Sunday, March 17, 2013

Just Thinking.....

With the passing of another Grand Ole Opry legend in Jack Greene, it got me doing some thinking regarding the number of Opry legends we have recently lost. Over the last 10 years Johnny Paycheck, Bill Carlisle, Don Gibson, Skeeter Davis, Roy Drusky, Billy Walker, Del Reeves, Porter Wagoner, Charlie Walker, Ernie Ashworth, Hank Lockin, Charlie Louvin, Mel McDaniel, Billy Grammer, Wilma Lee Cooper and Jack Greene have all passed away. That comes out to 16 Opry members in that short time. 2011 was a particular brutal with 4 members passing away in a relatively short amount of time.

In that same 10 year span, the Opry has added 15 members, with Trace Adkins, Del McCoury, Terri Clark, Dierks Bentley, Mel Tillis, Josh Turner, Charlie Daniels, Carrie Underwood, Craig Morgan, Montgomery Gentry, Blake Shelton, Oak Ridge Boys, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban and Darius Rucker all joining the cast.

I have to ask the question, was the Opry better off before losing these legends, or is it better with the new members it has added?

When you look at who has passed away, with the exception of Don Gibson, all of those legends were pretty active members of the Opry. Johnny Paycheck, Skeeter Davis, Del Reeves, Mel McDaniel, Billy Grammer, Wilma Lee Cooper and Jack Greene had health issues toward the end of their lives that ended their Opry careers before their deaths. Roy Drusky, Ernie Ashworth and Hank Lockin were in semi-retirement. Bill Carlisle, Billy Walker, Porter Wagoner and Charlie Walker were active with the Opry right up until they died, while Charlie Louvin would have done the Opry more if someone had called.

Of those 15 who joined the Opry in the last decade, the most active member is Del McCoury. But then again, he is one of the veterans who understands what the Opry is all about. Of the others, Mel Tillis, Josh Turner, Charlie Daniels, Carrie Underwood, Craig Morgan and the Oak Ridge Boys give the Opry some appearances, while Trace Adkins, Terri Clark, Dierks Bentley, Montgomery Gentry and Rascal Flatts have given the show limited time. Blake Shelton has been a zero, while the jury is still out on Keith Urban and Darius Rucker.

So it goes back to my question, is the Opry better off with what we have?

My personal opinion is no. The Opry still needs to come up with a group of members who will support the show and stay with the show. I am particulary pleased with the increased appearances by Ricky Skaggs so far this year. But more members need to follow.

When you look at the Opry's membership, who knows how long Jimmy Dickens has left. Jean Shepard has had her health issues and Hal Ketchum has been unable to do the Opry for a number of years. Stonewall Jackson has had a few issues, as has Stu Phillips. And we have not even covered the Opry members over the age of 80 who are in pretty good health, such as Jan Howard, Bobby Osborne, Jimmy C Newman, Jesse McReynolds and Buck White.

As always, there is cause for concern. Like I said at the start, I was just thinking........


  1. Well stated, Byron.

    When Del Reeves went public with his displeasure, he commented that the feeling was, if you gave the Opry enough appearances when you were young and hot, you had a place to come back to when you were winding down your career. On the one hand, that kept the Opry more like the Opry we all knew and loved. On the other hand, it wasn't the same as when, in the 1950s, everybody had to be there so often, and it did tend to produce a lot of sameness every week. And that isn't meant to dishonor the legends, some of whom would be on country music's Mount Rushmore.

    But there aren't that many now, and the Opry is definitely NOT giving fans their money's worth by having on maybe 12 acts for a two-hour show for which the Opry charges more than ever. And I sense that the grandiose plans for sponsors have ended when we now have Mrs. Grissom's and RCC Boots sponsoring segments--I hope we'll soon have traditional sponsors like Martha White and Standard Candy back. There IS a future in the past.

    I also confess, I've always been haunted by something about the Opry's importance. When Faron Young committed suicide, he felt that the country music community had abandoned him, that he no longer had a career, etc. When Billy Walker died, he was on the road at age 77. I wonder ....

  2. I wish there was a Opry mission statement on each program, book and promotion. Forgive me if I have missed such a statement. If I have, it is not much of a mission. Then maybe we would know who should be members and could contemplate who would best forward the mission of the show.

