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  • Writer's pictureCountry Stars Central

Jeannie Seely Interview

(CSC) 1. It is good to be with you again; it has been quite awhile!! Since we last spoke, you’ve had a lot of great things happen in your life; a new home, marriage, and grandbabies… tell us about all these exciting things in your life!

(Jeannie Seely)

Well, my new home is actually my old home rebuilt again after the flood; of course, we were all devastated most folks were if you remember in 2010 when the Cumberland River came three foot up into my house and everybody else's. I was really one of the lucky ones. Because I have a cottage, I had already downsized from my big farm house in Hendersonville to this little cottage on the bank of the Cumberland River so that made it easier to rebuild than if I had a big house. On the good side, the upside, there’s always a good side to any bad thing that happens, we were able to upgrade a little bit and make a few changes that I always wished were different in the original cottage, so it's all good.


Yes, a gentleman I’ve known for many years, he's an attorney here in Nashville, actually just retired as Legal Counsel and Vice President of Nashville Electric Service, but once an attorney always an attorney. (Laughs) We both served on the Donelson Chamber of Commerce together, so we have known each other and his wife had been gone at that time for about five or six years and of course I had lost my significant other. Anyway, we just got together to go out for dinner and just to have a friend. It just developed into a wonderful relationship and we got married; it will be three years ago in November.


I didn't have children, I didn't give birth to any children, but I had three step sons when I was married with Hank Cochran and helped raise three step sons there and I helped raise two of Jack Greene's sons because I was the only one there. So, I have had a little experience but the grand babies are all a new experience for me. It's funny; I was talking to somebody the other day and she said, “I have issues with new grandmother. I found out what people meant when they said that if I'd had known grandchildren were so great, I would have just had them and skipped the children." I said, "Well, actually that's what I did." (Laughs) Kind of a unique way, but we have three little ones now; the oldest one is twenty months, then eight months, and eight weeks. So, there's three there and they’ll all be right together, so it's gonna be fun.


(CSC) What do they call you?


(Jeannie Seely)

They're callin’ me "Grammy," which was funny cause that was what all the kids called my mother, so that was kind of special to me. All the kids have been married before and all of this, so they got a lot of different grandmothers and grandfathers and all you know, like most modern families do. So, that was one of the names that wasn’t taken and I was glad. Plus, then I laughed about that, I said "Well let's see now, I won a Grammy and now I are one." (Laughs) So we’re having fun with it.


(CSC) 2. Congratulations on celebrating your 45th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry this past year.


(Jeannie Seely)

It will be 46 years in September this year. It's been a wonderful run. I'm not one of the artists who complains about the new acts coming in because even though it's been 46 years ago that I came into music. I remember very well that I was new one day and I remember that the people, for the most part, welcomed me but there were those who said, "Well, she's not really country." I remember I was there during the era when they complained about us wanting drums on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and I was there when they fussed about Marty Robbins wanting a trumpet. So, as I've always said, change is difficult in any case, that's just I think human nature but where something is the love that is the Grand Ole Opry, everybody loves it so much they are afraid somebody is gonna spoil it and it has been that way for 85 years, there’s been changes, so certainly there are now.


The music evolves just like our technology, every fashion, everything changes and I think that's the way it should be. So, I like to welcome the new artists, I think that sometimes they've gone a little bit too far overboard to where there's not enough balance, as far as the Opry is concerned. Of course, mainstream radio, they are gonna’ do what the advertisers want and the advertising agencies shoot for 18 to what 35 audiences, so there you have it. The truth is when we were young, we didn't want to listen to what our parents did and the young people now don't want to hear what we do. The wonderful thing about the era we live in now with technology and the internet, there are so many avenues to go for music. There's room for all of us now, for everything, whatever you want to listen to you can find it 24 hours a day, so I just think things are just the way they are supposed to be.


(CSC) 3. When you think back on all the years of performing there, what gives you the greatest sense of pride as an Opry member?


