Sunday, December 16, 2012

Happy Birthday Jimmy Dickens

On Wednesday December 19, Grand Ole Opry member Jimmy Dickens will be celebrating his 92nd birthday. Several mentions of Jimmy's upcoming birthday were made at the Opry this past weekend and on Saturday night, Pete Fisher and Steve Buchanan presented Jimmy with a birthday cake and the audience sang Happy Birthday to Jimmy.

Jimmy Dickens first came to the Grand Ole Opry in 1948. A while back, Jimmy remembered the events that brought him to Nashville. "I was working in Saginaw, Michigan, on a small station with a five-piece band and Mr. Acuff came to our city. I had made his acquaintance before that in Cincinnati in 1945. And then in 1948, why, he asked me if I would come down to the Grand Ole Opry, and at that particular time Red Foley had the network show for the Prince Albert people on NBC. I came as a guest. I had ten years of radio experience doing shows across the country and I thought I was ready for that you know, I was over the stage fright and all that. But when I walked on that stage of the Ryman I've never been no more scared and shook up in my life. My knees were knockin' and I couldn't understand it, because I thought I was ready for that, but I wasn't." But I did very well, luckily, I mean as far as response was concerned, and then a month later they asked me to come down again, and when I came that time Mr. Acuff asked me if I would be interested in staying."

James Cecil Dickens was born on December 19, 1920 in Bolt, West Virginia. He was part of a large family and started in radio at an early age, on WJLS with performers such as Mel Steele, Molly O'Day and Johnnie Bailes. Through the 1940s he had his own radio programs in such cities as Fairmont, West Virginia; Indianapolis, Indiana; Cincinnati, Ohio; Topeka, Kansas; and Saginaw, Michigan. It was in Cincinnati in 1947 that Roy Acuff heard him for the first time and brought him to the attention of both Grand Ole Opry officials and Art Satherley at Columbia Records. After the guest appearance on the Opry, he signed with Columbia on September 25, 1948 and joined the Grand Ole Opry in November 1948.

The hits that followed included "Take an Old Cold Tater (And Wait)" and "Country Boy" in 1949, with "I'm Little But I'm Loud" and "Sleepin' at the Foot of the Bed" in 1950. He continued to record into the 1950s, but after "Out Behind the Barn", which went to #9 in 1954, he did not have another song on the country chart until "The Violet and a Rose" in 1962. The biggest hit in his career came in 1965 when he recorded "May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose", which went to #1 on the country charts and #15 on the pop charts.

It was at the Opry that Hank Williams gave Jimmy the nickname "Tater", which came shortly after the song of the same name was recorded and became a hit. And while Jimmy joined the Grand Ole Opry in November 1948, he left the show in 1957. At the time, he accepted an offer to head up a major road show for the Phillip Morris tobacco company. However at that time, the Opry's sponsorship by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company prohibited any Grand Ole Opry member from traveling with a tour sponsored by a competitor. So, Jimmy left the Opry. He would later say that there were no hard feelings.

Jimmy rejoined the Opry on February 8, 1975, after being gone for 18 years. On the night he rejoined the Opry, he was introduced by Hank Snow, who said, "Jimmy is one of the greatest showmen of all time. It's like replacing the most important spoke in a wheel to have him back on the Opry. We need more Jimmy Dickenses." That night, Jimmy sang "Family Reunion", which he later said was appropriate. As he told a reporter that night, "It's hard to put in words and say how you feel about being back in the family. It's been so long."

As Jimmy has aged and outlived his contemporaries, he has achieved legendary status. In 1983 he was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The announcement was made by Barbara Mandrell and there is a great video clip at the Country Music Hall of Fame showing a very emotional Jimmy Dickens accepting the high honor. And as he approaches the age of 92, he continues as a regular performer at the Grand Ole Opry. And while his voice is not what it once was and the jokes remain unchanged, he still receives some of the biggest and loudest applause at the Opry each week.

And I will add one more thing. While Jimmy is noted for his novelty and comedy songs, at one time he was considered one of the finest ballad singers in country music and he usually will close his Opry segment with one of his great ballads.

