Saturday, February 2, 2013

February Opry Highlights

As I do each month, here are the important and historical events that have taken place in Grand Ole Opry history during the month of February:

February 9, 1914: The legendary Ernest Tubb was born in Crisp, Texas. He came to the Grand Ole Opry in the early 1940s and opened the first Ernest Tubb Record Shop in 1947. He was one of the first members elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and in his career he probably helped more young entertainers to get their start in the business than anyone else in the history of country music. He passed away in 1984 after a long illness.

February 1, 1928: Harry Stone becomes the Grand Ole Opry's staff announcer. Harry would eventually become the general manager of WSM radio and in that position, he and the Opry's founder George D. Hay, would clash over the direction of the Opry. Judge Hay wanted to keep the show rural and as he would say, "close to the ground", while Harry Stone wanted to make the show more professional and bring on paid, full time entertainers to be on the show. We all know who won that argument. Once the Opry started down that road, it has never turned back.

February 25, 1932: Faron Young was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. Faron joined the Louisiana Hayride in 1951 and in 1954 he came to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry. He would remain an Opry member until December 6, 1964, when he was fired from the Opry for failing to appear the required 26 times per year. While he would not rejoin the Opry, Faron would continue to make guest appearances on the show. He passed away in 1996. Following his death, he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

February 5, 1938: Roy Acuff makes his second Grand Ole Opry appearance, along with his band, the Crazy Tennesseans. His first appearance had taken place several months prior and was not considered very good. On his return date, Roy sang "The Great Speckled Bird" and the listeners responded with an avalanche of mail to WSM. 2 weeks later, on February 19, 1938, he was added to the cast. With his addition, the Opry began a shift from an emphasis on instrumental music to vocal performers. When Roy first joined the Opry, he spent time touring with Uncle Dave Macon and the Delmore Brothers, who were established entertainers and knew the territory. On a final note, Harry Stone didn't like the name of Roy's band. He thought that the name "Crazy Tennesseans" was a slur on the state and he recommended to Roy that since he was from the Smoky Mountain area of Tennessee, that he adopt that name. So beginning on February 26, 1938, it was Roy Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys, and it would remain that way until his death in November 1992.

February 18, 1939: The Andrew Brothers became regular performers on the Grand Ole Opry. They were brought in to replace the Delmore Brothers, who had left the show. The 2 brothers were known for their harmony and were from Mobile, Alabama.

February 23, 1952: Del Wood makes her debut on the Grand Ole Opry. The previous year, she had a million selling instrumental record with "Down Yonder", which featured her signature ragtime piano playing. When Del accepted the invitation to play the Opry, she turned down a two week engagement to play with Bob Crosby and his orchestra. She would reamin at the Opry as a member until her death on October 3, 1989. Those who knew Del will tell you that she was one of a kind and her ragtime piano is still missed at the Opry today.

February 26, 1955: The Louvin Brothers, Charlie and Ira, became members of the Grand Ole Opry. In 2001, the Louvin Brothers were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and some of the greatest songs in country music history came from this duo. Ira passed away on June 20, 1965, the result of a terrible head-on automobile accident. Charlie continued as an Opry member until his death in January 2011. In his later years, Charlie was bitter over the treatment given to him by the Opry's management and the reduction in the number of his Opry appearances. On a side note, some publications give the Louvin's Opry date induction date as February 10, however that was not on a Saturday night. (As many of us know, the Opry is famous for playing with dates).

February 23, 1957: Porter Wagoner joins the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. He would be one of the Opry's most colorful and popular members until his death on October 28, 2007, shortly after being honored for 50 years of Opry membership. Porter made his first appearance at the Opry the year before, in 1956 and he would later write about that night. "The first night I appeared on the Opry, I came off the stage and went back to the little dressing room area, and I met Roy Acuff in the hallway there. And he came up to me and he said, 'Porter, I'm awful glad that you're becoming a part of the Grand Ole Opry. We need more of your kind of people here.'" It is ironic that after Roy died in 1992, Porter would replace him as the face of the Opry. The first night he was on the Opry, he was introduced by Carl Smith, who would later become one of Porter's good friends. During his time as an Opry member, he brought Norma Jean, Mel Tillis and Dolly Parton to the Opry, along with James Brown.

