Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Should Any Grand Ole Opry Members Be Dropped?

Several days ago, this writer gave his opinion on possible new Opry members. Today, the question I ask is: Should any Grand Ole Opry members be dropped for not making Opry appearances?

In 2000, Grand Ole Opry General Manager Pete Fisher made news when he dropped The 4 Guys as members of the Opry. I had heard, through various sources, that this was to be the first of several members to be dropped from the Opry, but that the negative publicity caused Pete to hold off on his plans. The majority of the artists that he wanted to drop were elderly members, several who have since passed away. Since dropping these elderly artists was not going to work from a public relations standpoint, it would appear that the new approach was to cut the appearances of most of these elderly Opry members, which in fact, has happened.

Since 2000, only 1 Opry member has resigned and that was Holly Dunn, who gave up her Opry membership when she left the music business and moved to New Mexico.

But, there are a number of Opry members who are not making any appearances, or very few appearances at all, by their own choice. Should they be dropped and replaced by new members who will devote time and energy to the show? Here are a few examples and our opinion:
>Tom T. Hall has not appeared on the Opry since before 2000. He does not tour much, but is still in the music business, doing very well with his bluegrass recordings and in working with younger artists. The fact that he is in Nashville would certainly make him available to appear at the Opry. Since joining, it seems that he has never been a very enthusiastic member. In fact, when the Opry left the Ryman, he stopped appearing on the show until Ernest Tubb approached in and asked him to return, which he did. The opinion of this reporter is that he should drop his Opry membership.
>Clint Black has appeared on the Opry stage only 2 times since 2004, and both of those apperances were in 2007. Clint lives in California and has always been considered a West Coast artist. While a very good artist and, in his prime, a top record seller, he has never really recorded what could be considered classic country music. He is involved with tv work and other projects. Again, our opinion is that he should be dropped from the Opry.
>Wilma Lee Cooper has made no Opry appearances since 2001, due to illness. While she is too ill to make appearances, she should continue to be a member of the Opry, as she has always been a strong supporter of the show.
>Barbara Mandrell has retired from the business and has made 1 Opry appearance since 2000. She does many back of the seen work involving the Opry and supports the show. When she retired from performing, she asked that her Opry membership continue. It should and she should stay a member.
>Reba McEntire has made no Opry appearances since 2001. She was involved in tv work, but is now back touring and recording. She is not based in Nashville and does not come to the city very often. Her career has moved in a different direction and she should give up her Opry membership.
>Jeanne Pruett has made no Opry appearances since 2002, and has said she is retired from performing. Last year, she asked that her Opry membership be dropped so that a younger artist could fill her spot. The Opry did not do not and kept her as a member. If her wish is to resign as an Opry member, I would honor that request.
>Ricky Van Shelton has retired from performing and last appeared on the Opry in 2004. Even before that, he only made 1 or 2 appearances a year. He should be dropped.
>Randy Travis made 3 appearances in 2008. Those were his first appearances since 2001. If he is serious about appearing on the Opry again, I would keep him as a member. If not, I would drop him. He is a great country singer but does not live in Nashville and makes few Nashville appearances. The choice is his.
>Garth Brooks has made 3 appearances since 2001. I would keep Garth as a member as he does come to the Opry when asked and does take part in special events involving the Opry. He speaks very highly of the Opry and supports many Opry members.

Several other artists are on the list, who since 2000, have made 1 to 4 appearances per year. I would not drop these artists, but I would ask them for a re-commitment to the Opry, and ask them to increase their appearances to 10 per year, which is the requirement of new members. All of these artists are active in the business and most are Nashville based. This list includes Emmylou Harris, Alan Jackson, George Jones, Allison Kraus, Martina McBride, Ronnie Milsap, Brad Paisley, Dolly Parton and Trisha Yearwood.

There are several artists that those listed above can use as an example, who do appear on the Opry on a regular basis and give the show the commitment needed. Those include Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Lorrie Morgan, Ricky Skaggs, Steve Warnier among others.

The concluding question I would ask of those artists that do not appear is: Why join an organization or group and not take part?" I think if Pete Fisher dismissed just 1 of those listed above, it would send a message to the other Opry members that Opry membership is something to be taken seriously, not something to list in your bio, or to wear on your chest. Our thoughts. How about yours?


  1. Do you honestly think that the Grand Old Opry would ever revoke membership from Dolly Parton & Reba McEntire?

    I know this is your opinion, but if you think that two of the greatest country artists of all time should have that taken away from them, that shows what kind of 'historian' you are.


  3. This must be a joke right?? Because its laughable! Reba McEntire kicked out of the Opry or Dolly Parton?!? I know this is a joke now. You talking about some of the biggest names in country music here ..EVER!

