Diane Jordan: Almost Famous – Page 5


Last Update: 6/16/09
Go to Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Click here to hear Diane Jordan sing “Stay the Night”! “Stay the Night”

Page 5 of 9

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the experience of recording with Chips Moman had a definite down side for Diane. “After we did the Padre session, Chips came on to me,” she alleges. “He said he wanted to move me to Memphis, buy me a car and set me up in an apartment near where he lived. He also said that we could just keep recording stuff together until we got a hit. I told him that I couldn’t move to Memphis because I was in love with someone else. His reply was like a line out of a cheesy Hollywood movie. He actually said, ‘You’re young…you’ll forget.’ Then I remembered that one of the musicians on the session had told me that Chips had a thing going with Merrilee Rush. Maybe he knew that Chips would hit on me and that was his way of warning me. So, I just smiled very sweetly at Chips and said, ‘But then what would I do when Merrilee Rush comes to town?’ Just as I thought, he had nothing more to say.

“[Despite what happened with Chips] I absolutely loved the finished version of Padre. The record was very well produced and really quite Phil Spector-ish in sound. With any promotion at all, I think Padre would have made it. But it was released about a year after I had first signed with Monument, and I don’t think the label was still interested in me. There was no promotion at all for the record, and no ads for it in the trade magazines, either. Believe it or not, back then they waited for a record to get some action before they would start promoting it. The whole time I was at Monument, Fred Foster didn’t do a single photo session on me. After Padre had been out a few weeks, and still hadn’t charted (which, in those days, meant the single was dead), Mike Figlio, who did promotion for Monument, called me and said, ‘I think we lost the record.’ I was devastated.”

In December 1970, roughly a year and a half after Diane’s version of Padre was released, singer Marty Robbins recorded it for Columbia and had a Top Five hit with it. However, rather than being bitter at Robbins’ success with the song, Diane says, “Marty would later be very instrumental in my career. He got me a singles deal in the mid 70’s with Columbia Records and also produced my first session with the label, and I will always be grateful to him for that.” Diane adds that Elvis Presley also recorded Padre on an LP titled Elvis in 1971, however it appears that it was never released as a single.

Some time after Padre’s undeserved failure on the charts, Diane received a call one day from Fred Foster saying that Chips Moman had called and said that he and Dan Penn had written “a smash hit” for her. Foster told Diane that she would be flying to Memphis to record the entire session at Moman’s studio. Diane recalls feeling a great deal of excitement and optimism at the time. “I was over the moon [with the news]. Chips and Dan had written a lot of smashes—how lucky could I get? I flew to Memphis by myself and thought it was strange that there was no one there to meet me at the airport. I called the studio and the receptionist said that Chips hadn’t come in yet. I waited for a while and then called again. Chips still wasn’t in. She said that she would try to reach him and for me to call back. When I called back, she said that Chips would be in later and for me to take a taxi to the studio. After I got there, I was surprised there were no musicians setting up to record. I had to sit and wait alone for a couple of hours before Chips finally came in, around 4:00. I remember he walked over to me, sleepy-eyed, and asked, ‘Well, where are the songs?’ My heart sank. I said, ‘Fred said that you and Dan Penn had written a song for me.’ Chips said, ‘Fred misunderstood.’  Then he asked if I was staying at the Rivermont, which was a Holiday Inn, and I told him that I was. He took me to eat and then took me back to the Rivermont. Chips insisted on carrying my bag to my room and then he wouldn’t leave. I finally sat, Indian-style, in a big chair and said, ‘I can sit here all night.’  Finally Chips said, ‘Well, you’re in luck; I told Dan Penn that I’d write with him tonight.’ And then he left.

“I couldn’t believe it then, and I’m sitting here now, sobbing, as I relive it. What a cruel thing to do to me. I later told Fred, of course, what Chips had done, and it didn’t even seem to anger him. In retrospect, I really have to wonder if Fred deliberately set me up for Chips. After that, I didn’t hear another word from Fred. I should have left the label then, but I waited for him to call me, and he didn’t  I called the office several times and was always told that he was unavailable. I kept thinking that he would do the right thing because his birthday was the same as mine. I’m a Leo and I’m honest and trustworthy, so I thought he would be honest and trustworthy, too. Finally, I told the secretary to tell Fred that I wanted a release from Monument. She called me back within a day or two and said that my release was in the mail.

