Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Who Is Your Favorite Opry Member-Current & Former

On Saturday August 13, Vince Gill will be celebrating his 20th anniversary as an Opry member. While not as important as Bill Anderson's 50th anniversary that took place several weeks ago, it is still an important milestone for one of the Opry's most popular members. They are planning a big celebration that night with Martina McBride, Emmylou Harris, The Time Jumpers and John Anderson already scheduled, along with Vince's wife Amy Grant and his daughter Jenny Gill. It looks like it is going to be a big night and I already have my ticket and will be there for that show.

While thinking about Vince Gill and the fact that he has been part of the Opry's family for 20 years, I got to thinking on how Vince is important to the Opry today. Since joining the Opry, he has taken his Opry membership seriously and has challenged others to appear on the show and to support the show. I can remember one night when the Opry was on TNN, and Vince was on the backstage show with Lorrie Morgan. In the course of the discussion, Vince basically confronted Lorrie on the fact that even though she was an Opry member, she rarely appeared on the show. Let's just say that Lorrie looked very uncomfortable and mumbled some sort of answer. To say the least, she wasn't expecting that question from Vince that night.

Maybe that is one of the reasons why Vince Gill is my favorite current Opry member. I have always been a Vince Gill fan and think he is one of the finest ballad singers in country music today, and maybe in the history of country music. I have seen him on the Opry many, many times and he has always put on a great performance. And with Vince, you never know what you are going to get. One night it might be just him and his guitar, another night it might be bluegrass, and on other night, it might be his full band doing a fast country number. When I was at the Opry in April, he performed a song that he had not yet recorded called, "If I Die". It was one of the most emotional ballads I have ever heard. I hope that he records it some day. If you have not heard the song, there are videos of it on YouTube that you can watch.

As I said, Vince is my favorite current Opry member. But while thinking about it, I starting thinking, who are my favorite Opry members of all time? As I answered the question, I limited it to those Opry members that I have seen at the Opry or actually heard on the radio listening to the Opry. Naturally, I am too young to have heard Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Uncle Dave Macon, Jim Reeves and others. But as I made out my list, I thought of those Opry stars that gave me that extra excitment of listening to the show, those that I made sure to catch their segment or those who I would go to the Opry just to see them. In my mind, they were worth the entire ticket price. While some of these may not be the most famous Opry members in the Opry's history, they are my favorites.

1) Hank Snow is my all-time favorite Opry member. I always enjoyed his great singing and guitar work. When going to the Opry, I could not wait to see what outfit Hank would have on that night. And he had a regal look about him. One of the things about Hank that I enjoyed was that during his segment that he hosted, after singing his number, he would go back behind the announcers stand and do the introductions from that spot. It was as if he was saving center stage for the next performer. I had heard that at times he was not the easiest person to get to know, but then others have told me that he had a great sense of humor. Hank is number one on my list.

2) Roy Acuff is #2. I appreciated Roy more as he got older than I did in his younger days. And I always enjoyed the Smoky Mountain Boys. The were not the most talented musicians around, but they were loyal to Roy and they kept his sound pure. What I remember most about listening to Roy on the radio was that before TNN started televising the 7:30 segment, that was the segment that Roy usually hosted. Living in the eastern time zone and up in Ohio, that would make it 8:30, which was usually the time that the Opry would just be starting to come in on the radio as the sun went down. Roy was missing a few shows at that point as he started to have some heart problems, so when I played with the radio around 8:25, trying to get WSM in, I never knew for sure if Roy would be on or not. They would play the GooGoo candy theme, then you would hear Grant Turner say, "Here he is, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. The King of Country Music and the GooGoo man himself, Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys". Then he would kick in to the Wabash Cannonball and I would think that all was well with country music and the Opry, because Roy was on. While simple, I thought it was the greatest introduction ever.

3) Ernest Tubb is #3 on my list. And sorry to say, I never saw Ernest in person at the Opry. My first visit to the Opry was in December 1973 and Ernest was not there that week. And, while not hard to believe because of all the touring he did, he was never there when I did make the Opry. But I always enjoyed listening to him. What I thought was special about Ernest was the extra time he gave to his guests on his segments and he would spotlight a newcomer or members of his band instead of singing a second song. Of course, some of that was because of his voice issues that he had later in his career, but to me, he was the one country music and Opry star who really tried to help out a newcomer to the business.

