Jeannie Seely Interview

 

(CSC) 1. You’ve just celebrated your 40th anniversary as a member of the Opry. Tell us about your special evening you recently had at the Midnite Jamboree. (September 22nd)

 

(Jeannie Seely)

Well it was very, very, special to me. I called on some of my friends and close friends at the Opry. Some of them couldn’t be there. My friend Jack Greene was working out of town but he sent forty long stem red roses and Jim Ed Brown presented them to me on stage. Jim Ed and I did a duet and then along with Terri Williams we did a trio on a “Waltz Across Texas” tribute to Ernest Tubb because Jack and I were going to do that. Then Jan Howard and Helen Cornelius came in and represented the “Grand Ladies” with me. We did a couple of songs together. Then they read a message to me from Jean Shepard which was hilarious of course, being from Jean. All of my band members were there and some of the other musicians that have meant a lot to me through the years. I opened the show and closed it by myself. Every other song on the program I did either a duet or a trio with other people. It’s going to be an incredible keepsake for me; it was an exciting wonderful night!! I had a lot of dear friends there, and Wilfred Lee and his wife Ethel from down in Memphis had made this huge, huge birthday cake with a guitar on the top and it weighed 170 pounds they told me. Everybody that came to the Jamboree got cake, and it’s really good too! It’s not just big and pretty…it is really good cake!!

 

 

(CSC) 2. Being a featured regular on the Grand Ole Opry show, what is it about the show that is most special to you as a performer?

 

(Jeannie Seely)

Well I think that one of the most unique things about the Grand Ole Opry to me is that there are always three generations represented on the stage and three generations in the audience, and you don’t find that at any other venue you go to. You might see three generations in the audience at some kind of a sporting event, but certainly the players are all pretty much one age and I think that’s the way the rock concerts and all of that is too but the Opry is so unique at that. We’ve got what I call the active legends, and the real legends, and the new artists all represented on the stage. It’s always been a close family tight feeling. Becoming a member of the Opry is just one of the greatest honors that can be bestowed upon you. Of course, you can’t just join…I don’t know if people realize you can’t just join the Opry when you want to, you have to be asked to join the Opry.  So it makes it very special.

 

 

(CSC) 3. Tell us about your latest record, “Life’s Highway”, what was it like recording that album?

 

(Jeannie Seely)

Well first of all I was just totally amazed when Hugh Moore that owns the record label asked me to do this project because I have never even remotely considered myself a bluegrass singer, although I have written some songs that have been done by bluegrass artists. Growing up in the hills of Pennsylvania of course I am very much a bluegrass fan.  I especially appreciate the musicianship because it is very difficult music to play, very intricate. The harmonies are just incredible.  That’s something that I am fascinated by but never have really had the opportunity to try to do that much in that field. It was really a great project to do. I had some wonderful friends that came in and helped me out; I called on my bluegrass members of my Opry family to help me out; The Whites, and Jesse McReynolds, and of course Charlie Louvin came in. Charlie’s one of my all time heroes.  Although he’s never been considered bluegrass, Charlie Louvin, the Louvin Brothers harmonies have certainly been incorporated in bluegrass music as well. I covered “The River” by Garth Brooks. I didn’t get the musicians quite to pull that up as simplified and fast as I was hearing it in my mind. I could hear it a lot more bluegrass, but I think they kinda had Garth on their minds. That was the only thing…but I thought that it showed its bluegrass side.  It’s a great song, there’s a great message in that song.

 

 

(CSC) 4. Out of all the songs that you have written, what are some of your favorites?

 

 

(Jeannie Seely)

Well of course “Leavin’ and Sayin’ Goodbye” is very special because it’s probably the biggest and best known song that I’ve written and it was a number one record for Faron Young, of course I’ve always been such a Faron Young fan. I considered him a very close friend as well. I was very proud of that. That gave me my first BMI award as a songwriter.  That’s very special to me. There’s another song that I wrote that Merle Haggard cut on an album that I personally like a lot, it’s called “My Love For You” it’s one that Carol Lee Cooper at the Opry has always chose for me to sing. I’ve got to pull it back out and do a new arrangement on it and start doing it again. Last night I did something kind of interesting, I was asked to do a songwriter’s acoustic set at the State Museum in downtown Nashville. They are holding a little concert series in there. They call it the “Twangin’ Tuesdays.”  It’s kind of promoting Marty Stuart’s costume display down there. Also they’ve asked me to donate a costume to the museum display.  So I did that last night and after all these years I did my first acoustic set. It was great and I really enjoyed doing it!! My friend Diane Berry who played rhythm guitar and sang harmony with me for several years, was the one kinda behind it.  She got me to do it. She introduced me to a young man that she’s been doing some things with. He plays guitar, and sings and does great harmony. His name is Ben Hall, he’s only eighteen years old and he’s been attending Belmont University for a month now. He’s just a great guy and super talented. The two of them played guitars and sang harmony with me. I featured both of them, and sang a song that I wrote called “Yours.”  It featured them doing an old Merle Travis song and it really was a crowd pleaser too.

