Monday, June 3, 2013

Tuesday Night Opry 6/4 & A Look Back At Herman Crook

With the CMA Music Festival getting underway in Nashville, there are some pretty strong Grand Ole Opry shows this week. The Tuesday Night Opry is no exception as there are 2 shows scheduled, with tickets very hard to come by for both shows.

The Opry has loaded up the line-up with Opry members Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts at the top of the list. If that is not enough, Kellie Pickler, who recently made a name for herself on "Dancing With the Stars" is scheduled, as is American Idol runner-up Kree Harrison.

Tuesday Night Opry, June 4:

1st show
7:00: Kellie Pickler; Diamond Rio
7:30: Bill Anderson; Lennon & Maisy
8:00: Ricky Skaggs; Rascal Flatts
8:30: Kree Harrison; Keith Urban

2nd show
9:30: Kellie Pickler; Diamond Rio
10:00: Bill Anderson; Lennon & Maisy
10:30: Ricky Skaggs; Rascal Flatts
11:00: Kree Harrison; Keith Urban

I do want to take a moment to remember one of the early stars of the Grand Ole Opry, as June 4, 1988 was the final Grand Ole Opry show for Herman Crook and the Crook Brothers.

The early days of the Opry were dominated by the string bands. These groups included the Possum Hunters, the Gully Jumpers, Sam and Kirk McGee, the Fruit Jar Drinkers, and the Crook Brothers. Over time, these string bands were reduced and merged together, with many of the Gully Jumpers and Possum Hunters eventually becoming part of the Crook Brtohers.

The Crook Brothers first appeared on the WSM Barn Dance on July 24, 1926. For the next 62 years, they would appear on the Opry almost every Saturday night. The original group featured the twin harmonicas of brothers Matthew and Herman Crook, who came from the hill country south of Nashville. They appeared at various local functions and in 1925 they played on Nashville's first radio station, WDAD. But that was part-time work as they continued with their full time jobs as "twist rollers" with the American Tobacco Company. Soon after their WDAD debut, they were playing on stations WSM and WLAC. In In 1928 the band, consisting of Herman and Matthew, along with Tom Givans on banjo, George Miles on guitar and Hick Burnett on guitar, recorded four instrumental numbers for Ralph Peer and the Victor Recording company. These would be their only recordings until a joint album with the McGee Brothers in 1962.

In 1929 at a fiddlers contest, Dr. Humphrey Bate introduced the Crooks to banjo playing Lewis Crook, who was no relation to Matthew and Herman. Lewis then joined the Crook Brothers band. In 1930, Matthew left the group to join the police department. The band continued with Herman and Lewis remaining the only constant members. In the late 1950s the Crook Brothers were combined with the remaining members of Dr. Bate's Possum Hunters and accompanied the square dancers on the Opry. Herman Crook would also occasionally play the harmonica on the show as well. The group's long run at the Opry ended with the death of Herman on June 10, 1988.

To remember Herman Crook, here is the line-up from his final Opry shows, Saturday June 4, 1988:

1st show:
6:30: Jack Greene (host); 4 Guys
6:45: Billy Walker (host); Jeannie Seely
7:00: Porter Wagoner (host); Wilma Lee Cooper; Jan Howard; Charlie Louvin
7:30: Roy Acuff (host); Hank Locklin; Jeanne Pruett; Michael Johnson
8:00: Bill Anderson (host); Del Reeves; Jean Shepard; Roy Drusky; Crook Brothers/Melvin Sloan Dancers
8:30: Hank Snow (host); Connie Smith; Stu Phillips; Del Wood; Charlie Walker

2nd show:
9:30: 4 Guys (host); Bill Carlisle; Lorrie Morgan; Jim Ed Brown
10:00: George Hamilton IV (host); Skeeter Davis
10:15: Roy Acuff (host); Jack Greene
10:30: Roy Drusky (host); Charlie Louvin
10:45: Del Reeves (host); Jeanne Pruett: Crook Brothers/Melvin Sloan Dancers
11:00: Hank Snow (host); Jean Shepard; Justin Tubb; Hank Locklin
11:30: Charlie Walker (host); Connie Smith; Stu Phillips; Johnny Russell

With the death of Herman Crook, the Crook Brother name was no longer used for the square dance bands. In fact, it was just called the Opry Square Dance Band. Lewis Crook still played on occasion but eventually it was down to just Earl White and Charlie Collins. Now, it is just Earl White and the Opry Staff Band. And I am sure when Earl passes away or retires, or is told he is no longer needed, that Opry tradition will come to an end. It is too bad as the square dancers are the last link back to the start of the Opry. My hope is that the tradition will continue.


