Diane Jordan: Almost Famous – Page 7


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“One morning, Ralph walked over to me and said that after I had been on the show the previous day, Chet Atkins called him and was interested in using me on a tour. Then he said, ‘When I told him how happily married you are, he wasn’t interested anymore.’ Then he laughed and walked away. I thought to myself, ‘Yeah, that was really funny, Ralph. It’s only my life and my career you’re joking about.’ A tour with Chet Atkins may have made a big difference in my career. I mean, he could have found out that I was happily married after I was on the tour.  I really resented it that Ralph told Chet that I was happily married and, in doing so, cut me out of  some much-needed work. Ralph came on to me many times but since he couldn’t get anywhere with me, I guess he wanted to make sure that Chet didn’t, either.

Diane and Nashville Now host Ralph EmeryDiane with famed Nashville publicist Charlie Lamb“During my years on Ralph’s show, it was always a lot of fun for me to be recognized all around Nashville. It happened often; when I was shopping, visiting someone in the hospital, in restaurants, etc. I once was at Vanderbilt Hospital having a ganglion cyst removed from the inside of my ring finger on my right hand. While the doctor was doing the in-office surgery, he remarked that it may have been caused from holding that microphone too tight on The Ralph Emery Show.’ (laughs) Backstage at the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium one night, someone introduced me to Dolly Parton’s parents. Dolly’s mother said, ‘We see you all the time on The Ralph Emery Show!’ In 1974, when I worked The Hacienda in Las Vegas, with Tommy Cash, some people came backstage to meet us after our first show. One of the women looked at me and said, ‘I watch you every morning on The Ralph Emery Show.’ Once, when I went to my chiropractor, there was a new receptionist. When she saw me, her jaw dropped and she said, ‘Aren’t you the Outhouse Queen?’ (laughs) I received some interesting bookings, too, as a result of  Ralph’s show. One was an appearance at a little Country Opry, in a small town in Kentucky. My opening act was a guy who played the Boots Randolph song, Yakety Sax, using a comb and a piece of paper. What can I say? My gigs were never dull. (laughs)

“Ralph’s life story, Memories…The Autobiography of Ralph Emery, was released in 1991. I bought a copy and took it to the show to have him autograph it. He wrote in it, ‘To Diane Jordan, The Outhouse Queen…and a great singer. My best to you always, Love, Ralph Emery.’ He wrote a story about me on page 123, but he didn’t mention my name. The story concerned two old ladies, Maude and Dorothy Paul, who attended the show every morning. In the book, Ralph writes: ‘A singer came on the show once with a bare midriff and the Pauls wouldn’t speak to her, and shunned her efforts to be friendly.’ That was true, but those two old women did that to me many times. If they thought I was wearing something too sexy, they gave me dirty looks and wouldn’t speak to me. (laughs) I told the band about it one morning and one of them said, ‘Never mind. You just keep wearing what you’re wearing.’ One morning, I actually wore a black lace hot pants outfit with a midriff top. I was in great shape and I really didn’t think anything about it. That morning, WSM received three telephone complaints about my outfit. One woman said that her 15-year old son watched the show while getting ready for school and she didn’t think that he should be subjected to something as provocative as my outfit. She left her phone number and gave her name as Mrs. Batey. I told Ralph that I should call her back and say, ‘Well, Mrs. Batey, I know that you don’t like my outfit, but what did Master Batey think about it?’ (laughs)

The Ralph Emery Show maintained the largest lead-in audience for the Today Show of any local program in the United States. It’s now considered an important part of Nashville’s television history and, despite a few disappointments connected to the show, I consider it a great privilege to have been a part of it for all those years.”

