens, the American version of the album was actually the second time that Capitol issued music under Carter’s name.

“I recorded the first edition of the album with Jimmy Bowen and John Guess,” Carter recalled for Sounds Like Nashville. “I wanted to put it out in Europe first, and go tour over there, and get my feet wet. I grew up in Nashville, so being that I was a Nashville native, I wanted to have my chops down.”

Growing up the daughter of legendary studio musician Fred Carter, the singer said she knew she wanted to make the most of her first impression with audiences here in the States. “I felt a lot of pressure, and wanted to be my own artist. I asked Bowen if we could put it out in Europe first. He told me that I would need to ask the head guy in L.A. He said yes, so I went over there with a guitar and a suitcase. I went to London, landed, a tour manager took me, and we went to rehearsal. I was in my twenties, and hadn’t really been away from home, so I was brave about that, looking back. That was the first rendition of ‘Shave’ then we came back to the states, and we recorded a few more songs, kept quite a few of the old ones, and packaged it all together, and that became the album that you have now. It was a long time coming.”

One of those songs was “Strawberry Wine.” Released to Country Radio in August of 1996, it introduced the songstress fans in the United States, and quickly hit the top of the singles chart. It paved the way for the American release of the album, which recently went on to sell over five million copies.

Capitol Nashville has just re-issued the album for the first time on vinyl, and Carter made the Music City media rounds to promote the release. She says that era was one that she will never forget. “It was such an exciting time. Those were the days where we did the big bus tours. You might have ten artists going on each side of the interstate. We’d be on the CB, pull over at a truck stop and hang out together. There was a lot of camaraderie between the artists then. That was really important. There was such love and support behind the music, and that really mattered. When I saw people start to connect with ‘Strawberry Wine,’ it was a great feeling, especially with our live performances being a little more edgy.”

The success of “Strawberry Wine” led to the song being named as the CMA Single of the Year. Carter knows she will never live down the moment when she jumped into the arms of presenter Ricky Skaggs when he announced her name as the winner. “I love it. I hope they show that clip forever. I hope when I’m ninety-five, they’ll give some award, and I can jump up and down again and re-live that moment. It was so unintentional, and was so in the moment,” she recalls fondly.

Though many fans have bought her records over the years, she says the fact that fans still ask about album cuts amazes her, but she considers it a blessing. “I’m blown away that they listened that deep. I’m moved when people bring them up, because they do mean a lot. Sequencing an album for me is as important as the mastering of it and how it sounds. I’ve always been vocal about that process. For people to listen to album cuts, there are so many ‘love’ moments that have gone into those songs that people may never hear. We were blessed to have five singles off of this record, which was – and is – unheard of for a new artist.

And, what is Deana Carter doing these days? “I’ve been doing some movies, and doing some music for those films. That’s been a lot of fun. I’m still out touring. The shows have been going great. The longer time goes by, the more classic the record gets, and the more people come out to hear it,” she says. She also shares that she is working on a new record.

The most recent hit single to come from the Carter catalog was one that she didn’t perform: “You and Tequila,” a 2011 hit for Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter. The song was written by Carter and Matraca Berg. “That was a love fest between me and Matraca. She’s such a great writer and artist. Being a local growing up here, her mother was a singer in the studios, and worked a lot with my dad. We always have had a connection, and I looked up to her so much. She was so young, and took risks as an artist, and she was so different. She was one of the first people I wanted to write with. To have a hit with another artist was very special, and such a blessing, and to have the Nashville writing community to vote the songs as one of the ones they wished they had written. I have that plaque hanging on a wall, that means so much to me, coming from this community, as a songwriter. My first hits were written by other people, and I treasure them just as much, but when I finally got credit as a songwriter from another artist. Seeing the discovery from someone when they realize I wrote that song is very sweet.”

Did I Shave My Legs For This? is available for purchase on vinyl HERE.