    This is the era of dedication to shelf and not community for many people and I think it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a big name artist that will be loyal to an institution that did not help them achive their status and they do not need. Vince, Ricky, Patty, Marty and others are now a generation removed. The new folks they are enlisting to draw crowds drop the Opry name and the center circle to freely. Few if any of them could tell you the first thing about Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, or Bill Monroe if they could even name them. The names dropped by these new folks are Johnny Cash, Patsy, Merle or maybe George Jones and Willie if they even mention someone country. I'm not sure where the blame lies but we have let the Opry and the performers of it's golden age get lost to history except to the truly dedicated folks. I must aknowledge Marty Stuart's contribution to keeping it alive and there are a few others.

    For years now I have wished that the Opry would sign some folks that were solid performers but not superstars that could help put on a very good well rounded profesionall show that would promise good entertainment each week regardless of whether they could get the next big thing to show up and increase ticket sales. The appearent absence of a mission other than to make money keeps the Opry from promoting anything but the latest fad star they can get to appear and promise them some publicity.

    Byron, it is funny you posted this because I have been contemplating a good way to put together a letter to all of the veterans still working the Opry to thank them as a group for their dedication to the Opry and the joy they have given us though the years when they could have walked away and retired. I know that the question has been posed here that some of them do not bring anythng to the table that fills seats. If some of those that have been in question walked away a decade or so ago we may not be having this discussion. The Opry might already be only a memeory.

    One thing thet I think the Opry has failed at is promoting the older members that are left. You may recall that back in the 90's the Opry program was three fold for a while with a bio on a different member each week. This covered everyone, even folks like Ray Pillow that few recognize today. But, if you came to the Opry and got a program you just might learn who some of these folks are. As it is, the only thing about their history provided to the crowd now is if they are lucky enough to have Eddie Stubbs intoduce them.

    I do not think we are better off now with faceless names that fill promotions only. But, if they are selling tickets and making money I would not hold my breath and expect and big changes. When our beloved veterans are gone the page will turn and they to will likely be lost to history inside the Opry House. A sad thought indeed.

    Knightsville, IN

  3. Byron:
    Very interesting. I agree. The Opry is not for the better these days. When Opry tickets were much cheaper, you got a much better show.

    There is no reason why acts like Crystal Gayle, Gene Watson, Rhonda Vincent, The Grascals, Aaron Tippen, Suzy Boggus and others are not members. They have tons of hit or well known records (depending on their genre), and they would be available, more so than many current members.

    I have been seriously questioning if the Opry will see that 100th Birthday !

    Garth Brooks once said if the Opry needs him, all they have to do is call. The number must be lost.

  4. Fred, Bismarck:

    I love the third paragraph of Jim's letter, asking that the Opry put on a SHOW for the folks, as of old, instead of trotting out radio act after radio act to sing their dreary, cookie-cutter "love" songs.

    In the old days, when a real entertainer like Lew Childre or Grandpa Jones hit the stage, nobody cared that they hadn't had a radio hit in years, if ever. These acts are out there -- I buy their CDs all the time -- and would kill for the Opry exposure. But it would take some WORK by Gaylord to find and round them up.

    As it is, Gaylord's people seem to be simply lazy and unimaginative. Maybe their Opry is making money hand over fist, I don't know ... but it won't be getting any of mine.

  5. Just to follow-up on the comments that Jim made, I agree with him that I liked the programs that the Opry had in the 1980s and 1990s that listed each Opry member, with a little short sentence on each one. I thought it was nice, and each week they spotlighted an Opry artist. But I think one of the reasons they no longer do that is because I believe they are trying to fool the people on who is an Opry member and who is not. Even on their website, they highlight both members and non-members in the artist section. And with only 12 acts on an average show, and just 6 or 7 Opry members on some weeks, they can fool the public into thinking all of them are Opry members. Unless you buy the Opry History Picture Book, you would not know.

    As far as recent members, when you look at Blake Shelton, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban and Darius Rucker (the last 3), it seems like the Opry is going fo star-power and the names that will make a big splash with the media and public. And I happen to agree that folks such as Rhonda Vincent, Dailey & Vincent, Crystal Gayle and Gene Watson would make better members, but let's fact it, how much of a media splash would the Opry get by inviting Gene Watson as a member?

