Diane Jordan: Almost Famous – Page 6


Last Update: 6/16/09
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Diane reveals that her experiences with several other stars in the business were much more favorable than her short-lived friendships with Jeanne Pruett, Laura Lee McBride and Dottie West. “In 1970, I decided to have my nose fixed. I had heard that Jeannie Seely had hers done, so I asked her about it. She was more than happy to tell me all about the surgery and what to expect from it. I must say, Jeannie really calmed my fears that day. We had a sort of  bond after that and she’s always been very nice to me whenever she sees me.

“The first show that I ever did with Tommy Cash was probably in 1969. It was in Michigan, and I flew in just in time to take a cab to the auditorium. Tommy came up to me and said that he was leaving right after the show and that if I hadn’t checked into a room yet, I could have his room at Howard Johnson’s. I didn’t make a lot of money at the time and saving enough for a motel room was a big deal to me. Another time, he invited me to ride back to Nashville with Jimmy Peppers and him. Tommy warned me, though, that they liked the air conditioning cranked up really high and suggested that I take the blanket off of the bed in my room. I was glad I did—I think I would have frozen to death without it! Tommy Cash and I worked together a lot in the 70s and 80s. My husband, Larry, played in Tommy’s band for about a year and a half, in 1980 and 81, and I was on some of their dates, which were always a lot of fun. Of all of the bands Larry played in, he liked Tommy’s the best. They did some comedy routines that were just hilarious. Larry and I think the world of Tommy Cash. In fact, he is easily one of our favorite people in the business.

Diane with Glen Campbell in Wichita, Kansas “I was on a show with Glen Campbell once, in Topeka, Kansas, in 1979. I knew the promoter, and he wanted me to be on the show. Glen was married to Mac Davis’s ex-wife Sarah at the time, and she was originally from Topeka. After the show, I rode back to town with Glen and the promoter, while Sarah rode with her relatives. It was probably a thirty minute ride, so Glen and I had the chance to talk. I told him that I had loved his TV show and that I’d been so sure that I would be a guest on it some day that I had learned one of his album cuts so that I would have our duet all ready. (laughs) He asked me which song it was and I said it was the Jimmy Webb song, Tunesmith. Glen said, ‘Well, let’s sing it now.’ So, my dream came true, to sing with Glen Campbell, but not exactly the way I had scripted it. Still, that’s a very special memory for me.

“As I said earlier, Brenda Lee was one of my idols as a teenager, so I was absolutely thrilled to meet her at the taping of Marty Robbins’ TV show, Marty Robbins Spotlight, in 1977. A friend introduced me to Brenda and she said, ‘Oh, I know Diane; I see her all the time on The Ralph Emery Show.’ I was totally blown away that Brenda Lee knew who I was! But she has always been nice to me every time I have seen her.

“I was booked on a show with Porter Wagoner once, in Missouri, and he was also very kind to me. He even gave me the ‘star room’ at the back of the bus, and he slept in one of the bunks. How’s that for being nice? (laughs)

Justin Tubb was very friendly, too. We were traveling to a gig together and a few miles down the road, he brought me a glass of wine. Though I didn’t really want it, I drank it because no one had ever done that for me before, and I thought it was a very sweet gesture.

“I also did a lot of shows with Leroy Van Dyke and his band. On one occasion, I flew to Nebraska to visit my parents and then they drove me to the show in Council Bluffs, Iowa. I was riding back to Nashville with Leroy and the band, and we were leaving right after the show.  Leroy gave his room to my parents, so that they wouldn’t have to drive back that night. They talked about that many times afterward.”

Comedian Jerry Clower made a somewhat different impression on Diane. “I did a show with Jerry, in South Carolina. I had never met him before so I had hoped to say hello before we went on. He finally arrived (he had a car and a driver) just in time to go onstage. Immediately after his show, he walked right out the door and into the car and left. No one there got to meet him. I guess Jerry just didn’t want to be bothered with the rest of us.

“Another time, I was booked on a short tour in Minnesota and a couple of other states up north. A girl who worked for the promoter, and I, were riding there with a booking agent and his friend. They were drinking and driving and we were afraid they were going to crash the car and kill us all. I mentioned this to Margo Smith, who was also on the tour, and she said, ‘You girls get your things and put them on my bus. You can’t ride with them!’ Margo is a wonderful lady.

