Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Grand Ole Opry Line Up 9/2 & 9/3

The Grand Ole Opry has posted the schedule for the shows this weekend. As with most weekends, there is one show on Friday night and one show on Saturday night. Traditionally, Labor Day weekend does not produce some of the best line ups as many of the Opry's members are on the road doing the state and county fair circuit. I know that that our county fair is taking place and Rodney Atkins is the headline performer on Thursday night.

As far as this weekend, there is some good variety in the line up. Friday night will feature several non-Opry members who have performed on the show previously, those being Gloriana, James Otto and Mark Wills. Opry member Diamond Rio will also be on Friday's show.

Saturday night will feature bluegrass artist Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, who have received good reactions from the Opry crowd. Also appearing will be Elizabeth Cook and Billy Dean, both of whom are not strangers to the Opry stage, along with Wynn Varble, who will be making his first Opry appearance. I know that the name probably doesn't mean much to many of you, but Wynn has been around Nashville since the early 1980s. Not only is he a singer, but he is a talented songwriter. Among his credits is the great Darryl Worley song, "Have You Forgotten."

Also appearing on Saturday night will be Opry veteran Stu Phillips. Stu has not made many Opry appearances over the past several years, and I am sorry to report that based on his last couple of Opry shows, his voice is not what it once was. He was such a fine ballad singer. Of course, I always find it odd that he is a minister and owns a winery in the Nashville area. I have visited his winery in the past, and while I do not drink, my wife who does reported to me that his wine is not the best on the market. But, he does draw some tourists to his location.

Here is the complete schedule for this weekend:

Friday September 2
7:00: Riders In The Sky (host); Jimmy C Newman; Gloriana
7:30: Jimmy Dickens (host); Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press; James Otto
8:15: Bill Anderson (host); Jan Howard; Mark Wills
8:45: Mike Snider (host); Jack Greene; Diamond Rio

Saturday September 3
7:00: Jim Ed Brown (host); Connie Smith; Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper
7:30: Jimmy Dickens (host); Jesse McReynolds; Elizabeth Cook
8:15: Jeannie Seely (host); Stu Phillips; Wynn Varble; Opry Square Dancers
8:45: Bill Anderson (host); The Whites; Billy Dean

For those counting at home, that is 12 artists each night, of which on Friday, 9 are Opry members and on Saturday 8 are Opry members. And, I am sure you have also noticed that for the 2nd week in a row, Jimmy Dickens is hosting the 2nd segment on Saturday night and not the traditional 1st segment that he had been hosting for years.

The Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree on Saturday night/Sunday morning will be hosted by Glen Douglas Tubb, who will be basically doing a tribute show to Ernest Tubb, who was his Uncle. For those who don't know, Glen Douglas Tubb has been around Nashville for a number of years, and his currently married to Dottie Snow, who was Hank Snow's son Jimmy's ex-wife. Hope you can all follow that.

Finally, here is the line up for the Tuesday Night Opry on September 6. This show looks like a very solid show.

7:00: Bill Anderson; Frankie Ballard
7:30: Jimmy Dickens; Steel Magnolia
8:15: David Nail; Henry Cho
8:45: Blake Shelton; Rascal Flatts

As I have shared with a couple of others via the email system, I would not be surprised at some point if Rascal Flatts was asked to join the Opry. They have been making a few appearances of late and as you would expect, have been very well received. They are also scheduled for a couple of more Opry appearances in the next several months, including at the Opry's birthday celebration in October. I have no inside information on this one, just a thought.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Happy Birthday Jimmy C Newman

I wanted to extend birthday greetings to one of the Opry's great veteran stars, Jimmy C Newman, who is celebrating his 84th birthday today. Jimmy was born on August 29, 1927 in the area of High Point, Louisiana. (although some websites list his date of birth as August 27, his official website and the Grand Ole Opry have the August 29th date). Jimmy still performs at the Opry almost everyweek, and he still looks and sounds great. Here is a summary of his career:

"One of the few Cajun artists to enjoy major success in mainstream country music, Jimmy Yeve Newman grew up on a farm about ten miles from Mamou, in the heart of Cajun country. In his youth he was mostly influenced by country music stars-Jimmy Rodgers, the Carter Family, Bob Wills-and movie cowboys such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. It wasn't until Newman began his professional career in 1946 with Cajun fiddler Chuck Guillory that he began to learn Cajun music. During this formative period, he came to admire Cajun artists such as Iry Lejeune and Harry Choates. As a member of Guillory's Rhythm Boys, Jimmy sang mostly hillbilly songs in English, along with a few Cajun songs in French.

In 1951 he made his first solo disks for the Feature label, where he cut Cajun-country songs such as "Wondering" and "I Made a Big Mistake." It was also during the early 1950s that he became a regular on the Louisiana Hayride, before moving to Nashville where he recorded "Cry, Cry, Darlin", a Top Twenty hit on the DOT label. Newman had become a member of the Grand Ole Opry by 1956, and had his biggest hit to date, " A Fallen Star," in 1957. It was during this time that Nashville DJ T. Tommy Cutrer gave Jimmy the middle name Cajun, and the "C" stuck.

