Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December Opry Highlights

We'll, it is hard to believe but the last month of the year is upon us. Here is to a Happy Holiday season to all. As I usually do at the start of a month, I want to take a look back at historical Opry events that took place during the month of December.

Several Grand Ole Opry members joined the cast of the Opry during this month:
>Randy Travis was inducted as an Opry member on December 20, 1986 (23 years).
>Jack Greene joined the Grand Ole Opry as an official member on December 23, 1967 (42 years). Of course Jack played on the Opry many times as a member of Ernest Tubb's band.
>The Gatlin Brothers became Opry members on December 25, 1976 (33 years).

Now looking back at Opry history, these important events took place:
>On December 26, 1925, The WSM Barn Dance started officially as a regularly scheduled program on Saturday nights on WSM radio.
>December 1927 (the date is lost to history), WSM program director George D. Hay, nicknamed the "Solemn Old Judge," proclaims, "For the past hour we have been listening to the music taken largely from the Grand Opera, but from now on we will present the Grand Ole Opry." The new name caught on and the show has been known by that title ever since.
>On December 30, 1944, western swing bandleader Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys played on the Opry. Because drums were not allowed on the Opry at that time, he hid his drummer behind a curtain. That was the only concession that he made as he said that if he appeared on the Opry it would be with his full band or not at all.
>December 8, 1945, Earl Scruggs made his debut as a member of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys. This would complete the historic line-up for the band that would serve as the prototype for the bluegrass sound. The band included Bill Monroe on mandolin, Scruggs on banjo, Lester Flat on guitar, Chubby Wise on fiddle and Howard Watts on bass. Outside the Ryman Auditorium is a historical marker to signify the Ryman Auditorium as the birthplace of bluegrass music and recognizing this great line-up of musicians.
>On December 30, 1950, Lefty Frizzell made his Grand Ole Opry debut.
>December 1, 1954 saw the death of Fred Rose, songwriter and co-founder of Acuff-Rose, which was the largest publisher of country music.
>On December 3, 1957, Don Gibson recorded one of the biggest two-sided singles in country music history. The Opry member had "I Can't Stop Loving You" on side 1 and "Oh, Lonesome Me" on side 2.
>December 24, 1960 was the last "Prince Albert Show" broadcast on the NBC radio network.
>December 8, 1982, Marty Robbins passed away at the young age of 57. His funeral service several days later was one of the most attended services of a country music star in memory.
>In December 1989, Garth Brooks has his first number one record, "If Tomorrow Never Comes."
>On December 20, 1999, Hank Snow passed away at his home in Madison. He had been an Opry member for 49 years and was just within 2 weeks of celebrating his 50th anniversary as an Opry member. He had not appeared on the Opry for several years due to health issues. I highly recommend his book for any country music fan.

There you have some highlights for this month. Hope you enjoy.


  1. I'd like to echo your sentiments on Hank Snow's book. It isn't a gossipy, star-type book, and he's a bit coy in places about his personal life, but you really get a sense of how hard he had it in his younger days and how someone would work his way up in the old days of country music.

    I remember the Opry celebrated his 40th with a reunion of the Glaser Brothers, who had backed him up, idolized him, and, I believe, stopped speaking to one another for a while. To this day, Jim and Tompall have not reconciled. Anyway, they did "Loving Her Was Easier" and then the medley where they would trade off in mid-line, and the crowd went WILD.

  2. RCA released a double LP set in the late 70's called "Great Moments at the Grand Ole Opry". It featured a number of artists, including Bobby Bare, Archie Campbell, Porter Wagoner, Billy Walker and others who would tell a story or two and then a copy of one of their big records. It included a rare interview with Jim Reeves talking about the Opry in the early 60's and some great stories from Minnie Pearl about some of the characters in the early days of the show (like Robert Lunn). One of her stories is about the night that Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys came to the Opry, how Judge Hay fussed and fumed about the eletric twin fiddles and the drums, and how a woman got so carried away she fell out of the balcony. The balcony used to wrap around behind the stage and was really only a few feet above the stage floor (there was a very steep ramp leading off of each side of the stage so people wouldn't crack their heads coming and going). Anyway, there was a lady sitting there who was apparently trying to get a better look at the band and leaned over the rail a bit too far and tumbled onto the stage. Minnie was not only a great comic but she was an outstanding storyteller and if you ever run across a copy of this album her segment is worth the price alone.

    I also remember vividly the day of Marty's funeral in Nashville. It was cold and snowing a bit...fairly appropriate to the sadness of the day. I've had the opportunity to work with and around a lot of different performers in the course of my career but Marty will always remain my favorite for a lot of reasons...but one in particular. I was working with a concert production company out of Nashville during the summers when I was in high school that produced the grandstand shows for a number of county fairs. Marty was one of the top acts that we booked and I enjoyed hanging around with the guys in his band who were all a bunch of characters. The morning of one of our shows I wandered into the hotel coffee shop and Marty was sitting by himself enjoying a late breakfast. I walked over to the table to say hello and the first thing I knew he invited me to sit down and join him for breakfast...and for the next half hour, one of country music's biggest stars treated the producer's go-fer/ runner/ box pusher like a king in a deserted little hotel coffee shop. They say you can tell a man's character by how he acts when nobody is watching. When I see the antics of some of today's so-called "stars" (small letters) I always think back to the few minutes I spent...when nobody was watching...with the soft-spoken, humble and genuinely nice guy who really WAS a country "STAR" (capitol letters)! I doesn't seem real that he's been gone for 27 years.

  3. Barry: Thanks for mentioning the album. I have seen it around but I don't believe that I have ever listened to it. I will have to locate a copy of it. I also agree with your comment on how "stars" act when the spotlight is not on them. I have had the opportunity to see and talk to a number of country music entertainers, both while they have been at a concert of a public event, and when they have been out in public and not "on stage". Most of them have been pleasant and very approachable, if you do it the right way. This is especially true of many of the older entertainers who seem to appreciate their fans more than today's entertainers. I know that I have had good visits with Bill Anderson and Jim Ed Brown. I remember one time when I was in Nashville with my-then 14 year old daughter, who is not a country music fan. My daughter was sitting in the back of the Ernest Tubb record shop before the mid-night jamboree, just killing time, when this "older" lady came and sat down and just talked to her for about a half hour. I did not see any of this. Then the show started and my daughter asked who the lady was up on stage and it was Jan Howard. That was who took the time to sit and talk with her. On time I saw Del Reeves at the Ernest Tubb shop between Opry shows downtown. He was on his way out the door to go and do his segment and a young man in a wheelchair asked for an autograph. Not only did Del take the time to sign, but he stayed and visited with this young man for almost 15 minutes. The whole time, one of his bandmembers kept telling him they had to go to get back to the Opry on time, but he said the Opry could wait. I have seen George Hamilton do the same thing and Mike Snider. And, I know there are others. I also know that there are a few of the new stars that do that, but I have never seen it. Today's stars have so many publicists and other reps with them that fans cannot get close to the stars. And, I think that is unfortunate. It is hard for a new entertainer to build loyalty when a fan cannot get the feeling that they know the artist or not.

  4. Wonderful stories from both of you. I remember George IV telling of how the first time he met Chet Atkins and told him how great he was, Chet walked away, and George was put off. Next day, Chet asked George to come with him and hung out with him. George said as he got to know him, he realized that Chet was so shy back then, he didn't know HOW to talk with somebody. I bet there are a few in country music--and entertainment generally--who get a bad reputation, but they just don't easily mingle.