“Singer Stu Phillips made it possible for me to sing on the Grand Ole Opry, and I will never forget him for that. I was privileged to make about 35 Opry appearances in all. I had earlier been a guest on Stu’s TV show, Music Place, in Louisville, Kentucky, a couple of times. When the regular girl singer spot came open, he called to see if I was interested. This was in 1972. We filmed four shows in one day, once a month. Later on, Stu asked the Opry manager, Bud Wendall, if it was okay to feature me on his portion of the Opry and Bud agreed. I was first scheduled to sing on the Saturday matinée. I had hung around the Opry for so many years by then, that I didn’t expect to be nervous, but I was. My knees were actually shaking. When I came offstage, Hank Locklin was standing there with his daughter, who was collecting autographs. I remember he said to her, ‘Be sure to get Diane Jordan’s autograph.’ I could hardly control my hand to write my name! I always got a lot of applause on the Opry but Stu was reluctant to call me back for an encore, not wanting to make any waves with any of the other stars. One night, though, I literally brought the house down singing Donna Fargo’s The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA, and he brought me back onstage for an encore. Believe me, that night I was the happiest girl in the whole USA! I was young, good looking, newly wedded to a handsome husband, and so certain that stardom was just around the bend. It turns out I was wrong about the last part…”

Diane singing on The Grand Ole Opry in 1972a 1978 promo shot of DianeDespite the many charitable and generous people she has worked with in the business, Diane is quick to admit that she has experienced some extremely unpleasant situations with some of its best known stars. In fact, one of them happened on the very night that she received her first encore on the Opry. “For eight years, my husband Larry was in Bill Anderson’s band, The Po’ Boys, and I’ll never forget what happened that night after their show. I was sitting in the car while Larry was loading his equipment, when Bill walked over to me. Still bubbling over from the great reception I had received that night from the audience, I said, ‘Guess what? I got an encore on the Opry tonight!’ But Bill didn’t smile at me. Instead, he looked at me with disgust and said, ‘Yeah, you got ‘em when they were warmed up; we were on the first show.’ At first I thought he was joking but then he turned his back on me and walked away. Still, I really thought he would turn around, laughing, and say, ‘Gotcha’, or something like that, but he didn’t  I felt my eyes stinging with tears, my heart was pounding and my face was hot. I still can’t believe that a big star like he was at the time could be so cruel to a young singer who was happy and so full of …hope.

“Today, Bill Anderson is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and is worth many millions of dollars. Why couldn’t he just congratulate me and let me have my little moment in the sun? My encore meant nothing in the big picture [of his life]; it was just something special to me, and Bill had to ruin it. I will never forget the way he made me feel that night. What a mean thing to do…and what a small man.

“You know, Bill Anderson has always been presented to the public as a down-to-earth, humorous personality. He was never a good singer, though, and he knew it. My husband Larry has a great voice and received encores many times when he was with Bill’s show. One time The Po’ Boys played on a demo session for Bill and there was one song that Bill didn’t have the range to sing, even though he had written it. He tried doing it several times and finally he said they would go on to the next song.  By then they had gone over the song so many times that Larry knew it by heart. He spoke up and said, ‘I can sing it, ’ but Bill wouldn’t let him do it.”

Diane also had some problems with several of the wives of  The Po’ Boys. “They were apparently very jealous of me. In those years I sang on local TV quite often and people knew who I was. When I attended Fan Fair, a lot of musicians and stars would come up to hug me and the band wives hated it. (But girls with big chests always get hugged.) (laughs) When Larry and I got engaged, all the band wives ganged up on me and wanted to know if we were going to have children. I said that we weren’t, thus dashing their hopes of my losing my figure!

“Whenever I went to the TV tapings of The Bill Anderson Show, the wives of The Po’ Boys always ignored me. It’s kind of funny, but if only one of them was there, we would get along fine, but if there were two or more, I was the outsider. It was like high school all over again! It was absolutely ridiculous.”