4) Vince Gill is 4th on my list and the highest rank of the current Opry members.

5) Porter Wagoner is 5th on the list. I always thought Porter was perfect for the Opry. He gave it a real commitment and devoted his final years to the show. He helped to bring on new talent and after Roy Acuff passed away, Porter became "Mr. Opry". I don't think anyone really replaced him after he died. In his final years, he would always open the Friday Night Opry, and you could tell what kind of a night it would be based on how Porter started the show. He was a true showman who loved the Opry and appreciated everything it did for his career.

Those are my top 5. Other Opry stars that I would list as my favorites include Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Del McCoury, Jesse McReynolds, Connie Smith, Jim Ed Brown and Bill Anderson from the current cast. Don't ask my why, but I have always enjoyed Ray Pillow, and while he is only on the Opry once each month, I look forward to his appearances.

Of those who have passed away, Grandpa Jones was one of my favorites, especially toward the end of his life. Nobody will really know how many times he actually forgot things or acted like he could not remember names, but he was one of a kind. And much like I can't really explain why I am a big Ray Pillow fan, I have to admit that I really enjoyed Ernie Ashworth. Just something about him and the suit with the lips on it. I am sorry his Opry career ended the way it did. Del Reeves was also one of my favorites. He had so many popular country songs and always cared about the audience. And how can forget Minnie Pearl, Archie Campbell and Lester Flatt. How I miss them.

I do like the majority of the Opry's members, but the ones I have listed are my personal favorites. How about you? I would love to hear who you have enjoyed on the Opry over the years.


  1. Ooooh, this is tough. But here goes.

    1. Mr. Acuff, simply because I feel that he has to be #1. Also for the night that then-VP George Bush was on and he decided to bring him out at a different time than scheduled, with the explanation at the end that it was HIS segment.

    2. Hank Snow, for the reasons you mention. Also, he RAN his segment. I remember the story that Ernest Tubb once asked Marty Robbins why the Midnight Jamboree started so late and Marty said, "Hank Snow keeps running over at 11:00." Yeah, right. He really DID have a sense of humor, and one way was that when Billy Walker would be on his segment, he would always boost the microphone until it was about 10 feet high. His other one was that for the life of him, he could not say Lonzo, so it came out "Alonzo and Oscar," and then "Lammurmph and Oscar."

    3. Jimmy C. Newman. My mother's all-time favorite, and he sometimes messes up because he's thinking in French and translating it, so things come out a bit weird.

    4. Vince Gill, for all of the reasons you mention. He truly treasures the Opry.

    5. Bill Monroe. I really thought about this. I didn't get to see the earlier ones. But I also like to think of the night he stopped his segment to sing happy birthday to Vic Gabany, the audio man. Also because he never introduced the commercial, except for ONE time. He really was a character ... and, of course, the inventor of a form of music, and not many can say that.

  2. Fred in Bismarck here.

    What wonderful postings! I know I belong on this site because my No. 1 is Roy Acuff and No. 2 is Hank Snow. Both were great showmen as well as singer-writers, and showmanship is one thing most of the oldtimers had that I find lacking on the modern scene.

    I take a back seat to noone in my love of Bill Monroe's music, but I always marked him down just a little for his somewhat aloof style.

    The music had better be fun, or why are we all here?

    Porter was another with whom the presence was as wonderful as the music.

    Almost forgotten today: the wonderful team of Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper. You should have seen them in action at the top of their game -- and height of their popularity -- in the late 1950s! (I was lucky enough to catch them on a package show in my native Ohio.) They were also on for my single visit to the Opry, in May 1969.

    Nice to be on the same wave length with fans like you, Byron and Michael!

  3. Fred, I think choosing a favorite Opry member is like choosing a favorite child! But since I have cats and not children, maybe I'd better say cat .... Great to see you here--a great spot for true country music lovers (indeed, music lovers) to get together, and I'm grateful to Byron for doing this blog.

  4. Mike, I agree with your comment that Hank Snow "RAN" his segments. I was looking back at some of my older Opry programs and the notes that I have, and the one thing that I can say about Hank is that his segments always came in "on time". By that I mean if it was supposed to be a 30 minute segment that he hosted, the segment always lasted 30 minutes, no more and no less. And, all the guests got their songs in and Hank always got in his opening and closing number. He ran it like a traffic cop!!

