Ramblin’ Rhodes: Year had share of country music winners, many losses

Country music legend Merle Haggard died of pneumonia on April 6 in Palo Cedro, Calif. He was 79. FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Before we get too far into the new year let’s take a look back at country, bluegrass and folk music highlights from 2016:


ACM &CMA TOP AWARDS: The top awards presented by the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association in 2016 were:

  • l Entertainer of the Year: Jason Aldean (ACM), Garth Brooks (CMA)
  • Male Vocalist of the Year: Chris Stapleton (ACM and CMA)
  • Female Vocalist of the Year: Miranda Lambert (ACM), Carrie Underwood (CMA)
  • Duo of the Year: Florida Georgia Line (ACM), Brothers Osborne (CMA)
  • Group of the Year: Little Big Town (ACM and CMA)
  • Album of the Year: Traveller by Chris Stapleton (ACM), Mr. Misunderstood by Eric Church (CMA)
  • Single of the Year: Die A Happy Man by Thomas Rhett (ACM and CMA)
  • Song of the Year, goes to the songwriter(s): Nobody To Blame (ACM), composed by Barry Bales, Ronnie Bowman and Chris Stapleton, recorded by Stapleton; Humble and Kind (CMA), composed by Lori McKenna recorded by Tim McGraw


  • Best Country Album and Best Country Solo Performance: Traveller by Chris Stapleton
  • Best Country Song, goes to songwriter: Girl Crush, composed by Lori McKenna, recorded by Little Big Town
  • Best Country Duo/Group Performance: Girl Crush by Little Big Town
  • Best Americana Album: Something More Than Free by Jason Isbell
  • Best American Roots Song, goes to songwriter: 24 Frames, composed and recorded by Isbell
  • Best Bluegrass Album: The Muscle Shoals Recordings by The Steel Drivers
  • Best Folk Album: Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn by Fleck and Washburn

GREAT LOCAL FESTIVALS: The Oka’Chaffa Indian Festival was continued under the simple new banner Native American Festival, and the Edgefield County Historical Society created a three-concert fall series.

Otherwise many great festivals featuring bluegrass, blues and country music continued to draw fans including the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival, Papa Joe’s Banjo-B-Que, Morris Museum of Art’s Budweiser Southern Soul &Song series, Augusta Amusements Inc.’s cultural series and the Waynesboro-Burke County Concert Series.

AMONG THE MEMORABLE LOSSES: On New Year’s Eve, I was at two memorable celebrations of life for two extraordinary local individuals. Both occasions again revealed how touching the right music can be at such services.

The service for Amy Swann, 53, a former columnist and reporter with The Augusta Chronicle and the Savannah Morning News, was held at Pendleton King Park off Troupe Street.

In spite of the morning cold, there were in excess of 60 people present from her various walks of life including family members and lots of current and former Chronicle newsroom staffers.

Her cousin, Betsy Goolsby, wrote in her obituary, “She was passionate, funny, difficult, smart, proud, kind. If you needed help, she was a fierce advocate. If you were a bully, she was your worst enemy.”

Stories were recounted that had those present laughing. And, when a recording of a family member singing Sarah McLachlan’s song In The Arms of An Angel was played, many were wiping away tears.

The service I attended about an hour later for native Virginian Jeff Synan was very similar in themes with his obituary noting, “Jeff was a devoted family man who always stressed the importance of maintaining loving relationships. He was a strong man who wore his heart on his sleeve and never failed to express his love.”

Many at the service at Thomas Poteet &Son Funeral Home on Davis Road knew him from his 45 years as head of housekeeping and other duties with St. Joseph’s/Trinity hospital.

But many of us bluegrass and country music fans knew Synan from his ’70s and ’80s years as guitarist, songwriter and lead vocalist of the extremely in-demand, local acoustic band Flatbed.

They performed at some of the largest bluegrass music festivals in Georgia including at Lavonia and Hamby Mountain and The Lewis Family’s annual homecoming festival at Elijah Clark State Park near Lincolnton.

Former Flatbed members, guitarist Doug Flowers and upright bass player Melody Adams Armstrong, joined banjo player Eddie Hoyle (widely regarded for performing with his family band The Hoyles) in paying tribute to Synan with Let’s All Go Down To the River.

Also present were former Flatbed members John Stone and Emory Ware.

But the song that had almost everyone wiping away tears was the playing of Craig Morgan and Mac Powell’s recording of Hearts I Leave Behind.

Other local music-related losses in 2016 included The Lewis Family’s financial manager and part-time vocalist Earl Phillips; country music fans extraordinaire Betty Nunamaker and Bobby Hamilton; singer and songwriter Don “Tracker” McKinnon, who wrote No. 1 hits Laredo and Bottom of the Mountain; house concert organizer and Okefenokee Joe’s show assistant Bill Macky; multi-personalities psychiatric patient Christine Costner Sizemore who sang and danced for Camp Gordon soldiers as “Eve Black” in the movie The Three Faces of Eve and, of course, local resident and world-travelling R&B superstar Sharon Jones.

We also lost Chipa “Lone Eagle” Wolfe of Jasper, Ga., who spearheaded the Oka’Chaffa Indian Festivals.

You may not have heard of songwriter Claude “Curly” Putman, who co-penned lots of classic country hits including The Green, Green Grass of Home and He Stopped Loving Her Today. But Putnam, who died Oct. 30 at age 85, also popularized the Garden City in a strange way in co-writing Tanya Tucker’s hit (Georgia Sun Is) Blood Red and Goin’ Down.

His lyrics went, “Daddy said, ‘Now come girl we’re heading down the road to Augusta/And thinking through his clenched teeth, he called mama’s name; then he cursed her.”

The Grand Ole Opry took a big hit with the losses of members Jim Ed Brown at 81 on June 11, Ralph Stanley at 89 on June 23, Jean Shepard (senior female member and widow of Hawshaw Hawkins) at 82 on Sept. 25 and Holly Dunn (Daddy’s Hands) at 59 on Nov. 15.

Brown’s sister, Bonnie Brown, co-member with him in the Country Music Association’s Hall of Fame as part of the trio The Browns with his sister Maxine, died the month after her brother at 77 on July 16.

Other great songwriters who died in 2016 include Mentor Williams (Drift Away); Guy Clark (Desperadoes Waiting for a Train), John D. Loudermilk (Abilene, Waterloo, Indian Reservation and Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye); Kacey Jones, composer of the musical Nipples To The Wind and one-third of the trio A Cowgirl, A Diva &A Shameless Hussy (she was the hussy) with Becky Hobbs and Benita Hill; Ned Miller (From a Jack to a King); Chips Moman (Luckenbach, Texas and also Hey Won’t You Play Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song) and Kim Williams (Ain’t Going Down Til the Sun Comes Up).

Mark Gray, another one we lost, was not only a great songwriter (Take Me Down, The Closer You Get and It Ain’t Easy Being Easy), but he also was a pivotal member of the band Exile. But what I love him for the most was his duet cover of the Dan Hill hit Sometimes When We Touch that he re-made with Tammy Wynette. You want to hear a really classic recording? Call up that song on youtube.com.

And among others we lost in 2016 were Sonny James and Merle Haggard, both inductees into the Country Music Association Hall of Fame; Gib Guilbeau, former member of The Flying Burrito Brothers; Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley’s original Blue Moon Boys guitar player; and Gordie Tapp, comedian and writer for the TV series Hee Haw.

All of those and more lost in 2016 whom I didn’t mention gave us lasting memories with their passion and creativity, and made the world a better place.



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