Friday morning we were greated with the news that Rollin "Oscar" Sullivan had passed away in Nashville at the age of 93. Rollin was one-half of the great country duo, Lonzo and Oscar, members of the Grand Ole Opry for many years. I am not going to go into the entire history of Lonzo and Oscar as that has been printed elsewhere, especially in the Tennessean over this past weekend. While there were several Lonzo's over the years, in addition to those mentioned in the articles I have posted below, there was only 1 Oscar. Part of the Grand Ole Opry since 1942, Rollin made the decision to retire in 1985. Lonzo and Oscar were popular and loyal Opry members. In addition to their Opry duties, for a period of time they operated a popular dinner and show theater in Nashville. My favorite memory of Lonzo and Oscar, and mentioned by several in their comments, was when the duo appeared on the segments hosted by Hank Snow, and the problems Hank had pronouncing their names. There was good natured kidding that went on between them.
I have decided to reprint a couple of articles on Lonzo and Oscar that appeared in the Grand Ole Opry history books over the years. The 1st article I wanted to post is from the Grand Ole Opry book published in 1952:
"Few performers have been able to burlesque country musicians successfully, for sincerity is one of the qualities most important to success in the country music profession. The team of Lonzo and Oscar are the only ones on the Grand Ole Opry who can get by with poking fun at their fellow performers and the music that they sing seriously. Lonzo and Oscar have been going strong on the Grand Ole Opry since 1944, when their first big hit was "I'm My Own Grandpa." At that time and for several years afterward, they depended more on straight novelty tunes such as There's A Hole In The Bottom Of The Sea, If Texas Knew What Arkansas, Onion, Onion, I'll Go Chasin' Women, and My Dreams Turned Into Nightmares. Later, however, they began a series of humorous versions of top hillbilly tunes, the first of which was "I'm Movin' On, No. 2." This was a take-off on Hank Snow's big hit. Lonzo and Oscar were so successful with their version that they followed it with "Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way, No. 2" and several others.
About this time they enlarged their team by adding a third member, Cousin Jody, a toothless comic with a dozen humorous facial expression, comic antics, and a masterful if uproariously funny technique on the steel guitar. Lonzo and Oscar themselves are both accomplished musicians. Before joining the Grand Ole Opry, Oscar played drums, piano, saxophone, and mandolin. On the Opry, he has concentrated on the mandolin and is considered one of the country's top men on that instrument. Lonzo also plays the guitar, fiddle, and bass fiddle. On the Opry, he confines himself principally to the guitar. All three members of the team wear exaggerated hillbilly costumes. Lonzo wears a plaid shirt, ordinary country slacks, Little Abner shoes, and a cap. Oscar wears a pair of plaid modified knickers, a loud shirt, suspenders, a tousled blonde wig, a comic felt hat, and he blacks out several teeth. Cousin Jody wears a checkered shirt, oversized cotton slacks with suspenders, a felt hat turned up in front, and he takes his teeth out.
In addition to their regular appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, this team makes frequent guest appearances on other WSM shows, on local and network television shows, and plays many personal appearances from coast to coast. They record for RCA Victor. Lonzo and Oscar are brothers, Johnny and Rollin Sullivan. Their original home was in Kentucky, but they now live in Nashville. Both are married and have children. Cousin Jody, in reality Tex Summey, is also married and makes his home in Nashville. Despite his nickname, he is a native of Tennessee."
The 2nd article is from the Grand Ole Opry WSM Picture-History Book, Volume 7, Number 3 from 1984, when Dave Hooten was Lonzo.
"Rare are the performers who have been able to burlesque or satire country musicians successfully as in the case of Lonzo & Oscar. Born Rollin Sullivan and Dave Hooten, they are the only duo on the Grand Ole Opry who can get by with poking fun at their collegues and the music they sing seriously. For Rollin Sullivan and Dave Hooten, the road to stardom was rocky. Originally, the team was composed of Ken Marvin and Oscar (Rollin) and they made their debut on WTJS Radio in Jackson, Tennessee shortly before World War II. Shortly after this, Ken withdrew from the act and Rollin's brother, Johnny Sullivan became a full-time member.
Oscar joined the Opry in 1942, and Lonzo became part of the cast two years later. Once they joined forces, the began to click. Their first and biggest record was "I'm My Own Grandpa," a song which they frankly admit they didn't think would make it at all. Tragedy struck in 1967 when Johnny (Lonzo) died of a heart attack. As agreed before his death, "The show must go on," thereby Dave Hooten was asked to replace the void left by Johnny's death. Columbia Records accepted the new Lonzo and Oscar team, and their first release, "Did You Have to Bring That Up While I Was Eating?" has started them on a new ladder of fame.