    Compare that to Roy Acuff, who never paid attention to the clock. Almost every segment he hosted ran way over on time. I know of 30 minute segments that would last up to 45 minutes and he never hosted a 15 minute segment that lasted less than 20 minutes. And that included when he was hosting the televised segments!! But that was ok to, nothing wrong with it.

    I share Fred's thoughts on Bill Monroe. I think sometimes he acted like the audience wasn't even there. He would sing his songs and during the commercials, he would just stand up on stage not talking to anyone.

  5. Mike, I agree with your comment that Hank Snow "RAN" his segments. I was looking back at some of my older Opry programs and the notes that I have, and the one thing that I can say about Hank is that his segments always came in "on time". By that I mean if it was supposed to be a 30 minute segment that he hosted, the segment always lasted 30 minutes, no more and no less. And, all the guests got their songs in and Hank always got in his opening and closing number. He ran it like a traffic cop!!

    Compare that to Roy Acuff, who never paid attention to the clock. Almost every segment he hosted ran way over on time. I know of 30 minute segments that would last up to 45 minutes and he never hosted a 15 minute segment that lasted less than 20 minutes. And that included when he was hosting the televised segments!! But that was ok to, nothing wrong with it.

    I share Fred's thoughts on Bill Monroe. I think sometimes he acted like the audience wasn't even there. He would sing his songs and during the commercials, he would just stand up on stage not talking to anyone.

  6. Byron, I remember one televised portion where Mr. Snow was looking at Hairl Hensley and they were holding up fingers so he could figure out how much time he had. It's interesting to me that when TNN started televising, Bill Anderson and Jim Ed Brown got some extra hosting, I think because Hal Durham felt their TV experience would be valuable. I can imagine Hank Snow grumbling each time he had to come in early! But he did indeed time those things.

    I understand what both of you are saying about Bill Monroe, and I should distinguish between "favorite" and "best." Also, I felt a little funny about listing someone I didn't get to see, at least very much, until I saw some recent clips. Has anyone been more beloved by the audience--and the feeling was mutual--than Marty Robbins? He loved going back and forth with them. Mr. Monroe didn't, but at least he was what he was--no phoniness about him in that regard.

  7. Fred again. Yes, Bill Monroe thought you should be there for the music, like he was. And Michael is right: He wasn't going to pretend anything he didn't feel, which is to his credit.

    After 42 years I can't remember any longer if Bill was on the Opry I attended. But I saw him on TV quite a few times in the old days, and there was always that formality or stiffness. His Blue Grass Boys always looked like they were at a visitation too -- following, no doubt, the wishes of the boss.

    I have a CD of a Monroe show from the 60s or 70s -- in Detroit, I think -- and that was also all business.

    He did seem to loosen up some in his last years, per the TNN Opry, doing that dance shuffle during instrumental numbers, etc. And my bottom line on Bill Monroe will always be love and admiration for his music.

    One of the things I liked so much about Western Swing -- about Bob Wills in particular -- is that the showmanship never stopped. Tommy Duncan could be singing the most heartrending lyric, and there would be Bob in the background, muttering something like "that's sad" or "that's terrible."

    Good old country music! We were so lucky to have it, in all its dazzling variety of styles and people.

  8. Amen, Fred! By the way, you'll remember Bobby Bare's show on TNN--just a laid-back visit. He said that when Mr. Monroe arrived with his band, they knocked on the studio door at THE exact moment they were to be there, and walked in single-file, staring straight ahead, dressed up, with their instruments in place. Well, that's who he was, and at least he didn't try to be something different. I think back to when Garth Brooks was starting out. Now, I think Garth is a great entertainer, but he would break guitars and do all kinds of crazy stuff. I remember thinking, if he's performing when he's 70, is he going to do that? If yes, he'll look awfully silly. If not, it will look to fans who have seen old clips that he can't entertain any more.

  9. The is Byron. For some reason I cannot comment on my own blog right now. The joys of computers.

    Anyways, I remember going to a Friday Night Opry show in January 1992 and Bill Monroe was hosting the first segment, which was supposed to be 30 minutes. He had 2 guests, Skeeter Davis and John Conlee. So you would assume that each artist would do 2 songs, right? Well, in this case, no.

    Bill was introduced and did an opening bluegrass number. Then they went to a Cracker Barrel commercial, the segment sponsor. Bill then introduced Skeeter Davis, who did her usual, "End of the World", and she was done. John Conlee came out next, did one song that I don't remember, and he left. Then Bill gathered up his bluegrass boys, did a quick final number, and he was gone and the curtain was down.I don't know if he had a curfew that night, or another show somewhere else, but he raced right through his segment. The whole thing took less than 15 minutes.