Newman moved on to MGM, and then to DECCA, where he enjoyed a long string of hits, including "Alligator Man" (1961), "Bayou Talk" (1962), "Artificial Rose" (1965), and "Born to Love You" (1968). In 1974, Jimmy returned to his Cajun roots and recorded the 'Jimmy Newman Sings Cajun' album for the regional La Louisianne label in Layfayette, Louisiana. One cut from that album, "Lache Pas La Patate," sold more than 200,000 copies in French-speaking Canada, qualifying for a gold record. He continues to include strong elements of the Cajun sound-the accordion and fiddle-in his music."
(Thanks to Charlie Seemann for that article)

Jimmy C remembers when he first came to the Opry:

"When I got to the Ryman, Webb Pierce was on the Opry, and George Morgan, Jimmy Dickens, Hank Snow, Carl Smith, Faron Young-it was probably the end of that certain era when the Nudie look was so big. The Nudie suits and the Cadillacs were the big things when I came to the Opry. I wore western suits then-I couldn't afford a costume by Nudie himself-but in '57 I had a crossover hit with 'A Fallen Star' and I went to the Ivy League look."

I have always enjoyed Jimmy C on the Opry because his music is so happy. It has a bounce to it and I think it brightens people up. Whenever Jimmy is on Jean Shepard's segment, she always requests that Jimmy plays, "Cajun Stripper", which she has said is one of her favorite songs. And I always enjoy it when Jimmy Dickens introduces him and says that his group are all, "14 carat South Louisiana Cajun." I always got a kick out of that, even though Jimmy now has mostly the Opry staff band backing him up.

Jimmy's actual Opry induction date is sometimes hard to pin down, but we do know that he joined the Opry in August 1956. The best date that I could come up with was August 4, 1956, which was one week before George Jones first joined the Opry.

While I don't have the line up from August 4, 1956, when he did join the Opry, I do have the line up from August 12, 2006, the night Jimmy C Newman was honored as a 50 year Opry member.

6:30 Jimmy Dickens (host); Mel McDaniel; Billy Joe Shaver
7:00 Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers (host); Martina McBride; Julie Roberts; Lee Roy Parnell
8:00 Jim Ed Brown (host); Helen Cornelius; Jan Howard; The Whites; Jean Shepard; Opry Square Dancers
8:30 Jeannie Seely (host); JIMMY C NEWMAN

9:30 Jimmy Dickens (host); Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press; Lee Roy Parnell
10:00 Jean Shepard (host); JIMMY C NEWMAN; Julie Roberts
10:30 Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers (host); The Whites; Opry Square Dancers
11:00 Jim Ed Brown (host); Helen Cornelius; Jack Greene; Billy Joe Shaver
11:30 Jeannie Seely (host); John England & The Western Swingers

Happy Birthday to Jimmy C Newman

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Grand Ole Opry Line Up 8/26 & 8/27

The Grand Ole Opry has posted the line ups for the shows for this weekend. As usual, there is one show on Friday Night and one show on Saturday night.

The Friday Night Opry will feature the return of Opry member Mel Tillis to the Opry stage, along with his daughter Pam. Also, Opry favorite Gene Watson will be making a guest appearance. And after making his first Opry appearance last month, Kip Moore has been invited back and will be appearing in the opening segment.

Saturday night's Grand Ole Opry will feature several non-Opry members, among them Sierra Hull, Clay Walker, and Jimmy Wayne, who seems to be on the Opry more than most of the Opry's members. And also appearing on Saturday night will be the great guitarist Tommy Emmanuel. Tommy will be at the Country Music Hall of Fame earlier in the day as part of the new Chet Atkins exhibit.

Friday August 26
7:00: John Conlee (host); Mike Snider; Kip Moore
7:30: Jimmy Dickens (host); Jesse McReynolds; Joe Diffie
8:15: Bill Anderson (host); The Whites; Gene Watson
8:45: Mel Tillis (host); Bobby Osborne & Rocky Top X-Press; Pam Tillis

Saturday August 27
7:00: John Conlee (host); Jeannie Seely; George Hamilton IV; Tommy Emmanuel
7:30: Jimmy Dickens (host); Jimmy C Newman; Jimmy Wayne
8:15: Mike Snider (host); Jack Greene; Sierra Hull; Opry Square Dancers
8:45: Bill Anderson (host); Riders In The Sky; Clay Walker

For those keeping score at home, that comes out to 12 artists on the Friday Night show, of whom 10 are Opry members (which is more Opry members than most weeks), and 13 artists appearing on Saturday night, of which 9 are Opry members.

Hosting the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree this week will be Wilson Fairchild, who are the sons of Don and Harold Reid of the Statler Brothers. The formally went by the name of Grandstaff, but recently made the name change, which is their two middle names. They have been trying to make a go of it in country music, but so far the success has been limited.

Finally, here is the line up for the Tuesday Night Opry on August 30:

7:00: Jimmy C Newman; Hunter Hayes
7:30: Jimmy Dickens; Ricky Skaggs
8:15: John Conlee; Terri Clark
8:45: Connie Smith; Aaron Tippin

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Remembering Jerry Clower

I hope that those of you who read my blog enjoy when I go back and take a look at former Opry members who have passed away and maybe are forgotten by many people today. We all remember the superstars who were Opry members, but many times we forget those who did not achieve that higher level of success. But all of them were Opry members and deserve to be remembered.

