Saturday, October 15, 2011

Remembering Doyle Wilburn

It was on Saturday October 16, 1982 that Doyle Wilburn passed away. This great Opry star performed with his brother Teddy as the Wilburn Brothers. Doyle's given name was Virgil Doyle Wilburn and he was born on July 7, 1930 in Hardy, Arkansas. Doyle, along with his siblings Teddy, Lester, Leslie and Geraldine, first performed publicly on Christmas Eve in 1937. This performance took place on a street corner in Thayer, Missouri. They were brought to the attention of Roy Acuff, who brought them to Nashville in 1940 to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. However, child labor laws prevented them from joining the cast.

The story on how Roy Acuff brought them to the Opry is an interesting one. Roy was always looking for new acts to bring to the Opry and through his touring and recording, he was known as one of the hardest workers at the show. The Wilburn's were dirt poor during the depression. Their father could not work due to his poor health. He and his wife decided to make the family into a musical group and he ordered instruments from the Sears catalog, built a stage in the backyard, and had the kids practice. That let do their first street appearance in 1937. The local merchants got behind the children and raised money to send them to a talent contest in Jonesboro. They won first prize. They performed everywhere and Pop Wilburn borrowed money against his home to buy a $100 car to travel in. In 1939, their home burned down and the family had to live in a chicken house and then a tent. Then a year later, came the big break and Roy Acuff.

The Wilburn Children were playing at a radio station in Dothan, Alabama, when Pop heard that a Birmingham radio station was having a talent contest that would feature Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe and some other Opry acts. On the way to the contest, a tire blew out on the car and the family arrived too late. As Teddy remembered, "My dad situated us at the side door of the auditorium and when Roy came out Pop had us performing the song, 'Farther Along'. Roy stood there watching us and with tears in his eyes." Roy had the children come up on stage with him that night and had them sing the song and it brought the house down. When Acuff got back to Nashville, he told David Stone, WSM program manager, about the Wilburns. Stone sent them a telegram to come to Nashville for an audition. They rushed to Nashville, did the audition and got hired at the Opry. Mail came in by the sacksful and the fans loved the children. But, the child labor laws were very restrictive at the time and after trying to work around them, it got to much for the Opry and after six months, they had to leave. The Wilburn Children left Nashville, but continued on with their career.

After signing a recording contract with Four Star, the four brothers went to Shreveport, Louisiana, where from 1948 until 1951, they were featured on KWKH radio and the Louisiana Hayride. In 1951, Doyle, along with his brother Teddy, were drafted and both served in the Korean War. One interesting side note to their time in Shreveport is that the brothers invited an unknown Webb Pierce to be a guest on their radio program, which led to Webb's career-launching Louisiana Hayride stint, and eventually Doyle and Teddy played guitar and bass on his first Decca recording session.

After being discharged from the military, Doyle and Teddy, by then a duo, toured with Pierce, who was by then a member of the Opry and one of its bigger stars. On November 10, 1956 Doyle and Teddy became members of the Grand Ole Opry. The had also signed a recording contract with Decca Records.

During the late 1950s and 1960s, the Wilburn Brothers recorded such hits as "I'm So In Love With You," "Trouble's Back In Town," "Roll, Muddy River," "Let Me Be The First To Know", and "Somebody's Back In Town." They also displayed strong songwriting talents. The brothers, who were known for their vocal harmonies, also back up other artists's recordings.

The Wilburn Brothers were also successful businessmen. They owned and operated the Sure-Fire music publishing firm and the Wil-Helm Talent Agency. That talent agency was also co-founded with Don Helms. While Sure-Fire published early songs by Loretta Lynn, whose Decca contract was negotiated by the Wilburns, Wil-Helm booked top country acts such as Jean Shepard, Sonny James and the Osborne Brothers. In 1963 the Wilburn Brothers also began a highly successful syndicated TV show, which featured Loretta Lynn, who had been part of their road show in the 1960s. The program, which can still be seen today on RFD-TV, was one of the first syndicated programs to be in color. After Loretta left the show in the early 1970s, the duo signed 15-year-old Patty Ramey, who appeared on their TV shows and toured with them on her summer vacation. Patty Ramey would go on to have a very successful career as Patty Loveless. Their television show lasted until 1974.

