Sunday, September 9, 2012

Remembering Rollin "Oscar" Sullivan

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:

1st show
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

6:45: Rudy's
4 Guys (host): Give Me One More Chance
Wilma Lee Cooper: Big Midnight Special
4 Guys: My Special Angel

7:00: Shoney's
Roy Acuff (host): Wabash Cannonball
Loretta Lynn: Wouldn't That Be Great/Heart, Don't Do This To Me/Coal Miner's Daughter
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

2nd show
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

10:15: Sunbeam
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
Grandpa Jones: The Sweet Sunny South

10:45: Beech-Nut
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

11:00: Coca-Cola
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

11:30: Quincy's
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.


  1. Byron,

    Thanks for posting these items on Oscar Sullivan and his last Opry appearance. I have some notes to add about this night at the Opry and Lonzo and Oscar.

    This was Mr. Acuff's first night back after being off ill since June 8th. Also, for those who do not recognize the name Tommy Hunter, he was the Porter Wagoner of Canada. A fine country singer who had a long running weekly show on the CBC that was picked up by TNN back in the 80's. Donna and LeRoy Anderson who appeared on his show were also with him this night. Tommy is retiring this year after a farewell tour of Cananda.

    Back to Lonzo and Oscar. During the TV portion Grant Turner came to center stage and made a little farewell speach about Lonzo and Oscar before they performed. They sang I'm My Own Grandpa and then "I'll have a Beautiful Life" which featured Dave(Lonzo), Terry Eldridge and Grady Eldridge each singing verses while Oscar enjoyed singing harmony with them. Terry and Grady were from West Terre Haute about 25 miles from where I live. They all had played a local festival that summer and the news paper mentioned Oscar's upcoming retirement. As I recall, Johnny Russell said some very nice and heartfelt words about Lonzo and Oscar on the last portion.

    Although Lonzo and Oscar had made their fianl appearance on the Opry they still had one more to make over WSM. They had ask Justin Tubb about five months prior to this night if they could do the Midnite Jamboree this last night. At about 12:45am on Sunday October 20 they were intoduced by Justin at the Record Shop. They sang Midnight Flyer and A Poet without Wings which Oscar wrote and Oscar sang the lead. They did some comedy and then Justin ask them to sing There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea as a favor to him saying it was the first song he had heard them sing. As far as I know this was the very last song Dave and Oscar did together.

    There has been a lot of discussion here lately about Archie Campbell, Rod Brasfield and other old school comdians on the Opry. Oscar was about the last of those great folks. Too bad we won't see the likes again. I know that some got a little off color for their time but there are few out there today who can do it without being vauger or putting someone besides themselves down. Besides, how many understand that old humor today. Most think the vauger and demeaning is what humor is about anymore.

    Thanks Oscar, Minnie and all the others for making us laugh in a gentle way.


  2. Fred, Bismarck:

    What a tribute! Thanks, Jim.

  3. Jim, thanks for filling in that additional information. While I knew about the Opry portion of what you wrote, I did not know that they did the Midnight Jamboree that night.

    You are so right about Tommy Hunter. He had a weekly country music show in Canada for many, many years that was played on TNN for a while, I think on Saturday nights after the Opry or Statler Brother's show (I forget which one). About once a year, he would make his way to Nashville to line up his guests for the coming year on his TV show and would always do the Opry.

  4. Great stuff from Byron and Jim! I'd also add that Mr. Acuff had returned to the Opry the week before when they rolled out the birthday cake for the Opry's 60th. I read later that he had had a pulmonary embolism and he said that night his doctors had told him he could not perform yet. I have the feeling that during that week, he told the doctors, shut up.

    I remember that night Oscar said he'd never heard a harsh word spoken at the Opry. I turned to my mother, who grew up with the Opry, and said, "He must not have spent much time around Lester and Earl." She said, "They never had harsh words. They didn't speak to each other!" I thought that was cute.

    RIP Rollin Sullivan.

  5. I do not know the circumstances behind "Oscar" wanting to retire from the Opry in 1985. He never did really seem to quit performing and appearing at places. I believe if he would had stayed on with the cast into his 90's, like Bill Carlisle..etc. With the longevity he had in Country Music (nearly 70 years), he no doubt would properly have been a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame at his death.
    But the question is which "Lonzo" would have gone in with him? I'm leaning more toward Johnny Sullivan myself, even though he wasn't a part of the duo at the conception. He seems to be the one that is the most loved and remembered.