“You know, I saw Fred Foster again in the winter of 1996, when Kris Kristofferson was playing in Nashville at the Wildhorse Saloon. I went to the door that led backstage, hoping to get in to talk to Kris. Fred was there, too, and I introduced myself. He let me go backstage with him and I got to talk to Kris. At one point, Fred looked at me with a puzzled look on his face and asked, ‘Did I record you?’ I couldn’t believe it. I should have said, ‘Yes, you did, and you also wasted three precious years of my life.’

“I recently found an old scrapbook of mine in which I had pasted a Billboard magazine ad of the Monument Records roster. The clipping isn’t dated, so it could have been 1968, ’69 or ’70. According to the ad, some of the acts on the label back then were: Arthur Alexander, Henson Cargill, Don Cherry, Chris Gantry, Grandpa Jones, Ivory Joe Hunter, Charlie McCoy, Chris Noel, Boots Randolph, Ray Stevens, Billy Walker, Tony Joe White, and The Graduates. The ad listed 47 artists, in all. In an article describing several of his Monument acts, Fred Foster said, ‘Diane Jordan is a good music singer who could go Top 40 at any time.’  Yeah…right.

“I don’t know if Fred ever believed in my talent as an entertainer. I do know, however, that he never came to see me perform anywhere. None of my record producers ever expressed an interest in seeing me perform, live. Nor did any of them ever say to me, ‘Bring me tapes of everything you have recorded so I can hear what you can do.’ This just amazes me.”

While the beautiful and talented Diane had languished in undeserved obscurity on the Monument Records roster, Fred Foster had spent a lot of money trying to erect a singing career for another beautiful girl on the label—film starlet Chris Noel. A sexy blonde who did a slew of teenage/beach party movies in the 60s as well a film with Elvis (Girl Happy), Noel may have been an attractive woman but she was totally devoid of any singing ability. Diane recalls, “Chris Noel sang so bad, in fact, that a background vocalist named Ricki Paige had to sing in unison with her on her record. When they all listened to the playbacks, Chris thought it was just her voice. Fred proudly told a friend of mine that Chris was going to sing her new record on the Mike Douglas Show. Somebody asked him, ‘Is Ricki Paige going on the show with her?’ (laughs)

“The famous movie star Robert Mitchum also recorded for Monument. He cut an album for Fred in 1967 and the song Little Old Winedrinker Me was released as a single. It became a big hit, too. [author’s note: the song reached the Top 10 on Billboard magazine’s country chart.] Fred wanted to do another record with Robert Mitchum but he couldn’t reach him on the phone and he wouldn’t return his calls, either. Fred finally tracked him down on a movie set somewhere. He walked up to him and said, “We need to make another record.” Mitchum’s reply was, “Nah, I already did that.”

Following the end of her deal with Monument Records, Diane put the whole disastrous experience behind her and resumed her busy touring schedule. “I lost myself in work, I guess. Some clubs that I worked at during that time were Nic’s Nicabob in Milwaukee, Roger’s Gin Mill in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Eddie’s Hollywood Palace in Green Bay, Big Moe’s in Louisville and Club Stabiles in Baltimore. I appeared at Club Stabiles for two weeks, with a Nashville singer named Willie Samples. I rode to Baltimore with Willie, who drove an old car at the time. He had been driving about 75 mph when Willie noticed that he needed to get some gas. We got off the expressway and as Willie drove up to the gas pump, the front tire on my side of the car, blew out. I wasn’t hurt, but since wearing seat belts was not required at the time, it could have been a very bad accident.

Willie and I sang with the house band at Club Stabiles and none other than Guy Mitchell (of the ill-fated Guy Mitchell All-Star Revue tour in Japan) was brought in for two nights while we were there. On the last night, we all went out to eat at an Italian restaurant, in Washington D.C.’s “Little Italy.” When Guy found out that I am a vegetarian, he ordered something for me that he said I would absolutely love. It was my first time tasting eggplant parmesan, and you know, it’s my favorite dish to this day. Guy was fine during the gig, by the way…he showed up and sang, and was no trouble at all.”

