Thursday, August 1, 2013

August Opry Highlights

As is done each month, here are the important and historical events that have taken place in the history of the Grand Ole Opry, or regarding Opry members, during the month of August.

August 22, 1910: Country Music Hall of Fame member and former Grand Ole Opry member Rod Brasfield was born in Smithville, Mississippi. Rod was famous for his comedy routines with Minnie Pearl that were featured on the Prince Albert Opry shows for many years. Rod came to the Prince Albert show in 1948 and replaced comedian Whitey Ford, the Duke of Paducah, who had a disagreement with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and its advertising agency. Rod also appeared in several movies, the most famous being "A Face in the Crowd" with Andy Griffith. Rod led a difficult life that ended way too soon, as he passed away on September 15, 1958 after suffering a heart attack. He was just 48 years old.

August 30, 1919: Muriel Ellen Deason, better known as Kitty Wells, was born in Nashville. Kitty, along with her husband Johnny Wright, were Opry members from the early 1950s until they left the show in December 1964 in a dispute over booking fees. Even though she left the Opry, she continued to make guest appearances and there are some reports that she expressed an interest in re-joining the Opry later in her life, but was turned down. Kitty passed away in July 2012.

August 8, 1921: Former Opry member Webb Pierce was born in West Monroe, Louisiana. He first appeared on the Opry in 1952, but he quickly figured out he could make more money by not being an Opry member. He left the show and proceeded to have a great career in country music that eventually led to the Hall of Fame. As to the reasons for leaving the Opry so soon, Webb said, "You had to be there every Saturday night, and that was too much, because, you see, most of our money, we made it on Saturday night. Of course, we'd be on tour and then we'd have to turn around at the end of the week and be back at the Opry. I don't care if you was in Podunk, Canada!" Of all the great country stars of the 1950s, Webb had the greatest chart success, but he also made a lot of enemies along the way. Because of that, and the fact that many of the Hall of Fame voters said they would never vote for Webb while he was alive, it wasn't until 2001 after he passed away, that he was finally elected. Webb was also famous for his guitar shaped swimming pool and his feud with Ray Stevens, his neighbor. Webb's house is now owned by Colin Reed, the chief executive officer of Ryman Hospitalities, the owners of the Opry. And yes, the swimming pool is still there but off limits to the public.

August 25, 1925: Billy Grammer was born in Benton, Illinois. Billy joined the Opry in 1959 and remained an Opry member until his death in August 2011. "Gotta Travel On" is the song most associated with Billy, along with the Grammer Guitar.

August 12, 1927: Porter Wagoner was born in West Plains, Missouri, the same hometown of Jan Howard. Porter came to the Opry from the Ozark Jubilee in 1957. He would remain an Opry member until his death on October 28, 2007, shortly after celebrating 50 years as an Opry member. During his career, he had over 80 singles on the country charts, and had a number of others with duet partners Norma Jean and Dolly Parton.

August 27, 1927: Grand Ole Opry member Jimmy C Newman was born in High Point, Louisiana. Hard to believe that Jimmy C will be 86 this month and he still sounds great.

August 4, 1931: Former Grand Ole Opry manager Hal Durham was born in McMinnville, Tennessee, the hometown of Dottie West. After the Opry moved to Opryland and the new Opry House, Bud Wendall was promoted go general manager of both the Opry and Opryland and he asked Hal to take over as the Opry's manager. In 1978 he was promoted to the position of general manager of the Opry and held that position for 15 years. While many people want to blame Pete Fisher for the fact that many of the Opry's members make few appearances on the show, it was actually Hal who was responsible for relaxing the membership requirements and allowing individuals to join the Opry with no commitment to the show. Among the artists he brought on as members were Ricky Skaggs, Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, The Whites and Riders In The Sky. He left the Opry in 1993 and was the President of the Opry Group until 1996 when he retired. He died in March 2009. In many ways, it was Hal who started the Opry down the path that led to the position that the Opry is in today.