 

 

(CSC) 5. Where was the most unusual place you have ever written a song?

 

(Jeannie Seely)

Well the restroom at a service station on the way to home in Pennsylvania going home to visit my mom. We stopped; it was going to be the last time we would stop before I got home. Always when I was getting closer to home I was gettin’ excited. I guess that was in my mind, the idea that I wrote, and I get a lot of comments on this song called “One Step Away” from coming home.  But I was actually one stop away. I was in the restroom in this service station and the whole song hit me and I had nothing to write on. I was writin’ it on toilet paper and they all teased me about it later. But it turned out to be a really good song. Charlie Walker recorded that song and also Granny Anna Mae Johnson; there’s been two or three people that have cut it. I’m hopin’ to get a really good record on that song one day.

 

 

(CSC) 6. As a teenager, you attended several shows in Hillbilly Park in Pennsylvania.  It is there that you met many great performers such as Little Jimmy Dickens, Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, and Jean Shepard. What do you treasure most about those special experiences?

 

(Jeannie Seely)

Well one very unique thing is Jean Shepard remembered meeting me. Jean said you could always tell young artists. Now when I meet a young girl I can tell right away if she wants to be an entertainer and how serious she is. I agree with Jean, she says “There is something about the expression in your face that earnests there and that look in your eyes.” “You were just into it.” She said, “I remember you.” It was so funny because I stood in line with my money, she had her husband at the time selling pictures out of the trunk of the car, and they were 50 cents and I remember I had my 50 cents in my hand. I just knew all what I was going to say to her and ask her when I got up there. But when I got up to her, I was just lookin’ at her, I couldn’t say a thing, I just handed her the money and she handed me the picture. Then I remember her smiling and saying, “Did you want me to sign that for you?” And all I could do is shake my head yes. I couldn’t even say anything to her. (Laughing) But she said “You were just studying my face and I could see you watching me.” “I knew that one day I was going to see you, and show up somewhere entertaining.” That’s a very special moment to me.  I remember one of my greatest disappointments was planning to see Mac Wiseman, then him having to cancel. Mac and I have talked about that since and I can’t remember, I guess he must have been sick. He told me “I vaguely remember, because I seldom ever cancel a show.” And “Always in my mind that just confirms what I’ve always thought when I’m sick and traveled miles and you are always thinking in the back of your mind. You don’t want to disappoint the fans,” and he said “You’re saying this just confirms what I’ve always thought.” Then he told me, “It’s something to hear you say how disappointed you were that I wasn’t there.”  So those were two very important moments from my childhood.  I have the greatest respect and gratefulness to my parents for taking me to those shows because it was a form of education and opportunity for me to learn. Many times I know that they couldn’t afford it and they were tired really, and they didn’t feel like going on those trips. Mother would always ya know, cook up food, because we couldn’t afford to buy food there, and they didn’t have much food there anyway.  She would always make fried chicken and potato salad and pack a big lunch and all to take to the park for us to eat between the shows. We would go in the afternoon and have a picnic dinner and then stay for the night show.

 

 

(CSC) 7. What prompted you to make the decision to move from Hollywood to Nashville in the fall of 1965?

 

(Jeannie Seely)

Well I had been to Nashville the year before for what we used to have…“The Disc Jockey Convention.” I absolutely loved it!! I realized how much I learned on that trip and how many people I met. I just didn’t want to leave them and I wanted to come back. I didn’t record for Challenge Records anymore so I couldn’t afford to come back on my own unless I stayed. I had enough money to come one way and it only made sense to move here. I was so excited. I will always be grateful to a songwriter friend Buddy Mize.  I was planning on driving the trip back by myself. I wasn’t afraid of anything back then. (Laughing) I had run into Buddy at the old Palomino Club in California and I told him I was moving to Nashville. He said, “How or when are you going to do that?” I told him I am going to drive. He told me that he had wanted to go back to Nashville as well, but he didn’t have a way to go. He suggested hitching a ride with me. I was so dumb, I said well sure I’d love that!! I never thought about it until years later that he just did that to look out for me. It hit me years later. It’s been a wonderful career. I see people talk about the business changing and the opportunities not out there for the older artists anymore. But you know what…I think things are happening pretty much the way they are supposed to happen. I have to say that if it all ended tomorrow I’ve just had a tremendous ride and I’m not ready for it to end but if it does I’ve had a wonderful time and I’m grateful for it.

 

 

(CSC) 8. Your hit song “Don’t Touch Me” has been recorded by artists of all genres of music over the years. Why do you think so many different musicians are drawn to that song?

