Monday, August 22, 2011

Remembering Rod Brasfield

As I did a few days earlier with Sam McGee, I wanted to take another moment to remember another one of the Opry's stars from days gone by, and that is Rod Brasfield, who was born 101 years ago today, on August 22, 1910, in Smithville, Mississippi. John Rumble of the Country Music Hall of Fame wrote the following about Rod:

"From 1947 to 1958, Rodney Leon Brasfield was the premier comedian at the Grand Ole Opry and very likely in country music. He began his career as straight man for his brother Lawrence (known as 'Boob') during several years with Bisbee's Dramatic Shows, one of many such troupes that traversed the South during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Brasfield served one year in the army air corps during World War II, but returned to Bisbee's because of a nagging childhood back injury. Boob eventually wound up playing 'Uncle Cyp' on Springfield, Missouri's 'Ozark Jubilee' television program (1955-60).

While working the road in the Southeast, Brasfield was recruited by George D. Hay for the Grand Ole Opry in 1944. By this time, Brasfield was playing both comic and straight parts and became an immediate hit with the show's stage and radio audiences, especially with Opry Tent Shows. With his trademark baggy suit, button shoes, beat-up hat, rubbery face, and clacking false teeth, he could have the audience laughing before he spoke a word. Playing the dawling bumpkin to the hilt, he had a finely honed sense of timing and worked easily with host Red Foley on the Opry's NBC network segment beginning in 1947, when Brasfield replaced the Duke of Paducah in this regard. Much of their comedy contrasted the tall, broad-shouldered Foley with the diminutive Brasfield, who skillfully milked the running gags by deferentially addressing the singer as 'Mr. Foley' and complaining good-naturedly about the sweltering summer heat in the Ryman Auditorium.

Audiences instinctively sympathized with Brasfield's hapless character, a good ole country boy who was constantly unlucky. Like Minnie Pearl, with whom he frequently teamed with from 1948 until his death, he often poked fun at country life-always with good humor. Reinforcing his small-town identity, he took his moniker the Hohenwald Flash, from the name of a Tennessee town southwest of Nashville. Brasfield and Pearl's comic exchanges (in which they alternated in delivering punch lines-that is, neither was the straight man) were not only broadcast on the Opry radio show but also televised on a series of ABC network shows made by Opry acts in 1955 and 1956. In addition, Brasfield did comedy routines with singer-comedienne June Carter. Brasfield's role as Andy Griffith's sidekick in the 1957 film 'A Face in the Crowd' hinted at a film career that might have been. A victim of heart failure and a widely known problem with alcohol, Brasfield was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1987."

The following was written in the Grand Ole Opry book, published in 1952:

"Rod Brasfield, the teller of tall tales from Hohenwald, Tennessee, is one of the cleverest comedians in network radio. He is possessed of a quick wit, keen judgement of his audiences, and almost perfect timing. He is a true folk comedian, with roots deep in the lore and traditions of the South. As such he depends as much on his mannerisms and pantomime for laughs as he does on the jokes he tells. Ironically, the slack-jawed, simple appearing comic is a reformed tragedy actor who became a comedian by coincidence. Rod call it his 'doggone stubborn nature' that started him making people laugh. After eight years playing villains and a varied assortment of characters who came to no good end, Rod accepted the offer to play straight man for his brother 'Boob,' the comedian of the Brasfield clan. They played a tent show together. But it was mid-depression and times were tough. 'Boob' decided to quit. But not Rod. When 'Boob' walked out, Rob grabbed his red wig, placed it on his own head, and went out on the stage alone. It paid off. For the first time in his life, he was making people laugh with his own lines. Since that day, Rod has continued to garner laughs with a comedy routine that appeals to both the sophisticate and corn lover. His home town of Hohenwald, upon which most of his radio adventures center, is getting to be as famous as the Grinders Switch birthplace of his partner in comedy, Minnie Pearl. A veteran of show business from high class stock companies to burlesque, Rod began playing the Grand Ole Opry in 1944. A full bag of fan mail each week is evidence enought that a coast-to-coast audience approves Rod's last love-radio."

