Saturday, January 22, 2011

Johnny Russell

I just wanted to take a moment and remember Johnny Russell. John would have turned 71 years old on Sunday January 23. He was a great songwriter and recorded several hit records himself. But more than that, Johnny was just a nice person.

I had the pleasure of not only seeing him on the Opry many times, but also saw him in concert and had the opportunity to sit and talk to him. In concert, he put on a great show. He was funny and enjoyable to listen to. I still remember the day I was at Opryland and stopped at one of the food areas for lunch. I was sitting with my daughter at a table in a pavilion when this gentleman asked if he could sit and eat his lunch with us. It was Johnny!! We sat and talked for about 30 minutes and he was the one asking the questions. Such as where we were from, were we enjoying ourselves, etc, etc. He never once came across as a big, Opry star. When we all got up to leave, he was the one thanking us for our time.

I know that John battled a lot of health problems later in his life, many of his own doing due to his weight issues. He had open heart surgery and suffered a stroke, but he always came back to the Opry. After Marty Robbins died, Johnny kind of took over the 11:30 segment. While no Marty Robbins, he really tried to make the segment his own and he did a nice job. He did not do the early Saturday show on a regular basis, but when he did, it was usually to host the televised portion on TNN.

Johnny was the one to first introduce Garth Brooks on the Opry and Garth insisted that Johnny induct him as an official member when the time came. Garth always insisted on appearing on Johnny's segment when he played the Opry.

Johnny joined the Opry in August 1985 and would remain a member until his death on July 3, 2001, from complications while suffering from diabetes. He was only 61 when he did, which was much too young. His last years were not kind and he suffered greatly. Johnny last appeared on the Opry in 2000. After his death, the 11:30 portion of the Opry on Saturday July 7, 2001 was dedicated to Johnny. As was written that night:

"Johnny Russell embodied the spirit of the Grand Ole Opry. He was a friendly, self-effacing professional who loved the camaraderie of the musicians and the laughter and applause of the crowd. And he loved being home on the late show of the Saturday night Opry. Well, Russell, the wise-cracking mountain of a man and brilliant songwriter, died this week after a long battle with diabetes and related ailments. His funeral is today at the Opry House. That's only fitting. Then Johnny Russell goes home one more time when his spirit guides his colleagues through A Salute to Johnny Russell tonight. It's the late show: 11:30-midnight---Johnny Russell time."

As Johnny said ever show, "Can you see me alright?"

1 comment:

  1. I have a friend who played drums for a bluegrass group (unusual to say the least!) and was in some house bands around Atlanta. He told me he worked a little with Johnny, and he was exactly as you describe him. He also was as hilarious as he seemed.

    I loved him. He was a great songwriter, a great (and underrated) singer, a fine comedian, and a wonderful Opry member.