Every year I have a tradition. I’ll be honest and say I do love Christmas music but there is one album, in particular, I can’t go a year without listening to. That album is Christmas Time with The Judds.
I’m a big fan of The Judds — and I always have been. I listen to them throughout the year, every year. In December, though, I dedicate my ears to this classic country Christmas album…
I have loved music for a very long time now. As I have grown older, I am able to look back on music and artists and pinpoint exactly how they have impacted my life. Some of these impacts are very profound. I wrote an article over Reba McEntire and what she meant to my mom and me. She made an impact on our relationship through one of our families’ hardest times. You can read that story here.
Well there must be something about country music superstars with red hair. Their art seems to consistently hold a special place in my heart.
To begin this story, I must preface it with a simple fact. I have listened to a lot of music in my 26 years on earth. I literally have 100’s of favorite songs and many favorite albums. I once heard that If you can pick out one favorite song and one favorite album, you must really have your life together. I’m far from complete.
Although I cannot choose my favorite song, I can tell you which song was my first favorite. That song was “Tell Me Why” by Wynonna Judd in 1993. It is close to being my first memory. I literally sang this song in my car seat.
My dad was a country music DJ and my mom was a teacher. Life was perfect. I loved both my parents with all my heart and felt lucky to have this family. My dad brought home a promotional poster the radio station had received in the mail of Wynonna. This was also the very first time my mom had to deal with what has now been my numerous musical binges.
Then in two short years, my parents filed for divorce. My dad moved out. My mom cried. I attempted to put together parts of a heart that had not even formed.
As time progressed, my relationship with my dad became strained. A bridge of healing has now been built-in its place, but there will always be hurt. Love built that bridge. There were many years where we went without seeing each other but once or twice a year. It was a complicated time, but one I am glad to say I have now taken ownership of in my life.
Every time I would talk to my dad, I always took an interest in his career. It’s still a dream of mine to work in the music industry and he was the closest person I knew! I don’t remember a lot from these conversations. We often didn’t have much to talk about and I tended to default to music. My dad and I did not always have the same musical taste, but we always had one favorite artist in common: Wynonna and The Judds When we talked music, everything was at peace.
One day my dad told me about a radio conference in Nashville with many other stations and musical artists. It was professional environment, so it was not polite or proper to ask for pictures or autographs.
As the story goes, he found himself in a room with Wynonna. He told her I was a big fan and he showed Wynonna a picture of me from his wallet. She then turned to a staff member and asked if they had a picture and a piece of paper she could write on. Ms. Judd took it upon herself to sign a picture for me and wrote a small note. To say I was excited would be an understatement.
Of course this made me an even bigger fan. I asked my dad if I could write her back, because I was convinced he had all her personal contact information.
Fast forward to when I was 11. I was in the seventh grade and my relationship with my dad had not strengthened at all. During this year my grandpa, his father, was diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis was terminal.
My dad took me up to northeast Oklahoma to spend time with my Grandpa and to tell him goodbye. I didn’t understand the severity of the situation and I was convinced that if I prayed enough Grandpa would heal. Prayer does heal, but when the Lord decides He wants one of our loved ones to be with Him we have to accept His choice.
On the way up the turnpike, I had brought along a few CD’s with me to listen to in the car. One of these CD’s was Wynonna’s A New Day Dawning. I love this album. We listened to the entire album, and our favorite song was “Tuff Enough.” I still remember watching the Oklahoma countryside and listening to this album.
Throughout the following years, I continued to collect all of Wynonna’s recordings. I still remember buying What the World Needs Now from the local K-Mart. Are those still open?
In 2012 Wynonna had a concert booked in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I immediately called my mom and told her we were going. This concert was right before Wynonna and Cactus Moser got married. My mom and I had an absolute blast. We had great floor seats and beyond Wynonna’s near perfect live vocals, we were rolling on the floor in laughter. A person in the crowd heckled Wynonna about going and toilet papering Garth Brooks’ home. He lived in Owasso, OK, at that time, which is around the corner from Tulsa. Wynonna had a difficult time pronouncing “O-Wa-So,” but she assured us “Wy-No-Na” understood. My mom and I still talk about this concert today.
