It will be an exciting weekend at the Grand Ole Opry as on Friday night, Gene Watson will be formally inducted as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry.
Gene Watson, has endured the ups and downs of the music business to become a country music legend himself. After releasing his very first single in 1962, Gene is still touring constantly in the USA and abroad and remains proud to be known as an icon for “real country”.
Reflecting back on his early life, singing with his seven siblings and parents in Paris, Texas, Watson noted, “I can remember singing as far back as I can remember talking. Singing was something that was not out of the ordinary for me. It wasn’t unique. My whole family sang.”
Even in a musical genre noted for its hard-luck stories, Gene Watson’s stands out. The family drifted from job to job as his itinerant father took logging and crop-picking jobs. “Home” eventually became a converted school bus which his father retrofitted himself and he made the stove that was strapped to the outside of the bus. Gene recalls his first real home was one they moved into when he was around 10 – one that his Dad purchased for $900 and spent many years paying off – but Gene also recalls they had to first remove the hay stored in the home before they moved in. As difficult as this may seem to some, Gene is quick to point out that while they didn’t have money for Christmas gifts and extravagant birthday presents, he never felt poor because no one around him had anything more. He said his childhood was extremely happy and for that he’s grateful to his loving parents and close-knit siblings.
Gene’s love for music began while he was still pretty young. While still in his early teen years, Gene and his brother were asked to perform for a local show. According to Gene, "We got paid some minimum amount but we got a standing ovation and I was hooked on the notion I could get paid for doing a little singing to help pay for a car.”
As a young adult, Gene settled in Houston, TX and began performing in the big Houston nightclubs. He developed a strong local following with his stage act and it was in Houston where he released his debut single on Sun Valley Records. That single, titled “If It Was That Easy” didn’t make any charts but as Gene states “it was just exciting to see my name on a record release and to believe that I was really in the business”. In 1964, the Grand Ole Opry duo, The Wilburn Brothers, took Gene on the road briefly. It was The Wilburn Brothers who brought Gene to Nashville for the very first time and allowed him to sing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. Gene notes “I sang the Hank Williams song ‘I Can’t Help It if I’m Still in Love With You’ and got a standing ovation so not knowing what to follow with I just went out and did a gospel standard ‘It Is No Secret What God Can Do’. After that, they carried me down to the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and I got on stage and broadcast on The Midnight Jamboree.”
Then it was back to the Texas honky-tonks and a string of local singles throughout the ‘60s.
In 1974, one of Gene Watson’s small-label singles caught the ear of Capitol Records. He was an auto-body repairman and the featured performer at Houston’s Dynasty nightclub when the label picked up the steamy, sexual waltz “Love in the Hot Afternoon” for national distribution. It became the first of Gene Watson’s two-dozen top-10 hits in early 1975.
Gene took no songwriting credit when he re-wrote the lyrics of 1979’s “Pick the Wildwood Flower” to make it an autobiographical song. Songwriter Lawton Williams was so grateful for Gene’s bravura performance of “Farewell Party” that he gave the singer his 1980 BMI Award for it.
Gene Watson quit drinking in 1980 and quit smoking not long after that. He underwent surgery and survived colon cancer in 2000-01. Through it all, he continued to record one critically applauded collection after another. He was inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2002 and into the inaugural class of the Houston, Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2013.
Asked why he is still in such high demand after all these years, Watson reflected “I think a lot of it is because there’s not too much of what I do around anymore. I think there is still a hunger out there for traditional country music. So I’d like to stay out there as long as I’m able to do the job and do it well.
“Every time I step out on that stage and see that audience, it’s a new beginning. Even though I’ve sung these songs millions of times, I look at each one like it’s brand new to me. Every night, I try to deliver that song the best that I can.
“Being called a ‘Singer’s Singer’ humbles me. It’s flattering, but what I do is just what I do. The good Lord just gave me the voice.”
During his long career, Gene has had 76 songs hit the singles charts. 23 of those were Top 10 hits and five reached No. 1.
55 years after his Grand Ole Opry debut, Gene is finally a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
Steve Wariner will be hosting the segment in which Gene is inducted as the Opry's newest member. I am sure others will also be involved and perhaps a surprise or two during that segment.
Also scheduled on the Friday Night Opry are members Ricky Skaggs, Jeannie Seely, Riders In The Sky and John Conlee. John Conlee will be back on Saturday night along with members Terri Clark, Mike Snider, Dailey & Vincent, Bobby Osborne, Connie Smith and The Whites.