February 27, 1959: The late Billy Grammer joined the Grand Ole Opry. Billy remained an Opry member until his death in April 2011. On the Grand Ole Opry the week after his death, Vince Gill opened the show by singing Billy's signature song, "Gotta Travel On", paying tribute to one of the finest singers and guitar players the Opry has known.

February 4, 1960: Billy Walker, the "Tall Texan" joined the Grand Ole Opry. Billy would have a long career in country music and remained an Opry member until his death on May 21, 2006, the result of a car accident as he was returning to Nashville from a show in Alabama. On the night he joined the Opry, he was introduced by Ernest Tubb.

February 6, 1960: George Hamilton IV becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 53rd year as an Opry member, although for a period of time George left Nashville and gave up his Opry membership. George has traveled all over the world, bringing country music to millions of fans, and still tours overseas. I can tell you from personal experience that George is one of the nicest and most sincere members of the Grand Ole Opry.

February 23, 1963: Opry member Patsy Cline makes her final Grand Ole Opry appearance. Less than 2 weeks later, she would die in a plane crash, along with fellow Opry members Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas. Randy Hughes also passed away in the crash. Patsy was an inspiration to a generation of female country singers including Loretta Lynn, Dottie West and Jeannie Seely. Patsy was later elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

February 8, 1975: After an absence of 18 years, Jimmy Dickens rejoined the cast of the Opry. Hank Snow introduced him that night by saying, "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" and later said, "I thought it was appropriate. It's hard to put in words and say how you feel about being back in the family. It's been so long." Unlike the first time Jimmy joined the Opry in 1948, this time he stayed around and is still an Opry member today.

February 6, 1976: Ronnie Milsap joins the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 37th year as an Opry member. Sorry to say, but Ronnie has not taken full advantage of his Opry membership, and his appearances have been few and far in-between. But whenever he plays the Opry, this future Hall of Fame member always receives a great ovation.

February 7, 1981: John Conlee joins the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 32nd year as an Opry member. I am sure all of you know that John was a licensed funeral director in his home state of Kentucky. He has one of the most distinctive voices in country music and his hit, "Rose Colored Glasses" is one of the great classics in country music history. After first appearing on the Opry, John was quoted as saying, "I made sure to stand on the circle from the stage of the old Ryman. That circle has been so important to me because so many big stars had stood on that wooden flooring." Early on as an Opry member, John made few appearances. But over the years, as his touring has slowed down, John has become one of the Opry's more dependable members. He has set an example for others of his generation who should be taking advantage of the Opry as their active recording and touring years have concluded. My favorite John Conlee story comes from last year when I was walking from my car to the Opry's stage door at the back of the Opry House and not paying attention, I almost got hit by a tour bus. As I looked up, I was surprised to see that the driver of the bus was John Conlee. I got a honk and a wave.

February 21, 1981: Boxcar Willie joined the Grand Ole Opry. Boxcar became a star late in life, thanks to his hobo character and his late night television commercials promoting his album of train songs. He made his first Grand Ole Opry appearance on June 19, 1980, at the age of 49. He was "discovered" while performing in England by Wesley Rose, who encouraged him to head to Nashville as he knew his partner Roy Acuff would love to meet him. He got to Nashville, met Roy, and the rest is history as Roy immediately got Boxcar a guest slot on the Opry. Boxcar was also one of the first country music star to put a theater in Branson.