(Jeannie Seely)

The fact that I'm still here I think is the first greatest sense of pride and I never get over what an American institution the Grand Ole Opry is, how unique it is. I never take for granted what it means to be invited to be a part of that inside circle. I’m aware constantly that I hold a position that most anybody would love to hold so I’m very fortunate. I work very hard still to stay current and to do my job. One of the things I have a lot of pride in is the fast that the doors are finally open for women to host. That was a door a lot of people don't realize in the newer generation, that those doors were not only slammed shut and locked, they were sealed against women; that was a door that I beat on constantly trying to get them to change that. I remember when Mr. Durham was the manager, I used to go to him all the time and I'd say, "Okay, I know you've told me before why it is women can't host the Opry, but I forget," and he’d say, "Its tradition Jeannie," and I said, "Oh, that's right, it's tradition, it just smells like discrimination."


I was very aware though that when Bob Whitaker came on as manager and he opened the doors and allowed me especially to do that, I knew that I had to do my homework, I knew I had to pay attention, I had to do it right or the door would be slammed again, not only on me but on a lot of them comin’ behind me. So, I'm very proud of that milestone and it was long overdue. Mr. Whittaker said he agreed with me and the way he put it he said, "That’s ridiculous because you're wasting fifty percent of your talent pool and you're ignoring fifty percent of your listening audience."


I just think because men and women think different, naturally like when I'm interviewing somebody or maybe points that I bring out when I'm introducing somebody, I mention things from a different perspective. Things that women may be interested in that men wouldn't have even have thought of bringing up, so therefore, it appeals to the women in the audience as well.


(CSC) 4. Tell us about your latest album “Vintage Country; Old But Treasured,” and the creative hand you played in the making of the record.


(Jeannie Seely)

I joke about the subtitle, "Old But Treasured," and I tell the audience, "I'm speaking of the music there." (Laughs) How this came about, I talk to the fans after the show so much and it's always interesting to me their comments and I listen to them because first of all, why wouldn't you listen to them? That's who you're trying to entertain, that's who you're trying to please. And what I heard so often was people would say, "You know, I like to hear a new song every now and then, but at this point in my life, when I go out, I wanna hear what I already know so I can sing along and relax and I don't have to think too much about it."


Then I had a lot of people would ask me, "Do you ever do this, or this song reminded me of something." So, I've kind of made mental notes of some of the songs that they mentioned. From my own thinking back, as I said in the notes, I was not trying to, by any means, top the performances of the original records because I thought they were all awesome. If I hadn't of, I wouldn't have included them but it was just we all do things the way we do them and that's it. As I was thinking back through, they were some of the great performances of our time and I just felt like we probably didn't hear them that much.


(CSC) 5. How difficult was it narrowing down the songs, and how do the ones you chose reflect your personal connection to them?


(Jeannie Seely)

It was difficult to narrow it down. The only song that really did not fit the criteria at all was the "Darktown Strutters' Ball," however the song just kept coming into my mind, every time I turned around, I would be singing that song again. It's a song I've known my whole life. In fact, my mother taught it to me and I remember she taught my girlfriends and I to dance the Charleston to "Darktown Strutters' Ball" and then I did some research on it and it was written in 1917, they did the Charleston and later in the 40's they revised this song again and danced the Jitterbug. I kept thinking about the history of this song and I thought, "Well, maybe it does fit." Here again I'm a singer, I get to do what I want. (Laughs) So I did this song and we get so much great comment on that.


The Kendalls song, "Heaven's Just A Sin Away," that song I always like that and I like the Kendalls and every time I heard that record it made me feel good and I walk around singing it for three days. The one cut I'm not happy about at all the way it came together was, "Blanket On The Ground." I think part of it was I knew Billy Jo Spears health was not good and we had just done two tours in Ireland together, so the song was so fresh in my mind, I knew how much everybody liked it and I thought, "You know, if BJ cut an album like this and she included, "Don't Touch Me" I would be very proud of that, I would be complimented, so I kind of wanted to do it for that. Sadly, dragging my feet as usual, I did not get a copy sent to her and she didn't hear it. But I think I could not really nail the song like I wanted to, I don't know what it was. That was the one disappointing thing. My guitar player, however, was happy with the cut and he used to work with Billy Jo, so I guess it was just me and the feeling there.