I went through my files and I found the Grand Ole Opry line-up from Saturday night, October 9, 1948, which is the earliest Grand Ole Opry program that I have that has Jimmy Dickens listed. Now, what is interesting is that in the latest Grand Ole Opry Picture History Book, it now gives August 1948 as to when Jimmy first joined the Opry, and it also states that "Roy Acuff first introduced him to the Opry stage in 1948." I find that strange as Jimmy himself is quoted, which I have above, that it was Red Foley who introduced Jimmy the first time at the Opry and from the Country Music Enclyclopedia, it gives the November 1948 date. Either way, this October line-up that I have has Jimmy hosting a segment on the show.

7:30: American Ace Coffee
Roy Acuff (host): It's So Hard to Smile
Tommy Magness: Blackberry Blossom
Dot and Smokey: To Be Announced
Jimmy Riddle: Listen to the Mocking Bird
Roy Acuff: Waltz of the Wind
Uncle Dave Macon: Only Been Down to the Club
Jug Band: Call Old Rattler
Roy Acuff: Take My Hand Precious Lord
Sonny: Red River Valley
Dot and Smokey: To Be Announced
Oswald: Coming From the Ball
Roy Acuff: Will the Circle Be Unbroken

8:00: Purina Show
Ernest Tubb (host): Long Gone Daddy
Bill Monroe: The Girl With the Blue Velvet Band
Mel and Stan: I've Lost All
Jimmy Dickens: John Henry
Crook Brothers: Billy in the Low Ground
Ernest Tubb: Seaman's Blues
Blue Grass Quartet: He'll Set Your Fields on Fire
Velma: Mother's Old Sunbonnet
Butterball: There'll Be No Tears Tonight
Ernest Tubb: Darling, What More Can I Do
Hal Smith: Tennessee Wagoner

8:30: Warren Paint
Cowboy Copas (host): Believe It Or Not
Lew Childre: Dis Train
Robert Lunn: To Be Announced
Uncle Dave Macon: Hesitation Blues
Possum Hunters: Old Joe
Cowboy Copas: The Hope of A Broken Heart
String Beans: Crazy War
Okey Dokies: To Be Announced
Rusty and Dusty: The Farmer's Daughter
Cowboy Copas: Kentucky Waltz
Red Herron: To Be Announced

9:00: Royal Crown Cola
Roy Acuff (host): Little Moses
Jimm Riddle: You Call Everybody Darlin'
George Morgan: Please Don't Let Me Love You
Lonzo and Oscar: I Didn't Know the Gun Was Loaded
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Old Joe Clark
Pap and Jug Band: Roly Poly
Lazy Jim Day: Singing the News
Roy Acuff: This World Can't Stand Long
Oswald: Nobody's Business
Tommy Magness: Grey Eagle

9:30: Prince Albert
Red Foley (host): Tennessee Saturday Night
Red Foley: I Just Can't Keep From Crying
Red Foley: No One Will Ever Know
Bradley Kincaid: Blue Tail Fly
Old Hickory Quartet: Waiting for the Robert E. Lee
Wally Fowler: I Got Faith
Floyd Ethridge: Mississippi Sawyer
Floyd Ethridge: Leather Britches

10:00: Wallrite
To Be Announced
To Be Announced
Bradley Kincaid: The Miner's Song
To Be Announced
To Be Announced

10:15: Gaylard
Roy Acuff (host): The Heart That Was Broken for Me
Oswald: Roll On Buddy, Roll On
Uncle Dave Macon: Rock of Ages
Roy Acuff: Poem
Gang: Precious Memories
Tommy: Bully of the Town

10:30: Fletcher-Wilson
Cowboy Copas (host): Too Many Tear Drops
Lazy Jim Day: Singing the News
Lew and String Beans: Working on a Building
Cowboy Copas: Tragic Romance
Okey Dokies: To Be Announced
Red Herron: To Be Announced

10:45: Royal Flour
Milton Estes (host): Life Gets Tedious
Mel and Stan: God's River of Blessing
Jimmy Selph: I Got A Hundred And Sixty Acres
Milton Estes: Lay Down Your Soul

11:00: Jefferson Island
George Morgan (host): Petal From a Faded Rose
Crook Brothers: Dust on the Bible
To Be Announced
George Morgan: Lonely River
Crook Brothers: Ida Red