Bill Anderson’s frequent duet partner, Jan Howard, also proved to be a thorn in Diane’s side. “Although I never wanted the job of  Bill Anderson’s ‘girl singer’, I wanted to be able to fill in one time for Jan Howard, just to be able to get on the bus with Larry and sing with that great band, and use the great sound system they had. Larry mentioned this to Bill, and one of the other band members overheard it and said (sarcastically), ‘Oh yeah, we would all like to take our women out on the road with us.’ But then, Jan developed a blood clot in her leg and was told that she would have to stay off it for two weeks. Bill called me and asked if I could fill in that weekend. I was thrilled. I was all packed and Larry and I were ready to walk out the door when the phone rang. It was Bill, telling us that Jan was going after all. She had heard that I was filling in for her and she wouldn’t allow it. She would only let singers like Marion Worth or Jeanne Pruett sub for her since they were both older and she didn’t consider either of them to be a threat.”

Along with Bill Anderson, Jan Howard, and the wives of The Po’ Boys, the perennially sunny and much beloved Dolly Parton was sadly, also a disappointment to Diane. “I met Dolly Parton when she first came to Nashville, in the summer of 1964. I went to the Capitol Building on Music Row, and when I walked in, I saw her with a friend of mine, Bob, standing in the back hallway, next to the soda machine. He introduced me to Dolly, saying, ‘This is Dolly Parton; she just moved here from Knoxville.’ Then he added, ‘She’s a pop singer,’ and he turned and looked at Dolly when he said it. Dolly nodded and said, ‘That’s right’ in her southern drawl. Bob said, ‘She almost bit my head off yesterday for introducing her as a country singer.’ (Years later, Dolly would blame Monument’s Fred Foster for making her record pop music, but that’s what she wanted to be back then…a pop singer.) In late 1965, she signed with Foster’s Combine Music Publishing Company and with his label, Monument Records.

Dolly Parton was pretty rough looking when she first hit town. She had brassy, home-bleached hair that was piled high on top of her head, and terrible makeup. I saw her at the Tennessee State Fair that year and she was wearing a crinkled plastic mini skirt and jacket and high heeled ankle boots with poodle fur, tied on the side with poodle balls hanging down! At the time, I was dating a singer named Pete who’d had a Top Ten pop hit in 1962 that I would rather not name, as I don’t want to identify him without his permission. Pete was then working in Foster Studios on 7th Avenue, in downtown Nashville, setting up the studio for recording sessions. The engineer, Bill Porter, was a Church of Christ member. It soon became apparent that Pete would have to go to church with Bill and his family in order to keep his job. I started coming around and it soon became apparent that I would have to go to church, too, in order for Pete to keep his job. (laughs) I was happy to go, though, as I’d have gone anywhere with Pete. I got a babysitting job for a week, watching the children of a musician and his wife, so I had to miss church with Pete and the Porters. The next week, on the way to church, one of the Porter children said, ‘We like you better than Dolly.’ There was an awkward silence. I didn’t know what was going on, but Pete explained it to me later on. He said that he had taken Dolly to church, the previous week.  He picked her up and she was wearing an orange plastic mini skirt and of course she had that brassy, frizzy hair and garish makeup. Bill Porter took Pete aside and said, ‘Son, don’t ever again bring trash like that to our church.’

“One day, I was downtown shopping and as I was just going into Cain Sloan’s Department Store, Dolly was coming out. She was carrying four boxes of shoes. She told me that she was getting a $50 a week ‘draw’ (against future royalties) from Combine Music. I was really envious. By this time, Fred Foster had sent her to a local ‘finishing school’ and Dolly looked very classy that day. Her hair was an ash blonde, her makeup was beautiful, and her clothes were very tasteful. Through the years, Dolly would always speak to me whenever she saw me backstage at the Opry, and she was always very nice.

“Fast forward to 2004. Dolly and I have a mutual friend, Johnny Cochran, who lives in Fayetteville, Georgia, near Atlanta. Johnny first met Dolly at a show in Georgia when she was still in high school. He became her friend and eventually came to know all of the Partons. To this very day, in fact, he can always get tickets to Dolly’s concerts, and he always gets backstage to see her, too. Well, in 2004, I drove to Georgia to go to Dolly’s concert with Johnny and two other friends. We went to the ‘Meet and Greet’ afterwards and Dolly was happy to see Johnny. She hugged him, and they spoke. When it was my ‘turn’ I smiled and said, ‘Hi Dolly, I’m Diane Jordan; I haven’t seen you for a long time.’ Dolly looked me up and down without smiling and said, ‘Yeah, I thought that was you,’ and then nothing. Total silence. I quickly said, ‘I’ve been writing with Merle Kilgore, and he wanted me to give you a CD of three of our songs.’ I handed it to the ever-present Judy Ogle [Dolly’s longtime best friend and personal assistant]. Immediately, Dolly said, ‘How is Merle?’ It had been in the news that he was fighting cancer, and I told her that he was doing better at the time. I just couldn’t get it out of my mind that Dolly was so cold to me. Why? I mean, we hadn’t known each other well enough to have ever had a problem of any kind.

