Sunday, June 19, 2011

10 Artists That I Would Like To See As Opry Members

As I have been watching and listening to the Opry over the past several months, I have been seeing lots of guest artists on the Opry. In fact, so far in 2011, 125 different guests have performed on the Opry. Many of these guest artists have been newcomers to the business and were making their first Opry appearances, while others have been veteran artists who have played the Opry many times.

As the number of active Opry members has been decreasing, I have been thinking about who I would like to see as an Opry member. I have come up with a list of 10 who I think would make good Opry members. By good, I mean that based on their past performances, they would appreciate and understand the importance of being an Opry member and would actively support the show. In no special order, here is my list of 10:

1) Mandy Barnett. I know that the first thing some of you will say is that she has not had a hit record and is not a "real" star. But, I think this is a very talented young lady. She has one of the greatest voices in the world and each time I have seen her at the Opry, she has been well received. So far in 2011, she has appeared on the Opry 10 times. Only 17 of the 65 Opry members have had more appearances then her. She made 14 appearances last year. Currently, there is a shortage of active female Opry members. On many of the Opry's shows, there have been as few as 1 or 2 females scheduled. I think Mandy would be a fine Opry member and would add another talented female voice to the show.

2) Crystal Gayle. In keeping with the theme of the Opry needing some additional female voices, Crystal Gale is one of the most talented females in the history of country music. She was one of the top female artists in the 1980's and 1990's. She is still popular today and her concerts draw well. Last year, she made 4 Opry appearances and she has also appeared this year. The crowd loves her and I think she could be a female version of Mel Tillis. By that I mean an older artist, who's best part of their career is behind them, and now has the time to be a part of the Opry.

3) Oak Ridge Boys. I have seen the Oak Ridge Boys perform on the Opry at least a half dozen times. Each and every time they have performed "Elvira", they have received a standing ovation. They bring energy and excitement to the Opry and they appeal to all ages. For about the last dozen years, the "Boys" have made several Opry appearances each year. Last year it was 4 and so far this year, they have been on 5 times with several more appearances already scheduled. There are only 2 other country group that are Opry members, and those are The Whites and Diamond Rio. I happened to be up in the balcony at the Ryman Auditorium about a dozen years ago, during an Opry show, and Duane Allen was also standing in the back. I went over and said hi, and made the comment that the Oak Ridge Boys should be Opry members. Duane was very nice and said that they would love to be Opry members, but that they are just too busy. It would seem that with their career winding down, this would be the perfect time for them to join.

4) Rhonda Vincent. It seems like the question has been asked for about the last 5 or 6 years, why is Rhonda Vincent not a member of the Opry? She is one of the top female vocalists in bluegrass and with Alison Krauss the only female bluegrass artist on the Opry roster, it seems that this would be a great fit. She has made many Opry guest appearances and has always been well received. Last year her Opry appearances were down to 4, which is one of her lowest numbers. Many have speculated that her association with Martha White has hurt. That I don't know, but what I do know is that Rhonda should be an Opry member.

5) Dailey & Vincent. In keeping with the bluegrass theme, many of the Opry's bluegrass acts are now elder statesmen. Ralph Stanley and Jesse McReynolds are over 80 and Del McCoury and Bobby Osborne are not far behind. Even Ricky Skaggs is well over 50. It is time for some new bluegrass blood on the Opry and Dailey & Vincent should be the ones. Last year, they made 15 Opry appearances and so far in 2011, it has been 6. Bluegrass started on the Opry and the tradition of great bluegrass music needs to continue from the Opry stage. Dailey & Vincent would make great Opry members.

6) Rascal Flatts. They are one of the hottest groups in country music today and have been for the past several years. They are true country entertainers and they love the Opry. They have been making Opry appearances for the past several years and, as you would expect, the crowd loves them. And they are young. That is important as the Opry needs to continue to add younger members, but only younger members who will support the show. I believe that they would.

7) Jimmy Wayne. Not only is Jimmy a fine young talent with a couple of #1 records, he is an even better person. The Opry and WSM were one of his big supporters on his "Walk Across America." Last year, he made 9 Opry appearances and so far in 2011, it has been 6. When you see him on the stage of the Opry, the young girls love him and he always interacts with the audience. He understands the history of the show and would make a good member.

8) Gene Watson. This man should have been an Opry member 25 years ago. The Opry calls upon him many times and he always answers the call. And, he is considered one of the greatest country singers in history. He had 6 appearances last year, and 4 so far this year. His hit records from the 1980's are recognized by everyone the minute he starts with the first note. Much like Crystal Gayle, he would bring a veteran voice to the Opry, and one who would make the time to be at the show.

9) The Grascals. In keeping with the bluegrass theme, this group, while new in bluegrass, has made a huge impact during the past several years. Starting out as basically Dolly Parton's back up bluegrass group, they have moved to the front. They have made numerous Opry appearances over the last 5 years and they play a great selection of up-tempo bluegrass. Their Cracker Barrel CD is great. When I was at the Opry in April, they were there and it was my first time seeing them in person. I was hooked right away. They would not hurt the Opry one bit.

