Archive for the ‘Passings’ Category

Grady Martin (January 17, 1929 – December 3, 2001)

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

Session guitarist Grady Martin was born on January 17, 1929, was born in Chapel Hill, Tennessee. Before he joined Willie Nelson & Family, Grady had played with Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, Elvis Presley and Ray Price. He also wrote the song sung by Ronnie Milsap, “Snap Your Fingers.”

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*Article originally printed in the August, 1984 edition of Country Song Roundup magazine.

Young country fans know Grady Martin as the lead guitarist in Willie Nelson’s band, but he is much, much more. His contributions to the development of the Nashville Sound as a studio musician in the 1950’s and 1960’s have been incalculable.

Put bluntly, there would be no Nashville music industry as we know it, were it not for Grady Martin. Country entrepreneur Tillman Franks thinks Grady belongs in the Country Music Hall of Fame. “There are five great musical geniuses that made Nashville Music City U.S.A.,” he says. “They are: recording studio innovator Owen Bradley, music publisher Fred Rose, Grand Ole Opry superstar Roy Acuff, and musicians Chet Atkins and Grady Martin. Of these five, Grady MArtin is the only one not in the Country Music Hall of Fame. As a charter member of the Country Music Association, I hereby nominate Grady Martin for the Hall of Fame in 1984.”

Franks said that in December 1983, at a tribute dinner held in Martin’s honor by the Nashville Music Association On that occasion, Grady was lauded by his peers and given the first Master Tribute Award, designed to honor the unsung heroes of music: the backup instrumentalists. On hand were Brenda Lee, Floyd Cramer, Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, The Jordonaires, and a ballroom of other celebrities. Willie Nelson hosted the tribute to his friend and bandmember.

Studio musicians got their due at long last that night. Finally it was stated publicly that Grady Martin was the session leader for the hundreds of hit productions that put Nashville on the map. He was a chief architect in the building of Music City.

Grady Martin was born 55 years ago, Jan. 17, 1929, 50 miles south of Nashville on a farm between Lewisburg and Chapel Hill, Tennessee. He grew into a strapping six-footer, but he always preferred making music to doing his farm chores. “My dad played the jug,” he chuckles, remembering his musical youth. “And my mother played the piano. My brother had bought a guitar for eight dollars and he wouldn’t let me fool with it much. I had to slip away to get it.” Maybe that’s why he took up the fiddle at age 13. “There was an old fella down the road named John Davis who played his fiddle at night on his porch. He went down to all the local dances and played.”

He inspired Grady so much that the youngster was soon one of the most accomplished fiddlers in the area. When Nashville radio star Big Jeff Bess came south for a show, Martin was played for him backstage. Impressed, Bess offered the 15 year-old a job.

“We had an early-morning radio show, and just played schoolhouses and anywhere we could. Four or five dollars a night was a good night’s pay. This was during World War II.” Bess was the husband of the legendary Hattie Louise “Tootsie” Bess, later immortalized as the owner of Nashville’s Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge Bar, across the alley from the Ryman Auditorium downtown, mother church of the Grand Ole Opry.

“I went up to the Opry one Saturday night and met manager Jim Denny. I was just askin’ for a job with somebody on the show. And he turned me on to The Bailes Brothers. So I traveled and appeared with them for awhile.” At the time the group was riding the crest of a wave of hits that included Dust on the Bible, I Wanna Be Loved (But Only By You), and As Long As I Live.

Martin toured with such Opry headliners as Jamup & Honey and Uncle Dave Macon. When he began appearing with trick fiddler Curly Fox and “The Sophie Tucker of Cowgirl Singers,” Texas Ruby, he switched to guitar. Thus, on that instrument he made his recording debut when Fox took him into a studio in Chicago.

He joined the band of Red Foley then about to become the biggest star of his generation of country vocalists. [A] 1949 Nashville recording session produced Foley’s huge number-one hit Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy. It was the first of many million-sellers that were to feature Grady’s guitar. “We recorded that at the Old Castle Studio that was in the Tulane Hotel on Church Street in Nashville.”