Today I want to look back at one of the great comedians in Opry history and that is Jerry Clower, who passed away 13 years ago today, on August 24, 1998. Jerry was born in Liberty, Mississippi on September 28, 1926, and here is the entry on Jerry from The Encyclopedia of Country Music:

"One of the most successful country comedians ever and a mainstay on TNN shows, Clower got into show business at age nine, when he joined a 4-H club to get out of a class. Four years later, at thirteen, he won a 4-H district competition, but it was a long time before he became a professional entertainer. While in the navy he was asked to tell some of his stories, and later, after becoming a fertilizer field representative with Mississippi Chemical Company, he used country stories as part of his sales technique. Clower became so well known for his routines that a friend suggested he record an album of them. This LP, 'Jerry Clower from Yazoo City Mississippi Talkin', was released on the Lemon label and advertised only by word of mouth. It sold more than 8,000 copies in a relatively short time and brought Clower to the attention of MCA. The company signed him to a contract in 1971. His album eventually made it on the Billboard charts for a long stay. This was followed by several other strong-selling LPs, including 'Clower Power' and 'From the Mouth of Mississippi', which led to Clower joining the Grand Ole Opry in 1973. In addition to performing live comic routines, Clower has hosted the nationally syndicated radio show 'Country Crossroads' and the TV show 'Nashville on the Road'. Clower is also the subject of a documentary film, 'Ain't God Good'. Clowers routines are based on people he knew in Amite County, Mississippi. He has written three books based on this material, the most recent being 'Stories from Home' (1992). In addition to his comedy, Clower is very serious about his religious beliefs, being a Baptist deacon and an active member of the Gideon Bible Society. He says Cristianityis the single greatest influence on his life. He is also a passionate advocate of education, family life, and racial equality and integration."

When Jerry joined the Opry, he was the first new comic that had been signed in a number of years. Jerry remembered it emotionally: "It's undescribable, because, you see, I had prayed as a little boy that at the end of a crop year we'd have enough money for us to go see the Grand Ole Opry. And we never made it. Now, here I was on it! Grand Ole Opry star Jerry Clower! Woooo!"

Jerry remained an Opry member until his death. He passed away in Jackson, Mississippi following heart surgery.

He joined the Grand Ole Opry on October 27, 1973 and was the last member to join the Opry while the show was still at the Ryman Auditorium. In memory of Jerry Clower, here is the Opry line up from Saturday October 27, 1973, the night he was inducted as the Opry's newest member.

6:30 Mrs Grissoms
Osborne Brothers(host)
Bill Carlisle

6:45 Rudy's
Willis Brothers(host)
Louie Roberts

7:00 Rudy's
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper(host)
Jim & Jesse
Hank Wada

7:30 Goo Goo
Porter Wagoner(host)
Dolly Parton
Crook Brothers
Harold Weakley
Mack McGaha

8:00 Martha White
Roy Acuff(host)
Grandpa Jones
Del Wood

8:30 Stephens
Hank Snow(host)
Bobby Bare
Ray Pillow
Fruit Jar Drinkers

9:30 Kelloggs
Osborne Brothers(host)
Willis Brother
Louie Roberts
Del Wood

10:00 Fender
Jim & Jesse(host)
Bill Carlisle

10:15 Union 76
Porter Wagoner(host)
Dolly Parton

10:30 Trailblazer
Roy Acuff(host)
Grandpa Jones
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper

10:45 Beech-nut
Bobby Bare(host)
Crook Brothers

11:00 Coca-Cola
Hank Snow(host)
Ray Pillow
Hank Wada
Fruit Jar Drinkers
Sam McGee

11:30 Elm Hill
Marty Robbins(host)
Mary Lou Turner
Marty Mitchell

There you have it. As you can see, this was not one of the Opry's strongest line ups.

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.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Remembering Sam McGee

I wanted to take a moment and remember one of the long lost members of the Grand Ole Opry, Sam McGee, who passed away on August 21, 1975. Together with his brother Kirk, they performed on the Opry as either Sam & Kirk McGee, or as the McGee Brothers. Sam was born in Williamson County, Tennessee on May 1, 1894, while Kirk was born in the same location on November 4, 1899. The following is from "The Encyclopedia of Country Music" and was written by the late Charles Wolfe, who wrote some very fine books on the early history of the Opry and country music.

"Though folk music fans remember them primarily as the accompanists for Uncle Dave Macon, Sam and Kirk McGee had a career that extended from the very earliest days of the Grand Ole Opry to the show's movement from the Ryman Auditorium in 1974. In fact, it was one of their acoustic guitar duets that so impressed visiting journalist Garrison Keillor in 1974 that he was moved to start his radio show 'A Praire Home Companion'.

The music of the McGees was much more electric than that of early Opry denizens. Sam learned guitar tunings and slide techniques from black railroad workers near his family home: Kirk adapted the blues records of Papa Charley Jackson and others to the stringband style, and sported a singing style derived partly from his tenure at old-time singing schools; both liked old-time jazz and Sam adopted ragtime piano rolls to the guitar.

It was Sam who first tested the waters, playing guitar and banjo for the famed Uncle Dave Macon. While with Macon at a 1926 recording session, Sam made several guitar solos, including his famous 'Buck Dancer's Choice,' and 'Franklin Blues.' The discs were the first serious country guitar solos, initiating a tradition that would extend from Riley Puckett to Chet Atkins. In the early 1930s the brothers joined forces with Dickson County fiddler Arthur Smith to form the Dixielines, by most accounts the hottest string band the Opry ever had. Unfortunately, the band never recorded in its prime (the Bluebird records under the same name featured Smith and the Delmore Brothers).

As other of the classic Opry bands broke up, Sam and Kirk kept at it until the late 1950s, when they were discovered by folk revival fans. The McGees made a comeback of sorts, recording albums for Folkways and Starday and appearing at a number of festivals. Sam recorded several solo albums for Arhoolie and for MBA, a company he partly owned. In their later years, both Kirk and Sam hosted a procession of young instrumentalists anxious to learn from the masters.