August 20, 1935: Justin Tubb was born in San Antonio, Texas. Justin would follow in his father's footsteps and become a successful country music singer and songwriter. He joined the Opry in 1955 at the age of 20, and for several years was the Opry;s youngest member. He passed away from a sudden illness on January 24, 1998.

August 14, 1941: Constance June Meador, otherwise known as Connie Smith, was born in Elkhart, Indiana. Connie has been recognized for having one of the greatest female voices in the history of country music. She first joined the Opry in 1965, the same night that Bob Luman became a member. She left the show for a short period of time while raising her family. In 2012 she was elected to the Hall of Fame. Time travels fast and it is hard to believe that Connie will be 72 this month.

August 7, 1942: Former Opry member B.J. Thomas was born in Hugo, Oklahoma. He joined the Opry on his 39th birthday, August 7, 1981. His stay at the Opry was very short, so short in fact that many people forget that he was even a member. He still performs as a guest on the Opry, and some say that he makes more appearances now then he did as a member.

August 11, 1946: Grand Ole Opry member John Conlee was born in Versallies, Kentucky. John came to Nashville and joined the Opry in February 1981. He is a former funeral director and has one of the most distinctive voices in country music.

August 11, 1952: Hank Williams was fired as a member of the Opry. Jim Denny, the Opry's manager, made the call to Hank. He had Ernest Tubb in the room with him when the call was made as a witness. Hank always hoped to make it back to the Opry, but it never happened. Even though Hank has been dead for over 50 years, there are still those, including Hank Williams III, who feel he should be reinstated as a member.

August 29, 1953: Cousin Jody rejoined the Grand Ole Opry. He would often appear with Lonzo & Oscar, along with his solo performances. He would remain an Opry member into the 1970s, passing away on August 18, 1975 at the age of 55. Jody had first come to the Opry in 1938 and played with Roy Acuff, Eddy Arnold and Pee Wee King.

August 14, 1954: Ernest Tubb took a leave of absence from the Opry. He would remain away from the show until November. Many feel that the reason he left the Opry for a period of time was due to his drinking problems. While absent from the Opry, Ernest would continue to host the Midnight Jamboree and it was during this period that Ernest brought Elvis Presley to the Jamboree as a guest.

August 28, 1954: Grand Ole Opry member Stringbean, or "String Beans" as he was referred to during this time period, left the cast of the Opry to join the Ramblin' Tommy Scott Show. Stringbean would rejoin the Opry and remain a member until his death in November 1973.

August 4, 1956: Jimmy C Newman became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 57th year as an Opry member. Jimmy C still performs each week on the show and the Cajun music sounds as good as it ever has.

August 11, 1956: George Jones first joined the Grand Ole Opry. George and his history with the Opry is very interesting. See if you can follow the dates. First, some list is original induction date as August 4, the same night as Jimmy C Newman. But the August 11 date is the one listed in the current Opry History Picture Book. Prior to this edition, his Opry induction date was listed as January 4, 1969, as he had left the show for a while. In the 1979 edition of the book, he is listed as having returned to the Opry in 1973 after a short absence. In the 1972 edition of the book, he is not mentioned at all. Not that all of that mattered as George rarely appeared on the Opry. After what might have been 56 years of Opry membership, George passed away earlier this year.

August 22, 1957: Former Opry member Holly Dunn wsa born in San Antonio, Texas. Holly having a number of hits, including "Daddy's Hands", Holly retired from the music business and left Nashville in 2003. She now is an artist and has a studio in New Mexico. After leaving Nashville, the Opry dropped her as a member.

August 4, 1959: Skeeter Davis joined the Grand Ole Opry. With the exception of a short period of time when she was suspended from the show, she would remain an Opry member until her death on September 19, 2004, although she last appeared on the Opry in 2002. Skeeter was known for her colorful skirts and bursts of energy while doing the Opry. Her final yearss were difficult as she battled serious health issues.

