Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"A Guitar and a Pen" - Controversy

I reviewed A Guitar and a Pen back on April 28 and I well remember the short story that is causing author Robert Hicks a few problems this week. It was one called "He Always Knew Who He Was" and featured a real life visit that Bluegrass music originator Bill Monroe made to the White House. The story was attributed to country music journalist Hazel Smith who has now come forward to say that she did not write the piece. Robert Hicks admits to having ghost written the story and is apologizing for some apparent inaccuracies contained in it according to the Country Hound website.
The story is presented as a true account, first-person narrative in which Smith accompanied Bluegrass great Bill Monroe on a trip to the White House. Monroe performed and received an honor from former President Bill Clinton. Smith maintains she was not present for the event, and that the only person who was with Monroe on the trip was his agent, Tony Conway.

Conway argues the story itself is incorrect. The trip Monroe took as described in "He Always Knew Who He Was" actually took place in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was President. In today’s Tennessean.com story, Conway said, "I think this guy (Hicks) had heard the story at some point in his life and just kind of embellished it from there. He might have heard it four or five times from different sources, but he got the story wrong."

Hicks and his publisher, Center Street, will make corrections to future printings of the book and current electronic copies. Said Hicks, "I regret it and I take full responsibility for it. It turns out that the story's point of view isn't correct. It's a story I have told personally for many years, and I was wrong."
Either way, it has the makings of a fine tale.


  1. That’s not entirely how it happened. I’m familiar with what happened, and I think I can clear some things up.

    First, Robert Hicks did not invent this story. Hazel Smith did, and has been telling it for years.

    Second, Hazel Smith wanted to be in the anthology, but didn’t want to actually write down one of her stories. Hicks volunteered to write down one of her stories for her.

    Third, Hazel Smith is being paid for her contribution. When it came time to sign the contract, she was offered the opportunity to read and edit her story. She refused.

    Fourth, On March 17, Hazel was so excited about her contribution to the anthology, that she wrote about it in her “Hot Dish” feature on CMT News: http://www.cmt.com/news/hot-dish/1583468/hot-dish-alan-jackson-and-ashton-shepherd-excel-with-their-new-albums.jhtml

    Fifth, because Hicks did not invent this story — Hazel Smith did — errors of fact are Hazel Smith’s. Hicks merely volunteered to help an old friend (and they are very old friends) by writing down her story for her, at her request. There are dozens of people in Nashville who have heard her tell that story just that way, with all of those so-called “facts”.

    Hicks agreed to include her story in the anthology, and even did the work of writing down the story she often told to the best of his recollection. He offered her the opportunity to edit it, to make sure he’d put down the story as she remembered it, and she refused. And he did this all out of real love for Hazel Smith. He has a picture of Hazel Smith above his desk, for heaven’s sake. He’s had her sons out to the house to play for industry folks, to help them out.

    They’ve been friends for many years, and now she throws him under the bus. Very nice and very Christian of her.

  2. As if Christians are actually better than anyone else.

    Interesting! I wonder just how many true real life accounts truly are not, for whatever reason.

  3. Anonymous, I really appreciate you providing those details. I probably shouldn't say it, but as a fan of "real country music" I am NOT a fan of Hazel's columns or approach to personal fame because she seems so easily swayed by those artists who personally flatter her. I just don't enjoy her tone or the content of her columns at all.

    That said, I had a conversation with someone this morning where I speculated that Hazel had likely been paid for the use of her name and that if she had not seen the story it was her fault and no one else's. The situation makes no sense otherwise as I can't imagine any publisher using someone's name without compensating them.

    I'm a big fan of Robert's book on the Battle of Franklin and the plantation house there, by the way. If you know him, please pass on my best regards and thanks for that book.

  4. Carrie, having witnessed a couple of events that I later read about in the paper, this kind of reporting doesn't surprise me all that much.

    It does make you wonder, doesn't it?

  5. Carrie,

    I (perhaps unfairly) made the Christian crack because Hazel Smith is always on about how Christian she is, and how she sang "Jesus Loves Me" to Mr. Monroe on his deathbed.

    (As a Christian, I'd say I'm a better man than I would have otherwise been, but not better than anyone else, and probably still a lot worse than most. Got to kick the ham biscuit habit, for one thing.)


  6. Anon - thanks for clearing that up. I've never heard of Hazel or knew she played the holier than thou card, in that case, ITA with your crack.