Randy Travis Hopes to One Day Record New Music

Pictured R-L: Cole Swindell, Randy Travis, Jake Owen appear at at BeautyKind Unites: Concert for Causes at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas; Photo via Instagram

 LAUREN LAFFER • MARCH 29, 2017 - 6:54 AM


Pictured R-L: Cole Swindell, Randy Travis, Jake Owen appear at at BeautyKind Unites: Concert for Causes at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas; Photo via Instagram

Nearly four years ago, Randy Travis was hospitalized for a viral cardiomyopathy, a disorder than attacks the muscles of the heart. The disorder led to congestive heart failure, resulting in a stroke that left Travis unable to walk or talk. But now, after many intense hours of therapy, the singer is defying the odds and celebrating every milestone he reaches with his wife Mary.

“It’s little things that mean so much when you’re recovering from a stroke,” Mary told CNN at this past weekend’s BeautyKind Unites: Concert for Causes at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. “We never know when the end point is but we’re happy with every little change, every little sound, every little word, every new task.”

Travis has one of those milestones recently, when he looked up and read a sign while he and Mary were driving home from a vacation.

“We were coming out of Memphis and overhead was a sign, ‘Nashville’ and he was over in the passenger seat and went, ‘woo hoo’ and he pointed up and he said, ‘Nashville,'” recalled Mary. “I just sat over there in the driver’s seat and cried because I knew then that he read that sign, and he recognized the word, and then he said it. That’s a huge thing. Huge for us.”

Listening to music has played an integral part in his recovery, but it was only recently that he was able to listen to the songs he had recorded himself.

“Music is his soul,” she explained. “It was really hard for him soon after the stroke to listen to his music. I remembered when I first put his music on, he cried and I thought, ok, we’re not ready for that.”

After some time, Travis was able to listen to his old songs, including “Diggin’ Up Bones,” “He Walked On Water,” as well as gospel music.

While he’s still in recovery and regaining his speech, Travis does have plans to one day record new music.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he told the outlet eagerly.

Garth To Play Rodeo Houston in 2018


By Joey Guerra


Updated 8:18 pm, Thursday, March 16, 2017

Garth Brooks is finally coming back to RodeoHouston.

The country superstar will open and close the 2018 RodeoHouston season at NRG Stadium, playing Feb. 27 and March 18.

He appeared briefly in person Thursday at the Stars Over Texas Stage just outside the carnival rides.

"I thought we were opening or closing. I didn't know we were doing both until they said that," he said.

"One's gotta outdo the other one somehow. We'll do something different (at each show)."

A big crowd gathered even before a black SUV pulled up to the gates. Brooks sported a ball cap, beard and boots. He took time to answer questions from every reporter and posed for selfies with giddy fans.

Brooks previously played RodeoHouston twice, way back in 1991 and 1993.

"This is where it all started for us," he said. "This was the first place we wore the wireless headsets to get to the people and stayed with it the rest of our career because of this show right here."

Brooks said "raising up babies" and his own successful solo tours kept him from coming back. But when the invitation came again, he couldn't say no.

Garth Brooks performs at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in the Astrodome, Feb. 22, 1993.  Photo: Ben DeSoto, Houston Chronicle

"We were all freed up. I said, 'I'm not gonna bat an eye at this.' I wanted this so bad," he said.

"They called every year. They've been so sweet about it."

Earlier in the day, Brooks tweeted, "On my way to Austin, via Houston? Hmmmm. I have an announcement to make! love, g #AskMeHowIKnow."

Rodeo Houston Concert Reviews

Chris Stapleton performs at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, at NRG Park, Thursday, March 9, 2017, in Houston. ( Karen Warren / Houston Chronicle )

Sweaty soul pours out of Chris Stapleton

By Joey Guerra


Updated 11:27 pm, Thursday, March 9, 2017


The moment Chris Stapleton tore into "I Was Wrong" Thursday night inside NRG Stadium, you could almost feel RodeoHouston shift into the next gear.

