Diane Jordan: Almost Famous – Page 9


Last Update: 6/16/09
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Click here to hear Diane Jordan sing “Stay the Night”! “Stay the Night”

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Modeling shot.....1987In 1987, Diane went from working in an Alabama music video to an entirely new kind of gig for her: modeling women’s nightwear in a lounge show called Lingerie Lady. “I began doing that as a supplement to performing. There were five to eight of us and we modeled mainly in Holiday Inn Lounges. Yes, we were the lounge entertainment!  (laughs) If I got a singing gig, I could take off from modeling, so it worked out well. We had a moderator and an upbeat mix of background music. The other girls and I modeled the outfits onstage, and then walked around to all of the tables to take orders.  If we made a sale, we would go back to our dressing room to change into another outfit and then we’d bring the sold item back to the customer. After the show, our door was open and the outfits were on racks. Patrons were invited to come in and purchase the lingerie. Believe me, it was not a sleazy show. We didn’t dance, no one could touch us, and there was no sitting in laps or anything. Our objective was to sell the lingerie…period.

“We had a weekly show at two Holiday Inns in Nashville, on opposite sides of the city. We also had a Monday night show for a year at a Holiday Inn in Huntsville, as well as shows at Chevy’s Night Club, Cajun’s Wharf Night Club, Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, and other locations around Nashville. One month, we did 20 lingerie shows…it’s a wonder that we didn’t overdose on polyester. (laughs) When we went out of town, we traveled in a van, which we called The Teddy Wagon. It really was a lot of fun.

“The show lasted for three years, ending in 1990. We did really great the first year, pretty good the second year, but by the third year, sales really fell. That’s when several strip clubs opened in Nashville. Believe me, a ‘naughty nightie’ will lose out to a birthday suit every time. (laughs)

“A lot of country music performers and well-known record producers came out to see the shows. One night, a waitress told me that a gentleman at the back bar wanted to talk to me. I went back there and saw that it was Charley Pride. He was obviously interested in me, not in purchasing my teddy. I told him that I was married and then he asked me what my ‘sign’ was. I told him that I’m a Leo. Charley frowned and said, ‘Oh, if you’re a Leo, forget it.’ (Although there was nothing to ‘forget’ because I had already turned him down.) I couldn’t resist asking, ‘Oh, did you have a bad time with a Leo lady, Charley?’ He looked disgusted and said, ‘I don’t even want to talk about it’, and then he walked away.

During her time as a Lingerie Lady, Diane added another music video to her resume when she was hired to participate in Hank Williams, Jr.’s video for the song We Are Young Country (from his Born To Boogie album). “That was in the winter of 1988”, Diane recalls. “At the time, Lingerie Lady had a regular show on Wednesday nights at the Holiday Inn on Briley Parkway. One night when we came in for work, we were told that if we wanted to participate in a Hank Williams, Jr. video, we could stay after the show. We were told that it didn’t pay anything, but of course we all wanted to be in it. The little crew brought in lights and cameras and we waited while they set everything up. They wanted us to wear our teddies and they also supplied us with cowboy hats to wear. We were all to stand, in a row, and on cue, throw the cowboy hats into the air. That was it! I remember that I was in the center, wearing a bright blue teddy. After the shoot, the guy in charge said that he’d really like to buy each of us a drink. I remember saying to one of the girls, ‘Oh, good, I’ll put that in the bank on my way home.’ Still, it was a kick to say that I was in a Hank Williams, Jr. video. Anyone who has ever seen it knows that it’s full of people and we are all presented very rapidly. Sometimes, freeze-frame comes in handy.” (laughs)

Diane eventually went from modeling lingerie to promoting a different kind of aesthetic when she became a nightclub Rose Lady. It was yet another example of the singer’s amazing ability to adapt to whatever new opportunities came her way. “Two of the lingerie models in the show had silicone implants, then quit the show and became strippers. One of them was also a Rose Lady who sold them in various places for a fireman named Bill. He came to the show one night and met me. When Kitty quit modeling, she quit selling roses for him, too, and he asked me if I was interested in taking her place. So, when the lingerie show folded, I sold roses. Bill had contracts with Dad’s Place, a hangout for older divorced people, and The Stockyard, which is a classy steakhouse in downtown Nashville, with the Bullpen Lounge in the basement.”