Two years later, Wynonna was making another stop in Oklahoma. This time she was in Shawnee, which was just around 45 minutes from where I lived. I followed Wynonna on every social media site and knew they were doing Wynonna trivia contests to win meet and greet passes. Well I got the answer correct and I exclaimed in the middle of work “Boom, guess who is going to meet Wynonna?”
After all these years, I couldn’t believe I was going to meet Wynonna. What was I going to say? This became an issue, but amidst my anxiety the day came. All of us who had meet and greet passes gathered in a tent beside the stage (the concert was outdoors). Then Wynonna walked around the corner. I had always thought Wynonna was pretty, but pictures don’t do her justice! She had a larger than life personality and image. Wynonna friggin’ Judd was in the room.
I waited patiently and I finally had my turn. Anybody who has been in a meet and greet line knows how quickly they flow. You maybe get 10 seconds to say what you want, get a picture, and move on. To be completely honest with you, I don’t remember the exact moment I spoke to her. I just told her I had been a lifelong fan and in her usual wit she asked, “Well how old are you now?” I told her I was 24 (at that time), and she just said “Oh Lord” or something along those lines.
I met Wynonna Judd. Lets end this anecdote here, because words don’t adequately express meeting a musician that has impacted your life through their music in such a profound way. To say I was star struck would be an understatement. Looking back, I wish I had just told her thank you.
Fast forward a few more years and Wynonna was again returning to Oklahoma. She was coming to Hinton, which also happened to be around an hour away from me. So I was going to buy tickets, that was a no brainer. Now by this time I had come across many of The Judd’s vinyl albums. My favorite cover is Rockin’ With The Rhythm. I remembered Wynonna often signed things people would bring to her on the stage. Now I wanted a record signed. Right during the break of a song, I ran to the stage and handed her the album. She looked at me, smiled, and signed my record.
I am now a Wynonna concert veteran, but I must warn you, when you see her live she will ruin other concerts. I have been to many shows and I have never seen anybody connect with their audience like her. She talks to people in the crowd directly. She cracks jokes with the crowd. She tells stories from her life and career. She plays the drums. She is a true performer. I call this the Wynonna effect, because nobody can quite connect to an audience like Wynonna. If you have a chance to see her, do it!! If she is within an hour of you, go and go every time! Each time she is spectacular and you’ll never see the same concert twice.
Now we arrive at the beginning of 2017. I’m still a vigilant fan and have written about her many times. Today, as I have come to learn Wynonna’s story, I have also found inspiration through her strength and perseverance through her life. She reminds me of my mom, which in my world, is the highest honor I can give anyone.
Oddly enough, throughout all my years of listening to Wynonna, my most profound experience with her music was in 2016. Earlier in the post, I mentioned that my parents divorced. My world was in shambles and my little mind could not make sense of the situation, but there were always two constant people in my life. They stood like stone pillars. I call them Grandma and Grandpa.
Last May one of those pillars took a new heavenly form and went to live with the Lord, my Grandpa. He was 88 years old and lived an amazing life. My family had recently moved him and my Grandma to a nursing home for rehab. Grandpa had just suffered a medium rate stroke and a minor heart attack. He needed a little extra care to get him back where he could live in assisted living again. The nursing home was going to be temporary.
Shortly after, my Grandpa became sick once more and he had to go to the hospital. This time they told us he wasn’t going to make it much longer and they called in hospice. He was placed on a ventilator and I rushed to the hospital. I sat and held his hand. As I looked him in the eyes I began to sing…”Grandpa, tell me ’bout the good ol’days.”
I didn’t know all the words to the song and I googled them. Every verse fit him. That song remained in my head all day. As they were making plans to send him back to the nursing home, I went to my house, which was about an hour away, to get some clothes and things to stay with Grandpa through his final days. God had different plans and within those two hours Grandpa met Jesus.
My mom then went home to southern Oklahoma to begin planning the funeral. I went home a few days later to be her support. We went to the funeral home and we were going to have a picture video made of Grandpa. There was a full section over just his grandkids. The funeral home asked us what song we wanted to play. I told my mom that we had to play The Judds’ song, “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout The Good Old Days)” and we did. I now think about him every time I hear that song and it has become another one of my favorites.