    After that, they ran about 5 minutes of Cracker Barrel commercials, which I assume were the commercials that Bill skipped over. Del Reeves was the host of the next segment and when the curtain was up and he was introduced, he made a joke, saying he was glad he had left his house early that night.

    It is moments like this that make the Opry special. You never know what you are going to see on any given night.

  10. Briefly Anonymous Byron, that story is priceless. I believe you mentioned the time Grandpa Jones ran long before the TV segment and ran by with a mischievous look on his face. Planned? Hm.

    Actually, Mr. Monroe may have thought it was supposed to be a 15-minute segment. Now, who would have the nerve to tell Bill Monroe he was wrong!

  11. You are so right. Like I had written before, I can remember one night on TNN, back in the days when they did the backstage show for a half hour and then a half hour of the Opry.

    Anyways, when it was time for the Opry, they introduced Keith Bilbrey, who was the announcer for Opry Live, and he was standing backstage. You could still see the curtain up from the previous segment. Keith was setting up the show, like he always did, and then you could see that he was trying to kill time. For some reason, I seem to remember that Buck White was standing by him and they exchanged a few words.

    After several minutes, you could see the curtain go down, hear the applause, and the you saw Grandpa Jones walk in front of the camera, with a funny smile on his face!!

    You could also see performers and stage hands running very quickly on stage and it couldn't have been more than 30 seconds that they curtain went up.

    I know that happened a few times and it wasn't until the Opry was on GAC that they really started pushing the host of the segment before the televised one to get done on time. Of course, in those later GAC days, it was almost Jimmy Dickens hosting the segment before the televised one.

    (from byron)

  12. I can remember Dickens hurrying up the 6:30 segment and warning everybody--all of them did this at one time or another--that they were about to be on television, so if they were beside somebody they shouldn't be seen with, it was time to move. I think Bill Monroe often hosted the 6:45 portion before TNN, and if anybody would get off on time--or early, as discussed above--it was him!

  13. Jimmy was always pretty funny with that statement. I know in the GAC days, that Pete Fisher and one of the stage hands would talk to Jimmy during the final commercial break, telling him exactly how many minutes he had. The house lights would come on when it was time for him to finish, so I think that was his clue. They also tried to end that segment about 3 or 4 minutes before the televised portion started so that they could get the stage ready for television.

  14. And then I think of the story of when NBC starting broadcasting the Prince Albert show on radio and asked about rehearsals and how they would get on and off on time. Mr. Acuff said they play however much of a fiddle tune they need. NBC made them come in and rehearse, which happened with GAC's telecast. Minnie Pearl said it was a real pain to have to make sure they were in even earlier from the road than normal to do the show.

  15. This is Barry, not anymouse, but Blogger has apparently lost it's mind.

    Well, you knew I was going to pipe up on the subject sooner or later. Having worked in and around the Opry House for a number of years I got a unique perspective on the show and the people who were part of it…although it’s been well over 25 years and most of the people I knew have passed on or have retired. I always enjoyed seeing and hearing Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff, Hank Snow, Bill Monroe and the others but looking back at the people that were always my “favorites” it seems heavily skewed toward the people who were the best at making me laugh. So here’s my list.
    1. Minnie Pearl. I don’t know of anyone who was more loved and respected not just within the country music industry but in the Nashville community as a whole. When you hear people talk of country music’s “legends” you hear a lot of glowing praise usually followed by “but….”. They all seemed to have had their quirks, their moments of insanity and ego, and are described as “different”. You don’t get that with Minnie. What you saw with Minnie was what you got. In real life she always said that “Minnie Pearl is much nicer than Sarah Cannon” but I don’t know if I agree with that assessment. I got to see her quite often in backstage situations and she was just as warm and friendly to the average person as she was with the president of the United States. She always told me I was cute…a badge of honor until I realized show told EVERYBODY they were cute! She was “high class” all the way around. As a performer, her comic timing was impeccable. You knew what the jokes were going to be….she’d been telling the same ones for 40 years. A laugh would sweep from one side of the Opry House to the other and by just lifting an eyebrow Minnie could make it sweep back across the room.
    I’ve only seen a couple of other performers (Red Skelton and Johnny Russell) who could stand on a stage in front of 5,000 people with nothing but a microphone and work that crowd that way. Even though she’s been gone for 15 years, hearing her voice on records or videos brings a very warm feeling.

