Along with many accolades including awards from Billboard, Cashbox and Record World, Country Music Legend Jeannie Seely has achieved No. 1 songs as a solo artist, duet partner and songwriter. Early in her career, Jeannie’s deeply moving vocals aptly earned her the nickname of “Miss Country Soul”. Jeannie’s recording of “Don’t Touch Me” not only topped the country music charts, but also earned her a Grammy Award for the “Best Country Vocal Performance by a Female”. It is ranked at No. 97 in the book ‘Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles’ published by the Country Music Foundation, and it’s also included in ‘The Stories Behind Country Music’s All-Time Greatest 100 Songs.’
Born in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and raised on a farm outside of nearby Townville, Jeannie was singing on Meadville radio station WMGW at age 11. By 16 she was performing on TV station WICU in Erie. When she moved to Nashville upon the encouragement of friend Dottie West, Jeannie only had $50 and a Ford Falcon to her name, but within a month Porter Wagoner hired her as the female singer for his road and television series.
On September 16, 1967, Jeannie’s biggest dream came true when she became the first Pennsylvania native to become a member of the world famous Grand Ole Opry. Jeannie subsequently became the first female to regularly host segments of the weekly Opry shows. She’s also credited for wearing the first mini-skirt on the Opry stage, as well as for changing the image of female country performers.
A BMI-awarded songwriter, Jeannie’s songs have been recorded by Country Music Hall of Fame members Faron Young, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Ernest Tubb and Little Jimmy Dickens, as well as by many other artists including Norma Jean, Doyle Lawson, Lorrie Morgan, Connie Smith, Irma Thomas, Dottie West and Tex Williams.
With Opry member Jack Greene, Jeannie recorded the hit ‘Wish I Didn’t Have To Miss You’ which began a series of successful duet recordings – and launched one of the most popular road shows in country music history. For over a decade, Jack and Jeannie toured and performed together at venues that included New York’s Madison Square Garden and London’s Wembley Arena.
Along with placing records on the Billboard country singles chart for 13 consecutive years, Jeannie also served as a radio disc jockey on her own Armed Forces Network Show, traveled on military tours throughout Europe and Asia, made numerous appearances on national television shows, published her own book of witticisms titled Pieces of a Puzzled Mind and starred in several major stage productions including Always, Patsy Cline and ‘The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas.’ Jeannie also appeared in Willie Nelson’s ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ movie and sang on the platinum soundtrack album. Jeannie has been known throughout her career as an individualist, as well as for her infectious humor. Despite personal and career setbacks that range from a 1977 near-fatal auto accident to a devastating flood in 2010 in which she lost her home, car and personal belongings, Jeannie Seely has remained a survivor with her sense of humor intact.
From her 1966 Top 10 Billboard album ‘The Seely Style’ to her 2011 self-produced CD ‘Vintage Country,’ Jeannie’s recordings have spanned six decades and provided enjoyment to country music fans all around the world.
In his book Finding Her Voice: Women In Country Music, music critic Robert K. Oermann writes, "With her chin-out, tough/tender, heart-of-gold manner, Jeannie Seely remains one of country's most completely modern female personalities.”
AM: Jeannie, how many years have you been with the Grand Ole Opry?
JS: I’m in my forty ninth year now. I’m holding my breath and trying to be good so I can celebrate fifty next year. (Laughter) I joined September 16, 1967. I actually have two fiftieth anniversaries in a row. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of my Grammy award.
AM: The song you won for ‘Don’t Touch Me’ has never gone away has it?
JS: No, and I am so grateful every day. When Hank Cochran and I were looking for songs to record, he asked me what I wanted to sing. I told him I’d like to have a ballad that didn’t matter if you were a male or female, young, old, married or single, that the song would affect you. He said, “You don’t want much, do you?” (Laughter) I said I want a hit song!
AM: Well you got your hit!
JS: He did capture all I wanted in that song. The song has been recorded by many artists including many male singers. It’s just an incredible song. It’s as timely today as the day it was written.
AM: Your recording is certainly timeless.
JS: I saw Fred Foster who produced the record when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. I’m so proud of him. We talked about the record and how his idea to have the one xylophone note at the very beginning got everybody’s attention.
AM: Did you think you had a Grammy winner when you were finished recording?
JS: Oh no, they were so new back then nobody thought about it. I won the third one for a female Country singer. Dottie West won the first one in 1964 and Jody Miller won the second one in 1965 and I won in 1966.
AM: How does it feel to have a Grammy after all these years?
JS: It’s still amazing and I think the fact that it’s voted on by your peers makes that award even more special. We’re all friends in a competition, but we are all friends. Certainly in my generation, we all supported each other and wanted the best for each other. I think it probably stands true with today’s generation too. We all love the industry and we love our craft. You can’t help but admire when someone else creates something that stands on it’s own.
AM: You have another song that I love and it’s a sexy song called 'He Can Be Mine.'
JS: Yes, I guess it is. Back when I lived out in the country by Hendersonville before we had the interstate you had to go out Dickerson Road and Long Hollow Pike which is a long…hollow…pike. You would lose the radio in the pike so my pattern was to write songs and that’s how I wrote that song. I got home and went straight to the piano and a tablet to write the lyrics. I had it all down except one line. Hank was there at the time and I told him, what I want to say here is “He can yahoo if he wants to” but I thought it sounded kind of silly. He said it was a great line and if I didn’t use it he would, so I used it.
AM: I think that’s the sexiest part of the song. Have you seen the video of you in a white pantsuit with the bare midriff?
JS: I remember the outfit but I don’t know if I’ve seen the video. I’ll have to look for it! (Laughter)
AM: Can you tell me a little about your friendship with the late Dottie West?
JS: Yes, Dottie was so caring, loving, giving and understanding. We were the sort of friends who talked all the time, even in the middle of the night. I could tell her anything. She was a mentor to me.
AM: How did you meet?
JS: I met her when I was still living in Los Angeles. She came out to make an appearance at the old Palomino Club. She encouraged me to make the move to Nashville. She was also one of the first artists to record one of my songs. She introduced me to so many people.
AM: Jeannie, everyone I ever mention your name to, stops in their tracks and their eyes light up and they tell me how much they love you.
JS: What a wonderful thing to hear. Thank you for telling me that.
AM: You must constantly be asked for advice about career longevity. What do you tell these younger people?
JS: The main thing is to love what you are doing. We all get frustrated at certain places in our careers and in our lives period. You must keep in mind that the frustration is just a short amount of time in the whole scope of life. Just do your best to work through those times. Keep loving what you do and keep working at your craft.
AM: That certainly applies to everyone no matter what you do.
JS: We all have a tendency to get a little lackadaisical when we’ve been doing something for a long time. Also remember that change is important. As we get older we have a tendency not to like change as much.
AM: Yes I am seeing that with myself.
JS: I remind myself all the time, there’s always something good in any new change. When I look back I didn’t like all the changes going on in my heyday era, but I love my life now. I’m very grateful I’ve been able to see my dreams come true.
AM: How do you feel about the Grand Ole Opry these days?
JS: The Grand Ole Opry has always been one of the most coveted places for me. I grew up listening to it and even through some years where people put the Opry down and people started going to Branson, I said my heart is with the Grand Ole Opry. I was so glad I was able to get there. It’s my second home. That family is certainly a second family.
To learn more about Jeannie Seely visit her web site http://www.jeannieseely.com/