My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Remembering March 16, 1991

rebapeoplecoverIn the early morning hours of March 16, 1991, a plane crashed into Otay Mountain in southern California. The crash, which left no survivors, occurred shortly after the Hawker Sidley aircraft had taken off from Brown Field, a private airport about 15 miles southeast of San Diego.  In addition to the pilot and co-pilot, Jim Hammon, Reba’s tour manager, and band members Kirk Cappello and Joey Cigainero, keyboardists; Paula Kaye Evans, background vocalist; Michael Thomas and Terry Jackson, guitarists; Tony Saputo, drummer, and Chris Austin, a vocalist who also played fiddle and acoustic guitar, were lost.

Reba herself had spent the night in San Diego to rest up and planned to meet her band the following night for a show in Indiana.  In the aftermath of the tragedy, she was scheduled to perform on the Academy Awards that year, only 9 days after the crash.  She sang the song ‘I’m Checkin’ Out’ from the Meryl Streep flick Postcards from the Edge.  Many music insiders criticized her for going back to work so quickly.

In the People magazine exclusive interview, she explained her decision to go forward with her career:

We were wondering what to do. I was wanting to cancel everything until July. I said, “I’m just not going to go back out there. It’s too much, I can’t do it without them.” I told Debbie I had to make a decision. And she looked at me, just like Jim would have done, and said, ‘Are you thinking about quitting?’ ”

I said, “Well, no, but I don’t know when I can go back.” And she said, “Jim Hammon worked all this time to help get you where you are today. He’d kick your butt if you thought about quitting.” And I hugged her neck and said, “I needed that, you’re right.” I know Jim would tell me, “Now, Reba, you know those fans expect that out of you, and you can’t quit; you’ve worked too hard and too long, and you’ve got to get back up there.”

I’ve got a very good calm that Jim wants me to go back out there. I know Kirk and Joey and Terry and Tony and Chris and Michael and Paula Kaye, they’d want me to, too. So my first time to perform again is on the Academy Awards, and I’m going to sing a song called “I’m Checkin’ Out” from Postcards from the Edge. I’m going to do it for the band. They’re checking out. They’ve got a new place to dwell.

formybrokenheartReba then channeled her pain into her next album, the landmark release For My Broken Heart.  The album is a collection of songs of loss, loneliness, heartbreak, and pain.  And the grief surrounding the recording can be heard on every track, but particularly the album closer, ‘If I Had Only Known’.  Reba dedicated the entire album to her lost loved ones, but this song more than any other addresses the sorrow of losing someone all too quickly without ever saying goodbye:  ‘If I had only known/It was my last night by your side/I’d pray a miracle would stop the dawn/And when you smile at me/I would look into your eyes/And make sure you know my love for you goes on and on/If I had only known’.

To me, this is the mark of a true artist:  one who can face adversity and the worst of heartache and then turn that tragedy into a timeless work of art.  The loss of these 8 talented musicians was a blow to the entire country music community, but their legacy lives on.  Every time someone takes solace in the songs on For My Broken Heart, their memory lives on.

Reba doesn’t include ‘If I Had Only Known’ in her stage shows, saying it’s just too painful and personal a song to do every night.  Aside from a performance on Oprah in the early 90s, and a music video for the song to benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital, the following is one of the only live performances.

And Reba’s performance from the 1991 Academy Awards ceremony, in my opinion, is one of her best vocal performances ever.

27 responses to “Remembering March 16, 1991

  1. Michael March 16, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Reba is my favorite artist and this album, although not my personal favorite, will be her crowning achievement. A definite contender for your Legendary Albums feature.

  2. Razor X March 16, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    I remember that day well. When the news first broke, it sounded as if Reba were on board the ill-fated plane.

    I thought that the criticism about the Academy Awards performance was unfair. She did what she felt her friends would have wanted her to do. When Patsy, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins were killed, there was talk about canceling that week’s Opry performance. It would have been the first time that had ever been done. In the end, the Opry management decided that their lost comrades would have wanted the show to go on — and allowing the show to go on was the best tribute that could be paid to their memories.

    For My Broken Heart is a wonderful album. Reba managed to pay tribute to her friends without referencing the incident directly in the lyrics of any of the songs — which would have appeared crass and as though she were trying to exploit the tragedy for commercial gain.

    • Occasional Hope March 16, 2009 at 6:32 pm

      I agree – although in general my favourite Reba-period is 1984-1987, this one album is, I think, the best she ever made.

