Jean Shepard: An inspirational country music pioneer

Jean Shepard broke down barriers and inspired female artists who followed

Jean Shepard was more than ‘just’ a country music artist. She was instrumental in changing the way country fans – and the music industry – regarded female singers.

Jean Shepard pictured in 1971
Jean Shepard pictured in 1971

In the early 1950s, solo female country artists were very few and far between, Kitty Wells being one of the most notable of the few. The absence of female country singers was something of a self-fulfilling prophesy on the part of record label executives: they were convinced that nobody wanted to hear female artists so they didn’t sign any, and then of course, no female singers were cutting songs and no records by female artists were showing up on the charts. Those record execs could look at the charts and say, “See? Songs by female artists aren’t selling.”

Her big break came thanks to her own determination when she pretty much invited herself onto the stage in 1952 while Hank Thompson, a big star at the time, was performing. Thompson was impressed both by Shepard’s talent and her resolve and convinced the very reluctant execs at his label (Capitol Records) to sign her.

After one non-charting single, Capitol teamed her with one of their male artists, Ferlin Husky, on “A Dear John Letter,” a million-plus seller that topped the Country charts and became a pop hit too. Touring with Husky – he was appointed her legal guardian as she was still a minor – she quickly became a fan favorite in her own right. Her popularity was such that, when she was only 22, she became only the third female artist invited to join the Grand Ole Opry, the other two being Kitty Wells and Minnie Pearl. (At the time of her death, Shepard was the only female artist to have been a member of the Opry for sixty years.)

Inspiration to female artists

By breaking through as a female singer in a male dominated music world, she inspired other young women to persevere with their craft and not give up the dream. So many female country stars that came along after her have cited Shepard as a true role model.

Shepard’s resilience was also remarkable in the face of so much adversity in her personal life. She grew up desperately poor, the daughter of a sharecropper with her nine sibling in a home without running water or electricity. Later, at the height of her career, when she was eight months pregnant, she lost her husband Hawkshaw Hawkins in the 1963 plane crash that also killed Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas. Despite her grief, she returned to the Opry and the recording studio, determined to maintain her career and support her small children.

Country’s first ‘concept album’

A rarity for female artists at the time, Shepard was not afraid to sing and record songs, including “The Root of All Evil (Is A Man)” and “Twice The Lovin’ In Half The Time,” that focused on ‘gritty’ subjects such as adultery and broken marriages from a woman’s point of view. Artists such as Loretta Lynn note that Shepard’s album “Songs of a Love Affair” opened the door for them to sing about subjects that might have otherwise been nixed by record labels. “Songs of a Love Affair” is recognized as the first ‘concept’ album in Country music.

Jean Shepard, with Bill Anderson, celebrating 60 years as an Opry member in 2015. Photo: Chris Hollo
Jean Shepard, with Bill Anderson, celebrating 60 years as an Opry member in 2015. Photo: Chris Hollo

Often described as ‘feisty’ – she made no secret of her distaste for modern ‘pop-country’ music – she had strong convictions and a strength of character that stayed with her throughout her personal and professional life. Jean Shepard was a pioneer and an inspiration to any aspiring artist who feels the odds are stacked against them. As Brenda Lee said when Shepard was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2011: “She busted down the doors.”

For a discography and more about Jean Shepard’s long career at the Opry, click here.

Ollie Imogene (‘Jean’) Shepard, November 21, 1933 – September 25, 2016. She is survived by her husband, Benny Birchfield, and sons Don Robin Hawkins, Harold Franklin Hawkins II and Corey Birchfield.

Conway Twitty’s ‘Lost Tapes’

Preshias with Joni and John Wesley Ryles
Preshias with Joni Twitty and John Wesley Ryles, listening to the remastered Conway Twitty tapes

Monday morning started out great with Joni Twitty and John Wesley Ryles. I was with them at Ricky Skaggs‘ studio putting the finishing touches of musical magic to the rare 1970 recordings that Joni’s father Conway Twitty cut with Scotty Moore for the U.S. Armed Forces Network. The long-lost songs are soon to be released by Country Rewind Records.

Working on Conway's 'Lost Tapes'
Working on Conway Twitty’s ‘Lost Tapes’

Pictured (left to right) are: John Wesley Ryles (back up vocalist and Conway’s son-in-law), Ron Oates (‘The Bomb’ piano player!) Joni Twitty, and engineer Mark Capps (Mark worked on Conway’s last album). Not Pictured: Guitarist Kevin Williams, who has played with The Gaithers for 24 yrs. Everyone at Country Rewind Records is so excited to be ‘a spoke in this wheel’ as these historic recordings finally get to be heard by Conway’s fans!