    I read a article the other day about Ray Walker being included in the Jordanaires induction in the Hall of Fame over Hugh Jarrett. Some think Jarrett should have been included in the induction, as was the case with Jimmy Fortune and Lew DeWitt, who both went in with The Statler Brothers.

    If Lonzo & Oscar was ever considered for the Hall of Fame, the "Lonzo" question may have be raised.

    With the passing of "Oscar", I agree, a part of the Opry is gone - Comedy. Heaven is surly laughing more than we are now with all of them gone.

  6. Michael you are correct about Mr. Acuff and the birthday celebration and cake the week before. And I know he was weak when he came back because he made comments about it and had guests close his show a few times.

    I also recall Oscar saying that folks at the Opry were like a family and he had never heard any harsh words.

    David, this is just my opinion but I think it may have been more Dave Hooten wanting to end the act than Oscar wanting to retire. Dave went on shortly after with his daughter Davida and Terry and Grady Eldridge as a bluegrass/country act. Not sure how well they did. I believe Terry and Grady moved on to other jobs pretty quick. Again, just my opinion, but Dave never seemed that into the routines that Oscar loved to do so much.


  7. I think you are right Jim regarding Dave Hooten wanting to move on to something else and Rollin not really wanting to bring in a new Lonzo, which I can understand at that point in his career.

    I know that after he retired from the Opry, he still did some performing as Oscar. Not much, but some.

    This brings up another point. Lonzo and Oscar actually "retired" from the Opry and were given a proper send-off. I know in his book, Sam Wellington of the 4 Guys wrote that he wished the 4 Guys had retired with the proper send-off instead of replacing people and eventually getting fired. I know back in the day, there were other Opry members who left the show to move on, or did indeed retire and left the Opry. I think that would include Marion Worth, Margie Bowes, Cousin Jody among others.

    Now you look at today's Opry with Ricky Van Shelton, Barbara Mandrell and Jeanne Pruett retired from the business but still maintaining Opry membership. By all rights, they should be retired from the Opry since they are no longer performing, with the proper send-off. And how about George Jones, who announced that next year will be his last as a performer. Not that it would matter in George's case, but should he retire from the Opry also, and be given a send-off?

  8. I wondered when and why Lonzo & Oscar left the Opry. Thanks for the info about them.

    If I recall correctly, I read that Jeanne Pruett offered to give up her Opry membership when she retired, but Opry management refused her request.

  9. I don't know whether Dave Hooten didn't want to do the routines, but he did talk Oscar out of wearing the "rube" outfits, as they were known. I think he felt, as Archie Campbell did, that what mattered was your material. So then I wonder whether he felt they were getting a little too old to be acting as silly as Lonzo & Oscar did--which I don't agree with, but I wonder. As I recall, when they ended the act, Oscar retired to Kentucky and later came back to Nashville. I do remember that on the night they retired, when they walked off the stage after their portion on Mr. Acuff's segment, I think it was Oscar who put out his hand. Dave took it, they shook, and then they wrapped arms around each other's shoulders as they left--a nice scene.

    One minor possible correction: I THINK Cousin Jody died while still a member?

    1. I wondered that about Cousin Jody as well. I did not know he retired. I don't believe he was even 60 years old when he died. Also, I did not know for sure if he was actually a "official Opry Member" or just a performer always on there over the years?

  10. Tex Summey, "Cousin Jody" was an Opry member. He joined the Opry. In the 1969 edition of the Opry History Picture Book, it states that he "has been an Opry regular since 1937." From the best that I can tell, he became an actual
    Opry member on January 20, 1968, but I would have to do a bit more research into that.
    He passed away on August 18, 1975 at the age of 56.

    As far as his last Opry appearance, that was on May 5, 1971, more than 4 years before his death. (His last scheduled appearance was October 16, 1971 but he cancelled out). Looking at his Opry appearances, it ranged from 32 in 1968 down to 4 in 1971. In 1970, he did the Opry 14 only 14 times. So while he was a member, he was generally good for only 1 appearance per weekend, at the most.

  11. Nice article on Lonzo & Oscar.I know about Lloyd George [1st Lonzo]and Dave Hooten [3rd Lonzo]but I never seen them on TV.I just remember Johnny Sullivan [2nd Lonzo] on PBS [the Gannaway shows from 1955-56] and on youtube.I know Lloyd George died in 1991 age 67 but I don't know if Dave Hooten is alive or not.But I do hope Lonzo & Oscar [Rollin and Johnny ] end up in the hall of fame.