    So the Opry continues on the path that they have made for themselves.

  6. Great stuff, folks.

    About the acts like Grandpa Jones and Lew Childre, remember, too, that for the talk today of shorter attention spans, back then, the Opry was kind of a whirlwind. There might be seven acts in a 30-minute segment. If you weren't into Grandpa, Skeeter Davis was up next, and if you weren't too sure about her, Roy Drusky might be coming out. It was fast enough. Now you kind of have to stick with the flavor of the week for 10-15 minutes.

    I've never been to the Opry. We didn't travel when I was a kid, and my wife isn't into it, though she'd go. But I told her that the problem is, the Opry that's on now isn't the Opry I really wanted to see. Of course, the previous generation felt the same way, and so on. But I recall how there was kind of a "fake feud" between Mr. Acuff and Bob Luman. A supposed rocker like Bob Luman would look at today's Opry and ... whoa.

  7. from PA: I've said the same (comments like above)many times about the current higher priced tickets versus lesser shows compared to years ago so I won't repeat; but I'm with many of you that it will only continue to change down-ward. The classic shows at the Ryman are becoming the "old Opry" except with less performers of course. You're right about the new acts coming out and doing their so-so music with more numbers than the members; I had turned on XM for the Opry last Saturday night and happened to catch a "guest"; didn't hear the name but it was terrible and I turned it off ! Nashville and the Opry were always big destination trips for us but now there is no real appeal; we'll still do the October anniversary but won't plan any more impromtu trips there; it would be a waste of our time and money.

  8. Since this is more or less about the legends/veterans and who is going to fill their shoes, I have to ask if there has been a change in policy in recognizing anniversaries at the Opry? In the future, will there be acknowledgement of each five year anniversary? I suppose most of you caught that Pete Fisher appeared on stage Saturday night to commend Charlie Daniels on his five year anniversary. Regardless of the artist I find this interesting when other members celebrate 35, 40, 45 years and nothing is mentioned except by fellow members. This is not true for everyone but for many. If there were such recognition folks might not loose sight of who some of the veterans are. I must admit that I am not advocating Fisher do this every five years, that might be a little much. My thoughts are a little more tongue in cheek wondering what prompted this acknowledgment of Charlie Daniels.

    Concerning the Opry's choice of acts, it seems to have become a matter of name recognition that can be promoted beyond regular Opry fans and to everyone everywhere regardless of musical taste. I suppose this is smart business and will sell the most tickets. However, it is taking the show in a direction many of us are slow to accept if at all. To me there is some false publicity and promotion going on. Like Byron mentioned, they are trying to muddy the waters as to who is and is not a member. That brings me to a tough question I may not want to know the answer to. What good is Opry membership to an artist or the Opry? Does it really matter anymore? Opry management promotes and treats non members as good or better than the members in many cases. And, there are a few non members who respect, promote and support the Opry better than many of the members. I think we are turning gray here. I'm sure many are tired of me saying this but we are back to much of society in America these day. They always promote that country music is a realistic reflection of the common man and a cross section of America. Is this what we are dealing with at the Opry?

    Byron has also made mention before of the lack of photo's, memorabilia or any expression of the Opry's colorful history in the halls or anywhere in the house. Makes me wonder if they are ashamed of the Opry's past and feel it detrimental to that hidden mission they must surly have!


  9. I have noticed on the Opry's website that they have scheduled Patty Loveless for a weekend in June, which would be her 25th year as an Opry member. I would expect the Opry to do something for her. As far as recognizing anniversaries, they seem to be doing a better job. Recently they have honored Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and Marty Stuart. For many of the other ones, Eddie Stubbs or Mike Terry will usually do a very nice introduction and mention of the dates, which I believe management has probably ok'd. As far as Charlie Daniels with being recognized for 5 years of Opry membership, since he has joined he has been a pretty loyal member and always makes note of his Opry membership. And to be honest, he will be 77 this year, so he might not make it to year 10.