  4. No, the Opry should not drop any members. It would be nice if some of the larger names (Reba, Dolly, etc..) made more appearances, but what is their incentive for doing so? In fact, they are probably not even being asked to perform.

    The Opry is dying, and Fisher is just driving it farther into the ground everyday. The only smart decisions that Fisher has made since taking over the Opry are some of the people that he has made members. Carrie Underwood was a very very smart move, as she is the hottest act in Country Music and appears on the Opry on a more regular basis than many of the older members. Mel Tillis and Charlie Daniels were also very smart moves, as they are both established artists that still carry a huge fan base.

    You should not be able to perform on the Opry without at least having some name recognition. The Opry is not a place to debut a new act, which seems to be happening more and more frequently these days. Fisher is reaching out to younger artists, but he is mainly getting those without name recognition. For example, I love Rebecca Lynn Howard, but nobody is buying a ticket because she is on the show.

    I do see his reasoning for not having some of the older artists on as often, as a lot of them don't really have any drawing power.

    For example... Ray Pillow... who is Ray Pillow? Has he had any major hits? No.

    Ditto for Stu Phillips.

    On the ohter hand, Jeannie Seely & Little Jimmy Dickens are top notch entertainers. While neither of them are really a vocal powerhouse, they both know how to entertain a crowd, which is something desperately needed on the Opry stage these days.

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  6. This problem with certain members and their perceived lack of commitment to the Opry has been ongoing for many years. There was an article in the Nashville Tennessean entitled "The Grand Ole Dilemma" in 1995, around the time of the Opry's 70th anniversary, about this very subject and the lack of commitment on the part of some of its members. At that time,the Opry was asking each member to commit to 12 appearances a year. The article listed the members who hadn't appeared at all in the preceeding year or had only appeared once or twice and interestingly many of the same offenders were listed then as you have listed now, so little has changed. Marty Stuart was quoted in the article as being "scared" about the Opry's future then. . .because of the lack of commitment of several of its members. .and that was 14 years ago!!

    That being said, if the Opry themselves dropped members, especially a Reba McEntire or Randy Travis, this would be a PR nightmare.

    Maybe relaxing the minimum requirement to 5-7 times a year would be helpful.

    I would also like to see them add more new members too than they currently are. They seem to be having success in getting good commitments from the newer members. Maybe add 5 or 6 a year both veterans and newer acts. Veterans that I think would make great additions: Crytal Gayle, Oaks, Ray Stevens, Tracy Lawrence, Ronnie McDowell, Bobby Bare, Brenda Lee, Lee Greenwood, Gene Watson, Rhonda Vincent, John Anderson. And of course there are a slew of contemporary acts that could be added.

    Hopefully, the light bulb will go on soon with these members who rarely appear, or Opry management can figure out some way to get them to appear more often, because, although I wouldn't go so far as to say the Opry is dying, it is at a crossroads and unfortunately, Porter or Minnie or Roy ain't walking out on that Opry stage anytime soon.

  7. Just a couple of comments. Thanks to all who read my blog and thanks for posting your comments. I enjoy the exchange and take no offense to anything posted. All of us have an opinion of the Opry and enjoy the Opry. That is what this is all about. Just to clarify a couple of responses to the comments made above. 1st, to the first couple of comments, no I do not think for a minute that the Opry and Pete Fisher are going to revoke the membership of anyone, especially Reba McEntire or Dolly Parton.That is why he first tried this approach with an act such as The 4 Guys. In the case of Dolly, I never stated that she she not be a member of the Opry, just that I thought she should recommit to the show. As far as Reba, yes she is one of the greatest stars in country music history and a future Hall of Fame member. No doubt about that. I just think, in my opinion, if she is not going to be at the Opry, she should not be an Opry member. In response to Opry Fan, yes, I believe you are right that Pete Fisher has made some smart moves regarding recent members. And, as someone who attends the Opry on a regular basis, it frustrates me when there are several acts on the show that nobody has ever heard of before, or have never had a recording. In a way, perhaps the strategy regarding membership is that he(Pete), cannot do anything about the members who do not appear, but he can make sure that those he brings on as members will honor the Opry with some commitment(perhaps the 10 they are asking for now). Regarding the last comment about adding a mix of veteran and younger acts, I believe that is the right approach to use. I know that the focus of growth for the Opry is that they want to lower the age of their fan base, and they can do that with the younger acts(Carrie Underwood, etc). But, they cannot afford to turn off the middle age and older fans, who really are the supporters of the show. Adding veterans(Mel Tillis, Charlie Daniels), keeps that part of the fan base happy. For the big stars that have not appeared, I know that the Opry has tried different ideas to get them to appear, such as making sure they are the focal point of the televised portion of the Opry, giving them the time slots they would like, and offering more pay per appearance than the Opry minimum. The effort is there. Yes, the Opry, and Gaylord Entertainment, is in a fight for survival right now, and there are individuals who either work or have worked for Gaylord, that have told me that there is a worry among many, regarding the future of the company. As the fight for control of the company continues, the focus is on the hotel and resort part of the business and not on the Opry. Again, thank for the discussion. I enjoy all the viewpoints.

