Entertainment, On A High Note

Jeannie Seely: New Music, New Horizons

Fifty years ago, if Jeannie Seely had been a force of nature, she’d have been a hurricane; because in 1966 she took the country music world by storm. That was the year this young entertainer from Titusville, Pennsylvania blew away the competition—winning awards from Billboard, Cashbox and Record World magazines for “Most Promising New Artist.” Fifty years later, those titles still ring true.

Many of her fans would say Jeannie left the term “new” in the dust decades ago and now the term “legend” more accurately describes this stage of her career as a Grammy Award winner and a 48-year member of the Grand Ole Opry. While I wholeheartedly acknowledge that Jeannie has EARNED the title “legend,” I stand behind the title “Most Promising New Artist.” After all, you don’t get to BE a 50-year success in the music business without reinventing yourself, keeping up with the times and making yourself fresh by constantly refreshing what you do and how you do it. Jeannie still gets my vote as “Promising New Artist,” because she’s never been satisfied to rest on her laurels. Every day in the career of Jeannie Seely is a new day. She makes it that way.

Jeannie Seely in the studio (March 1966) recording "Don't Touch Me," for which she won a Grammy Award in 1967, and Jeannie 50 years later (March 17, 2016) recording a song for her new songwriter's project set for release later this spring. PHOTOS COURTESY RON HARMAN

Jeannie Seely in the studio (March 1966) recording “Don’t Touch Me,” for which she won a Grammy Award in 1967, and Jeannie 50 years later (March 17, 2016) recording a song for her new songwriter’s project set for release later this spring. PHOTOS COURTESY RON HARMAN

I first met Jeannie when I was a reporter for The Nashville Network in the mid 80s doing a story on the women of the Grand Ole Opry. I was 23 years old and, truthfully, scared to death. Instead of making Jeannie feel comfortable during the interview, she sensed my nervousness, and put ME at ease. The televised feature got rave reviews, and Jeannie made me look good in the process. In the years that followed, I came to understand that Jeannie has a knack for that too: making the people who work beside her look good. You don’t even know she’s doing it. Jeannie is secure enough in her abilities to entertain to allow the light from her own spotlight to shine on others. In Nashville, that’s a rarity.

Also rare is a 50-year career that continues to spiral upward – a career whose early days included a stint singing on “The Ernest Tubb Show” and working as “the girl singer” with Porter Wagoner. (Jeannie, in her trademark glib manner, often jokes the only reason Dolly replaced her on “The Porter Wagoner Show” was Dolly’s hits were bigger than hers!)

As the years passed, Jeannie became an actor and an author, had No. 1 recordings as both a solo artist and as a duo with Jack Greene, introduced hot pants and go-go boots on the Grand Ole Opry stage, became the first female singer to host half-hour segments on the Opry and won herself a BMI Award as a songwriter. Jeannie’s composition “Leaving and Saying Goodbye” took Faron Young to the top of the charts, along with memorable recordings by Little Jimmy Dickens (“She Always Got What She Wanted”) Irma Thomas, Connie Smith, Lorrie Morgan, Jack Greene, Dottie West and many other music icons.

At Hilltop Studios in Madison, TN working on Jeannie's new songwriter project. L to R: Dug Grieves (guitar), John Nicholson (engineer), Eddy Bayers (drums) Tim Atwood (piano), Jeannie Seely (artist), Jimmy Capps (guitar), Danny Davis (bass), Tommy White (steel) and Kenny Sears (fiddle). PHOTO COURTESY ROXANE ATWOOD

At Hilltop Studios in Madison, TN working on Jeannie’s new songwriter project. L to R: Dug Grieves (guitar), John Nicholson (engineer), Eddy Bayers (drums) Tim Atwood (piano), Jeannie Seely (artist), Jimmy Capps (guitar), Danny Davis (bass), Tommy White (steel) and Kenny Sears (fiddle). PHOTO COURTESY ROXANE ATWOOD

And it’s that songwriting element that once again has Jeannie’s interest. Jeannie returned to the studio last week to begin a new, as of yet untitled, album due out later this spring. It’s a compilation of songs written by Jeannie. I had the good fortune to attend the project’s first session, and I can say without a doubt that this album is destined to be a treasure for any music collector. Without spilling any beans, it was fun to watch the incredulous faces of the musicians on the session that day. They’d listen down to a song before recording it, and invariably two or three of the guys would stand there with their mouths wide open, shaking their heads from side to side, exclaiming things like: “I had no idea you wrote THAT! WOW! That song is a favorite of mine. I’ve known you for 30 years and I never knew you wrote THAT song!”