10) James Wesley. Some of you are probably saying, who? But, in my opinion, this is one of the great young talents in country music. He has made 6 Opry appearances so far this year, and even the great Jimmy Dickens has given him his personal endorsement. He is true country. And, in the time I saw him at the Opry, he seems to understand what the Opry is all about. As with Rascal Flatts, the Opry needs to continue to appeal to the younger fans, and I think James Wesley would fit the bill.

I know I left some off the list. Names such as Mark Wills, Elizabeth Cook, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Holly Williams, Restless Heart, Aaron Tippin, Joey+Rory and The Band Perry. My 10 that I would pick are probably not anyone else's 10. So, who else has an opinion. I would love to hear.


  1. Hi, Byron; Fred from Bismarck here.

    I'm sorry, somehow my response to your post on adds to the Opry got attached to your June 15 post on last weekend's Opry lineup.

    I am low-tech; could you correct?

    Thanks a lot.

  2. I would love to see Sunny Sweeney added as a regular member. I think it would mean a LOT to her.
    The list is great, and thanks for publishing it.

  3. Byron, I can't dispute a word you say. I might reorder the list, but this is a great list. I also can think of a few members who need to NOT be members.

  4. In response Michael, can we say Tom T, Reba, Travis and Alan for starters. All 4 would need a GPS to find the Opry House. I will give a pass to another of my no-show favorites, Clint, only because he actually was at the Opry earlier this year. No kidding!!! I was actually there and saw him. It was really him!!

    In all seriousness, we have covered this before and to sum it up, if you want to be an Opry member and you are still active in the business, you need to be at the Opry, at least several times each year. Most make the time. For those who no longer want to make the time, please step aside and make room for others.

  5. Hey Fred. I did see your comments. I am about as low-tech as you because as much as I would like to move them, I really can't figure out how. But, thanks for the comments. Always appreciated.

  6. To further comment on Fred's comments, the way country music has changed over the years, bluegrass music is about as true to country as you can really get today. The real new traditional country artists are getting no real air play anymore.

    Mike Snider is the closest thing to a string band on the Opry today. I know that it really doesn't fit in with today's Opry, but I agree that the Opry could use more of this. But, as much as we want to blame Gaylord, the consolidation of the string bands started long before Pete Fisher took over.

  7. I remember reading in a history of the Opry that Dee Kilpatrick, who took over from Jim Denny in 1956, eliminated the Gully Jumpers and Possum Hunters, consolidating them with the Crook Brothers and Fruit Jar Drinkers, on two grounds: one, that the original members were about gone; two, dropping them opened slots for younger, more exciting acts. It caused a stir, much as Pete Fisher's desecration of the Opry does today, and my thought is, back then, those groups took up maybe four minutes per show. THAT was so crucial?

    One thing we have to consider is how society has changed. Even the most rural of rural southerners (the prime Opry audience at one time) has access to entertainment they didn't have half a century ago. There's no true comedian on the membership list, but comedy has changed, too. We have to allow for and embrace change when it works. But not all change is good.

    Speaking of which, I wonder about T. Bubba Bechtol or someone like him. Not that I am all that thrilled with today's country comedians, but I might take him over James Wesley or one of the older acts on your list, Byron. Just trying to start a fight!

  8. I can't dispute your comments regarding comedy on the Opry. You think of Minnie Pearl, Rod Brasfield, Archie Campbell, Stringbean, Jerry Clower, Whitey Ford and Lew Childre. Some very good ones there. T.Bubba is a good one and he has done the Opry many times. It seems that Mike Snider has gotten more and more away from comedy as he has concentrated on his string band. Some weeks, the only comedy you get on the Opry is Jimmy Dickens or Jean Shepard.

    You are right, it was Dee Kilpatrick that consolidated the string bands. When he took over as Opry manager, there were 4. The Possum Hunters, the Crook Brothers, the Fruit Jar Drinkers and the Gully Jumpers. And at the time, each of the string bands had their own spot on the show. So he did propose that the groups be consolidated because, as Michael said, he had the thought that the groups weren't really the original groups that had started on the Opry, as some of the original group members had died.(That is the same argument that Pete Fisher made when he fired the 4 Guys in 2000).

    Herman Crook of the Crook Brothers was so angry that he went to WSM president Jack DeWitt to make a personal appeal to keep all 4 bands. He lost his argument.

    Here is what Herman had to say about it. "It shouldn't have changed. We had a lot of stuff on the Opry that didn't really belong. You need fiddles, guitars, banjos, and things like that. And play the old-time tunes and songs. That's what it's supposed to be. It made National Life, I'm telling you. It really made them money."

    I guess there would have been no real harm in allowing the string bands to continue. Maybe they could have rotated them as they did with the various square dance groups. They each had their own unique style about them. Now, as the Opry has continued to move away from its roots, there are none. To me, it certainly wouldn't hurt to have 1 on the Opry, to keep that historical perspective to the show.

  9. Just to clarify the comment on the 4 Guys. The original members had not died, but they did retire, specifically Sam Wellington and Brent Burkett.

  10. Here's my 10:

    1) Gene Watson
    2) Helen Cornelius
    3) Margo Smith
    4) Rhonda Vincent
    5) John Anderson
    6) Janie Fricke
    7) Lee Greenwood
    8) Billy Dean
    9) Suzy Boggus
    10) Kathy Mattea

  11. I can't complain with anyone you have listed.

    (from Byron)