Thursday, July 5, 2018

Grand Ole Opry 7/6 & 7/7

Coming out of the July 4th holiday, the Grand Ole Opry has posted the line-ups for the two shows this weekend. The line-ups overall look pretty good, although there are few Opry members scheduled, with just three on Friday and five on Saturday.

Mike Snider, Bill Anderson and John Conlee are the only Opry members scheduled for Friday night. Those three are also scheduled for Saturday night, and will be joined by Ricky Skaggs and Bobby Osborne.

Looking at the guest list for this weekend, I see that Keb' Mo' is scheduled for another Opry appearance on Friday night. While not someone I would call country, he did a very nice job when I saw him at the birthday show several years ago and he received a very nice reception from the Opry audience. Also scheduled on Friday is Country Music Hall of Fame member Jimmy Fortune, Darin & Brook Aldridge, bluegrass group The Grascals, Charlie Worsham, Zach Williams, and two acts who will also be on the Saturday show, Exile and Gary Mule Deer.

In addition to those two, Saturday will also see Levi Hummon, William Michael Morgan, and two of the very talented young ladies in country music, Sarah Darling and Maggie Rose.

Friday July 6
7:00: Mike Snider (host); Jimmy Fortune; Darin & Brooke Aldridge
7:30: John Conlee (host); Charlie Worsham; Exile
8:15: Bill Anderson (host); The Grascals; Zach Williams, Gary Mule Deer; Keb' Mo'

Saturday July 7
7:00: Mike Snider (host); Sarah Darling; Levi Hummon
7:30: John Conlee (host); Maggie Rose; Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press
8:15: Bill Anderson (host); Gary Mule Deer; Opry Square Dancers
8:45: Ricky Skaggs (host); William Michael Morgan; Exile

And now, here is the posted Grand Ole Opry line-up from 10 years ago, the first weekend in July 2008:

Friday July 4
8:00: Jimmy C Newman (host); Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press; David Ball
8:30: Jean Shepard (host); Max Q; The Steeldrivers
9:00: Bill Anderson (host); Jan Howard; The Wrights
9:30: George Hamilton IV (host); The Whites; Mandy Barnett

Saturday July 5
1st show
7:00: Jimmy C Newman (host); Jesse McReynolds & The Virginia Boys; Elizabeth Cook
7:30: George Hamilton IV (host); The Whites; Doyle Dykes
8:00: Jean Shepard (host); Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press; Mandy Barnett; Opry Square Dancers
8:30: Bill Anderson (host); Connie Smith; Jamey Johnson

2nd show
9:30: Jimmy C Newman (host); Jesse McReynolds & The Virginia Boys; Jamey Johnson
10:00: George Hamilton IV (host); The Whites; Mandy Barnett
10:30: Jean Shepard (host); Jan Howard; Elizabeth Cook; Opry Square Dancers
11:00: Bill Anderson (host); Connie Smith; Doyle Dykes
There are two special dates in the history of the Grand Ole Opry that I wanted to look back at. The first is Saturday July 6, 2002 which is the night that Melvin Sloan made his final appearance square dancing at the Opry.

Melvin Sloan was born in a two-room log house in Cedars of Lebanon State Park on March 27, 1940. He is the youngest of five children who survived childhood. The family lived in the state park most of his boyhood. At 13, Melvin became ill and the doctor put him to bed for weeks. It was then that brother Ralph, 15 years Melvin's senior, have him a life-changing gift. "Ralph brought me this guitar he had brought back from Germany after the war, and he told me to learn to play it," recalled Melvin. He obeyed, and a year later at Lebanon High his agriculture teacher Buck Evins encouraged Melvin and some of his friends to form a band.

After the agricultural band came to a halt, Melvin and fellow band member Charles Johnson kept playing. They hired Doug Buhler as a drummer and performed country and rock 'n roll music across middle Tennessee. In addition to the band, Melvin and his mother teamed up to sing gospel music across the county and later Melvin teamed with Kenneth Whited, his sister Katherine Comer and Billy Ford to sing with their gospel quartet, the Kingdom Heirs.

Two decades earlier brother Ralph had taken a different musical path. In his early teens, Ralph took up admission from those attending the Saturday night square dances at Cedars of Lebanon State Park. Soon he was playing rhythm guitar in the band and then he began calling the square dances. By the late 1940s, Ralph had put together a square dance group to perform at fairs and contests. At one of those events, Ralph became acquainted with John McDonald, the WSM Radio Farm Director, who hosted "Noontime Neighbor," an agricultural program. Thanks to McDonald, Ralph and his group were invited to be on the Grand Ole Opry, as one of the square dance groups was leaving and there was an opening. "They asked Ralph to come and fill in. When he first started they had two square dance teams, one group did the early show and the other group did the late show," explained Melvin. On July 5, 1952, Ralph Sloan and his Tennessee Travelers became members of the Grand Ole Opry, a membership that would last until Ralph was felled by cancer 28 years later.