Sam was killed in a farming accident in 1975; Kirk died in 1983."

In the WSM Grand Ole Opry History-Picture Book, 1972, Volume 5, Edition 1, Sam and Kirk actually wrote about themselves. Here is what Sam wrote:

"I was born Sam Fleming McGee in 1894, the ninth of ten children of John and Mary Elizabeth Truett McGee, in the Peytonsville Community of Williamson County, Tennessee. When I was about twelve years old I had been watching for sometime the colored folks play guitar with one finger and thumb. I figured if two fingers could pick that well, I would add another, so I began my own style finger pickin.

In 1914 I married Elizabeth Pate and at the time was in the blacksmith business. I had heard Uncle Dave Macon play and admired him very much. A few years later he came to put on a program at the local auditorium and we went to hear it. I enjoyed it so much I asked Uncle Dave to spend the night in our home. He saw my Martin Guitar in the corner of the room and asked if I played. I told him 'a little' and I'll never forget that I played the 'Missouri Waltz'. Uncle Dave asked me to join him for some personal appearances.

In 1925, three weeks after the beginning of the Grand Ole Opry, Kirk and I joined them. I am the oldest living still playing on the Grand Ole Opry in service and age and unless I'm out of town, making a personal appearance, I'm going to be there for our 11:00 p.m. show with my brother Kirk.

I have a recent album called 'Flat Top Pickin Sam McGee'. My first recording label was Vocalion and I've recorded for about six others. Presently I am recording for M.B.A. Records.

I like music.......any kind of long as its played well. Sometimes when I am in the company of young folks I pick along with whatever type of music they like, gospel, rock, fast or slow.

I'm 78 years young and can still work on my farm. I was plowing my tobacco just before writing this story. I know I can't last forever but as long as I'm able and needed I'll continue to play. And Opryland U.S.A. is a mighty big step from the little Saturday Night Show we did 47 years ago."

I just thought on the anniversary of his death, I would look back at Sam McGee, and at a time when the Opry was simpler and the music more down to earth than it is today. Except for an occasional moment here or there, the music that was played by Sam and Kirk McGee, along with the likes of Dave Macon and the other string bands, is missing from the Opry today. The Opry has come a long way from its roots. While I do enjoy a lot of the music that is played on the Opry today, once in a while I wish the Opry would look back and remember it's past and how it all started.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Grand Ole Opry 8/19 & 8/20

Fresh from celebrating his 20th year as an Opry member, Vince Gill returns to the Opry stage this weekend for both the Friday Night Opry and Saturday's Grand Ole Opry. Joining Vince both nights will be Jimmy Wayne, who is almost becoming an Opry regular with the number of appearances he has been making. I understand that Jimmy has been in the studio working on a new album.

Friday night's show will feature Will Hoge, who has been in the music business for a while and is currently on tour promoting his new album that is out next month. Joining Will on Friday's show will be Troy Olsen and Exile, neither of whom are strangers to the Opry.

Saturday night's show will feature Bradley Gaskin, who is really starting to make a name for himself in Nashville and has a very nice voice. Also appearing will be Opry regular James Wesley and The Sleepy Man Banjo Boys, who will be making their first Opry appearance. This bluegrass trio is from New Jersey, and they are young, being of the ages 8, 11 and 13. According to their website, their first album is due to come out shortly. We shall see.

Friday August 19
7:00 Jeannie Seely (host); Jesse McReynolds; Troy Olsen
7:30: Jimmy Dickens (host); Jimmy C Newman; Jimmy Wayne
8:15: Bill Anderson (host); Jack Greene; Exile
8:45: Vince Gill (host); Connie Smith; Mike Snider; Will Hoge

Saturday August 20
7:00: Larry Gatlin (host); Jimmy C Newman; John Conlee; The Sleepy Man Banjo Boys
7:30: Jimmy Dickens (host); Jan Howard; James Wesley
8:15: Bill Anderson (host); Mike Snider; Jimmy Wayne; Opry Square Dancers
8:45: Vince Gill (host); Connie Smith; Bradley Gaskin

Interesting that you could call the 2nd segment on Friday night the "Jimmy" segment. Also, it is nice to see Larry Gatlin back on the Opry again.

The host of this week's Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree will be bluegrass artist Larry Stephenson, who I have seen before and does a great job. I look forward to hearing that.

Finally, here is the line up for the Tuesday Night Opry on August 23:

7:00: Jimmy Dickens; Brett Eldredge
7:30: Edens Edge; Heidi Newfield; Larry Gatlin
8:15: Trace Adkins
8:45: Rascal Flatts

Interesting that they are giving Trace and Rascal Flatts a whole half hour each. But, you sure can't complain about the line up for this show. It is very solid.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Recap of Grand Ole Opry-Saturday August 13

This past Saturday night, August 13, I went down to the Opry. As someone who has attended hundreds of Opry shows in his lifetime, I have to say that this was one of the best shows I have attended. Vince Gill was being honored for being an Opry member for 20 years and he deserves it. The Opry House was sold out, with standing room only tickets being sold. The crowd was alive and vocal, and they were really into the show. I hope that it sounded well on the radio.

The show started with a tribute to Billy Grammer. The house and stage lights were turned down and Billy's picture was on the video screens. Pete Fisher read a very nice tribute and then the standard moment of silence. After that, Bill Cody, who was announcing in place of Mike Terry, introduced the square dancers and the show was underway.

