Saturday, November 7, 2009

Dr. Ralph Stanley & The Grand Ole Opry

I recently read the new autobiography that Dr. Ralph Stanley wrote with Eddie Dean, "Man of Constant Sorrow." I found it an excellent book that really tells the story of The Stanley Brothers and of Ralph and The Clinch Mountain Boys. The book spends lots of time on the older days of the Stanley Brothers with some interesting stories and inside information. If you get the chance to get a copy, please do. It is an easy read and you will enjoy it and it will give you a different impression of the man and his music.

In the book, Ralph talks about his joining the Opry and the story behind it. I thought I would share it here:
For a long time, I played the Opry as a guest but I never did join. When I got to thinking harder about it, I had some people in Nashville work on it in my corner. They told me I had paid my dues years ago, and not to worry. Bill (Monroe) made the loudest noise. It was all his doing. I didn't have to say a word to him. Bill told them they needed me on the Opry and that was all it would have took. This was in 1993. Hal Durham was running it back then, and Hal told me, "You're the only man that Bill's ever asked for them to get on the Opry." Bill wouldn't even put in a word for his own son, James, to get into the Opry. With Bill behind me, I could have gone on the Opry full-time, but I just never did follow that up at the time. It was a big commitment back then. It used to be you had to commit for most of the year, at least twenty-six weeks, every Saturday night. My schedule wouldn't have allowed that. I was on the road with my band, and they counted on me for a paycheck. Later the Opry eased up on how often you had to play. That' s when I was interested in making it official and joining. By then Bill was gone, and I had Porter Wagoner on my side. Porter was a big man and host at the Opry, which he'd joined back in 1957, and he helped me a lot. He worked on my behalf for several years, talking to the people behind the scenes who could make it happen. It was in 2000 when I officially became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Porter was there with Patty Loveless, and they brought me out on stage to induct me into what they call country music's most "elite club."

Ralph also had thoughts on Jimmy Martin and the Opry:
I know that Jimmy Martin died a-wanting to get on the Opry and he'd never made it. That really hurt him. It was his life's goal to join the Opry and play there regular like his hero Bill Monroe, and it just never happened. Now, I don't think that was Bill's doing. I think it was more Jimmy's fault, really. He was his own worst enemy. He would always say things and do things to get him in trouble. There was no doubt Jimmy had enough talent to be a member of the Opry. He would have been a plus, talentwise, but he wasn't dependable and they knew it. He was too out of control and he wouldn't have helped the Opry after they added it all up, the good and the bad.

Ralph talked a bit about Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs:
Competition. That's the way most musicians looked at each other back then, and Bill was the same way. The way he looked at it was pure survival. Bill didn't think there was room on the Opry for any other bands playing his type of music. The better they were, the more he hated'em. He kept Flatt and Scruggs off the Opry for a long time. And a lot of others, too. Carter and me never did get to play together on the Opry, and I think Bill had something to do with that.

Interesting observations from Dr. Ralph. And, I think everyone knows that it was through the intervention and threats of losing the sponsorship of Martha White that eventually led to Flatt and Scruggs becoming a part of the Opry. Bill Monroe had even tried to get a petition going against Flatt and Scruggs joining the Opry, but he found few takers. Roy Acuff for one, said he was "fond of the boys', and thought they would make good members and that the Opry needed people like them. Looking at today's Opry, do you think any sponsor is as powerful as Martha White was back in the day, and could dictate who could become an Opry member?


  1. By the way, I am pleased to say that I just heard the Martha White theme again, as it is the 11:00 sponsor, but someone needs to tell Mike Terry not to make the introduction until the theme is done. Oh, well.

    I really doubt any sponsor is that powerful. I thought Crackerbarrel was GOING to be, but is no longer the chief sponsor, and I doubt Humana would be involved in that way. I do hope that the folks at Martha White have enough oomph to get Rhonda Vincent inducted already.

  2. First, I doubt if any of the corporate sponsers really care who the members of the Opry are. They are only interested in the advertising and exposure aspects of being a sponser and how much commercial time they get and how often their logo shows up on the programs.

    That being said, with Gaylord and the way they run the Opry, money clearly talks, more now than probably ever before in the Opry's history. My guess is that if one of their big-money "corporate sponsers" says jump, they generally say "how high."