Monday, March 30, 2009

Former Grand Ole Opry Announcer and General Manager Hal Durham Dies at 77

The following is courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry:
Former Grand Ole Opry announcer and General Manager Hal Durham passed away last week. Below is a dedication read during the Saturday night Opry on March 28:

This performance of the Grand Ole Opry is dedicated to Hal Durham, a 32-year veteran of WSM and the Grand Ole Opry, who passed away last night at his home in Florida. Hal was a native of McMinnville, Tennessee and a high school classmate of Opry star Dottie West. Hal's association with the Opry began in 1964 when he joined WSM radio as an announcer. He was named WSM program director seven years later, and in 1974 he became the Opry's manager. He retired in 1996 as President of the Grand Ole Opry Group. Like almost everyone who works here at the Opry, this show became a very important part of Hal's life, and Hal also made an indelible mark on the Opry. Under his leadership, an array of talented artists joined the Opry family as official members, among them: Ronnie Milsap, Ricky Skaggs, The Whites, Lorrie Morgan, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, and Vince Gill. Hal was much loved by the Opry's members and staff, and he took his role at the helm of this show very seriously. "The Opry is the ultimate," Hal once said. "It is synonymous with being at the top of the ladder, and we can't have off weeks. Each week has to be great. People plan their visit around the Opry knowing they are going to see the greatest show in country music..." And so tonight, we salute our friend Hal Durham and thank him for his years of efforts in making the Opry the ultimate....the top of the ladder... the greatest show in country music.

A very nice tribute at the start of the show. I did not listen to the Saturday night Opry this past week so I missed this. I will listen to the replay on Sirius this coming week and catch it. Like I stated in an earlier post, Hal Durham was the last of the Opry General Managers who came up through the ranks of WSM, and he was the last of the Opry managers to have had an official position with the radio station. He guided the Opry through a very difficult time, when many of the old time members started to reach retirement age and the Opry became less important to many of the younger stars of country music. While we wished he had not, he was wise in lowering the membership requirements to attract many of the younger artists. As those younger artists matured and became more established, many of them have evolved into loyal members of the Opry, such as Vince Gill, Lorrie Morgan, The Whites, Ricky Skaggs and Marty Stuart. And while Garth Brooks does not appear very much, he has always spoken very highly of the Opry and has answered every call the Opry has made. Hal set the standard that Bob Whittaker and, later, Pete Fisher have had to follow. Also, we must remember that Hal and Bob Whittaker were the last of the Opry managers who did not fall under the heavy pressure from Gaylord to make sure that the Opry was a profitable enterprise for Gaylord. When all is said and done, Hal Durham was a fine manager for the Opry and those like him do not come around often enough.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hal Durham, Former Opry General Manager

Hal Durham, who served as a WSM announcer and as General Manager of the Grand Ole Opry, has passed away. He was 77. He was a part of the Grand Ole Opry for 32 years, as an announcer, manager, general manager, and then as president of the Opry group. He was named the general manager of the Opry in 1978. He served in that capacity until 1993. His contributions as general manager included allowing full drum sets on the Opry stage and relaxing the membership rules. It was because he relaxed the appearance requirements, that he was able to sign a number of younger artists as Opry members, including Garth Brooks, Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, Alan Jackson, Riders in the Sky, The Whites and Reba McEtire as members. He was considered very well liked by Opry members, both young and old. He also had their respect as someone who had been around WSM and the Opry for a long time, who listened to the opinions and suggestions of the various Opry members and the staff. He was also the last Opry manager who had risen through the ranks of WSM radio.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tuesday Night Opry 3/31 & Opry Country Classics 4/2

The Grand Ole Opry has released the line-ups for their mid-week shows. For the Tuesday Night Opry on March 31st, scheduled to appear are Riders in the Sky; Danielle Peck; Gene Watson; Exile; Connie Smith; The Grascals; Bill Anderson; Darryl Worley. Overall, a pretty fair line-up with a nice mix of talent. Always good to see Gene Watson on an Opry show. Also, there are some who think it is just a matter of time until Darryl Worley is asked to become a member. With the recent deaths of Ernie Ashworth and Hank Locklin, there would appear to be an opening for a new male member.

The Opry Country Classics show on April 2nd will be hosted by Marty Stuart and will feature Vince Gill as the spotlight artist. Others scheduled to appear include Mandy Barnett; Rebecca Lynn Howard; Stonewall Jackson; Mel McDaniel; Stu Phillips; TG Sheppard; and Gene Watson. Overall all, in the opinion of this reporter, a solid line-up for the 2nd week in a row for the classic show.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Opry Country Classics

Just a couple of comments on last night's first Opry Country Classics show. The show was dedicated to Patsy Cline and in the Opry house they featured her on the video screens at various times during the evening. Eddie Stubbs was there and introduced the show and read the commercials. Larry Gatlin was the on stage host during the show and did a very good job. He was very comfortable in that role(even though he joked about using a telepromter). Jim Ed Brown set the stage by being the first guest on after Larry. In the spirit and pattern of the show, Jim Ed sang one of his own hits(Pop-a-Top); and then followed it with a Jim Reeves classic. As expected, Mandy Barnett sang a couple of Patsy songs as she has played that part so well. Loretta Lynn was there to honor one of her first friends in Nashville. All in all, a very good start to the series. Next week, Marty Stuart and Vince Gill are among the advertised artists scheduled to appear.

