Renowned Allen, Oklahoma, singer, songwriter, and recording artist Lonnie Bartmess is poised to walk away with two prestigious music awards honoring chart-topping independent recording artists.
Bartmess is a finalist for Traditional Classic Country Artist of the Year and Traditional Country Male Song of the Year with “Love Would’ve Wanted It That Way.”
The ceremony is slated September 18-19 at the Josie Music Awards, held annually at Dollywood – a music and family entertainment venue in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee – owned by country music icon Dolly Parton. The Josie Music Awards are the equivalent of Grammys for independent music label recording artists.
The 72-year-old performer, nominated for the awards by his music peers, burst onto the scene three years ago after signing a contract with Black Ribbon Records LLC, a Clarksville, Tennessee, independent label also affiliated with Big Matador Recording.
With chart-topping tunes popular in European and Texas music markets, Bartmess’ velvety smooth vocals and deep, soulful delivery received critical acclaim by music lovers in addition to accolades from Black Ribbon record producer Curt Ryle.
“Of all of the country artists on my label; of all the male country artists I’ve ever recorded or recorded with, Lonnie Bartmess is by far the very best,” Ryle said. “He is, frankly, the best male vocalist I have been associated with. He’s right up there with big-named artists like Mel Tillis, George Jones, and Ray Price.”
Bartmess, a self-proclaimed Merle Haggard fanatic, uses vocals and inflection incredibly similar to Haggard. “The Bottle Let Me Down: My Tribute to the Great Merle Haggard,” is available through Black Ribbon Records and “is my tribute to the best country singer and songwriter of all time,” he said.
It is a departure from other compact discs (CD) released by Bartmess. Most of his recordings feature songs penned exclusively by him. “Love Would’ve Wanted It That Way,” nominated for Song of the Year, was written by Ryle who asked Bartmess to perform it and shoot a music video to highlight the emotionally-charged lyrics concerning a man seeking redemption for abusiveness and alcoholism. The song is on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTFdd8J4990. Bartmess performing songs he has written are numerous.
Visit www.LonnieBartmess.com/music to enjoy them. They include “It Don’t Matter,” “Just 4 U,” “Somebody Nobody Knows,” and “Teenager with an M16.”
Despite All My Sunday Learning
Bartmess is the youngest of four children born to Curt and Myrtle Faye Bartmess. Born in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, he attended Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, public schools and learned to play guitar from his father at age seven.
“My dad was a builder. He worked construction and pastored his own church,” Bartmess recalled. “He told me once he was offered a job playing with Hank Williams, but turned down the opportunity because Williams did not perform gospel music. I wanted to knock him in the head when he told me that,” Bartmess said with a big laugh.
Williams was perhaps the biggest country music star of his day with hits like “Hey, Good Lookin’,” “Your Cheating Heart” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” A member of the Grand Ole Opry and Louisiana Hayride, Williams died in 1953 from drug and alcohol abuse. He was 29. “Daddy finally just quit playing. He had six mouths to feed and we weren’t exactly wealthy. He preached and I went to church every Sunday. I couldn’t wait until I could drink and smoke cigarettes,” a mischievous Bartmess said grinning. Indeed, Bartmess was restless. At 17, he quit high school and joined the Marine Corps. Like many teenagers of that era, Bartmess found himself in the thick of combat in Vietnam. It was 1968.
By 1969, Bartmess and his unit found themselves attempting to outmaneuver North Vietnamese Army regulars, well-armed and battling his unit through a labyrinth of underground tunnels. “I remember telling my commanding officer we needed to call in artillery strikes. He agreed, but there wasn’t enough time for us to move to safety. The strike hit with full force and one shell exploded in the treetop canopy, sending shrapnel everywhere. It killed 10 of us and wounded many others,” he recalled.
Bartmess’ right hand caught flak from incoming artillery. He was badly wounded and almost lost the hand. Awarded a Purple Heart and sent home, Bartmess returned to an unwelcoming nation fraught with civil discord over involvement in Vietnam.
Sing Me Back Home
He went to work for his father in construction and later started his own business installing storm shelters. More importantly, he began performing in local clubs and dance halls, learned to play bass guitar and became a celebrated regional performing artist. He played bass for “Smiley” Weaver’s band and performed regularly with him at the Saddle Club in Chickasha. Weaver, a steel guitarist from Ada, Oklahoma, played with Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys and was a 2015 inductee in The Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Smiley’s Guitar House was an Ada business fixture for more than 30 years. “He helped a lot of people pursing music as a career,” Bartmess recalled. Weaver died in 2019.
Another frequent venue was the Arbuckle Ballroom, a behemoth dance hall visible just off Interstate 35 near Davis, Oklahoma. It still exists, but not in its original location. Bartmess’ memories of the boot-scootin’ joint are favorable.
“Big crowds and pretty good money for a weekend,” he said of the ballroom. “There were some important and noteworthy musicians who performed there.”
The famed WH Corral in Sulphur proved to be the dance hall where Bartmess would rub elbows with elite musicians and up-and-coming stars. By then, he was writing his own tunes.
“Teenager with an M16” elicits graphic imagery from his days in Vietnam; the horrors he witnessed; the friends he lost. He is a strong advocate for American service men and women. His Facebook page is filled with tributes to America’s fighting forces. “Our country’s GIs were never adequately appreciated for their sacrifices and bravery. It is only recently Americans have come to realize the contributions to freedom provided by the U.S. military,” he said. Bartmess has many other tunes concerning military conflict, but also has a repertoire of love songs and ballads he has written over 50 years as a “weekend warrior” on bandstands from Ada, Sulphur, Tishomingo, Chickasha and south into Texas.
He and his wife, Shirley, reside near Allen enjoying wildlife traversing their rural property. Trips to Clarksville, where he is recording new music, are frequent.
“I would guess I have recorded 40 to 50 tunes. Big Matador Recording is top-notch. Curt Ryle brings in the best-of-the-best session musicians – real ‘Nashville Cats.’ They don’t make errors,” Bartmess observed. “It has been my pleasure to be associated with such professionalism.”