The season has so far seen solid sets from Texas country stalwarts Aaron Watson and Cody Johnson. Both brought energy and charm to the revolving stage.

KEEPING IT COUNTRY: Cody Johnson plays at RodeoHouston's Armed Forces Appreciation Day

But Stapleton was something different, a dynamic mix of style, genres and star power. It set a sky-high bar for the rest of the month's shows.

"I Was Wrong" boiled over with a sweaty soul, pouring out of Stapleton and his band like hot wax. It was the kind of thing that makes you close your eyes, tap your foot and settle into a mean frown.

He shared gorgeous harmonies with wife Morgane Hayes during "You Are My Sunshine," turning the song into an aching plea.

Every moment mattered on that stage. The southern rock snarl of "Midnight Train to Memphis" (recorded with his old band The SteelDrivers). The searing interplay between band members during "Outlaw State of Mind." The sweet and wistful melody of radio hit "Traveler."

DREAMS COME TRUE: Aaron Watson makes his RodeoHouston debut 

Stapleton opened with a bit of "Houston" by Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers Band, which gave way to his own "Nobody to Blame." The screens behind him flickered with an American flag and a bald eagle.

"Unbelievable. I've never seen anything like this in my life," he said to the crowd of 72,803.

He debuted a jangly new song, "The Second One to Know," from a new album due in May. It was the first time he'd performed it live. Set closer "Tennessee Whiskey," of course, was a crowd favorite.

Beyond the whiskey-soaked voice and powerful lyrics, what stood out about Stapleton was his sincerity. He seemed genuinely humbled by the size and reaction of the crowd.

MAYBE NEXT YEAR? Chron reporter loses rodeo Celebrity Goat Milking Competition for the seventh year in a row

He said that the first time a crowd sang a song back to him was in Houston.

"Was it Warehouse Live?" he asked, referencing a 2015 show. "It almost knocked us down it was so powerful to hear people singing the songs that we were playing."

That song was "Fire Away," and when Stapleton sang it Thursday, he asked the crowd to hold up their phones and sing along. The stadium lit up and was filled with voices.

"Y'all gon' make me cry now," he said. "I love you so much."

Texas singer keeps it country at RodeoHouston's Armed Forces Appreciation Day

By Joey Guerra

Rodeo replacement makes the most of his opportunity

Cody Johnson performs at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, at NRG Park, Wednesday, March 8, 2017, in Houston. ( Karen Warren / Houston Chronicle )

Cody Johnson said he'd waited his entire life to play the RodeoHouston stage. But it wasn't supposed to happen this year.

Johnson was a last-minute replacement for Old Dominion, who dropped out Monday because of a death in a band member's family.

ON THE BIG STAGE: Aaron Watson makes his RodeoHouston debut

The former rodeo rider and prison guard made the most of the opportunity and turned NRG Stadium into the world's biggest Texas honky tonk.

Following Aaron Watson's solid Tuesday show, it was a Texas country double play.

Wednesday was also Armed Forces Appreciation Day, and several military personnel in uniform were peppered throughout the audience. Johnson took time to salute them and first responders.

"I honestly don't care who you voted for. We still live in the greatest country in the entire world," he said.

CAN'T MISS: 7 RodeoHouston acts you need to see this year

Johnson was born in Sebastapol, a speck on the eastern shore of the Trinity River, and grew up in Huntsville. He's made a name for himself throughout Texas on the strength of a traditional sound.

"Do you still believe in country music?" he asked the crowd of 60,011. Cue the roars of approval.

Johnson's sixth album, "Gotta Be Me," was released in August and continued to expand his sound far beyond Texas borders. It debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's Country Albums chart and at No. 11 on the all-genre Billboard 200.

He has a raspy mumble of a voice that at times echoed George Jones. It adds a layer of sincerity to his songs, including "I Ain't Going Nowhere Baby," "Ride With Me" and "The Only One I Know (Cowboy Life)."

He was backed by a tight band of Texans who seemed equally excited to be there.