  12. I also hope Cousin Jody ends up in the hall of fame too.He had a long career [1937-1975]He was pretty good on the dobro [''bitsic board'']He was great.

  13. Corection;I misspelled ''biscuit board'' I love the way Cousin Jody played that biscuit board.Great.

  14. Byron, that is really interesting about Cousin Jody, because he was around there forever. A couple of points. One, I THINK he first came to the Opry as one of the Crazy Tennesseans, who then became the Smoky Mountain Boys. He was one of three members who quit at the end of 1938, and that led to Mr. Acuff hiring a different dobro player who I think we all know. Two, I just looked on the Social Security death index, and there was a James Summey who died in the Nashville area in 1975, and he's listed as having been born in 1913, although his tombstone lists his birthdate as 1919. I guess maybe like some others, he fudged his age a bit? I also wonder whether he became ill. The cause of death is listed as a heart attack, but that doesn't mean there weren't other health problems.

  15. Much like Bashful Brother Oswald. Short membership with the Opry, but was around forever.

  16. The timeline on list Cousin Jody as an artist who joined the cast during the decade of the 1930's. So they may not even know their own history. LOL

  17. Fred:

    Great discussion, everybody. Orioles manager Earl Weaver used to talk about the importance of "deep depth" on his club. I like the deep depth around here -- by which, on the rare occasion that somebody is stumped for an answer, he knows right where to look to find it!

  18. Mike you are right about Jody coming with Roy Acuff in 1937 and then leaving his group (he left New Years Day 1939). After he left Roy, he worked with Pee Wee King as a member of the Golden West Cowboy's, and as one of the members of that group, was one of the first people to play the steel guitar at the Opry. He then worked for a while with Oral Rhodes as Odie and Jody, and then joined up with Lonzo and Oscar.

    When you consider that and the work he did with Lonzo and Oscar, and then as a solo artist, he was around the Opry forever!! And David, you are right in the sense that he does sound like a Brother Oswald in the fact that he was around the Opry forever, but actually a member for a short period of time.

    When Jim Denny left the Opry in the 1950s and started Jim Denny Artists Bureau, Inc., Cousin Jody was listed in Denny's brochure as one of the artists represented by Denny's agency, as Jody is listed as a solo artist. (Interesting that Lonzo and Oscar are among the few Opry members not listed as being represented by Denny's agency).

    In the 1952 Grand Ole Opry book I have, Cousin Jody is not listed as a solo artist, but he is listed as being a part of Lonzo and Oscar's group. I am not sure when Jody joined Lonzo and Oscar, but that probably was sometime in the late 1940's,(just a guess and maybe more research would give a definite answer).

    His health did decline in the years before he died and one report had him suffering from cancer.

    Back to the original Opry membership question, my date of 1968 was a guess and who really knows with the Opry, he may have been considered a member all of those years, but I really doubt that.

  19. Fred again:

    Or, I should have said above, somebody else knows the answer!

  20. Well, I thought of Jan Howard performing on the Opry for 12 years before anybody realized she wasn't a member! So anything is possible with Cousin Jody, who Jimmy C. Newman mentioned the other night during his interview with Eddie Stubbs. Newman will say, "I have been see-yick," in his Cajun accent. He said he got that from Cousin Jody.

  21. Lonzo and Oscar were my favorite Opry act of all time. In fact, they were the first Opry act I ever heard on the Opry itself. An old family friend in Nashville didn’t especially enjoy writing letters but he would send us an audio tape from time to time with interesting news and sounds from Nashville and he would include Opry clips for me and one of those early clips was Lonzo and Oscar doing “Charming Betsy” down at the Ryman. I thought they were the funniest people in the world and they never went down in my estimation. This was around the time that they started recording “serious” songs (“Traces of Life”, “When the Fields In the Valley Turn Green”) to garnish more radio airplay so they would often play the music straight at the Opry but the highlight of the night for me was when they would do one of their full-blown comedy songs (“There’s A Hole in the Bottom of the Sea”, “Movin’ On #2” and “Green, Green Grass of Home #2” were other favorites).

    I always thought Dave Hooten was a great Lonzo. Johnny Sullivan was always the straight man but he still dressed in the “rube” costumes. Dave always appeared in a suit and tie and I always thought his straight-laced persona made Oscar’s antics even funnier. To be fair, Oscar had abandoned the comic costumes by the time I discovered them as well but he always wore that old beat up hat when he was going to do comedy.

