Diane Jordan: Almost Famous – Page 2


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“Two years later, when I was 18, I was babysitting for a week at the home of another WKDA disc jockey named Eddie, and his wife, both of whom I had met through Kris Jensen. Audie came to the house to drop something off for Eddie and he was surprised and embarrassed to see me there. He apologized for propositioning me at the pool. He said he knew that I was too young and that he shouldn’t have treated me that way.“Speaking of which…neither should have Felton Jarvis. When I didn’t do what Felton  wanted, he eventually lost interest in Come On And Dance With Me, and the record died. It’s a shame, too, as it was getting played. But, instead, Felton got the label excited about a record called Boney Maronie that he produced for the group The Appalachians, using the same open 12-string guitar sound of a big hit at the time, Walk Right In. ABC forgot about my record and promoted Boney Maronie instead, and it became a hit.“ABC-Paramount should have done more promotion on me, but as I said before, they did next to nothing. I feel so bad when I listen to the song now because it was as good as anything out there at the time. It had a sound and I had a sound. I think that first record was an omen of what to expect in my recording career later on. The trouble is, I didn’t know it at the time.

“After I lost my deal with ABC, I spent the summer of ’63 in Nashville,” says Diane. “Through Kris, I met and became friends with singer Mark Dinning’s niece Shay, who was living in Nashville with her grandmother, and who, like me, was also pursuing a singing and songwriting career. (Shay’s mother, Jean Surrey, wrote Marks’s monster hit Teen Angel. In the 1940s, she and Shay’s aunts were quite famous as The Dinning Sisters.) Gary Walker cut some demos with me that summer for Lowery Music. My parents and my brother Jim, who had driven to Nashville to take me home to Nebraska, got to go to the recording session with me. I was so pleased that they could watch me ‘in action’.

“After the summer was over, I was devastated that I had to go back to Sutton, and high school, where I was always pretty much an outsider. On the drive back home, I must have cried for the first hundred miles. In retrospect, though, I know that it was smart that I went home and finished high school. Without my sister and older brother, John, living at home, I was able to become very close to my mother. I didn’t want a boyfriend at the time, and I went out on only a couple of dates. I went to the football and basketball games and that was about it. My sister Carol came home to Sutton for a visit, arriving by bus a couple of days after my graduation in 1964. The plan was for me to go back to Nashville with her so we hopped on a Trailways bus and I left Sutton for good. I had about $75 to my name, which I had saved from my allowance and from selling my bicycle to a neighbor. But I was perfectly happy to live with my sister in a dumpy old apartment with no air conditioning, and no car. After all…it was Nashville!

“Once I was back in town, Kris Jensen and I resumed dating. He and I appeared at the Billy Bowlegs Festival in Florida in June of 1964. We weren’t paid anything for the show, but all our expenses were paid. That was my first time on an airplane, so that was really exciting for me. Whenever we could, Carol and I hung out at Linebaugh’s Café, which was just a block away from the Ryman Auditorium, on Lower Broadway. After a while, we got to know a musician there named Ralph Davis. He had a couple of road shows coming up with Opry star Roy Drusky, and they needed a girl singer. I got the job, which paid $35 a night, or a whopping $70 in all. I sang five songs per show and I was so timid I couldn’t even talk to the audience. But Ralph was very kind and helped me through it by doing all the talking for me. I remember singing Marty Robbins’ song, Don’t Worry. We did shows in Paragould, Arkansas and Biloxi, Mississippi. Dottie West’s husband, Bill, played steel guitar in the band, and I later came to know Dottie quite well.

“My sister had a friend named Clyde Beavers, who was a singer in town. Clyde and his band performed mainly at military NCO Clubs, which was a source of work back then for many entertainers who weren’t stars. Clyde paid me ten dollars a show, plus all my expenses. When he paid for my food, one of the musicians sneered, ‘Wow, I wish I was a pretty young girl so Clyde would buy my food.’  I was embarrassed by his insinuation, but it taught me that things are not always what they seem to be. I knew that I needed experience and I was grateful for the opportunity to learn.