I joke on the Kendalls thing about Jeannie Kendall and I said our names are the same but the way you’ll always be able to tell us apart is she is a high soprano and I am not. (Laughs) But of course the other thing "Funny How Time Slips Away" I used to sing that song a long time ago, it's one of my favorites that Willie Nelson sings. I had always done it more kind of blues. After the tragic accident when we lost Billy Walker, I went into the Opry that Tuesday night and they forgot to call me and tell me that they were gonna do a tribute to Billy Walker and show a slideshow of Billy at the Opry on the screen and they wanted me to do a Billy Walker song. I’m like, "Oh my goodness, you know." So, I went scrambling back to the dressing room to figure out what key I would do it in and see if I remembered it. So, that's when I did it again for the first time and had so much great comment about it, and then people started requesting it. Those that liked the way I did it and also it was a great remembrance of Billy.


(CSC) 6. I think about the unfortunate loss of your home, and the damage done to the Grand Ole Opry house a few years back from the Nashville floods. What lessons did you learn from that serious time and how did you rebuild your life?


(Jeannie Seely)

Well, the main thing that I learned was first of all, we're all stronger than we think we are. We can handle more than we think we can. It’s certainly not easy and not anything anybody wants to go, but I watched my neighbors and all of us that just scraped up what we could, we cleaned up what we could and we went on and we were there to support each other; and that was a good thing.


The other thing I realized is that we all have too much, we just really do. Being able to basically start with a clean slate and also when you start and you don't have anything you realize what it's like all of a sudden for the first time to think I don't have any towels, I don't have sheets, I don't have so many basic things, and then I realized how I had done, you know bedspreads and all this, and I don't know why this is such a thing in my mind, but I’ve talked to several women and they all agree, when we get tired of a comforter set we all have a tendency to clean it and put it in the bag and then a new one came in, stick it in the storage area or somewhere as though we are ever gonna pull it out again.


We're totally oblivious that somebody out there needs that, could use that and would be so grateful to have it. So, I don't do that anymore; I pass things along immediately. I don't tuck anything away now because if I'm not using it, I don't need it and somebody does. I think that really really stood out in my mind of what it's like to need again. We didn't have a lot when I was a kid growing up but I never went without. I had things I basically needed, I didn't have what I wanted but there's a difference, then all of a sudden, I realized what it was like to not have the basic needs for the first time.


(CSC) 7. Country music lost one of its greatest voices when Jack Greene passed away. How have you been doing since his passing?


(Jeannie Seely)

Well, I’m doin’ fine but you know Jack had an illness for quite awhile, and in my mind, we lost Jack quite awhile back and I know you know what I’m sayin’ because he was not the same as we knew him. It was sad for me to see the changes in Jack as his health failed. It’s so funny because now, already when I think of Jack, I don’t think about him being ill, I already think about him and picture him like he was when we were working together. I see that wonderful smile, and hear that wonderful voice, and see the energy he always had onstage and the enthusiasm Jack had for everything.


I spoke at his memorial and I mentioned to the group that day that I feel so fortunate for the time that I spent with him aside from the music, I got to see things and I learned things that I never would have known about had I not had the opportunity to tour with Jack because he was so into everything from geography to history, to just everything. Jack wanted to see everything. It was not unusual at all for him on occasion to stop the bus at predawn and wake everybody up to see the sunrise because it was so spectacular, especially if we were going through mountains or anything like that out in the prairies you know where it was just spectacular. Looking back, traveling with Jack, we grumbled like everything getting’ out of those bunks at the time, but looking back we, all loved it and appreciate it now.     


(CSC) 8. You spoke at Jack’s memorial, and shared some very special stories from the road. Out of all the wonderful memories you two shared, what are some that come to mind right now?


