It was the 1960’s and Music Row, Printers Alley and the Ryman Auditorium were bustling with activity; Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner in one studio, Cash across the street, and a whole menagerie of country music greats together on stage at least once per week for the WSM broadcast. No matter where one turned, a country star was just around the corner. Patsy Cline was a giantess in the industry, Elvis Presley was running amuck with the boys, and Chet Atkins was in fine form as an artist. Nashville was a hotbed of activity and a rising star in the music industry. The best of the best musicians were flocking to the city to record and perform, whether as a main line artist, or as as a session musician. The Ackerman family was in the midst of it all; as Nashville locals, several members of the Ackerman dynasty were called on to support the artists front and center, including Atkins, Parton, Wagner, Cline, and Cash. That Trey Ackerman would seek his own path in the industry comes as no surprise; he has music in veins.
Trey Ackerman’s musical history began with his maternal grandmother, in a tiny Texas town just south of Ft. Worth called Evant. With an entrepreneurial mind and a true artist’s spirit, Ackerman’s grandmother, Pat took advantage of the musical opportunities before her from a young age. “My grandmother had a lot of family members who were musicians; they played the fiddle and harmonica and sang. This was back at the turn of the century before country music had even been recorded and it was true western roots or cowboy music. With living in such a small town, when there were barn dances and events, my grandmother and her family (the Fletchers) were the go to entertainers.” In a cow town without electricity until well after the turn of the century, Ackerman’s family leaned on the live entertainment they could provide one another to pass the time. “I remember hearing stories about enormous cattle drives headed north, the first encounter with electricity coming to the area - a light bulb the children were warned to stay away from. Her upbringing revolved around singing and dancing with her family. She was steeped in it from a really young age. She started with playing the fiddle first, then moved on to singing. She really started learning to sing properly and write in high school and she became regionally known act. It was a big fish in a small pond situation, so she started picking up more press through touring and wound up in Nashville in the late 1950’s.” Pat didn’t take long to get hooked up with Audrey Williams, the first wife of Hank Williams and an accomplished country musician in her own right. That connection lead to more friendships within the industry. While it was purely happenstance that Pat lived across the street from Jeanne Pruett (“Satin Sheets”) and her husband, Jack Pruett, that detail would prove important for Willie Ackerman, a young, established musician who was finding his footing on the road and as the staff drummer for the Grand Ol’ Opry when he crossed paths with Pat’s daughter.
“My grandmother and mother lived across the street from Jeanne and Jack Pruett, who at the time was a guitar player for Marty Robbins. My father was quite young and had quit high school his senior year to play the drums and tour. He was playing the drums for Marty Robbins and was on the road doing the old package shows with Ferlin Huskey, Little Jimmy Dickens, Whispering Bill Anderson and many more. He worked at the Grand Ole Opry behind Patsy Cline and so many others. Jack and Jeanne Pruett wound up introducing my father to my mother, who at that time was just the young woman across the street.” By the 1960’s, Willie Ackerman was married with a young son and two daughters, and thriving in his career as the go-to drummer for artists such as Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed and the Bradley brothers. From there, Ackerman went on to work with Kelso Herston on jingles for commercial consumption and to play as a regular on the television show Hee Haw. Meanwhile, his grandmother, an entrepreneur at heart, remarried and moved back and forth between Nashville and Texas to run several business and pursue her music on the side with her own publishing company in Fort Worth.
Willie Ackerman continued to grow and thrive throughout the 1970’s. Ackerman’s credits include work with Johnny Cash, Bobby Bare, Ferlin Husky, Louis Armstrong, Ray Price, Loretta Lynn, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and of course, Patsy Cline. Trey Ackerman recounted an early interaction with Ferlin Husky that would change the course of his father Willie’s career, explaining how he got off the road and into his staff positions in Music City. “I ran into Ferlin a few years ago, and he told me the story of how dad became a studio musician. He told Dad at the time “Willie, you’re too good to be on the road. You need to be a session musician making records and a lot more money.” My dad said, “No, you hired me, and I’m loyal, so I’m going to stay with you.” Ferlin said, “So, I fired him.” Dad became a session musician after that and worked with recommendations from Buddy Harmon, who was the first staff drummer on the Grand Ole Opry, for a while. Buddy, the Opry’s first official staff drummer, was so busy with sessions he gave dad the Opry gig.”
Ackerman caught the music bug early and began writing poetry by the time he was in fifth grade in hopes of becoming a songwriter himself. Little did he know, it wouldn’t take him very long at all to see that dream recognized. “I had a friend named Arnie Powell who lived just down the street from us. One day I was supposed to spend the night at his house, but I was in the middle of writing a song. I took my guitar down with me, and we finished the song and played it for Arnie’s dad, Max Powell. Max told us it was great and he wanted us to play it for someone, so he got on the phone and held the receiver out while we played the song again. The person on the other end of the line was Webb Pierce. Max managed Webb, and a couple of months after we played him the song, Webb cut it on one of his records.”
Ackerman left Nashville while he was still young, moving back to his mother’s home state of Texas when his parents divorced. Though Ackerman temporarily lost his exposure to Nashville through his father’s work, it wouldn’t take him long to get back into the swing of things when he moved back to Music City after college. “The very first day I got back into town I went to the Ralph Emery show with Dad. Another guy was singing, and after the set, he came up to Dad and told him he needed a drummer. Dad volunteered me, so I had a gig the very first day I was there.” Though Ackerman possesses a natural born talent for music, he treated it as a hobby for many years while he worked in IT and cybersecurity, running radio shows and singing on the side. When his parents passed away, Ackerman knew it was time to make good on a dream of his: to cut a record with his Dad’s friends. “Mom and Dad passed away a few years ago, and I got the bug to do my own thing. I’d always played in other people’s bands, and I wanted to do something more traditionally country with that late 60’s, early 70’s sound. When I’m by myself, and it’s one AM, and it’s just me and the ghosts, that’s what I’m playing. I wanted to do that, and I wanted to do it with my Dad’s friends.”
Ackerman is not so dissimilar to his maternal grandmother and his father with his varied career paths. In addition to being a stellar musician, Willie Ackerman pursued his passion for law enforcement by keeping employment as a deputy sheriff in both Tennessee and Missouri while playing sessions for some of the most iconic singers of our time. Pat went on to own several varied businesses while running her own publishing company. Trey Ackerman has had a successful career in cyber security and raised a lovely family with his wife of 30 years, Karen, while never once forgetting his love for his instruments and for writing. Now, as he pursues his music more seriously, Trey Ackerman is not only dedicated to producing the best songs that he can, but of preserving the rich history his family had such a crucial role in creating. From Louis Armstrong to Patsy Cline to honky tonks around Nashville today, the Ackerman family has had a steady, musical, entrepreneurial hand in it all.
Trey has one EP out now and writes and works regularly with Dee Moeller and Wayne Moss of Cinderella Studios in Nashville. He was designated by Nashville Songwriter’s Association (NSAI) as One To Watch in 2018 and is currently working on his sophomore album.