    2. Marty Robbins. Another legend that I had the good fortune to meet and spend some time with. Everybody know the 11:30 show at the Opry was always an “event” when Marty was there. No one has ever owned that segment the way Marty did. He always dressed like an entertainer and always carried himself like an entertainer. ..but I never knew him to pull the “star” routine. During my last two summers of high school, I spent part of my summers working as a “gopher” for a concert promoter in Nashville who booked the talent for a number of county fairs around the Midwest and also provided the running crew for the shows. We had Marty and his band booked for a number of those shows and one morning I was passing by the coffee shop at the hotel and noticed a lone figure having a late breakfast and it was Marty. I went up just to introduce myself and let him know that my job was to help out with anything he might need during his stay. He invited me to sit down and join him and spent the next hour or so just chatting about everything under the sun. No one else was in the room except the waitresses who he signed autographs for and was very kind…no cameras, no reporters, no one of any “importance” and yet he treated everyone as if they were the most important person in the world. His private demeanor was the same as his public demeanor and although I’ve heard that he had quite a few personality quirks putting on airs was apparently not among them. The band he carried with him in his final years were a bunch of characters, too, and I always enjoyed getting to work for as well.

  16. Continuing on....

    3. Lonzo and Oscar. They were the first Opry act that I became a big fan of and the last of the “baggy pants comedians”. Oscar was an old pro at the comedy game and even though their routines were as old as the hills he made them fun every time. “Charming Betsy”, “Hole In The Bottom of the Sea”, “I’m Movin’ On #2” and their version of “Green, Green Grass of Home” are comedy classics and it’s sad that those routines aren’t generally available for public consumption (although I do have a version of “Hole In The Bottom of the Sea” recorded live at the Ryman, with Johnny Sullivan as Lonzo, in my collection that I like to pull out from time to time that’s a good representation of the routines that Oscar and Dave Hooten did in the last years of their career. Oscar's still alive and kicking and still a funny old man!

    4. Grandpa Jones. Just about everybody in Nashville has a Grandpa Jones story and most of them are true. His brand of music was always unique and I was introduced to a lot of the old-time songs and performers like Cousin Emmy, Molly O’Day and the Delmore Brothers from listening to him. I think that some of his “forgetfulness” was a put on because he was a very smart man. But when it did manifest itself it led to some really funny moments. I still remember the night he introduced Marion Worth as “Miss Martha White”. Well, the initials WERE the same! His famous temper, however, was genuine. His daughter-in-law once told me about the time he had purchased a new motor home to travel in but kept hitting his head on an overhanging cabinet whenever he climbed on. He would fume about it every time until one day it happened and the next thing the family was treated to was the sight of Grandpa taking a chainsaw and removing the offending cabinet with it!

    More to come.....

  17. I honestly think Google is trying to give me hypertension!

    5. Bill Carlisle. Another of the old-time entertainers who catalog of Opry songs I always enjoyed. Of course, he made more of an impact when you saw him in person but even on the radio you could tell that everyone on the stage was having fun when he was around. “Leave That Liar Alone” and “Same Old Tale” were always my favorites. But I am also one of the lucky people who had a chance to see the Bill Carlisle-Marshall Barnes vaudeville show that took place backstage on Saturday nights. Bill would be at one end of the long backstage hallway and Marshall would be at the other and you could hear them all over the backstage area. (“Marshall!” “Shut up, Bill, I’m talking to somebody over here!” “Marshall!” “SHUT UP BILL! I’M BUSY!” “Marshall!”…..) I kind of get the impression that that sort of backstage nonsense is long gone at the Opry.

    6. Archie Campbell. Long forgotten by most present day Opry fans but he was always pulling out some old routine and dusting it off. His son, Phil, was often his foil. “Archie’s Little Black Book” is available on record but one of my favorites was “Archie and the Insurance Salesman” which I don’t believe exists anywhere unless the Opry has an archived tape of it somewhere. Fortunately, there is a lot of his material from Hee Haw and a couple of other television appearance available on YouTube and I think that he was a versatile enough performer to merit a place in the Hall of Fame some day.