    Years later, I had the good fortune of getting to know Oscar in passing and any time I was at the Opry House on a weekend he would always stop and have a new joke to tell me (most of them unprintable on a family blog!!) and I have very fond memories of him. In fact, I found all of the old timers I ever encountered to be just as nice and laid back as the next door neighbors...not a bit of "star-itis" to be found. After I left Nashville, I lost track of him and just discovered his recent YouTube videos a couple of years ago and I was glad to see he was still around to do his thing.

    A couple of years back I found an old Lonzo and Oscar LP in a rack at The Great Escape from around 1965. It was an album of new studio cuts but the opening cut on the album is a seven-minute version of “Hole in the Bottom of the Sea” recorded live at the Opry. Oscar is in rare form and as far as I know it’s the only complete live comedy routine ever captured on wax (the Opry Classics cd series that was sold at Cracker Barrel a couple of years back had some live recordings of some of their novelty songs but not a full routine).

    Oscar was a very nice man and certainly one-of-a-kind. I certainly think he deserves more recognition as a master of country comedy than he gets. I’m just glad I was around at a time in history that I got to see him perform and my world has been a better, funnier place because he was a small part of it.

    1. I met Oscar in 1986 shortly after he retired to the "Singing Hills Campground" in Cave City, Kentucky, near the mouth of Mammoth Cave. My wife and I were newly married and went down there on vacation. Rollin was the most gracious host I have ever met. He had a little theater there and was only too happy to show us clips from the Opry and tell us stories. We bought an album from the campground store entitled "Live At The Grand Old Opry" that had "Silver Haired Daddy" and "Hole In the Bottom of the Sea" and many other great songs. I have lost track of the album and have not been able to find a copy anywhere. Rollin will surely be missed.

  22. Regarding Cousin Jody: There is some rare recorded material (including Opry transcriptions) to be found on this blog:

    There's also a film clip on YouTube of Jody performing on the Opry stage in the 1969 film "From Nashville With Music" that starred Leo G. Carroll and Marilyn Maxwell. The same clip also features Leon Rhodes, Johnny Gimble and "Lightnin'" Chance as well as the voice of Grant Turner. It's one of those cheaply made films made for the drive-in circuit (after all, who really went to the drive-in to watch the movie? :P) but it's fascinating to see many of country music's biggest stars, including Marty Robbins, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Carl Smith and others at that stage of their career...and especially to see Cousin Jody near the end of his. For me, it's also interesting to see some of the sidemen involved...people like Jack Reno, Johnny Sibert, Ben Keith and Jack Drake who you don't hear mentioned outside of music circles but were all very much a part of the Nashville music scene at that time. I've only seen bits and pieces of the movie and the Jody clip as well as one featuring Carl Smith are the only parts I've found online so far. If you go to YouTube and search for "Cousin Jody" it will be one of the first clips that pops up along with a lot of Gannaway clips.

  23. I'll add my story about Oscar Sullivan -- many years I tried to find an address where I could write to Oscar in hopes I could mail him some albums, songbooks and a poster to autograph from my Opry collection. Everytime I'd write, either the letter would come back with the wrong address or I wouldn't hear anything. Until 2010. Barely a week after I wrote, I got a handwritten note back in pencil from Oscar that said "I'm sorry you've had trouble finding me, it would be my pleasure to sign your albums... send them on, I'll be looking for them. I'm 91 years old and still in show business!" So I bundled up my albums, songbooks and posters and in less than a week, they came back with another handwritten note from Oscar. I can't tell you how much I treasure that letter and the things he signed for me. And that's probably one of the reasons I love the old-time Opry stars -- they were real people who cared about their fans. Over the past few years, I've either tried to travel to see as many of the current and former Opry stars or tried to locate and write to those who didn't perform. It's been a lot of fun making contact with a lot of the older, more forgotten Opry stars like Walter Bailes, Don Gibson, Oscar Sullivan, Martha Carson, Billy Grammar, Carl Smith and Goldie Hill and yes, even Eddy Arnold, plus a pretty sweet picture Hank Snow personalized and sent me too. One day I was sitting at my desk and the telephone rang and it was Hank Locklin calling in response to my letter! We'll never see the likes of Opry stars who were as real as this generation that is just about gone. Thanks for the letter Oscar, I just read it again and it still means a lot to me. RIP (oldtimeopry)

  24. Speaking of the Bailes Brothers,I know Homer Balles is alive age 90.He is the last of the Bailes Brothers and one of the last Opry stars fromthe 1940s.