August 12, 1963: The Browns joined the Grand Ole Opry. While Maxine and Bonnie retired from the group in 1967, Jim Ed continued as a solo act and this year will be the 50th anniversary of The Browns joining the Opry. Even after Maxine and Bonnie left, they would continue to get together for special appearances and for Opry shows. Their harmony was some of the best ever recorded and the hits are timeless. Jim Ed would also record duets with Helen Cornelius. The Browns have been finalists for the Country Music Hall of Fame for a number of years and deserve induction.

August 23, 1963: Former Opry member Milton Estes died at the age of 49. Milton was part of Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys and acted as the group's announcer.

August 27, 1963: Former Opry manager Jim Denny died from cancer at the age of 52. In 1966 he was one of the early inductees into the Hall of Fame. Jim was the first WSM employee who was specifically assigned the job of Opry manager. When he started at WSM he would hang around the backstage area at the Ryman Auditorium and would become friendly with many of the major artists. He also ran the Opry concession business which supposedly made him some serious cash. During his time at the Opry, he brought dozens of acts to the Opry including Webb Pierce. It was with Webb that Jim started Cedarwood Music Publishing and it was the success of this firm that caused Jim to leave the Opry and WSM. When he left the Opry, many of the Opry's members joined him and his new artist bureau over the one operated by the Opry and WSM, causing him more issues with the Opry's management. If you believe the story, he was the Opry manager who told Elvis Presley after his only Opry appearance to go back to driving a truck. He was also noted for his long running feud with Ernest Tubb.

August 8, 1964: The Osborne Brothers, Sonny and Bobby, joined the Grand Ole Opry. While Sonny retired in 2005, Bobby continues on as an Opry member, now in his 49th year.

August 14, 1965: The newest member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Bobby Bare, joined the Grand Ole Opry. Bobby would remain an Opry member for about a decade, leaving the show after it moved to the new Opry House. In fact, Bobby was one of the few acts that did not perform on the opening night of the new building. Bobby continues to make great music and guest appearances on the show.

August 17, 1967: Charlie Walker joined the Grand Ole Opry. Charlie would remain an active Opry member until his death in September 2008. I had the opportunity to meet Charlie back in the 1990s, and I can tell you what a fine gentleman he was and a pleasure to talk to. He started out as a DJ in Texas and never forgot his roots. In 1981 he was elected to the Country Music Radio DJ Hall of Fame. In addition to being a fine singer, he was also a very good golfer.

August 5, 1968: Opry member Terri Clark was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. As a Canadian, she would join Hank Snow and Stu Phillips as Opry members from the northern land.

August 21, 1975: Opry member Sam McGee died in a tractor accident on his farm in Tennessee. He was 81 and still working the farm. Along with is brother Kirk, he first performed on the Opry in 1926, when it was still the WSM Barn Dance. During his time on the Opry, he would appear with several different groups including the Dixieliners. Sam was also the first Opry member to use an electric guitar on the Opry, after which George D. Hay politely told him to put it back in its case and not bring it back.

August 14, 1982: Ernest Tubb made his final appearance on the Opry. He was suffering from emphysema and that made it difficult for him to tour and make public appearances. He was on oxygen and breathing was difficult. He also gave up hosting the Midnight Jamboree, turning those duties over to his son Justin. He would spend his final years at his home and passed away on September 6, 1984. His influence is still felt in country music today.

August 22, 1987: Roy Clark joined the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 26th year as an Opry member. I know that since Roy joined the show, he has made few Opry appearances including just 1 so far this year. When Roy was asked to join the show, he told management (Hal Durham) that he was declining due to the fact that his heavy touring schedule would prohibit making the required appearances. Hal told him that was ok, they still wanted him as a member. While Roy makes few Opry shows, he is appreciative of being an Opry member.

