Saturday, July 18, 2009

Who Are The 10 Most Influential Members Of The Grand Ole Opry?

In the past, I have asked who should be considered for Grand Ole Opry membership, who should be let go as members of the Grand Ole Opry and what Grand Ole Opry members will be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Tonight, I would like to chat about who I believe are the 10 most influential members of the Grand Ole Opry.

First, a little history. Over the 80 plus years of the Grand Ole Opry, certain Opry members have held influence with Opry management over the direction and policies of the show. It was written in the book: "Air Castle Of The South, WSM", that during most of its history, Opry ownership and management would expect Roy Acuff to handle any issues that involved the male members and Minnie Pearl to handle any issues involving the female members, including keeping the artists in line. It is also widely known that up until his death, Roy Acuff played a major role in defining the direction of the Opry, including having a voice on who new members would be. After he passed away, it was widely assumed that Porter Wagoner had influence with Opry management and was the face of the Opry for many years.

Today, with Steve Buchanan and Pete Fisher managing the Opry, which Opry members are among those that they seek out for their opinion on the direction of the show and which Opry members speak up, behind the scenes to help influence the show? I have talked to several individuals that have ties to the Opry and have asked that question. Based on what they have told me, and what I have learned, here is my list of the 10 most influencial Opry members and reasons why. Remember, this is not a list of the 10 best Opry members or the 10 biggest Opry members. And, the list is alphabetical order.

1) Bill Anderson: Bill joined the Opry in 1961 and is one of it's more loyal members. He has said many times that when he is not on the road and it is a Saturday night, it just does not feel right if he is not at the Opry. As he has become again one of Nashville's premier songwriters, he has helped to start and support the careers of Josh Turner and Brad Paisley among others. And he has influenced Pete Fisher to give these young entertainers a slot on the show, even when they were unknowns. Bill is also respected by these younger artists. While not very vocal publically about the Opry, he does make his feelings and opinions known behind the scenes.
2) Jim Ed Brown: Jim Ed has been a member of the Opry since 1963. He has continued to this day to be one of its most loyal and popular members. Several years ago, in a cost cutting move, Opry management dropped several of its musicians, and told certain Opry members that they either had to cut the size of their back-up band and singers or that they could no longer use any of their band members and had to use the Grand Ole Opry staff band as their back up band. Jim Ed Brown was one of those members who was told that. While several Opry members spoke publically about the move, from what I was told, Jim Ed was the only Opry member to go directly to management and discuss the new policy with them. After that conversation, Jim Ed was allowed to continue using his own band members and to continue to use his own back-up singers. He was respected enough that he was listened to.
3) Charlie Daniels: Charlie is one of the newest members of the Opry, joining in 2008. But, he is already influencing Opry management on picking new members. When Montgomery Gentry was recently asked to join, it is believed that Charlie helped to make that happen. He is a friend of Montgomery Gentry and likes their music. They have appeared together many times. It is thought that Charlie went to Pete Fisher and helped to seal the deal in making Montgomery Gentry members of the Opry. Look for his influence to continue as he is a very vocal supporter of the show.
4) Jimmy Dickens: The Opry's oldest and longest serving member, he joined the Opry in 1948. While he does not exhibit much influence behind the scenes, as the Opry's longest member, his opinion is valued. Most of the times, when a new member is asked or inducted, Jimmy is involved. He is Opry royalty.
5) Vince Gill: Since joining the Opry in 1991, Vince has been one of the show's most vocal supporters and loyal members. He has challenged many entertainers of his era to support the show and to be a part of the Opry. He has always answered the Opry's challenge. He has also encouraged Opry management to open it's eyes a bit on who they invite to perform on the Opry. Steve Martin is a recent example of this. When Roy Acuff died, Vince was assigned dressing room #1 and from there, he holds court, much as Mr. Acuff did. Pete Fisher values his opinion of various acts and his influence is apparent at the Opry.
6) Jeannie Seely: Jeannie joined the Opry in 1967 and quickly became the most vocal female member. She was the female member who pushed Opry management into allowing females to host an Opry segment. While not its biggest female star, she does encourage new female talent to appear on the show and has appeared in many Opry sponsored shows at Opryland. While not as influencial as she was in the past, she still speaks up when needed.
7) Ricky Skaggs: Ricky joined the Opry in 1982 and since then his career has evolved in several different directions. For the past decade he has been one of the biggest stars in bluegrass music and has started his own, very successful record label. He has been very influencial in bringing new bluegrass talent to the Opry and he has been the Opry member that has reached out the most to the bluegrass community. Almost any act signed to his record label is guaranteed a spot on the Opry. These acts have included Cherryholmes and Mountain Heart. He has also helped Ralph Stanley and Del McCoury to become Opry members. Since Bill Monroe passed away, and even though there are numerous Opry members who specialize in bluegrass music, Ricky is considered the top performer of that group.
8) Mike Snider: Mike is a funny name to put on this list. He joined the Opry in 1990, and for the most part has been thought of as a funny guy who played old time music on the banjo. But over the years, he has taken a career that has had no hit records and built it into one of the Opry's most popular members and being in a position to host many weekly segments at the Opry. He also has the Opry hosting a series of shows for him at the theater. His influence comes in the fact that he is a link to the string band music that was part of the start of the Opry and he keeps it alive. He has an eye for talented musicans that play that type of music; so much so that Opry management will permit him to feature those musicians during his segment of the Opry.
9) Marty Stuart: Marty joined the Opry in 1992, in the wave of the new traditionalists that were joining the Opry at that time. Marty had been a part of the Opry for many years as a member of Lester Flatt's outfit. For most of his time as an Opry member, Marty stood out no more than the others from that era. He was good for about 10 appearances per year and that was about it. However, in the past several years, he has become one of the Opry's most loyal members and has become very vocal behind the scenes about the future of the show. He was instrumental in Dierks Bentley and Charlie Daniels becoming Opry members and since the death of Porter Wagoner, he has become more of the public face of the Opry. His television show on the RFD network is tailored after the country music shows of the 1960's and has an Opry feel to it. As with Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs, Marty is over 50 now, and along with Vince and Ricky, these 3 should be the face of the Opry in the years to come.