Diane got her third record deal in late 1971, this time with the tiny Jack O’Diamond Records, in Nashville. “At the time, I was singing with a group called The Sugar Compound at the Sheraton Hotel’s Camelot Lounge, which was downtown between 8th and 9th Avenues on Broadway. Songwriter Alex Zanetis, who wrote Brenda Lee’s pop hit, As Usual, came into the lounge one night in November of 1971. He waited to talk to me and said that I had the voice he was looking for to sing his ‘masterpiece’— a song called Thanks For These Memories. Alex said that three major labels had told him that they would sign whoever he chose to sing it, so of course, I was excited. He invited me to his office the following Monday so he could play it for me. The song had a beautiful melody, but looking back now, I realize that it really wasn’t commercial. However, I believed his hype that I would be signed to a major label if I recorded the song, so I cut it. In all, I wound up cutting four songs that Alex wrote: Thanks for These Memories, As Usual, If Not Forever,and a very strange song called She’s An Island, which my parents absolutely hated. John Ragsdale, Ray Stevens’ brother, did all the arrangements and we recorded the tracks with a fifteen piece orchestra. For some reason, John used a corny, Tommy Dorsey type trombone intro on If Not Forever. No one could believe it…it was really, really bad. During the session, my husband Larry was in the control room and he told me later that Alex Zanetis was in there drinking the whole time and getting drunk. One song even came out too fast. I was disappointed with the whole lousy experience.

“Alex called a few days later and said that Thanks For These Memories had ‘a real Christmas feel to it’ and he thought that it should be released right away, which was about three weeks before Christmas. That was a ridiculous thing to do…nobody releases a record at that time of year. He said that none of the major labels wanted to do that, so he was going to rush it out on his own label, Jack O’Diamond Records. Up to that point, I didn’t even know that he had a label. He assured me that the record would take off right away and that right after Christmas, ‘one of the major labels will pick it up.’ Of course that didn’t happen; it was all a lie. Ralph Emery wouldn’t even play the record. He said, ‘Diane, that song is a piece of shit!’ He was right…it was. A couple of years later, I got a call from a girl named JoAnne Steele. (She had once been married to Eddie Crandall, who was Marty Robbins’ manager in the 60s). JoAnne wanted to ask me some questions about Alex Zanetis. He had talked her into buying the tracks from my session for $5,000. But when she tried to record with the tracks, she found that she couldn’t sing the songs in my keys. I felt very sorry for her. Alex had really ripped her off.”

Despite the frustrating time she had with her recording career, Diane savors the memories she has of her stage work. “Aside from appearing on the Grand Ole Opry, the absolute highlight of my performing career was a four week engagement in February 1974, at the Hacienda Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, with The Tommy Cash Show. We were required to be there for rehearsal the day before our show opened. That was a first for me, to rehearse with a sound and light crew.  Having worked so many little clubs with poor sound systems, and bands that wouldn’t even rehearse my songs if I sent a tape ahead of time, it was pure pleasure to sing with a really good band and a state-of-the-art sound system.  We did two shows a night for 28 days. During the engagement, I was a guest on a local TV talk show. The other guests were Danny Thomas and Liza Minnelli’s half-sister, Lorna Luft.  Danny, of course, held court in the green room and we all listened to his stories, which I thoroughly enjoyed. He and the producer of the show both mentioned that they thought that I resembled Mitzi Gaynor. I had heard of her but I didn’t know what she looked like, so I didn’t realize what a compliment it was until I saw a photo of her. The magazine Country Song Roundup had a Vegas column back then that was written by a woman who lived in Vegas. She reviewed all the country acts who appeared anywhere in town, and I heard she was going to review our show, too. I grew up reading this magazine, so I was excited, fully expecting my name to appear in her column. However, it never happened. Tommy Cash told me that Joan, the columnist, had called him when we  were in Vegas, and hinted that he should take her out to lunch. But he didn’t  so she left us out of her column. That was very, very disappointing for me, however it doesn’t dull the memory of  what was really a fantastic gig.

“Conversely, I think the most discouraged I have ever been in my career began that April, right after I worked in Vegas with Tommy. I had been booked for four weekends at Fairfield Glade, a vacation home resort, near Crossville, Tennessee, about 140 miles from Nashville. The last weekend of the job, as I was driving there, I began sneezing uncontrollably. By the time I arrived, I had a mound of used tissues on the seat beside me. I thought it was a spring cold but a month later, I wasn’t any better. Later on, Larry, and I drove home to Sutton for my ten-year class reunion. I woke up at 4:00 AM, sneezing and choking. I went to a clinic in a neighboring town and was told that I had allergies. I later found that I had become allergic to feathers, which explained why I became worse, as I was still sleeping on the same old feather pillow I had grown up with. Antihistamines would stop the sneezing and runny nose, but I had terrible headaches, and worse, a very nasal sound to my voice. I mean, nothing would take it away. I was still singing, but there were a lot of songs I couldn’t sing and I knew that I didn’t sound good. I became very depressed and cried all the time. I would cry in the shower, while I was cooking…even while I was ironing. I was not pleasant to be around, and I knew it. In fact, for Christmas that year, I bought a book for Larry titled ‘How To Live With A Bitch’!