Rod's first Opry appearance was on July 15, 1944. After seeing and hearing him for the first time on the Opry, Minnie Pearl would say that Rod was the best comedian that she ever saw. Rod passed away on September 12, 1958, at the age of 48. The newspaper obituary said, "Brasfield, who had become a light-hearted part of Saturday night to families all over America as a star of the Grand Ole Opry, was stricken at 6:45 p.m. at his Dickerson Road trailer. He was DOA at St. Thomas Hospital."

Ott Devine was quoted as saying, "There will be no happy faces at the Ryman tonight. Rod never had a serious moment in his life before his audiences. But in private life he had his troubles."

Rod's Opry career was short, just 14 years and it ended long ago. Many of today's Opry fans have no idea who Rod Brasfield is. But in the Opry's history, he is one of the funiest people to have belonged to the Opry's cast, and that is saying a lot considering the Opry's long list of famous comedians who were part of the show.

I looked for an Opry line up that had Rod Brasfield included, and I found one from April 6, 1957. In honor of Rod Brasfield's 101st birthday, here is that line up:

7:30: Nabisco
Roy Acuff-It's Hard To Leave
Justin Tubb-Pepper Hot Baby
Oswald-Southern Moon
Roy Acuff-How Beautiful Heaven Must Be
Howdy Forrester-Forked Deer

7:45: American Ace
Old Hickory Singers-Theme
Faron Young-I'm Gonna Live Some Before I Die
Maybelle Carter-I Never Love But One
Benny Martin-Story Of My Life
Faron Young-Schrine Of St. Cecelia
Fiddle Tune-Bill Cheatham

8:00: Martha White
Flatt & Scruggs-Shuck A Little Corn
Porter Wagoner-I Should Be With You
George Jones-Don't Stop The Music
June Carter & Smokey-Comedy
Flatt & Scruggs-Is There Room For Me
Jean Shepard-I'd Rather Die Young
Carlisles-Rough Stuff
Possum Hunters-Fire In The Mountain
Porter Wagoner-I'm Day Dreaming Tonight
Flatt & Scruggs-Down The Road

8:30: Prince Albert
Marty Robbins-Singing The Blues
Ray Price-Crazy Arms
Ray Price-I've Got A New Heartache
Fiddle Tune-Sally Goodin
Marty Robbins-Knee Deep In The Blues
Chet Atkins-Back Home In Indiana
Minnie Pearl-Comedy
Ray Price-Crazy Arms
Marty Robbins-Singing The Blues
Hal Cook-Presentations
Ray Price-Crazy Arms
Fiddle Tune-Soldier's Joy

9:00: Jefferson Island Salt
Old Hickory Singers-Theme
Ernest Tubb-TBA
Johnny & Jack-Oh, Baby Mine
Stringbean-Herro Mr. Banjo
Wilburn Brothers-I'm Setting You Free
Kitty Wells-Searching
Ernest Tubb-Don't Forbid Me
Fruit Jar Drinkers-Bill Cheatham
Johnny & Jack-I Want To Be Loved
Stonewall Jackson-Don't Be Angry
Wilburn Brothers-Go Away With Me
Ernest Tubb-Daisy May

9:30: Stephens
Hank Snow-Calypso Sweetheart
Louvin Brothers-Dont' Laugh
Hawkshaw Hawkins-Sunny Side Of The Mountain
Chet Atkins-Limehouse House
Wilma Lee & Stoney-Cheated Too
Hank Snow-Marriage And Divorce
Ladell Sisters-Alabama Jubilee
T. Texas Tyler-Deck Of Cards
Crook Brothers-Eight Of January
Louvin Brothers-New Partner Waltz
Hank Snow-Put Me In My Trundle Bed

10:00: Wall-Rite
Roy Acuff-I Love Mountain Music
George Jones-Uh Uh No
Maybelle Carter-Gold Watch and Chain
Roy Acuff-I Saw The Light
Fiddle Tune-Money Music