    7. Johnny Russell. He was one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. Offstage, he rarely told a joke but he had some of the funniest stories of anyone in the music business. It’s a shame that he never wrote a book. Before he became an official member of the Opry he would often be backstage just hanging out. From time to time, Roy Acuff would bring him on to fill up some time but most of the time he was just there to visit and he was popular with everyone. He wasn’t a tall man but he was an imposing figure and pretty much “held court” any time he was in a room. In the mid 90s I was working my second stint at Opryland and walked over to one of the theatres to say hi to a friend who was in one of the shows. Johnny was there taking a break from being the “Opry Star of the Day” and had everybody in the room rolling on the floor with some long, convoluted story about Lester Flatt putting his band off the bus on some highway in the middle of the night. I don’t even remember the story but I remember thinking that somebody should write some of this stuff down. It’s sad that some of the best stories in Nashville have gone to the grave with those who were involved.

  18. 8. The Willis Brothers. I always thought they had a unique sound and always seemed to be having fun onstage. Everyone remembers the commercials that they did live for Kelloggs Corn Flakes, too. Apparently, they were all real characters and although I only saw them on the Opry once before Guy and Skeeter passed on, they were always one of the acts that I looked forward to hearing every week.

    9. The Osborne Brothers. I have more Osborne Brothers albums in my collection than any other group (except perhaps Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton). Their driving sound, their harmonies and the sheer depth of their catalog have always made them one of my favorite groups. Sonny Osborne rarely played anything exactly the same way twice which always interested me as a musician and I enjoy hearing them live more than I do on record. It’s nice to hear Bobby on the show today and he still sounds great even at his age!

    10. Connie Smith. What else can I say about my favorite female singer that hasn’t already been said. She’s got so many great songs to choose from and every one is a gem. For a long time she did gospel songs exclusively at the Opry and I was glad when Roy Acuff finally talked her into doing her old hits again.

    11. Rod Brasfield. Yes, I know. He died several years before I was even born. But I’ve seen enough video and heard enough radio transcriptions of his Opry shows to feel like I know his work. There is even some of his material available on record…although they are very rare and hard to find. His “double comedy” with Minnie Pearl in the 40’s and 50’s is some of the best work ever. It’s a shame that most people aren’t familiar with him. And based on his work in the film, “A Face In The Crowd” I think he might have had a very good career as a character actor in movies and television had he lived.

    12. Grant Turner. Not technically an Opry star but he was just as important to the show as any superstar singer was. I’ve been very pleased to come across some snippets of his television appearances on YouTube and it always takes me back to the first times I ever heard the Opry. That folksy way of announcing the show and reading the commercials was a throwback to the golden age of the show. I had the pleasure of visiting with him several times at the Opry. He was from Abilene, Texas, and I went to college for 2 years in Abilene so we always had a lot to talk about. A very nice man and no one has ever really taken his place behind the announcer’s podium.
    So there’s my list. At least the first part of it, because Bob Luman, Jean Shepard, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, Curly Fox, The Duke of Paducah, The Crook Brothers, Stringbean, Justin Tubb, Bill Anderson, The Crook Brothers and Sam & Kirk McGee are all there as well. I tend to go back to the Opry of the 70’s and 80’s when we still had many of the links to the Opry’s past and the Opry still seemed to have a bright future. I worry a bit about the show these days. I mean, if you can’t even fill the house up once on Saturday night then something is not right….even with a huge, slick marketing department backing it up.

    Apparently Google won't let me post as anything but Anonymous so I think I'll put on my top coat and sunglasses and go lurk in an alley somewhere.


  19. Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Vince Gill, Little Jimmie Dickens, Johnnie Russell, Marty Robbins, Bill Anderson, Porter and the Wagonmasters, Marty Stuart, in no particular order!
    They somehow simply take (took) over the show.

  20. Barry, great list, and I loved your stories about them. Ralph Emery said that when he started out, a lot of artists claimed to be his friends, but the two who proved it over time were Ferlin Husky and Marty Robbins. As I think about it, how would you like to be on a deserted island with THOSE two? Hank Snow told of the time he and Marty were going to meet to plan albums of each other's songs, and Minnie Blanche was sick, so Marty borrowed a guitar, sat on the floor of her room, and sang to her for 90 minutes. What a guy!

  21. Barry, thanks for your comments and recollections of the comedians. Of the ones you mentioned, I agree that Archie Campbell is vastly underrated. A good argument could be made that Archie deserves to be in the Country Music Hall of Fame, and he did as much as anyone to help make Hee Haw a success.

