Beautiful tribute from James Taylor

October 12, 2015 at 8:50 pm
James Taylor (Boston Herald)

James Taylor (Boston Herald)

James Taylor is a master wordsmith.  When his mother Gertrude “Trudy” Taylor passed away this weekend at the age of 94, he wrote a beautiful tribute.  You’ll feel like you knew her when you read this:

“I’m deeply grateful for all the kind words of sympathy and condolence that people have been sending in these past two days.

Gertrude Woodard Taylor (1921-2015) was the daughter of a Massachusetts fisherman and the wife of a North Carolina doctor. She devoted her life to her marriage and her five children, four boys and a girl, all born in the span of six years between 1947 and 1953.

She raised us in the home she built in Chapel Hill, NC and, since she never lost her Maritime New England roots, made an annual summer migration to Martha’s Vineyard Island.

Her two homes, in Chapel Hill and Chilmark, were works of art into which she channeled her constant creativity. But she was also an accomplished painter, a weaver (spinning her own yarn), a photographer, a distinguished horticulturist and a killer cook, whose talents in the kitchen were celebrated by anyone fortunate enough to sit at her table. This included the illustrious James Beard who introduced the world to her “Chilmark Bouillabaisse.” Everything she put her hand to became a work of art.

As the wife of the Dean of Medicine at the University of North Carolina, she shouldered the burden of official hostess with a warmth and sophistication that was an invaluable asset to my father, as he built a world-renowned School of Medicine and assembled its faculty.

She ended her days in her simple, elegant cottage overlooking her beloved Stonewall Pond, surrounded by dear friends and four generations of family. As she liked to say: “Life is finite, but love lasts forever…”

Isn’t that beautiful?  He’s a national treasure, and if you know his life story, you know there were some bumps along the road, especially when he was a young man.  No doubt his parents were accomplished people.  His love and admiration for his mother are quite evident in those words he wrote.

Posting this story gives me a golden opportunity to share a James Taylor song.  I could go for one of his many hits that you’ve heard over and over, and I couldn’t go wrong.  We all love “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Shower the People,” and all his other familiar tunes.  So let me pull this one out of the hat.  It’s called “Secret o’ Life.”  The opening and closing line says it all: “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.”  In honor of his mother, of whom James said, “Everything she put her hand to became a work of art,” here’s a wonderful JT song.  I’ll bet she liked this one.

The story behind the picture

October 9, 2015 at 10:46 pm

Sometimes you see a picture, and you just want to find out more, right?  For me, this is one of those pictures.  Yes, there are four big guys in this picture, but just try to take your eyes off the little girl’s face.  It’s face of a child who had been through a lot, but was comforted and cheered by four heroes.

Senior Firefighter Sean Mayfield, Lt. Brian Pemberton, Firefighter Chris Precise, and Capt. Michael Davenport greet their new friend

Senior Firefighter Sean Mayfield, Lt. Brian Pemberton, Firefighter Chris Precise, and Capt. Michael Davenport greet their new friend

The Chattanooga Fire Department posted this photo on social media, saying “On Monday, firefighters with Squad 19 based in Hixson (Green Shift) responded to a wreck, and one of the victims was this little girl. While getting her out of the car and taking care of her, she told them it was her birthday. She was then transported by Hamilton County EMS to Children’s Hospital at Erlanger.

On their next shift (Wednesday), they decided to go visit her, and they brought birthday presents, because they knew she wasn’t having a very good day on her birthday. She was very excited to see the firefighters again!”

The Fire Department went on to explain that this was not a staged, assigned public relations photo. The firefighters decided to do this on their own.  I didn’t doubt that a bit, but I did want to know more about this visit.

Firefighter Chris Precise told me that the little girl “stayed calm at the scene of the accident.”  He added, “Car accidents are not easy for anybody, and we were really touched by her strength while we were sitting, waiting for the ambulance to arrive.” He told me on that Monday, her birthday, the family was headed to Chuck E. Cheese.  “That’s what really got us, ” he said.  Family members tell me the little girl’s name is Taraji E’Vay Hyatte, and she turned six that very day.

The firefighters had Taraji on their minds for the next couple of days, so they checked on her when they next reported for work on Wednesday.  At first, they thought she was home, so they planned to visit her there.  A family member told them she was still in the hospital, so they changed their plans. They went shopping, buying her a stuffed plush pillow with stickers, and some coloring books.

