After a few months in Texas, our journey took us back to California. Once in Los Angeles, Mom bought us matching letter jackets with Hillbilly Women embroidered on the front and our names on the back. "The Judds" were already being promoted. It was just that nobody but us knew it. We were having our own party and it was just a matter of time before more people wanted an invitation!
It was through my curiosity about Hollywood and superstars like John Travolta that Mom met the man who would become the great love of her life. I was sitting in a back booth, waiting on Mom to finish her shift at the Howard Johnson's in Studio City, where she worked as a waitress, when in walked a very recognizable country music star – Mickey Gilley. His entourage sat down at one of Mom's tables. She told Mickey all about "The Judds – Hillbilly Women" – and he seemed nice. So when they called me to come meet him, I didn't hesitate to ask about one of my favorite stars.
"What's John Travolta like?" I asked.
"Would you like to meet him?" Mickey responded.
I couldn't believe it. I'd recently seen "Urban Cowboy" and loved John Travolta!
Of course I'd like to meet him!
"I'm going to be on Merv Griffin today, and John's supposed to stop by. Want to come along?"
Did the pipes break at Camp Wig? Of course I wanted to come along! It just meant convincing Mom, who didn't think our clothes were nice enough to go to a television studio. Only after I threatened to never clean my room again in my life did she agree. Off we went, following Mickey's limo in our Chevy, heading to the NBC Studios in Burbank. Mom spent her time talking to Mickey, while I patrolled the backstage area in search of John Travolta. He never showed. Instead, we were introduced to Sly Stallone's brother, Frank. Nothing against Frank, but I was very disappointed!
After the show Mickey took us out for Chinese food, then on to the Palomino Club, where J. D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet were playing. That was exciting, because J. D. Sumner and the Stamps' amazing harmonies were famous for having backed Elvis Presley.
Mom didn't get to spend any time with the band's bass singer that night but he made quite an impression on her. Larry Strickland would become a major figure in our lives, bringing us food when we were down and out in Nashville, giving Mom some of her best and worst times, and managing me when I went solo. He would become my Pop.
We continued going back to the Palomino Club and even entered one of their talent contests. We didn't win, but we did meet the man who was responsible for our decision to move to Nashville. Jeff Thornton was a Nashville promoter working on a television project and he offered Mom a job. So in March of 1979, despite the fact that Ashley was missing us more and more, and the Ciminellas were infuriated that I wasn't in school, off we headed to Las Vegas, where Jeff's company was deep in production of a Lola Falana special. Since we were "with the band," so to speak, we were put up in a suite at the Aladdin Hotel. I spent my time playing guitar in the suite, playing pinball in the employee cafeteria in the afternoon, and roller-skating on the weekends. Nights I went to the Aladdin's showroom to hear Loretta Lynn.