    And I agree with your comments on Johnny Russell. I think I have told the story before, but it bares repeating. One fall day, my daughter, who was about 14 or 15 at the time, and I were at Opryland. We bought some food to eat and sat down in one of the pavilions. As we were eating, a gentleman asked if he could sit next to us and it was Johnny Russell.

    Obviously, I knew who he was right away, and as we started talking, he turned the conversation to between himself and my daughter. He was more interested in what she was doing in school, how she enjoyed Nashville and other topics, then in talking about himself or telling funny stories. He was very sincere and unassuming. In fact, a couple of people came over to get autographs and pictures and he politely asked them to wait until he was done talking to his "new friends." I always remembered that and thought what a great and humble man he was.

    I think that because comedy is such a little part of the Opry today that people forget some of the great comics from years ago. I also think that they sometimes get a bum rap, because of the way most of them dressed. That is one reason why I think Archie Campbell deserves some mention because he refused to dress like that.

  22. Byron, you have hit a soft spot. Archie was one of the key cogs in Hee Haw, including, I believe, making it appeal to people in Nashville, which isn't always kind to outsiders. He did indeed end the "rube" outfit for comics--and later, Dave Hooten talked Oscar Sullivan into stopping it. Archie said he admired Ferlin Husky's mohair jackets and thought, it's the material that matters, not the costume. Let's also note: not only was he funny, he did beautiful recitations ("Trouble in the Amen Corner"), and he could write, too. He co-wrote "When They Ring Those Golden Bells."

  23. Right again Mike!!!! In Sam Lovullo's book, "Life In The Kornfield", he writes a lot of Archie's role involving Hee Haw.

    He writes in the book that Archie was responsible for getting a lot of the Nashville talent to appear on Hee Haw. He writes in the book that at the time Hee Haw started, Archie was working weekends at his theater in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which is why he rarely appeared on the Opry during the summer months.

    Sam also goes into some of the writing that Archie did and how he created some of the characters that were on the show.

    Sam also tells a couple of great stores about Archie and his hairpiece:

    "Video technology allowed us to run dogs on camera chasing the joke teller off-camera. It was our way of putting down the terrible joke teller. We'll, one day, Archie was telling a joke during the sketch and when he finished, in his haste to get out of the way of the 'oncoming dogs', he fell flat on his rear end. The 'dogs' went completely over him, and when he finally picked himself up, his hairpiece was gone! A short time later, he came to the control room, very upset. 'Now chief,' he said, 'I want to tell you something. I know how you like to edit the show, keeping all the mistakes and break-ups in. I just want to tell you, if you use that last take I'm going to sue you!'"

    Sam went on to say that Archie demanded that the tape be destroyed, saying, "I don't want anyone seeing me without my hairpiece. Not even my wife knows that I wear one!"

    Sam also said that right before he died, he wanted to go with Chet Atkins to see Archie, but Archie told him not to come because he didn't want Sam to see him without his hair!!

  24. I'm right once a year, Byron. As for the hairpiece, Archie's hairline was a bit up there, and then suddenly it was lower. So if Pudge didn't know he wore a hairpiece, she wasn't looking!

    Then there was my mother's classic line. She always insisted that Hank Snow didn't wear a hairpiece. She said with his money, if he needed one, he would buy a better one!

  25. You know Mike, you bring up the interesting topic of hairpieces and it got me to thinking, what Opry members have worn them over the years. We know of Archie Campbell and Hank Snow. The other one that I think of is Billy Walker and I am not 100% positive, but I think that for a few years, Jack Greene and even Jimmy C Newman may have worn one.

    But, hands down, Hank Snow has got to be the worst in history. I mean, why in the world would you wear something that bad? And it went from black to silver as he aged. Now, I will say that the one he wore during his final years looked the most natural and actually made him look good. But the others? And you know, he had to have heard the people talking about him behind his back.

    Now, many of the female artists have worn wigs. During the 50's and into the 70's, it was the style, as set by Dolly Parton and so many others.

  26. Barry, one other comment. You brought up Grant Turner. You are right, he did such a great job and he was the 'voice' of the Opry. Over the years, he worked with other great announcers at the Opry, but he is the one you always remember. And his introductions were so simple. Nothing fancy.

    And I second your opinion on the Coopers. They were so good I think people forget. Not only did they have great harmony, but they had great songs.

