Monday, December 12, 2011

Just Some Thoughts After Listening To The Opry

With the coming of winter and the early darkness along with the colder temperatures, I get more time to sit and actually listen to the Opry shows each weekend. During the summer it is pretty busy with outdoor activities so while I tend to hear most of the Opry shows, it is with my attention divided among other things. But come winter, I usually go up to my desk and while I am catching up on my paperwork or other small projects, I will listen.

Over the past several weeks the shows have been pretty good. But I thought something was missing and I think I hit on it. A while back, Jean Shepard was on and sang, "Wabash Cannonball" and I thought, wow, that is the first time I have heard that great Roy Acuff song sang on the Opry in a long, long time. For years and years, we got used to hearing that song each week, but since Roy passed away, I bet it hasn't been heard from the Opry stage more than a handful of times.

And it is the same with some of the other great songs in the history of country music. I know Jack Greene will occasionally sing "Walking the Floor Over You", but not often. And when was the last time you heard anyone sing such classic songs as "I'm Moving On", "Carroll County Accident", "8 More Miles to Louisville" "Thanks a Lot", or "El Paso"? How about the last time you heard any Hank Snow, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Grandpa Jones, Faron Young, Porter Wagoner, Marty Robbins or Carl Smith song at the Opry? The weekend after Billy Grammer died, Vince Gill started the show with that great song, "Gotta Travel On", and it sounded great. And I thought of Billy as Vince sang it. You name an artist from the 1950s into the 1970s, and you can name their classic hit.

While today's artists and younger Opry members have their own hit songs, they just don't seem to have the staying power of those great old hits. And, while I don't expect the Opry's newer members to go back and sing these old songs each and every week, once in a while it would be nice to hear a classic number. This past weekend, Del McCoury did "Christmas Time's-A-Comin" and it sounded great. And once in a while I will hear Jeannie Seely do a Dottie West or Patsy Cline song. Mandy Barnett almost always reaches back into country music history to pick out a song. Lorrie Morgan will do "Candy Kisses", and the bluegrass groups will go back and sing a Bill Monroe or Flatt & Scruggs song every now and then.

As I post the classic line ups, I will sometimes think back and try to remember if I listened to that particular show or not and what I remember from it. And when I list those shows and I see the names of the artists that have passed on, I think back to such wonderful memories. I know we all think of the "big stars", but I also think back to Cousin Jody, Lonzo & Oscar, Bill Carlisle, The 4 Guys, Brother Oswald, all of whom were not the biggest names, but great entertainers.

Like I said, I don't expect today's Opry stars to sing those older songs. But sometimes I think that it wouldn't be so bad to hear some of those classic songs again from the Opry stage.


  1. I had hoped that the Thursday night shows would be a venue for these great old songs when they first announced they would be dedicated to Classic Country, but they really didn't turn out that way. Not only do I miss those old songs, I miss the characters of the old Opry stars. It was almost like we knew them personally. Can't say that I feel I know much about any of the new acts. It's really not their fault though. It seems the industry schools them all on how to act on stage and how to talk to the media. I always hate when they come out on stage and shout out "hello Grand Ole Opry" or something similar. I imagine the next night they are saying "hello Topeka.". Just seems too staged, pardon the pun.

  2. Byron (and Anonymous) both hit key points. If we think about it, the Opry always has been unique (as Mike Snider likes to say, you have to pay to get in and hear commercials). But at one time it was really all we had, and most listeners didn't have the means of communication and entertainment they have today--consider how we are communicating right now.

    Let me digress from country music, for reasons that will become clear. I grew up and remain a Dodger fan and, when I was a kid, I decided I wanted to be their broadcaster. When Vin Scully came on the air, he was speaking directly to ME. He still does, and he is the last broadcaster who works alone in his booth. He was asked why and he said he's selling a product, basically; if you want to buy a car, do you want the salesman to talk directly to you or do you want two salesmen to discuss the car in front of you? Similarly, when I was a kid, when I got home from school, I put on "To Tell the Truth." Garry Moore was the host, and he was a great communicator. He made me feel like we were having a conversation.

    Today's country entertainers are accustomed to larger venues than the old-timers, and to the larger Opry House as opposed to the old Ryman. In those days, the result was more intimacy between performer and audience, and performers were somehow more intimate with their audiences anyway. That change isn't due to changes at the Opry, but they are a symptom of the disease.

  3. Fred in Bismarck here:

    You are all right on.

