The Labor Day Weekend is usually a happy time for Americans, but this year’s celebration was muted for all country fans, for it marked the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 4, 1991 auto accident that took the life of Dottie West.
And for millions of country and country radio fans, it brought up a question: Why the heck isn’t Dottie in the Country Music Hall of Fame?
Among those spearheading this effort are Dottie’s daughter Shelly West; David Frizzell, Shelly’s duet partner on the 1981 No. 1 Billboard smash “You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma;” the Opry legend Jeannie Seeley; and Dottie’s former son-in-law Allen Frizzell.
With her gorgeous red hair, skin-tight stage costumes, and dazzling smile, Dottie West remains one of the most charismatic and glamorous female stars in country history. And musically, the 1964 Grand Ole Opry inductee had success at country radio for over 20 years.
An indication of her consistency is the different eras spanned by her duet partners on her first Top 10 Billboard country single in 1964, and her last in 1981,
That early single was “Love Is No Excuse,” a duet with the legendary country crooner Jim Reeves that debuted on the country charts in March of 1964, three months before Reeves himself would perish in an airplane crash.
Her final Top 10 was a Billboard No. 1, “What Are We Doin’ In Love,” a duet with Kenny Rogers. Long before Kenny’s first-ever duet with Dolly Parton, 1983’s “Islands In The Stream,” Rogers and West had already teamed up on five hit singles. Four of them went to No. 1 on Billboard.
Dottie’s success story in Nashville was every bit as courageous as Loretta Lynn’s. In 1959, she and her husband Bill were driving past the Starday Records building. In his book “A Century Of Country,” author Robert K. Oermann has a quote from West about what happened next.
“I’m going in there,” Dottie said, “and I hope they’re gonna listen to me. I took my guitar in there and said, `I really am gonna make hit records. I am gonna be a singer in Nashville. And this is the only thing I have to show you and it’s a scrapbook from the TV show that I do.”
As Oermann writes, Dottie continued by saying: “And it worked. It’s funny; looking back, I don’t even think I realized how tough it might be. When you’re that young, you’re not afraid. I had absolutely no idea that I could be a top singer; I was just ‘goin’ for it,’ that’s all.”
She was not just a legendary singer, but West was also a top-notch country songwriter. She and husband Bill West co-wrote “Is This Me?,” a No. 3 hit for Reeves in 1963. The next year, Jim and Dottie cut “Love Is No Excuse,” and West made history another way. Her single “Here Comes My Baby,” also written with Bill, earned Dottie the first female Grammy country award ever.
She was signed to Reeves’ label, RCA Victor, and recorded there from 1963 to 1975. Her boss there much of that time was Chet Atkins. She moved to United Artists in 1976.
One of her UA No. 1s was 1980’s “A Lesson In Leavin’,” which another feisty country redhead, Jo Dee Messina, covered in 1999. Other Dottie No. 1s on Billboard included “Every Time Two Fools Collide” (with Rogers, 1978); “All I Ever Need Is You” (also with Rogers, 1979); and “Are You Happy Baby?” (1981).
Chet Atkins told Oermann: “Dottie West was one of the most lovable people, just a terrific woman. Buddy Killen would bring demos around of Dottie singing. So I called her. She was outside mowin’ the grass, I found out later. I told her who I was and I wanted to sign her up and she didn’t believe it. She thought somebody was pullin’ a joke on her.”
But it was no joke. It was country history.
Dottie West charted 63 Billboard country singles as an artist, far more than many current members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. She wrote or co-wrote many of her hits herself, and also wrote hits for other artists.
But that’s just numbers. For millions of fans and fellow musicians, Dottie’s personality and unmistakable star power are what they remember most.
“Widely loved for her open-hearted generosity to her fellow songwriters,” Oermann writes, “and for discovering such talents as Larry Gatlin and Steve Wariner, West died after an automobile accident on her way to an Opry performance in Nashville in 1991.”
There would be no more fitting tribute to this legendary performer than a long overdue induction in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
By Phil Sweetland