  27. Byron, it's funny that nobody really talks about wigs on women. But Dolly has said she has incredibly fine hair and never wears a wig at home. I've seen the clip where Mack Magaha was dancing around and took out her wig. But the great story is still of when Chubby Wise supposedly caught Hank Snow's piece on the end of HIS bow. Reportedly Snow turned out of the spotlight, reached up, grabbed his hairpiece, put it back on, looked at Chubby and said, "You're fired," and went back to work. I'm sure he wasn't really fired, since they were together for so long.

    Some of them, I am sure, grew their hair out and combed it over. I remember Jack Greene's hairpiece and thought it looked pretty silly. In Newman's case, I THINK he was doing a combover and not a rug, but I couldn't guarantee it.

    In the other direction, my mother used to mutter about Mr. Acuff and his band. He had that gorgeous wavy hair in his later years, Oswald had perfect white hair, and Larry McNeely actually had a great head of hair. In baseball, I remember Joe Garagiola, who knows something about hair and the lack of it, saying of pitcher Andy Messersmith that his daughter called him a DDG. What's that? Drop Dead Gorgeous.

  28. Fred in Bismarck here -- lovin' this thread!

    Funny we can have gone on for so long without anyone mentioning George Jones. I wanted to mention, for the benefit of any fayfarers who might be interested, the appearance of a new 3-CD import on the Possom that is simply outta sight.

    I have been waiting for it for years ... his COMPLETE recordings for Starday and the brief Starday-Mercury collaboration. The name is "Ragged but Right: The Starday Years Plus ..." I have always felt this was Jones' very best music, before he got smoothed out by Billy Sherrill and others.

    What a relief to the ears he was in the pop-corrupted latter 1950s!

    At last I can retire, with honors, my hissing old LP ("New Star of the Grand Ole Opry") and some weary 45s.

  29. Fred, I love the Possum, and always will. But truthfully, he hasn't been a very good Opry member. If he shows up once a year, we're lucky, and I admit I'm very disappointed in him for that. Also, that sure ain't a rug! Although ragged might describe some of the hairpieces we've been discussing here.

  30. It's funny that George Jones is mentioned and while I do agree that George is a great country singer, and I have seen him in concert twice, I also agree that he is not a very good Opry member. I also will say that his song, "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes", is one of the great ones, but then when Roy Acuff and the others passed away, George sure wasn't the one filling their shoes.

    Now, back to seeing George in concert. I have to tell you, the first time I saw him he was great. He covered almost all of the hits, plus he autographed his biography for me. I have never met George, but I have met Nancy twice. Once at RCA in Nashville, when she just happened to stop by when I was there, and then once at that concert. She was the one that got George to autograph the book. The second time I saw George, he had his fiddle player play a lot of fiddle tunes, so I got the impression that his throat must have been hurting as he cut his singing short. But, he was still very good.

    I will have to check out the new import CD on my next trip to Nashville in a couple of weeks. I am sure they will have it at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, so I well get their opinion of it.

    Even though George may not be the greatest Opry member in the world, he is still one of the greatest country music singers in history. And can you believe that he will be 80 years old in about 45 days. I can't believe he has lived this long!!

  31. Oh and Fred, thanks again for contributing. I love your comments. Keep them coming.

  32. What's the old joke? If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself? And I'll agree: one of the greatest country singers who ever lived, and maybe the greatest.

  33. I find it amazing sometimes that of the performers from that era, the 2 that are still alive and totally suprise me are George Jones and Jerry Lee Lewis. The way both of them abused themselves just causes me to shake my head. And even with that, they both are still active and touring today and are incredible talents.

  34. fayfare,
    I am having trouble joining your group. I have a gmail account that I do not use. I also have an att account that I dO use.........your system does not want me to join......it keeps kicking me back......

    please help me join.....I am Grant Turner's only child:
    Nancy Turner Brown
    username=Jesse's Girl
    I will choose the password of turner1953
    Thank you.........I look forward to hearing from you and getting blogs on my att.net address.

  35. Hi Nancy, thanks for joining in. I look forward to your comments. I know you have heard it before, but your Dad was such a great part of the Opry.

    I sent you an email and I hope you received it. I did write that I am not a real computer person, but I would try the best I could. But, please feel free to leave your comments or email me. Many do. If any of my readers can help you out, I hope that they will comment on it. Take care