Waylon Jennings Lost Nashville Sessions

Reproduced below is the press release announcing the Waylon Jennings album for which I wrote the liner notes. It is a remarkable album of tracks long thought to have been lost forever. In addition to its historical significance, it’s a heck of a good album! I recommend you give it a listen. – Preshias Harris


Gem Features 14 Never-Heard-Before Tracks, And One Bonus Track (Digital Only)

The Sixth In The Label Series — Due Mid-October 2016

Waylon Jennings: The Lost Nashville Sessions
The Lost Nashville Sessions (Waylon Jennings)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (September 13, 2016)—Country Rewind Records (a division of Hindsight Records, NY), will introduce one of its newest collections of country music’s hidden treasures—THE LOST NASHVILLE SESSIONS (Waylon Jennings). The project will be available October 21, 2016* via all major digital retail outlets.

An impressionable country music singer, who became a Grammy recipient early in his career (for “MacArthur Park”) and forged his name as an iconic figure in American music history, Waylon Jennings was a member of the “Outlaw Country” music movement and genre. He shared the billing with renowned, award-winning recording artists such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson. THE LOST NASHVILLE SESSIONS showcases Jennings’ stout talents as a young and promising recording artist (spotlighting the number one hit “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line”) and highlights a piece of music history that may have easily been lost and forgotten.

The musical gem features 14 never-heard-before tracks originally recorded at Scotty Moore’s Music City Recorders (July 1970) as part of a U.S. military recruitment radio program. The 15-minute recorded shows hosted performances by, and banter with, popular country artists (Jennings, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty and Tammy Wynette to name a few). Created to encourage recruitment, the shows were distributed for “promotional-use only” on vinyl to 2,000 participating radio stations. Country Rewind Records President, Thomas Gramuglia, dusted off the masters from each and every recorded program with the idea to bring these performances to life via today’s contemporary and digital musical formats. (THE LOST NASHVILLE SESSIONS is just one of hundreds of recordings.)

Grammy award-winning musician and producer, Robby Turner (who is also the late country legend’s longtime steel guitarist and producer, and now plays with Chris Stapleton), added instrumentals and background vocals to the raw original tracks (including Waylon Jennings’ classics and his renditions of Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down”).

With audio quality of the highest twenty-first century standard, the project has been described as “Delightful” (Robert K. Oermann/Music Row Magazine). The production sounds as if Waylon and A-list musicians recorded the project just yesterday. Jennings’ widow, Jessi Colter, and their son (Shooter Jennings) have given their permissions and blessings to release the project.

Music City Media will head up the press and social media campaign; Williams Promotions will oversee the radio promotion campaign. The project is being distributed by Select-O-Hits.


THE LOST NASHVILLE SESSIONS digital retail release date: October 21, 2016. iTunes pre-sale begins September 23, 2016; purchasers who take advantage of the iTunes pre-sale will be offered “Kentucky Woman” as the instant gratification track.

For more on THE LOST NASHVILLE SESSIONS and other Country Rewind Records productions, visit


  1. Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line
  2. The Choking Kind
  3. Stop The World and Let Me Off
  4. Anita, You’re Dreaming
  5. Just To Satisfy You
  6. Green River
  7. Singer of Sad Songs
  8. Love of the Common People
  9. MacArthur Park
  10. Brown Eyed Handsome Man
  11. Mental Revenge
  12. Time To Bum Again
  13. Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down
  14. Young Widow Brown

Bonus Track:  Kentucky Woman (**digital only**)

Cole Swindell’s long road to success

Three ‘Number One’ parties in one day

three Number One parties in one day for Cole Swindell
three Number One parties in one day for Cole Swindell

Celebrating a Number One song is a big moment in any songwriter’s life, particularly if you also happen to be the artist who recorded it. How about THREE Number Ones, celebrated at three different parties on the same day?

That’s what happened to Cole Swindell on Monday, September 12. The three party ‘pub crawl’ started off at South on Nashville’s Demonbreun Street, where ASCAP and BMI got together to honor Cole Swindell, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley (all BMI writers) and Michael Carter (ASCAP) for co-writing “Hope You Get Lonely Tonight.”