Another memorable gig for Diane during this period was her engagement at Henry’s Tavern in Brooklyn, NY. “The first time I worked there, the band was great and I loved it. The club owner had suggested a hotel for me, which was one of only two hotels in Brooklyn at that time. Believe me, both of them were crummy. When I saw the room I would be staying in, I was disgusted with how filthy it was. The lampshades were stained and crispy and the drapes were hanging off the window, due to missing hooks. To make matters even worse, I was scared to death and couldn’t sleep because somebody kept rattling my door knob all night. The club owner wanted to book me back. I said that I would like to but that I was afraid to stay in that same hotel. So, he and his wife invited me to stay with them at their house. I went back to Henry’s Tavern four more times but the bands were never as good as they were the first time I was there.

“One night at Henry’s Tavern, I worked with a husband and wife duo named George and Joni Day. It wasn’t a good experience, though, as their band wouldn’t kick off any of my songs and they played really badly for me, too. As I was leaving one night, they were doing the last set. They started playing the Tammy Wynette song D-I-V-O-R-C-E for Joni and they played the intro, the turnaround and the modulation, just like on the record. When I sang the song earlier that night, they just gave me a single chord. I soon found out that if there was a girl in the group, they would make her sound good and do a crappy job on all of my songs. Several years later, when I was playing Hurley’s Tavern in Chester, Pennsylvania, George and Joni Day came into the club one night, looking for work. They sat in with the band to audition for the bar’s owner, Jack Hurley. They obviously didn’t remember me and while they were onstage, I told Jack how they had treated me when we had worked together at Henry’s. He said, ‘Don’t worry, they won’t ever work here’, and he sent them on their way. I guess George and Joni didn’t realize what a small world it is!”

Back in Nashville, Diane’s career hopes brightened a bit in the spring of 1969 when she auditioned for a spot on an upcoming comedy/variety show on CBS-TV called Hee Haw. Destined to become a television classic, the program was a mix of hillbilly humor coupled with live performances from some of country music’s most popular acts, and it featured a huge cast of regulars, headed by veteran industry musicians Buck Owens and Roy Clark. Even before the show debuted, there was a huge buzz about it in town, and while Diane wouldn’t get the job, she remembers the experience very well.

“I recall I wore a blue floral cotton one-piece outfit to the audition that looked like a mini skirt, but it was really shorts. When it was my turn to read, one of the guys who was there said, ‘We’re looking for girls that are built exactly like you.’ He then proceeded to put his arms around me from behind while I read my lines (which I found to be very strange). I’m not certain, but I am pretty sure the guy was Bill Davis, who was one of the show’s producers.

“People who have seen Hee Haw must remember Cathy Baker, the bubbly blonde with a high pitched voice who was on the show for many, many years. The day of my audition, she was also there with another girl and I recall they were wearing paint-splattered overalls. I recall Cathy saying, ‘We’re not here to audition, we’re just here to paint the set.’ Huh?

“After the auditions, exactly eight girls were invited back to a party on the set at 6:30 that evening, and I was one of them. Another girl and I had kind of hung out earlier in the day, so we went back to the party together. Right away, we noticed that there were exactly eight guys at the party, too. Before long, the pairing off began. When it got down to just two guys and the other girl and me, we knew where it was headed, so she and I left. I often wonder what would have happened if we had stayed.

“I must admit, it was quite a surprise to me when Cathy Baker was chosen to be a regular on the show. The first time I saw it,  I remembered her right away from the day of the auditions when she was wearing those overalls, and of course, she always wore overalls on the show, too. I have to say that I hated seeing Cathy Baker all those years on Hee Haw. I mean, the woman had absolutely no talent. She just grinned, swung her blonde bob from side to side, and said (with a high-pitched voice and a lisp), ‘Here’s Buck!’, and ‘That’s all!’ at the end. Need I add that she later married the show’s director, Bill Davis? (laughs) When I attended Jim Hager’s memorial service last year [2008], I immediately saw Cathy sitting in the front row, still swinging that blonde bob of hers. She’s older and heavier now, but the hair is still the same!”

Diane in GreenlandHer dubious loss of a regular gig on Hee Haw aside, from the late 1960s on Diane continued to perform at various military bases, both here and abroad, and in the process, racked up thousands of miles on the road. “I worked a ton of military shows, traveling with different bands to military posts in places like Goose Bay, Labrador, Sondrestrom and Thule in Greenland, and Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico. I got to see parts of the world I had never dreamed of seeing as a little girl.