They knocked on the door, and then came the moment they live for.  The biggest smile you ever saw.  She was watching cartoons with her grandparents in the hospital room, but now she was transfixed on her four visitors.  “She was thrilled to get that bag from us,” Chris said. “She started pulling that tissue paper.  She couldn’t wait to see what was inside.”

Firefighter Sean Mayfield told me, “We didn’t expect all the attention we got.  We just wanted to make a little girl feel better.” Her relatives on Facebook tell me she’s still in the hospital, but is expected to recover.

The firefighters in the photo are also EMTs. They’re the first responders who get called to all sorts of incidents, large and small.

On a personal note, let me say this.  The praise I am sharing in this story is in no way confined to Chattanooga, Tennessee.  It is universal.  Recently, while we were out of town, a family member required treatment from first responders. Thankfully, it did not turn out to be a big deal.  I was so impressed with the EMTs.  Their compassion, professionalism and patience were amazing.  Their calm, reassuring manner lightened our load considerably.  For us, fortunately, this was a rare occurrence.   But these men and women utilize these talents all day, every day.  I can’t thank them enough.

As Chris Precise told me, “We have one focus, and that’s patient care.  We have feelings like everyone else, but when you’re on an accident scene, you can’t let your emotions get the best of you.”  As a team, they’re a calming, healing influence.

Chris said that it’s not unusual for someone to stop by the fire hall to thank them for a rescue, or an emergency call they answered years ago.  “That means a lot to us,” he said. “People come up to us in restaurants and say the nicest things.  It makes us feel special.”

On Facebook, Mildred Walker wrote, “It’s great to know that there are still people in the world that have a caring heart for someone other than themselves. May God continues to bless those firefighters and their families.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Billy Joe Royal 1942-2015

October 7, 2015 at 1:52 am
Billy Joe Royal

Billy Joe Royal

I’m glad I finally got to meet Billy Joe Royal.  In 2013, he attended the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame banquet to honor his friend Tommy Jett, the Chattanooga deejay who was being inducted that night.  Like everybody else who ever met him for the first time, I told him how much I enjoyed his music, and how those songs played a big part in my youth.  For what had to be the ten-millionth time, he smiled and told me how much that meant to him.

He had those big hits in the 1960s, and most of them were “oldies” to me by the time I really started paying attention to the radio.  Later he had a few country hits in the 1980s, and since he was based in North Carolina (raised in Valdosta, Ga), he often played Chattanooga clubs and Lake Winnie.  In fact, “TJ the DJ” was usually on hand to introduce him.  Just a few weeks ago, he was the headliner at the Whitwell Summer Fest.

Billy Joe has passed away at the age of 73.  In his honor, let me play you his three biggest hits.

First, “Down in the Boondocks,” probably his best known song, a top-ten hit in the mid-60s.  I wonder how many millions of guys identified with those great Joe South-written words about being from the wrong side of the tracks: “Down in the boondocks, people put me down ’cause that’s the side of town I was born in….I love her, she loves me,  but I don’t fit in her society, Lord have mercy on the boy from down in the boondocks….”

Billy Joe also played on some of the WFLI “Jet-FLI Spectaculars” at Memorial Auditorium, which featured about a half-dozen hot recording acts on the same bill, for about 3 bucks!  He always sang his other 1965 hit, “I Knew You When.”  I heard it about a week ago on Sirius XM 60s on 6, and thought to myself, “I haven’t heard this one in a while.”  It sure sounded good. Go ahead, sing along: “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah….I knew you when…”

Finally, his controversial hit from late 1969, “Cherry Hill Park.”  This one still gets played on some greatest-hits stations, like Chattanooga’s 95.3 Big FM. It sounds relatively innocent now, but back in ’69, some stations wouldn’t play it because of suggestive lyrics like, “Mary Hill loved to ride on the merry-go-round….All the guys got eager eyes watchin’ Mary go round…Now, in the daytime Mary Hill was a teaser….Come the night she was such a pleaser….Mary Hill was such a thrill after dark,  in Cherry Hill Park.”