      There was a lot of criticism of Lorrie Morgan, too, for performing soon after Keith Whitley died.

      • Leeann Ward March 16, 2009 at 7:39 pm

        Nice tribute, J.R. Such criticisms are just cruel, I believe. I wasn’t listening to country music when this happened, but I remember being effected by what I’ve read about it. Reba wrote that Narvel had to call the families and she could hear them screaming over the phone when they heard the news. Imagine that. Chilling.

        On a better note, I remember hearing Reba telling a story about her good friend, Vince Gill. When he heard what happened that day, he called her hotel room and just asked if she wanted him to go there and sing to her. How sweet.

        • J.R. Journey March 16, 2009 at 8:01 pm

          Thanks Leeann.

          Dolly Parton actually offered Reba her band, and Vince said he would be onstage with her anytime she needed him so I heard. And the memorial ceremony was attended by countless big-name stars too. The country music community really rallies around one another during times like this.

    • Dana October 29, 2014 at 2:51 pm

      Hi Razor X,
      I am the widow of the lead guitar player Michael Thomas. I have to speak to your comment only because none of the left behind widows and family members ever had a voice after the crash. No one thought to ask about how we were doing Yes sad but true.
      I have to share with you that the album “For my broken heart” was recorded before the plane crash. Funny how the songs just worked……
      Reba didn’t attend my husbands Funeral and he was buried one town away from where she lived. About a 15 min. drive.
      She put a new band together about a week after the crash. I had to contact her office about Michael’s last paycheck because they never sent it.
      There was a benefit concert that was put together by the music community for the surviving family’s. All the greats signed on and the only one that was not going to show for what ever reason was Reba. At the last minute she decided to come because frankly all the “rag” papers caught wind of her not planning to show. She came and sang one song.
      She decided to not stay in touch with any of the family’s and has stayed true to that commitment.
      There’s so much more I could say that is mind boggling. When I think about some of the stuff that happened concerning the Reba camp it seems surreal or even unreal so I choose to not dwell.
      I had to speak to your comment about her being criticized on her performance at the academy awards days after her band was killed. The family s didn’t have a voice as to how we felt about that and, the fact is she didn’t have to have our blessings or opinions. Truth is I think we were all just struggling to breath that soon after the crash.
      I’m not coming from a place of bitter because I’ve worked too hard at healing and finding peace to allow myself to go there. Just sharing a few facts as ludicrous as they seem.
      I tell you this because sometimes people don’t get “the whole story”.

      • luckyoldsun October 29, 2014 at 7:09 pm

        Fascinating comment.
        I guess the truth is what the truth is.
        It doesn’t necessarily match our preconceived notions or assumptions.
        And stars’ public personas have little bearing on how they act in private.

      • Sharen Baxley March 3, 2017 at 9:27 am

        Just stumbled on this. Wow had no idea. I went to school , church and he lived across the street in Logansport. He was so kind to me. I can’t believe she did this. How hurtful and disrespectful to you. I was in Spain teaching when it happened. I miss my friend who wiped my tears when I fell. I’m sure you do too.

  3. Leeann Ward March 16, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Oh yeah, you’re right, I remember hearing about those offers from Vince and Dolly too.

  4. Jake March 16, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    While I was not around in that time period, I know I have been around loved ones dying, as I’m sure many of us have. While I am lucky to have had my loved ones pass away from more natural causes, I commend Reba for showing such grace and strength as she went through this tragedy.

    For My Broken Heart, as I read in one review, has been the best album of her career but is also the most heartbreaking. So for me, For My Broken Heart has that bittersweetness to it not in the music, but the fact that people have called it one of her best albums yet it was one of her most painful albums to make.

    My hearts go out to all the families who lost their loved ones on that flight, as well.

  5. Claudia March 17, 2009 at 8:03 am

    Eight years ago yesterday, I was in a front row seat to see Reba in “Annie Get Your Gun.” She was fabulous. At one point, she was required to cry. I watched her eyes fill with tears, and she just started to sob. At the time, I just thought it was great acting. It was only later that I realized it was the 10th anniversary of the crash. I can just imagine how hard it was for her that night.

    “For My Broken Heart” is indeed a wonderful album, but it should have a sticker on it. “Don’t listen if depressed.” Lord, that could push you over the edge. What I find more heartbreaking is Reba’s “Live” album, which came out about two years before the crash. You hear the band, and Reba’s interaction with them…and you realize, that, save for Reba, they’re all gone. So very sad.