Dolly Parton became not only a superstar, but an American icon, and is worth about 400 million dollars. If our situations were reversed, I can’t believe that I wouldn’t have been kind to someone I knew personally, who worked for years in the business, but didn’t ‘make it’, and who had driven over 250 miles to see me. Why couldn’t she just smile and say, ‘Diane, it’s nice to see you after all these years. How are you?’ She was deliberately rude to me that day, and it still hurts.

“Everything ever said and printed about Dolly is that she’s just a wonderful, down-home, friendly person, totally unchanged by her success. But, believe me, I did not imagine how she treated me. Cold is the only word for it. The only satisfaction for my making that trip to Atlanta was getting to see Dolly up close—believe me, she looks much, much better on television! She was nothing but skin and bones…(and) like Michael Jackson and Cher, she looked neither young nor old. Even Johnny Cochran, who is a good ole country boy, said (with a frown), ‘Wow! Dolly don’t look good.’”

“You know, among those of us who were Nashville performers—especially those of us who weren’t stars—there has always been a lot of backstabbing. Someone would ask, ‘Have you been working?’ If I said that I had been, the next question was ‘Who’s booking you?’ Then, he or she would go to the agent and try to get work. One girl singer who had no credits at all, pretended to be my friend and then used me to meet people. She went to one of my agents and said, ‘Well if you can book Diane Jordan in that club, you can book me there, too.’

“Many times back then, when I was out there performing and wearing sexy clothes, a lot of the older women singers weren’t very nice to me. I think I realized then that there is nothing more aging to a woman than a jealous look on her face. I swore that I would never turn into that type of woman, and I am happy to say that I haven’t.

“By the end of the 1970s, Nashville no longer had the friendly, ‘small town’ feel that it once had. In the 1960s, the atmosphere was actually quite bohemian. Writers, singers and musicians would hang out in Music Row offices and most of them had very little money and many (including me) didn’t even have cars. Many of them took pills and roared around town and then bragged about how many days they had gone without sleep. (laughs)

“The 1970s brought more discipline and professionalism to the business. The musicians were a lot more serious about their craft but they also had to be if they wanted to play in a star’s band. I mean, the Johnny Cash Show (on TV) used a full orchestra! Back then, the stars usually kept the same musicians in their bands for several years. Opryland USA opened in 1972 and it provided jobs for many singers, musicians and dancers until its closing in December of 1997. It was a wonderful training ground for young performers. I sang there with Stu Phillips, who is a Grand Ole Opry member. Stu had a syndicated TV show called Music Place that filmed four shows, once a month, in Louisville, Kentucky. I worked on his road shows, his TV show, as well as on the Grand Ole Opry with him. In July of 1972, Opryland had started getting complaints that they didn’t have enough country music. So they added Eagle Lake Theater, which was an outdoor theater. Stu, his band, and I did three, half-hour shows per day, Thursday to Sunday through the end of the season, which was early November. It was a lot of fun and a very easy gig, with an air conditioned trailer to hang out in between shows. The 1980s brought cable TV production to Nashville, which meant more jobs for musicians, singers and production people. Those were really great years for country music. The business has changed so much since then.”

Diane gives a lot of credit to legendary country music disk jockey and TV host Ralph Emery for greatly helping her visibility in the 1970s. “The Ralph Emery Show was on Nashville’s Channel 4, from 1972 – 1992 and it would be a very special part of my career. I had done some guest spots on the Channel 4 Morning Show in 1969 and 1970, when other people hosted the show before Ralph took it over again in 1972. I would occasionally appear on Ralph’s show everyday from Monday through Friday, but usually I was only on it one or two days a week. As a child, in tiny Sutton, Nebraska, I thought that anyone on TV was a star, so being on TV every week was a big deal to me.

