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.