Jeannie Seely's career
began at the age of eleven when she started performing on a Saturday
morning radio programme on WMGW in Meadville,
Pennsylvania. Five years later,
she made the move to TV, on WICU in Erie. At the age of 21, she packed her
things and moved to L.A., where she wrote songs at Four Star Music and
landed a gig on Hollywood Jamboree,
along with fellow up-and-comer Glen Campbell. Hank Cochran and Dottie West
encouraged her to move to Nashville.
About a month later, she was singing with Porter Wagoner on his TV programme and road show. In spite of having some very high-
profile contacts, it took Jeannie a long time to land a record deal, and
she finally inked one with Monument.
Her first hit was "Don't Touch Me", penned by
then-husband Cochran, and recorded on 12th March 1966. It was an instant hit, catapulting Seely to the top of the charts for about five months,
crossing over onto the Billboard pop chart, and earning her a Grammy for
Best Country Vocal Performance By A Female. It also earned her a guest
appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, the first of
many, which would ultimately lead to a permanent gig. Seely
toured in support of the record, often with Ernest Tubb,
and left Wagoner's TV show in the process. (Her famous replacement was Dolly
Parton.) A year later, Jeannie
was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, although
she broke with fashion tradition by being the first woman to wear a
mini-skirt in the conservative Ryman Auditorium. Between 1966 and 1978, Jeannie put
together a string of thirteen straight years of chart success. Her follow-up to "Don't
Touch Me", "It's Only Love", went to #15 on the
country chart. " A Wanderin' Man" cracked the top twenty.
" I'll Love You More
(Than You'll Ever Need)" went top ten. "Welcome Home To
Nothing" was her final hit with Monument. In 1969, she moved over to Decca. The 1970s saw a gradual drying-up of
hits and a great deal of change for Jeannie as she eventually divorced
Cochran and started up a collaborative partnership with Jack Greene which
revitalized both of their flagging careers. The pair toured for about ten years,
in major venues, like Wembley Arena in London and
Madison Square Garden in New York.
The result was more solo success for Seely,
who hit #6 with "Can I Sleep in Your Arms" and #15 with
"Lucky Ladies", both of which were based on previous source
material. In 1977, Jeannie was
severely wounded and nearly killed in an auto accident. It was the kind of epiphanous moment that defines one's life and
work in utter clarity. Suddenly
chart success was not the be-all and end-all. Seely had
other avenues to explore. One
of them was acting. This kind
of started when she hooked up with Willie Nelson in the 1980s and
subsequently played a role in Willie's movie project Honeysuckle Rose and sang a song on
the soundtrack. The album went
platinum, and Seely was bitten by the acting
bug. In 1985, it was her turn
again to make history at the Grand Ole Opry. Del Reeves, who was supposed to host
the show, was stuck in a snowstorm.
Jeannie covered, becoming the first female to host the Opry's proverbial thirty-minute sets, a duty she
would be asked to do time and again.
When she wasn't on stage at the Opry,
she was making the world her stage, in the 1986 musical Takin' It Home, co-starring Jean Shepard
and Lorrie Morgan. Two years
later, she played Miss Mona in The
Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
She ended the '80s playing a straight acting role in Everybody Loves Opal and penning a
book of humour entitled Pieces of a Puzzled Mind.
She also continued making television appearances, especially on The
Nashville Network. In 1997,
Lorrie Morgan recorded Seely's
"I've Enjoyed As Much Of This As I Can Stand". Jeannie continued performing, as
well, on cruises, at Dollywood, and as one of the
"Grand Ladies of the Grand Ole Opry",
an international tour. In 2000,
she returned to the stage in Atlantic City in Always, Patsy Cline, as Louise Seger. A year later, she and fellow
singer-songwriter Rita Coolidge appeared in Changing Hearts with Faye Dunaway and Lauren Holly. She followed this with a cover of
Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart" on Bluegrass Goes To Town: Pop Songs Bluegrass Style. It was enough to encourage her to
take on a full-blown bluegrass project called Life's Highway, an all-acoustic affair involving Charlie Louvin, The Osborne Brothers, The Whites, and Steve Wariner.
Jeannie has been honoured with numerous
accolades, including being inducted into the North America Country Music
Hall of Fame in 2000, and Arkansas's George
D. Hay Music Hall of Fame in 2003.
She continues to perform Friday and Saturday nights on the Grand Ole
Opry, when she is not on tour.
Jeannie Seely recordings
Farm in Pennsyltucky (Jeannie Seely)