Doyle was married for a brief time to fellow Opry member Margie Bowes. In 1982, he passed away from cancer at the age of 52. His brother Teddy would continue on as a solo artist and Opry member, and would remain with the show until his death in 2003. Doyle is buried in the Nashville National Military Cemetery, next to his brother Teddy.

Despite their great success as a duo, the Wilburn Brothers never had a #1 record. Even without having that number one record, there are many people, including myself, who feel that the Wilburn Brothers should have long ago been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I know that several times, including last year, they have been finalists. One reason on why they have not been elected might have to do with their dispute with Loretta Lynn that ended up in the courts. The Wilburn Brothers held the publishing rights to Loretta's songs, including any that she would write well after she left the Wilburn's show. As a result, Loretta quit writing songs, which many feel led to her career dropping off in the 1980s, as most of her success came from songs that she wrote. The dispute was so bitter and the Wilburns were so unwilling to settle, that the whole issue ended up in court, resulting in bad publicity for the Wilburns. The result of this is that many feel Loretta has used her influence with the hall of fame votes to help keep the Wilburns out. I would hope that this is not the case and that over time the bad feelings would heal and the Wilburns will eventually get in.

In honor of Doyle Wilburn, I am going to present 2 Opry line ups. The 1st is from Saturday October 2, 1982, which was the last appearance of Doyle on the Grand Ole Opry. The 2nd line up that I am going to post is from October 16, 1982. Doyle had died earlier that day, at 9:30am that morning. In honor and memory of his brother, Teddy performed on the Opry that night, which was also was also the week of the annual disc jockey convention in Nashville. It would be the following week that the Opry would have it's annual birthday bash.

So to remember Doyle, here is the Opry line up from Saturday October 2, 1982, Doyle's last Opry appearance.

1st show:
6:30 Mrs. Grissoms
4 Guys (host): I Don't Want Your Love Forever
Justin Tubb: Lonesome 7-7203
4 Guys: Catfish John

6:45 Rudy's
Jack Greene (host): I've Still Got Room For One More Heartache
Lonzo & Oscar: Take Me Home Country Roads
Jack Greene: There Goes My Everything/Statue of a Fool

7:00 Shoney's
Porter Wagoner (host): Howdy Neighbor, Howdy
Skeeter Davis: The End of the World
Ernie Ashworth: There's No Place I'd Rather Be Tonight
Charlie Louvin: Mama's Angels
Jeannie Seely: You Don't Need Me, But You Will
R.E. Hardaway: N.Y. City Song
Porter Wagoner: I've Enjoyed As Much Of This As I Can Stand/Ole Slewfoot

7:30 Standard Candy
Grandpa Jones (host): Eight More Miles to Louisville
Charlie Walker: T for Texas
Jean Shepard: Alabama Jubilee
Ray Pillow: She's Doing It to Me Again
Billy Grammer: Homestead on the Farm
Crook Brothers/Tennessee Travelers: Cotton-Eyed Joe
Joe Carroll: Aunt Dinah's Quilting Party

8:00 Martha White:
Roy Acuff (host): Wabash Cannonball
Jan Howard: You Don't Know Me
David Houston: Almost Persuaded
Stonewall Jackson: Life to Go
Roy Acuff: Jesus Will Outshine Them All

8:30 Acme
Hank Snow (host): Right or Wrong
Vic Willis Trio: Old Flames Can't Hold A Candle To You
Bill Carlisle: Have A Drink On Me
Roy Drusky: What About You
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Saturday Night Hop
Hank Snow: I'm Glad I Got To See You Again