In a surprise, after the square dancers, Bill Cody introduced Vince Gill, and he came out with a Grammer Guitar. He said a few kind words about Billy and said there was only one way to start the Opry tonight, and then he started to sing the great Billy Grammer song, "Gotta Travel On." Vince did an awesome job on the song, as did the Opry staff band that played with him. After several more kind words about Billy, Vince left the stage and Bill introduced the host of the 1st segment, Jimmy Dickens.

I know that Jimmy had a rough week, missing a few shows, but I have got to tell you, he looked and sounded very good. He did "Out Behind The Barn" and then his usual jokes. John Anderson was his only guest, and Jimmy did a nice introduction and I think he forgot John's last name. He looked and made a small joke about not seeing him in the wings as he was trying to get his piece of paper out of his pocket. But, then he must have seen John off stage and remembered his last name. John did 2 great songs, including his signature hit, "Swingin." A very nice job. Jimmy finished out his segment with the song, "We Could", and Vince was back out on stage playing guitar for Jimmy. I know Jimmy did not mention Vince on the radio. The 1st 30 minute segment took about 35-40 minutes.

Bill Anderson hosted the 2nd segment, and it was his first time back at the Opry since his 50th anniversary celebration in July. Bill sounded and looked good and his first two guests were The Whites and Jean Shepard. The Whites were fine and Jean sounded great. She did move a little slow, but it did not show in her performance. After the commercial, Bill introduced The Time Jumpers, which is a group that plays every Monday night at the Station Inn, in Nashville. Vince is a rotating part of the group, as is Doug Green of Riders In The Sky. Doug was not there on Saturday, so Vince was highlighted on the 1st song, "Corrina Corrina". The 2nd song was sung by Dawn Sears, and I did not recognize the song, although it was written by Vince. Besides being a part of The Time Jumpers, Dawn is also Vince's harmony singer. Bill finished out the segment with a few nice words about Billy Grammer, including calling and asking him if he could come and be a part of his 50th anniversary in July, but he said that Billy told him that he was just not up to traveling. Bill then did "The Corner Of My Life" to finish out his segment.

After the intermission, which I still do not like, Emmylou Harris hosted the next segment. She opened with "Two More Bottles Of Wine", with Vince out singing harmony with her. The Osborne Brothers were next and did "Rocky Top' and then Martina McBride, who looks great, did 2 songs, a Vince Gill number, which I think was, "Take Your Memory With You When You Go", if I remember and then she did a new song that will be on her upcoming album. Emmylou then brought out the square dancers, after being reminded that they were there (she was headed to a commercial), and as she usually does when she hosts the segment with the square dancers, joined them for their number. No she did not spin around, but she did dance with one of the dancers. I have seen her dance with them before and the audience loves it. After that, she said a few words about her being back at the Opry House for the first time since the flood and how great it looked. I had to think for a minute and she was right. All the other times she has been at the Opry, it has been while the show is at the Ryman in the winter. I know she prefers that venue versus the Opry House. She and Vince finished the segment with a duet.

The last segment was hosted by the man of the night, Vince Gill. After the curtain came up, they presented a video tribute to Vince, showing his first Opry appearance with Jimmy C Newman hosting, the night he became a member with Roy Acuff, and then clips of various Opry performances through the years. Very nicely done and Vince was moved by it. Of course, a standing ovation followed. Vince then did, "Look At Us", which I have to admit is my favorite Vince Gill song. He introduced his daughter Jenny, and she did an awesome job with her Dad looking on behind her, and visably moved. After the commercial, he brought out his wife Amy Grant. She did two numbers and Vince stayed and played guitar for her. Her first number was a Christian ballad and then she did a song dedicated to Vince. After that, Pete Fisher came out and presented Vince with a framed copy of the cover of the program for the night and Vince again received a standing ovation. He then said a few words about the Opry and how he felt and finished off the night with the "song that brought me here", "When I Call Your Name". With that the show ended.

The show lasted about 2 hours and 45 minutes, with the 15 minute intermission so it was nice that they were not watching the time. I have commented before that on the nights with only one show, that most of these shows have been running over on time. And, as I mentioned, the show was a sellout, with a demand for tickets. I kept thinking that if there was ever a night for 2 shows, this was it, but I don't think the 2nd show would of had the emotion of the first one.

The area outside the Opry House looked very nice. However, I will note that since my last visit, they have torn down the Acuff Theater that set next to the Opry House. I know it was damaged pretty good in the flood and I have heard that they are going to use it for bus parking. Also, the Opry Museum is still standing, but they have taken the Opry Museum name off the building and are using it for storage. They still say they are going to either rebuild or reopen the museum, but at this point, nothing has been done.

That about covers it. It was a very good trip and the show was awesome to attend. As I mentioned when covering the line up, I like the fact that they are recognizing anniversaries of Opry members, but they need to do it for everyone. Vince deserves the attention as he really has shown an example to many others that you can be a star, still be out on the road doing shows, yet still support the Opry. This weekend was his 14th Opry show of the year, and I know he has more scheduled. Others could follow his example.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Grand Ole Opry Line Ups 8/12 & 8/13

The Grand Ole Opry has posted the line ups for the shows this weekend. There is one show on Friday night and one show on Saturday night. The highlight of the weekend will be Vince Gill celebrating his 20th year as an Opry member. It will be a family affair on Saturday night, as Vince will be joined by his wife Amy Grant, and his daughter Jenny Gill. Also appearing on Saturday's show will be The Time Jumpers, who Vince regularly performs with, along with Opry member Martina McBride.