I’m glad WFLI and WGOW were brave enough to play it, because I thought it was cool.  Sure, it was a little naughty, but after several months of “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies, maybe radio needed a little spice!  And besides, most of us from that era turned out okay, right?  Thank you Billy Joe, for a great career and some unforgettable radio hits.  Thanks for being nice to your fans too.  I know this one appreciates it.





Thank you Michelle Heron

October 6, 2015 at 4:58 pm

I hear it every day.  “You news media people are too liberal,” or “too conservative,” or “too negative,” “too sensational,” “dishonest,” misleading,” and many others.  We’re hiding the truth, we’re telling too much, we’re stirring the pot, we’re missing the real story….we’re just plain evil.

I’m used to it by now.  We’re human, we make mistakes, and despite our best efforts, I’m not 100% proud of our output each day.  Unlike my younger days, when there were three networks, a couple of wire services and a few weekly news magazines, today’s news media is crowded with names like Huffington, Bloomberg, Buzzfeed, Inside Edition, Fox News, MSNBC, TMZ and the rest.  Some are trustworthy, others not so much. Some people even get their news from Facebook posts, which is really frightening.

So, like it or not, those of us who work in news are lumped in the same barrel with folks who aren’t good journalists, and in some cases not very good people.  That’s why I’m not surprised when I contact someone about doing a story, and their immediate response is, “Are you going to make us look bad?”

That’s why I’m sharing a brief story that was written by Michelle Heron, a young reporter who has worked the night shift at WRCB for about a year now.  Monday, she was sent to interview officials in Meigs County about a mold problem in the courthouse.  Register of Deeds Janie Stiner agreed to be interviewed, and the story ran Monday night on the late news.  That’s all in a day’s work.  But for those of you who think news reporters are heartless and uncaring, please red Michelle’s account of what happened before the interview.  I work with some good people, even if they are part of that “evil media” you hear about all the time. Michelle will take it from here:

Michelle Heron

Michelle Heron

Some people just touch your heart.  I met this woman today on a story. She had about an hour of notice that I was coming.  Within minutes of meeting her, I knew she was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met.  She was extremely nervous about being interviewed, which is normal.  She didn’t know what to expect: the types of questions, and she didn’t want to look bad on TV.

She said, “People are going to think I look dumb with this pink streak in my hair.” While I thought it was a little odd for someone of her age to have pink hair, I quickly told her she had nothing to worry about, as I was adjusting the camera.  It was at that moment, she opened up.

Janie Stiner

Janie Stiner

“It’s October,” she said. “I’m doing this for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  I’m fighting breast cancer.”  Suddenly, the settings on my camera were no longer important.  I couldn’t believe she was worried about what others would think, with all of the other things she’s facing.

The more I listened to her story, I heard what she wasn’t saying: the struggles, the fears and the pain that come with the diagnosis.

I hope this woman and the thousands of others facing the same battle never feel embarrassed for what they are going through. Rock that pink hair, Janie.  Never be embarrassed about your fight.

Best touchdown of the week: Logan Pickett of Heritage High!

October 3, 2015 at 3:27 pm

loganpickett2This is an easy one!  Kudos to the Heritage Generals of Catoosa County and the state’s top-ranked Cartersville Hurricanes.  Friday night at Heritage, with Cartersville leading 42-0 near the end of the game, a beautiful thing happened.  Logan Pickett scored the Generals’ first and only touchdown of the night. Look at that photo.  Certainly, the Heritage kids are happy.  But do you see # 4 for Cartersville, running back Tiamon Pennyman?  He had a great night, but it looks like his happiest moment was watching Logan score for Heritage!

Heritage Coach EK Slaughter told me, “Logan IS HHS. He is a selfless servant that helps football, basketball, and tennis. He loves our students and ALWAYS has a smile on his face! He never misses a day and never asks for anything in return. He is a great example for our young men on how to have a great attitude and love others around you. He is GREAT!” Logan was brought into the program by former coach Tim James, and Slaughter says, “We’re blessed to have him.”

