A few years ago I made a decision to only go to gigs I really, really wanted to see. I felt I’d reached a point where I wasn’t surprised or delighted nearly as often as I should be and needed to prioritise my live outings. Right now, of course, we’d all turn up for an encore of a Les Dawson tribute act but then? Well before all this, of course, we were a little more picky. Then I wanted to see certain acts at least once and Tony Bennett was on my list.
It must have been around 2015 when he was at the Royal Concert Hall and we fell into conversation with a few folks we knew sitting beside us. We were trying to work out how old Tony was and had all settled for a number just south of eighty. Someone then decided this information was far too sketchy and double checked to whisper along the row that the legend now walking on stage to a resounding ovation was eighty eight. Having the same number of years as a piano keyboard must, at least, have been some compensation on that birthday morning.
In truth Tony was on good form but, having seen TV performances I’d loved, he never really took my breath away in the manner the younger Tony might have. Nevertheless, when I read today that Tony Bennett was struggling with Alzheimer’s Disease, I took comfort that I’d taken the chance to see him perform in Scotland that last time.
I remember noticing around then that he was advertising shows and an album for the following summer and couldn’t help but admire the ambition of someone of that vintage engaging in such forward planning. Believe me, in these weird times, I’m not inclined to throw too far forward myself.
I thought back to that show when I came upon an anniversary my producer, Richard Murdoch, pointed out to me this week. It will be one hundred years since the birth of Wilma Lee Leary at the end of this week. A remarkable country artist who outlived her famous partner, Stoney Cooper by thirty four years. Such was her own commitment to playing live in her later years that she suffered a stroke while performing on the Opry Stage one night in 2001. Despite her doctors prognosis that she wouldn’t walk again she returned to take her final bow and bid farewell to her fans on the famous stage.
One of the great things of country music is how valued elderly artists are by the country community. Rather than being sidelined and ignored as happens in the transient world of pop music, the roots genres of jazz, blues and country pay increased respect to artists of significant years. I love that. It’s great to see so many still making interesting records and sounding great too. We all love Dolly at 75 but she’s just a youngster compared to Loretta and Willie, who continue to record and release new music. I have enjoyed seeing and meeting Dolly and Willie but would still have loved to see Loretta. I still live in hope.
We’ll play you some Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper on this Tuesday’s AC. We’ll also have some tracks from the new generation of country artists including our current favourites, Hailey Withers, Brent Cobb, Morgan Whallen and Margo Price. Listen out for the son of Jim Croce, AJ Croce singing Randy Newman and a little bit of the man himself too. We’ll follow our noses and take you down all the places the music leads in a two hour show starting at five past eight this Tuesday evening on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me live if you can on the FM wireless or on BBC Sounds.