When I asked Jeannie why she waited this long to do a songwriter’s CD, Jeannie smiled and said, “I wanted to wait until everybody forgot who I was writing about…and now I have.” The timing for this new project is monumental. Almost 50 years to the day that Jeannie first stepped in front of a microphone to record her Grammy winning song “Don’t Touch Me,” a song that permanently placed Jeannie on the map of stardom, Jeannie was in the studio laying down the vocals for this new album. Her voice is a little deeper these days, her sound a little warmer, more sultry – seasoned to perfection. And while Jeannie herself is a perfectionist, she’s learned to relax a little over the past many years and have fun while she works. “I’m not trying to start a new career,” Jeannie quips. “I’m just trying to finish the one I have!”

Still active on the road, you can catch Jeannie in concert this year at a variety of venues throughout the country. Check out her website for upcoming tour dates with Mickey Gilley, Johnny Lee, Moe Bandy and TG Sheppard – and hopefully we’ll see some writers’ nights added to her list of performances soon.

Jeannie Seely and Tim Atwood sharing a laugh on stage. The two perform an "Intimate Evening" concert series. PHOTO COURTESY ROXANE ATWOOD

Jeannie Seely and Tim Atwood sharing a laugh on stage. The two perform an “Intimate Evening” concert series. PHOTO COURTESY ROXANE ATWOOD

Jeannie’s even put together an intimate evening series with piano great Tim Atwood — a 38 year veteran of the Opry stage. Together they share stories, laughs and songs with only the piano for accompaniment. The show has received tremendous reviews and as simple as the concept is, it works, because the audience becomes part of the “friendship” these two entertainers embrace on stage.

Jeannie will tell you in a blink of the eye that making music these days is all about surrounding herself with the people she loves. One of her favorite sayings is, “We don’t get to choose our family; however, we do get to choose our friends!” and Jeannie has chosen wisely.

No doubt Jeannie will be surrounded by those old friends this summer when she celebrates the 50th anniversary of her Grand Ole Opry debut. For five decades Jeannie has brought to the Opry stage a wonderful combination of sass and class as the consummate entertainer, and on any given standing room only night, at the end of each Opry performance, Jeannie can add another 4,400 people to her list of new friends. She continues to be a fan favorite.

The legend in Jeannie gives the fans what they want to hear, but it’s that “Promising New Artist” who continues to approach every show with a girlish love and enthusiasm. “It’s all in the attitude,” reflects Jeannie. “I don’t HAVE to do what I do. I GET to do what I do. There are horizons I haven’t seen yet, and I want to see it all.”

 

6 Comments

  1. Sandy Young

    Jeannie Seely is truly a “living legend”. She is a talented singer, writer and wonderful enterainer. I am so looking forward to her new album, I know it will be a great one! Thanks for excellent article about her.

  2. LMarie

    What a fine tribute, Roxane! Congratulations on the songwriter album, Jeannie!

  3. I, too, was nervous and a little intimidated being around Jeannie Seely at first. It would be foolish to say someone of her status would not make someone just starting here in Nashville nercous! It wasn’t long before she started introducing me last in her show (I was a band member(rhythm guitar)/harmony singer)and Jeannie would save me for last, saying something like….”Now that I’ve introduced all the hairy legged boys on stage, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to a little lady who happens to be a good friend of mine and a really good country music singer…..ladies and gentlemen…Diane Berry”! I was soooo proud. Still am proud! Jeannie is one of my friends that I CHOSE…..I see people every day..all kinds…and I chose Jeannie to be a friend of mine. She has been a wonderful friend…..helping me stand when losing my child was more than I could take standing on my own……coming to visit to see if I was doing alright….being around her when she was writing such great songs, singing the harmony on them as they were finished and then getting to sign them with her on the Grand Ople Opry! Now THAT’s a friend…..I love Jeannie Seely. I have lots of respect, admiration, and a bit of envy when I stand and watch her sing….I want to be part of it all. I love Jeannie’s music and I want to be part of the particular group who plays music and sings with her……..I would enjoy two of my all time favorite things in life….playing real classic country music and to be able to do it with my friend, Jeannie Seely. I know your new project will be great! The best has surrounded herself with THE best musicianship and singing talent you can find. So, I know it will be great!
    I am proud of knowing Jeannie Seely….now…and also so very proud of knowing her when she was “rorarin & runnin’!!! I loved her then I love her now! Soooooo’I;m just one tear away from crying…” You go get them, Jeannie!!!!!

  4. Jeannie Seely has done quite a lot for not only the women singer/songwriters here in Nashville, but all the others, too. Jeannies songs are wonderful….They tell a story, they’re heartfelt…some of them funny…But when she gets the right song to the right person, it can become magical. Just listen to some of her songs…”So many times I thought about leavin’…and oh, so many somgwriters/singers learned a lot from Jennie and successful. I’ve learned a lot…quite a lot…She is a lady “to be reckoned with” filled with an energy that can stand up to anyone anytime! With Jeannie Seely on your side, the calvary has arrived!!!

  5. cathy whitten

    Great story!!

  6. Chris Jenkins

    Too bad she usually is only credited with being a Grand Ole Opry star … Maybe she wasn’t as big as some of the other ladies of her era, but she’s been at it a long time. Longevity accounts for a lot.