 

(Jeannie Seely)

Well I think the song has a timeless appeal and I think that the song appeals to everyone. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, young, old, married, single…this song can appeal to you, and it is just such a real raw emotion song I think. I think that one time or another everybody has probably felt like that. It’s just a timeless piece of material. I was very fortunate to get the song, there were a lot of people wanting the song after Hank wrote it. But he told everyone, “No I wrote it for her.” I was very lucky.

 

 

(CSC) 9. You were one of the first women to dress provocatively on the Opry, why do you think so many people made such a big fuss over your choice of outfits?

 

(Jeannie Seely)

Well because it was so different and there again had I realized what I was doing I probably wouldn’t have done it, I would’ve tried to wear what other people were wearing. You have to realize that I never got to go to the Grand Ole Opry until I was on it. So even though I knew from seeing the pictures of all these other female artists, I knew they wore mostly the ruffles and all that, but I didn’t think that was particularly an Opry thing. I just thought that’s what they liked to wear. I just assumed that was what…that was it. I just have never been into wearing costumes. I’ve always worn…I’ve always considered myself just like any other American woman except that I sing and write songs for a living…so I’ve always wore what was in style at the time. Coming from southern California that’s what we were wearing was the short skirts. I didn’t realize at that time, but I know now that the fashion starts in California and works its way across the country.  I hadn’t thought about that at the time. I didn’t realize they weren’t wearing them in Nashville when I first came here. I was on the Opry within a few months after I moved here. It all happened so fast for me. But if that’s what it took for somebody to come in and unknowingly change something everybody else was afraid to change, well that’s fine with me!!    

 

 

(CSC) 10. You are going to be starring in the production of “Could It Be Love” featuring Helen Cornelius.  For fans that are attending, what can they expect to see from you at this special production?

 

(Jeannie Seely)

Well it’s a tremendously fun part to play.  My character’s name is Mabel. Mabel is an aging actress who according to the character description is aging well. She just wants to be active and having fun doing anything that’s fun!! It’s a group of seniors who decide to stage the musical production to raise money for their senior center.  We are doing it in a little community theater here in my hometown of Donelson.  It is a great community theater and they do a lot of productions for the political people, the business people in the community, and children all together. It’s a great concept to do and this is a new play and Helen plays the part of this sweet little innocent church lady who opposite of me is just afraid to do anything for fear it will upset her church group. The two of us are constantly at each other even though we’re good friends in the play, as we are in real life. We have a lot of fun with it and I think the music is absolutely wonderful!! I hope everybody will enjoy it, I think they will. We have fun with it.

 

 

(CSC) 11. You became a member of the Opry when it was still at the Ryman. What special memories do you have from sharing the bathroom as a dressing room with the other ladies backstage?

 

(Jeannie Seely)

Well that’s the funny thing the dressing room space was so limited in the Ryman. It’s a little bit better since they’ve remodeled it but it’s still limited. That is one of the great things I enjoy when we go back down there for the winters. All of the girls pretty much share one dressing room so we get caught up on all the family stuff a little bit more. Going back to when I first went there…I was just trying to fit in and I was still so new and I felt intimidated because I was crammed in this room with all these female stars. Some of the stars I had never even seen in person before. I’ll never forget one night when Jean Shepard there again broke the ice, she handed me her hair brush and she said, “Here Seely, you’re not doing anything, do something with my hair.”  And I remember thinking oh my goodness, how do I do this, and I’m not that good at it anyway. She said to me “Well, you can do a better job than I can.”   I worried about how to do her hair and hoping that I would do it to please her. She was pleased with it and it kinda opened the door to our friendship I think too. It made me feel welcome; it made me feel like I was accepted into the group. Loretta Lynn was always funny too. She always would make me feel welcome when we were at the Opry. 

 

 

(CSC) 12. After years of constant touring and performing, what is it that still keeps you going?

 

(Jeannie Seely)

I think there’s an excitement about it. I love to perform. I love being an entertainer. To see people laugh or to sing a ballad and bring tears to their eyes you know, you are making a bond with those people, you’re making a connection. I feel like as people we are connecting as people. Our lives are pretty much all basically the same when you get right down to it. We all have the same hopes and dreams, the same life’s ups and downs, disappointments, and heartbreak and joy. If we can connect on any kind of a level I think that’s a good thing and it’s a great feeling to me when I can do that!!

 

 

(CSC) 13. What can fans expect next from you? What projects are you currently working on?

 

(Jeannie Seely)

Well I don’t know, after last night I’m kinda toying with the idea of doing a quiet pickin’ album. You know, just a real quiet, almost like a at home acoustic session. Just because it went over so well last night and it was so fun, and maybe just doing a little acoustic CD on songs that I have written. I may even put some that have never been recorded before.

 

 

(CSC) Thanks again to Jeannie for taking time to speak with Country Stars Central! We really appreciate it!!

 

(Jeannie Seely)

Well I thank you for inviting me and I’ve enjoyed the talk too!! Let me just take this opportunity to tell all the fans that I appreciate them so VERY much!! 

 


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