2nd show:
9:30: Kellogg's
Porter Wagoner (host): Howdy Neighbor, Howdy
4 Guys: Turn Your Radio On
Jeannie Seely: I'm All Through Crying Over You
Ernie Ashworth: Talk Back Trembling Lips
Lonzo & Oscar: I Can Hear Kentucky Calling Me
R.E. Hardaway: N.Y. City Song
Porter Wagoner: I've Enjoyed As Much Of This As I Can Stand

10:00 Little Debbie
Grandpa Jones (host): Banjo Sam
Skeeter Davis: I'll Fly Away
Charlie Louvin: Northwind
Grandpa Jones: It's Raining Here This Morning

10:15 Sunbeam
Charlie Walker (host): San Antonio Rose
Jean Shepard: Too Many Rivers
Ray Pillow: One Too Many Memories
Charlie Walker: Waltz Across Texas

10:30 Martha White
Roy Acuff (host): Low & Lonely
Roy Acuff: Farther Along

10:45 Beech-Nut
Roy Drusky (host): Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy
Billy Grammer: I'm Letting You Go
Crook Brothers: Billy In The Low Ground
Roy Drusky: Blues In My Heart

11:00 Coca-Cola
Hank Snow (host): Down The Trail Of Aching Hearts
Jan Howard: Where No One Stands Alone
Justin Tubb: Pull The Covers Over Me
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Bill Cheatham
David Houston: I'm Gonna Hire A Wino
Kirk McGee: Blue Night
Hank Snow: Old Doc Brown

11:30 Hardee's
Stonewall Jackson (host): Don't Be Angry
Vic Willis Trio: Last Cheater's Waltz/Let It Be Me
Bill Carlisle: Same Ol' Tale That The Crow Told Me
Sheila & Bill Carlisle Jr: In The Pines
Stonewall Jackson: Ol' Chunk Of Coal/Waterloo

Now here is the line up from Saturday October 16, 1982, the day that Doyle died and Teddy performed solo for the 1st time.

1st show:
6:00: Vietti
Del Reeves (host) 2 Dollars in the Jukebox/A Dime at a Time/Looking at the World Through A Windshield
Jeannie Seely: Roarin' & Runnin
Lonzo & Oscar: Take Me Home Country Roads
Jimmy Dickens: John Henry
Del Wood: The World is Waiting for the Sunrise
Del Reeves: Let's Think About Livin

6:30 Mrs Grissoms
4 Guys (host): I Think About Your Lovin' All The Time
Jan Howard: I Hope this Day is Good
4 Guys: Catfish John

6:45 Rudy's
Billy Walker (host): Detour
Justin Tubb: What's Wrong With the Way that We're Doing it Now
Billy Walker: You Gave Me A Mountain

7:00 Shoney's
Porter Wagoner (host): The Man in the Little White Suit
Charlie Louvin: I Just Steal Away Somewhere & Pray
Jean Shepard: I Love You Because
Hank Locklin: Danny Boy
Billy Grammer: Somebody Loves You
Jimmy C Newman: Diggy Liggy Lo
Mack Magaha's Group: Old Flames

7:30 Standard Candy
Grandpa Jones (host): My Happy Little Home in Arkansas
Stonewall Jackson: Don't Be Angry
Connie Smith: Till I Kissed You
Sonny Osborne: Rocky Top
Charlie Walker: Pick Me Up On Your Way Down
Crook Brothers/Tennessee Travelers: Eighth of January
Grandpa Jones: Neighbors

8:00 Martha White
Roy Acuff (host): Wabash Cannonball
Roy Drusky: The Last Farewell
Minnie Pearl: Careless Love/Comedy
Charley Pride: Kiss an Angel Good Morning/Lovesick Blues/Kaw-Liga
Roy Acuff: Back in the Country/I Saw the Light

8:30 Acme
Hank Snow (host): Forever +1 Day; Forever +2
Jack Greene: Half That Much
Vic Willis Trio: Let It Be Me
Bill Carlisle: Rough Stuff
Riders In The Sky: How the Yodel Was Born
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Sugar Tree Stomp
Hank Snow: Why Do You Punish Me