“Of course, in those years I was working the road a lot, too, and was sometimes out of town for several weeks at a time. Sometimes, Ralph would call me at 4:00 AM and say, ‘I need you to do the show.’ Sleepy-eyed, I would turn to Larry and say, ‘Ralph needs me’, and I would get up and start getting ready. At first, it was an hour show from 6:00 to 7:00 AM. It was later extended to ninety minutes, starting at 5:30. Being a night person, it was never possible for me to get a good night’s sleep before doing the show, but I did my best. After the show was over, I was exhausted and I would go home and go back to bed. Sometimes I would even wake up later thinking that I had missed the show altogether. (laughs)

“Doing Ralph’s TV show was great as I could sing any song that I wanted to sing, which was a real treat for me. I usually worked with club bands that would stumble through standards, so it was wonderful to finally get to sing current songs with the right chords being played behind me. I would bring in a record or a tape and the band would play it and then write a chord chart for it. I did Janis Ian’s At Seventeen, Abba’s Fernando, Johnny Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now, many of Karen Carpenter’s songs and lots of other songs that weren’t even country. In fact, Ralph preferred it that I sang pop songs during ratings week. He would also sometimes ask me to bring my husband, Larry to sing on the show. We did some duets and sometimes Larry would sing a solo, too. At the time, Larry was in Bill Anderson’s band. One morning, after his performance, Ralph said, ‘Great singing, Larry. Better than ole ‘Whisper’, in fact’, (which was Bill Anderson’s nickname). That didn’t help Larry’s position with Bill at all. (laughs)

 “In the mid 1970s, Larry and I had a custom-built Mako Shark Corvette. To promote the Nashville Corvette Club’s upcoming car show, Larry actually drove the car into the studio one day on Ralph’s show. That was fun. The show gave me the opportunity to meet performers whom I would never have met otherwise. Burl Ives was there one morning, as were Jimmy Dean, NASCAR winner Darrell Waltrip, and actor Randy Boone. A funny thing happened when Merle Haggard and Leona Williams (they later married and divorced) showed up on the set one morning, looking like they had just rolled out of bed. One of my friends, a platinum blonde, Barbie-doll type named Kelly, was with me that morning. Leona was across the studio, talking to Ralph, when Merle walked over to Kelly and me. He asked us, ‘You girls got any kind of drugs?’ Kelly, in her best Barbie voice, piped up, ‘I have some Go-Go Pep Pills.’ She immediately reached into her tiny, hot pink train-case purse. Merle said, ‘What?’ Kelly repeated, ‘Go-Go Pep Pills. I get them over the counter at K-Mart.’ Merle looked totally disgusted and walked away. About forty-five minutes later, though, he must have been feeling pretty desperate. He walked back over to us and said, ‘What are those things you’ve got? Let me try a couple of ‘em.’ So, Kelly gave him a few of her caffeine pills from K-Mart. I can’t remember if they did anything for him. (laughs)

“The Outhouse Races were a popular feature of Ralph’s show for about three summers, and they were a lot of fun to do. Ralph dubbed me the official ‘Outhouse Queen’. I wore a bathing suit and a ribbon banner that I had made, with the words ‘Miss Outhouse Speedway’ written in glitter. I also bought a rhinestone prom tiara to wear and Larry made a tiny little wooden outhouse to attach to the front. The ‘vehicles’ in the races were actual outhouses mounted on two long poles. There were two runners holding the poles in the front and two in the back while one person rode inside. They also had a ‘pace house’ which was an outhouse mounted on a riding lawnmower. (laughs) The races were first held in the parking lot at WSMV-TV and then later on at the Fairgrounds Racetrack. At the racetrack, of course, a lot more people came out to watch us. One of the races was called The Mayors Race. Several mayors from  nearby towns attended the event, in addition to Nashville’s mayor at the time, Richard Fulton. Governor Lamar Alexander came along that morning with Mayor Fulton (who won the race). As Outhouse Queen, it was my duty to hand the trophy to him and give him a kiss, which I did. After I kissed him, Mayor Fulton said, ‘Wait, you’ve got to kiss the governor, too.’ He pulled him over so I kissed Lamar Alexander, too.

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