People fascinate me. I love talking to people, quizzing them about their past and generally just learning what makes them tick. Maybe it comes from working in journalism all those years. Or maybe I'm must nosey, but I love learning new things about people, especially those I've known for a long time.
Last Friday, we went to the tiny town of Hazel on the Kentucky/Tennessee border to meet Papa T.'s brother, and sisters-in-law for lunch. We met at the only restaurant in town, Anne's Country Kitchen, where they have some great catfish. It's a good thing their food is good, 'cause it helps you to overlook the fact that the building hasn't been dusted since 1987. It's the kind of place that serves hot coffee, plate dinners and mile high meringue on their coconut cream pie. While we waited for our food, I quizzed Aunt Kay about her brother, Byron who is a well known record producer in Nashville. We've been hearing Byron's name thrown around on awards shows over the years. As mama says, he's a pretty big deal. I knew what he did but I had never heard how he made the leap from the family farm in Puryear, Tennessee to making records with some of country music's biggest stars.
It seems Byron got a guitar when he was young and plucked his way through his teenage years with a little band that played at local events and clubs. He eventually won a songwriting contest that earned him a trip to Nashville to record it. The song didn't get him any real attention but it did get his foot in the door with the recording industry. He wrangled an introduction to some performers, and eventually Charley Pride hired him as a songwriter. He worked for Pride for many years and along the way honed some producing skills. One day, he was approached about producing songs for a new, up and coming singer who was expected to do well. He accepted. That singer was Tim McGraw. Yeah, that was a good decision. He produced Tim's first hit, and that was the start of a long and prosperous business relationship. Tim got hitched to Faith Hill, and Byron started producing her music, too. In fact, he won a Grammy for co-producing her big album Breathe. He was Billboard's Producer of the Year in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Not too bad for a country boy, huh? A little while back, he was asked to take on another promising act that record execs had high hopes for. Again, he said yes. Their name? Sugarland. The man knows how to pick 'em. Just a few years ago, he started a recording company with Tim McGraw, so he's doing pretty well these days.
I was completely fascinated by his story, and obviously, Aunt Kay is very proud of her baby brother. She loves to share tidbits about him. Not in a bragging way. She would never do that. It would be unseemly. Aunt Kay is very genteel. Picture Olivia DeHavilland as Melanie in Gone With the Wind, and that's Aunt Kay. Always sweet, always gentle and never boastful. She's a southern lady through and through, so she would never toot Byron's horn very loudly, but she's thrilled with his success. And it's led to some interesting experiences for her, like that time she went to a baby shower at his house in Nashville and met Faith Hill.
But the icing on the cake Friday came near the end of the Byron stories when a friend of hers walked by our table and said, "Hey, there's one of those famous Gallimore Sisters that I saw on the internet." He started talking about a video of her he saw on YouTube, and I almost fell out of my chair. I didn't even know she knew what YouTube was. Come to find out, when Aunt Kay was very young, she used to be part of a trio with her sister, Carol, and her cousin, Annie, that performed at events around the community, had a weekly local radio show and even sang at the Junior Grand Ole' Opry at the Ryman Auditorium. Carol still lives in Puryear, not far from Aunt Kay, but Annie's been traveling the world for years under the name of Rattlesnake Annie, recording music and sharing a microphone with people like Willie Nelson. Last fall, Carol, Annie and Aunt Kay were sitting around the kitchen table, when Annie broke out a cheap recorder and recorded them as they sang together for the first time in years. Aunt Kay doesn't think this is a very good recording because they were just goofing around, but obviously, the ladies know how to harmonize. (Aunt Kay's in the middle.)
Now, I knew Aunt Kay had a great singing voice because I heard her sing a few years ago at a family wedding shower. I was bent over the refreshment table at the back of the tiny church we were at, when I heard her and her two daughters comment on a religious painting on the wall. The picture reminded them of an old hymn they used to sing in church, and the three of them spontaneously broke out into that hymn. It was some of the most beautiful harmony I'd ever heard, and I stopped in my tracks to listen.
However, I had no idea she used to perform publicly, and not only that, she dropped this little nugget on us Friday. Back in the spring, she made professional recordings of some songs with her old trio buddies. She has no idea when or how they are going to be released, but I found it very exciting. Not because she might get some kind of airplay for it, but simply because she's still nurturing a talent that she used so much when she was young. Can you believe it? Aunt Kay, the sweet beautiful lady who spent the last fifty years quietly raising her family in the country town of Puryear, used to perform at the Grand Ole' Opry and is now on YouTube. You just never know what you're gonna find out when you ask someone what they've been up to lately.
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