  25. One great memories of Oscar. Thanks all for sharing them.

  26. To complicate the Cousin Jody as an Opry member discussion, the current Opry Picture History Book lists him as a member from the 1950s. He is listed in the Opry books from 1957, 1960, 1966, and 1969 as a member, but not in 1974, so I'm thinking you are correct that he gave up his membership before his death.
    The thing that makes this sort of research difficult is that the term "member" has not always been used. It would be interesting to know when Opry stars began to be called "Opry Members", if anyone knows... I know the term was being used by the 1960s. But in the earlier days, when artists like Cousin Jody came to the Opry, it was not nearly so much of a ceremony to "join" the Opry. So whenever the change happened, the existing stars had to be retroactively made "members", which often led to very confusing information.
    Roy Acuff's 20th anniversary on the Opry, for example, was celebrated on October 12, 1957 and he was recognized on the network portion of the Opry. But sometime between then and his 50th anniversary, it was decided that he didn't "join" the Opry until February 1938.
    Cousin Jody's Opry bios from the 50s and 60s usually say he joined the Opry in 1937 with Roy Acuff. Aside from the fact that by modern Opry tabulation, Roy Acuff wasn't even a member himself in 1937, by the modern way of viewing membership, Cousin Jody certainly wouldn't be considered an outright member until 1955 or so when he broke from Lonzo and Oscar. Similarly, Flatt and Scruggs' Opry bios throughout their careers usually placed much more emphasis on their tenure with Bill Monroe in the 1940s than 1955 when they returned to the Opry with the Foggy Mountain Boys. Before the 1960s, the question of who was a "member", and when, is very inexact.

    1. That is properly how Chet Atkins was one of the artists "fired" in the mid 1960's (along with Johnnie Wright, Kitty Wells & others). He made the comment that he wasn't even a member of the cast, so how could they fire him.

  27. Thanks Robert. And to confirm what you wrote, when you look at many of the older Opry Picture History Books, they tend not to use the word member, but instead will use a phrase such as "performing on the Opry since....", or" an Opry regular since...." And when they use those phrases, they tend to either give just a year, or will write something like, "since the mid 40s"). It was the later Picture History Books that started to use the word member and giving more specific dates.

    I know in Hank Snow's case, the night he 1st performed on the Opry in January 1950, he was considered part of the cast right away and that was the way it worked with most. As Robert said, there was no induction or formal announcement. And it should be noted that in the early days of the Opry, and really right up until the 1960s, many of the members, or Opry regulars, tended to come and go. Many stayed for just a short period of time and then moved on.

    I'll have to do some digging, which might be difficult, to see if I can find anything that might lead to where the term "member" was first used and when they actually started to pin down actual membership dates.

    Thanks Robert.

  28. Three other very "muddy" cases of membership include Rose Maddox (who I sat behind once at a Willie Nelson concert in Branson! Boy do I wish I had the good sense to talk to her!!) Lefty Frizzell and Hank Thompson. My understanding is Thompson joined the Opry for only a couple of weeks thanks to Ernest Tubb but figured out real quick there was no money in it and quit. I believe ET was really disappointed in him over it. I had Thompson sign an Opry poster for me once and he told me that although he had a lot of friends on the Opry he was never a member of the Opry. But I read the scenario once in a book which I can't recall now. I also know that Martha Carson was told after taking time away from the Opry to do some engagements (maybe around the time she tried to go mainstream instead of gospel) when she tried to return to the Opry she was told there was no room for her in the cast. A couple of other "fuzzy" Opry members would include Benny Martin (who is listed in one of the late 50s picture book) Annie Lou and Danny, the Poe Sisters (I heard one was still alive), the Cackle Sisters and Radio Dot and Smokey Swan (whose daughter was the second wife of Jimmie Snow and who is now married to ET's nephew Glenn Douglas Tubb.) Thoughts on these folks? (Oldtimeopry)

    1. Am I thinking correctly that Hank Williams was also involved in bringing Hank Thompson to the Opry?

      I agree with Oldtimeopry about the kindness of the older stars. I've probably cited specifics before but all those I have ever come in contact with have been very kind and accommodating by autographing, talking at length, returning letters and emails and even calling. And most are or act like just common folks and that is why I tell friends and other fans about them, to promote their kindness and further explain why I love the music and people so much.