  1. Thanks for the tribute to Herman Crook. There are some You Tube videos of the Crook Brothers and a website (or you can go to Earl White's site) to get to a CD of their work, made in Herman's living room to send to his son in Vietnam.

  2. Fred, Bismarck:

    I've got that 1962 Starday album of the Crooks and McGees in vinyl. It is a dandy and deserves to be back in print. Gusto is bringing back a lot of their Starday material from that era -- Oswald, for instance -- so maybe one of these days. One should keep an eye on Gusto's on-line catalog.

  3. There is a good youtube video of Herman Crook being interviewed on Nashville Now by Ralph Emery. Also, one of Roy Acuff introducing Herman on the Opry at the occasion of his 61st Anniversary as a member.

  4. David, that video is a classic: two guys who can't hear each other talking into microphones.

    It's interesting that Herman Crook said that when Ed Hyde died, he wanted to hire a fiddler--Earl White, we presume--and that the management wanted him to use the house fiddler--presumably then Joe Edwards. Crook said no because he wanted to hold the group together. Too bad THAT didn't work out in the end. I think the square dancers always will be on the Opry, but I have the feeling that when Earl is gone, they won't have their own segment.

  5. It was an interesting Tuesday Night Opry last night and there was an article this morning in the Tennessean playing up the "reality TV" theme of the show, since they featured Kellie Pickler, Keith Urban and Kree Harrison. She and Keith did a nice job on the Kris Kristofferson song, "Help Me Make It Through The Night."

    I have to be honest that for a few minutes last night and prior to the show, that I actually thought they were going to ask Kellie Pickler to be the Opry's newest member. Pete Fisher and the folks had a big press conference for her before the show, they had her husband there along with her dancing partner, and they had the crowd being featured holding up scoring signs. She was also given the key to the City of Nashville. I started to think, "oh no, they are going to ask her", but then no.

    These are the types of decisions that Opry management, specifically Pete Fisher and Steve Buchanan make that drive me nuts. In a few cases it seems Opry members have been picked based on how much positive publicity they will give to the Opry (can we say Blake Shelton or Keith Urban), and not necessarily how good of Opry members they will actually be. Could this be another reason why a traditional country or bluegrass act, such as Rhonda Vincent, Dailey & Vincent or Gene Watson, is not asked to join the Opry but the Opry sure loves it when they stop by and perform on the show?

  6. I agree Byron. I really think Pickler will be the next Opry member. With Jack Greene and George Jones both passing away recently, you would think at some point in the near future an invitation should be given to someone soon. While, I would rather see, Rhonda Vincent, Gene Watson, Crystal Gayle, Dailey & Vincent or Aaron Tippin, I cannot see that happening. I think the old Opry as we knew it is totally gone. If your not made a Opry member as a "hot new act", your chances are slim to none (unless of a Hall of Famer or a shoe in future Hall of Famer, i.e., Mel Tillis, The Oak Ridge Boys).

  7. We also need to face the fact that the Opry is no longer a career-maker. That isn't the fault of Buchanan and Fisher; that has been true for a long time. But the problem is going to be when the old-timers are gone and there's nobody you can count on to be there.

  8. Fred, Bismarck:

    As I've opined before, I think that will be the day the Opry goes all the way with the "concert" format it's only flirted with until now ... signing acts up for package-type shows formerly seen only on the road.

    Get an act's name on the dotted line for a given date and you don't have to sweat his appearance. He shows up as many times a year as the Opry is willing to pay market price for.

    What this will do to ticket prices is anybody's guess. Seems to me the Opry already gets plenty, in the $50 range, for the often-indifferent (and cheap) lineups they field now. They must be banking money like crazy.

    This format could be a plus or minus for us hard cores, depending on how conscientiously they try to "keep it country." (And, no, I'm not disqualifying all of the newer acts ... just most of them.)

  9. Fred, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in a way the Opry already does that. A few years back they extended the show for Reba McEntire to do a segment by herself. And this week, Carrie Underwood gets a whole half hour to herself on both shows on Friday night (more on that when I post the weekend line-up and offer my thoughts).

    And, to continue that thought, when you look at the Opry's upcoming calendar, they have many acts such as Martina McBride, booked months in advance.