Artists like Carl Smith, George Morgan, and Little Jimmy Dickens began using him on their sessions. Hall of Fame member credits Martin and guitarist Jabbo Arrington for developing his hit sounds= with their twin-guitar playing.

Martin even played (fiddle) on a Hank Williams session. He also accompanied Williams to “The Kate Smith Show” in New York in 1952, country music’s debut on prime-time, nationwide network TV.

As Red Foley’s airplane pilot and lead guitarist, Grady Martin accompanied Foley on his commutes to Springfield, Missouri. There he became the band leader on the Foley-hosted “Ozark Jubilee,” the first network TV country variety series.

He maintained his ties to the infant recording center in Nashville, however. Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Webb Pierce, and dozens of other Nashville pioneers featured him on their hit records.

“I guess the person I played the most hit licks for was Marty Robbins,” says Martin wistfully of his old friend. That’s Grady’s Spanish-style picking embellishing El Paso, and on Don’t Worry he developed the electric fuzz-tone sound that was to influence an entire generation of psychedelic electric-guitar stylists.

He played vibes on Floyd Cramer’s timeless Last Date. He played dobro/guitar on Wilma Burgess’ lovely Tear Time. He banged tambourine and played the banjo lick on Wings Of A Dove by Ferlin Husky.

“On sessions that produced, like Johnny Horton’s Battle of New Orleans or Jimmy Dean’s Big John, I just went ahead and started it up without the producer. He trusted me and I loved it. When he’d come in later, we’d have a hit arrangement worked out.”

Grady also arranged (and wrote) Joe Henderson’s Snap Your Fingers (1962), perhaps Nashville’s first black top pop hit. The following year, he arranged and published Our Winter Love, one of Music City’s biggest ever pop instrumentals.

He played on all the hits of Patsy Cline and on all the worldwide million-sellers of Brenda Lee. He’s on Elvis Presley’s movie soundtracks. He’s on Gone (Ferlin Husky), Saginaw Michigan (Lefty Frizzell), Waterloo (Stonewall Jackson), Uncle Pen (Porter Wagoner, Grady’s last major session as a fiddler), Devil in Disguise (Elvis), Oh Pretty Woman (Orbison), I’m Sorry (Brenda) and For the Good Times (Ray Price).

Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash, Dottie West , Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Larry Gatlin, and Kris Kristofferson records all feature Grady Martin. In fact, it would be easier to name the Nashville stars that he has not accompanied in the studios than it would be to list all he has.

“We worked round-the-clock back then. It was like being in a submarine. You’d ‘submerge’ and stay ‘down’ for hours, all night long and sometimes the next day, too. If you got tired you curled up under a piano for awhile and got up and played some more.”

Surrounded by such “A-Team” pickers as Bb Moore, Buddy Harman, Ray Edenton, Harold Bradley, Hank Garland, Pig Robbins, Pete Drake, Floyd Cramer, Tommy Jackson, The Anita Kerr Singers, The Jordonaires, and a handful of others, Grady Martin forged a sound and style. Never before or since in the annals of popular music have so few been so responsible for so many hits.

It was hard work, but what Grady remembers most are the good times the pickers shared in the good old days of Nashville recording. Today, he says those historic sessions are “all a blur to me. You can ask me anything except about dates and song titles.”

At his peak, his reputation spread to pop musicians like Perry Como, Al Hirt, Theresa Brewer, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Henry Mancini, Tab Hunter and Burl Ives, all of whom used his talent on records, Martin’s own recording group, The Slewfoot Five, was a pop/jazz act.

As the 1970’s dawned , Grady MArtin returned to playing live on the road. He served a stint in Jerry Reed’s band before Reed made so many movie-making commitments. Requested by Willie Nelson to play on the soundtrack of the film Honeysuckle Rose in 1979, Martin wound up serving as the model for the Slim Pickens character in the movie. He has remained with Nelson in the 1980’s, both touring and recording with the superstar. Nelson remembers Grady from when he played on a then-green songwriter’s first album. Now Martin plays guitar on such huge Nelson hits as the Merle Haggard duet, Pancho & Lefty.