Diane admits that the experience was not without its difficult moments. “My first night of selling roses was very hard for me. Someone bought a rose for the singer and I had to bring it to her. Up until that time, I had always been the singer that the Rose Lady had brought roses to. I could see the look in the singer’s eyes…she knew who I was. But, I decided that I would ‘bloom where I was planted’ and if I was going to be a Rose Lady, then I was going to do it with class. I never, ever asked anyone to buy a rose from me. I stood at the back of the room with my basket and when the band took a break, I walked through the club slowly, smiling at everyone. The patrons would often talk to me and tell me their troubles because the bartenders and waitresses were too busy to listen. (laughs) I made many friends there and received some very nice gifts from some of them, too. One night, I was talking to an older man when I noted that my watch had quit running. He came back a week or so later and handed me a box. It was a beautiful Seiko 10K gold bracelet watch. He said, ‘You need to have a good watch.’ Another regular customer gave me a beautiful gold bracelet for my birthday. I sold roses until the Fall of 1995.”

By the mid 1990s, Diane’s singing career was clearly winding down. “By 1996, I was doing very few shows. I did a couple of shows that year with Tommy Cash, Charlie Louvin, Alex Houston, and Elmer (a ventriloquist), and a great impressionist named Johnny Counterfit.  We played a few dates in New Jersey and a casino in Minnesota, and then in 1997, we played a show in Ohio. In 1998, I performed for the third and last time with the Louis Brown Orchestra at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel’s New Year’s Eve Big Band party. I suppose I would say that after 1998, I no longer really considered myself a performer.”

Still, the new millennium found Diane rediscovering a creative part of her soul that she had forgotten even existed. “Merle Kilgore is a singer/songwriter whom I knew casually for years, but I had never even had a long conversation with him. In 2002, I saw Merle at a funeral home when my musician friend Hillous Buttram passed away. Merle told me that he had an office on Music Row, and invited me to stop by sometime. One day, a couple of months later, I did. We laughed and talked and told stories for two hours. Merle was going to dinner at Valentino’s, and asked if I would join him. At dinner, I got up the nerve to ask him if he would write a song with me sometime. Well, he loved the idea and promised me he would.

“That Labor Day [September 2002], Merle and his wife Judy invited me to a party at their lake house in Paris Landing, TN. After we ate, Merle picked up his guitar and looked right into my eyes—and it seemed, right into my soul—and said, ‘Let’s see if we can write this.’ He sang just one line, ‘I’ve tried everything humanly possible.’ I immediately sang the next line, and within an hour we had written the entire song. There were people all around us and his grandchildren coming up to ask him questions and showing him things, but apparently nothing could stop that song! Merle said he had first tried to write it back in the 1960s with Eddie Rabbit, but they couldn’t do it, so it was strange that he thought of it that day with me. For a while, we were stuck on the last line of the second verse and everyone was trying to think of something for it. Finally, these words popped into my mind: ‘But I can’t imagine I could be that wrong.’ Merle yelled, ‘That’s it!’, and I felt on top of the world.

“The air was charged with electricity and energy that day and I will never forget it as long as I live. The song is called Humanly Possible and of course the perfect ending to the story would be for it to one day be on the charts. After we wrote the song, Merle and I wrote two other songs together. We later demoed all three songs: When Does It End (that was a song idea that was mine), And Then Some (that was also mine) and Humanly Possible (which, as I already mentioned, was Merle’s idea). The songs turned out beautifully and I put all three of them on a CD that I made a few years ago of some of my recordings, titled The Diane Jordan Collection.

“I recently got the demo of Humanly Possible to Willie Nelson, and to several well-known record producers in town. I also think that the song would fit Alison Krauss really well. I hope to see it out there, soon.