August 29, 1987: Former Opry member and great comedian, Archie Campbell died in Knoxville, Tennessee. He had suffered a heart attack, but had been in declining health for a few years. Archie joined the Opry in 1958 and was also associated with Hee Haw. In fact, he was one of the writers on the show, although it has been told by others that Archie used the jokes that he had learned from the Duke of Paducah. In his later years, Archie made most of his Opry appearances in the winter months, spending the prime tourist season operating his own theater in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. A strong case can be made that Archie deserves election to the Hall of Fame.

August 10, 1991: Vince Gill joined the Grand Ole Opry. This will be his 22nd year as an Opry member. The night he joined the Opry, he was inducted by Roy Acuff and over the years Vince has made known his love of the Opry and as much as anyone from his time period, has supported the show. Vince turned down his first invitation to guest on the Opry in order to appear at his daughter's school function. Lucky for Vince, the Opry invited him back. Vince is married to the equally talented Amy Grant.

August 30, 1991: On her way to the Friday Night Opry, Dottie West was involved in a serious car accident at the entrance to Opryland. She would not recover from the injuries and passed away on September 4. Even to this day, my wife always makes a comment to slow down whenever I drive through that curve.

August 31, 1995: Former WSM and Grand Ole Opry announcer David Stone died at the age of 93. Along with his brother Harry, David was responsible for changing the face of the Opry from a rural part-time performers show to a show featuring professional artists. He helped to bring Pee Wee King, Roy Acuff and Eddy Arnold to the Opry, among many others. By 1940, he had left the Opry and WSM.

August 24, 1998: Opry member Jerry Clower died in a Jackson, Mississippi hospital after heart surgery. He was 71. He joined the Opry in November 1973 and was the last member to join the cast before the show moved from the Ryman Auditorium to the new Opry House. Jerry was one of the greatest story tellers of all time and was also a deeply religious Baptist.

August 26, 2000: Pam Tillis joined the Grand Ole Opry. This will be her 13th year as an Opry member. As much as I love Pam and her singing talents, I wish she would do the Opry more often.

August 18, 2001: The Grand Ole Opry moved their televised portion of the show from TNN to CMT. The first show on CMT was highlighted by Vince Gill celebrating his 10th year as an Opry member. Also on the show that night were Steve Wariner, Sonya Isaacs, Jimmy C Newman, Brad Paisley, Elizabeth Cook and Loretta Lynn. Nice to know that in 2001 they were still letting the veterans on the television segments.

August 10, 2002: During the televised portion of the Grand Ole Opry on CMT, the Dixie Chicks announced that Porter Wagoner and Bill Carlisle had been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I always thought that the Hall of Fame did a great injustice to Porter and Bill by having the Dixie Chicks do the announcement. Nothing against the Dixie Chicks, I just thought it should have been a Hall of Famer making the announcement. In Porter's case, the induction was long overdue, but like many others in the history of country music, Porter had made an enemy or two over the years. I also found it sad that Dolly Parton had been elected to the Hall before Porter, but I was glad that Dolly did the acutal induction in October. On a final note, if you get a chance to watch a video from that night, perhaps it will show up on YouTube some day, watch the expression on Porter's face. You just knew what he was thinking, such as it's about time and I thinking about what he wanted to say, much like his friend Ray Price had done. But he knew that was not the place or time for that.

August 23, 2003: Trace Adkins joined the Grand Ole Opry. Ronnie Milsap handled the induction and this will be Trace's 10th year as an Opry member. Even though he has not made an Opry appearance this year, I would not be surprised, knowing the Opry's past history, that they come up with some sort of show to honor Trace for 10 years of Opry membership.

August 6, 2011: The Oak Ridge Boys joined the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry had wanted the Oaks as members for many years, but they were always turned down due to their heavy touring schedule. But things changed 2 years ago and the Oaks finally accepted.

