Monday, November 21, 2016

"Daddy's Hands" Singer, Holly Dunn Passes

I met Holly Dunn in the early 90s, after a concert, where she was opening for Charlie Rich at the legendary Austin Opry House. Standing around, outside the tour bus and being joined by a young Paula Nelson (Willie's daughter) the three of us shot the breeze and exchanged stories.

Even though I knew since March that she was diagnosed with a rare, very malicious form of ovarian cancer, her passing took me rather by surprise. Holly was only 59 years old and spent the last decade or so, in New Mexico, where she painted as an artist and where she passed away on Monday (11/14).

During our conversation over 20 years ago, she told me how she wrote her signature song, which started her career, "Daddy's Hands" for her father, a minister, as a father's day gift. Even though the song "only" reached #7 in the Country Charts in November of 1986, she was nominated for two Grammys (Best Country Song & Best Country Vocal Performance, Female) because of it. An earlier version was recorded by family trio The Whites in 85. In April of '87 she was crowned "Top New Female Vocalist 1986" by the Academy of Country Music and in October of the same year won the Horizon Award by the Country Music Association.

Daddy's hands were soft and kind when I was cryin'

Daddy's hands were hard as steel when I'd done wrong

Daddy's hands weren't always gentle but I've come to understand

There was always love in daddy's hands

Holly Suzette Dunn, born in San Antonio, on August 22nd, 1957 also told me, that their house was always open, with different musicians often coming by for a visit - Sonny James, Roy Orbison, Porter Wagoner - I recall her even telling Paula, that a young Willie used to show up too. But besides all the country music influences, she mentioned James Taylor, Carole King, The Beatles, and Barbara Streisand as influential to her music, and yes music was encouraged.  Dunn already had a band during her high school years, called Freedom Folk. According to the "All Music Guide to Country," Freedom Folk was selected to represent Texas at the bicentennial celebration in 1976 at the White House. During her years at Abilene Christian University, she was also part of the USO-touring choir, the Hilltop Singers.

Move to Nashville & MTM years

Still in college, "Out of Sight, Not Out of Mind," a song she had written with her brother, Chris Waters was recorded by Cristy Lane on her "Love Lies" album. After graduating Holly decided to move to Nashville. Besides odd side jobs, she started singing demos and later writing songs for the same publisher, CBS Songs, as Chris. One of her songs, she co-wrote with her brother and Tom Shapiro, "I'm Not Through Loving You Yet" became a Top Ten Hit for Louise Mandrell, others were recorded by Marie Osmond, Sylvia, and lesser-known artists, some from Sweden and Canada. Often singing the demos, the trio wrote, Holly was still hoping for a singing career on her own.

In 1984 she got signed by Tommy West to MTM Records and released her debut "HOLLY DUNN" a year later - her first single (not available on any album) "Playing For Keeps" (Dunn, Waters, Shapiro) with a pop new-wave arrangement, stalled at #62 of the country charts, two other singles "My Heart Holds On" (#64 Hugh Prestwood) and "Two Too Many" (#39 Dunn) didn't leave much of an impact and then "Daddy's Hands" was released and gave her a first Top Ten Hit. In January of '87 a duet with Michael Martin Murphey, "A Face In The Crowd" (Karen Staley, Gary Harrison) from his "AMERICANA" album was released and not only gave her another Top Five hit (#4) but also another Grammy nomination in the duet category, which they both lost to Ronnie Milsap and Kenny Rogers.

Her second album "CORNERSTONE" gave her the Top Ten Singles "Love Someone Like Me" (Radney Foster, Dunn #2), "Only When I Love" (Waters, Shapiro, Dunn #4) and "Strangers Again" (Waters, Dunn #7). Her third and last album for MTM, the self-produced (with Waters & Warren Peterson)  "ACROSS THE RIO GRANDE" had the hits "That's What Your Love Does To Me" (Chick Rains, Bill Caswell #5) and "(It's Always Gonna Be) Someday" (Waters, Shapiro, Dunn #11). After that parent company, MTM Enterprises was sold to a British TV conglomerate with the record label part being spun off, acquired, and embedded into RCA.