The wry word play of "Grass Stains" and "Me and My Kind" could be radio hits for Brad Paisley. But the Lone Star singalong Johnson inspired during "Texas Kind of Way" was entirely his own


Aaron Watson Opens RodeoHouston as the Underdog That Roared

Aaron Watson.  Photo by Eric Sauseda




As country music’s most unlikely, and likable, newly minted star, the only real danger Aaron Watson is likely to face on the road ahead is letting his biography overshadow his material. Luckily for him, both sides of the ledger are pretty compelling: Once rejected by Nashville for his lack of “commercial appeal,” as he told Tuesday’s RodeoHouston crowd in his debut on the revolving stage, Watson retreated to his native Texas, where he played gig after gig until 2015’s The Underdog became the first independently released album by a solo male artist to top Billboard’s Country Albums chart. He’s back there this week with new LP Vaquero, still without a label or major distribution deal, only kept out of the top spot this time by the mighty Little Big Town

Seriously, the people who made Friday Night Lights — either the film or the series — ought to think about commissioning a screenplay on this guy. Watson is a red-state archetype without the ungainly political baggage: a happily married father of three who stands tall for faith, family and first responders. (It really was First Responders Day at the rodeo, made all the more poignant by the passing of Houston Fire Department Captain "Iron Bill" Dowling a few hours before Watson took the stage.) Watson, too, has seen real tragedy in his life, losing a daughter at a young age, the genesis of The Underdog’s “Bluebonnets (Julia’s Song).” Artists like him aren’t necessarily supposed to be successful in 2017; the world has long grown too cynical, or so we are led to believe.


Photo by Eric Sauseda


And yet the reason Aaron Watson sells records is not because of his backstory, or at least not completely. Trends come and go within country music, all too often at the expense of art, but somehow real and honest songwriting endures; the connection a song like “Bluebonnets” forges with an audience, whether instantly or long-term, is simply impossible to manufacture. Tuesday, Watson told the crowd he wasn’t sure he could get through it without breaking down, but rather than tears, the only thing it provoked was the firefly effect seen in thousands of smartphone lights.

Yet as goosebumpy as it was, to single out the most emotional moment of Watson’s set would not be entirely fair to the rest of the songs, because in the dizzying amount of territory he covered in about 45 minutes, nothing felt anything less than 100 percent authentic. Other songs touched on rodeo life (“God Loves Cowboys”), disabled veterans like his dad (“Raise Your Bottle”) and windows-down summertime highway music (“Outta Style”). If that last one is not blaring from every pickup from Watson's hometown of Amarillo to the shores of Lake Ontario two months from now, there really is no hope for commercial country radio.

Photo by Eric Sauseda

Elsewhere, the self-admitted lifelong George Strait fan’s “That Look” carried the same sly delivery as Strait’s vintage ’80s valentines. The introduction to “Fence Post” went on a little long, but the song itself stood as a fine example of what a powerful motivator a chip on the shoulder can be; besides, a punch line like “I’d rather be a fence post in Texas than the king of Tennessee” is worth a little extra buildup. And if he wants to crank it up with his band, Watson can do that just fine as well, as on the supercharged Texas swing of “Real Good Time” and the Pat Green-style rocker “Getaway Truck.” He also had some fun using NRG Stadium’s closed-captioning board Tuesday to “score some points” with his wife. 

As someone who admitted to waiting his whole life for his turn on the rodeo stage, Watson deserves more than a one-and-done shot. The announced crowd of 51,586 may have been on the modest side, but that’s still nothing to sneeze at, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performer at RodeoHouston more in tune with the audience in the stands. Tuesday, his modern-throwback aesthetic was probably best articulated in “Like They Used To,” which extols the virtues of fried chicken, Patsy Cline and John T. Floore’s Country Store, and by extension artists who slog through years of lousy gigs until one day they’re thanking their kids for skipping school to come see daddy play at the Houston rodeo. They don’t make ’em like they used to, all right, except for when they still do.

Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.