"Ralph's last performance was a taping for the Hee Haw TV show. He got up from the hospital and went and performed with the team and did an excellent job. A dew days after that the cancer eat into his back and he collapsed and was not able to stand," said Melvin. "But he did get to see his final act on Hee Haw."

Ralph died on March 12, 1980, and Melvin, who had never square danced professionally, made his Opry debut just over a week later. "When he died, I called Hal Durham, manager of the Opry, and talked to him and told him I would lead the group now and that we would continue to dance if that was OK."

Melvin described the transition as difficult. " I only had days to learn. I had the rhythm. Learning the patterns was the thing. Each pattern had a name to it such as 'Bridle Old John,' 'Ocean Wave,' or 'Lady Round the Lady.' We could practice backstage, and we'd walk through things, and they'd help me," Melvin said of the other performers in the eight-person dance group. Melvin, who referred to his style as "dancing from the heart," said it was actually Appalachian-style square dancing. "That means each dancer does the footwork he wants to as long as he is in rhythm. There are eight people out there and each one of them does different steps, but they all do the same square dance pattern to end the dance. Each couple would go to the front of the stage and dance their own little routine and bow and leave the stage."

At the time, the Stoney Mountain Cloggers, danced every other weekend with the Melvin Sloan dancers on the Opry. After 1990, when Ben Smathers, the leader of the Stoney Mountain Cloggers passed away, the group stopped performing and the Melvin Sloan Dancers began performing every Saturday night. While many Opry starts made Melvin feel right at home, he mentioned Roy Acuff as being special to him.

After 50 years of Ralph and Melvin dancing on the Opry, in 2002 Melvin decided to retire. "I was 62 years old. My back was in terrible shape, and I had a knee about worn out. We'd been there 50 years with my time and Ralph's time. It was time to slow down with all that I had going." At that point, the Opry took over management of the group and named them the Opry Square Dancers. Eddie Oliver was the mainstay of the new group, having joined the Tennessee Travelers in 1966 at the age of 13.

Since retiring from the Opry, Melvin has remained active with music and promoting shows. He also has done work with the Shriners. Summing up his 70-plus years of making music, Melvin said, "There's been a lot of great memories and enjoyment. We met some of the finest people and made life-long friends. The main thing we think about is our home and family, the dancers and musicians, and all the people of Wilson County that has been so good to us. It has been an adventure."

Now here is the running order from 16 years ago, Saturday July 6, 2002, the final night that the Melvin Sloan Dancers were listed on the Opry program:

1st show
6:30: Tennessee Pride
Jimmy Dickens (host): Take An Old Cold Tater
Mel McDaniel: Louisiana Saturday Night/Stand Up
Two Tons of Steel: Ain't Gonna Live That Way More/When I'm With You
Jimmy Dickens: I'd Rather Sleep in Peace

7:00: Opry
Jeannie Seely (host): Roarin' & Runnin'
Elizabeth Cook: Young Love
Jimmy C Newman: Allons 'A Lafayette
Riders In The Sky: Cool Water
Jeannie Seely: Together Again

7:30: Standard Candy
Mike Snider (host): Instrumental
Billy Walker: A Fool Such as I
Jean Shepard: Second Fiddle
Joe Nichols: The Impossible/Footlights
Mike Snider: Fire on the Mountain

8:00: Martha White
Porter Wagoner (host): Wake Up, Jacob
Bill Carlisle: Too Old to Cut the Mustard
Pinmonkey: Jar of Clay/Barbed Wire & Roses
Opry Square Dance Band/Melvin Sloan Dancers: Sally Goodin
Porter Wagoner: Misery Loves Company

8:30: Physicians Mutual
Bill Anderson (host): Po' Folks
Jack Greene: Highway to the Sky/Statue of A Fool
Steve Wariner: The Weekend/Holes in the Floor of Heaven
Bill Anderson: Golden Guitar

2nd show
Jimmy Dickens (host): Out Behind the Barn
Mel McDaniel: Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On
Jim & Jesse: Stony Mountain, West Virginia
Pinmonkey: Barbed Wire & Roses/I Wanna Fly
Jimmy Dickens: We Could

10:00: Lincoln Mercury/Shoney's
Porter Wagoner (host): On A Highway Headed South
Jimmy C Newman: Jambalaya
Jeannie Seely: Too Far Gone
Joe Nichols: The Impossible/Footlights
Porter Wagoner: I've Enjoyed As Much of This As I Can Stand