  8. Fayfare has brought up a great point, and it seems to me that an entertainer, like anyone else, ought to have some idea of what s/he wants to do. Jeanne Pruett said she would like to give up her membership. She should. Dolly Parton didn't appear for years, then has been back a few times. I hope she stays and keeps coming back. I think others should be asked--notably, Tom T. Hall, Clint Black, and Reba McEntire.

    For older acts, the Opry is supposed to be where they can go to keep performing. If T. doesn't want to do the Opry, why remain a member? If the issue is something like health insurance, I believe that was part of Stonewall Jackson's lawsuit--that by not appearing enough, he ran into problems. Not that I think the Opry is or should be a retirement community, but fair is fair. As Del Reeves said years ago, part of the deal was, you made fewer appearances when you were big enough to tour all the time, and the Opry would welcome you more often later.

    This subject has caused ruckuses before. Around 1985, I believe, the rumor was management wanted to drop about a dozen older acts. In 1992, when Mr. Acuff died, there was a little growling when the Smoky Mountain Boys were not allowed to continue--they were, I believe, the only backup group that performed when the leader wasn't there; when he would be out sick, the group still played the Opry--but Oswald got to continue and Charlie Collins worked with him and the square dance band.

  9. It is ridiculous that Stonewall did not appear more often... he actually had hits. While people like Jimmy C Newman & Jan Howard are on every week, both who had very few hits, and no real smashes.

  10. You bring up a good point and sometimes I wonder how Pete Fisher and the Opry management decides how often the older members perform. I have been told by those who know, that some of it has to do with the contract with the musicians union and how senior members are classifed, some of it is the choice of the performers(some do not care how often they are on), and some of it is political. Taking last year for example, Jimmy C. Newman made 115 appearances; Jean Shepard 101;Jim Ed Brown 94; Jeannie Seely 94; Connie Smith 112; Jack Greene 40 and The Whites 108. On the other hand, you had Stonewall Jackson with 10; Charlie Louvin 10; Ray Pillow 17; Jan Howard 42; and Stu Phillips 9. Before they passed away and their health failed, Charlie Walker, Ernie Ashworth and Hank Lockin had very low numbers. The argument can be made that as a member of the Hall of Fame, Charlie Louvin had a bigger career than Jimmy C Newman; or that Jeannie Seely and Jan Howard have had similiar careers, but Jeannie is on the Opry more, or that Stonewall Jackson had many more hit records than Jack Greene. The appearance issue seems to be one that nobody really wants to go on the record to talk about, especially after Stonewall's lawsuit.

  11. One of the great mysteries of life always has been how the lineups are made. But if I may say a word about Jimmy C. Newman, he had numerous chart hits in his day. More than that, because he plays Cajun music and is the only Cajun Opry member, he offers something different than any of the others.

    Also, bear in mind that for Hank Locklin, the Opry meant a trip from home. So I can imagine that he was making fewer trips at that stage of his life. I don't think Charlie Louvin is happy about his appearances--he has been quoted saying as much years ago--and what amazes me is that he is not only a Hall of Famer, but opening for young rock acts, and there might just be some spillover to get some of the younger audiences the management wants.

  12. Of the one's you have mentioned, I think Charlie Louvin probably has the biggest gripe. He should be on more, being an HOFer and with his keeping himself current with the younger audiences. Not sure why he hasn't been appearing more the last few years. I know though he has been very outspoken in the past regarding Opry management publicly and that probably has hurt him. . .I remember one time he was performing in my hometown on a Saturday night in the 90s. After the show, he signed autographs. We mentioned to him that we had seen him on the Opry many times. He let us know in no uncertain terms what he thought of Bob Whittaker or "Gospel Bob" as an Opry manager. He was pretty vocal in particular about that nights televised Opry Live where Whittaker had scheduled 3 non-Opry gospel acts at the expense of Opry members. He had a point,though. Bob Whittaker did have way too many gospel non-Opry acts during his run as manager although I am kinda of thankful now that I got to see JD Sumner several times during that period.

  13. Jimmy C Newman is boring, and can barely speak, much less perform. While he did have more chart success back in the day than Jeannie Seely (I guess), she is still in good voice and is a wonderful entertainer. Even if you are not familiar with Seely, you can still be entertained by her humor and quick wit. While those not familiar with Newman, simply think he is some old man that escaped from the nursing home for the night.

  14. Looks like Reba McEntire will be at the Opry on May 9th. . . .

  15. Make them honorary members of alternates, but they do not deserve full membership. I`m a performer myself. If you can`t drive the tractor , then get off.