Nashville, Tenn., via Interstate 24 is just over an hour’s driving time away from Manchester, Tenn., where Jason Petty grew up.
And yet that route to “Music City” was Petty’s highway to traveling the world as an entertainer; singing the classic songs of Alabama-born Hank Williams who died in the early morning hours on New Year’s Day of 1953 at the age of 29.
Petty will be singing a lot of those songs when he joins Katie Deal for their Classic Nashville Road Show concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, at the Burke County Office Park, 715 West Sixth St., in Waynesboro, Ga. Tickets are $25 for adults and $5 for students. Buy at iTickets.com, call (706) 437-0070 or visit burkeconcert.org.
The highway between Nashville and Manchester first led Petty from singing in church choirs to attending the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He then landed a job performing in 1995 in a show at the Opryland U.S.A. theme park in Nashville during which he sang the hit songs of several country superstars.
But it was his 15-minutes segment of singing Williams’ songs during that show that led to him being cast as the star of a new musical biography, Hank Williams: Lost Highway, being presented in the historic Ryman Auditorium where Williams himself performed regularly as a member of the Grand Ole Opry show cast.
Petty rarely has to explain who Williams was in the history of music since Williams’ ex-wife (Audrey), daughter (Jett), son (Hank Jr.) and grandson (Hank III) have carried on the family tradition. Hank Jr., in fact, will be returning to Augusta for a show at James Brown Arena on Friday, June 16.
But he does often have to explain what the Opryland amusement theme park was to younger fans since it closed 20 years ago after 25 years of seasonal outdoor fun (1972-1997).
Many country music stars got their show business big breaks performing at Opryland and that included Petty. His sold-out shows at the Ryman led to sold-out shows at the off-Broadway Little Shubert Theatre in New York City and earned Petty the 2003 Obie Award for Outstanding Performance presented by the American Theatre Wing organization and The Village Voice magazine.
There have been several other artists who have regularly done tribute shows to Williams, most notably Jim Owen, but Petty’s tribute version arguably remains the best known.
It was Petty’s father, James Albert Petty, who early sang Williams’ song Hey, Good Lookin’ to his son; not knowing what influence that would have in later years.
So it is especially ironic that Petty’s father died just a few weeks ago on New Year’s Eve of 2016 at the age of 79 exactly 65 years from the night that Hank Williams died.
Petty posted on his web site jasonpetty.com, “As I held his hand in the hospital a few days ago, I told him that he will always be my hero, and that it was now OK for him to go … that we’ll be OK. I told him I would like to be just half the man he was someday. He gave us all his best and that was more than enough.”
FLO CARTER’s GOSPEL TRIBUTE: Local music legend Flo Carter will join her talented keyboard-songwriting daughter, Cookie Dodson, to pay tribute to the late James H. Goodman, with a concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, at Matlock Baptist Church Fellowship Hall, 980 Main St., in Jackson, S.C.
Tickets are $10 advance or $15 at the door. Call (803) 827-0184 or visit beechislandhistory.org for ticket locations.
The concert, which also includes the Crimson Cross Quartet featuring Tim and Cynthia Rollins, Charles Stribling and Tim Thompson, benefits the Beech Island (S.C.) Historical Society of which Goodman was co-founder. Goodman, co-owner of Goodman Chevrolet and Coachmen RV in New Ellenton, S.C., and author of eight books, died in February 2015.
FARWELL TO JOHNNY DIXON: Many Augusta musicians gathered at Arlington Burial &Cremation in Augusta on March 17, to pay last respects to Johnny Dixon, former owner of Dixon Trucking who was living in Stapleton, Ga.
Literally thousands of Augusta-area music fans knew Dixon, who died at 73 on March 15, from being co-founder of the ’60s popular local rock band, Red Hots, and from playing piano and singing in other popular groups such as The Celestials, Midnight Magic, Soundtrack, South Band and Flashback.
Red Hots co-founder Johnny Hensley told of the group’s founding saying, “Johnny Dixon and I put together our first performing group as the Red Hots in 1958. We were just kids going to Murphey Junior High School in Augusta.”
The band opened for rock pioneer Conway Twitty at shows in Augusta and Athens, Ga., and Columbia when Twitty had the No. 1 song in the country with It’s Only Make Believe.
Dixon was with the band for its 55th anniversary reunion concert in July 2014 at the Imperial Theatre.