18-year-old Logan is autistic, and serves as a Generals team manager (football and basketball), making sure the players get plenty of water.  From the reactions I’ve seen on Facebook, he is certainly Heritage’s most beloved student.  On the sidelines, he loves to get fans fired up, saying, “I like to act a little wild.” Friends describe him as a huge Tennessee Vols fan.  He loves Peyton Manning, and Peyton’s current team, the Denver Broncos.


loganpickettHis mother Danielle wrote this on the team’s page:  “For those of you who don’t know who this is, you are missing out! This is HHS Footballs biggest fan and tonight he is a player….. #7 Logan Pickett. He scored our only touchdown of the night against Cartersville. He is an amazing young man with the biggest heart of anyone I have ever met. He is a senior this year and tonight he was a captain for our football team, but he will forever be captain of our hearts. We love you Logan Pickett.”

From Gillis-Gilliland Titus: “There are no words to describe the abundance of emotions going through our hearts as we watch our #7 run that touchdown!!! Logan you brought the house down, not a dry eye I don’t think! You are such an inspiration to all those who are blessed to know you, you’ve touched so many lives!”

Michael Lea summed it up well:  “Sometimes football games are more than just games. Sometimes the scoreboard does not tell the story. Sometimes what appears to be a defeat is in fact still a great victory. That is what you see here… a unified gain void of rivalry and contention but rich in sportsmanship and love. Love not for winning a game but for the triumph of the human spirit and giving to another. Way to go Heritage Generals… Way to go Cartersville Canes… Way to go Logan Pickett!

Next time you go to a Heritage football or basketball game, be sure to cheer for the Generals, but especially for Logan Pickett.  He’s the heart and soul of that school, and now he’s added a touchdown to his long list of achievements.  I’m hoping for some big wins by the Vols and Broncos this weekend, in honor of Logan!

Happy 80th to “The Killer” Jerry Lee Lewis

September 30, 2015 at 1:33 am
Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, with Elvis Presley at the piano. Sun Records, Dec. 4, 1956

Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, with Elvis Presley at the piano. Sun Records, Dec. 4, 1956

Imagine being a fly on the wall at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee on Dec. 4, 1956.  In the iconic photo above, you see Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.  Elvis had already hit it big that year, while his three friends were still on the way up.  As their legends grew, they would come to be known as “The Million Dollar Quartet,” and there’s even a successful musical that documents the era (it will be in Chattanooga next March).

If anyone had placed bets that day on which of them would still be standing (and performing) in 2015, I doubt anyone would have put their money on Jerry Lee.  Even then, at 21, he was a wild child who lived fast.  Within a few months, he would have the two big hits for which he’s best known: “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire.” Mild by today’s standards, they were scandalous in the innocent 1950s.  You’ve seen what Miley Cyrus does on network TV.  In 1957, many stations banned Jerry Lee’s first hit because of words like “Now, let’s get down real low one time now, Shake, baby, shake, All you gotta do, honey, is kinda stand in one spot, Wiggle around just a little bit, that’s when you got it, yeah.”  Nobody would blink an eye these days!

If you were around then, or if you’ve seen the 1989 movie “Great Balls of Fire” with Dennis Quaid, you know the rest.  He married his 13-year-old cousin Myra in 1958 (he was 23 at the time), and that didn’t go over well.  Radio stopped playing his songs, and by the time folks forgot about the marriage scandal, the Beatles had taken over the American music scene, and Jerry Lee’s style of music had faded.  He later switched to country music, and never quit playing the clubs.

His personal life, well chronicled in Rick Bragg’s recent book, “Jerry Lee Lewis, His Own Story” has been controversial to say the least.  Seven wives, six children, and lots of tragedy.  Two of the children died young, and a few of the wives died, let’s say, mysteriously.  I highly recommend Bragg’s book.  I doubt you’ll ever read about anyone who’s had a more interesting life, in a chaotic kind of way.

Here are my two favorite Jerry Lee stories.  One is about the origin of his nickname, “The Killer.”  I always thought it had something to do with style of piano playing.  Nobody ever said he was a piano’s best friend.  As you’ll see in the video below (or the ones linked above), he punished those keys.  But actually, the nickname comes from his school days.  According to Bragg’s book, Jerry Lee showed up for school one fall day, and sat down in the 7th grade classroom.  There was one problem: he had failed 6th grade.  The teacher, a football coach, promptly told him to go to 6th grade.  Jerry Lee refused, and the teacher picked him up.  Jerry Lee grabbed the teachers’ necktie, and pulled hard.  It took two football players to drag him off.  While the teacher gasped for breath, Jerry Lee was delivered to the school office.  There was another boy waiting to be disciplined, but Jerry Lee’s case was more serious.  The principal suspended him for two weeks, saying “Son, we can’t have you killing teachers.”  As he was leaving the school, the other boy said, “See ya later, Killer.”  So now, you know.