(Jeannie Seely)

I just think the excitement from when we put our show together. We were basically doing what all the other combined acts and packaged shows were doing where I would go out and open the show and then Jack would come out and do his part, and then he would call me back to do the duets. We saw the Larry and Lorrie Collins kids and I was just really impressed with the way the excitement there was when the two of them hit the stage at the same time as their band, and I was still looking for something that kind of set our show apart from everybody else so I asked Jack what he thought about doing something like that. Jack was always open to trying something new and anything to improve what we were doing, so we did try it and it did have the effect so from then on, we would hit the stage together with the band, we didn’t send the band out first and the effect that it had was really exciting and it started that show cooking right from the beginning. We gave the people everything we had to give them right from the top of the show.

Another thing that it allowed us to do was when I was singing, Jack would step back with the other boys and they sang backup vocals for me, and then of course when he was featured, I would step back with the boys and do the vocals with him. I always felt like we were really goin’ over the top with giving the fans everything we could offer. Now of course that seems very minor in today’s market with three sound trucks (laughs) and all that they have now but that’s now, and that was then.


I truly believe that Jack and I were ahead of our time in some of our thinkin’. I know also another thing we did, at one point when the denim came in style, we went and bought denim jackets and jeans for all of us just alike, so all seven of us hit the stage dressed alike and of course going back to some of the parts where we went every year, we gave them now the same kind of show but something different yet in the fact that we were all dressed alike. We never looked at ourselves as any different then the boys in the band because it takes all of us to put on a show and that’s what we did.  


(CSC) 9. When did you first come to know Jack, and how did you two meet?


(Jeannie Seely)

Well, I was a fan of Jack Greene’s before I met him; in fact, I was still living in California when Ernest Tubb allowed his Texas Troubadours to record an album and Jack did a song called “The Last Letter” on that album. I heard the song; of course, I had heard the song by other people but when I heard his cut on it, I called the radio station and I said, “Who is that?” and they said “Its Jack Greene,” I said, “I got that but who is Jack Greene?” So, they told me he was Ernest Tubb’s drummer so from then on, I was listening. When I came to Nashville in 1964 during the disc jockey convention for the first time, I remember both Hank (Cochran) and Dottie West asked me who I would like to meet while I was in town, and I told them I wanted to meet everybody, but there are two people for sure I want to meet, one is Connie Smith and the other one is Jack Greene, and Dottie West said, “Well you’ve got great taste!”


One other thing I want to mention is one of the highlights for me during that time that Jack and I worked together is we recorded the first and as far as I know the only live album recorded at the Grand Ole Opry house. When we first opened the Opry house in 1974, they were giving us this tour and they showed us the control room that had all this wonderful recording equipment there so at that time they were doing a special show that they called a “Showcase Show,” we’d do one at five o’clock and one at seven and it was connected with Opryland Park, but we did the shows in the Opry house. I remember everywhere we would go where there were recording facilities we’d always throw, back then it was the old reel-to-reel tape, and we’d record our show so that we could listen back and see what parts it was lagging in so we could fix it, and I still do that today with myself. We listened to the show and I said the next time we do it, let’s go ahead and put a 2-inch reel on and see if we can’t get a live album out of it so that’s how that came about. I’m very, very proud of that and now especially with Jack gone that album means so much in fact my husband was just telling me a little while ago that he sold out of the Jack Greene and Jeannie Seely live album immediately here today at the show so that’s a good thing! 


(CSC) 10. I know you also had the special honor of singing at Jack’s 83rd birthday celebration, his last public performance. Did you two have the opportunity to really catch up that evening?


(Jeannie Seely)

You mean that last thing at John A’s when we all gathered there? Yeah, like I said Jack’s health was really failing at that time so I was very concerned and of course he was being hit from so many angles, there were so many people there, everybody wanting to talk to Jack and of course wish him Happy Birthday so I really didn’t get to spend much one-on-one time with him. Lee Ann said that she wanted him to sing, he was going to sing a couple of songs and she wanted me to sing with him. I had to leave, but not only did I have to leave but I told Lee Ann he was going to be worn out pretty quick because being well I know all of that hitting me would wear anybody out. So, she agreed and said lets just do it then. They didn’t have a live band, Dan Schafer was playing guitar, and of course Dan worked with Jack so they had Jack seated on the stool right in front of the little bandstand there, and I went up to sing with him. Dallas Frazier who wrote “There Goes My Everything” was there, and Dallas came up to sing, and I saw Jack’s bandleader Penn Pennington for so many years in the audience, so I hollered at him to come up so we all sang with him. To answer your question, I’m just so grateful that Lee Ann did that and that she asked me to come up and sing with him because it was about the last time of the quality time that I spent with him. Everybody that I talk to that was there was so grateful that she did that.