February 20, 1988: The Opry honored Roy Acuff for 50 years of Opry membership. TNN devoted a one hour segment to Roy that featured Minnie Pearl and Loretta Lynn. The previous evening, Johnny Cash and June Carter were scheduled to appear with Roy on the Friday Night Opry, but cancelled their appearances. On an additional note, during the Saturday segment following Roy's televised show, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton reunited on the Opry stage for the first time in 14 years.

February 24, 1991: Webb Pierce passed away in Nashville. Webb came to Nashville from the Louisiana Hayride in 1952 and made his first Grand Ole Opry appearance as a guest on the "The Prince Albert Show." When he joined the Opry in 1953, he was considered the replacement for Hank Williams. Webb was considered one of the biggest stars in country music in the 1950s, but he did not say as an Opry member for long. As he later said, "You had to be there every Saturday night and that was too much, because, you see, most of our money, we made it on Saturday night. Of course, we'd be on a tour and then we'd have to turn around at the end of the week and be back at the Opry. I don't care if you was in Podunk, Canada." In 2001, Webb was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

February 29, 1992: Travis Tritt joins the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 21st year as an Opry member. While still an Opry member, Travis has not appeared on the Opry since 2007. It was on this same night that Trisha Yearwood made her first Opry appearance.

February 21, 1998: The Opry honored long-time Opry member Grandpa Jones, who had passed away earlier in the week from complications after suffering a stroke in January while at the Opry. Grandpa's close friend and neighbor Bill Carlisle, along with Vince Gill, Ramona Jones and Grandpa's children, led the cast in the singing of the great Grandpa Jones song, "Falling Leaves."

February 17, 2001: Brad Paisley joins the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 12th year as a Grand Ole Opry member. On the night that Brad was inducted as a member, he wore the bright yellow jacket that Buck Owens, one of his idols, wore on the cover of the 1966 Live at Carnegie Hall album.

February 16, 2002: Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt and Hank Williams, Jr., performed on the Opry in tribute to Waylon Jennings, who had passed away earlier that week. Porter Wagoner would call it "the most exciting night I can ever remember on the Opry." The 3 entertainers, along with Porter, spend an hour on stage singing Waylon hits.

February 18, 2003: Grand Ole Opry member Johnny Paycheck passed away following a long illness. After a career as an "outlaw" country artist and time in jail, Johnny joined the Opry on November 8, 1997. The cemetary plot that he was buried at in Nashville was donated by George Jones. He was 64 years old when he died.

February 26, 2005: Grand Ole Opry member Charlie Louvin was recognized for 50 years of Grand Ole Opry membership. He appeared on both shows that night and on the first show, he was featured in a segment hosted by Jim Ed Brown. Later that night, he hosted the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree.

There you have it.


  1. Fred, Bismarck:

    Great job as always, Byron. Thank you.

    I loved Johnny Paycheck, and was so happy when he cleaned up and joined the Opry. It's tragic that emphysema got him so soon after he found the right path.

    In his memory, I would propose we dust off an old single or LP and play "Everything You Touch Turns to Hurt." Johnny could do country!

  2. Byron, as I remember the story, Johnny had to cancel because his pet ostrich kicked him in the ribs and he couldn't sing ... and had to hear about that one from Opry folks for years. Coincidentally, Dolly was doing her variety show and I think it was her first Opry appearance in years?

  3. Mike, as far as Dolly, that was her first Opry appearance since at least 1982 and I only say that because 82 is the only year from that decade that I do not have a complete list. If she did not appear that year, it would have been back in 1980.

    I remember the Cash incident with the ostrich, but I don't remember if that was the weekend or not. It very well could have been.

    Fred, the one thing I will always remember about Johnny Paycheck is how sad he looked in his final years. I think he enjoyed the Opry and he did appear, usually singing "Old Violin", but he just always seemed to have a sad expression. It is too bad that he was another one from that era that abused himself. He was such a great talent and really put feeling into his songs.