And finally, it was in August 1948 that Jimmy Dickens first became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. The exact date is lost to history but this year will mark 65 years since Jimmy first became an Opry member. In 1957, Jimmy left the Opry to head up a major road show sponsored by the Phillip Morris company. This was in violation of Opry rules as R.J. Reynolds was a major Opry sponsor and would not accept Jimmy working for a rival company. Jimmy would claim there were no hard feelings in him leaving. On February 8, 1975, Jimmy rejoined the Opry, being introduced that night by Hank Snow, who said Jimmy was missed. So even though many will say that it has been 65 years since Jimmy joined it will actually be 47 years as an Opry member. Jean Shepard is currently the Opry member with the longest consecutive streak of Opry membership. And Jean mentions that a lot and is proud of it. Regardless of the date and time, congratulations to Jimmy Dickens and here is hoping he can get back to the Opry to be honored.

There you have it for August.


  1. Fred, Bismarck:

    Thank you, Byron. You gave us so much to chew on this month, I will probably comment in installments.

    To start:

    I'm sure Webb Pierce, an early favorite of mine, was difficult. But I always loved his putdown of Ray Stevens, the neighbor who went to court and finally succeeded in halting Webb's tourist-bus visits:

    "That's what he gets for living next door to a star!"

    I thought Webb's was the more populist approach, more in line with what country music is supposed to be about.

  2. That's a lot of history in August.It's a lot of fun reading that histoy.

  3. Terrific stuff as always Byron. One correction: Billy Grammer's birthday is August 28. I THINK. I remember this because Jimmy C. Newman is listed in some places as born on August 27 and in others as August 29 (and as you say, he's doing incredibly well for any age, but especially 86), and I remember thinking, maybe Billy Grammer was born in between!

    Apropos of that, I know that Jean Shepard also has mentioned that Jimmy C. is #2 to her in seniority. If I'm correct, the only Opry members to have been on the show longer than Jean Shepard were Herman and Lewis Crook; she has passed Kirk McGee, who was there about 57 years and nine months.

  4. Michael, you might be right regarding Billy Grammer's birthday. I went by the date that has been listed in the Opry's information and books, and they have the August 25 date. Then in other places it is listed as August 28. All I can say is that in addition to the Opry changing member's induction dates, perhaps now they are in the business of changing member's birthdays!!!

  5. Byron, considering that they have changed Jimmy C.'s induction date, too, all I can say is, the Opry needs you as its full-time historian!

  6. Fred, Bismarck:

    Hank Williams, as we all know, died only months after having been fired, so coming back to the Opry was only one of the things precluded by his early death.

    I've always wondered how well Hank would have weathered two other seismic events: the death of his mentor and writing partner, Fred Rose, less than two years later; and the rockabilly/rock&roll incursions that started to take hold at about the same time.

    Re. the latter, I can imagine Hank getting old-fashioned and out of favor in a hurry, if he hadn't adjusted. And, if he had modernized -- imagine him getting the Chet Atkins treatment from somebody at MGM -- would he still have been "our" Hank?

  7. Fred, Bismarck:

    I hit a bad button and had to leave off before finishing the above.

    In short, I wonder if Hank didn't do his reputation a favor by dying young. Sixty years later he's still a musical god, his achievements not overlaid by years of declining inspiration and performance, the fate of so many others.

    And now, even if he had straightened himself out, he'd probably be dead anyway.

  8. Byron,

    I agree with you about the poor choice of acts to announce Porter and Bill's induction to the HOF in 2002. I'm sure they knew nothing about Bill Carlisle! I have to ask why the Dixie Chicks were even on the Opry, the answer is a matter of opinion. I must say that it did not disappoint me when they got overly political and fell of the map. This was just an early example of some of the things that were to come from Fisher and team that would be less than tasteful and respectful to the Opry tradition.

    On Trace Adkins, there have been times that it seemed as though he might be being honed to be the next spokesman for the Opry. I will be shocked if they don't seize the opportunity to make a big deal of his tenth. As a side, I must say that I respect his commitment to veterans.

    My future opinion of the treatment of these anniversaries will be strongly influenced by what takes place next week with Jim Ed Brown.

    Knightsville, IN