“Kris Jensen’s friend from Ft. Lauderdale, Bert, had just been discharged from the army and came to Nashville with dreams of singing and writing songs. Kris brought Bert along with us to go to church. After church, they brought me home and came up to the apartment. When Bert saw my sister’s Hank Snow album collection, they struck up a conversation and soon afterward started dating. Three weeks later, they were engaged, and were married in April. For a while, I moved in with the Jensen family, sharing a room with Kris’ sister, Karen. That didn’t work out, though, and after two or three months, I broke up with Kris and moved back to the apartment with Carol and Bert, where I slept on the living room couch.”

It was around this time, Diane says, that she started getting a lot of demo work. “I began writing for Tuckahoe Music, which was owned by Jim Reeves’ widow, Mary. Soon afterward, I started doing demos for Combine Music, and several other music publishers, as well. The break- up with Kris was traumatic for me and I was really, really heartbroken. Of course, everyone knows that a heartbreak is conducive to writing songs. Tuckahoe published the songs, and one of them (Sleeping Giant)was recorded that year by Bonnie Guitar on Dot Records. Bonnie had been a pop singer in the 1950s and one of the first songs I learned as a child was her version of Dark Moon. How cool it was that she was now recording one of my songs! I really wanted to be at the recording session, but I didn’t have a car, so I couldn’t go. When I heard the record later on, I was amazed. It was a big session, with lots of violins, which wasn’t very common back then in country music, and Bonnie sang it beautifully. The song was on her album, Miss Bonnie Guitar. I saw it listed in a Dot Records ad in Billboard magazine as one of their hottest selling albums that year. However, I was paid no royalties on the song, so I inquired about it. I was 19 years old at the time, and Clarence Sellman, who ran Tuckahoe Music, decided that it wasn’t legal for me to sign a songwriting contract because I was under 21. Even though my sister could sign as my guardian, he said that it would be considered ‘enslavement’. (laughs)  The only thing to do, he said, was to go to court to have my minor disability set aside. I could then legally sign my own contracts. I was a year and a half away from 21 and another singer/songwriter with Tuckahoe, Barbara Cummings, was six months away from 21. She had to go to court, too. The court costs came out of our royalties and, according to Clarence, my song didn’t make any more than the court costs. That figures, doesn’t it?

Diane's 1965 tour of military bases in Germany with Ronny and the Daytonas“Another person I met while hanging out at Linebaugh’s was Jack D. Johnson, who later discovered and managed Charlie Pride and Ronnie Milsap. In 1965, he was booking some shows overseas and he asked me if I wanted to do a three week Christmas show on several military bases, with Ronny and the Daytonas. Wow, did I ever! Singer/songwriter Marijohn Wilkin, who was the mother of Ronny (really John Buck Wilkin and nicknamed Bucky), and Sue York were the other two females on the show and our comedian/MC was Merv Shiner. My act at the time consisted of all pop songs. I remember I sang I Only Want To Be With You which had been a big hit that year by my favorite singer at the time, Dusty Springfield.

“I was scared to death but the very warm welcome I received by the all male military audience gave me confidence. After a few shows, I could actually joke with the crowd and move around on stage. We were traveling for the Department of Defense, not USO. To explain the difference, the USO paid $150 per week, plus $10 per diem. However, the Department of Defense paid us only $10 per diem, and we had to pay for our own food and rooms. (laughs) Rooms in the billets, on base, were just two dollars and twenty-five cents per night back then. Marijohn and Sue shared a room but I was the odd one out. Sometimes I would come in from a show and a strange girl would be sleeping in the other bed, which wasn’t too pleasant for me. However, the food was very cheap and we even got some meals for free, too. Still, we had to take some money along if we wanted to buy anything. In those days, we took whatever gigs were offered to us, and we worked hard.”