Non-members scheduled for Friday night include Maddie & Tae, High Valley, Louis York, who will be making their Opry debut, Zach Williams, Brad Upton and the legendary rock n' roll artist Johnny Rivers.
Brad Upton returns on Saturday night, joined by Darin & Brook Aldridge, Darryl Worley and making his Opry debut, Matt Maher.
Friday February 7
7:00: John Conlee (host); Riders In The Sky; Maddie & Tae; Johnny Rivers
7:30: Steve Wariner (host); Gene Watson
8:15: Jeannie Seely (host); Brad Upton; Louis York
8:45: Ricky Skaggs (host); High Valley; Zach Williams
Saturday February 8
7:00: Terri Clark (host); Mike Snider; Darin & Brooke Aldridge
7:30: Dailey & Vincent (host); Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press; Darryl Worley
8:15: Connie Smith (host); Brad Upton; Opry Square Dancers
8:45: John Conlee (host); The Whites; Matt Maher
Of the 12 acts scheduled on Friday night, 6 are Opry members while 7 of the 11 acts scheduled for Saturday night belong to the Opry. And it is safe to say that there will be a lot of variety both nights.
As mentioned, Louis York and Matt Maher each will be making their Opry debuts this weekend.
Louis York is the powerful duo and creation of multi-GRAMMY nominated songwriting and production team, Claude Kelly and Chuck Harmony. Kelly, is a 4x Grammy Award nominee, and Harmony, a 3x Grammy Award nominee and 2011 NAACP Image Award winner.
Formed in 2015, the duo first appeared on the scene with their well-received debut EP trilogy Masterpiece Theater: Act I, Act II, Act III. The projects earned praise from publications including Billboard and Los Angeles Times for their genre-bending sensibilities and creative aesthetic. In a relatively short amount of time, the pair has amassed more than one million cumulative streams on Spotify; given a talk as part of the esteemed TEDx Nashville program; and performed sold-out shows, most recently on their “Love Takeover” tour since the start of 2019.
Having been described as a cross between Outkast and Earth, Wind & Fire, the pair have unleashed their full-length debut, American Griots – The Album. An ambitious step forward for the group, the new project consists of 13 new songs, including “Don’t You Forget,” the group’s rich, sprightly new single replete with warm harmonies, head-bobbing grooves, and an instantly hook-filled chorus. This work of art expresses both Kelly and Harmony from the inside out as the album covers themes of love, wellness, and happiness.
Matt Maher is no stranger to songs that connect to the heart of the human condition, having penned numerous No. 1 hits and performed around the world, including at an intimate meeting with Pope Francis earlier this year. With “Echoes,” he digs a bit deeper, exposing the raw nerve of love and loss and piercing it with truth.
The title “Echoes” comes from the idea of passing on what we’ve heard. As children, we learn how to communicate from what we see and hear. If ‘faith comes by hearing,’ (Romans 10:17) as St. Paul says, “then what we choose to echo back into the world from what we hear is vital.” Spiritually, it’s about how you transmit your faith back into the world. In modern society, people can become satisfied amplifying someone else’s ideas. We read a post or see an image and think, ‘Yes, that’s how I feel.’ But without true contemplation, it can ring hollow. “I believe the people who should be most mindful and most thoughtful about what they say and how they respond,” shares Maher, “are Christians. That is the main message of this album – asking the question, ‘How do we echo our faith?’”
Matt found his echo in the paschal mystery, or the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus – describing the cross as two opposing axis, the vertical and the horizontal. “There’s a duality in the two dimensions of the cross: that of God reaching down to humanity in the vertical, and God reconciling us with each other in the horizontal. Most people tend to fall into different camps, focusing on either the vertical or the horizontal, but not both.” For Maher, it was imperative for “Echoes” to showcase both perspectives, the underlying spirit of being understood in the heart of God and the worship that overflows from that security.
Congratulations to both Louis York and Matt Maher on their Opry debuts.