They continued on to new heights as a comedy team making hundreds of television films and records. They have appeared on numerous network telecasts and have worked extensively with many syndicated television shows originating from Nashville. In addition, their comedy stylings have graced numerous transcriptions and Armed Forces radio shows. As comedians, they agree you're got to act fast. "Our motto is you've got to make the guy laugh for the first time in five seconds. Then the second laugh comes easy. You shouldn't give them time to think. You need quick, catchy stuff. We've built our comedy on tearing down songs. If someone has a sweet song, we change the words to make it funny." The future looks bright for this duo, as their schedule is filled with personal appearances throughout the world."
Rollin lived to the age of 93, and his death was somewhat unexpected. After not being in the public eye for a number of years, he recently began appearing on some of the country reunion shows that have been shown on RFD-TV. On those shows he looked pretty good. When I was at the Opry a couple of years ago, Jean Shepard introduced Rollin, who was sitting on the stage. He stood up and recieved a nice response from the audience.
In memory of Rollin Sullivan, I have decided to post the Grand Ole Opry line-up and running order of the show from Saturday October 19, 1985, the last Opry performance by Lonzo & Oscar:
6:30: Mrs Grissoms
Del Reeves (host): Two Dollars In The Jukebox/A Dime At A Time/Looking At The World Through A Windshield
Vic Willis Trio: You Looked So Good In Love
Del Reeves: Don't You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me
4 Guys (host): Give Me One More Chance
Wilma Lee Cooper: Big Midnight Special
4 Guys: My Special Angel
Roy Acuff (host): Wabash Cannonball
Loretta Lynn: Wouldn't That Be Great/Heart, Don't Do This To Me/Coal Miner's Daughter
LONZO & OSCAR: I'M MY OWN GRANDPA/A BEAUTIFUL LIFE
Howdy Forrester: Instrumental
Roy Acuff: I'll Fly Away
7:30: Standard Candy
Jimmy Dickens (host): I'm Little But I'm Loud
Billy Walker: You Gave Me A Mountain
Jean Shepard: Second Fiddle
George Hamilton IV: Early Morning Rain
Crook Brothers/Stoney Mountain Cloggers: Sugar In The Goard
Jimmy Dickens: Raggedy Ann
8:00: Martha White
Grandpa Jones (host): Apple Jack
Jeanne Pruett: A Rented Room
Jack Greene: There Goes My Everything
Roy Drusky: Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy
Connie Smith: You've Got Me Right Where You Want Me
Tommy Hunter: Paradise
Grandpa Jones: Gone Home
8:30: Music Valley Merchants
Hank Snow (host): I Have You And That's Enough For Me
Jimmy C Newman: LaCajun Band
Charlie Walker: Time Changes Everything
Stonewall Jackson: Don't Be Angry
Bill Carlisle: Same Ol' Tale That The Crow Told Me
Hank Snow: I've Done At Least One Thing That Was Good In My Life
9:30: Dollar General
Del Reeves (host): Louisiana Legs
George Hamilton IV: Abilene
4 Guys: Whiskey And Water
Loretta Lynn: You Ain't Woman Enough/Fist City/Don't Come Home A Drinkin'/ You're Looking At Country/Wouldn't It Be Great
Del Reeves: Anywhere U.S.A.
10:00: Little Debbie
Jimmy Dickens (host): Out Behind The Barn
Jan Howard: Why Lady Why
Ray Pillow: The 24th Hour
Jimmy Dickens: My Eyes Are Jealous
Roy Acuff (host): Night Train To Memphis
Connie Smith: Did We Have To Come This Far To Say Goodbye/Sing, Sing, Sing
10:30: Martha White
Grandpa Jones (host): Nelly Bly
Jeannie Seely: Tell Me Again
LONZO & OSCAR: WEDDING BELLS/I CAN'T HELP IT/YOUR CHEATIN' HEART/COLD, COLD HEART
Grandpa Jones: The Sweet Sunny South
Jack Greene (host): Midnight Tennessee Woman
Jean Shepard: I Just Had You On My Mind
Crook Brothers/Stoney Mountain Cloggers: Old Joe Clark
Jack Greene: I'm Going Through Hell For An Angel
Hank Snow (host): Wreck Of Old No. 9
Justin Tubb: Be Better To Your Baby
Stonewall Jackson: Why I'm Walkin'
Billy Walker: Coffee Brown Eyes
Bill Carlisle: Too Old To Cut The Mustard
Hank Snow: My Oahu Rose
Jimmy C Newman (host): Jambalaya
Charlie Walker: Who's Heart Are You Breaking Tonight
Roy Drusky: Have I Stayed Away Too Long
Johnny Russell: Kawliga/No One Will Ever Know
Jimmy C Newman: Tawna Woo Woo
With the death of Rollin Sullivan, another link to the Opry's past is gone. There are only several living country artists who were part of the Opry before World War II. As each one passes, another piece of history goes with it. While I don't know if Lonzo and Oscar had Hall of Fame careers, they did have nice Opry careers and I was glad that Bill Anderson and Eddie Stubbs mentioned Rollin on the Opry this past weekend and took a few moments to talk about him.
Thanks to all who took a few moments this weekend to remember Rollin "Oscar" Sullivan.