In 1989 Holly Dunn was added as a regular cast member of the Grand Ole Opry during the Opry's 64th birthday celebration.

Warner Brothers years

Being picked up by Warner Bros, with her old catalog going there too, Holly was able to finally celebrate her two #1 singles “Are You Ever Gonna Love Me” (8/26/89 - Dunn, Shapiro, Waters) and “You Really Had Me Going” (11/17/90 - Dunn, Shapiro, Waters) from "THE BLUE ROSE OF TEXAS" and "HEART FULL OF LOVE" respectively. "BLUE ROSE" also had the Joe Diffie (w/Lonnie Wilson, Wayne Perry) penned "There Goes My Heart Again" which hit the Top Five (#4) and on which Diffie sang background vocals. Dolly Parton did the same on her cover of "Must Of All, Why." The self-penned "Anniversary For Being A Fool" stalled at #63. while the title track of "HEART", a Kostas composition, reached the Top Twenty (#19), It was Holly's last Top Twenty hit.

A duet she recorded with Kenny Rogers "Maybe" (Bill Rice, M. Sharon Rice) from his album "SOMETHING INSIDE SO STRONG" reached #25 in 1990.

With her career stalling, Warner Bros. decided to release "MILESTONES," a Greatest Hits compilation, combining her hits for MTM, with her chart singles for Warner Brothers. Talking about bad timing, the self-written single out of the collection,  "Maybe I Mean Yes" came out right at the wrong time, when the subject of date rape and the outcry "No Means No" were gaining traction due to some prominent lawsuits. With its refrain stating "When I say no, I mean maybe, or maybe I mean yes" it caused controversy. The label and Holly had to pull the single of the radio market after it reached #48. Another single from the album, written by brother Chris "No One Takes The Train Anymore" failed to chart.

The last album for Warner Brothers, "GETTING IT DUNN" was released in June of 1992. Instead of co-producing, brother Chris Waters was replaced by guitarist/producer Paul Worley (later of Martina McBride, Dixie Chicks & Lady Antebellum fame). But none of the three singles "No Love Have I" (Mel Tillis #67), "As Long As You Belong To Me" (Dunn, Waters, Shapiro #68), and "Golden Years" (Sam Hogin, Gretchen Peters #51) cracked the Top 40 anymore, and Holly Dunn was let go.

In 1995 Dunn signed with River North Records and released "LIFE AND LOVE AND ALL THE STAGES" which yielded her last single cracking the charts "I Am Who I Am" (Dunn, Waters, Shapiro #56). "LEAVE ON BRIDGE STANDING" followed two years later and by that time Dunn had joined WWWW (W4 Country) in Detroit as morning disk-jockey co-host. 2001/02 she worked for The Nashville Network (TNN) sitting in for Bill Anderson on "Opry Backstage." In 2003 Dunn released a gospel album "FULL CIRCLE" for OMS and her own company Holly Dunn Enterprises. She also announced her retirement from the music business

“I left the business because it was clear that radio had moved on and wasn’t interested in anything new from me. Without radio’s support, it just gets harder and harder to keep the wheels turning in a music career. Hit records are the engine that drives the train,” 

Dunn explained to Christian magazine "Hallels" in June. Her move to Central Texas and later to Albuquerque also got her expunged from the cast of the Grand Ole Opry, a move criticized by many fans. In an interview with "the 9513" blog, Holly Dunn was quoted:

"I knew they’d been adding people since I left. But it hurt. Because I loved the Opry. And I still love the Opry."

Living in New Mexico, she started to paint, inspired by her surroundings either the Southwest or her home state, Texas (as this ruby chested hummingbird visiting the state flower, the bluebonnet.) They were offered through the Pena-Dunn Gallery in Santa Fe.

According to the New York Times, she is survived by her wife, Melissa Taylor, and her three brothers, Chris, Jerry, and Rodney. Funeral services were held on Saturday (11/19) and Holly is to be buried at the Salado Cemetery in Central Texas.

