Friday, January 2, 2015

Little Jimmy Dickens

The news came out this evening that Grand Ole Opry member, and Country Music Hall of Famer, Jimmy Dickens has passed away at the age of 94. We know now that on Christmas day, he suffered a stroke and while the initial reports were hopeful that he was recovering, he died from cardiac arrest this afternoon. On December 19, he celebrated his birthday and the following night, December 20, he appeared on the Opry for the final time. I feel very lucky that I was at the Opry the week before and Jimmy was there. While looking thinner then in the past, he looked and sounded good and was very energetic on stage. He left us all with a good memory.

I am not going to write the biography of Jimmy as Peter Cooper has done an excellent job in the Nashville Tennessean. While reading what Peter wrote, I had to smile and remember all of the great things that Jimmy had done in his career and how long is career really was. He outlasted everyone from the 1940s and he always enjoyed telling stories about those early years. While physically he was wearing down, mentally he was still sharp.

I was lucky enough to have met Jimmy a few years back while at the Opry. His kindness was appreciated as even though I have been around a while and have met many entertainers, I was still nervous when asking him for a picture. As we finished up, I turned to him and told him thanks and how much I appreciated his time. He turned to me and said, "No, THANK YOU for coming to the Opry." He always appreciated his fans.

I have to admit that for many years I was not a huge fan of Jimmy. I don't know what it was, but I just didn't think of him in the same terms as I did of Roy Acuff, Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, Porter Wagoner or Minnie Pearl, all of whom you immediately associated with the Opry. But as Jimmy's legacy grew over the past several decades, I came to appreciate him even more. Well into his 80's, and turning 90, he kept coming back from each serious illness. Just when you would think he was not going to be at the Opry, you turned on the radio and there he was. He set an example that today's generation of Opry stars would find hard to follow. Maybe that is why it is so hard to accept that this time he really is gone.

Many of his fans know of Jimmy only for his comedy and comedy songs. But let me tell you, back in his prime, Jimmy was one of the finest ballad singers around. He would bring a tear to your eye with "Raggedy Ann" and some of the others. He was able to poke fun at himself and be the butt of many jokes. That is an art in itself.

Listening to Pete Fisher tonight on the Opry and the dedication that he did, he was very emotional and could not get through it and broke down. I have never heard Pete that way before when expressing his thoughts about any of the Opry's members. I think it shows how much Jimmy was thought of at the Opry. Some of you may or may not know this, but on December 14, Pete had a surprise 94th birthday party for Jimmy at his house. I am told it was well attended.

2014 was a tough year at the Opry as we lost Jimmy C Newman, George Hamilton IV and Earl White. Now we start off 2015 with the passing of Jimmy Dickens and the continued illness of Jim Ed Brown. Each of these entertainers were pillars of the Opry. As we listen to the Opry this weekend and the various dedications for Jimmy, I am sure all of us will remember the good times, the jokes and the great songs. And we will remember his love for the Opry and for his fans. He appreciated each one of us, just as we appreciated him.


  1. I just read about Jimmy Dicken's passing at 94. A class act who will be missed.

  2. From Anonymous in PA: Byron, so very well said. We last saw Little Jimmy at the 89th anniversary in October and made a point to listen to the Opry on the 20th and heard his performance that night. Sad, yet a life well-lived and great memories.

  3. Beautiful job, Byron.

    I wonder if part of the reason was that The Potato was off the Opry for 18 years, except for guest appearances, so he wasn't part of the "Mt. Rushmore" group of legends in THAT sense. But it occurs to me that, unless there's someone I don't know of, Mac Wiseman is the last living Opry performer from the night that Hank Williams made his debut. And that speaks to how long and how well Little Jimmy Dickens lived and performed.

  4. Fred, Bismarck:

    Fine tribute, Byron. Like you, I was captivated by Jimmy Dickens the ballad singer. At its peak, in the late 1950s and early '60s, his voice was second to nobody's in country music. And that band! Even on the lesser novelty numbers, it was worth listening to.

    Grownups know that all good things must come to an end, but I agree that this parting is hard. We should hold onto the consolation that God was very, very good to Jimmy -- and to us, his fans.

  5. From Anonymous in PA: One of my husband's early Little Jimmy albums had the song "Life's Bouquet" and it has been my favorite of his - even after we started seeing him in person and hearing all the upbeat/funny/themed songs. The tribute song by the White's last night, "Violets and Roses" was very well done. The balladeer side of Little Jimmy was one that many folks will never know.