“In April 1968, I worked for a month at the military base in Goose Bay with singer songwriter Mack Vickery and a country comedian named Elmer Fudpucker. The three of us and three band members first flew to Baltimore, where we picked up a bass player named Clay who worked at a club there. When we arrived in Goose Bay, I put my hand in my coat pocket and felt something strange. I pulled it out and it was a bottle of pills. Just then, Clay stepped up and said, ‘I put the pills in your pocket. I figured that if you were caught with them, the authorities wouldn’t do anything to a pretty girl.’ I thought that was a low thing to do, and I was quite angry with him for doing it.

“The base at Goose Bay had its own little TV station and one day we were all invited to perform there on an afternoon variety show. I had heard there was an Eskimo town nearby called Happy Valley (which I kind of liked). I sang the song Kansas City on the show and when I did the last chorus, I sang Happy Valley instead of Kansas City and ended with ‘…they got some crazy little Eskimos and I’m gonna get me one.’ I added, ‘Just one’, thinking that it would be cute. Well, apparently the Eskimos took that as an insult because I said ‘just one’. Believe it or not, a bunch of them called the base and complained about me!

“During this period, I also did some shows with Opry star Billy Walker. I remember one time when I was really proud of a new outfit I had just bought. The outfit consisted of a black sequin top and the new ‘elephant leg’ pants that were popular at the time, and I couldn’t wait to wear it onstage. When I walked out ready to go on, Billy looked at me with total disgust and said, ‘You and Skeeter Davis just don’t know how to dress country, do you?’ I was crushed.

“Still, in all the years that I worked in the business, there were many entertainers who were very nice to me. And there were also a few who started out being nice, but didn’t end up that way —like Dottie West, I’m sad to say. In 1966, when I was 20, I was dating (well, sort of) a member of Dottie’s band. (I will call him ‘Sam’ from here on out as he may not want his true identity revealed because of something he and I did later on.) Anyway, one night I was backstage at the Ryman Auditorium when Dottie came up to me and said, ‘We’re leaving tonight to go play in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Seaforth, Ontario. Why don’t you come with us?’  I said that I would like to but I really couldn’t afford to go. Dottie said that it wouldn’t cost me anything, that she and I could share a room, and that Sam and her husband, Bill, could share a room, and that she would pay for all my meals. So, I said that I would love to go with them. Dottie told me to bring a stage dress because she wanted me to sing on stage with her, too. We left, and I had a fantastic time. On the shows, I sang The Tips of My Fingers and it went over really well, which was absolutely thrilling for me. It was my first time in Canada, and that was exciting, too. Dottie and I went shopping together and she bought me a pair of purple suede bedroom slippers. She also gave me $20 to pay for my food on the trip. I thought she was a saint.

“I remember Dottie and me, in our beds one night, talking, and she mentioned that she always missed her children when she was on the road. Then, she asked me if I had ever heard that Patsy Cline ‘liked girls.’ I was a bit shocked and said that I had never heard that before. Dottie then told me that someone had told her that once when Patsy was drunk, she made the comment that she ‘would rather have Wanda Jackson in bed than any man.’ I was very young and naïve at the time, and I am still surprised that she would have said something like that to me. After the show in Ontario, Dottie told me that I came across really classy and ladylike onstage, in addition to having a great voice. She said, that she was going to help me. She actually said (I swear), ‘Diane, I am going to do for you what Patsy Cline did for me.’ Dottie said that she was going to sing at The Black Poodle, in Printer’s Alley, the next week, and for me to come down there every night and sing with her. I didn’t have a car, so I couldn’t go there every night, but I did make it down on Saturday, which was the last night of her gig. I got there at 9:00 for her first show, but she didn’t call me up to sing. As the night wore on, she called up many guest singers from the audience to come on stage to perform with her, except me. Finally, at 2:45 in the morning, Dottie called me up and as I walked up to the microphone, she said firmly, ‘Do one song only…we’re almost out of time.’ She hadn’t talked to me the whole night. Not long after that, I was backstage at the Opry (and no longer sort of dating Sam), when Dottie’s drummer, Bob, asked me if I was going to a jam session at Dottie’s house. I said that I hadn’t been invited and he said, ‘Well, Dottie knows you and I’m inviting you.’ So, I rode out to Dottie’s house with him. That night, Dottie (again) asked everybody there to sing, but me. I was embarrassed and bewildered. She had said she was going to help me and now she wouldn’t even speak to me.

