Sheppard is WTSF honorary grand marshal
New Marshal in Town
by DANNY WADE | Senior Editor
When Shane Lynch became West Tennessee Strawberry general chairman last year, he knew there were several duties and choices to be made this year as festival president. He and his wife, Libby, spent countless hours and days discussing these big decisions.
Earlier in his term as president, which began as soon as last year’s Strawberry Festival concluded, Lynch made the biggest announcement when he named Ann Short as his general chairman last August. In February, Lynch and Short announced Judy Bowers as festival honoree. Two weeks ago, the duo announced this year’s Strawberry Festival theme, “A Masterpiece of Fun”, along with debuting the 2023 festival poster.
This week, Lynch is making the final announcement of his presidency—Humboldt’s own county music superstar T.G. Sheppard will serve as honorary grand marshal. Sheppard is among country music royalty with 21 No. 1 hits over his career.
“The (Strawberry Festival) theme is ‘A Masterpiece of Fun’, Lynch explained of his choice for an honorary grand marshal. “I love the arts—visual, musical, drama. What could be better than having our hometown musician be part of the Strawberry Festival?”
Lynch thought right off the bat when he was named festival general chairman of last year’s festival, he wanted to have T.G. Sheppard involved in some way with the Strawberry Festival. At the time, he had no way of contacting Sheppard, but Lynch’s son, Trey, got a phone number for his dad.
“Trey found a contact number in November of 2021,” Lynch recalled. “I called the number and got no answer. So I left a voice mail—still go no reply. I sent a text and told him who I was, Strawberry Festival president.”
Sheppard called Lynch back and during their conversation, he asked Sheppard if he would like to be grand marshal. Over the next few months, there were more phone calls and texts between the two, along with Sheppard’s PR director, Scott Sexton.
During one of their conversations, Lynch told Sheppard he had a front row seat at the Dixie at one of his recent concerts. Sheppard returned for a second appearance at the Dixie a few weeks ago. Again, Lynch had front row seats. Just before the concert, Lynch had asked Sheppard if he would be the festival honorary grand marshal, but still got no clear answers. That was until Sheppard was on stage and announced that Humboldt is his hometown and the Strawberry Festival is coming up and, “They want me to be involved.”
“I was like—Yeah!” said Lynch after hearing Sheppard accepted the grand marshal offer.
Lynch and Sexton texted and talked, what all would be expected. Lynch said he hoped he would be able to attend the parades for sure and any of the other events of the week. Sexton told Lynch that they could make it work.
While at the Dixie last month, Lynch brought Sheppard some memorabilia for him to autograph, and he brought a copy of the Humboldt Chronicle announcing Sheppard performing at the Dixie. Sheppard later texted Lynch and said he is always honored and surprised to see himself on the front page of his hometown newspaper.
At the age of 15, Billy Browder (T.G.’s real name) left Humboldt to go to Memphis to begin a career in music. He released his first record, “High School Days” using the stage name, Brian Stacy. This opened the door for a much bigger career as the opening act for some of the biggest shows in America, including The Animals, Jan & Dean and The Beach Boys.
By 1974, now using the stage name, T.G. Sheppard, he got into the record promotion business with RCA, where he became friends with Elvis Presley. After unsuccessfully promoting the song “Devil in a Bottle” to several artists, Sheppard went to Nashville and recorded the song himself. He signed with Motown, which looked to expand into country music.
When Motown got out of country music, Sheppard signed with Warner Bros. His career took off like a rocket with 14 consecutive number one hits. From the late 1970s through the 80s, Sheppard’s career had amassed hit after hit.
When 1990 hit, country music was changing. Sheppard’s blend of R&B rhythms, pop arrangements and songwriting did not fit the mold of the new country sound. He switched gears to expand his entrepreneurship when he opened a bed and breakfast in the Smokey Mountains.
Still performing, Sheppard was among the early investors in Guitars & Cadillacs, a nightclub chain that showcased emerging country singers.
Sheppard once again came up with a different career in 1995 when he briefly stopped touring and opened T.G. Sheppard Theater in the Smokeys. For eight months a year, he performed there and was able to go home after the show, which was a major change in life for the touring performer. But, he missed the life of a road musician and returned to touring in 1997.
Sheppard released his first commercial album in over 13 years in 2015, “Legendary Friends & Country Duets”, filled with duets with iconic artists such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, Kelly Lang (Sheppard’s wife), Ricky Skaggs, The Oak Ridge Boys, Englebert Humperdink, Lorrie Morgan, Crystal Gayle, Delbert McClinton, The Whites, Mickey Gilley, Steve Cropper, Jimmy Fortune, and Wayne Jackson and the Memphis Horns.
Lynch said he is thrilled to have Humboldt’s famed country singer come home to be Strawberry Festival honorary grand marshal. And according to texts and phone calls, Sheppard is equally as thrilled. In one of those texts Sexton sent Lynch about Sheppard coming home as grand marshal, Sexton wrote, “He started tearing up. T.G. said ‘I’ve waited 40 years for this’.”