Music is more than just art. Artists are more than just talent. When you become a fan of a particular artist, they become a companion to you. The records are there for you through thick and thin and are always ready for a spin.
As these artists become your companion, they begin to hold a special place in your heart. Wynonna and her music has been there for me my entire life. Her songs remind me of the happiest moments in my life and they provide comfort for me at my lows.
Today, not even a year after my Grandpa’s passing, I moved to New York to pursue a job opportunity. I miss my Grandma terribly and wish I could be with her, but I know she wants me to pursue what makes me happy. She has stood as solid as ever through Grandpa’s passing. She struggles, but I have never seen strength portrayed the way my Grandma has these past 6 months. She is truly the most beautiful person I know.
And remember when I said there was just something about red heads I liked. My grandma has red hair.
Thank you, Wy, for everything. I’ll catch you on the next tweet.
Happy Memorial Day! I hope everyone is having a riveting, blessed, and safe holiday. This day is often filled with fun times barbecuing with family or hanging out at the lake, but this year it has taken a new meaning for me.
On May 1st my grandpa, John, passed away. He was a Korean War veteran and served many years in the Army and then in the Active Army Reserves. When he retired from the Army he had reached the rank of Command Sergent Major. He was extremely accomplished and I am proud to call him grandpa. I had him to thank for my freedom.
My grandpa was quoted as saying that he had two loves in life: his wife, Helen, and the Army. At the time of his passing my grandparents were married 68 years. The love they had for one another was simply beautiful. When you walked into their home you could just feel the admiration and love they had for each other. It was the air they breathed.
For today’s Memorial Day I am going to think about my grandpa. I miss him more with each passing day, but I know that he is in Heaven with Jesus. He instilled so much in each of his daughters and grandkids. He meant the world to me, but I didn’t realize that till he passed.
So today I have made a playlist of the songs that will always remind me of and honor my Grandpa. Dealing with grief is tough, but the power of music helps sustain me.
1. “Grandpa, Tell Me Bout The Good Ol’ Days”
I began to sing this song when my grandpa was in the hospital. My grandpa loved to tell you stories, anywhere from him and my grandma’s camp outs to the war. In his later years he was a man of many words. I look back now and I often wish that I had listened a little closer to these stories or given him time to tell me more. He told me about the good ol’days and the good ol’days described in this song were instilled in his character. Lovers really fell in love to stay. Promises were something people kept. And Families really bowed their heads to pray. Now thinking back, I’m not sure my grandpa ever left the good ol’days.
2. Endless Love
For Christmas one year, my family put a video together of pictures from my grandparents life. This was the main song of the video and nothing describes their love better. I will always hold this song close to my heart because every time I hear it, it reminds me of my grandma and grandpa. This song gives me hope that true love is still out there and that it does still last. My grandparents are my example.
3. “Battle Hymn of The Republic”
This song has been one of my favorites for many years after I heard Garland’s version. Garland did not sing this song like a hymn, she sang it like a testimony. Now, when I listen to this song it has a new meaning. This song combines God and country. That is what I love about it. I discussed my grandpa’s love for his country earlier, but it was equally evident that my grandpa was a man of God. He loyally attended church service nearly his whole life, but that isn’t necessarily why I know he was Christian. I knew he was a Christian by his actions and looking back, in the way he would say “Love you too.”
My grandpa has been gone for exactly 30 days. He is still fresh on my mind. I often pray that God will tell him hello for me and that I love him. My mom recently told me that every time you see a cardinal that it is a sign from somebody in heaven. I have seen 4 since he has passed. This is the most I can ever remember seeing. Even though he may not physcially be with us anymore, he is talking up a storm.
For me this Memorial day is a tribute and celebration of my grandpa.
Lastly I wanted to write a grand conclusion to this article and find the words that exactly explained my grandpa. I wanted this whole article to be worded perfectly to express who he was to me. That is a lot of pressure for a writer and I don’t think I achieved it. Words are just not enough when you lose someone who is close to you. So I am going to end with what’s on my mind.