2nd Show
9:30 Kelloggs
Porter Wagoner (host): The Man in the Little White Suit
4 Guys" Stealing the Feeling
Del Reeves: Good Hearted Woman
Jeannie Seely: I'm All Through Crying Over You
Roy Drusky: Wings of a Dove
Lonzo & Oscar: Gone, Gone, Gone
Hank Locklin: Danny Boy
Porter Wagoner: Carroll County Accident/Cold Hard Facts of Life/Green, Green Grass of Home

10:00 Little Debbie
Stonewall Jackson (host): Ol' Chunk of Coal
Jimmy Dickens: May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose
Jan Howard: When I Dream
Del Wood: Keep on the Firing Line
Stonewall Jackson: Muddy Water

10:15 Sunbeam
Grandpa Jones (host): Are You From Dixie
Billy Walker: Behind Closed Doors
Osborne Brothers: Old Flames

10:30 Martha White
Roy Acuff (host): Stay A Little Longer
Roy Acuff/Minnie Pearl: I'll Fly Away
Connie Smith: Sing, Sing Sing

10:45 Beech-Nut
Jimmy C Newman (host): The Cajun Band
Charlie Louvin: When I Stop Dreaming
Jean Shepard: I Don't See How I Can Make It With You Gone
Crook Brothers: Chicken Reel

11:00 Coca-Cola
Hank Snow (host): I'm Moving On
Billy Grammer: Believe Me/When You and I were Young, Maggie
Charlie Walker: Pick Me Up On Your Way Down
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Saturday Night Hop
Justin Tubb: Pull the Covers Over Me
Kirk McGee: Blue Night
Hank Snow: Paper Roses

11:30 Hardee's
Jack Greene (host): It's Hard to do the Disco with a Girl In San Francisco
Vic Willis Trio: Always On My Mind
Bill Carlisle: Elvira
Riders In The Sky: Here Comes the Santa Fe
Larry Gatlin: Broken Lady/It Sure Feels Like Love/All The Gold in California/I Don't Wanna Cry
Jack Greene: This Ol' Heart Is Gonna Rise Again

As you can guess by the number of acts on the 2nd show, the show did not end until 12:59, one hour over.

I hope you enjoy this look back at Doyle Wilburn. He and his brothers were one of the greatest harmony duos in the history of country music.


  1. How does one find out who are finalists for election into the Country Music Hall of fame? I agree The Wilburn Brothers should be inducted. I wonder if Archie Campbell and Stringbean have ever been finalists? I would love to see them elected someday as well. I would say the next three "Veterans" inductees will be Connie Smith, The Browns and Bobby Bare. All deserving by far, but I believe some of those earlier Opry stars, that have been overlooked by the CMA, should be considered as well. We need another "catch up" year like 2001. I would love to know who has been 'finalists' in recent years that have not made it in yet.

  2. David, from a very reliable source, here are the finalists from last year:

    Modern Category: Reba McEntire; Connie Smith; Ray Stevens. (Of course, Reba got elected).

    Veterans Category: Wilburn Brothers; Elton Britt; Jean Shepard; Cowboy Copas; The Browns; Archie Campbell (Jean Shepard was elected).

    The 3rd category rotates.

    I know that 2 years ago, Bobby Bare was a finalist. Generally, the voters keep these lists very secretive and like I said, mine came from someone who is in the know. Based on the names, I think it is fairly accurate.

    If the election for 2012 is not underway yet, it will be very shortly, with the new Hall of Fame members announced in late January or early February of next year.

  3. Byron, that looks like an excellent list, and who could argue with any of them? Truthfully, some are more deserving than others. Ray Stevens doesn't get enough attention for the Hall of Fame. I do think Elton Britt and Cowboy Copas would be a little lower on my list than the rest in the Veterans category, which I don't mean as a knock on anybody.