That the spotlight is finally falling on him after years in the darkness of recording studios won’t change good ole Grady a bit. He remains a Buddah-like, lovable, modest country character without a trace of pretense. “Chet’s a star. I’m not a star,” he says. “Makin’ a good record and havin’ it accepted, just bein’ part of havin’ a hit record, that’s what mattered to me.”

Martin’s modesty might be one reason he has received so little recognition before now. “I really don’t do interviews. I never saw why anybody would want to write anything about me. I’m just a factory worker in the studio.”

He’s wrong. He’s much more than a “factory worker.” He’s 0ne of the creative geniuses in the history of country music.

Rest in Peace, Bill Wittliff, and thanks

Thursday, September 5th, 2019

www.CowboysIndians.com
by: Joe Leydon

We tip our hats to the talented screenwriter, author, and photographer.

WILLIAM D. WITTLIFF?—?often billed in TV and movie credits, and addressed by friends and collaborators, simply as Bill Wittliff?—?ensured for himself a prominent position in the pantheon of great western storytellers as the award-winning screenwriter of Lonesome Dove, the classic 1989 miniseries based on Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a cattle drive led by retired Texas Rangers Woodrow F. Call and Captain Augustus “Gus” McCrae.

Tommy Lee Jones, who befriended Wittliff while playing Call in the epic drama, spoke for millions of admirers when he described Wittliff’s handiwork thusly to Texas Monthly writer John Spong: “It wasn’t an adaptation. It was a derivation, a condensation. You’ve got to let the book be your guide, and that’s not easy. It requires a confidence in your own creativity, along with a selflessness that not a lot of people have. Bill had it in abundance.”

Wittliff, who passed away June 9 at age 79 in Austin, lived an enviably full life as a prolific author and screenwriter, an accomplished photographer, and a tireless champion of the arts. A native of Taft, Texas, he and his wife, Sally, founded Encino Press, a Dallas-based publishing house devoted to fiction and nonfiction about life in Texas and the Southwest, in 1964. He kicked off his show business career in 1978 by writing Thaddeus Rose and Eddie, a TV movie starring Johnny Cash and Bo Hopkins as reckless Texas buddies that was praised by People Magazine for having “a Last Picture Show authenticity.”

Wittliff went on to write or co-write several feature film screenplays, including Honeysuckle Rose (1980), Raggedy Man (1981), Barbarosa (1982), Legends of the Fall (1994), The Perfect Storm (2000), and A Night in Old Mexico (2013). In 1986, he wrote and directed Red Headed Stranger, a western based on Willie Nelson’s 1975 album, starring Nelson, Morgan Fairchild, and Katharine Ross.

Also in 1986, Bill and Sally Wittliff established at Texas State University what would become known as the Wittliff Collections, a wide-ranging archive and research center devoted to collecting, preserving, and celebrating the creative legacy of the Southwest. Among the items included in the Albert B. Alkek Library on the university’s San Marcos campus: More than 19,000 photographs of the Southwest and Mexico, including historical images, 20th-century masters, and emerging 21st-century artists; a Texas music collection that runs the gamut from country and Western swing to blues, polka, rock ’n’ roll, conjunto, and Tejano; and the  private papers and original manuscripts of authors, playwrights, screenwriters, and songwriters such as Sam Shepard, Cormac McCarthy, Bud Shrake, Larry McMurtry, Willie Nelson, and J. Frank Dobie.

And, yes, rest assured: There’s also an entire room devoted to memorabilia from the Lonesome Dove miniseries.


Photography: Ted Albracht/Courtesy Texas State University

From the October 2019 issue.