  4. Johnny Paycheck contributed so much to the music in anonymity. Not until recent years when all the studio information or research has become available did the public find out just how many records he helped make great as a harmony singer. To bad that many who loved him for outlaw country probably don't know about all those things with Ray Price, Faron Young, George Jones, Darrell McCall and Skeets McDonald and I'm sure others. I believe Eddie Stubbs said that Johnny told him he was more proud of the dozen or so sides he cut with Skeets in the 60's than anything else he ever did. He was a GOOD country singer. He had a pretty good steel man too on those Little Darlin records, Lloyd Green who I understand just did some things with Amber Digby.

    1. Guess I forgot who I was.

      Paycheck comments.

      Knightsville, IN

  5. Johnny & June did make it to honor Roy a few weeks later on a Friday night. I remember it well since Roy usually came on at 10 p.m. on the Friday Night Opry in those days and I thought something was wrong when he was not on his normal spot. When he came on at 10:30 that night Johnny & June were his guests. Even though he never officially rejoined the Opry, Johnny was on a lot of Opry TV specials and insisted that his national ABC Television show be filmed on the stage of the Ryman in honor of the Opry. I should also note that June Carter and the Carter Sisters (Helen and Anita) along with Mother Maybelle were Opry members -- and some of the top touring artists of the 50s and 60s -- for 17 years. In the great book on the Carter Family "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone" they talk about how Maybelle felt getting fewer and fewer spots on the Opry in favor of younger artists as she got older. The Carters were also instrumental (no pun intended) in getting Chet Atkins to Nashville, insisting he come to the Opry with them when they moved (I think) from Springfield. The Opry said they didn't need any more guitar players. I know we have this discussion often about the Hall of Fame but it still amazes me that there doesn't seem to be a lot of interest in electing the Carter Sisters (June, Helen & Anita) to the Hall of Fame. Several years ago I bought a fantastic bootleg CD of the Carter Sisters live apperances from the Opry and it is outstanding. (oldtimeopry)

    1. I agree: The act "Mother Maybelle & The Carter Sisters" needs to be in the Hall of Fame.

  6. FROM Anonymous in PA: oh, the memories; I need to go back and look at the programs from our times at the Opry and see if we were at any of the above nights or the others you have mentioned in your other highlights; although our trips didn't start until about 1982. . .so glad I found your blog !

  7. BYRON:
    Check this out. I think the Hall of Fame nominees may have been leaked again this year. These could be finalists. All three categories have 5 artists/non-performers listed by the writer.
    David B

  8. If that is the list, it hard to pick one.

    Veterans: My preference would be The Browns since they all are still alive and it would be nice to for them to receive this before it is too late. Second choice is Johnnie & Jack, but it will be hard to keep Dottie out. There needs to be another "catch-up" here otherwise a bunch of Archie Campbell types are going to be unjustly forgotten. Either that, or a 4th category dedicated to deceased individuals needs to be added.

    Modern: All deserving, but my pick is Ricky Skaggs simply because he followed up a solid country career by making Mr. Monroe's music mainstream. Second choice is Ronnie Milsap.

    Non-performer: Buddy Killen. He is significantly overdue.

    1. I agree a forth posthumous category is needed. For the most part, the electors have always favored the living. At one a year the backlog is unreal: Just a list of deceased names that have been talked about over the years (not that I think all need to be in...)include: Dottie West, Jerry Reed, Bashful Brother Oswald, Johnny & Jack, Archie Campbell, Hank Cochran, The Wilburn Brothers, Don Rich, Jerry Clower, Vern Gosdin, Tommy Duncan, Keith Whitley, Buddy Killen, Hal Durham, Vito Pellettieri, Eddie Rabbitt, Stringbean, Johnny Horton, Gram Parsons, Ray Charles, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, Bradley Kincaid, Cowboy Copas and Elton Britt. That is over 20 off the top of my head.

  9. David, thanks for pointing this out. I am going to post it and start a new thread. It should create a lot of discussion.