First let me start by asking forgiveness from all my fellow country music enthusiasts. I have a terrible debt that I must confess.
I’ve barely ever listened to George Strait.
I truly apologize. He has charted 44 number one singles on the Billboard charts and has 60 number ones when counting other charts. He has also sold nearly 100 million records worldwide. To say the least, I’m late to the game.
What better day to educate myself about the King of Country then the eve of his birthday? I have around 4 of his albums in my collection due to my mom buying them for me. She always buys albums for me when she finds them. We are both constant garage-salers and thrift store hoppers.
In one of the piles that my Mom bought me was George Strait’s Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind. Honestly, I didn’t think much of the record. I already had other country favorites and I was really tired of hearing how amazing Strait was, then there is my mom’s endless talk about his butt.
Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind was released in 1984 and quickly shot its way to the top of the Billboard country chart. This album generally comes a little late in country music for my tastes. I don’t listen to much 1980’s country unless it’s The Judds, Reba McEntire, or Dwight Yoakam. I’m more of a 1960’s and 1970’s classic country fan, but yet again, I have been proven wrong.
This album opens with the title track “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind.” To my surprise Strait’s vocals didn’t remain on a stagnant line like I always thought, yet they came full of tear drops and intricate country stylings. This broken heart ballad comes with all the fixens’: pleadin’, reminiscin’, and drinkin.’ It’s the sequel to “By The Time I Get to Phoenix.”
Next is one of my favorites, “Any Old Time.” It comes with a heavy country swing rhythm and some rather fancy fiddlin’. Strait was clearly no longer thinking of Fort Worth.
“Honk Tonk Saturday Night” finishes out side A. This song is another ballad of sorts that echoes Loretta Lynn’s “Honky Tonk Girl.” Strait’s vocals convey the same contentment and loneliness Lynn’s did years before.
Side B starts with “I Should Have Watched That First Step” and “Love Comes From The Other Side of Town.” Both of these songs have classic country themes with a little extra boot scootin’ mixed in. The true highlights of side B though are the last two singles from this album “The Cowboy Rides Away” and “The Fireman.”
“The Cowboy Rides Away” is 80’s country at it’s best, sprinkled with the heritage of the legends before. It’s the confidence in Strait’s voice that catches my attention. Although the song comes from a vulnerable state (a breakup), he finds his confidence in riding away, knowing there will be something else along the path. That mixed with the instrumentation of this song makes this an undeniable hit.
Lastly, we have “The Fireman,” the last single from this album. It’s a close relative to “Any Old Time.” I can imagine a group of couples two steppin’ to this song easily. Strait’s consistent vocals give this song sustainability while showing Strait’s versatile vocal ability.
So as I sit here on the eve of George Strait’s 64th birthday, I find myself musically improvished. I hate the fact that I have not given Strait the time he deserves until now. What I find the most exquisite about Strait is how his voice is always stable. It never seems to give out or lose pitch, but it always conveys a direct fluid emotion.
With the discovery of George Strait, I have realized I am just another honky-tonk boy. You see, honky tonkin’ is a style of living. It’s about hitting the high of highs and the low of lows while maintaining a sound character. That’s what Strait’s voice, the longevity of his career, and his character portrays. When was the last time you saw George Strait in the tabloids?
I now realize I have always been a honky-tonk boy. Now I have a Strait road to travel.
“He [Doolittle Lynn] said every one of ’em was a hit…..shoot it was a hit and miss.”
This quote comes from the beginning of Loretta Lynn’s new album, Full Circle, from the Coal Miner’s Daughter herself. She claimed her husband (Doolittle Lynn) insisted every song she ever wrote was a hit. Loretta didn’t agree.
But everybody can be wrong sometimes.
It has been over 10 years since Lynn has released an album of new material. Her last album, Van Lear Rose, was released in 2004. It was produced by Jack White and had great commercial and critical success. It is one of her most profound works, but her fans and the country music crowd are not writing Lynn off any time soon. Her new album is met with anticipation and excitement.
As a long time Lynn devotee I was counting down the days since she first confirmed she would be releasing a new album. I have nearly every album Lynn has made (I am only missing 1!). I’ve seen her in concert and have spent hundreds of dollars on memorabilia. Once the release date came I contacted my local record store to see if they received this new gem on vinyl.