Willie Nelson and Rip Torn in, “The Songwriter”

Thursday, July 11th, 2019

Rest in Peace, Rip Torn

www.RollingStone.com
by: Stephen L. Betts

With the hundreds of film and television roles actor Rip Torn played throughout his career, some are so memorable and well-known (The Larry Sanders Show’s Arthur, for instance) that many others are relegated to “I forgot he was in that one” territory. Born Elmore Rual Torn Jr. in Temple, Texas, in 1931, Rip Torn died Tuesday in Lakeville, Connecticut, at age 88.

Among Torn’s many roles, and indeed, in his personal life, are numerous connections to country music. Coal Miner’s Daughter Oscar winner Sissy Spacek was his first cousin, and Torn’s first wife, actress Ann Wedgeworth, would go on to play Patsy Cline’s mother, Hilda Hensley, in the 1985 biopic Sweet Dreams. Torn would inhabit the roles of both country-music artist and manager with two films a decade apart, one in which he was the lead and another as supporting character to two country icons: Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson.

In 1984’s Songwriter, Torn plays Dino McLeish, the slick and sleazy manager of Kristofferson’s character, country star Blackie Buck, who is best friend to songwriter Doc Jenkins, played by Nelson. In the above scene from the film, Nelson and Torn are joined by Lesley Ann Warren as Gilda, an aspiring, neurotic singer also being managed by Dino. The hilarious exchange between Doc and Dino is, quite literally, a bit of fast-talking wheeling-and-dealing as the two negotiate Gilda’s musical future. It’s a stellar bit of acting from Torn and Nelson, especially, with their tough-as-leather Texas roots informing both characters. (There’s a mostly unrelated scene in the clip, in which Doc, wearing a borrowed suit and brandishing a vacuum cleaner, visits his ex-wife, singer Honey Carder, who is mentioned briefly by the self-doubting Gilda in the previous scene.)

Rest in Peace, Elliot Roberts

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

www.FarmAid.org

The Farm Aid family lost an important member and friend last week with the death of Elliot Roberts. As Neil Young’s manager, Elliot has always been there at Farm Aid, watching from the side of the stage as so many—including Farm Aid board members Neil Young and Mark Rothbaum—have noted.

Over the years, Elliot’s knowledge and guidance has helped to strengthen Farm Aid. A renowned deal-maker with his artists’ best interests always at heart, Elliot set an essential example for Farm Aid to follow. Each year, backstage at the Farm Aid festival, he’d greet Farm Aid staff with a warm, “Happy Farm Aid!”

All of us here at Farm Aid will miss him dearly.

Dr. John & Friends, final album

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

Bill Wittliff stories

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

www.Galveston.com

Bill Wittliff, the Texas screenwriter who wrote the teleplay for the iconic miniseries Lonesome Dove, died on Sunday in Austin at age 79.

Witliff co-wrote Honeysuckle Rose (1980) and wrote Red Headed Stranger (1986) starring Willie Nelson.  He wrote Barbarosa (1982) starring both Willie Nelson and Gary Busey.

Witliff joined J.P. Bryan for a conversation at The Bryan Museum in Galveston on August 4, 2018. He shared stories of growing up during World War II with his mother, who ran a small telephone office in Gregory, Texas. He used that as the foundation for Raggedy Man, a film starring Sissy Spacek playing a version of his mom. He also shared a couple of slightly off-color stories about Willie Nelson and Gary Busey. Watch the video below if you don’t mind a few curse words.

After he graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, Wittliff and his wife founded The Encino Press, an Austin-based book publishing company that specialized in tales about Texas and the Southwest, in 1964. 

To preserve the creative process of authors and artists in this region, Witliff and his wife Sally created The Wittliff Collections, including manuscripts from Larry McMurtry, Horton Foote, and J. Frank Dobie; more than 19,000 photographs of the Southwest and Mexico, and music from Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

According to reports, Wittliff and Sally had celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary Saturday, and he died after visiting their Plum Creek ranch near Luling, Texas.