10:30: Honest Abe/Joggin' In A Jug
Jean Shepard (host): Love's Gonna Live Here
Charlie Louvin: Mama's Rocking Chair
Elizabeth Cook: Young Love/If I Could, Then I Would
Opry Square Dance Band/Melvin Sloan Dancers: Black Mountain Rag
Jean Shepard: Amazing Grace

11:00: Coca-Cola
Bill Anderson (host): Southern Fried
Billy Walker: You Gave Me a Mountain
Riders In The Sky: Give Me A Pinto Pal
Steve Wariner: The Weekend/Crazy Arms
Bill Anderson: This is a Love Song

11:30: Bristol Sessions
Mike Snider (host): Daley's Reel/Forked Deer
Two Tons of Steel: One Horse Town/Two Tons of Steel
Jack Greene: Try a Little Kindness/Don't You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me
Mike Snider: If My Nose Was Running Money/Fire on the Mountain

The second date is Saturday July 6, 1985 which was the night that Johnny Russell became a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

From time to time, a song gives country music's core audience a picture of itself that is attractive or amusing enough to become a kind of anthem. Merle Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee" is perhaps the best known, but the singer and songwriter Johnny Russell will be remembered by enthusiasts for his affectionate cultural cameo "Rednecks, White Socks And Blue Ribbon Beer".

Born in Roundaway, Mississippi, Johnny spent his teenage years in Fresno, California. Inspired by country stars of the 1940s and 50s, such as Lefty Frizzell and Ernest Tubb, he began entering talent contests, performing in clubs and writing songs. "In A Mansion Stands My Love," which he wrote and recorded at the age of 18, earned him a long-running income as the flipside of Jim Reeves's 1960 multi-million seller, "He'll Have To Go."

Excited by his brush with success, Johnny moved to Nashville, but made little headway and was soon back in California, where Buck Owens had a No. 1 hit with "Act Naturally" in 1963. The Beatles' recording followed a couple of years later and in 1989, the song was revived when Buck and Ringo Starr recorded it as a duet.

Over the next few years, Johnny worked in California and Nashville, writing songs for the Wilburn Brothers' publishing company, Sure-Fire. In 1971, Chet Atkins, who had produced the Reeves recording of "In A Mansion Stands My Love," signed Johnny to an RCA contract. Apart from "Rednecks," a hit in 1073, and a similar southern study, "Catfish John," he never sold a great many records, but critics approved of his albums, Catfish John/Chained and Mr. And Mrs. Untrue. He continued to write songs for other artists, among them "Let's Fall To Pieces Together," a chart topper for George Strait in 1984, and "Making Plans," originally recorded as a duet by Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, and later chosen by Dolly, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt for their album, Trio.  He also placed songs with Loretta Lynn, Gene Watson, Dottie West and Vince Gill.

Though he enjoyed writing and plugging songs, it annoyed him that his skill prevented him from performing as much as he would have liked. He worked in Las Vegas and on television variety shows, and had a few character parts in TV dramas, but finally found his niche when he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1985. "Probably my greatest satisfaction," he said, "is to see my audiences give off a good belly laugh." He also appeared on the country music and comedy TV series Hee Haw.

From my own personal experience, Johnny Russell was one of the good guys in Nashville and at the Opry. I still remember the day my daughter an I were in Opryland, sitting at a picnic table having lunch. Johnny came over, asked if he could sit with us, and proceeded to want to talk about my daughter and what she was up to, rather than himself. It also shows something about how others felt when in March 2001, dozens of Johnny's friends and colleagues gathered for a benefit concert to help pay his medical expenses, with Johnny's friend Garth Brooks leading the way, In fact, whenever Garth appeared on the Opry, he asked to be placed on the segment hosted by Johnny, as Johnny introduced Garth on his first night at the Opry, and also did Garth's Opry induction.

John Bright Russell was born on January 23, 1940. He passed away on July 3, 2001 from complications of diabetes. He had been in declining health for a while.

Here is the running order from 33 years ago, Saturday July 6, 1985, the night Johnny Russell joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry:

1st show
6:30: Bonanza
The Four Guys (host): Cottonfields/Mariah
Jean Shepard: The Wonders You Perform
The Four Guys: How Married Are You, Mary Ann

6:45: Rudy's
Jack Greene (host): Looking Back is Easier
Brother Oswald: Mountain Dew
Jack Greene: The Great Speckled Bird

7:00: Shoney's
Porter Wagoner (host): 'Ol Slewfoot
Johnny Russell: Red Necks, White Socks, & Blue Ribbon Beer/Baptism of Jesse Taylor/Act Naturally
Dottie West: Country Sunshine/American Trilogy
Porter Wagoner: I Thought I Heard You Calling My Name

7:30: Standard Candy
George Hamilton IV (host): Break My Mind
Ray Pillow: Dim Lights; Thick Smoke
Crook Brothers/Tennessee Travelers: Gray Eagle
Connie Smith: Louisiana Man/A Far Cry from You
George Hamilton IV: (?)

