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Jeannie Seely travels life's highways

By John Lupton, December 2003

Page 2...

"Franklin, Pa. (had) a little park called Hillbilly Park. They would do an afternoon and an evening show. We often would go there. Mother would bake a chicken and fix up a picnic basket to go, and we'd just go there and spend the whole day and the evening. I was always on the ground right in front of the front row, looking up at the stage. I saw so many of them, including Josh Graves, who's on my new album, and, of course, Wilma Lee and Stony Cooper. I remember (Bill) Monroe, and I remember Ralph Stanley."

Among her favorites was yet another who would become a good friend in later years.

"I remember Mac Wiseman. I remember so well that I could not wait until Mac Wiseman got there, and one time for some reason, he had to cancel. I guess he was sick or something, I don't know, and so somebody else took his place, and it was one of the great disappointments of my whole life. But I still think Mac Wiseman has one of the greatest voices. There again, Mac Wiseman, some people consider him part of the bluegrass field, and others really don't, but Mac can sing anything."

Seely agrees that the country versus bluegrass distinction just didn't exist back in those years.

"To me, country and bluegrass always went together. We talked about the old package shows. I remember there was always country. There was always a bluegrass act on every one of those package shows and usually a gospel act as well. I would still love to see some shows done with that concept again. I see no reason to separate all of it when you like a little bit of everything."

She lets out another hearty laugh and finishes her thought. "That's why I always order two desserts - 'do you want chocolate cake or white cake?' I want some of both, and that's kind of how I am with my music."

Over the years that she has been among the most enthusiastic and devoted members of the regular Opry cast, Seely has seen an awful lot of new talents come and go, and while she understands that the business has changed a lot, and the Opry isn't quite the focal point it used to be, there have been a few who have been somewhat lacking in respect for all the Opry has meant to the music.

When it comes to naming names, though, she prefers to single out and applaud a few of those who understand the Opry history and tradition and, more importantly in her book, have the quality of character it takes to make a living in Music City - Wariner, Brad Paisley, Martina McBride, Lorrie Morgan and Trace Adkins come quickly off the top of her head.

"I mention them not just because of their obvious talent, but because of what I see in them as people, and in country music I think that's just so important. Country music fans are different, I think, than the other genres of music because it is so personal, it is so personal, and I think that's true of the bluegrass field - as we've said before, they're so integrated."

Morgan, in particular, exemplifies the family aspect that Seely has always drawn from her Opry life. Lorrie's father, of course, was the late George Morgan, an Opry star throughout the '50s and '60s who became a close friend of Seely's, and Seely finds it remarkable that she literally got to watch Lorrie grow up at the Opry.

"(I admire) not only her musical talent, but she inherited that wonderful, wonderful sense of humor that her dad had, too. In fact, her whole family has it. I'm very fortunate at this stage of my life and my career because I don't take lightly the fact that I was fortunate enough to get here and to know people like George Morgan, to work with him, and then to go on and become friends and work with his daughter. That's just pretty amazing. I don't take that lightly at all."

Looking to the future, Seely hopes for a peaceful coexistence of the old and the new.

"I like adding the new talent to the Opry, but I don't want them to ever change the Opry to where it becomes just another concert venue. There's something there, there's a tradition there. I like seeing the new artists, but value that tradition also and the uniqueness of it. And the music and all should change and will change. It always has. I mean, when I came in, I loved Kitty Wells and her music, but I wanted mine to sound different."

And what's ahead on the highway of life for Jeannie Seely?

"Hopefully, I will see a future of doing pretty much what I have done in the past. I think when you're fortunate enough to make a living doing something you love, then you just don't want to change anything. I just want to keep doing what I've been so blessed to be able to do in my life, and I do hope to be able to do some of the festivals that do all forms of acoustic music, I'm enjoying the acoustic sound. I hope to continue doing personal appearances and do all of the shows. I want to be anywhere they ask me to be. There are plenty ofl life's highways I want to travel. I'm not done yet."

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