His survivors also include his children, William and Allison; his brother, James, and several grandchildren. Article written by Galveston.com

Bill Wittliff passes

Monday, June 10th, 2019
Willie Nelson with Bill Witliff
Photo: Michael O’Brien

www.HollywoodReporter.com
by: Mike Barnes

The Emmy-nominated Texan also wrote ‘The Perfect Storm,’ three films starring Willie Nelson and two toplined by Sam Shepard.

William D. Wittliff, the elegant Texas screenwriter who penned the teleplay for the acclaimed miniseries Lonesome Dove and worked on such features as Legends of the Fall, Honeysuckle Rose and The Perfect Storm, has died. He was 79.

Wittliff died Sunday in Austin of a heart attack, Hector Saldana of Texas State University told The Hollywood Reporter. In 1986, he and his wife, attorney Sally Wittliff, founded The Wittliff Collections, a research center and archive at the San Marcos school that is home to more than 500 collections of literature, photography, music and film.

Wittliff’s wonderful body of work also includes The Black Stallion (1979), starring Mickey Rooney; Raggedy Man (1981), starring Sissy Spacek, Eric Roberts and Sam Shepard; Country (1984), featuring Shepard and Jessica Lange; The Cowboy Way (1994), starring Woody Harrelson and Kiefer Sutherland; and A Night in Old Mexico (2013), starring Robert Duvall.

Wittliff co-wrote Honeysuckle Rose (1980), directed by Jerry Schatzberg and starring Willie Nelson, Dyan Cannon and Amy Irving. He then wrote two other features that starred Nelson: the Fred Schepisi-helmed Barbarosa (1982) and Red Headed Stranger (1986), which he also directed.

The four-part Lonesome Dove, based on Larry McMurtry’s 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, collected seven Emmy Awards and was a ratings smash for CBS in 1989. Wittliff earned nominations for writing and producing, two of the project’s 18 noms.

Wittliff was born in 1940 in Taft, Texas. During World War II, his mother ran a small telephone office in Gregory, Texas, and he used that as the foundation for Raggedy Man, with Spacek playing a version of his mom.

After he graduated from the University of Texas, Wittliff and his wife founded The Encino Press, an Austin-based book publishing company that specialized in tales about Texas and the Southwest, in 1964. 

He and Susan Shilliday combined for the screenplay to Edward Zwick’s Legends of the Fall (1994), starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins, and he adapted Sebastian Junger’s book for Wolfgang Petersen’s The Perfect Storm (2000), starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg.

He also wrote Ned Blessing: The True Story of My Life, a pilot for a CBS series that starring Daniel Baldwin.

The Wittliff Collections include manuscripts from the likes of McMurtry, J. Frank Dobie and Horton Foote; more than 19,000 photographs of the Southwest and Mexico (Wittliff was an accomplished photographer in his own right); and music from Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan and many others. 

Wittliff and his wife had celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary Saturday, and he died after visiting their Plum Creek ranch near Luling, Texas, said Saldana, who serves as Texas music curator for The Wittliff Collections.

His survivors also include his children, William and Allison; his brother, James; and several grandchildren.


Rest in Peace, Dr. John

Thursday, June 6th, 2019

Rest in Peace, Andrew Shapter, thanks for your art

Monday, March 11th, 2019

I learned this week that filmmaker, photographer Andrew Shapter passed away.  He took some of my all time photographs of Willie Nelson and Family.  Rest in peace, Andrew.
Willie in Luck

Happy Birthday Willie Nelson

Trigger

Willie plays dominoes

Rest in peace, Fred Foster

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

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Fred Foster (center) signed Willie to his label, Monument Records, in 1964.

www.Billboard.com
by: Annie Reuter
read entire article here.

Fred Foster, longtime producer and Country Music Hall of Fame member, died in his sleep Feb. 20 following a short illness. He was 87.

The North Carolina native founded Monument Records in 1958 and was at the helm of many iconic country records, including seminal albums from Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Ray Stevens and Jeannie Seely. He also founded Combine Music, which published Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” (co-written with Foster) and “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” Orbison’s “Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)” and Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie.”

