Dottie West Biography
Last updated: 05/01/2009 12:00:00 PM
The late Dottie West was born Dorothy Marie Marsh on October 11, 1932, near McMinnville, Tennessee. She was the oldest of 10 children born to Hollis and Pelina Marsh. Throughout much of her childhood, Dottie West would have to put up with hurt and pain that no one should EVER have to deal with.
Dottie always dreamed of playing the Grand Ole Opry ever since she was a little girl. She even walked for miles and miles selling ointment for her school. She won the top prize, which was her very first guitar!
Hollis Marsh, Dottie's father, was an alcoholic who beat and abused the family on a regular basis. By the time Dottie was only a year old, he was whipping and spanking her on a regular basis. As the years went by, and more children were born, Dottie naturally became the "second mother" of the family, and she would eventually have to help feed, clothe, and raise the other kids. She would pick cotton in the fields near her home with her brothers until their fingers bled. Dottie and her siblings were treated like dirt for years. They lived in an old shack in the woods with no running water, no electricity, and lived on blackberries for meals. Her brother Kelton later said that if you got hungry, you just drank water. He said you would go to bed, and the next morning if you woke up and the hunger came back, you just drank more water...
Dottie had to save old rags and newspapers lying around the house, and stick them in the cracks of her bedroom wall, so the snow would not blow in during the winter. The poverty continued for years. Hollis repeatedly hollered, kicked, and cursed at the kids. He threw dishes around, and even ordered Dottie and her mother outside at gunpoint after an all night drinking binge. He would leave the family for hours on end. He would not work, and what little money the family did have, was spent on sugar for his illegal moonshine. The family used old tin covers off lard cans for plates, and drank out of old tin cans with the sharp edges peeled back. Hollis was more interested in a whiskey jug than providing for his family! But it wasn't until Dottie was a teenager that darkness prevailed...
Hollis began secretely molesting her. He would often call Dottie upstairs when he was repairing watches, to help look for screws that he claimed he "lost". When Dottie went upstairs to help her dad, Hollis had other things on his mind. He began raping her on a regular basis. No matter how painful the experience was for her, Hollis ordered not to make a sound...To avoid any suspicion from Pelina, Hollis would sometimes call some of Dottie's brothers to help look for the screws, but they could never find them because, of course, there weren't any screws to begin with. So Hollis kicked and cursed the boys, and told them to leave him and Dottie alone. Some weeks later, Dottie was awakened by stomach cramps. She began to suspect that she was pregnant by her own father. SHE WAS. She miscarried in the middle of the night, and barely had enough strength to make it back to her room. The next morning, Hollis shouted at Dottie to get up. Feeling tired from the episode the night before, she collapsed on the porch. The other kids yelled at Hollis to do something, so he poured a bucket of water on her, and said: "You damn little tramp, if that's how you're going to act, get back in bed". Hollis once beat Dorothy so severely, that she required hospital treatment. Unfortunately, the doctors suspected nothing out of the ordinary...The days and months went by, and Hollis grew more irritable. He was a hopeless alcoholic who would not-or probably could not- work. The horror for Dottie continued, until one day, while at school, she broke down in a flood of tears. She revealed to her principal what she had been subjected to at home for years.
Dottie's principal immediately called the sheriff and Dottie was placed in better care. Later that day, the sheriff returned to Dottie's home, and explained to a disbelieving Pelina the charges laid against Hollis: Rape, incest, and violating the age of consent law. Hollis had already been placed under arrest, and after several witnesses took the stand, including Dottie herself, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison, where he eventually died. The family's conditions were now changing for the better. Dottie's mother Pelina, such a good cook, opened two restaurants, and for the first time in years, things were looking up for the family. They moved into a decent apartment, and Dottie received her first real clothing too. She was even presented with her very first birthday cake at 17 years of age!
