Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Billy Grammer (1925-2011)

The music industry and the Grand Ole Opry lost another legend as Billy Grammer passed away earlier today. Billy was a great Opry member who has been more or less retired in recent years. He was also one of the nicest men there was. The following biography on Billy is from "The Encyclopedia of Country Music", and was written by Walt Trott:

"Gotta Travel On" put singer Billy Wayne Grammer on the musical map. Adapted from a 150-year-old British folk tune, that October 1958 release landed him on a trio of charts: country (#5), pop (#4) and r&b (#14). In addition, the million-selling record was the first hit for Monument Records and its founder, record producer Fred Foster. A 1961 release, "Bonaparte's Retreat" b/w "The Kissing Tree," is estimated to have sold 500,000 units.

The eldest of thirteen children, Grammer began playing guitar at five and from an early age played locally with fiddler father Arch Grammer. Billy Grammer made his radio debut on WJPF-Herrin, Illinois, in 1940. After military service in World War II he worked for Connie B. Gay at WARL-Arlington, Virginia. There Grammer performed on Jimmy Dean's CBS-TV show (1957-58). Grammer joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1959, remaining there until he lost his eyesight.

He designed the Grammer Flat Top Guitar, donating his first model to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1969. The agile guitarist's sophisticated licks garnered numerous studio sessions with artists such as Eddy Arnold, Louis Armstrong, and Patti Page, and inspired other guitarists, such as Roy Clark. In 1965 Grammer had his own syndicated TV series.

Deeply religious, Grammer delivered the invocation for the Grand Ole Opry House opening on March 16, 1974.

That completes the biography. But I will add a correction. Despite his eyesite problems, Billy did not give up his Opry membership. He would appear at the Opry every once in a while, although after 2006, he did not appear again until he celebrated his 50 year as on Opry member in 2009, and he was always with his wife, Ruth, who usually stood by next to him on stage. (They were married in 1944). Even during his last Opry appearances, on Friday February 27 & Saturday February 28, 2009, when Billy was honored for his 50 years as an Opry member, Billy's voice was great as was his guitar playing. What I remember most about that Friday night, was that Billy did his great hit, "Gotta Travel On", and he extended it into about a 10 minute number. He was very gracious and really enjoyed himself that night.

In honor of Billy Grammer, here is the Opry line up from Friday February 27, when he was honored as a 50 year Opry member.

Friday February 27, 2009

8:00: John Conlee(host); Jimmy C Newman; Mel McDaniel; Del McCoury Band
8:30: Jimmy Dickens(host); Jesse McReynolds & The Virginia Boys; Jim Ed Brown; Mac Davis
9:00: Diamond Rio(host); Jack Greene; BILLY GRAMMER; Jean Shepard; Bobby Osborne & Rocky Top X-Press
9:30: Riders In The Sky(host); Jan Howard; Mike Snider; Lee Greenwood

God Bless Billy Grammer and his family

1 comment:

  1. We were blessed that his family shared him with the world. On stage, not only was he great, but he also seemed like a nice person. I have a friend who knows him and his family, and he was even nicer than THAT. A great singer and an even greater picker.

    Two stories. One is the first time he did the TV portion. I noticed that he sat on a stool and, when he finished, Jimmy Capps grabbed the stool and carried it as Billy walked off with his hand on Jimmy's shoulder--his vision has been bad for a long time. Anyway, he had unplugged years before and still hadn't plugged back in. Bill Anderson introduced him and Billy introduced Capps, Billy Linneman, and Harold Weakley, who had a snare drum, and Billy said, "Keep Joe Edwards off this stage," and I laughed because he had to mean that Joe played an electric guitar.

    The other is an old Porter Wagoner joke. He said he went fishing with Billy Grammer, Mel Tillis, and Grandpa Jones, and it was rough because, he said, Billy can't see, Grandpa can't hear, and Mel can't talk! I'm sure Billy got a kick out of it, and he leaves us all with warm memories. The word is warmth.