Merle Kilgore and The Merle-etts (Diane, Anita, Shereé)  2004“In 2003, I sang backup with Merle Kilgore on a couple of shows as one of his three ‘Merle-etts’. One of the events we performed at was the Harlan Howard Birthday Bash. It was great fun singing on Ring Of Fire (which Merle had written with June Carter) and Wolverton Mountain (which Merle wrote alone).The day after the birthday bash, Brenda Lee, who had been the show’s MC, called Merle to tell him, ‘Merle, you and those Merle-ettes did it. You got the only standing ovation of the night.’ That made me feel great.

“Merle and I wrote easily together and we had planned to keep writing more songs. Sadly, his health took a downward turn soon afterward and he died in February 2005. Before he passed away, Merle said that I was ‘one hell of a lyricist’ which is probably the greatest compliment that I have ever received. Whether the songs we wrote together ever get recorded by anyone, or not, I’ll always be grateful to Merle Kilgore for giving me confidence and credibility as a songwriter. What a wonderful gift he gave me.”

With Merle Kilgore’s belief in her talent as a songsmith continuing to be an inspiration, Diane is constantly developing new ideas for songs. One of these is a bittersweet Christmas song that begs to be recorded. Though she doesn’t want to give out too many details about it (song ideas are stolen all the time), the song is a nostalgic-sounding ballad with a gorgeous melody that is destined one day to be a classic. “I wrote the song in 2007,” Diane says. “I had said the line in conversation a couple of years ago and wrote it down. It just came to me in two parts, five months apart, which is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me. You know, I had kind of a difficult childhood with my violent home life and all, but there were good times, too, and Christmas was one of them. My family always spent Christmas Day at my grandmother’s house with my aunt and uncle and cousins. There was never any trouble that day—it was always a sort of cease fire and it was always a wonderful day for me.

“Many people who have heard the song have said that it has the feel of an old standard, but no one has said that it sounds like anything they have heard before, which is a relief. I would love for a big star to cut this song one day and make some money for me. Trisha Yearwood is my favorite female singer and I would be thrilled if she were to record it. But then again, Alison Krauss’s voice would be awesome on it, too. Getting that Christmas song cut is a big goal of mine, so we’ll just have to wait and see if I can do it.”

Despite her recent interest in songwriting, Diane doubts that she will ever record again. “I do not foresee my recording any new material in the future, unless it was a demo session for songs that I have written. I am not interested in distributing my music on the Internet, either, and signing with a major record label is no longer within the realm of possibility at my age. The last master session that I did was for Grand Prix Records in 1984. I have recorded only demos since then. Demo sessions are exciting for me, because of the creativity that it takes to make a song come to life for the first time. [Other than that] I enjoy sitting in with a band every now and then to sing a couple of songs, but that’s about it.

“I always preferred a country-pop sound and that’s the type of material I wish I’d had the chance to record during my career. Actually, to show you how much the industry has changed, I think I would be considered more country now than I was back when I was recording. In the 1960s and 70s, I was often told that I belonged in L.A. but that was never an option for me. I didn’t know anyone out there, nor did I ever have the money to relocate. Before we got married, Larry did go to L.A. to audition for a new group, but he hated the place. They were all into drugs and pot, and he felt he didn’t fit in. After we married in 1971, Larry and I were firmly planted in Nashville.

“You know, in all my years in the business, I never had a bad experience working with musicians in the recording studio. I always recorded with Nashville’s A-Team, and they were top notch in every way. They were very witty, so the atmosphere was always relaxed and fun. They were always complimentary, too, which I appreciated. On the other hand, most of the material that I was given to record was really, really weak. I remember going to Harlan Howard’s office once to look for songs. He played me some of the worst junk I have ever heard in my life! It was really an insult. I have been told that I had an identifiable sound that was also commercial, and I think I did, too. It’s a shame that no one cared…

“In 2002, I had two of my old cuts released on compilation discs that were sent to Europe, UK and Australia. Home To Houston was released on Western Heart and Not Tonight, I’ve Got A Heartache was released on Hero Records’ Twangtown Project 2. Though it meant nothing in the big picture, it was kind of fun to check the online play lists and see that I was being heard in Australia, England, Holland, Belgium, Sweden and Germany.

