[Editor’s Note: Country Music Hall of Famer Connie Smith developed an acute infection and was forced to cancel what would have been her debut performance at the 30th annual Alapaha Station Celebration just three days prior to the show. She was incredibly disappointed to not entertain her loyal Alapaha, Georgia fans].
Marking her 50th anniversary as a recording artist, the celebration’s inaugural female headliner will commandeer the family-friendly South Georgia stage on Saturday, Nov. 8, at 4 p.m. It’s an extremely rare opportunity to witness an absolutely free concert starring a living legend. Incidentally, Smith only performs a handful of road dates annually.
She achieved her footing in Nashville in the shocking aftermath of Patsy Cline’s death, becoming an illustrious member of the Grand Ole Opry at age 23 in 1965, less than a year after her debut single, “Once a Day,” stormed the charts for an unprecedented eight-week stay at number one. “Once a Day,” written by Whisperin’ Bill Anderson and approved by guitar extraordinaire Chet Atkins, maintained a 25-year unbroken streak as the first debut single in country music history by a female artist to reach number one.
Smith’s authoritative, no-nonsense, alto mined the depths of country’s bruised soul, no doubt paving the way for 38 Top 40 country singles in a 15-year period, many on Elvis Presley’s longtime recording label, RCA Victor.
Twenty landed snugly inside Billboard’s Country Top Ten, including such countrypolitan jewels as “Ain’t Had No Lovin'”, “The Hurtin’s All Over”, “I Never Once Stopped Loving You,””Just One Time”, “Ain’t Love a Good Thing,” and a country disco-ish cover of the Bee Gees’ “I Just Want to Be Your Everything.” A new label unable to thoroughly promote her records, the onslaught of Urban Cowboy country, and devotion to family and Christianity curtailed her hit-making potential by the dawn of the ’80s.
History often relegated Smith’s accomplishments to the back burner in lieu of better-known contemporaries such as Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton. The latter once famously uttered, “There are only three female singers in the world; Barbra Streisand, Linda Ronstadt and Connie Smith. The rest of us are only pretending.” In 2012 the Country Music Hall of Fame finally got it right when Smith was officially recognized (Garth Brooks was a fellow inductee).
Married to fellow country music preserver Marty Stuart [he has a concert already booked in Wellington, Texas, on Nov. 8], the “Ribbon of Darkness” chanteuse appears every Saturday night on RFDtv’s The Marty Stuart Show, performing a classic country number with her well-rehearsed band, the Sundowners.
Austin French, mentored by Brad Paisley to an astonishing first runner-up finish on ABC’s recent hit summer singing competition Rising Star, is scheduled to serve as Smith’s opening act. French still maintains his “day job” leading song and praise services at Journey Church in Tifton, Ga.
For folks who have never experienced the celebration or the stunning country queen in concert, the agricultural community of Alapaha (population 652) is situated 30 minutes east of Tifton on Hwy. 82 and one hour north of Valdosta on Hwy. 129. GPS aficionados should input the following address: 245 NE Railroad St.
- DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET! On her second long playing album for RCA Victor, Connie Smith covered Ray Price’s jubilant declaration of true love, “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me),” pulling it off without even so much as breaking a sweat. The Cherokee Cowboy was an undisputed titan of 20th century country music, melding an indomitable synthesis of hardcore honky tonk and Western swing that kept the charts bursting for over 30 years. Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, George Strait, and a host of contemporary performers clearly owe a huge debt of gratitude to Price. One of his performances that inexplicably slipped under the radar is “Rose Colored Glasses,” released at the height of the suave troubadour’s career in 1965. A special feature, “Deep Country Cut of the Day…,” explains exactly what you’ve been missing.
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Exclusive Interview: One of my proudest moments as a working journalist was getting to spend an hour conversing with American treasure Merle Haggard about his storied career. In “Still Holding His Mud: A Day in the Life of ‘Struggling’ Guitarist Merle Haggard,” the ink slinger waxes nostalgic about learning to play both the fiddle and guitar as a poor but blessed nine-year-old Bakersfield kid in the aftermath of World War II, if he still has those crucial instruments gathering dust in a closet somewhere, raising a Fender Telecaster maestro at the dawn of the 21st century, actually receiving inspiration for a song while sauntering towards a London concert stage, his patented songwriting formula, losing anonymity, and whether stage fright can be conquered.
Exclusive Interview No. 2: Clint Black is a best selling new traditionalist country artist. In a remarkable achievement, Black’s debut single, “A Better Man”, went all the way to No. 1 in 1989. Raised in Houston, the songwriter continued to rule the charts throughout the subsequent decade, giving Garth Brooks a fine run for his money with enduring compositions such as “Like the Rain”, “When I Said I Do”, and “Nothin’ But the Taillights.” Black’s primary songwriting compadre is Hayden Nicholas, a Fender Telecaster maestro who has penned somewhere in the neighborhood of 68 released compositions with his buddy. In a wide-ranging conversation entitled “Straight from the Factory…”, the soft-spoken Houstonian relives his serendipitous meeting with Black. Don’t miss it!
Exclusive Interview No. 3: “Dad taught me to keep going and learn it all. He was capable of doing everything—the epitome of a true entertainer.” Dean Martin’s lovely daughter, Deana, keeps the limelight planted firmly on her family, performing and recording her dad’s material all around the world. Deana recently agreed to explore a side of the crooner rarely discussed in modern literature: a man of simple country music tastes versus the cliché-ridden, glitzy Vegas image. In “Deana Martin Can’t Help Remembering the Swingin’ King of Cool,” Dino’s daughter shares heretofore unheard memories regarding John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart, family vacations, guitars, horses, watching old Westerns with Sammy Davis, Jr., golf, and their poignant, final Christmas spent together.
- Exclusive Interview No. 4: The Master of Telecaster, James Burton, is a charter member of L.A. studio wizards the Wrecking Crew and has supported a who’s who list of preeminent movers and shakers in a nearly 60-year career – notably Elvis Presley, John Denver, The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, Merle Haggard, and recently Brad Paisley. Burton joined Rick Nelson in late 1957 for the classic “Stood Up” b/w “Waitin’ in School” driving rockabilly single, actually rooming with the Nelson family and ultimately forging an 11-year friendship with the handsome singer. To read a revealing in-depth feature with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer commemorating his fascinating journey with Nelson [“Six String Brothers: James Burton Champions the Timeless Allure of Rick Nelson”], simply click on the highlighted link.
Exclusive Interview No. 5: Country singer T. Graham Brown found major success on Capitol Records in the late ’80s with hit songs such as “Hell and High Water,” “Don’t Go To Strangers,” and the upbeat, groovin’ ode to an elusive girlfriend, “Darlene.” From moving to Nashville to sing demos, being dropped by Capitol after Garth Brooks became the next headline, kicking his alcohol addiction, battling bipolar disorder, ultimately writing the redemptive “Wine Into Water”, and performing at the illustrious Bridgestone Arena tribute to George Jones, “Drowning in Memories with a Country Song’s Best Friend,” the most extensive interview of Brown’s esteemed career, is coming up in the rear view mirror.
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