“A few years later, in 1969, I was living at The Brinkhaven Apartments. I had been at the Municipal Auditorium, downtown at a telethon and ran into Sam. He brought me home and we turned on the TV to watch the telethon. I told him my story about Dottie and he told me that she had done that to her band, too. She would promise them a band album or a big TV show, and then she would never mention it again. Sam said that Dottie started coming on to him by buying him gifts and giving him money. He said that nothing really happened, that they had just ‘messed around a little.’ He didn’t want to get involved with her because of her husband, Bill. Dottie then went after another musician in her band, who was married and had a small baby. The musician told Sam that Dottie told him that she was in love with him. He was even thinking of leaving his wife. Sam told him not to do it because Dottie had done the same thing to him. Well, the musician told Dottie, and she fired them both, right on the spot. She actually stopped the bus and put them out on the side of the road. We were both unhappy with the way she had treated us and Sam said that we ought to call the telethon hotline that night and make a big pledge in Dottie’s name. I thought that was a great idea and I said that I would do it. I called and said that I was Dottie West and that I was pledging $10,000. (laughs) The telethon phone worker asked for my phone number and I said that I didn’t give out my home phone number but that my booking agent was Lucky Moeller. We kept watching, and finally Ralph Emery came out with another stack of pledges to read. Suddenly, we saw him do a double-take. And then he turned to the band and said, ‘Oh, we need a drum roll for this one.’ Ha, ha…we knew what that meant. He excitedly said, ‘Dottie West is pledging $10,000. I can’t believe this…her house just burned down. What an unbelievably generous thing for her to do.’ (laughs) Yep, I admit it was a crummy thing for us to do, and I didn’t even own up to it until a couple of years ago, but believe me, that night Sam and I laughed until tears fell down our cheeks.”

A photo of Diane from 1974Satin Sheets singer Jeanne Pruett was another female who initially befriended Diane, only to do an about face later on. Diane feels today that professional jealousy was at the root of their falling out. “For many years, Jeanne’s husband Jack Pruett played guitar in Marty Robbins‘ band. Jeanne was signed to Marty’s publishing company and Marty recorded several of her songs. In the early 70s, Jeanne had a couple of hit records of her own and then she had a huge hit with Satin Sheets in 1973. Afterward, she was made a member of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1972, Jeanne did a guest appearance on Stu Phillips’ TV show out of Louisville, when I was appearing on the show as a regular. Jeanne had driven to Louisville alone, and asked me to ride back to Nashville with her. We chatted with each other the whole way back and had a great time together. I really thought we had become friends. A few years later, in 1977, after word got around that Marty Robbins was going to produce a record on me, I tried to speak to Jeanne, as I always did, backstage at the Opry. But this time, she ignored me. The next time I saw her it happened again, and then I knew that something was up. It really hurt my feelings. I finally confronted her and said, ‘I thought we were friends, Jeanne. We had a great time, driving back from Louisville that night, but now you won’t even speak to me.’ She said something to the effect of, ‘I come to the Opry to work…not to socialize.’ She added [coldly], ‘I can pick my own friends.’ I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Appearing on the Opry consists of singing two songs, which can hardly be considered serious ‘work’ that prohibits socializing.

Diane performing at Nashville's Fan Fair“I later told Marty what Jeanne had said to me. He told me that Jeanne had once asked him to produce a record on her but he told her he didn’t want to do it. Marty said that she was probably jealous that he had produced a record on me, but wouldn’t do one with her. He added, ‘You don’t need people like that anyway.’ [Still] Jeanne Pruett was the one who had a big hit song that became a country standard…not me.

“Another female artist who was apparently jealous of me was Laura Lee McBride, who rented an office in Marty’s building. (Laura Lee’s father, Tex Owens, wrote the classic song, Cattle Call.) She was always friendly if I saw her in the hallway, but after she found out that Marty was producing me, she totally ignored me and refused to speak to me. Laura Lee’s signature song was the well-known, I Betcha My Heart I Love You, but that was out in 1950. When I knew her, in 1977, she was 57 years old. She’d already had a successful career…I should have been jealous of her.

Go to Page 6 of 9

Go to Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Please leave a comment below. or visit my retired guestbook, to see previous comments.

Leave Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.