They immediately put it behind the counter for me to come purchase. They have lived with me through my Lynn pilgrimage. This is serious business.
I rushed home once I purchased this record and immediately put it on my turntable. It’s safe to say it was love at first spin.
The album opens with a conversation between Lynn and what I assume is her producers John Carter Cash (Johnny Cash and June Carter’s son) and Patsy Lynn Russell (Lynn’s Daughter), and various studio musicians. She easily recalls the first song she ever wrote, “Whispering Sea” taking the listener back to the beginning of her career. She then opens this album with a modern version of “Whispering Sea.”
It has been 56 years since Lynn first recorded this song. It was the B side to her first single “Honky Tonk Girl.” I went back and listened to the orignal recording to compare it to her new version. Both versions are excellent in both composition and deliverance. The first version portrays a naive and vulnerable spirit whereas today’s version has elements of maturity, grace, and wisdom. It’s profound what happened here and to think this was the first song! This same element is heard in her remakes of “Everybody Want’s to Go to Heaven” and “Fist City.”
The album proceeds into a new composition, “Secret Love.” This song sounds like it could be off of her first album. She then sings a song entitled “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?” This is a simple answer, everybody. Lynn was one of the primary writers of this song and the listener is once again met with a tone and deliverance that sounds so fresh it could come from one of her first albums, yet it shows the continued humility Lynn possess. This is what I believe has sustained her in the music industry and what has fueled her staying power.
The answer to the question this song asks “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?” is a hard one to answer. Lynn will have listeners from the past, present, and future miss her. Her music is immortal and her wisdom is timeless. So whos gonna miss her? It will forever be impossible to answer.
Next we are met with a story song, “Black Jack David.” There are three chief story tellers in country music, Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Reba McEntire. All three tell their stories differently, but each one makes you live their tale. Wrapping up Side A is Lynn’s version of the classic song, “Always on My Mind.” Lynn gives a rousing performance that I feel reminiscences on her life. It reminds me of her late husband and her children and the love she has for her entire family. That’s who she talks to in her spiritual and encompassing performance of this classic ballad.
Side B contains the new tunes, “Wine Into Water,” the spiritual “In The Pines,” and “Band of Gold.” These again sound as fresh as Lynn’s first recordings, but they encompass that same wisdom to her listeners. The greatest takeaways from Side B are her duets with Elvis Costello and Willie Nelson.
First, she duets with Elvis Costello on “Everything it Takes.” This is your classic country song talking of love lost to another woman. It is a lecture to her man about how his new woman will “take everything he’s got.” This track that could be easily taken from her 1966 album, You Ain’t Woman Enough.
Lastly, she duets with her fellow country legend, Willie Nelson on “Lay Me Down.” This song is classic gold. This song talks about the contentment both performers feel in the life they have led. There’s a sense of spirit and deftness this song brings to the listener that I have never felt before. Both singer’s vocals easily glide over the melody with confidence and breadth. This is a piece of country gold from some of the last real country survivors. This songs a treasure chest that you get something new out of with each listen.
To be honest, I was expecting something amazing with this album, but I was not expecting it to place me in a musical trance. This album completely takes over your spirit as you travel through it. It is full of emotions, strife, triumph, strength, and accomplishment, but the most important quality this album exemplifies is wisdom.
This album is your mom, grandmother, or mentor simply sitting in their chair telling you of their life and what they have done. They tell you all about the good times and they never shy away from giving advice, yet they don’t shield you from the downtimes. This album is simply life as narrated by Loretta Lynn.The title of the album, Full Circle, describes the journey these songs take you on while visiting old habits and discovering new gems.
This is just the first album of nearly 96 new recordings Lynn has made. It is dubbed as “Volume One of The Cash Cabin Recordings.” I am already eagerly awaiting volume 2. It’s just the story the Judds told us about grandpa, but now it’s grandma’s turn. Grandma’s are the sale of the earth and this grandma has just begun talking.
And as we all know, you never tell Grandma to hush unless you want to go to fist city.