The Friday Night Opry will feature Opry members Diamond Rio, along with guest artists Hunter Hayes, Carter's Chord and Andy Griggs. Bill Anderson is scheduled for both nights, which will be his first Opry appearances since his 50 year anniversary weekend, and Jimmy Dickens is scheduled for both shows, even though he missed the Tuesday Night Opry.

One more mention regarding Vince and his 20 years as an Opry member. I like the fact that the Opry is recognizing anniversary dates for its members. But, they need to do it for all members and not just a selected few. Ideally, I would like to see the Opry do a special mention for a member when they reach the 10, 20 and 25 year mark, and then every 5 years after that until their 50th year. After 50, I would like to see it mentioned every year. It does not have to be a big production, but it would be nice if management came out and gave the artist a little love and praise for a job well done. But, like I said, they need to do it to everyone. Jimmy C Newman reached 55 years last week, and no big deal was made. Be consistent!!

Friday August 12
7:00: Mike Snider(host); Jimmy C Newman; Hunter Hayes
7:30: Jimmy Dickens(host); Jan Howard; Diamond Rio
8:15: Bill Anderson(host); Jack Greene; Carter's Chord
8:45: Jean Shepard(host); Jesse McReynolds; Andy Griggs

Saturday August 13
7:00: Jimmy Dickens(host); John Anderson
7:30: Bill Anderson(host); The Whites; Jean Shepard; The Time Jumpers
8:15: Emmylou Harris(host); Bobby Osborne & Rocky Top X-Press; Martina McBride; Opry Square Dancers
8:45: Vince Gill(host); Jenny Gill; Amy Grant

I would not be surprised to see Vince on stage earlier than his 8:45 segment. Maybe with The Time Jumpers and maybe with Emmylou. And, I would hope that the Opry does dedicate the shows to Billy Grammer, which I do fully expect.

Now, for those keeping score at home, Friday night there are 12 artists listed, of which 9 are Opry members. Saturday night, of the 12 artists listed, with one slot to fill, 8 are Opry members.

Finally, here is the line up for the Tuesday Night Opry, August 16

7:00: The Whites; Randy Montana
7:30: Jimmy Dickens; Danny Gokey
8:15: Pam Tillis; Randy Houser
8:45: Ricky Skaggs; Charlie Daniels Band

Not a bad line up for the Tuesday night show.

I will be in Nashville on Saturday for the Opry show and I will offer my observations after I return, the 1st of next week. Hopefully, it will be a good one.

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

Monday, August 8, 2011

Osborne Brothers-August 8, 1964

It was 47 years ago today, August 8, 1964, that Bobby and Sonny, the Osborne Brothers joined the Grand Ole Opry. Even though Sonny retired a few years ago, Bobby Osborne, along with his Rocky Top X-Press, continue on the Opry today.

Bobby and Sonny were both born in Hyden, Kentucky, with Bobby being born in 1931 and Sonny in 1937. They began to perform professionally in 1953, while living in Dayton, Ohio. Even at the point, both had lots of professional experience with other groups. Bobby was part of the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, Jimmy Martin and the Stanley Brothers, before he went to Korea as part of the Korean War. Sonny, while still a teenager, toured with Bill Monroe.

After spending several years touring with other groups, the brothers returned to Dayton in December 1955, and began performing as the Osborne Brothers & Red Allen. Allen was a singer-guitarist, and also in the group was fiddler Art Stamper. After touring clubs in the area, they were signed to MGM records by Wesley Rose, who heard a demo tape of "Ruby" and was impressed by Bobby's pure, high tenor and twin bango arrangement. The record was their first hit and they were on their way.

Red Allen left in 1958 and was replaced by a number of singer-guitarists, including Benny Birchfield, Jean Shepard's future husband. Thanks to the help of Doyle Wilburn, they signed with DECCA records in 1963 and joined the Opry the following year.

The brothers broke the ranks of traditional bluegrass acts by adding steel guitars, a piano and drums to their records. It was through these changes that the Osborne Brothers began seeing their records show up on traditional country charts and their songs being played on traditional country radio stations. Their big career hit was "Rocky Top" in 1968. To this day, it is their biggest and most popular number and is one of the state songs of Tennessee. In 1971, they were voted Best Vocal Group of the Year by the Country Music Association and in 1973, they were the first bluegrass group to play at the White House.

By the mid 1970's, the brothers began to drift back to a more traditional bluegrass sound and since that time, they have been one of the most popular acts on the bluegrass circuit. Even today, Bobby is famous for his three-part harmonies and twin fiddles. In 1994, they were elected to the International Bluegrass Music Association's Hall of Fame, the highest honor in bluegrass.

Sonny retired from performing in 2005, although he is still around Nashville and other parts of the country taking part in music camps, and he can still be seen once in a while, hanging around the Opry.

In honor of the 47th anniversary of the Osborne Brothers joining the cast of the Opry, here is the line-up from August 8, 1964.

