Patsy and Charlie:
by Sandra Schulman
Patsy Cline sang some of the most wrenching love and heartbreak songs in country and pop music history. Thirty years after her death she is still recognized as an enduring icon, and not just in the mercurial world of music.
A new album, entitled "Patsy Cline Duets" re-recorded with the help of some modern technology, finds Cline still strip mining hearts with songs including "Walkin' After Midnight," "Too Many Secrets" and "There He Goes." "The results are stunning," says producer Michael Blakey. "So few vocalists can compare to her style. It's so overwhelming and strong. It's her phrasing that's just perfection, so natural. She was a thoroughbred lover of music, so I worked to keep the integrity of her music."
But the real duet in Patsy's life was with her husband Charlie Dick. They only had a few short years together before Cline's tragic death in a plane crash. But those years she spent with Charlie were the most productive and successful of her career, proving that the right relationship can move mountains.
Today Charlie oversees many aspects of Patsy's career from a small office in Madison, TN, just blocks from the home he shared with Cline back in the 60's. Charlie's office is filled with Patsy's awards, gold albums, and photos.
For those who have seen the movie "Sweet Dreams" with Jessica Lange as Patsy and Ed Harris as Charlie, take Charlie's advice and don't believe too much of it. "I didn't have much to do with the movie, and I wish I had even less to do with it, so don't go by that version. The good thing was that Jessica didn't sing, so we used Patsy's voice. It's still kind of weird to see the movie."
I used to run around with a bunch of musicians, and they would play dances. When they played I went. I met Patsy in Washington. She was playing at clubs around there, and she was married. I asked her to dance, she said she couldn't because she was working. About a month later I saw her and she had separated from her husband and was living with her mother in Winchester, VA. I asked her to dance again, and this time she said yes. It was April 1956."
"She needed a ride the next night to a show," Charlie says grinning. "I offered to drive her, but I didn't have a car. I borrowed a car from my brother, took her to the show, and that was it. We were together after that."
Charlie was drafted into the army in March of 1957 and came home in September. The couple moved to North Carolina, but Patsy needed to be nearer to the music industry. So in 1958, they cashed in some military checks and moved to Nashville. By 1960 she was playing the Opry. Patsy's career started to get busy, only slightly derailed by a car accident in 1961.
Charlie became her road manager, taking Patsy all over the country in a series of run down Fords and Cadillacs. "Just before she died we were getting a bus" says Charlie, "but she never had one. In the movie "Coal Miners Daughter" they show Loretta Lynn and Patsy traveling around on a bus, but that's not true. She never had one. When they were writing this movie it seems everyone had different memories."
"But we didn't really have that much time together and we never made much money. We must have worn out 4 or 5 cars just driving to shows to keep up. The most we ever made was $1,200 at a show with Roy Orbison." "On our time off, she loved to go see other singers," says Charlie. "One time in Vegas, we went to see Della Reese and Patsy had tears streaming down her cheeks listening to Della sing. She was as big a star as Della was, but she was a fan, too. Patsy always wanted to be a pop star, but she wouldn't say it. She would cut pop records, but that didn’t mean she was changing over. Pop then wasn't like pop now."
To be a pop star meant you had to not only sing the right songs but look the part too. In her early country cowgirl days Patsy and her mother made all of her costumes. "She'd get a solid sheet of leather and cut it into fringe," says Charlie," pulling out various photos of Patsy in her original outfits. "She liked colored satin, too. They'd get those bags of rhinestones and attach each one by hand. She didn¹t like to buy off the rack. Nudie (the Rodeo Tailor) made her boots.
A lot of the costumes got lost by accident. I gave most back to her mother, Patsy sold some and I had a box of them in storage and they got thrown out by mistake. But some of them still turn up."
In later years, Patsy donned sleek form fitting sheaths made of gold lame, black sequins or colorful brocades. Her heels got higher and she wore fur stoles and opera length gloves.
Changing her image meant changing her song style too, but Patsy wasnn't always the best judge of what worked and what didn't. "Patsy didn't always know what was good for her song wise," says Charlie. She hated "Crazy" because of the way Willie Nelson sang it. She didn’t likeOwen's (producer Owen Bradley) arrangements with the strings on that song at first either. Willie sang with her one night in Vegas when she had laryngitis and she asked him to come on stage and help her out. The manager of the club hated him and said Nelson was the worst performer he had ever seen and would never book him. We told the Willie story to Steve Wynn (owner of a Vegas casino) and he couldn’t believe it. He said Willie was the lowest paid and the highest paid performer in Vegas."
Cline's glory days came to a swift end when her plane crashed in 1963. "The day she died I never did get a phone call about it," Charlie says. "I heard it on the radio just like everyone else. So many people came to the house that day -- Loretta Lynn, Dolly, Dottie West. They brought food and just kind of took over for me. What can you say? I was pretty numb and didn't know what to do."
Even though Charlie would remarry and divorce in a few years, Patsy remains with him to this day. "Not a week goes by that I don't get called to consult or attend something for Patsy," he says. "And I'll be there. I will certainly be there."
With that thought, Charlie stares out the window and smiles. Just a little.