      A lot of good information is being exchanged here and I am learning a lot. Thanks!


  29. From Ronnie Pugh's excellent book "Ernest Tubb: The Texas Troubador" p. 151-152 -- "The recording ban put a stop to the song deals for a while, but Tubb during that time (1948) worked more closely with Thompson than he ever would afterward. The Brown brothers, still looking for top country talent to sponsor on radio through Purina, at Hal Horton's suggestion turned to newcomer Hank Thompson, who agreed to the deal and came to Nashville to star in their show, Smoky Mountain Hayride. It first aired September 11, 1948, over the Mutual Network with a rather eclectic cast of Thompson, Annie Lou and Danny Dill (who would later tour extensively with Tubb) black gospel stars the Fairfield Four, and a dixeland band. Thompson guested on the Opry and the Midnite Jamboree a good bit at the time. He also hosted a six-day-a-week morning show on Nashville's WLAC with Donna Jean, a pop singer down from WLW in Cincinatti.

    Within the next few weeks, Hank Thompson made some far-reaching career decisions. Manager and mentor Hal Horton died on November 28, and Billboard reported Thompson's decision about continuing Smoky Mountain Hayride. Tubb tried to get Hank to stay in Nashville. They went to Grand Ole Opry manager Jim Denny, who agreed to give Thompson an Opry slot if he'd leave the Smoky Mountain Hayride and WLAC, which he did. How different country music history might have been: but Hank Thompson stayed on the Opry only until he saw the size of his first check. 'After withholding, it came to less than $10.00--I think it was $9.40.' Thompson quit the Opry but before heading back to Waco to begin doing personal appearances, he ran into another Hank, MGM's Hank Williams, who couldn't believe Thompson's decision. 'Man, Ernest Tubb got you on the Grand Ole Opry and you're leaving? Some of us would kill for that!'" (oldtimeopry)

  30. Thanks for the clarification. I have the ET book but it has been years since I read it. I'm sure that is the Hank Williams connection I was thinking of.


  31. Regarding the question on who was an Opry member and who was not, I can offer a few answers.

    The Poe Sisters were Opry members, joining the Opry in June 1944. Their names were Nell and Ruth and they were from Big Creek, Mississippi. They left the Opry in August 1946.

    Benny Martin is listed as an Opry member in some biographies, but on the Opry's list, he is not and I do not see any evidence that he was an actual Opry member.

    The Cackle Sisters were Opry members of the Opry in the 1940s.

    Annie Lou and Danny Dill were part of Duke of Paducah's show and appeared on the Opry with him. The did become Opry members for a short period of time.

    Radio Dot and Smokey Swann are mentioned as Opry members on several websites, but on the Opry's site, they are not listed.

  32. I'm not sure how long Benny Martin was an Opry member, but Opry History-Picture Book Vol. 1 No. 1, from 1957 (pink cover) has his pictures and a bio which partially states, "Martin is now a full-time member of the Grand Ole Opry" (there's an early mention of that word, "member"), but with no mention of any membership date, etc. whatsoever.
    He is gone by Vol. 1 No. 3 (1960, green cover). There was another addition with a blue cover in between these that may narrow down when he left the Opry, if anyone has it.

  33. Interesting information Robert. He was in the Opry History-Picture Book but on the Opry's time-line, he is not listed. I will have to check next time at the Opry if is name is on the engraved wall backstage that lists all the Opry members in the order that they joined the show.

    Of course, that brings up the case of Mel Tillis. He was in the pictured in Vol. 4, Edition 2 (1969), but in the write up, it does not say that he is a member. Mel has always said that he was not an Opry member until he joined a couple of years ago.

    As we have mentioned before Robert, the Opry sometimes can't keep it's historical facts straight.

  34. My gosh, I can't write this morning. I meant to say that Mel is pictured in Vol 4, Edition 2 of the 1969 book.

  35. Can anybody tell me who Radio Dot & Smoky Swann are?

  36. I got to know Oscar in the early 1990s when he started an organization known as the Traditional Music Association. The possibility for the reason behind his retirement could have been tied to the fact that he had a strong dislike for the way Nashville was abandoning the "country" sound. He was still doing the Lonzo & Oscar act...just not in Nashville.

  37. 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 themswtor gold
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