The other story has been told many times, and it’s attributed to various sources who say it happened in various places.  Jerry Lee’s act was quite energetic, and he always believed he should be the headliner on a multi-act show, because he worked the crowd into a frenzy.  However, some other big names thought they were just as big, so they would insist on closing the shows too.  One night, depending on which story you believe, Chuck Berry, James Brown, or somebody demanded they close the show.  Jerry Lee argued, but eventually gave in.  He agreed to do his show while the superstar headliner waited in the wings.  As usual, Jerry Lee played the piano relentlessly, with both hands, his fists, and his feet.  During his closing number, with the crowd on their feet, he set the piano on fire.  As he walked off the stage amid screams and cheers, he looked at the headliner and said, “Let’s see you follow that, pal!”  Except he didn’t really say “pal.”  Just think of the most  obscene, colorful expletive you can insert in that sentence, and you’ll get the idea.

Happy Birthday, Killer.  You’ve outlived your old Sun Records buddies, and that’s quite a feat.  Click and watch this unappreciated, underplayed Jerry Lee hit.  It’s Jerry Lee’s version of a Ray Charles song that had charted years earlier.  I like both versions, but this one’s largely forgotten.  Here’s a video of his 1969 TV performance, that shows Jerry at his best.  Enjoy!


Don’t believe (or re-post) everything you see on Facebook

September 28, 2015 at 11:04 pm


I see the Facebook “just saw it on Channel 13 Facebook privacy message” hoax is back. Just like the “too good to be true” $200 off” coupons, please don’t believe this stuff. Facebook can be a wonderful thing, but unfortunately, it’s also a breeding ground for false rumors and hoaxes.  Among the many Channel 13s in our great land, this one in Salt Lake City has posted yet again:

“Like last time, the copyright and privacy message is a hoax.

Officials are reminding Facebook users posting a statement will not protect your copyright and privacy rights on the social media site.

According to, “Facebook users cannot retroactively negate any of the privacy or copyright terms they agreed to when they signed up for their Facebook accounts nor can they unilaterally alter or contradict terms instituted by Facebook simply by posting a contrary legal notice on their Facebook walls.”

So what does this mean for you?

No need to copy and paste the privacy statement on Facebook.

It will have no bearing on your privacy.”

Poor Channel 13.  They get the blame for a Facebook hoax someone started years ago, that keeps returning from the dead.

And if that one isn’t enough, this one is popping up on Facebook today:

“Now it’s official! It has been published in the media. Facebook has just released the entry price: $5.99 to keep the subscription of your status to be set to “private”. If you paste this message on your page, it will be offered free (I said paste not share) if not tomorrow, all your posts can become public. Even the messages that have been deleted or the photos not allowed. After all, it does not cost anything for a simple copy and paste.”

Here’s the real story, from Hoax-Slayer:  “Facebook has no plans to start charging users for normal access to the network. In fact, any such plan would likely be an act of financial suicide for the company. And, even if they did have such a plan, they certainly would not impose the absurd and ridiculous condition that users must pass on a silly status message in order to keep a free account.

So, if one of these nonsensical messages comes your way, please do not further clutter the Internet by reposting it. And, do your friend a favor by gently pointing out that he or she has fallen for a hoax.”

I’ll say it again, because it can’t be said enough: “Just because you saw it on Facebook, doesn’t mean it’s true.”  You are welcome, and encouraged to share this post.  It just might save someone further embarrassment!

UPDATE JULY 27, 2015

During the past few days, a “$50 off any $55 purchase at Family Dollar Stores” coupon has popped up on Facebook.  Again, let me say that Family Dollar would go out of business in a matter of minutes if they started giving merchandise away.  Here is the statement on their page: “Unfortunately we have been notified that there is a fake Family Dollar coupon making the rounds on social media. Please see below for a sample. This coupon is not real and will not be accepted at any of our stores.”