    Re. the old songs, isn't it magical how numbers like "Walking the Floor" and "Movin' On" never get old? I was visiting with Bobby Wright once before a Wright Family Show on the same subject. He said Porter Wagoner was challenging people -- privately, one on one -- to name the titles of even two of T.G. Shepard's (sp?) many No. 1 hits. Nobody had been able to supply them to Porter yet, Bobby said. Usually they couldn't recall even one. And these songs were of recent vintage.

    Indeed -- especially in those rapidly churning Billboard charts of the '80s and '90s -- it was nothing to have 52 different No. 1 "hits" in a year. Almost all of them flowers -- weeds? -- of a day that fulfilled their function of stuffing the radio sausage and selling albums and CDs, then were quickly forgotten.

    Showmanship? A George Strait critic says they could just put a cardboard cutout of George on the stage and play his CDs. I took in Randy Travis once, and the combination of brain-dead love songs and his lack of personality put your feet asleep.

    A few of our old heroes played it cool and laid back -- Bill Monroe comes to mind -- but not very many.

    Glad to see Byron mention Cousin Jody and Lonzo & Oscar. I have been enjoying this act on the old Gannaway shows from the 1950s -- hillbilly getup, toothless Jody on the dobro with the "The End" patch on the back of his jeans.

    It used to be called entertaining the folks. Everybody knew the hick garb was a put-on, and mature people onstage and off didn't regard it as demeaning to anybody.

    Michael, I'm a big baseball fan too, mainly via radio, and welcome your point about the crowded radio/TV booth. It's one I should have remarked for myself, but hadn't. Scully's line about the car salesmen is a great one.

  4. Fred, I am blessed to have Vin on TV for a lot of games here in Las Vegas.

    I follow what you mean on showmanship. Now, some entertainers were not noted for doing a lot on stage--it became a big joke that Conway Twitty didn't talk between songs, and it was often said that George Jones wasn't nearly so good on live shows, though I think that was back in his drinking days. The point is, even if someone like Bill Monroe wasn't exactly jumping around the stage or doing comedy, they had PRESENCE. Mr. Acuff once said that George Morgan was a great singer, but he didn't really sell a song. I know what he meant.

    Interesting, too, about the "hillbilly" dress because Rollin Sullivan said Dave Hooten talked him out of wearing that, and Archie Campbell nearly caused an uprising by walking onto the Ryman stage wearing a sports jacket. Costumes are fine, but, for heaven's sake, people, dress nicely. Don't look like you spent the day shoveling manure!

  5. Fred here:

    I think I get your distinction, Michael. I'm not big on the torn jeans, T-shirts and sweat-stained hats favored by some of today's "hunks." That's not country -- just sloppy and (sometimes) dirty.

  6. I agree with the dress issue. I know that for most groups, the days of flashy suits and matching outfits are done. I get that. But, you can still look nice.

    Each time at the Opry when I see Del McCoury and his group, they are all dressed in suits and ties. Very impressive. Marty Stuart and his band are always sharp. And what can you say about Rhonda Vincent. She always has on a dress and is very flashy looking as are the Rage. For that matter, most of the bluegrass groups dress up.

    Now, I don't like it when Mike Snider comes out and looks like he is a paid spokesperson for Bass Pro Shops or Wrangler, as he will sometimes have their logos on his shirt and hat. Reminds me of a bowler.

    But to me, nice jeans and a dress shirt, or a sports jacket, are you are good. I think it just goes to respecting the music and respecting your audience, who are paying big bucks to see you.

    (byron: still having issues!!!)

  7. Byron, I don't mind if Snider wears overalls, as I've seen him do--kind of a throwback to the old days--but he does overdo it. Bill Anderson once said he feels that he should be dressed just a little better than the best-dressed person in the audience, and I think that's a good yardstick.

    As for Rhonda Vincent ... I better not say anything, in lieu of my being married. But from the beginning, Mr. Monroe required his band to dress well, and I think that has carried over.

  8. I sure do miss the old-timers.That's why I see them on YouTube as often as I can.Great memories.

  9. One of the guys in Jimmy Dickens' band once told me he saw Mr. Dickens stand for over three hours straight before going on stage on several occasions because he didn't want to sit down and get his stage clothes wrinkled. To me, that is caring about how your audience sees you. Wilma Lee Cooper made a lot of the fancy dresses she wore on stage. Some of them took a couple of hours for her to iron. Not much class in country music like that today.