(CSC) 11.  After many years of performing shows together and singing with Jack, what do you cherish the most?


(Jeannie Seely)

Well, I am just very proud of what we did and like I said, we did change the presentation if you will of the package show and because we tried to what I call “polish” the show a little bit and do it a little bit different, we were able to take country music into venues that had never had country music before. I know we worked several of the dinner theaters with that show that had never booked country before so we opened some doors there.


We were also asked to perform at the United Nations banquet in Washington D.C. and it was funny because a weird thing happened and they had scheduled Jack and me and our show and they were following us, they had the Rockettes to appear. Well, nobody realized that they had not allowed time to clear all the equipment from the stage to present the Rockettes and give them room, of course they didn’t do their full-on production but it was all the things we did were just a representation, and we were representing country music (laughs). The manager or whoever we were working for at the time came up in a panic and asked us if we could step out in front of the curtain and perform something with just the guitar. So, we agreed, and after we finished and they closed the curtains then we went out in front of them and Jack was saying, “What are we gonna do??” Well, all of a sudden, I thought, I don’t know where it came from but I thought “You Are My Sunshine,” that’s known all over the world. It was a song that everybody all over the world knew and they could all sing along, and it was the United Nations banquet so we sang “You Are My Sunshine” up there but it was fun.


The one thing I will always treasure working with Jack is he was so easy going and like I said earlier in the interview, he was always ready to try something different. We worked together as a team of feeding off of each other for those ideas. He was never one to say, “Oh I don’t think that will work,” you know and I say it in that instance because we didn’t have time to think of it and he said, “Well it sounds good to me, lets run with it!”  That was just a special working relationship. The friendship was a wonderful thing and we shared so many memories, and just that era together with both of us coming up through the ranks if you will of Ernest Tubb and both learning so much from Ernest. I think there was a special bond there that will always be there.


Looking back, there’s probably a good possibility that we both hindered our own individual careers for a few years by what we did but who knows that you know, I mean who knows what would have happened had we not put the show together and just worked individually. Maybe nothing would have been any different. There’s always naysayers that look back and say, “Well y’all shouldn’t have done this or you shouldn’t have done that.” All in all, I’m very proud of the show we had and I’m grateful to have had the association with Jack. I always say his name with great pride!


(CSC) 12. Do you ever have the chance to catch up with Lee Ann Lallone at all?


(Jeannie Seely)

Lee Ann and I talk quite often and text back and forth, but of course we’re both enjoying our grandchildren now and I just got a message from her saying she’s going to be grandma again and I congratulated her and its just a fun time. I think that God has a way of giving you something to replace something and maybe the grandchildren are coming at a wonderful time for Lee Ann. I can’t say enough good things about Lee Ann and I know that because of her efforts and much, much hard work we were all able to enjoy Jack Greene a lot longer than we would have had she not been able to be there and dedicate her time and efforts to keep him working. Also, she gave him the gift of being able to perform longer because she took care of everything when it got to when he couldn’t remember anything except how to sing, that’s all she ever required him to do so she took care of everything else. Not everybody has that so my hat is off to Lee Ann for what she did; we’re all grateful.


(CSC) 13. As the music industry continues to change, and many of our great legends pass on, what memorable imprint would you like to leave the country music industry with?


(Jeannie Seely)

From me? (Laughs), Well I hope that people will remember me as being a good person, number one, and I hope that they will remember me with a smile, I hope that I have made people laugh, I hope that will be a good memory for everybody and I hope they will remember that number one, I was still and still am a fan, I never stopped being a fan of country music and certainly never stopped being in awe of the Grand Ole Opry. I hope that they’ll remember that I was just one of them; I just sang and wrote songs for a living.  








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