Back in Nashville in 1965, Diane crossed paths with the handsome and brilliant Rhodes Scholar (and future songwriting legend) Kris Kristofferson. Nearly 45 years later, she retains fond memories of a charismatic man whose genius was tempered at the time by a wild streak of self-indulgence. “One day at Linebaugh’s Cafe, I became friends with two girls named Karon and Mickey, who lived in an old building on 7th Avenue,  just a block away from my sister’s place on 8th Avenue and Demonbreun Street. Karon and Mickey were sisters who had moved to Nashville from South Dakota so that Karon could pursue a songwriting career. I sometimes slept on the girls’ sofa, as I was trying to stay out of Carol and Bert’s way as much as I could. Karon and Mickey didn’t have a car and neither did I, but we could walk the five blocks to Linebaugh’s and to the other little nightclubs on Lower Broadway where all the songwriters and musicians hung out. The Ryman Auditorium was just around the corner and on Saturday nights, the Grand Ole Opry performers went there to eat at Linebaugh’s between shows. Karon and Mickey were older than I and could get into the clubs. I turned 19 that summer and the legal drinking age back then was 21. I had learned my lesson one night earlier when I was in a police raid at the Honey Club. I didn’t drink; I was just there to sit in with the band. But after that experience, I hung out mostly at Linebaugh’s Café, and that’s where I met Kris.

“On Saturday nights, Karon and Mickey would invite whomever was at our table in Linebaugh’s to go to their apartment for jam sessions. No one did any drugs there and the only beverage the girls served was instant coffee. (laughs) Kris and I were attracted to each other and though he never took me to a movie, or anything, one could say that we were dating. He had explained to me that his wife had refused to move to Nashville with him when he gave up the opportunity to teach at West Point. Kris’s decision to move to Nashville to write songs had met with his parents disapproval, as well. (His father was a retired Air Force Major General.) In one of his past interviews, Kris spoke of the letter that he received from his mother, in which she had pretty much disowned him. He read parts of that letter to me and I remember he was very hurt by it. Kris’s mother said that if ever he did write any songs that were recorded, no one they knew would ever hear them. Of course that meant that they and their friends didn’t listen to country music.

“The jam sessions at Karon and Mickey’s house were a lot of fun and usually lasted until daylight. I remember one time Kris left around six o’clock in the morning and went across the street to talk to some of the homeless guys sitting outside of the local rescue mission. He came back laughing, saying that one of the guys said that the food there was pretty good but that they had to ‘sit through a damn prayer service to get it.’ (laughs)

“In those days, Kris rode a red Honda motorcycle, which I think was the cheapest one made back then. One night, we drove out to Percy Warner Park and watched the sun come up. Kris also drove a cheap little car and one night after taking me home, he had a wreck and totaled it! He used to drink a lot.

“I’m not sure when it was, but I think it was probably in the fall of 1965 when Kris told me that he couldn’t see me anymore. His wife had reconsidered and she and their little girl were moving to Nashville to be with him. I vividly remember when he told me that, and then added, ‘Hell, I even wrote a song about our breaking up.’ The title was There’s Just No Other Way. I liked Kris a lot, but I didn’t like his drinking and he was really too old for me, so I can’t really say that he broke my heart. Still, it was kind of nice that he had written a song about me.

“In 1976, right after I signed with Columbia Records, Kris and Rita Coolidge, his second wife, played a concert in Nashville. I found out that Columbia was hosting a party for Kris after the concert, and I finagled an invitation to attend it. Kris came to the party alone and Rita came in later. Someone said, ‘Hey Kris, do you remember Diane Jordan?’ He laughed, shook his head and said, ‘Do I remember Diane Jordan? As if I don’t have a memory now.’ Then he said to me, ‘I totaled my car after I took you home one night.’ He was very surprised to see me and seemed happy that I had been signed to a record deal with Columbia.