    About the Loretta Lynn/Wilburn Brothers battle, I remember that Teddy once was on the Backstage show on TNN and Loretta came up and the host--it MIGHT have been Keith Bilbrey--asked about their relationship, and Teddy smiled slightly, shook his head, and said, "No, no, no." So that was that.

  4. Hi, all, Fred in Bismarck here, back off the road:

    Byron's comment about the reason Loretta Lynn may have quit writing (and recording) good songs lends some insight. Back 30-some years ago, when I was listening to country radio every day -- something I would never do now -- I remember when Loretta came out with an awful single called, "Running Naked in the Rain."

    I thought, "Girl, you have really lost touch with your audience" -- and, as I recall, this was about the time she disappeared from the charts.

  5. I have also heard rumors over the years that Loretta actually did keep writing but she used an assumed name. Not sure about that one, but what I do know is that once all of this happened with the Wilburns, her career really tailed off, as far as hit records.

    And Fred, welcome back. Glad you are safe.

  6. Not knocking Connie Smith - but I really see her getting elected in that "Veterans" category. Her career goes well past 30 years, as does Ray Stevens, but his success continued into the 1980's, 90's and really even today. I would have thought more Modern acts like, Ronnie Milsap, Hank, Jr., The Oak Ridge Boys, Kenny Rogers and Tanya Tucker would have been finalists?

    I'm glad to see that Archie Campbell has been considered. I would really love to see him elected. Comedy was such a vital part of Country Music during the golden era.

    To me, Stringbean needs to be elected as well. If he would have lived out a full life and endured into the 1980's and 1990's on the Opry, like some of his peers, Grandpa Jones, Little Jimmy Dickens, Bill Carlisle..etc.. I believe he would already have been elected to the Hall of fame. Sadly, I think his popularity has been forgotten in time with some of the younger Hall of Fame voters.

  7. I think the point on Connie Smith is well taken, but it also shows that many of the performers could be in either category based on when their careers started and in what decade they achieved their greatest success. I like Connie a lot, but she also is a tough call. She gave up her career when it was at its highest point to raise her family and I think that is on the mind of a lot of the voters. That she made it as a finalist in the modern category probably had a lot to do with the fact that her husband, Marty Stuart, is really pushing to get her elected to the Hall. Marty has a lot of influence and I am sure it has an affect. I do think if she dropped down to the Veterans category, she would get in much quicker.

    You bring up and excellent point on Stringbean, and in a way I think it also affects Archie Campbell. In many ways, their careers were very similiar to Bill Carlise or Grandpa Jones. Grandpa's career and notice by the general public did not really take off until he was on HeeHaw. And in the case of Bill and Grandpa, they were both around for what seemed like forever. Archie was not only a great comedian, but he was a fine writer and singer, which was always underlooked.

    All the modern acts that you mentioned will get elected to the Hall some day. (Hopefully when they are still alive). Personally, I am not in favor of another mass induction like they did when the new building opened, but I would like to see the categories expanded to maybe elect 2 a year instead of just 1, or maybe go to a percent of vote number instead of just the highest vote getter. That does work for the baseball and football hall of fames. But, at the same time, electing just 1 or 2 per year makes the hall of fame election special and keeps the hall exclusive.

  8. I really like Connie Smith as well but I can't see how she merits the hall over someone like June Carter & the Carter Sisters who were one of the top acts of the 1950s and 60s. June alone as a commedian and later as a grammy winning duet partner followed by several solo grammys near the end of her life deserves to be in the Hall but I think it would be so much nicer if Helen, June & Anita went in together. Remember they spanned everything from Hank Williams to the Highwayman. And let's not forget they helped get Chet Atkins to Nashville. Don't know why I've never heard them mentioned as Hall of Fame nominees.