10:15: Delited
Ray Price-Wasted Words
Jean Shepard-If You Can Walk Away
Carlisles-Lil Liza Jane
Ray Price-You Done Me Wrong
Fiddle Tune-Grey Eagle

10:30: Hester Battery
Marty Robbins-I Can't Quit
Flatt & Scruggs-What's Good For You Should Be Alright For Me
Justin Tubb-I'm A Big Boy Now
Marty Robbins-Same Two Lips
Fiddle Tune-Old Joe Clark

10:45: De Con
Faron Young-Sweet Dreams
Wilma Lee & Stoney-Loving You
Crook Brothers-Tennessee Wagoner
Faron Young-Until I Met You
Fiddle Tune-Soldier's Joy

11:00: Coca-Cola
Old Hickory Singers-Theme
Ernest Tubb-Will You Be Satisfield That Way
Johnny and Jack-A Pleasure Is Not A Habit In Mexico
Wilburn Brothers-Go Away With Me
June Carter and Smokey-Comedy
Ernest Tubb-God's Eyes
Kitty Wells-A Change Of Heart
Stonewall Jackson-Stop Your Naggin Hoss
Stringbean-Pretty Little Pink
Gully Jumper-New Five Cents
Johnny and Jack-All The Time
Ernest Tubb-Kansas City Kitty

11:30: Jamison Mattress
Old Hickory Singers-Theme
Hank Snow-Calypso Min From Juarez
Louvin Brothers-You're Running Wild
T. Texas Tyler-Remember Me
Hank Snow-Rumba Boogie

11:45: Sustaining
Fiddle Tune-Back Up And Push
Porter Wagoner-I Guess I'm Crazy
Hawkshaw Hawkins-If It Ain't On The Menu
Sam and Kirk-The Wagon Is New
Benny Martin-Look What You Have Done To Me
Fruit Jar Drinkers-Ida Red
Porter Wagoner-Uncle Pen

Wow, what a line up of stars. Just a couple of final notes. First, back in those days, the Opry printed in its program the songs that the artists were going to sing. Interesting!! And finally, for those who read Hank Snow's autobiography, you will remember where Hank wrote about trying to help T. Texas Tyler. At the time, T. Tex was having some serious drug and drinking issues and Hank was trying to help them out. He convinced Opry management to allow Tex on the Opry, after Hank got T. Tex to promise to stay straight and change his ways. Hank spent a lot of money on T. Tex and his wife and it worked for a while, but T. Texas left one day and just disappeared. He left Hank a note saying he was sorry and Hank came to find out that T. Tex was still doing drugs and drinking. Later, Hank found out he had settled on the west coast and had turned his life around and was trying to pay Hank back. Hank forgave him. You can read the whole story in his book, but this is the time period that Hank was helping T. Tex out and you can see that T. Tex was on Hank's Opry segment on this particular night.


  1. What a lineup indeed! Thanks for sharing that.

    Two of the funniest lines I've ever seen came from Rod Brasfield and Minnie Pearl. He asked to walk her home and then said, "I've never walked home with an experienced girl." She said, "Rod, I'm not experienced." He said, "You ain't home yet, either." The other one was when he wore a bathing suit and said, "Ain't it a fit?" She replied, "It looks more like a convulsion to me."

  2. From that same exchange:

    Minnie: "Rodley, what do you think about 'bathing beauties'?
    Rod: "I don't know, Minnie. I've never bathed one."

  3. It makes me want to go back and listen again to Ferlin Husky's "Country Music Is Here to Stay," just to hear him do Rod again.

  4. The Country Music Foundation has Rod's scripts for the Prince Albert portion of the Opry. Minnie always said he was the funniest man she ever knew. Thanks for posting.

  5. I remember Rodney & Minnie.I saw them on TV reruns years ago.I see them on Youtube nowadays.I remember one time on tv when Rod was working on a math problem with a chalk board.He looks at Goldie Hill,and says''Figures don't lie''.Great stuff.

  6. Not sure what he is to me, but it is nice to know that a relative was so dang funny.... It's also interesting to know that the name Leon still runs in our family....