I was working another one of my fabulously glamorous music business jobs, this one at the Gospel Music Association on 17th, which stood where Reba’s complex does now. My friend Betty worked at WSMV for many years and she called me early in the afternoon and told me that Keith Whitley was dead.
Keith? Dead? Get outta town. She said they found him dead at his house in Goodlettsville. At that point, they weren’t sure what had happened to him. I called my pal, then WSM DJ, Al Wyntor, because they had not said anything about it on the radio so I figured if it pertained to a country music person, WSM would have the scoop. Maybe it wasn’t true because WSM hadn’t said anything.
I called Al and he said it was true, but, they just hadn’t announced it yet. I was stunned.
I don’t claim to have been a close, personal friend of Keith’s, but, I knew him and he knew me. He always said hey when I’d run into him here or there and he always obliged his scary Lester Flatt imitation. (I figure I must have some deep seated attraction to Lester because I married the man who does the second best imitation of him, behind Keith).
I was there at the Opry one night when Lorrie Morgan was following him around and I told my mother “There’s something going on there.” She said “No way! He’s married.” Heh. That’s never stopped Lorrie before or since. He was still wearing his wedding ring from his other wife and there he was hanging with Lorrie. It was just a few weeks later they announced their engagement. I never understood why he got hooked up with her anyway.
Some months later, I ran into Keith again and he told me that the baby Lorrie was carrying was a boy and his name was going to be Jesse Keith. I see Jesse around Hendersonville now and then. He’s about 18-19 years old now…cute kid, but, he has that same look in his eye that his dad had. I hope he never touches alcohol.
Keith is one of the reasons I hate alcohol so much. In the wrong hands, it’s a destroyer. I’ve seen it rob so many people I love from a full life. Some can handle it and some can’t. Keith was one of those people who should’ve never touched it.
Keith would’ve turned 51 years old this year. I sometimes wonder what he’d be doing had he not died. I really feel like he’d be doing some bluegrass, which was his heritage, kinda like his pal Ricky Skaggs, with whom he was part of Ralph Stanley’s band as a teenager. He’d still be singing and I bet that amazing voice of his would’ve aged beautifully.
Keith Whitley’s death, in my not so humble opinion, was one of the biggest losses ever for country music. I mean COUNTRY music, not this garbage that’s being churned out now. You can take your Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney’s (somebody tell me what the big deal is with this clown?), Tim McGraw’s, etc. Not a one of them could carry Keith Whitley’s guitar case.