7:30: Jimmy C Newman(host); Jean Shepard; Charlie Louvin; Del Wood; Ernie Ashworth
8:00: Bill Anderson(host); OSBORNE BROTHERS; Dottie West; Cousin Jody
8:30: Porter Wagoner(host); Bill Carlisle; Billy Walker; Archie Campbell; Connie Smith
9:00: Roy Acuff(host); Marion Worth
9:30: Hank Snow(host); Leroy Van Dyke; June Carter; Carter Family; The Browns
10:00: Porter Wagoner(host); OSBORNE BROTHERS; Jean Shepard
10:15: Jimmy C Newman(host); Dottie West; Del Wood
10:30: Roy Acuff(host); Bill Anderson; Ernie Ashworth
10:45: Leroy Van Dyke(host); Charlie Louvin
11:00: Hank Snow(host); Marion Worth; Billy Walker; Bill Carlisle
11:30: Marty Robbins(host); Carter Family; Cousin Jody; The Browns; Archie Campbell

Congratulations to the Osborne Brothers!!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Observations From Listening To The Opry Last Night

Last night, the Oak Ridge Boys became the Opry's newest members as they had their official induction. Jeannie Seely hosted the segment and Jimmy Dickens, along with Pete Fisher, did the official honors. I thought it went pretty well. The Oak Ridge Boys seemed very moved by becoming Opry members and they each spoke, giving some heartfelt comments. I think it was Duane Allen that mentioned the Oak Ridge Quartet, and the all night gospel sings that took place at the Ryman Auditorium in 1948. The Opry had a very nice video message from George H. W. Bush, and I know that was appreciated. The audience, and I understand it was pretty much a full house, gave them an outstanding ovation and the Oak's responded in kind. It is great to have them a part of the Opry.

As far as the rest of the show, despite my earlier reservations, I thought it was a good one. Jimmy Dickens hosted the first segment and it was typical Jimmy. He sounded pretty good. Connie Smith was her usual outstanding self and then Jacob Lyda made his Opry debut. He did 2 songs, and I have to tell you he sounds very country. But, I also have to comment that he sounds so much like many of the other male country singers out there today. You could play 10 songs by 10 different new male singers and they would all sound about the same. Of course, that is nothing new in country music as the same was said for all the country male performers who wore hats back in the late 1980's. But I will say that Jacob did sound good and the audience really responded to him.

Jean Shepard hosted the next segment and her guests were Jimmy C Newman and Sam Bush. Jimmy C did 2 great songs including Jean's favorite, "Cajun Stripper." The only thing missing was that this past week, Jimmy celebrated 55 years as an Opry member, joining the show on August 4, 1956. At least from what I heard, nothing was mentioned, which is a shame. 55 years deserves something said. Sam Bush did the great Grandpa Jones song, "8 More Miles To Louisville", and he did a very nice job with it. For his 2nd song, Sam did "The Ballad Of Stringbean." If you have not heard the song, it is a real haunting song that hits you, especially if you knew or remember Stringbean. The one thing I can say about bluegrass songs is that some of them written over the years have a real message to them and so many of them, like this one, are based on true stories.

After the intermission, Jim Ed Brown hosted the 3rd segment, with Jan Howard as his first guest. Good job by both Jim Ed and Jan. He then introduced Troy Cassar-Daley from Australia, who is a big country star in that country. He almost sounded like Merle Haggard, and did one of his songs. I forget what his 2nd song was, and it may have been another Merle number, but he sounded really country. Nice job.

The show then finished up with the Jeannie Seely and Oak Ridge Boys segment.

All in all, it was not a bad show on Saturday night. I just wished they had more artists on.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tuesday Night Opry 8/9

Clint Black will be making another Opry appearance this week as part of the Tuesday Night Opry. This makes 2 for Clint this year after being missing in action for a number of years. Actually, it is good to see Clint back. Newcomers Craig Campbell and Brett Elderidge will also be on the show.

7:00: George Hamilton IV; Craig Campbell
7:30: Jimmy Dickens; Restless Heart
8:15: Riders In The Sky; Brett Elderidge
8:45: Jesse McReynolds; Clint Black

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Grand Ole Opry Line Up 8/5 & 8/6--Oak Ridge Boys Induction

The Oak Ridge Boys will officially become the Opry's newest members on Saturday night August 6, as the Opry has posted this weekends line ups. And I have to tell you, I am disappointed for a number of reasons.

First, I had expected a pretty special show on Saturday as the Opry usually goes all out when a new member comes on board. Perhaps it is the time of year or some of the members had other commitments, but the Saturday night line up is really nothing special.

Second, there are only 11 artists listed for the Saturday night show. And of those 11 artists, only 7 are Opry members. 66 entertainers are members of the Opry, and only 7 could be scheduled for a show welcoming some new members? And the Friday Night Opry is not much better, as only 8 Opry members are scheduled.

Third, I have to question some of the artists scheduled this weekend. On Saturday night, Jacob Lyda will be making his Opry debut. Who is Jacob Lyda? Just another on the list of new country artists who have a new CD out and, while I am sure he is pretty talented to get a record deal, he will probably be another one that we will never hear from again in a few years. And if you listen to him, he sounds like a cookie-cutter of so many other male artists today. Also on the Opry on Saturday night is Troy Cassar-Daley. Troy is a country artist from Australia, who has had success in that country and is trying to make it in this country. He has written a lot of his material, but he is really an unknown to American audiences.

So there you have it. 11 artists on Saturday night, of which only 7 are Opry members and 2 are basically newcomers or unknown talents. And the Opry manages to get $55.00 for a prime ticket!!! It never stops to amaze me.

Now that I said that, there are a couple of good things this weekend. On Friday night, Gary Morris will be making an Opry appearance. He had a nice series of hit records in the 1980's and I always thought he had a fine voice. Also, Shelley Skidmore will be making another Opry appearance. And on Saturday night, Sam Bush will return to the Opry stage. And not to forget the main event, the Oak Ridge Boys will be inducted as Opry members. As I said before, I really believe the Oak Ridge Boys will be great Opry members. They have fine crowd appeal and I really believe that they understand what the Opry is all about. Congratulations to the Boys!!!