“I was really despondent when I heard that Sonny James had just gone through some serious allergy problems and had to quit singing for a while. Larry was working with Bill Anderson’s band at the time and one day he called home from the taping of their TV show to tell me that Sonny James was the guest. Larry had mentioned my allergy problems to Sonny who said that he would be happy to talk with me. I drove down to the TV station immediately. Sonny told me that he had gone to an allergy clinic in Texas. They had tested him and formulated desensitization shots for him that he injected himself with. Eventually, he regained his voice. When I heard this, I was really encouraged. First, I went to a private allergist in Nashville, but he was about 80 years old and was going to give me two thousand tests. I was hysterical all the way home, thinking that it would be a long time before I could even begin the shots. Then I found out that Vanderbilt Hospital had an allergy clinic, so I went there next. They asked a lot of questions and gave me only 30 tests. I began the shots right away and noticed a vast improvement in only two months. I had some days without the nasal sound, so I knew I would get better in time. Until I totally recovered, however, life was pure hell. There were times, in fact, that I wanted to die. I had previously had several encores on the Grand Ole Opry and favorable reviews in Las Vegas and I was getting more bookings, and then all of a sudden, I couldn’t sing. It really changed me forever, I think.

“As time goes by, my allergies have become worse in other ways. I’m now allergic to all kinds of smoke and cannot be around it at all, so club work is no longer an option for me. I recently did a demo and the keyboard player had used some kind of lotion on his hands. As he was running the song with me, the scent stopped up my nose. So, in a way, I guess it’s a good thing that I am concentrating now on songwriting, rather than singing.”

MartyRobbinsRoughly a year and a half after recovering from her severe problems with allergies in 1974, Diane managed to get a new record deal; this time with industry giant Columbia Records. Diane credits singer Marty Robbins as the primary catalyst for this promising new opportunity. “At the time, I was booked as Marty’s opening act on a show in Denver. Afterwards, he asked me if I was on a record label. I wasn’t  and he told me to come to his office because he was interested in producing me. After we did the session, he played one of the songs for Rick Blackburn, who was the head of Columbia back then (which was also Marty’s label), and Rick agreed to sign me to a contract for two singles. If either of the singles had been a hit, of course, the label would have cut an entire album on me.

“As I said, Marty produced my first session for Columbia, in which I cut two songs that he wrote, and two songs that I found myself. One of them was a cute, uptempo song called Are You A Real Cowboy (Or Just One Of Them Country Singers). I found out later that Marty had played Rick Blackburn only one of the cuts and that was The Way I Loved You Best, which he wrote. I knew then, and I know now, that Columbia signed me just because of Marty. As a result, they did no promotion on me whatsoever. I was booked on some shows with Marty in Canada, and the promoter, Harry Joyce, called the record company’s Detroit office to get some copies of my record. Believe it or not, Columbia’s Detroit office didn’t even know that I was on the label. I guess I didn’t even rate an interoffice memo!

“During the time that I was on Columbia, I was booked on some shows with Marty. However, I never rode on his tour bus and the promoter always had to hire a band to back me.  Marty never allowed anyone to use his band. Still, it was always fun to open for him as he never did his shows the same way. One night, he came onstage and after a couple of songs, talked to the audience. He said, ‘Boy, that Diane Jordan is great, isn’t she? And what a healthy girl. One night I saw her backstage at the Opry, having a conversation with Dolly Parton. They were standing back to back.’ The audience roared.

