Grammy-winning country singer-songwriter Jeannie Seely is the quintessential powerhouse. Over the span of her career, she’s achieved every accolade possible with her impressive resume. On August 14, she’ll release “An American Classic,” a thirteen-track album featuring appearances from The Whites, Rhonda Vincent, Bill Anderson, Willie Nelson, Lorrie Morgan, and more. Nashline Country recently caught up with the Grand Ole Opry star on the making of this collection.
It has been a big year for you with this new album, plus you turned this July. How did you get to celebrate?
With the coronavirus shutdown, we couldn’t do the party like we probably would have. The Opry has always done a special reception on the artist’s 80th birthday, but we couldn’t do that this year. Both the Opry and Bev Moser, my publicist, put together a wonderful birthday greeting video that was even better because the party happens, and then it’s over. This way, I get to enjoy these from now on. And they are so great. Some of them are so funny. Bill Anderson and Vince Gill are both crazy.
I recently talked to Bill Anderson, who is featured on your new album, and he spoke about the first night you both played the Opry when there was no audience back in March. What was that experience like for you?
I’ll tell you the first minute I heard about the shutdown, I sent an email to Scott Bailey, our president. I said, ‘Please tell me you will let us figure out how to do a broadcast, so we don’t break that chain that we’ve always had and ruin our historic record of never missing a broadcast in 95 years.’
He sent me an email back immediately and said, ‘Your email says it all, and we’re gonna do our best.’ I was so glad. When everybody said we couldn’t do a show without an audience, I said, ‘We have an audience. We have an audience listening all over the world; this is still a radio show.’
And now with us on SIRIUS XM we go all over the world. I do a four-hour show every week on Sunday without an audience in front of me. You just got to have a great imagination.
I love catching your show on SIRIUX XM! That must be a great outlet to share your stories and music.
I’m so glad to hear that you listen; that makes me happy. I am really enjoying this. This isn’t something I sought out; they contacted me.
Without knowing it, I auditioned when I roasted Charlie Monk during the Music Health Alliance fundraiser when the SIRIUS XM people were there. I was just working off the cuff like I usually do. So Charlie Monk and Dallas Dwayne had both been talking to them about me, so when they saw me there, they said, ‘Yeah, she can fire off at Charlie off the cuff like that, she can do an air shift.’
You have a song called “If You Could Call It That” that has a very interesting story bebind it. Dottie West originally started the writing the song, but then Steve Wariner and Bobby Tomberlin finished it. Can you share the story behind the song?
My adopted little brother I call him, Ron Howard, has a lot of Dottie’s memorabilia. And he actually found the lyrics and idea that she had. And he took it to Bobby Tomberlin and Steve Wariner to finish. They were both very close to Dottie and felt like they would be able to follow her train of thought. And boy, did they ever! I listened to this song line by line, and if she would’ve lived, I feel like this song was exactly what she would’ve written. They really zeroed in on where she was.
And I know about when she started that song because when everything was coming down so bad for Dottie, I had asked her, ‘How are you doing Dottie?’ and she’d just say, ‘I just go on living, if you can call it that.’ I know exactly where her heart and mind were when she started that song. I would have been so devasted if Bobby and Steve hadn’t brought the song to me to record. It really meant a lot to me.
While I normally try not to sound like anybody when I’m singing, I could hear Dottie so prominently on some of these lines that I just channeled her. Particularly the line that says, ‘Another glass of wine, a few more jokes,’ I try to laugh, and I did a little chuckle like I know Dottie would’ve done.
What is so rewarding to me about this song is that I feel like I did the night at the Medallion Ceremony when she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame when I got to sing her song. I was standing back there very nervous until all of a sudden, I felt calm, and I thought, ‘I am getting to finish something that Dottie started.’ Had she lived, she would’ve made that journey herself in the hall of fame, but I felt like I got to finish what she started.
One collaboration I’m really excited about is your duet with Waylon Payne – he’s such a talent!
He’s an amazing young man. Of course, I’ve known Waylon since he was born. I didn’t get to be around him during his early years, but he is super talented. His mother, Sammi Smith, was a good friend of mine. And his dad was Jody Payne, who played guitar for Willie Nelson for 35 years. Jody was cutting an album, and he asked me to do this song as a duet. And when I was opening some shows for Willie, I got to sing this with Jody a few times. Waylon came in to do the Opry, and he asked me if I would do this with him. Listening to the playback on the way home, I thought, ‘That’s amazing how well our voices are working together.’
I thought that was an incredible addition (to the album) as it brought in a younger generation, as you know, I promote constantly.
You have so many special guests on this album. Do you have any dream duet partners you’d like to work with in the future?
Oh, my goodness. I have never thought about that. I didn’t dream that I’d get to do these! One of my problems is my voice is so low. When Vince Gill was going to sing on one of the things on my record, he could not get the blend because our voices are too much in the same register. I’ve always laughed if anybody ever wanted to do a karaoke thing, I’d say, ‘Well, find me a Vince Gill track I could sing.’ Brenda Lee and I always have to work with male demos.
But there are so many great artists that I admire so much, of course, Gene Watson is one of them. I might really like to do something with Gene someday.
You are such a trailblazer in country music, and you continue to be a leader. What advice do you hae for career-driven women?
The only advice I can give is don’t ever stray from your path. When you make up your mind what you want, don’t let anybody deter you. Don’t ever take no for an answer. Don’t ever hesitate to ask because all they can ever say is no. You’d be surprised at how many times people will say yes. You’d be surprised at how many people want to help you when they know what it is you’re wanting.
I would encourage anybody out there to follow their dreams because I am living proof they can come true. Where I came from in the remote countryside of Pennsylvania, about as far away from where we are now, and I went by way of California to get here, it’s just kinda crazy the path that I took. The first thing I did, and I would advise this, if you can go to school please go on and get your education. Always have something to fall back on to support yourself, whatever you choose because this is a rough road in the music business.
If you are fortunate, you grab that brass ring, get that opportunity, and run with it. Always be prepared to cover yourself. But having said that, never lose sight of where you really want to be. I wrote a line in my little plot book that said, ‘If you never do what you don’t wanna do, you’ll never get to do what you really want to.’
Listen to Jeannie Seely’s “American Classic” here.