At the party, Swindell revealed that the idea for the song title came from a

Pictured (L-R): BMI’s David Preston, manager Kerri Edwards, Big Loud Mountain’s Craig Wiseman, Round Hill’s Penny Gattis, songwriter and producer Michael Carter, ASCAP’s Beth Brinker, BMI artist Cole Swindell, Sony/ATV Tree Publishing’s Terry Wakefield and Warner Music Nashville’s John Esposito. Photo: Steve Lowry.
Pictured (L-R): BMI’s David Preston, manager Kerri Edwards, Big Loud Mountain’s Craig Wiseman, Round Hill’s Penny Gattis, songwriter and producer Michael Carter, ASCAP’s Beth Brinker, BMI artist Cole Swindell, Sony/ATV Tree Publishing’s Terry Wakefield and Warner Music Nashville’s John Esposito. Photo: Steve Lowry.

text he received, maybe from an old flame, that said, “Hope you get lonely tonight.” He was getting ready to go on stage and showed the text to Luke Bryan’s guitarist Michael Carter. They agreed that it sounded like a great song title, and together with Florida Georgia Line’s Hubbard and Kelley, they developed the idea and the song came together quickly. They made a ‘work tape’ and played it for anyone who’d listen… all of whom agreed it sounded like a hit. They were right.

The party then moved next door to Dawg House to recognize Swindell along with Josh Martin (SESAC) and Adam Sanders (ASCAP), the writers of the Number One hit “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey.” Finally, the third party took place just down the street at the Tin Roof, honoring Swindell, Michael Carter and Jody Stevens (BMI) who wrote “Let Me See Ya Girl,” another Number One single from Swindell’s self-titled album (Warner Bros. Nashville). All three Number Ones were produced by Michael Carter.

As icing on the cake, Swindell was presented with an RIAA-certified Platinum disc for his self-titled album, only the second Platinum certification so far in 2016. All in all, a pretty memorable day for Mr. Swindell.

‘Write your way to a record deal’

If anyone is the poster-child for ‘write your way to a record deal,’ it’s Cole Swindell. First and foremost, he sees himself as a songwriter. And he has certainly paid his dues with eyes always on the prize of his own recording contract. After leaving college in 2007, he moved to Nashville and got a job selling merchandise on the road for three years for his friend Luke Bryan, constantly songwriting, honing his craft.

It paid off in 2010 when he signed a publishing deal with Sony/ATV Music Publishing. He started racking up writing (and co-writing) credits with cuts such as Craig Campbell’s “Outta My Head,” Thomas Rhett’s “Get Me Some of That,” FGL’s “This Is How We Roll” and numerous songs recorded by Luke Bryan including “Roller Coaster,” “In Love With The Girl,” “Beer in the Headlights,” as well as Scotty McCreery’s “Water Tower Town” and many others. He became known as a songwriter who could consistently deliver.

Cole Swindell, in his distinctive Georgia Southern baseball cap
Cole Swindell, in his distinctive Georgia Southern baseball cap

In 2013, Swindell recorded a single of “Chillin’ It” and released it independently. He got the single to SiriusXM’s “The Highway” channel and began to get airplay, and that – along with his proven track record as a writer – brought him to the attention of Warner Music Nashville who signed him to a record deal. . With Warner’s boost, “Chillin’ It” made it to Number One on Billboard’s Hot Country chart.

It was no “overnight success” for Swindell. It virtually never is, for anybody. He found a way to start out “in the business,” selling merch for his college frat brother, Luke Bryan, then writing songs at every opportunity, co-writing with others, developing his skills, building his network, learning his way around the music business. It was a steady, progressive journey – almost ten years – that took him from selling tour tee shirts to celebrating three Number One hits and receiving a Platinum album on a single day.

Cole’s inspiring story

If you are an aspiring artist and it seems “like forever” that you’ve been plugging away, writing songs and looking for the big break, take heart from Cole Swindell’s story. If you have friends and family members suggesting “you’ve been in Nashville for a year and you still don’t have a record deal,” tell them about Swindell and how you are following his example, dedicating yourself to developing your writing skills and proving to record labels that you have the potential to be a ‘product’ worthy of their investment, possibly of millions of their dollars.

It takes time to achieve success. The most brilliant and successful brain surgeon started off as an anonymous intern in a hospital. Major League baseball players work their way up to ‘The Big Show’ by developing their abilities playing at A, AA and AAA minor league clubs before getting called up. They know that success takes time because they have to develop their skills and prove their worth. The same applies to you in the music industry.