  6. From Anonymous in PA: There are now 64 members of the Grand Ole Opry and of those, four are nonperforming "RETIRED" (Hall/Mandrell/Pruett/VanShelton); leaving 60 regular members. Of those 60, FOUR members are under 40; SIX members are under 50. The remaining 50 members range in age, 50 to 87 (and 12 are over 80) and several of them have age-related or health issues. In the total 60, they are only averaging EIGHT members on any given weekend show. As we have all discussed here many times, it is not the Opry we all first loved, and never will be again.

  7. The Opry seems to be losing more members than gaining. Looking at the most recent year, of the 64 remaining members of the Opry, only 22 of them are sticking to Pete Fisher's "10 appearances" minimum, an unbelievable 1 third of the total cast. Pete Fisher has said he wants to have younger acts on the Opry, yet when new members are picked, they didn't make many appearances when they were guest artists, and continue that small schedule as members. I don't understand why Pete Fisher would rather induct a member he knows won't be back soon rather than give Stonewall Jackson or Stu Phillips a few extra shows.

  8. Listening to Pete Fisher doing the dedication tonight. He is in much more control then he was on Friday night, which can be explained from the fact that he was notified of Jimmy's death just before the Friday Night Opry started. The dedication was nicely done, and as I have said before, Pete does an excellent job with these. He concluded by asking the audience to give Jimmy a final standing ovation, at which point, his voice did break.

  9. "The Tennessean" has posted funeral info for Little Jimmy; public viewing Wednesday in Nashville; public celebration of life at 11am on Thursday at the Grand Ole Opry House.

  10. I have so many thoughts and feelings it is hard to edit them into a few lines. It may be that Jimmy Dickens is the reason my brother and I love country music and the Opry. He worked at WIBC in Indianapolis from 1941 to 1945 with T.Texas Tyler until T went off to war and Jimmy carried on. My dad was born in 1937 and he often recalled to us how he saw Little Jimmy with big Tex and Hawkshaw Hawkins at a local school house. And dad told of what I now know was common when these guys performed together, Jimmy stood on a chair between them when they performed gospel songs together. Dad loved the Opry and people like Jimmy and passed it on to us.

    We got to see Jimmy once with dad in 1985, dad passed in 1987. We would see him several more times in concert and of course on the Opry. He always carried a good group of guys and they put on a professional show no matter the size of the crowd on venue and always met the fans after each show.

    Over the past year or so I know there were times Jimmy had us on the edge of our seats not because of his wit and humor but because he was sometimes disoriented on the Opry stage. Some even questioned whether he should keep appearing. Byron posted in his year in review that Jimmy appeared 39 times in 2014. I didn't at the time nor do I think today that those weaker moments he had over the past year or so had any adverse affects on how he will be remembered. I would suggest that anyone who went away from the Opry with ill thoughts of him on one of those weaker nights had no idea who he was anyway. On the other hand, he WAS there doing what he loved to do for fans he knew were still out there and for his peers at the Opry, all who he knew loved him. I can;t figure that anyone made him make those appearances. At age 94 he still had the passion and love for the people, the music and the institution that had been his life. Shame on the performers of today who can't remember where the Opry is or will say that they admired Jimmy or were friends with his just for the publicity of saying they respect their roots. He did it, he didn't just talk about it, up to the last two weeks of his life!

    I disagree with many of the things Pete Fisher and crew have done but I think he did a very nice job both nights remembering Jimmy and I believe his emotion was very sincere. I must say that the more scripted Saturday statement sure felt like Eddie Stubbs had prepared some of it which was a good idea. Kind of like Faron or Ray hiding the writing or phrasing of Willie on their songs!

    The Opry this past weekend was pretty good as the show goes these days. Still, what the guest artist performed just seems so far removed from what I grew up thinking was good, tasteful and entertaining country music. Where is the melody, musicianship and story in their music? I can't believe that Herman Crook, Sam and Kirk, or later, Roy, Monroe or others felt there was so much distance between the music they created and what was being made by the new artist in their last days.

    As we mourn the loss of our friend Jimmy Dickens and rejoice in the music and entertainment he gave us, remember to cherish what we have left in Jim Ed, Bill, Jesse, Jean and the others. My new year wish for the Opry would be that the passing of Jimmy Dickens might awaken a new awareness in management at the treasure they still hold in these artist and utilize them and commend them for their dedication to the Opry. Make good examples of them to these new members by having some special group event to thank them for there long service and dedication. No one is going to fill their shoes so lets show our appreciation while they are still here.

    Remember to listen to Eddie Stubbs on Thursday night as he remembers Jimmy.

    Knightsville, IN