    Also, the Hall really messed up in my opinion when they inducted the Louvin Brothers, the Delmore Brothers, the Everly Brothers and Homer & Jethro in 2001... Where was/is Johnny & Jack? The Everly (though they were briefly members of the Opry) were primarily a rock and roll act. Why didn't let let Johnny enjoy induction in the Hall of Fame before he was gone? Ever been to a Bob Dylan concert and heard him sing a Johnny & Jack song? I have. And let's not forget Johnny was a successful solo artist and the man who changed country music forever by giving his wife TOP billing on their shows and managing her career -- KITTY WELLS!

    I also wished they had elected Wilma Lee Cooper while she was still here to enjoy it, same with the great Rose Maddox. And I'm all for the Wilburn Brothers, Skeeter Davis, Jimmy Newman, Mac Wiseman.

    One last thought -- the Hall has TOTALLY ignored the sidemen in Country Music. I wish they had a sideman wing the way the Baseball Hall recognizes managers and announcers. Put in Bashful Brother Oswald (who I know was a finalist in previous years) who DEFINED the Acuff sound for 50 years and played on the Opry for 60! What about Don Rich, Don Helms, Billy Byrd, Josh Graves & Curly Seckler? Can you imagine a Porter Wagoner record in the 60s without Buck Trent's electric banjo or what about the twin lead guitar sound of Jabbo Arrington & Grady Martin from Jimmy Dicken's Country Boys?

    I do understand the need/want to keep the Hall exclusive but we will NEVER see Country Music influenced again the way the generation of 40s, 50s and 60s did... These are the originals... today you have no idea who the musicians are on stage or in the studio. You don't have comedians or pioneering duets or trailblazing women.

  9. One point I have argued is the big gap in the categories. I have no problem with the Modern Category. Acts like Reba, Vince Gill, Alabama, George Strait, Barbara Mandrell (already elected) and others such as the Oaks, Hank, Jr., Kenny Rogers, Ronnie Milsap, Tanya Tucker, etc..(future inductees) should be elected now so they can enjoy it. Johnny Cash got in about age 50 or so. Eddy Arnold was around the same age. They all deserve it.

    My problem is with the Veterans category. Roughly, 1920-1975 (some 55+ years) falls to the "Veterans" Category. They will never catch up with such a time span. Your putting everyone from Bradley Kincaid to Charlie Rich to Al Dexter to Dottie West to Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper to Jerry Lee Lewis all in the same boat. Well deserving artists are being "lost" in the shuffle.

    I believe there should be a career achievement 1950 or prior, A "Golden era" category (1950-1975) and then the Modern category. And the 4th category rotate as they have been, executive, musician and songwriter.

    That would get at least 4 in every year.

  10. Every year around Hall of Fame election time, I posted a little piece about what Opry members I feel will be elected at some point to the Hall of Fame, those who might or might not, and then those that have no real chance. Look for it to be updated and appear in the coming weeks.

    The problem with the modern era is that since country music has grown so much in the last 3 decades, that group will have lots and lots of performers who will be considered for the Hall. As much as I admit that Vince Gill is my favorite of the "modern" country stars, I think the voters made a big mistake several years back, by electing him to the hall way too early. I am glad to see that in the years following, they took a step back and elected those who had started their careers earlier. My fear was that once they started with the "big" stars from the late 1980s and 1990s, those earlier artists would have been lost in the suffle. (I had the same thought when Johnny Cash got elected 1980. Too soon.)

    The reason that the veteran category was expanded was that many of the voters just thought that there were no more real candidates to be elected from the old veterans category. The problem is that many of the performers who would be considered from the old veterans category have long ago died, made little or no records, had no real record sales to speak of, there is no video of them and nobody around who remembers seeing them in their prime and can speak up for them.

    I know there is no easy answer as each of us have those who we feel should be in the hall. And some are going to be left out or overlooked. Let's just hope that the foundation keeps looking at the voting procedures and if changes need to be made, will make them.

  11. I agree with most of the posts here.Regarding the sidemen & all those from the 1925-1960 era,I have to say they should have a special wing.Starting in 2012.


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