For the 10th member, and I list him apart from the others, is Stonewall Jackson. Why him? Well, when his appearances were cut, he stood up to Gaylord and Opry management and sued them in court. He boycotted the Opry for a number of years and went through a great personal toll. While he did not win the lawsuit, Gaylord and the Opry settled with him before it went to trial. While the results of the lawsuit are not public record, a case can be made that Stonewall was the winner. Since the lawsuit was settled, Stonewall is back on the Opry and his appearances have greatly increased. Also, he has been treated well by Pete Fisher, who always said it was nothing personal against Stonewall. The only suprising thing about this, is that the other Opry member who was just as vocal about his appearances being cut as Stonewall's, which is Charlie Louvin, has not taken the same route as Stonewall did. But then, Charlie has several new albums out and has been busy touring, cementing his legacy as one of the greats in country music. As the only Opry member to stand up to management and sue the show, Stonewall Jackson deserves a spot on the list.

We'll, there you have our list. As always, I like to see the opinions of others. Let me know what you think and we can discuss it. As always, thanks for reading and pass the site along to others.

1 comment:

  1. A fascinating list and idea, and I like it very much.

    I have to say this about Charlie Louvin: the Opry's treatment of him has been silly. Not only is he a Hall of Famer, but he is touring with young rock acts influenced by or admiring of the Louvin Brothers. Have him on more, ask him to bring some of them along for guest shots, and broaden the Opry's appeal. Some of my fellow traditionalists would disagree with this, but if Pete Fisher wants to reach younger people, this is a way to do it, and in not doing it, he is cutting off his nose to spite his face. My two cents.

    I suspect no one, now or ever, will approach first Roy Acuff, then Ernest Tubb, probably the two most influential Opry members ever. Porter Wagoner may have been close to that level, too.

    I also wonder about Jean Shepard, who has been, I think, active behind the scenes, too.