Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ernie Ashworth

I would like to take a moment to honor former Grand Ole Opry star Ernie Ashworth, who was born on December 15, 1928, and on Wednesday, would have celebrated his 82nd birthday. Ernie was born in Huntsville, Alabama, and would remain associated with Alabama through most of his career.

He came to Nashville in 1949 and was signed shortly after that as a writer for Acuff-Rose Music. He left Nashville in the late 1950's, returning to Alabama to work. In 1960, through the help of Wesley Rose, he signed a recording contract with Decca Records, releasing several records that made the country charts.

In 1962, he signed with Hickory Records, which was owned by Acuff-Rose, and it was at Hickory that he achieved his "career record". "Talk Back Trembling Lips" would be his only #1 record, but what a record it was. Released in 1963, it would spend 42 weeks on the country charts, and also appeared on the pop charts. Thanks to the success of that record, he was invited to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry, which he did on March 7, 1964. While he would continue to record, and had singles on the country charts up until 1970, he never again achieved the success that "Talk Back Trembling Lips" brought him. He did have a #1 record in Europe in 1999, "Lonely Only Bar."

In 1992 Ernie was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. During his career, he purchased several radio stations and as he went into semi-retirement, these stations occupied more of his time.

He remained a member of the Grand Ole Opry up until his death on March 2, 2009, at the age of 80, after heart bypass surgery. Unfortunately, like many of the Opry's senior members, he saw his Opry appearances reduced in his last decade as a member. In his last full year, he made 5 Opry appearances, with his last one being on Friday October 10, as part of the Opry's 83th birthday celebration.

I have 2 memories of Ernie and one of them is in regards to that night. I was at that show, which was the 2nd show that night. Ernie was introduced by Riders In The Sky, and he came out as he always did, in that suit with the "trembling lips" on it. He apparently had trouble seeing as he was not really facing the audience and was turned sideways when he was talking. Then he started singing, "Talk Back Trembling Lips', and let me tell you, he "nailed" the song. I never heard him sing it better and the audience really responded. It was great. And, it was a great memory to leave him with.

My other great memory of Ernie is kind of funny. On a Friday night in October 2004, a couple of years prior to his death, Ernie was scheduled to appear only on the 2nd show, in the 11:00 segment. I was walking in the lobby of the Opry house between the 10:30 segment and the 11:00 segment, just stretching my legs, when I looked out the Opry doors and swore that I saw a car on the sidewalk right up against the main entrance. I went over to the doors and sure enough, it was a car and it was being driven by Ernie Ashworth. How he got there, I don't know. Anyways, he gets out of his car, with the pink, trembling lips suit on, and looks very confused, as Opry security and crew members walked over to him to see what was going on. I went outside and stood there, listening to Ernie tell the Opry workers that he didn't know where the parking lot was to park his car and had just followed the driveway!! He didn't follow the driveway, but instead was following the wide sidewalk that runs between the Acuff Theater and the Opry Museum, where the Opry workers use golf carts to bring the disabled people in from the buses. As the Opry security people were trying to figure out what to do about Ernie and his car, Ernie tells them that he is due on stage in a few minutes and he would be back. With that, he left the car and walked into the Opry House, through the lobby and into the door to go backstage. His last words to the security people was that he was scheduled more often, maybe he would know where to go!!! I just loved that. I don't know if that was the reason, or if it was due to his declining health and the health of his wife, but that was Ernie's last Opry appearance until 2008. It just goes to show you never know what you will see at the Opry!!

In honor of Ernie's last Grand Ole Opry appearance, and in honor of his birthday, here is the Opry line-up from that 2nd show, on Friday October 10, 2008.

9:30: Jeannie Seely(host); Connie Smith; Marty Stuart; Jamey Johnson
10:00: Jean Shepard(host); The Whites; Mandy Barnett
10:30: Riders In The Sky(host); Ernie Ashworth; Phil Stacey; Rhythm-N-Motion
11:00: George Hamilton IV(host); Jack Greene; The Time Jumpers

Ernie, it was a pleasure to see you perform many times on the stage of the Opry.

1 comment:

  1. What a great pair of stories, and the second one is funny but also poignant, because I think a lot of longtime Opry members feel that way and are leery of saying so (unless they're Charlie Louvin or Stonewall Jackson, or the late Del Reeves). But I love the point of your first story: he had some problems, but he knew how to entertain.