“I appeared twice as a guest on Marty’s portion of the Grand Ole Opry. Marty had nothing to do with it, though. Both times, someone canceled a couple of hours before the show and I happened to be backstage. Since I lived close enough to drive home to change into a stage outfit, I was chosen to fill in. I also worked some shows with Ronny Robbins, Marty’s son. I remember we had a gig once at the Governor’s Mansion in Montgomery, Alabama. Governor Wallace and his wife, Cornelia, were hosting a dinner party, poolside, for several race car drivers. It was the night before the big race at Talladega and a singer named Jack Barlow, his band, Ronny and I were the performers. Governor Wallace had already been shot by then and he was in a wheelchair. I carried in my tote bag and my dress, and was immediately approached by a garish older women who offered to show me to a room where I could change my clothes. Her makeup looked as if it had been applied in a moving vehicle and there was a large glass stone missing from her gaudy necklace. I later found out that she was Ruby Folsom, Governor Wallace’s mother-in-law. She volunteered to take me on a tour of the mansion. That was pretty cool, however it really embarrassed me when she opened the door to George Jr.’s room saying, ‘’Oh, George, Diane Jordan wants to see your room.’ (laughs) You know, like he was a kid from down the block.

“Due to his busy touring and recording schedule, Marty didn’t have time to keep producing me after we cut my first single for Columbia, The Way I Loved You Best. He had just done that to help me get started [with the label], so Glenn Sutton (Lynn Anderson’s husband at the time) was assigned to produce my next session. Unfortunately, my dealings with Glenn would prove to be very ugly and upsetting. He lied to me and built my hopes up, which I thought was a very cruel thing to do.

“When Glenn Sutton was chosen to produce me, I came across a song that I loved called Undercover Lovers that was written by Tammy Wynette, George Richey and Robert John Jones. The first time I heard it I knew it was a potential hit record. A booking agency called Celebrity International was booking some dates for me at that time and the owner, Bob, had given me a tape to listen to of the song. It had been recorded by another girl singer and her deal was off, so the song was free. Bob told me that Tammy and George Richey wrote it when they were having an affair (even though she was still married to George Jones). However, Tammy never recorded it; in fact, it’s not even listed on BMI. Not long after I was dropped from Columbia Records, Stella Parton had a hit on a song by the same title, but it wasn’t the same song.

“The second song I recorded with Glenn was titled Get Ready For My World, and it was written by Glenn, Billy Sherrill and Jerry Chessier. Sutton told me that Billy had originally wanted to cut it with Janie Fricke but that Glenn had talked him out of it so that I could do it. I would find out later, after I had been dropped by the label, that this was a big, fat lie. My husband and I saw Billy Sherrill one night at Mario’s Restaurant in Nashville when we were there for dinner. While Larry was paying the check, I talked to Billy. I asked him if it was true that Glenn had talked him out of cutting Get Ready For My World on Janie. Billy said, ‘Talked me out of it? Hell, I didn’t think it was good enough for Fricke’s album.’

“The night we cut the song, I remember that Glenn walked me out to my car. He put his arm around me and said, ‘We’re a team, you and I. If Billy doesn’t let us do another session, we’ll just find another label.’ What a liar he was. I found out the true story from Gene Ferguson, who was a promotion rep for Columbia Records at the time. He also managed Johnny Duncan for a while. He was my friend at Columbia and I could count on him to tell me the truth.  I would hang out at his office and he’d show me radio station charts where my records were being played. Once, when Gene was on a promotions tour, he went out of his way to come to the Diplomat Lounge, in Montgomery, AL to see me perform. He was impressed and even told Rick Blackburn that I did a great show with a house band, and that the label should get behind me. It didn’t work, though. Rick had absolutely no interest in my career. Maybe he felt that Marty Robbins had placed him in an awkward situation and that he really had no choice but to sign me.

“Gene said that Glenn was told by Rick Blackburn, ‘We owe Diane Jordan another session…just get it over with.’ He knew this, yet he insisted on putting out Get Ready For My World as a single instead of Undercover Lovers which was the record I wanted out as it was a lot more commercial. I mean, why not humor me [by releasing the better song], when he knew I was going to be let go anyway? After Columbia dropped me, Glenn wouldn’t even return my phone calls.

“In 2007, I found out that a friend of mine could get Glenn’s e-mail address and I was going to write him a scathing letter. Just my luck, he died suddenly. I didn’t even get the satisfaction of calling him a liar for what he did to me.

Glenn Sutton was just another stone in the road—one of many I came across.”