All her life, Dottie knew that music was what she wanted to do, and after graduating high school, set out to attend Tennessee Tech near Cookeville. She would major in music. From that moment on, although she didn't realize it at the time, she was on her way to the top.
While at Tennessee Tech, she met up with her first husband, Bill West. They began playing the regular party and club circuit, and they also had their first two children, Kerry and Morris.
After graduation from Tennessee Tech, Dottie and Bill moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where Bill was employed as an electrical engineer. They landed a job on the TV show, "Landmark Jamboree", which originated in Cleveland. Also in Cleveland, Shelly West, a country singer in her own right, was born.
It was during a roadtrip to Nashville that Dottie was on her way. They were driving out of Nashville, heading back to Ohio after being turned down by several other record labels, when they passed the old Starday Records on Dickerson Road. Well, Dottie, feeling far more confident and upbeat than Bill, walked in and simply told them: "I am a singer, and I want to make a record!" She talked with Don Pierce in the studio, and one week later, she cut her first single, "Angel on Paper". Although it cost her $511, the disc was played all over Nashville, and when Opry manager Ott Devine heard it, he asked Dottie to appear on the Grand Ole Opry. Dottie West, who was born and raised in an environment of sexual abuse and sheer poverty, was on her way to her mansion on the hill.
She began working with some of the biggest names in Country Music. She and Jim Reeves eventually teamed up for some duets, after a song Dottie had written for Jim, called, "Is This Me?", became a big hit for him. She and Jim went on to record the duet "Love is no Excuse". They went on to play several venues and package tours together, and at one show, received a thunderous standing ovation from the crowd! She also recorded "Slowly" with Jimmy Dean.
It was at the historic Grand Ole Opry in the old Ryman Auditorium when Dottie first met the late and great Patsy Cline. They would become life-long friends. Patsy and Dottie were inseperable. Patsy proudly showed off her home to Dottie, and gave her some tips about singing. She once told Dottie: "Hoss, if you can't do it with feeling, don't." That advice would stick with Dottie for the rest of her life, as is evident in her singing. However, Patsy Cline's life was tragically cut short in a plane crash on March 5, 1963. Patsy Cline was dead. The Country Music community was badly shaken, but Dottie knew she had to get on with her life, as she had done so often in the past.
In 1964, Dottie really scored it big. She was signed to RCA records by Chet Atkins, and they began working together. She recorded: "Here Comes My Baby Back Again" which entered the Top-10, and proved to be so popular that it has since been recorded by over 100 artists! The radio and airwaves were full of her song, and she went on to win a Grammy for it. Dottie West was the very first female country singer to receive such an award. Needless to say, she deserved it. Dottie began touring throughout the country, playing the usual fairground and club circuit. She starred alongside such acts as Minnie Pearl and Charlie Rich. Throughout the next several years, she consistently made the top 40 with other hits such as "Paper Mansions", "Would You Hold It Against Me', "Last Time I Saw Him", and several others. Dottie made regular appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, and for the next several years, she would sing her heart out and go on to win some of the most prestigious awards in the business! Dottie raised herself up from abuse and poverty, to songwriting superstardom. She was now a household name all over the country! She drew huge crowds wherever she appeared, and even shared her favourite recipes with her fans!!!
It wouldn't be until the mid 1970's that Dottie's career would take on a whole new dimension. In 1974, her marriage to Bill West ended in divorce, but instead of letting it destroy her, she saw it as a new beginning. Soon, the country girl who never knew what having a good time was, gave new meaning to the word: "Wild West"! In 1973, she recorded a jingle for Coca-Cola, "Country Sunshine", and it went on to become her "signature song" and won her a Clio award.
