Jimmy Fortune says that when he was planning his latest album, Hits & Hymns, he never imagined that he would have such a who’s who of artists guesting on the project – such as Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, The Gaither Vocal Band, and Sonya Isaacs.
Fortune tells CMChatLive.com that there was one more addition that he would have loved to have made to the record. “The only people on the album who would have made it better were The Statler Brothers, and I tried to get those guys,” Fortune said, alluding to the group he was a member of from 1982-2003. “Retirement was still too tight. Harold said if he couldn’t be as good as he was when they stepped down, he wasn’t going to do it. I understood that and respected it,” Fortune added. Instead, he wound up working on the classic “Life’s Railway To Heaven” with The Oak Ridge Boys. Ironically, it was The Oaks who gave Fortune his first experience opening shows in his post-Statlers career. Fortune says he has nothing but the highest of respect for the group – who were recently inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this weekend.
“I remember when Duane Allen got up to speak, he thanked The Statler Brothers for paving the way for the Oak Ridge Boys. That was so special for him to say that, and tells you a lot about them. They’re still packing houses, and are so deserving. It’s so good to have them in there.”
In addition to the new CD – and a DVD of the same title, Fortune is also honored to be a part of another project paying tribute to one of his fellow Virginians – Earl Hamner, Jr. Also a native of Nelson County, Hamner might not be a household name – but you know the voice. The writer/producer worked on such classic films as Charlotte’s Web – and television favorites as The Twilight Zone and Falcon Crest. Hamner is best remembered for The Waltons, which he also served as narrator. That DVD, Storyteller, is in the process of being released. Fortune says he was honored to be involved with it.
“They were going to do a TV special on his life and they were trying to get it all together. I had gotten to know Earl over the years. I think he got some of the ideas from where I grew up just a few miles away – even though it was 20 years apart. Even today, when I watch the show, I see the parallels. We had been talking back and forth. I was so honored that he asked me to come up. We filmed a piece for the DVD in the house where he grew up, and I played a song I had written for him called ‘Virginia Dreams.’ We talked about his growing up there in Schuyler. We did a piece at the old Church, which was next door. It was like going back in time.”
Does Fortune have a favorite among the Walton clan?
“I guess it would have to be John-Boy, because his portrayal of Earl was so great. Richard Thomas captured the determination and the love of what he did. That’s why he made it. Every time I hear that theme song, it takes me back to Nelson County, where I grew up. There’s such a simplicity of goodness and morality – just a different time.”