    Since the flood, much of the memorabilia has been moved backstage and for most folks, you need to pay for the tour to see it. I would like the Opry to reopen the Museum, which I thought was nicely done. I am not sure the reasons why. I am sure financial considerations play a factor in the decision. And I always that the pictures in the lobby were a great thing. I know they were not damaged in the flood and I have wondered what has happened to them.

    As far as the show itself, I think the live presentation is still good. I know lots of folks don't like the younger members, but they bring an excitement to the show. To see the young girls run to the stage when a Scotty McCreey is introduced is fun. And it makes me think of my older daughter running to the stage to get a picture of Martina McBride. And as the crowd becomes younger, I have noticed that they continue to give the legends a fine reception.

    I, like many others, have been critical of Pete Fisher and Gaylord for some of the decisions they have made in the past. But I was still impressed with how much effort and expense was put into reopening the Opry House after the flood in 2010 and keeping the show going at various locations around time. If there was ever a time for them to throw in the towel, that would have been the time. But they kept the show going which I am thankful for.

  10. Hey Guys Which 70s-80s Stars Do You Guys See Getting Elected From The Modern Category At Some Point And Which Other 70s-80s Stars Do You Guys See Getting Elected From The Veterans Category At Some Point Too?

  11. Byron,

    You make a very strong point about the investment made to refurbish the Opry after the flood and the effort made to keep the show on each week at different venues. They are to be commended and I have stated such in some of the surveys I have completed since the flood. And yes, that was a perfect chance to walk away from the show and they didn't.

    I have also noticed the younger crowd applauding loud and long for folks like Jesse McReynolds, Jean Shepard and Bobby Osborne. Sometimes it is strong enough I find it hard to believe. That said, that should make the point that some of the legends still have something everyone can appreciate.

    I did not mean to detract from Charlie Daniels I just found it odd that Pete Fisher came out and recognized his five years.

    As I have said before it is easy to criticize someone if you have never walked in their shoes or had to make their decisions. Some who post here, such as Byron, have good sources and a lot of inside information to base their beliefs and comments on. Some like me speak more from emotion and an outsiders experience than facts. However, few if any of us can know exactly what it is taking to keep the Opry going and should be, as I know we are, thankful for what we still have.

    Knightsville, IN

  12. Fred, Bismarck:

    Back and forth we go on the Opry, alternating between bashing the present version and drawing back to say, "Yes, but ... "

    Very understandable. We have a strong rooting interest in the show that intensifies our unhappiness when we see bad things happening. But nobody wants to blow it up.

    Liken the Opry to a favorite old restaurant that has had a change of ownership. We have a thousand wonderful memories, maybe had our first date with our future wife there. We're still friends with fellow customers, and many of our favorite waiters are still there. The atmosphere -- in an old train depot, say -- is still great.

    But suddenly the food stinks. The new owners either don't have a clue or are deliberately ripping us off, trading on the place's old reputation.

    What to do? Raise hell, try to insert a diplomatic word here or there, start going someplace else? Wait for the new ownership to fail and hope to come back again someday?

    That's where we are with the Opry, in my opinion. The Opry is a unique show, but the situation is one that plays out every day in every town we Fayfarers live in.

    There you have my best cocktail-hour thinking!

  13. P.S. by Fred:

    I can cast a little light on the above by saying tonight's music in Biz was by the Blue Sky Boys, Hank Thompson and Bill Monroe. I shoulda been a disc jockey! (Except who would let me play that stuff?)

  14. Fred, that is the best analogy I have yet heard to what is currently presented, and I wholeheartedly agree.

  15. Fred, I love your analogy, and your music!

    I was going to say I don't mind Scotty McCreery doing the Opry, but I should say I think it's great that he does play it. There's room for everybody. The problem is that isn't how the current management sees it. I listen to the radio show and marvel that they can get in only five songs in half an hour, even though today's songs are generally longer.

    Patty Loveless is one of my disappointments because she is great, she has long-standing ties to the Opry, and she's almost never there. I hope they do celebrate her 25th, but I'm reminded that every time George Jones would play the Opry when it was on TNN, he'd be interviewed and say how he loved it and he needs to get back there more. Uh, yeah.