Gaylord Ends Music City Bowl Sponsorship

In another cost cutting move, Gaylord Hotels has ended their sponsorship of the Music City Bowl, held annually in Nashville, Tennessee. The 2009 game will be their last as the name sponsor. This wll save Gaylord $1.6 million annually, as they continue their cost cutting efforts and to improve their bottom line.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hundreds of Tapes to be Restored featuring Grand Ole Opry Stars

A Boston audio engineer says he is attempting to restore hundreds of recently found tapes featuring some of Grand Ole Opry's biggest country music stars. The engineer, identified only as J Franze, said the discovery of the audio tapes last year in a southern Pennsylvania barn confirmed a long-standing rumor that recordings of renowned artists Hank Williams Jr and Dolly Parton were lost somewhere in the Northeast, The Boston Globe reported. "Everybody had heard about these tapes," he said. "But nobody really believed they existed." The unreleased recordings were made at high schools, dances, fairs, festivals, and auditoriums in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and elsewhere. The more than 1,000 recordings date back to the 1940s, with most of them from the 1960s and '70s. The recordings were made by Ken Alexander, who once headed up a sound services company, but now belong to producer Richard Pittman. The Globe said Pittman located the lost recordings with the help of highway worker Matt Whitsel and the restoration began soon after.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Grand Ole Opry Line-up 3/27 & 3/28

The Grand Ole Opry has announced the line-up for this weekends shows.
Friday March 27th:
7:00: Jeannie Seely(host); The Whites; Trent Tomlinson
7:30: Jimmy Dickens(host); Connie Smith; Billy Currington
8:00: Jim Ed Brown(host); Mel McDaniel; Johnny Counterfit; Del McCoury Band
8:30: Mike Snider(host); Ray Pillow; Jack Greene; Rodney Atkins

An "ok" line-up for Friday night. Nice to see Jeannie Seely and Jim Ed Brown hosting segments after not having done so for a couple of weeks. Also, good to see Johnny Counterfit on. His appearances are rare anymore on the Opry. Another legend on this week that we do not see much of is Ray Pillow, who sounds as great as ever. Regarding some of the non-Opry talent on this week, Rodney Atkins is one of the hot new stars in country music now. Trent Tomlinson has had some success but is still looking for that breakout hit. The bluegrass segment will be spotlighted with Del McCoury. On a final note regarding Friday night, nice to see Mike Snider hosting again. He seems to be in the regular rotation of hosting and has been back at the Opry almost every weekend in 2009 after making only a few appearances in 2008. He is always a great host with lots of humor.

Saturday March 28th:
7:00: Jimmy Dickens(host); Jimmy C Newman; Del McCoury Band
7:30: Mike Snider(host); Jack Greene; Love & Theft
8:00: Jeannie Seely(host); Bobby Osborne & Rocky Top Express; Keith Anderson; Opry Square Dancers
8:30: Jim Ed Brown(host); The Whites; Ronnie Milsap

9:30: Jimmy Dickens(host); Jimmy C Newman; Del McCoury Band
10:00: Mike Snider(host); Jan Howard; Mel McDaniel; Ronnie Milsap
10:30: Jeannie Seely(host); Jessie McReynolds & The Virginia Boys; Love & Theft; Opry Square Dancers
11:00: Jim Ed Brown(host); The Whites; Keith Anderson

The highlight of the Saturday night Opry shows is the return of Ronnie Milsap. He did not appear on the Opry at all last year and in fact, his last appearance on the Opry was during the birthday celebration in 2007. I am sure he will be singing songs off of his new gospel CD, which I have heard and think it is great. Saturday also features bluegrass with Del McCoury, Bobby Osborne and Jessie McReynolds. I know Bobby has a new CD coming out very soon. Keith Anderson has appeared before and has done a fine job. The mystery guest this weekend is Love & Theft. I don't know much about them other than they are a newer group that will be taking another spot from an established veteran. I know you have to promote young talent, but I still hate to see it at the expense of the legends of the business. Finally, Jan Howard is hosting the Ernest Tubb midnight jamboree, which with free admission, is always a great value. I know that Jan will put on a great show and will sign autographs and do pictures after the show.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Opry Country Classics

This Thursday March 26th, the Grand Ole Opry starts their Thursday night Opry Country Classics shows. Looking at the line-up for this week, they have Larry Gatlin as the host and he will be appearing along with Jim Ed Brown, The Whites, Chris Young, Mandy Barnett, Del McCoury, Jack Greene, Lorrie Morgan and Loretta Lynn. This is a 2 hour show that starts at 7:00. I will say that this looks like a pretty strong line-up to start off this series. With 9 artists scheduled, it looks like each of them will perform for about 10 minutes. It will be interesting to see if the quality continues in the coming weeks. It will also be interesting to see if the Opry management will use this show as a reason to move some of the classic Opry legends off of the weekend shows and use them on the Thursday night show. I have not heard anything to that affect but we will be watching. Although you cannot classify Chris Young or Mandy Barnett as legends, I am sure that they will be performing legendary songs, which in the case of Mandy Barnett will mean Patsy Cline songs. I wish the Opry good luck with these shows and I hope that they are well attended.

Welcome To Fayfare's Opry Blog

Welcome to the new Fayfare's Opry blog. The purpose of this blog will be to print news and opinions regarding the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee and other classic country music news. I will offer my personal observations regarding the greatest country music show in the world. I welcome your comments. Please check daily for my news and comments. Thanks for checking me out.