11:15: Ernest Tubb Song Book
Ernest Tubb (host): When A Soldier Knocks And Finds Nobody Home
Velma: They Warned Me About You
Drake Brothers: Highways Are Happy Ways
Ernest Tubb: I'll Get Along Somehow

11:30: Farmers Wholesale Nursery
Jimmy Dickens (host): Wedding Bells
Gully Jumpers: To Be Announced
Lonzo and Oscar: To Be Announced
To Be Announced
Jimmy Dickens: Tramp on the Street

11:45: Bob West Guitar
Wally Fowler (host): One Has My Name, The Other Has My Heart
Robert Lunn: To Be Announced
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Bill Bailey
Wally Fowler: Ten Commandments
Robert Lunn: To Be Announced
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Going Up Town

Boy, there are a lot of great, and sometimes, forgotten names in Grand Ole Opry history from this line-up, along with some great songs.

Once again, Happy Birthday to Jimmy Dickens, and may your good health continue, and may you continue to give us great Opry moments.


  1. It is great to see a lineup that included the great Bradley Kincaid. He is one of those underrated and often overlooked figures in Country Music.

  2. Fred, Bismarck:

    Amen to Jimmy's way with a ballad, especially when his voice was at its absolute peak, about the time he cut his "Big Songs" album c. 1960. His "My Heart's Bouquet" is one of the most moving love songs of all time.

  3. Big fan of LJD here also. I've only seen him in 1 full length concert. That was in 2001; although 80 at that time he still put on a very entertaining show and was in fine voice and had impeccable timing with his jokes. For those not aware, his stage material is a bit more "edgy" than his Opry material :) Brad Paisley likes to tell the story of when JD was doing a show with him (I think in Brad's hometown) not realizing that the show was being broadcast over live radio and a number of "dirty jokes" (PG-13) went over the air.

  4. What a night! What a lineup! And it is great to see so many names from the past.

    First, I don't think The Potato (As Byron mentions that Hank Snow re-inducted him, it seems appropriate to use Mr. Snow's terminology) would have been hosting as a guest. So far as I am aware, the only time a guest hosted then was on the Prince Albert segment. I'd bet he was a member.

    Anon, Ralph Emery told the story of the night LJD was on his radio show and Junior Samples came weaving in, drunk and holding a snake. Ralph put his hand at the switch and hit it just as Junior dropped it in The Potato's lap, which was good, because the WSM audience didn't hear him swearing. I have the feeling that he gets away with some blue material for much the same reason Minnie Pearl could push the envelope just a little in her later years.

  5. I believe Little Jimmy's first Opry performance was February 21, 1948. This was on Red Foley's NBC Network Prince Albert Show and Jimmy's first song was "John Henry". As for Jimmy's becoming a "member" of the Opry, I'd lean toward the August date that is used now instead of November. He is obviously already a regular by the October 9 program listed here, as he is hosting the Farmer's Wholesale Nursery portion at 11:30. He would be the regular star of the 11:30 portion for the next year, through August of 1949.
    Bradley Kincaid retired from singing and left the Opry less than a year after this, in July 1949. This is a great lineup to not only include Bradley Kincaid, but also for the fact that he was guest on the Prince Albert Show, which by the late 40s was becoming more and more dominated by the newer, "hotter" artists. It was very rare by 1948 for a singer like Bradley Kincaid, Uncle Dave Macon, or one of the string bands to guest on the network show. I haven't really waded into the Hall of Fame discussions, but it is a shame Bradley Kincaid is not a member.

    1. I agree with you on Bradley Kincaid. He should be in the Hall of Fame. I believe his time has passed though. There will not be any left around that could realize the influence he had on the industry, unless it would be Little Jimmy Dickens (who I believe is probably the only cast member left that was on the Opry with him).

  6. Robert, thanks for the information. I checked and while I do have a number of Opry line-ups from 1948, I do not have the February one.

    I agree that Bradley Kincaid should have been a Hall of Famer a long time ago.

  7. I don't have a line-up myself - I got that info from a tape recording I made of Eddie Stubbs playing that performance, I think on the occasion of Jimmy's 50th Opry anniversary in 1998. Red introduces him: "From Saginaw, Michigian, here's that big, little man, Jimmy Dickens."

  8. They should put Kincaid in the hall of fame anyway..He is a country music pioneer by the way.