the latest word
Sang Satin Sheets with Jeanne Pruett
In 1979, my band, The Paradise Pickers, opened for a country music singer from Louisiana named Joe Stampley. The show was in Baltimore at The Baltimore Civic Center. There were thousands of folks in the audience, perhaps the largest audience I had played for up to that time. We did our set, Joe did his, and it was a big time. There was an after party, and we got to have a hang with the musicians that were in Joe’s band. One of those musicians, Ansley Fleetwood, introduced himself to me and told me he enjoyed some of my songs. I thanked him, and we exchanged numbers. He said that if I was ever in Nashville to give him a call. He also said that he had a publishing company and that he would listen to songs if I had any that I wanted to share with him.
Later that year I sent Ansley a song called “If You’ve Got Love.” He wrote back and said that he wanted to produce a 45-rpm record with that song. I was thrilled to hear the news. Ansley was learning to produce records with Chet Atkins. He recorded the tracks with many “A” team session musicians and the singers who backed Elvis, The Jordanaires. I went to Nashville and recorded my vocal on the record, and Ansley released and promoted the record to country music radio stations. It did well in a few markets and had I had it together, I could have toured in those places and probably made some new fans and sold some records.
Then in April 1980, I moved to Nashville. I knew two people, Ansley and drummer, Roger Cox, from the Tommy Overstreet band. Ansley had offered to let me stay with him for two weeks while I looked for a place to live. I had enough savings to pay rent and living expenses for a few months. One morning, I was heading out to look for an apartment, and I asked Ansley if he had any suggestions. He pointed south and said, “head that way, you’ll see some places.” I headed south out of Green Hills, found a place called Whispering Hills in Antioch and walked into the rental office. The office manager, Dozy, asked me to fill out an application. I filled it out and handed it to her. She looked it over and said, “we can’t move any further on your application, you don’t have a job.” I told her I had just moved to Nashville, but that I could pay several months rent in advance. She said, “come back when you get a job.”
I went back to Ansley’s wondering what to do. I told him what had happened, and he said to me, “Billy, what is two plus two?” I said, “five.” He said, “You’re hired. You now have a job with Brandwood Music Publishing, and your draw is two hundred dollars a week.” I said, “Really?” He said, “No, I can’t afford to pay you anything, and I don’t need another employee. You don’t have to tell Whispering Hills that part of the story.”
Twenty minutes after I had left the rental office, I went back to Whispering Hills, and walked into the office. Dozy said, “How can I help you?” I said, “Do you still have my application that I just filled out twenty minutes ago?” She said, “Yes, it’s right here.” I said, “I was just hired by Brandwood Music Publishing, and I’ll be making two hundred dollars a week.” She rolled her eyes and said, “Go ahead and put it on your application.”
Two days later, I was approved for a one-year lease.
Ansley and I remained friends. We wrote some songs together, and he even gave me his Tascam ½-inch 8 track tape recorder after he decided he wasn’t going to use it anymore. I still have that recorder, and I am grateful. I found work as a guitarist for Tommy Overstreet, Terri Gibbs and Bandana from 1983-1987. Ansley left Joe Stampley and started playing for Jeanne Pruett, a member of the Grand Ole Opry, sometime in the mid-eighties.
In the spring of 1986, I got a call from Ansley. He was Jeanne’s bandleader, and he asked me if I would be interested in playing rhythm guitar and back-up singing with her band. It had been a dream of mine to play the Opry since 1975 when I first listened to it in my 1960 Rambler on the AM radio. On a good night I could pick up the WSM Grand Ole Opry signal when I parked my car up near the Westchester Community Center in Oella, Maryland near Ellicott City. I told Ansley YES, YES, YES!!!
I played with Jeanne through that summer, fall, and into the winter until December. I played rhythm acoustic guitar and sang back-up vocals. It was goose bumps every night performing at the Opry. I respected the tradition then, and I do today.