If you’re on Facebook, you see all kinds of posts: birthdays, baby pics, get-well wishes, proms, pets, and jokes, to name a few.  Facebook is a great place to re-connect with friends, and stay in touch with relatives, often in far away places.  It’s been great for me.  It has helped me sell some books, and it just might be how you discovered my blog.  There is a downside, however.

Unfortunately, those same scammers who once ripped you off in person, or by mail, can now do it online.  Facebook gives them a golden opportunity.  They can hack into your account, take over your identity, and even trick you into giving up personal information.  They can adopt fake identities, and hide behind anonymity as they say and do cruel things.

Right now there is a viral post on Facebook that I wish would go away.  Those who spread them have good intentions, but they lead nowhere.  The coupon, promises you $100 off any purchase of $120 or more at Publix.  Let’s stop right here, and think about it for a moment.  How long would Publix stay in business if everyone on Facebook marched in there today, made a $120 purchase, and paid for it with a twenty-dollar bill?

Here is the statement from Publix that they have posted repeatedly on their own Facebook page:  “There is a fraudulent Publix coupon circulating on social media that states “$100 off your purchase of $120 or more”.  This is not supported by Publix and this coupon is not valid at any of our locations. We recommend not participating in the promotion or providing your personal information. Thank you for your patience as we investigate this situation.”

“If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”  Words to live by.

Hopefully, these false postings will soon disappear from social media.  Only to be replaced by something just as bad, or worse.  I’ll add my own piece of advice: “Just because you saw it on Facebook, doesn’t mean it’s true.” You’re welcome to share this story.  But please don’t share fake coupons on Facebook.


Robert Starnes: “Fat Man to Iron Man”

September 27, 2015 at 3:44 am


For many years, I’ve known a Hamilton County Sheriff’s Officer named Robert Starnes.  It’s a good thing I keep up with him on Facebook, or I wouldn’t know him if he walked into my living room.  I used to see Robert when he weighed 425 pounds.  Those days are gone.  He is a lean, mean Ironman machine, preparing to compete in the big event on Sunday in Chattanooga.  This is the result of a pledge he made to his daughter Jessie, who died on March 19, 2008 at the age of 9, the victim of a sudden brain aneurysm.  Shortly before her death, she told him she wished he would lose some weight and get healthy.  Seven years have passed, and almost 200 pounds are gone. Let him tell the story:

“Sunday, I will finally honor a promise I made to my 9 year old deceased daughter, Jessie Anna to get healthy just before her death in 2008. It’s been 7 years in the making!!! But, I now feel that Daddy has finally arrived! Special thanks to my daughter, Jennifer Lynn Starnes,  my son, Josh and my mom, Jackie for putting up with me & my Ironman training, over the past 11 months! I am So thankful for everyone who has supported & encouraged me on this journey.

To the many Ironman athletes and those in training for Ironman! I am truly humbled by you for  continually lifting me up along this journey! I love and appreciate each and everyone of you! I will be racing for Emily’s Power For a Cure Ironman Team, Tennessee Donor Services & all fallen law enforcement officers, who have died in the line of duty.

As always, MY RACE, MY PACE!”

Robert, you are a hero to me.  In your personal life, as well as your professional life, you strive to turn negatives into positives.  As you’ve said, Jessie was an organ donor, and others live today because of her.  I’m thankful you’re an articulate spokesman for that cause, and and proud that you have continued to support her school, Wallace A. Smith Elementary.  You’ve said many times that you’re still a work in progress, as are we all.  But unlike too many of us, you have made a commitment to yourself, your family and your community.  A commitment that has required great determination and more than a little sacrifice.  Thank you for being a friend, a role model and an inspiration.  You’re not just an Ironman.  You’re a good man.


Welcome back, Alabama!

September 25, 2015 at 11:07 pm

I’ve written my thoughts about the Alabama band below.  First, here’s a video I’ve posted of a song from their new album “Southern Drawl,” called “I Wanna Be There.”  According to Randy Owen, it almost didn’t make the album.  In fact, it was the last song to be chosen, and is the last song on the CD.  I think it may be their best song since “Angels Among Us.”  If you’ve ever been a parent or a child, and that should include everybody, this one’s for you.  Fair warning: your eyes may get a little misty.

Can it really be 35 years since some good ol’ boys from Fort Payne took the country music world by storm? In 1980, country music was at a weird intersection. Longtime stars like Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty and George Jones were competing with the more youthful sounds of the Urban Cowboy era. Mickey Gilley and Kenny Rogers were topping the charts, with George Strait and Lee Greenwood on the way.