By 1976, she was signed to the United Artist/Liberty label, and married the drummer in her band, Byron Metcalf. She began a heavy road schedule that would see as many as 300 concerts a year. It was in 1978, when Dottie, during a recording session one day, happened to be visited by Kenny Rogers. He wandered into the studio by accident. He apparently had the wrong time booked for his recording session, and Kenny's producer was also Dottie's producer. Kenny gave Dottie some singing tips, and casually sang along with her on the song: "Every Time Two Fools Collide". The recording engineers were so impressed with what they heard, and the results were so good, Kenny and Dottie went on to record a complete duet album of the same title. A new act was born that year: Kenny Rogers and Dottie West. The duo proved so popular that they were booked in some of the biggest venues in the U.S and other countries. They recorded another album the following year, and continued a non-stop touring schedule. They went on to win "Vocal Duo of the Year" in 1978 & 1979, and challenged Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn as Country Music's hottest new duo!!!
These were high times with Kenny and Dottie...They could pack in the fans too, often playing to crowds in superdomes and fairgrounds with attendance as high as 100,000, and Dottie looked great, sparkling like a cut diamond in those Bob Mackie clothes, and that gorgeous red hair! Their second duet album, "Classics", was one of their biggest sellers, with sales in excess of 750,000, earning them gold status. She was also making a big impact on the country and pop charts for her solo work as well. From 1976-1984, she never missed the Country Top-40. Her "Special Delivery" LP went to #78 on the Billboard Top 200 in 1980 followed by another big seller, "Wild West" released later that year. Dottie was at her peak. She was quickly gaining a reputation around Nashville for her generosity and big spending! She purchased expensive, custom-made cadillacs and wore elaborate Bob Mackie stage wardrobes, which cost nearly $100,000 each. Her income was around the $2 million dollar mark, and she was having the best times of her life. Dottie was admired from all corners of the globe! She was nominated for 16 Grammys and was one of Country Music's leading ladies. According to a Nashville insider, Dottie was only one of few artists that could really pull in a good crowd. Dottie was also known for helping newcomers break into the business. She helped launch the careers of other Country Music stars such as Larry Gatlin and Steve Wariner.
Now it was time to move into her mansion on the hill. And mansion it was! Located on 40 acres in the posh Brentwood estates just outside of Nashville, it contained no fewer than 30 rooms, an elevator, a bowling alley, a special nursery dedicated to her grand-daughter Tess-Marie, many fine furniture and appliances, and utility bills that ran in the thousands of dollars a month! It was a lifestyle many said was costing her too much...But Dottie seemed determined to somehow, someway, bury part of her painful past. She had an extensive doll collection, many tiffany lamps and fine china, and even installed a mirror over her bed, which she insisted was used for her exercising!!!
Hit after hit followed: "A Lesson in Leavin", "You Pick Me Up and Put Me Down", Everytime Two Fools Collide", "Come See Me and Come Lonely", "All I Ever Need is You", "Together Again", "Leavin's for Unbelievers", "Are You Happy Baby?", the hits came one after another. However, behind the scenes, things were not rosy at all.
There is no question that Dottie West did live her songs! Her second marriage to Byron Metcalf was coming to an end. She accused him of cheating on her, and made the break public in a casino hotel after a performance in Vegas. She caught Byron in bed with another woman, and took off her ring in front of him, and said: "You broke this", then threw it out the window! To add to her upcoming crisis, her finances were in a mess, and began to crumble. By 1985, taking a break from recording, she began touring with a theater company, playing the role of Madam in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas", and appeared in TV shows such as: "The Dukes of Hazzard", "The Love Boat", "Austin City Limits", "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous", and even appeared in the motion picture: "Aurora Encounter". She had her own float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and toured the world, visiting such places as the Mid-East and Europe. She played all the major networks, sold out Carnegie Hall, worked with several renowned orchestras, hosted her own Christmas special, and even performed at the White House. Ironically, Dottie was one of Barbara Bush's favourite singers! She was a popular touring act and headliner at fairs and festivals all across the nation, and was a particular favourite in Vegas and Lake Tahoe. During this time, she also married her third husband, Allen Carter Winters. It was a scandal all over Nashville! You see, he was twenty years younger than Dottie, but nevertheless, it seemed Dottie had found happiness once again. Friends and family however, were concerned that she was living too fast. She was also drinking quite a lot, and was sometimes showing up late for appearances and concerts. As much as Dottie loved performing, her 8 year run on the Country Top-40 had fizzled out, with her last chart hit, "We Know Better Now", reaching only #53 in 1985. Unfortunately, her two final studio albums, "New Horizons" (1983) and "Just Dottie" (1984) were not a success... As a result, Dottie's recording deals and concert bookings became sparse as the 80's progressed, but the proud country girl held her head up high. She went on to host some variety shows for the popular Nashville Network, continued to make regular appearances on the Opry, was a frequent guest on Ralph Emery's "Nashville Now", and along with John Schneider, she did some voice-overs for a popular cartoon series: "The Raccoons". But the country sunshine that Dottie spread would soon fade. Her world was to come crashing down, and although she seemed to be at the peak of her life, storm clouds were just ahead.