And now, here is the Grand Ole Opry line-up from 25 years ago, Saturday February 11, 1995:
6:30: Grandpa Jones (host); Mike Snider
6:45: Jimmy Dickens (host); Brother Oswald
7:00: Bill Monroe (host); Bill Carlisle; Jack Greene; Skeeter Davis; John Conlee
7:30: Bill Anderson (host); Janie Fricke; Paul Overstreet; Don Gibson
8:00: Porter Wagoner (host); The Four Guys; Jean Shepard; Charlie Louvin; Opry Square Dance Band; The Melvin Sloan Dancers
8:30: Hank Snow (host); Ricky Skaggs; The Whites; Jimmy C Newman; Vince Gill
9:30: Porter Wagoner (host); George Hamilton IV: Wilma Lee Cooper; Jean Shepard; Riders In The Sky; Colleen Walters
10:00: Bill Monroe (host); Mike Snider
10:15: Jimmy Dickens (host); Janie Fricke
10:30: Grandpa Jones (host); Vince Gill
10:45: Bill Anderson (host); Stonewall Jackson; Opry Square Dance Band; The Melvin Sloan Dancers
11:00: Hank Snow (host); The Four Guys; Jack Greene; Jimmy C Newman; Charlie Walker
11:30: Ricky Skaggs (host); John Conlee; The Whites
Now from 50 years ago, Saturday February 7, 1970:
7:30: Del Reeves (host); Stonewall Jackson; Stu Phillips; Stringbean; Bill Carlisle; Del Wood
8:00: Hank Locklin (host); Jim Ed Brown; Lonzo and Oscar; Crook Brothers; Jim and Jesse
8:30: Roy Acuff (host); Earl Scruggs Revue; Archie Campbell; Bobby Bare
9:00: Glaser Brothers (host); Jimmy C Newman; Skeeter Davis; Billy Grammer; Fruit Jar Drinkers
9:30: Hank Snow (host); Willis Brothers; Tex Ritter; George Morgan; Grandpa Jones; Ernie Ashworth
10:00: Del Reeves (host); Stu Phillips; Stringbean; Bill Carlisle
10:15: Hank Locklin (host); Jim and Jesse; Lonzo and Oscar; Del Wood
10:30: Roy Acuff (host); Earl Scruggs Revue; Archie Campbell; Junior Samples; Skeeter Davis; Bobby Bare
10:45: Jim Ed Brown (host); Billy Grammer; Skeeter Davis; Crook Brothers
11:00: Hank Snow (host); Willis Brothers; Jimmy C Newman; Fruit Jar Drinkers; Sam McGee
11:30: Tex Ritter (host); Glaser Brothers; George Morgan; Grandpa Jones; Ernie Ashworth
Looking back at Opry dates, it was Saturday February 7, 1981 that John Conlee became a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
John Conlee’s hits have rarely been songs that see life through the hard-fact-hiding “Rose Colored Glasses” described in his first smash record of 1978. Through all the years since, his emphasis has been on songs of the lives of everyday people — middle class, hardworking people, and those who’ve been unable to attain even that level of economic ease. He made a fresh hit again of “Busted,” when country fans might have thought Ray Charles and Johnny Cash had enjoyed the last word on that one. He had us nodding in agreement to the tough realities of “Nothing Behind You, Nothing in Sight.”
“There are more of us ordinary folks than anybody else,” says the big-voiced baritone whose hits also include “Common Man,” “Working Man,” and “Friday Night Blues.”
When John Conlee looks at love, the view includes Harlan Howard and Bobby Braddock’s searing “I Don’t Remember Loving You” — and he has no trouble singing about being on the “Backside of Thirty.”
John grew up on a 250-acre Kentucky farm where he raised hogs, cultivated tobacco with mules, and mowed pastures. He also worked as a funeral home attendant and mortician, and as a pop music disc jockey in Nashville before settling into a career in country music during the mid-1970s. It’s typical of John that he used the returns from that long string of No. 1 hits (four in 1983 and 1984 alone) to get back to farm life himself.
“I spend all of my off-time, what I have of it, with my family on our farm,” John explains. “I enjoy it. There’s no glamour to it. Woodworking, gunsmithing or driving a tractor requires getting grease or varnish all over you. It’s dirty work, but I like it.”
All together, John has had 32 singles on the Billboard Country Singles Chart and has released 11 studio albums. 14 of his singles hit the Top 10 and 7 reached #1.
John joined the Grand Ole Opry cast in 1981. “Back when I joined the Opry, there was not a great big hoopla about a new member coming on board,” he says. “But now, we make a big deal out of it for the people that join. It really doesn’t matter to me. I mean officially becoming a member made it a great night.”