Sources: Image (Publicity Shot), Painting - her Facebook Art Page, (unfortunately her facebook page and her website were immediately eliminated after her death),  Hallels, Billboard, BMI, 9513, The New York Times,,,

Thursday, November 17, 2016

SR: "Hallelujah" Pentatonix Delivers New Version of "Hallelujah"

A couple of days after the passing of Canadian master-poet singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, (see my  obituary), I stumbled upon Texas a cappella quintet Pentatonix'version of the Cohen penned and by now cult song "Hallelujah" from their second Christmas album, "A PENTATONIX CHRISTMAS" which was released on October 21st together with the video. As to the Billboard Chart of 11/26 the album is still in the Top Five of the 200 Best Selling Albums in the US,

It looks like the video was filmed on the Salt Flats of Utah, but that's just a wild guess and I couldn't find any references on the net. So with over 300 versions of the legendary classic, how does the quintet rate. Actually great - as they offer an a cappella (without instruments) version, it sounds new and not just as another remake. And I assume, that 50 Million people agree, who have watched Pentatonix version since it's release roughly 4 weeks ago. (If only one percent of these viewers discover the greatness of the late Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley, the quintet's version did in my opinion well.) Unfortunately, the song didn't too well as a single and on the radio, it entered strong into the Top 100 (Billboard) on #32 (11/12), but has since then been falling. Maybe it will get a second wind with the passing of Cohen.

★★★★(★)/★★★★★ (4½/5)

I guess it proves the point how timeless that song is, the original version by Cohen was released 32 years ago, in 1984 on his album "VARIOUS POSITIONS" but hardly got recognized. Seven years later, former Velvet Underground man, John Cale, recorded a first version with added piano track. This one inspired a cut by Jeff Buckley on his debut and only full studio album "GRACE" in 1994. Buckley pretty much made the song his own, and until now with roughly 100 Million views, is the most viewed version on the streaming platform YouTube.

A year and a half ago, Newsweek in an article "60 Versions of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", Ranked" actually tried to put many of the versions in order. Their Top-Five (5-1): k.d. lang from "HYMNS OF THE 40TH PARALLEL" 2004, Regina Spektor (concert for the Jewish Heritage Festival, 2005 YouTube - no recorded version), Rufus Wainwright (OST - SHREK: Music from the Original Motion Picture, 2001), Jeff Buckley ("GRACE" 1994): and John Cale ("I'M YOUR FAN" 1991) on top.

Below are Jeff Buckley's, k.d. lang's and John Cale's version of the song - you'll find the original in the obit I wrote On Niume.

Jeff Buckley

k.d. lang

John Cale

Sources: YouTube (Videos), (Pentatonix website), Newsweek, Billboard

Thursday, November 3, 2016

CMA 50 Awards - Kumbaya Fest - Winner's List

The 50th CMA Awards are over, the Italian-made crystal obelisks are distributed and the hangover is real. Not so much on my part but probably on broadcaster ABC and host CMA - even though offering a stur-studded annual celebration of "Country Music" - the ratings were a disaster. There were more than 3 times as many viewers watching the all deciding game 7 of the Baseball World Series between the Cubs and Indians, than people tuning in to the Kumbaya Fest out of the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

So let's see how I did in my preview - published here in my blog Nothing New On The Western Front, when the nominations came out. Besides the winners below, Dolly Parton was awarded the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award and Kenny Chesney with the Pinnacle Award.

My predications who is winning (*), whom I want to win (amu) and who actually won.

Entertainer of the Year

Garth Brooks

Luke Bryan

Chris Stapleton (amu)

Carrie Underwood (*)

Keith Urban

I gotta have to think about that for a little while, Garth Brooks was the reason I left the CMA as a voting member, because I thought, that the trend where the music was going, was into BS-land (and I don't mean the Swiss state with that name). In retrospect, well at least compared to today's output over the last half decade, Garth was country. Writer and owner "Trigger" at "Saving Country Music" already wrote a wonderful piece about that - Time has been kind to the music of Garth Brooks,

Male Vocalist of the Year

Dierks Bentley

Eric Church (amu)

Tim McGraw

Chris Stapleton (*)

Keith Urban

Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelsea Ballerini

Miranda Lambert (*)

Maren Morris

Kacey Musgraves (amu)