Foster had a hand in producing many hits by Orbison in the 1960s, including “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “Only the Lonely” and “Crying,” as well as Parton and Jimmy Dean’s first singles. He also helmed Kristofferson’s debut album, the 2007 Nelson, Merle Haggard and Ray Price album Last of the Breed, as well as Price’s final album, 2014’s Beauty Is. His last project was Dawn Landes’ 2018 album, Meet Me at the River.

Willie Nelson & Faron Young, “Four in the Morning” (song by Jerry Chestnut, RIP)

Thursday, December 20th, 2018

Rest in peace, singer songwriter Jerry Chestnut, who passed away last Saturday.  He was 87.

You can read more about Jerry Chestnut, his life and songwriting career on the New York Times website.

 

ASHVILLE — Jerry Chesnut, a blue-collar songwriter who wrote hits for Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson and more than 100 other popular artists, including another Elvis, Costello, died on Saturday at his home in Brentwood, Tenn. He was 87.

Mr. Chesnut had a gift for illuminating the struggles of working people, like the beleaguered factory hand in “Oney,” a song, drawn from his experience with a tyrannical employer, that became a Top 10 country hit for Johnny Cash in 1972.

“Looking at the World Through a Windshield,” a two-stepping country hit for the singer Del Reeves in 1968, portrays a solitary trucker speeding through the night, longing for home. Written with Mike Hoyer, the song was later recorded by the country-rock bands Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen and Son Volt.

Mr. Chesnut, who grew up in rural eastern Kentucky, came by his working-class sensibilities honestly.

“I was born and raised in the coal-mining camps and the railroad center where they all came together,” he said in 2009 during a program held in his honor at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.

To say the least,” he went on, “it was a very poor place to be from. When you’re from Harlan County, there’s no way to go but up.”

Mr. Chesnut wrote compellingly about heartbreak, as he did to great emotional effect in “A Good Year for the Roses,” a ballad that reached No. 2 on the country chart for George Jones in 1970.

In that song, a man pines for the woman who just left him:

I can hardly bear the sight of lipstick on the cigarettes there in the ashtray

Lyin’ cold the way you left ’em

But at least your lips caressed them

While you packed.

 

(more…)

Rest in Peace, Roy Clark

Friday, November 16th, 2018


photo: Lester Cohen

We learned that Roy Clark passed away. Rest in peace.

Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson on Hee Haw.

Rest in Peace, Martha English

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

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I learned today that Martha English, wife of Billy English, has passed away in Dallas, Texas, after a long illness.  Rest in peace, dear Martha.

Thanks to Janis Tillerson for  great photos from Willie Nelson & Family show at Red Rocks in 2010

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I took this at the Gorge, in Washington.

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Kevin Smith, Martha English, Billy English, before the Willie Nelson & Family show at the Comerca Theater (3/12/2012)

Rest in Peace, Burt Reynolds

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

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Candace Bergen, singer Rita Coolidge, singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson, country singer Willie Nelson, and actor Burt Reynolds are seen backstage at New York’s Bottom Line after Coolidge and Kristofferson’s opening night, January 4, 1979. (Photo by Richard Drew/AP Photo)

www.EW.com

Thank the show business gods for Burt Reynolds, talk show raconteur. On Thursday’s Tonight Show, he told Jay Leno how much he loves his Dukes of Hazzard costar Willie Nelson.   And when I say ”loves,” I’m not exaggerating much. Quoth Burt: ”When I worked with Willie Nelson, who is just about the nicest man I’ve ever worked with in my life, the sweetest, kindest man, I thought, ‘If I’d have been gay, it would have saved me millions.”’ The 69-year-old actor added that, if he and the 72-year-old singer had become a couple way back when, they’d still be ”happily together.” I don’t know what Nelson thought of Reynolds, but I’m just glad they didn’t work their relationship into the movie. A romance between Boss Hogg and Uncle Jesse might just have sent poor Cooter over the edge.

WIllie Nelson’s kind words about Aretha Franklin

Thursday, August 16th, 2018