At one time, John raised more than $140,000 — one dollar at a time — for Feed the Children from the dollar bills tossed on the stage when he sang that 1983 hit version of “Busted.” He still collects donations from fans during that song’s performance, currently channeling the money to the benefit of Wounded Warriors. John was instrumental in the formation of the Family Farm Defense Fund. He helped Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organize and entertain at Farm Aid concerts that raised more than $13 million in grants.
At the age of 73, John maintains an active touring schedule, still records new music and is a strong supporter of the Grand Ole Opry, of which he has been a member for 39 years.
Here is the running order from Saturday February 7, 1981, the night John Conlee became a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
6:30: Mrs. Grissoms
Stonewall Jackson (host): Me & You & A Dog Named Boo
Ernie Ashworth: Mind Your Own Business
Stonewall Jackson: 'Ol Chunk of Coal
Charlie Walker (host): Crazy Arms
Justin Tubb: What's Wrong With the Way That We're Doing It Now
Bill Carlisle: Knothole
Charlie Walker: Don't Play No Songs About Texas
Porter Wagoner (host): Ol' Slewfoot
Jimmy Dickens: Take An Old Cold Tater
John Conlee: She Can't Say That Anymore/What I Had With You/Rose Colored Glasses
Connie Smith: When God Dips His Love In My Heart
Porter Wagoner: What I've Always Wanted/On A Highway Headed South
7:30: Standard Candy
Roy Acuff (host): Wabash Cannonball
Jean Shepard: Slippin' Away
Jim and Jesse: Truck Stops & Pretty Girls
Vic Willis Trio: Last Cheater's Waltz
Crook Brothers and The Tennessee Travelers: Durang's Hornpipe
Roy Acuff: That's the Man I'm Looking For
8:00: Martha White
Bill Anderson (host): I Love You Drops
Skeeter Davis: The Rose
Wilburn Brothers: Making Plans
Ray Pillow: Countryfried
Lonzo and Oscar: Green, Green Grass of Home
Bill Anderson: Mr. Peepers
Hank Snow (host): Storms Never Last
The Four Guys: Fire
Charlie Louvin: Mama's Angels
Roy Drusky: Don't It Make You Want to Go Home
Stu Phillips: I Will
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Bill Bailey
Hank Snow and Kelly Foxton: Check
Porter Wagoner (host): Tennessee Saturday Night
The Four Guys: Swing Down Chariot
Jimmy Dickens: John Henry
Billy Grammer: When Your Hair Has Turned to Silver
David Houston: My Lady
Two's Company (Mary Darcy and Eamon McRory): How Can I Help You Forgive Me
Porter Wagoner: On A Highway Headed South
10:00: Little Debbie
Jack Greene (host): I Need Somebody Bad Tonight
John Conlee: The Backside of Thirty/Rose Colored Glasses
Jack Greene; There Goes My Everything
Roy Acuff (host): I Couldn't Believe It Was True
Jan Howard: Good Hearted Woman
Bill Carlisle: Some Ol' Tale That the Crow Told Me
Carolee Singers: A Song the Holy Angels Cannot Sing
Howdy Forrester and Jimmy Riddle: Limerock
10:30: Martha White
Bill Anderson (host): One More Sexy Lady
Jean Shepard: You've Still Got a Place in My Heart
Jim and Jesse: The Rider in the Rain
Bill Anderson: Golden Guitar
Charlie Louvin (host): See the Big Man Cry
Connie Smith: Love Lifted Me
Crook Brothers and The Tennessee Travelers: Black Mountain Rag
Charlie Louvin: She Is
11:00: Coca Cola
Hank Snow (host): Old Shep
Skeeter Davis: Isn't It Always Love
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Nubbing Ridge
Stu Phillips: Born to Be a Man
Kirk McGee: Blue Night
Kelly Foxton: Make the World Go Away
Roy Drusky (host): Strangers
Lonzo and Oscar: Blue Kentucky Home/Boogie Grass Band
Ray Pillow: Bubbles in My Beer/Too Many Memories
Grand Ole Opry Staff Band: Buckaroo
Roy Drusky: The Last Farewell/One Day at a Time
In his early years as an Opry member, John wasn't around all that much as he was heavily touring to promote his hit records. However, over the past couple of decades, John has become one of the Opry's most loyal members and an excellent segment host.
There you have it for this week. As always, thanks for reading and commenting and I hope everyone enjoys the Opry this weekend.