8:00: Martha White
Ricky Skaggs (host): Highway 40 Blues
Jan Howard: Lord, I Hope this Day is Good
Charlie Louvin: He Can Be Found
Roy Drusky: Have I Stayed Away Too Long
Ricky Skaggs: I've Got a New Heartache/Honey Open That Door/Hallelujah, I'm Ready

8:30: Music Valley
Hank Snow (host): Send Me the Pillow You Dream On
Billy Walker: You Gave Me A Mountain
Jeannie Seely: Once You're Gone
Billy Grammer: Birth of the Blues/Drifting Back to Dreamland
Hank Snow: Among My Souveniers

2nd show
9:30: Dollar General
Porter Wagoner (host): Tennessee Saturday Night
The Four Guys: Operator, Information; Give Me Jesus on the Line
Bill Carlisle: No Help Wanted
Dottie West: We Know Better Now/Rocky Top
Porter Wagoner: Everything I've Always Wanted

10:00: Little Debbie
Ray Pillow (host): You're A Memory That I'd Like to Make Again
Jean Shepard: Then He Touched Me
Ray Pillow: Please Don't Leave Me Anymore

10:15: Sunbeam
Ricky Skaggs (host): Country Boy
Connie Smith: A Far Cry from You
Ricky Skaggs: Something in My Heart

10:30: Martha White
Billy Walker (host): Ashes of Love
Justin Tubb: The Wino's Prayer
Billy Walker: He Sang the Songs About El Paso/Charlie's Shoes

10:45: Beech-Nut
Roy Drusky (host): Mississippi
George Hamilton IV: Forever Young
Crook Brothers/Tennessee Travelers: Sally Goodin
Roy Drusky: Second Hand Rose

11:00: Coca-Cola
Hank Snow (host): There's A Fool Such As I
Jeannie Seely: One Step Away from Coming Home
Brother Oswald: Columbus Stockade Blues
Billy Grammer: When It's Darkness on the Delta/Homestead on the Farm
Hank Snow: Old Shep

11:30: Quincey's
Jack Greene (host): The Devil's Den
Charlie Louvin: Today All Over Again
Jan Howard: Slow Burning Memory
Johnny Russell: Kawliga/No One Will Ever Know

Before going, there is news regarding June Stearns, who many of you will remember. Last night came word that she has been hospitalized with leukemia and is soon to be operated on for a blood clot. Many of you will remember her from the Louisiana Hayride and as part of Roy Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys. She joined Roy's group in 1960 and left in 1965, after being seriously injured in a car accident, one that sidelined Roy for several months. She then charted several singles, the last of which was in 1970. She still resides in the Nashville area.

There you have it for this week. I hope everyone enjoys the Opry this weekend!!


  1. I wonder if Roy Acuff would have inducted Johnny had he not been ill and absent from the Opry at the time. I think he was one of Johnny's biggest fans. I recall him presenting Johnny with an over sized wooden rocker before Johnny became a member.

    Johnny was a part of the Wilburn Brothers organization and appeared on their TV show. Anytime he spoke about them it felt like he was a sixth child of mom Wilburn. Johnny especially like mom Wilburn's cooking....imagine that! Teddy and Doyle recorded Making Plans in the fall of 63' releasing it in early 64'. I was surprised when I looked at Billboard and found it did not chart!

    Thanks for the info on June Stearns. She was at the ROPE luncheon last year and my ignorance kept us from meeting her. I had not idea what she looked like and by the time they mentioned she was there it was too late to catch up with her. She was not there this year which may be explained by you report. According to Billboard, she charted 10 songs from 1968 to 1971. Two were with Johnny Duncan. Her highest chart success was with Johnny in 1968 at #21 with "Jackson Ain't a Very Big Town" which had been a #38 song for Norma Jean one year before.

    As always, I either learn something here or when I go dig a little deeper out of curiosity.

    Knightsville, IN

    1. Jim, I'm betting he would have because Johnny did make it a point to pay tribute to him when he spoke that night. Another of his old connections involved a great story. One night he was to heckle Archie Campbell from the audience as part of a routine. He did his job so well that Ryman security threw him out, and he was still yelling his straight lines as they dragged him to the exit!

  2. Flat love the 15 minute "Friends and Nieghbor's Show" hosted by Chris Scruggs after the Friday Night 'Opry.
    Feel like my radio is a time machine, and I'm listening to Country Music Radio of my childhood.

  3. Agree Nat, hope it lasts.

    Knightsville, IN