“I saw Kris again, in 1996, when he played the Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville. I attended the show and then went to the stage door afterwards. Fortunately, for me, Fred Foster, who had owned Monument Records and Combine Music (the company that published Kris’ songs), was waiting at the stage door. He said that I could go backstage with him. When Kris saw me, the first thing he said was, ‘I totaled my car after I took you home one night.’ (That experience must have had quite an impact on him.) (laughs) We talked a few minutes and though we didn’t agree with each other politically, he said, ‘Well, good for you; at least you’re not apathetic.’ He seemed glad I was still in the business. I asked him what he ever did with There’s Just No Other Way. He immediately said (as though it had been only a few weeks ago, instead of over 30 years): ‘Rager (meaning Eddie Rager, who was a songwriter friend of both of ours) warned me that I was on somebody’s melody with the song, so I didn’t do anything with it.’ Then he added, ‘It’s still at Marijohn’s.’ When he first came to Nashville, his initial contact was Marijohn Wilkin, whom I believe was a relative of someone he knew in the Army. Marijohn published all of Kris’s early songs in her Buckhorn Music publishing catalogue.

“It wasn’t until a few months after I saw Kris that I went to Marijohn’s office to see if the song had ever been cut or even demoed. She looked through her catalog and said that it wasn’t there and that she had never even heard of it.

“That’s pretty embarrassing. I dated Kris Kristofferson —he even wrote a song about our breakup—and then, the song not only isn’t a hit, it totally disappears!” (laughs)

During this time, a local booking and modeling agent named Dottie O’Brien got Diane some work in a few nightclubs in and around Nashville. Diane remembers a particularly harrowing incident from this period where she came across someone far less benign than the raucous and goodhearted Kris Kristofferson. Sadly, it was the type of incident that had happened to her before and would, in fact, be repeated several more times over the course of her career. “One day, Dottie had a call from Cole of California, a famous swim suit company, asking for a girl to model a new line of swimsuits for some fashion buyers in Nashville. The suits were designed for more voluptuous women, like me. This was during the Twiggy era, and most of Dottie’s models were very thin. She called me and asked me to do it, even though I wasn’t a model and had absolutely no previous modeling experience. Dottie said that I could come to her office and that she would show me the basic turns, etc., which would be all I needed to know in order to model the swimsuits for the buyers. I agreed to do it, although I was a bit nervous. But Dottie assured me that she would explain to the sales rep that I wasn’t a trained model, and that everything would be okay.

“Dottie dropped me off at the client’s hotel, The Downtowner, which was in the heart of Nashville, on the corner of 7th  Avenue and Union Street. I knocked on the door and an ugly, middle-aged fat man opened it, smiled, and invited me in. His first comment was, ‘Ah, this is better than I had hoped for.’ He had racks of bathing suits and other clothing in his room. He picked out a bikini and said, ‘Here, put this on.’ He kept holding the suit, as though he expected me to just take off my clothes right there in front of him. I finally said, ‘I’ll change in the bathroom.’ He shrugged and said, ‘Whatever you want.’

“When I came out, he said, ‘Do you really want to learn something and do a really good job?’  I said that I did, of course, and then he told me to stand in front of the mirror. With that, he came behind me, laughed and whispered in my ear, ‘This won’t hurt a bit’, and then he jerked my top down. I shrieked at him and said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and then I ran to the bathroom. I put on my clothes and came out, easing my way very slowly to the door. He said, ‘I’m used to girls who will do anything to model and get beautiful clothes from me.’ I had the door open and turned around and replied, ‘Well I don’t even want to be a model. I want to be a singer…and I don’t care anything about your beautiful clothes.’ His last words were, ‘Yeah, well come back if you change your mind. I’ll be waiting…’

“At the time, I was dating a 6’7″ guy named Bill, who was an aspiring singer-songwriter who worked as a bouncer at Boots Randolph’s Carousel Club in Printer’s Alley. I knew that he was working that night and it was only a few blocks away, between 3rd and 4th Avenues, so I ran all the way there, half crying and almost hysterical. I told Bill what had happened to me and asked him if he would go back to the guy’s hotel room with me, later that night, just to scare him. I said that I could knock on the door and say that I had changed my mind about his offer. Then he would open the door and see a 6’7″ man standing there and it would scare the hell out of him. But, Bill wouldn’t do it. He was tall, but he was also pretty much a coward. He was afraid of fighting, though I’m sure the dirty old man in the hotel wouldn’t have even tried to fight him.”