“Since 2005, I have done a charity show in Fayetteville, Georgia every May. It benefits the battered women’s shelter there and it’s called The Johnny Cochran Celebration Of Life Show. It was started by Stella Parton, who is a friend of mine. And in April of 2007, Steve Hall (the voice of Shotgun Red, who was Ralph Emery’s sidekick for many years on Nashville Now) asked me to perform on a show with him at the New Salem Country Opry in New Salem, Illinois. It was a lot of fun and the crowd was very responsive.

“I must say, I’m not really close to the entertainers I knew and worked with in the business. However, I still talk to a few of them. Tommy Cash is one; also, Jim Glaser (of Tompall and the Glaser Brothers), Leroy Van Dyke, Jeannie Seely, Stu Phillips, Norma Jean, and Stella (Parton).

“If money were no object, I admit I would like to choose twelve songs that I really love and go into a studio and make a CD, just for the enjoyment of it. But, otherwise, I consider myself retired from performing. I hung on to the music, and to my career, for as long as I could, but then I had to let it go.

A recent photo of Diane“As I look back on my life and my career, I admit that I feel kind of gypped. I don’t believe that things turn out the way that they’re ‘supposed to’. That would be predestination, and I don’t believe in that. I worked very hard for many, many years, and I thought things were going to turn out differently for me than they did. I am a pretty cheerful person, though, and I’m grateful for what I do have: my health and my friends, a nice home, and the chance that someone will have a hit with one of the songs I have written. I spent most of my adult life trying to become a country music singing star, and I couldn’t get the job done. If I could do it all over, I would definitely be more aggressive…but I still wouldn’t go to bed with the creeps!

“The men who sexually harassed me early in my career changed my opinion of males, in general, but especially of those in the industry. I had a family background of men who bullied me, so obviously, I never was totally trusting of them. But I was always careful never to lead industry men to think that I was interested in anything but singing. Still, some interpreted that as playing hard to get. One guy who towered over me, sneered, ‘Come on, everyone has a price.’  My answer to him was, ‘Well, you’ve just met somebody who doesn’t.’ And I’m glad I didn’t. I have no regrets whatsoever in that area.”

Asked  how she wants to be remembered by her fans, Diane is typically candid in her response. “You know, for years I have read [as I’m sure everyone has] of the undying loyalty of country music fans. I had fans, too, and they were loyal…for a while. They would come to see me and some of them even invited me to stay in their homes. They would drive me to and from the airport, even when the airport was a few hours away. Several of these people corresponded with me for many years. Finally, at some point, I guess they decided that I wasn’t going to make it big, or be a star, and the letters stopped. Everybody loves a winner, right? But I wasn’t a winner…not to them, anyway. When I was 20 years old, Dottie West told me, ‘Diane, fans are not friends.’ You know something? Dottie was right.

Diane and Larry with their beloved family member, Bentley“I didn’t get what I wanted, but these days I do very little of what I don’t want to do. I did not want to be a mother and today I am very glad that I don’t have any grandchildren. Larry and I own our home and we have done a lot of work on it. Instead of singing, I am pursuing my songwriting now, hoping to become a ‘late bloomer’. To write just one hit song would make the long road worth it. As you can probably tell, it all still feels a bit unfinished to me. But I’m not through with the music business…not yet, anyway.

“Back at Sutton High School, I remember our class motto was, ‘Not at the top, but climbing.’ I didn’t realize my dream of making hit records, but I still believe, with all of my heart, that I can still write a hit song. I don’t think that there is a time limit on being a late bloomer. And even if I don’t ever write a classic song, all of the wonderful memories I have are mine to keep. Those memories alone are a beautiful gift to have.”

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