Monday, January 24, 2011

Opry Stars I Have Met

When I was writing the post about Johnny Russell and my personal experience on meeting Johnny, I got to thinking about the Opry members that I have met over the years. I have met quite a few and I thought that I would share some observations on some of them.

I met Bill Anderson about 20 years ago when he came to town and played at the county fair. Like most country dates, Bill did a meet and greet with the fans after his show. I had purchased his book to sign, which he did. Now, as many of you know, my first name is Byron. After Bill autographed the book, he asked if I had read it yet and I said no. He then went on to tell me that one of the people who helped him in his career was also named Byron and to make sure to read about him in the book. Bill came across as someone who really appreciated the fans.

George Hamilton IV is someone who I have talked to several times. Once was at Opryland, where he signed a birthday card to my wife. We talked for several minutes about his gospel singing and some of the songs that he had recorded. The 2nd time I met George was at the Midnight Jamboree, actually before the show as he was standing outside the Broadway shop just waiting for the Opry to end. Again, he took the time just to chat and he was really personable.

I have told the Jan Howard story several times and how she took the time at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop to spend about 15 minutes sitting on the side of the stage and talking to my teenage daughter. To me, Jan is a real classy lady who cares about her fans. Just to watch her talking to a complete stranger, asking her where she was from, where she went to school, etc., was nice.

Porter Wagoner was something else. Again, I was with my daughter at Opryland, when Porter was doing his television show there. Porter spent more time talking to her than me. He invited her "into his office", which was really a chair at the side of the stage. He was great with pictures and in signing items for us.

Jim Ed Brown has given me mixed experiences. I have seen him at the Opry, walking through the Opry House before the show and talking to fans and very friendly. At other times, I have seen him not want to talk to anyone. Everyone has a bad day, so nothing against Jim Ed.

Ralph Stanley I talked to after a show last year up here in Ohio. He looked pretty rough and then I found out he had just got out of the hospital the day before and still came up to do the show. He seemed a little unsteady, but again, it was a great experience talking to this bluegrass legend.

Marty Stuart I met up here in Ohio and he spent the whole time cracking jokes and just having a great time.

Charlie Walker asked me about a DJ that he knew from Texas and was now living in Ohio. After he found out I was from Canton he was very interested if I knew Jaybird Drennen. when I told him that I did, that was all it took for Charlie to tell me Jaybird stories and to make sure to call Jay and tell him Charlie said hi.

Del Reeves was talking to me between Opry shows at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop. He was hosting that night when it was still downtown and he drove out on his bus from the new Opry House and had to go back. Del was running out the door when I young man in a wheel chair stopped him for an autograph. That was all it took for Del. He knelt down beside the young boy and talked to him for a good 5 minutes. His manager kept telling him they had to go to get back to the Opry, but Del kept saying that the Opry could wait. He was doing something more important. He was talking to a new friend. My respect for Del went up 100% after seeing that.

Grandpa Jones was completely different off stage then on. He was a very serious man who really thought things out before talking. At least, that was my impression. Very nice man.

Stu Phillips was at his winery when I stopped in to see what it was like. Stu was talking to all the customers and fans and he was a joy to talk to. I was impressed that he is a minister and we talked about religion. Sorry to say, that his wine needed a little bit of work, and I did find it strange that a minister would own a winery, but ok.

Jeanne Pruett was always at Opryland hawking her cookbooks. If you wanted to talk about receipes, she was the one to talk to . She was always looking for a new one and she would talk cooking with you.

Charlie Collins shared some great stories about behind the scene activities. And, what a fine guitar player he is. When I told Charlie it was my wife's birthday, he insisted on playing happy birthday to her on the guitar.

Jean Shepard was really down to earth and my wife even said that is someone she would love to have dinner with sometime.

Some of the others have included Wilma Lee Cooper, Bill Carlisle, Hank Locklin, Connie Smith, along with Johnny Russell.

Those are just a few. There have been many others. As a general rule, if I see someone famous, I am not shy about approaching them. But, I make sure that they are approachable. And I never approach them if they are eating or out with their families. And for whatever reason, some entertainers just are not approachable. I will not name those, but there are a few. All in all, I think that the country music legends really appreciate their fans and that they know that they would not be where they are at today if not for them.


  1. What a wonderful post! Granted, I wouldn't have minded the contrasts. That said, I have met one Opry member, Jimmy C. Newman. My mother was his biggest fan and helped (I THINK) get him a booking in Laughlin. We met him and Miss Mae and they were as nice as anyone could have hoped.

    My mother also made a comment about other Opry stars. She said that of course Mr. Acuff was a titan, someone who towered above everybody, but he also was approachable--he was like family. Her other favorites (and mine) included Bill Monroe and Hank Snow, and while from all I have heard they were always courteous to their fans (unless you said something really dumb to Mr. Monroe; he didn't suffer fools), she said that they were the sort you didn't think you could touch, that you would respect them from a bit of a distance. Considering how unhappy their childhoods were, that may have had something to do with it.

  2. You know Michael, in all my years of meeting Opry members and other entertainers and sports figures, there has been really only 1 that did not want anyone approaching them and that was Carol Lee Cooper. I don't know if I just caught her on a bad day, which is possible, but I had asked someone that I knew who worked at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop if she was approachable, and they said she was. This was during the time period when she was the announcer for the midnight jamboree.

    I found out later that she was one of the few artists who stayed backstage and would not, or did not, want to come out to meet and greet the fans. Like I said, I just may have caught her on a bad day and she may not be that way, but that was my impression at that time.

    On another story, I remember the night Rhonda Vincent was hosting the midnight jamboree and she was late getting there. She came running into the lobby of the record shop in one of her long dresses with a mink coat on, with very little makeup. Let's just say she did not look her best. Of course the people in the record shop recognized her right away, and she kept walking, but she said she would come out and meet everyone after the show, and after she got herself, "fixed up". I thought that was a great line and she did follow through on her promise.

  3. I don't want this to sound the way it is going to sound, but here goes. Wilma Lee Cooper lives in Knoxville with a caretaker. I just find that interesting.

    As fans, we are entitled to respectful treatment. But we also owe it to them. I wonder how many performers have encountered fans who expected them to cater to their every whim. Lindsey Nelson told the great story of falling and cracking his ankle. As he writhed on the ground, someone came up and asked him to autograph a picture!

  4. I've met and talked to both Connie Smith and Marty Stuart and all their band members on more occasions than I can count and each of them has acted like they were excited to see us and talk as long as we would stand there. They have great senses of humor and I have some really fun pictures. On one occasion that I was at the Florida State Fair and in a line to see Connie, her line wound past Jim Ed Brown and I talked to him for probably 15 minutes. He is super nice.

  5. Glad that you had a good experience with Jim Ed. Like I said, I probably caught him on a bad day. And, I echo your comments regarding Connie Smith. I saw her in concert probably about 15 years ago up in Ohio, and in fact Johnny Russell and Jim Ed Brown were both on the same show. She was outstanding and spent about an hour after her performance greeting fans and signing pictures.

    What I will always remember about that day was that it was a Sunday afternoon and it was about 90 degrees and Connie was wearing a full length beautiful white dress. She looked like an angel. And, she never wilted in the heat.

    It used to be that a great place to meet Opry stars, besides the Ernest Tubb Record Shop was at Shoney's across from the Opryland Hotel. Many of the artists would go there for something to eat between their Opry appearances. That was when the Opry was doing the 2 shows on Saturday, from 6:30 until midnight. I know that it was not uncommon to see Charlie Louvin, The Whites and many others over there.