    • Patricia Fields July 14, 2009 at 4:51 pm

      I was good close friends with Kirk Cappello (Reba’s Music Director and was also Barbara Mandrell’s Music Director). I miss him so so much!! A very gifted man. An awesome musician and friend!! You had Kirk for your friend you had a friend for life!!!!

  6. Linda March 22, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    Too bad my computer doesn’t have speakers; I’d like to know how “If I Had Only Known” sounds.

  7. tony saputo May 31, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    tony saputo was my cousin, i never had the chance to meet him, but have met his friends throughout the years. I wish he was around now, as me and him are really 2 of the very few musicians in my family.
    I definitely appreciate the post.

  8. Mark Tilley August 23, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    I was thinking about the drummer Tony Saputo the other day. I was a close friend of Tony Saputo back in the 80s and early 90s. I got the news that fateful night back in 1991. I was just 17 then. I was so numb. The pain I felt inside was incomprehensible. I was mad at Reba for so many years but Tony would have never told me to feel that way. I learned to let go. His energy and zest for life was so great. I think about Tony quite often. He will always be in my heart. Thank you God for having him in my life even if it was for a short time. I’ll see you one day in heaven my friend.

    • Pauline Stark February 21, 2010 at 8:53 pm

      I remember seeing Tony Saputo play at Jazz Festivals in St. Louis – his hair blowing in the wind ………….

      He had “RELAX” painted on his drumhead –

      Such a nice guy and wonderful talent!

      • Pauline Stark February 21, 2010 at 8:55 pm

        If you have a picture of Tony Saputo, it would be nice to post on facebook or somewhere.

        We should not forget him and the other two musicians who were also from St. Louis.

    • michael moore September 22, 2010 at 10:50 pm

      Do you remember nancy? She is my mom.

  9. nicole carter May 15, 2010 at 6:53 am

    hey sorry to hear about the plane crash i found out about by the channel 879 which is the todays country channel. i can’t believe that happened to my favorite singer. again sorry

  10. michael moore September 22, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    Tony was my uncle, I really wish I could have met him. My mom and grandparents still take it really hard.

  11. Dominika Kocz March 16, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    They were so talented. They will never be forgotten. I LOVE you, Reba. No one should have to go through this. But that which does not kill us only makes us stronger..<3 They're your angels, Reebs. They're the ones watching over you now.

  12. Karyn March 22, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Tony was a friend of mine. He made a cassette tape of songs he thought I would like. I still listen to it. There was a big variety of music. He put a song by Ella Fitzgerald on it that I sang to my girls when they were little. I”‘ve got the world on s string.” Tony was one of a kind.

  13. Brittany May 5, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Reba, I just heard what happend about the crash and I’m so sorry. I’m 11 and a huge fan. Thoughts and prayers. ❤

  14. Larry Branam August 10, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I just saw this site today. Funny how out f the blue, I was thinking about Tony today. It has been some time. His Mother and Father are my Godparents and family. I have never met a more loving couple in my life. I remember as a child, spending time at his home with the family and how Tony was always so funny. Called apple juice “Monkey Sweat”. When I was old enough, I went to hear him play at Raulph Butler’s club. I used to envy him, playing live for an audiance and making it look so easy. We were all devistated when we heard the news. I am in a band now and feel blessed to be able to experience at least a bit of what Tony had.
    Tony, you will be forever remembered as a incredible musician and a special man!

  15. linda June 9, 2012 at 1:31 am

    Tony Saputo was in my class at Bishop DuBourg High School. He was a nice person. RIP he and all the others that died that day. Truly tragic.

  16. Randy Lindsay March 12, 2020 at 10:53 am

    I recently listened to this album again. I remember when it came out I lived in Tyler Tx. A block away was a nursing home. There was a woman in there by the name of Peggy Railey. The story of what happened to Peggy is so very sad. I’d ask that you google her and find her story. Every time I hear the song “All dressed up” I think of Peggy. One song that I did not recall was “If I’d only known”. It now has a very special meaning to me. I was laying in bed with my wife when she passed away from cancer in 2002. 10 years later my oldest son Joshua was murdered. He was 13 when his mom passed away. So yes this song reaches out to my soul. At the time when my wife was dying, I used to go out and sit in my truck and listen over and over and over again to another song , by Diamond Reo, “One more day”. The sadness is with me always.

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