THE WALLS COME CRASHING DOWN
The story broke all over the world: Dottie West, the woman who made millions of dollars in her near thirty-year singing career, was broke. It was August 1990. Her tears and humiliation were on national TV for all to see. Dottie was openly crying in front of the Entertainment Tonight cameras. She owed nearly two million dollars to various agencies, plus interest. The IRS was owed nearly $1.3 million, A West Coast management firm was suing her for $130,000, her former manager was suing her for $110,000, and if that weren't enough, her third marriage to Allen Winters ended in divorce and now he was suing her for $7,500. Dottie was 57 years old. She had been so busy keeping up with her career that she had no time to check up on her finances. Her former business manager, who mishandled Dottie's money for years, apparently called her one day and told her that she was the proud owner of three new tuna boats. Dottie later found out the boats had never even been built. At this point, the IRS moved quickly to seize all of Dottie's assets. Her Corvette, her $1.6 million dollar mansion, her doll collection, all the rights to her songs she had written over the years, her tiffany lamps, all her expensive china, her many trophies and all her music awards, and even items of a personal nature such as Crayola drawings done by her kids when they were young, were all gone in the slam of an auctioneer's gavel.
Dottie could not face the fact that the IRS had the rights to everything, and hid some of her stuff in storage, and in her new apartment at Wessex Towers. Then the FBI entered the picture, looking for possible criminal violations against Dottie when she concealed some of her belongings. The found items were eventually auctioned off, and Dottie was left with literally nothing but the clothes on her back. The auction itself was a circus! Balloons and hamburgers were sold amid the distorted sounds of recorded Country Music. No Dottie West solos or duets were played either...People would pull at her, and foolishly ask her to sign the items they just bought. Dottie complied. Many of Dottie's "fans" that day were largely people she had never even met or known before. They were all there to prey on a woman whose music had touched and soothed most of the record buying public. Dottie played Dallas the night before, but oddly enough, wanted to be in Nashville for her darkest hour.
After the humiliation of seeing her many cherished items auctioned off, and after having her financial information published for the whole world to see, Dottie quietly moved into an apartment complex in Nashville after sleeping a couple of nights in an abandoned car. She later told Robert K. Oermann, a reporter for "The Tennessean": "You can knock me down...but you better have a big rock to keep me there!" As she had to do so many times in the past, her instinct for survival kicked in. Although she had lost most of her self-worth, she never once thought about giving up. As a matter of fact, when the tears had dried and the crowds faded, Dottie felt there was one thing that they couldn't take from her, and that was her singing. "This too shall pass," she said. It wasn't all doom and gloom however. She was in the process of making plans to record a comeback album with close friends Tammy Wynette and Tanya Tucker. Dottie also sat down and began writing her own biography, but sadly wouldn't live to finish it.