Unfortunately, Diane’s close call with the overheated swimsuit buyer would not be an isolated incident for her, and she would soon learn that sexual harassment was an all-too prevalent part of the business. “I was naturally endowed with no silicone necessary,” she explains, “and with measurements of 37-24-35, you can imagine what I went through. There was a casting couch at every turn, it seemed.” The next man to allegedly try to assault the serious-minded singer was Kelso Herston, then Vice President of United Artists Records. Diane recalls, “Kelso heard me at a club in Printer’s Alley and asked me to come to his office on the following Monday to talk about a recording contract. I didn’t have a car at the time and had to ride two city buses just to get to Music Row. Right after I entered his office, Kelso shut the door, and then immediately tried to unbutton my blouse. When I grabbed his hands and told him to stop, he said, ‘Well, I don’t know now if I want to sign you now or not. Why don’t you call back in two or three weeks?’ I said, ‘Oh, I think you know right now.’ He kind of sneered at me and said, ‘Yeah, you’re right. I guess I’ll pass.’ I told him, ‘Well, that’s fine, I’ll make it without you.’ Of course I didn’t make it, but I did have the pleasure of sending him an email in 2007, reminding him exactly what he did to me. I congratulated him on his lucrative career and the respect he has enjoyed within the music community, and then ended with, ‘But to me, you are nothing but a stone in my road of life.’ After all those years, it did make me feel a little bit better telling him that.”

A promo shot of Diane from 1968According to Diane, another similar experience happened the same year, when producer/songwriter Norro Wilson, who in those years ran a publishing company, locked his office door and actually chased Diane around his desk. Diane says, ‘I laughed right in his face and said, ‘This is like something right out of a movie!’ What a jerk. He actually advised me to get out of the music business and get a job, because he didn’t think I would make it.”

Despite the frequent displays of galling disrespect and overt male chauvinism she was encountering in Nashville, Diane was determined to keep working toward advancing her career—but only via her hard work and her professionalism. Still, she would have many other unpleasant experiences in town, like the trouble she had with singer/songwriter Tom T. Hall, whom she met the same year (1965) that she dated Kris Kristofferson. Though their association would be brief, her memories of the dry-witted and often sardonic singer remain painful today. “I don’t like the man,” she says. “Not at all.”

Born in Olive Hill, Kentucky in 1936, the performer who would one day be billed as “Nashville’s premier storytelling singer” earned to play the guitar by the age of eight and was fronting his own country band, the Kentucky Travelers, at 16. Hall later worked as a disc jockey on WMOR-Morehead Radio in his home state and in 1964 he moved to Nashville to pursue a recording career. When Diane met him, Tom T. Hall was still a good three years away from writing his first major hit record, Harper Valley PTA, for singer Jeannie C. Riley. Despite the fact that he had yet to make it big in the industry, Hall had already apparently developed a formidable ego to match his scathing wit.

Diane recalls their meeting thus: “One night at Linebaugh’s Cafe, I was introduced to Tom T. Hall and after a while he said he wanted to drive me home. I didn’t really like him that much so I declined his offer, but he kept asking me, so I finally said, ‘Well, only if we can get a banana milkshake first at the Big Boy Drive In.’ As luck would have it, Tom’s old Cadillac stalled about half a block away from the Big Boy, which was on Division Street, near Music Row. He said that he lived right across the street and that we could get some food and take it to his apartment to eat. He promised he would call a cab to take me home after we ate. We got the food to go, and then walked across the street to his efficiency at the Barbizon Apartments.

“I sat on the sofa and we talked, and then I was finishing my last bite of food, Tom literally grabbed the food out of my hand and jumped on top of me. I got really mad and told him to get off. ‘You were supposed to call me a cab,’ I reminded him. His smart-ass reply was, ‘Okay, you’re a cab.’

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