If you have a ‘Doubting Thomas’ in your family who thinks you should give up the dream, tell them the story of Cole Swindell’s long (but worthwhile) road to success. While you’re at it, tell it to yourself, too. Just as he did, visualize yourself holding your first Number One plaque!

More about Cole Swindell here.

* * *

Writers awarded Kyser Capos

It's Kyser Capo time!
It’s Kyser Capo time!

All ASCAP songwriters receive a Kyser KG6K 6-String Guitar Capo on the occasion of their first Number One. Each custom-made Capo is gold-tone and inscribed #1 ASCAP. Pictured left to right at the Dawg House, celebrating the Number One hit, “Aint Worth The Whiskey:
Cole Swindell, Michael Carter, Adam Sanders and ASCAP Nashville’s Mike Sistad.

Photo Credit: Mike Harris.


New “Garth Brooks Channel” on Sirius XM

Historic ‘first’ concert at the Ryman Auditorium

Garth at SiriusXM's studio at the Bridgestone Arena
Garth at SiriusXM’s studio at the Bridgestone Arena

Garth Brooks took a short break from his three year “Garth Brooks World Tour with Trisha Yearwood” to launch his new channel on SiriusXM Satellite Radio.  He kicked it off with a press conference September 8, at Sirius XM’s studios at Bridgestone Arena on Broadway in Nashville, in front of an ‘invitation only’ group of print and broadcast media, before performing a concert at the Ryman Auditorium.

Garth started out by saying, “I got to step inside the [Ryman] yesterday. That’s a cool place, man. Feels good. Don’t know if I deserve to be there but it treated me like welcome. It welcomed the band and everybody. I hope it knows its heart and soul, because you might have said it in front of as big a country fan [as me], but you’ll never say it in front of a bigger one.”

He went on to describe how it would feel, walking on to that historic stage with his guitar for his first ever concert at the Ryman. It’s amazing to think this was to be a ‘first’ for Garth.

“The only time I got to stand on the Ryman stage was at Loretta Lynn’s Lifetime Achievement Presentation and I had to stand in for Conway on “Cold As Ashes,” said Garth.

Representing ‘those who’ve been before’

I asked Garth to compare the difference between two milestones in his career, playing Central Park and playing at the Ryman. Garth said, “Probably feeling the same good anxiety, good fear, all those good things. Central Park was cool for its size and stuff. I wanted to represent Country music, I wanted to represent the flag of Country music, your family and God the best you can. Everybody is in their seats. Tonight you think about, this ain’t a million people, there has been about a hundred names that played that house that – you – want  – to – represent…” (He slows he speech down with emotion as he finished the sentence.)

He continued, “To represent those people who have been there before. The biggest thing between this and Central Park is just that the Central Park show was representing Country music as it was. Here [Ryman], I think we’re trying to represent Country as it is, as it was and of course – as always like a family moving together – hopefully for the future of it.”

Like a homecoming

All throughout the press conference he would turn every few minutes and look out the window at the Ryman Auditorium with evident emotion in his voice and his eyes welling up, referring to the Ryman as “The House”. This seemed almost like a homecoming, just to listen to his sincerity and honestly as he spoke his thoughts and heartfelt emotions.

He was asked what song he was going to start the concert with and he said that he couldn’t even tell us what song he was going to start off with or end with, and assured those present that he was being totally upfront with the media.

Garth fields questions at the SiriusXM press briefing
Garth fields questions at the SiriusXM press briefing

Immediately following the press briefing, Garth crossed the street to Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium for a soundcheck preceding his performance at the special concert in front of invited guests.  The concert aired live on the Garth Channel, SiriusXM channel 55 and via SiriusXM apps on smartphones and other connected devices.

His appearance marked the first time in Garth’s career that he has put on a full concert at the Ryman Auditorium, known as “The Mother Church of Country Music.”

Additionally, Garth recently launched Inside Studio G, a weekly Facebook Live series that will give fans a behind-the-scenes look at the making of his next album. It airs every Monday on Garth’s Facebook page at 7:00 PM EDT.

The final leg of his and Trisha’s North American Tour resumes on Monday, September 12.

More information at Garth’s Facebook page and

NOTE: Due to limited space, some quotes were shortened to fit accordingly.