    Many years ago, back in Roy Acuff's time, the Opry started to make side deals and pay higher than union scale to a number of the acts with Roy being the 1st of those. And I can almost guarantee that when Red Foley came to host the Opry in the 1940s and was hired by the advertising agency for Prince Albert and not the Opry, that he received more than the union scale (which might have been about $15 back then). Of course, Red only did one appearance a night on the Prince Albert Show, and did not make a second appearance later in the evening as most acts did.

    Fred, you are right in the fact that the Opry is rolling in the money for Ryman Hospitalities. Sold out shows, $50.00 prices, 10 or 12 acts a show, 1 show a night instead of 2, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday shows,concessions, back stage tours, Opry gift shop: you name it and money is being made. I wouldn't be surprised if someday they didn't start to charge for premium parking instead of having to walk halfway across the mall parking lot. I think they have it figured out.

  10. Fred, Bismarck:

    Thanks, Byron, for the valuable perspectives.

    Here's a hot flash that will be big news for some of us:

    In its latest newsletter (available online), County Sales, the Virginia mail-order outfit where I buy most of my music, says Bear Family is at long last bringing out its big Roy Acuff box set. The happy event happens sometime this summer. No other details at this time.

    This presumably will consist of Roy's Columbia material, from his biggest hitmaking days. Many of us have wondered what's taken Bear so long. Their 2-CD set on Roy's subsequent days at Capitol, Decca and MGM has been available for 20 years. (It would be nice if they'd do his Hickory stuff, too, although most of that has been available elsewhere, in dribs and drabs, in recent years.)

    Talk about a day-brightener!

  11. Fred, Bismarck:

    Don't know what can have happened, but an earlier post evaporated.

    First, thanks, Byron, for the Opry perspectives.

    Second, the new County Sales newsletter, available on-line, has the welcome news that Bear Family will bring out its big box set on Roy Acuff's Columbia material sometime this summer. Many of us have wondered what's taken Bear so long, given that their 2-CD set on Roy's subsequent visits to Capitol, Decca and MGM has been available for 20 years.

    Anyhow, great news for us subjects of the King!

  12. During the years I was working for the Opry, Dressing Room #3 was the domain of the string bands. The door was always open and there was always a lot of music coming from back there. Those "old timers" were great musicians and just as nice folks as you'd ever want to meet. I have a couple of video clips in my collection (both of which have been posted by others on YouTube) of the Crook Brothers playing "Black Mountain Rag" for the Stoney Moutain Cloggers. The first clip is from around 1966 and the other is from 1991 or so. Since some of the same musicians and dancers were featured in both clips I combined them into a single clip one time, just my own amusement. To my amazement, when I crossed the audio tracks they were EXACTLY the same....same tempo, same key, same everything after nearly 25 years! Now THAT was some great pickin'. The kids making music today have nothing on Herman, Lewis, Sam and Kirk or any of the rest of them!

  13. Barry, I've seen those clips and you're right--and there are different band members involved, since Hubert Gregory and Earl White weren't in the group in 1966. I think the second clip is from 1985-87, in there, since Herman is in it.

    Earl White has some CD's on his website and I have them--great stuff. One of them is live transcriptions from the Opry when the band consisted of Earl and Charlie, and Eddie Stubbs sometimes would join them. Some of the introductions are classics, including one by Mike Snider that is a trifle risqué, and Earl and Charlie almost couldn't play afterward.

    I'm not surprised to hear they were very nice. Herman, I think, tended to be a bit more forbidding on stage than he would have been in real life.

  14. Thanks Bryon, and others for all the great comments, Herman Crook is my father and was a great musician, I can vouch for he’s loyal and steadfast believe as a Christian, he never wavered or veered from his belief in Jesus Christ. His biblical motto was “treat others as you would like to be treated” and he work hard at instilling those words in all of his children and everyone he can into contact with. To learn more about Herman and his legendary Crook Brothers band visit his official website: Thanks, Bill Crook , Goodlettsville, TN

  15. "Rooster"December 10, 2015 at 2:39 AM

    Boy,I sure miss hearing : Herman Crook,Lewis Crook,and Roy Acuff,talk about Herman's"clean living". I miss Hubert Gregory,Earl White,Hank Snow on the Coke portion,the Rudy's Sausage Bell,ringing. The old Red Barndrop, Martha White Theme song by Flatt & Scruggs,hearing Grant Turner,talk about Cracker Barrel,Kayton Roberts's Steel Guitar,Bill Monroe doing "Watermelon on the Vine", the Go get a Goo Goo jingle, and Carol Lee Cooper. Why so much change ?