A promo photo of Diane from 1977Diane admits to having a highly disappointing professional relationship with Columbia’s hit-making producer Billy Sherrill, as well. “I never knew Billy all that well but I thought he had a very arrogant air about him. I first met him around 1970 when I was singing at the Western Room in Printer’s Alley. His cousin, Dianne Sherrill, was also singing there at the time. Billy came in on a Saturday night with another young girl singer. He asked Dianne to call her up to sing and then he asked Dianne to have me come over to his table. He told me that he really liked my voice and said to come down to his office the next week. I was thrilled beyond words. We were sitting against the back wall at the Western Room, directly in front of the stage. The girl he had brought with him was onstage singing Crazy and she wasn’t doing a very good job. Billy knew she wasn’t any good, of course. Dianne was sitting in the middle of us and I heard Billy say to her, ‘I  know she can’t sing, but you oughta see her naked.’ I leaned forward and said, ‘I heard that.’ Billy said, ‘Well, you weren’t supposed to.’ The next week, I rode two city buses to get to Billy’s office and upon arriving, I was ushered in to see him. He told me how good I looked and then he proceeded to tell me that I had ‘a weird voice’ and that he didn’t know how to record me. He played a couple of songs for me from a new Jody Miller session he had worked on and that was it. I was dumbfounded—I didn’t understand why he had told me to come to his office [if he wasn’t interested in working with me]. Was he so used to girl singers that would come on to him and offer him favors that he didn’t care enough to make the first move, and possibly be rejected?

“You know, at some point in the early 70s, Marty Robbins had left Columbia and had signed with Decca. He didn’t do well at Decca, though, and so he came back to Columbia in 1976. Marty said that Billy Sherrill told him that he’d ‘bring him back from the dead’ but that he would have to do everything he told him to do. Marty had just written El Paso City and wanted his son, Ronny, to record it, but Ronny didn’t want to do it because he felt it would look like he was riding on Marty’s coattails. So, Marty cut the song himself and it came off so well he told Billy that he wanted that to be his first single. Billy said that he didn’t think it was a hit but Marty insisted that Columbia put it out. It turned out to be his first number one record in eight years. Marty grinned and said, ‘You see, Mr. Sherrill doesn’t know everything.’

“After Columbia Records dropped me, I still continued to stop to see Marty if I saw his car at his office on Music Row. Marty’s inner office had a small adjacent room, which contained a sofa and a piano. One day after my friend Michelle got off  work, we drove by Marty’s office and saw his car, so we stopped in. Marty was in a singing mood and he sang a couple of songs for us. This was after he had released The Way I Loved You Best on an album. I asked him to play the song in his key, and I sang harmony with him on it. Marty seemed surprised that our voices blended so well. He said, ‘If you can find us a hit song, I’ll cut a duet with you.’ I shot right back, ‘If you really mean that, I’ll find a hit song.’ I immediately called my friend, Bob Tubert, a songwriter, producer, publisher and song plugger, to ask him to look for a potential hit for a duet.

“Not long after that, Marty told me that Billy Sherrill was pushing for him to do a duet with either Jody Miller or Tammy Wynette. But Marty didn’t think that his voice would blend with either one of them so he told Billy that he decided he didn’t want to do a duet with anyone. It’s not very likely that Billy would have let him record a duet with me, anyway. I had to call Bob Tubert to tell him that the duet was no longer an option. Bob told me that he could have gotten the song, Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle To You) for us,had Marty been able to keep his word. (author’s note: Old Flames… went on to be a Top 10 record for Dolly Parton in 1980.)

Diane says, “Don’t ever tell me that ‘you make your own luck.’ I believe that we have to do our part and be ready when luck does kick in, but timing is everything. Unfortunately, I came along at a point in Marty’s career when he could no longer call the shots. And I certainly couldn’t either. Not at Columbia.”

With the demise of her deal with Columbia Records (her fourth recording contract in fifteen years), Diane admits that it was often difficult in the late 70s to remain positive about her career. “I remember I used to say that for me to stay in the business [after all I went through] was like a woman who stays with a man who beats her. It felt that way, too. It was tough sometimes, retaining my enthusiasm, but I kept thinking, ‘Well, it’s going to happen for me, it’s just going to take a little longer.’ I went through many periods of depression but then someone would come along, wanting to help me, and I would think, ‘Yes! This is where it’s all going to fall into place.’

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