Here are the line ups for this weekend:

Friday August 5
7:00: Jim Ed Brown(host); Jesse McReynolds; Shelly Skidmore
7:30: Jimmy Dickens(host); Jimmy C Newman; Bucky Covington
8:15: George Hamilton IV(host); Jack Greene; Jamie O'Neal
8:45: Riders In The Sky(host); Connie Smith; Gary Morris

Saturday August 6
7:00: Jimmy Dickens(host); Connie Smith; Jacob Lyda
7:30: Jean Shepard(host); Jimmy C Newman; Sam Bush
8:15: Jim Ed Brown(host); Jan Howard; Troy Cassar-Daley; Opry Square Dancers
8:45: Jeannie Seely(host); Oak Ridge Boys

Next Saturday night, Vince Gill will be celebrating his 20 year as an Opry member. It should be a great night and the show is already sold-out.

Again, congratulations to the Oak Ridge Boys!!!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Skeeter Davis

I just wanted to take a moment and look back at the career of Mary Frances Penick, otherwise known as Skeeter Davis, who became a member of the Grand Ole Opry on August 4, 1959. Had she lived, Skeeter would be celebrating 52 years as an Opry member.

Skeeter was born in Dry Ridge, Kentucky on December 30, 1931, in the middle of the depression. Her grandfather gave her the nickname of Skeeter. Skeeter grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry and would sing along to the singers she heard on the radio. While in high school, her best friend was Betty Jack Davis, who was no relation to Skeeter. The two formed a duo called the Davis Sisters.

After spending some time doing local radio and television, RCA gave the duo a recording contract in 1952. Their debut record was a hit, "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know" and would be on the charts for six months. However, as the record was moving on the charts, Skeeter and Betty Jack were involved in a car accident that resulted in the death of Betty Jack.

Skeeter continued as a solo artist and began to establish her own career. Chet Atkins was her producer, and together they had a stream of top 10 hits, beginning in 1959 with, "Set Him Free." The one thing Chet did in the recordings that helped her career was that he "double-tracked" her recordings, to make it her records sound like they were still Davis Sisters duets. You career record of course was, "The End of the World".

After joining the Opry, Skeeter married Ralph Emery. Both Skeeter and Ralph have written autobiographies over the years detailing the marriage. Both came out of the marriage with bitter feelings toward each other, The marriage ended in 1964.

Skeeter was known for her very deep and public religious views and in 1973, she became involved in a very public dispute with the Opry over her support on the radio show of some "Jesus people", who had been arrested at a Nashville shopping center. The Opry suspended Skeeter from the Opry. The suspension lasted a little more than a year, after which the Opry, after repeated requests from fans, allowed her to rejoin the show. Skeeter was under suspension at the time the Opry moved from the Ryman Auditorium to the new Opry House, thus she did not appear on the Opry on the night of the 1st performance at the new Opry House.

Her last hits were in the early 1970's, but even though she developed some serious health issues, including breast cancer and ultimately that cancer spread through her entire body, she continued to carry on and perform at the Opry. She was noted for her colorful outfits and skirts and later, her headbands.

Skeeter was known through out the world and she details her career in her autobiography, "Bus Fare to Kentucky."

Skeeter passed away on September19, 2004, after being under hospice care. She died single and after her death, many of her personal items were auctioned off and sold.

Skeeter's last show that I have listed was in 2001, and during those final years when she was active on the Opry, he was usually only scheduled on the 1st show on Saturday night, and mostly within the 1st two segments of the show. Skeeter's last scheduled Opry show was on Saturday February 3, 2001, when she was scheduled for the shows that night. In honor of Skeeter Davis, here is the line up from those 2 shows:

Saturday February 3, 2001
6:30: Porter Wagoner(host); The Whites; Bill Carlisle; Jim & Jesse; Jack Greene
7:00: Jean Shepard(host); Wilkinsons; Billy Walker; Hal Ketchum; Peasall Sisters; Alison Krauss & Union Station; Emmylou Harris
8:00: Jeannie Seely(host); SKEETER DAVIS; Mike Snider; Holly Dunn; Opry Squaredance Band; Melvin Sloan Dancers
8:30: Jimmy Dickens(host); Wilma Lee Cooper; Del Reeves; Vince Gill

9:30: Porter Wagoner(host); The Whites; SKEETER DAVIS; Peasall Sisters; Vince Gill
10:00: Jimmy Dickens(host); Wilma Lee Cooper; Billy Walker; Alison Krauss & Union Station
10:30: Jimmy C Newman(host); Osborne Brothers; Wilkinsons; Opry Squaredance Band; Melvin Sloan Dancers
11:00: Jeannie Seely(host); Stonewall Jackson; Mike Snider; Emmylou Harris
11:30: George Hamilton IV(host); Charlie Walker; Hal Ketchum

Just a side note: This show was only 10 years ago. But look at the list of those we have lost from that show, or are no longer a part of the Opry: Porter Wagoner; Bill Carlisle; Jim McReynolds; Billy Walker; Skeeter Davis; Holly Dunn; Melvin Sloan; Wilma Lee Cooper; Del Reeves; Sonny Osborne; Charlie Walker. That is quite a number.

In my final thoughts, Skeeter Davis was one of those Opry members who either liked or you did not. Personally, I did not care for her vocal style or songs. That is just me. But, I also admire her for the way she carried on and continued to do the Opry during her personal illness. Skeeter did not live the easiest life. She had three marriages and other issues. But, I still appreciate her talents as a member of the Opry.