The charts were dominated by solo acts, with the exception of the Statler Brothers and Oak Ridge Boys, established groups that had been around for decades.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere came an “overnight success” that was actually years in the making. Randy Owen, Jeff Cook and Teddy Gentry were literally country cousins who had played the bars and clubs for years under the name Wild country.

Throughout the 1970s the cousins, backed by various drummers, took all sorts of odd jobs to help keep their musical dreams alive. At nights and on weekends, they would back up big-name artists who came through the area, and eventually relocated to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where they played a club called The Bowery. There, they played nightly for tips, performing whatever was hot on top-40 and country radio at the time. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Merle Haggard, you name it, they played it.

They put out a few records on small labels, but nothing clicked. Finally they took in Mark Herndon, a drummer with a rock background, and found some success with a single called “I Wanna Come Over.” It wasn’t a huge hit, but it got the attention of an RCA Records executive in Nashville.

He saw them perform live at a “New Faces” concert, where they shared the stage with another up-and-coming artist named Reba McEntyre. In April 1980, RCA offered them a contract. Folks, when the label that sold millions of Elvis records offers you a deal, you should probably sign the dotted line. The Alabama boys did, and the rest is in the Country Music Hall of Fame history books.

The numbers are staggering. Starting with “Tennessee River,” the group scored 21 consecutive number-one hits, an unprecedented winning streak. There was one great song after another: “My Home’s In Alabama.” “Feels So Right.” “Love in the First Degree.” My personal favorite, “Old Flame.” Eventually the number-one streak was snapped, but the band played on. No problem, they topped the chart 21 more times. Not bad for a bunch of cotton-picking country boys!

Soon, they were racking up every major industry award, and selling out big arenas. I have a story about that. I was working at KZ-106 in Chattanooga at the time, serving as music director and morning deejay. We played rock music. Journey, the Police, Bruce Springsteen, those people. We left the country music to another station in town.

Alabama, circa 1980

Alabama, circa 1980

One day, Alabama announced a concert at the UTC Arena, then shiny and new, with a capacity of 11,000 seats. Tickets went on sale one morning at 10:00. This was pre-internet, so there were two ways to buy. You could order by phone, or stand in line at the box office. By 10:15, the phone lines were jammed, and folks were standing in line for two blocks. Soon, that show was sold out, and when the group found out, they said, “We’ll do two shows that day,” and of course soon both shows were sold out.

Using all our collective brain power, my radio colleagues and I said, “Maybe, just maybe we should go out there and see who’s buying all these tickets.” When we did, we saw something we hadn’t seen before at a country music event. These were not the middle-aged folks who stood in line to buy Conway and Loretta tickets. These were young people, our audience. Alabama, with their longish hair and upbeat songs, were opening country music up to a whole new audience. My rock station started playing Alabama songs. Nobody complained.

After about 20 years, the hits stopped coming quite so frequently, as younger, newer artists captured the radio spotlight. Randy and the boys stepped aside for a while to raise their kids and work on solo projects. Now and then, they’d reunite for a charity show, or to record an album with younger artists who cited them as strong influences. Randy, in particular, adopted St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, raising untold millions for them with his music, and his personal appeals.

Recently, the group (minus Herndon who parted on less-than-friendly terms) decided to record a new album, “Southern Drawl.” It’s their first original studio album in fifteen years, and it includes some terrific songs. Here’s wishing Alabama the best, as I thank them for all they’ve given back to their community. More than any big stars ever, they truly never forgot where they came from.

Teddy, Jeff and Randy today

Teddy, Jeff and Randy today


Uptown Funk and your favorite dance movies!

September 20, 2015 at 4:16 pm

Here it is, the dance video I’ve been waiting for someone to do:  They’ve put about a hundred of your favorite movie scenes to the Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson hit “Uptown Funk.”  It was the worth the wait.  It features some of the great dancers of all time, PLUS Leslie Nielsen, Napoleon Dynamite, Will Ferrell, Austin Powers, Robin Williams….the list goes on and on.  It’s really fun.

If you just recently got this song out of your head, get ready, it’s coming back.  Don’t believe me? Just watch!