Carrie Underwood

Album of the Year

Black, Dierks Bentley

Hero, Maren Morris

Mr. Misunderstood, Eric Church (amu)

Ripcord, Keith Urban

Storyteller, Carrie Underwood (*)

Single of the Year

"Die A Happy Man", Thomas Rhett

"Humble and Kind", Tim McGraw

"My Church", Maren Morris (*/amu)

"Nobody To Blame", Chris Stapleton

"Record Year", Eric Church

Song of the Year - this goes to the songwriters

"Burning House", Cam - Cam, Jeff Bhasker, Tyler Johnson (amu)

"Die A Happy Man", Thomas Rhett - Thomas Rhett, Sean Douglas, Joe Spargur

"Humble and Kind", Tim McGraw -  Lori McKenna (*)

"My Church", Maren Morris - Maren Morris, busbee

"Record Year", Eric Church -  Eric Church, Jeff Hyde

After "Girl Crush" last year, it's the second year in a row that Lori McKenna wins in the "Song of the Year" category.

Vocal Group of the Year

Lady Antebellum

Little Big Town (*)

Old Dominion

Rascal Flatts

Zac Brown Band

whatever, besides Zac Brown Band mediocrity at best

Vocal Duo of the Year

Brothers Osborne

Dan + Shay

Florida Georgia Line

Joey + Rory (*/amu)

Maddie & Tae

Biggest surprise of the night was definitely the win by the Osborne Brothers, who annihilated not only the two douche-bags called Florida Georgia Line but I hope Bro-Country in general.

Not trying to diminish the Osborne Brothers' success, but I personally still think that Joey + Rory posthumously should have gotten an award, as they were never honored by the CMA. Surviving husband Rory attented yesterday's festivities with the parents and sisters of his late wife.

New Artist of the Year

Kelsea Ballerini

Brothers Osborne (amu)

Maren Morris (*)

Old Dominion

Cole Swindell

Musical Event of the Year

"Different For Girls", Dierks Bentley/Elle King

"Home Alone Tonight", Luke Bryan/Karen Fairchild

"The Fighter", Keith Urban/Carrie Underwood (*)

"Think of You", Chris Young/Cassadee Pope

"You Are My Sunshine", Chris Stapleton/Morgane Stapleton (amu)

Music Video of the Year

"Burning House", Cam

"Fire Away", Chris Stapleton

"Humble and Kind", Tim McGraw

"Record Year", Eric Church

"Somewhere On A Beach", Dierks Bentley (*)

Musician of the Year

Jerry Douglas (*)

Paul Franklin

Dan Huff

Brett Mason

Derek Wells

So in my predictions I scored (4/12), in whom I wanted to win (1/9) as I didn't care in some categories to even put my vote in for a winner. The show itself was more country oriented than previous shows, which is very laudable. The Country Music Association (CMA) really tried hard to celebrate their 50th Anniversary Gala with a broad spectrum of old and new.

Actually I think there was too much old in the show - now don't get me wrong, all of these songs performed, are part of my all time favorites. But for some reason the whole thing was like a celebration of times gone bye - a documentation of how great country music was, instead of is. A commercial for the ultimate "Time" country collection you need to have. Somebody in my twitter feed actually said something like, imagine you could hear stuff like this on the radio. And no, you can't, only if you turn into an oldies or classic country music station. It would have been better if young artists would have had a chance to come out and present their take on the more traditional way with their own, new songs. And yes these artists are ready, waiting in the hallway to get on stage and show us how it can be done, obviously there is a market out there. I wanna see and hear Brandy Clark, Margo Price, Shelley Skidmore, William Michael Morgan, Jon Pardi, Jason James, Mo Pitney and everybody else that wants to take up real songs with real lyrics and real instrumentation. A step back doesn't mean we can't move forward.

There were some memorable performances and if you missed them, because of the game or the babysitter screwing with your TiVo, you can actually watch the whole show on by telling them who your TV provider is. For non-regular TV consumers, the show can be watched in it's entirety in a week's time. Already watchable are some clips, including the most talked about, Beyonce performing with the Dixie Chicks.

Sources: CMA (pic),,, Twitter: @BrothersOsborne, @GarthBrooks