Saturday, July 11, 2009

GRAND OLE OPRY WEEK- Behind Artist Inductions (With Charlie Daniels Video)

All this week, we've been running a series of feature articles on many different facets of country music's longest standing institution- The Grand Ole Opry. One of the questions comes up, how is an artist selected for induction?

There’s no magic formula, no secret code that grants access to one of the most coveted invitations in all of music. The decision to increase the Opry’s ranks is, and always has been, made exclusively by the show’s management. The people who’ve been entrusted with the Opry’s tradition and future direction take into account all the standards of success in country music – radio airplay, album and ticket sales, industry recognition – when considering an act for membership. The Opry considers career accomplishment, as well as the potential for continued success.

But the Opry doesn’t simply pass out invitations to the biggest stars with the most hits. Opry management looks for a musical and a generational balance. Opry membership requires a passion for country music’s fans, a connection to the music’s history. And it requires commitment – even a willingness to make significant sacrifices to uphold that commitment. Often, the Opry seeks out those who seek out the Opry, though decisions aren’t based on which artists appear most on the show, either.

The decision to bring a new act into the Opry fold is a two-pronged one, based on a combination of career accomplishment and commitment. But, really, it comes down to just one word: relationships. The relationships between performers and fans. The relationships Opry members have with each other, relationships that may last for decades. And, perhaps most importantly, the relationship between each artist and the ideal of the Grand Ole Opry. Because it’s the new members that guarantee the future success of the Opry. Yesterday’s bright young talents have now become legends. And today’s superstars will become icons to future generations. Each new member adds another chapter to the Opry story, and their commitments, their relationships, have made the Opry endure for 80 years strong.

The induction nights are a magical affair. GACtv and CMT have been running Carrie Underwood's music video which includes her invitation from Randy Travis heavily all spring long. Our favorite recent induction, however, is the long-overdue selection of Charlie Daniels. Watch HERE, as Charlie Daniels is inducted by Opry General Manager Pete Fisher and Opry members Marty Stuart and Connie Smith as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium on January 19, 2008.

GRAND OLE OPRY WEEK- Friday Night Frolics- An Opry Spin-Off

A Grand Ole Opry spin-off called The Friday Night Frolics? Yep, the Opry actually had a little sister program attached to it back when the Opry was only on Saturday nights.

The name comes from a radio show that aired on radio station WSM in Nashville from 1948 to 1958. The Friday Night Frolics was a spinoff of the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry had been airing on Saturday nights since 1925 and was at the height of its popularity when the WSM management decided to begin Frolics as a spinoff to the Opry. The show aired for 10 years from WSM's Studio C before moving to the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Opry, in 1958 and being renamed The Friday Night Opry.

Friday, July 10, 2009

GRAND OLE OPRY WEEK- Historic Photos of the Opry - Ryman Auditorium Video

With a musical history and heritage unmatched anywhere else in the country, the Ryman and Grand Ole Opry have had their share of highlights over time. This quick fun little video shows some of the more famous Ryman photos ever shot set to music. Watch it HERE...

GRAND OLE OPRY WEEK- The Grand Ole Opry Curse

Today is the last day of That Nashville Sound's Grand Ole Opry week. We've brought you over a dozen different articles about the people, the history, the legends and the intricacies of this show that brought country music to the world. We hope you've enjoyed it. Today's story revolves around the myth of the Opry curse. As Ripley used to say... believe it or not...

Most people who work with the Opry are naturally reluctant to discuss the idea of whether or not the curse actually exists and many will go as far as to deny it, “They” claim that it is nothing more than something concocted by sensationalistic writers back in the 1960's. In spite of this, the rumors and legends persist and no one can deny that up until 1973, more than 35 people closely associated with the Opry had met with untimely deaths. These country stars have been burned to death, have been beaten, robbed and shot, have been victims of car and plane crashes and have perished from alcohol and drugs. Some would say that these deaths are an unfortunate part of working in the entertainment industry, but others have come to feel that such a curse may exist after all.