  16. Fred, I agree with the others, very good analogy!

    I like your music too. It is possible to still play those folks on radio other than WSM and satellite. My younger brother gets to do it three hours each Sunday on a pretty powerful station in Terre Haute, Indiana. He has to mix in some things up to 1990 but gets to go back to the 40's once in a while and not just the big hits. He can be heard on the internet too.

    I agree with Michael too that I can accept folks like Scotty McCreery if the older act are not ushered in and out sometimes and it feels like "we gotta let em do it so lets get this over with". But as we have stated, this is a different time. Not saying that it is always like that sometime I get that feeling.

    I can't help but think about the vintage Opry shows that you hear from the 60's with Mother Maybelle and the respect she was shown by both the cast and the audience. I know she was a true legend, but by then her music was certainly dated to what was current on the Opry.

    This has turned into another good conversation!


    Knightsville, IN

  17. Hey Guys If The Hall Of Fame Celebrates The Expanison This Year And They Have Two Inductees From Each Category Non-Performer Veterans Era And Modern Era Go In This Year
    Ill Give You Guys My Predictions
    Non-Performer Buddy Killen If Two Inductees Buddy Killen And Fred Foster/Tony Brown
    Veterans Era The Browns And Dottie West Im Pretty Confident About This Category
    Modern Era Kenny Rogers If Two Inductees Ronnie Milsap And Kenny Rogers

  18. How about a three way voting for each category? Modern Era;Kenny Rogers,Ronnie Milsap,Tanya Tucker.Veteran Era;Hank Jr., Bobby Bare/Dottie West,the Browns.Non-Performer;Buddy Killen/Charles K.Wolfe,Irving Waugh,Hal Durham.

  19. Jim and Fred, I noticed on Saturday night that the crowd would easily have welcomed an encore from Bobby Osborne, and Jim Ed Brown did what Opry hosts have done forever: controlled the show to keep it closer to schedule. I'm not knocking Jim Ed. But it reminded me of the old days. I remember on TNN, Mr. Acuff occasionally would bring out an act when he felt like it as opposed to when he was supposed to, and one time he said, well, it's my segment.

  20. Fred, Bismarck:

    Agree with Michael, nice to simultaneously honor the artist and a crowd that wants more. One of country's legendary moments is the clamor for more-more-more from Hank Williams' Opry debut of "Lovesick Blues." Glad that night's host was keeping an eye on more than the clock!

  21. I will say that since the Opry has gone to just one show on Friday and Saturday nights with the intermission, many times the Opry will run over on time, which I think they are allowing themselves to do in order to give the fans more value for their money. Most weekends, they seem to schedule their "top" act in the final slot during the last segment, Charlie Daniels for example this past Saturday night. Many times, the act before intermission will also be strong. Of the Opry's hosts, we know Jimmy Dickens will always run over, as he seems much like Roy Acuff was with the time. But in Jimmy's case, it goes over not so much because he lets an artist do an extra song, but because he will go over with his jokes and ballad. Others like Bill Anderson will get his 2nd song in, no matter the time and in his case, he will let a star do an extra number.

    As far as the hosts, Mike Snider is pretty good at giving an act another song and cutting his 2nd number short, which is one of the reasons I think you see him hosting a lot. Ray Pillow will do the same. You also tend to see it later in the show, not so much in the 1st segment.

    I know when I was at the Opry in December for Marty Stuart's 20th, both shows ran over a bit and I can remember Vince Gill's 20th when the show ran almost an hour over. And I know there have been many others. With Alan Jackson scheduled this Friday night, I would not be surprised if he did 3 or 4 songs.

  22. Hey Guys I Expect Kenny Rogers To Go In From The Modern Category This Year And Next Year Ronnie Milsap Then In 2015 Alan Jackson And In 2016 Brooks & Dunn I Cant See The Oaks Or Ricky Skaggs Inducted Into The Hall Until Much Later In The Decade Around 2018-2019 I Love The Oaks And Ricky But I Just Cant See Both Of Them Going Into The Hall Before AJ And B&D AJ And B&D Have More #1 Singles More Album Sales And More Successful Than The Oaks And Ricky I Do Expect Kenny Rogers And Ronnie Milsap To Go Into The Hall Before AJ And B&D Though Kenny This Year And Ronnie Next Year