When she was at her low point, Dottie felt the need for some spirituality in her life. Although she attended church as a child, she rarely attended once she entered college. She was simply too busy building her career. Dottie attended a church service with her son Kerry, and received some words of encouragement from the pastor. The minister told Dottie that Satan had come to steal happiness from her, and bring hurt to her life, and cause havoc in her life...After the service had ended, Dottie later told the minister that she always wanted to sing and dance with the angel band. Ironically, Dottie West was speaking words of prophecy. In six months, she would be dead.
It was August 30, 1991. Dottie's car, given to her by Kenny Rogers, was not working properly, and she was running late for an Opry performance. Her 81 year old neighbour, George Thackston, assisted her. Trying to make up for the lost time, George accelerated the car to 55 MPH on an Opryland exit ramp, where the speed was posted as only 25 MPH. Dottie was to perform at 8:30 PM, and George lost control of the car at 8:11 P.M. The curtain would rise without Dottie West.
The car left the roadway and became airborn for nearly 100 feet before coming back down and striking the embankment of an exit ramp. George suffered leg, back and hip injuries. Dottie however, was in critical condition. Both were conscious when they were admitted to Nashville's Vanderbilt Medical Center. Just before she was scheduled for surgery, old buddy Kenny Rogers comforted her, and promised her they would record another song together when she was well enough to perform again. However, Dottie's liver had received multiple injuries, and her spleen was severely ruptured. She spent five days in Intensive Care and was given nearly thirty five units of blood. However, it was all too late. Dottie West, the "Country Sunshine Girl", died on the operating table at 9:43 AM. She was 58 years old.
When the news of Dottie's passing hit the radio and airwaves, fans, family, and friends across the nation were saddened. One account said that people were openly weeping in the streets of Nashville! Shelly West later said that flowers were received from virtually every Country Music star. The funeral home was swamped with phone calls, flowers and cards. The funeral service was attended by hundreds. Kenny Rogers wept openly, and told the crowd about the hurt and pain in both Dottie's life and in her songs. Said Rogers: "When she sang about Country Sunshine, you felt Country Sunshine, and when she sang about pain, you felt that pain -- You could see it in her face, you could hear it in her voice." She did it with "feeling"... Patsy would have been proud!
Dottie's coffin was later taken to a private service near her home in McMinnville. She was laid to rest beside her mother and a beautiful memorial adorns her grave. Dottie West brought sunshine to millions around the world. There wasn't any place that she couldn't perform in, large or small. With her friendly personality, her warm smile and distinctive voice, she filled many hearts with hope and happiness for a better tomorrow. Said the late Tommy Hill: "She was everybody's sunshine, Dottie could walk into a room where there was a conversation going on, and stop everyone in their tracks, she just had that effect." Yes, Dottie was a great lady. She is greatly missed by all.
What Dottie gave us came from the heart. She was indeed born a country girl, and died a country girl. She knew hard times, but learned that there's more to life than dwelling on how things might have been. She was brought up in an environment of abuse and poverty, only to become a globe trotting singer, earning millions, and then back to rags again. Dottie always gave it her best when it came to performing. During her nearly 3 decades as a performer, she wrote over 400 songs, released over 40 albums and over 100 singles. Between 1964-1984, Dottie hit the Country Charts no fewer than 60 times! She loved music and loved people deeply. She will always have a special place in the history books of Country Music, and deserves to be placed on the same pedestal as Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Kitty Wells, and Loretta Lynn.
Perhaps Dottie was among those who give too much, sacrifice too long, who endures the hurt and pain from lost love, and from time to time, die too young. But what she gave us stands the test of time. As more and more people begin to question the future of country music, the great country legends of yesteryear will always outperform the fads and novelty acts that seem so prominent in today's music business. It was once said that what we love, we shall grow to resemble. What Dottie West loved, she indeed came to resemble. The world will always remember Dottie West. "Here Comes my Baby", "Country Sunshine", "A Lesson in Leavin", her many duets with Jim Reeves, Kenny Rogers, Don Gibson, and John Schneider, are not just songs, but permanent memories of Dottie West.