You be the judge... but consider these past tragedies that all occurred to these Opry members within a year of one-another:

- Ira Louvin, along with his wife, two friends and the occupants of another car, were killed in a head-on auto accident in 1965.

- Jim Reeves perished in a plane crash in 1964.

- In 1964, another plane crash took the lives of stars Cowboy Copas, Randy Hayes, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Patsy Cline. It has also been said that Patsy Cline had a psychic premonition of her death, but this remains unknown.

- Jack Anglin, from the duo Johnny and Jack, was killed in a car accident on the way to Cline's memorial service

- Shortly after the death of Patsy Cline, former Grand Ole Opry singer "Texas Ruby" Fox died of smoke inhalation when her home burned down.

- Jack Greene (known as the "Jolly Greene Giant") almost perished from what he believed was the "Opry Jinx" when he was narrowly missed by two semi-trucks on a highway.

GRAND OLE OPRY WEEK- The Opry's Tragic Tale Of Stringbean & His Money

That Nashville Sound is in the middle of a special week-to-ten-day special series of articles about country music's historic house and some of the people that have called it home. Today's story tells of the tragic story of David "Stringbean" Akemon- a longtime Opry performer. The article is brought to us by a special guest writer Jeffrey Scott Holland who writes a blog called Unusual Kentucky.

David "Stringbean" Akeman, star of the Grand Ole Opry and Hee-Haw, was born in Annville, KY (also the birthplace of world champion fiddler Freddie Langdon) in 1916. Although he began his musical career as a banjoist at the age of 12, joined old-timey legend Asa Martin's band, and performed solo on radio stations such as WLAP in Lexington in the 1930s, it wasn't until the late 1940s when he really came into his own as a country music superstar.

That's when he struck up friendships with Grandpa Jones and Uncle Dave Macon, and became a regular on the Grand Ole Opry. A recording contract with Starday Records soon followed, and hit records such as "Chewing Gum". This, in turn, led to his stint on the hugely successful Hee-Haw television show, where he performed his old-timey tunes for a new generation of appreciative ears. He also had a running gag playing a scarecrow with a crow squawking on his shoulder, and did a regular routine called "Stringbean's Letters from Home" wherein he'd read mail (ostensibly) from the folks back in Annville.

Like many who grew up during the Great Depression, Stringbean had a great distrust of banks, and walked around with several thousand dollars on his person, in the front zip-pouch of his ubiquitous overalls (The overalls, by the way, were not a pose or a affectation - that's what he wore pretty much 24-7, onstage and off). It was well known around Nashville that String had his life's savings stashed away somewhere at home. Some writers have hinted broadly that certain Hee-Haw cast members may or may not have been indirectly responsible for Stringbean's murder because of their blabbing about his money to others; but the fact is, Stringbean himself made it no secret, and often flashed the fist-sized wad of bills. Not out of ostentatiousness or bragging, but perhaps merely out of an innocent naivete about the evil and corrupt nature of his fellow man.
On November 10, 1973, John A. Brown and Marvin Douglas Brown conspired to follow Stringbean to his home as he left the Ryman Auditorium, for the purpose of taking his life's savings at gunpoint. Just as with the Kansas robbery-turned-murder case popularized in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, the men failed to find any money in their home invasion, and out of frustration and confusion, ended up killing Stringbean and his wife Estelle for no good reason.
But the question then remained: what did happen to Stringbean's money? It wasn't in the cookie jar, the medicine cabinet, under the mattress, pressed inside the family Bible, nor stashed in a sock drawer. The murderers had plenty of time to tear the place apart looking for it, but they found nothing. All they got away with was a saw and some of String's gun collection.
For years, fortune-seekers and treasure hunters risked arrest to trespass on the property, armed with metal detectors. They were certain that String had followed the longstanding southern tradition of burying his riches in tightly sealed mason jars somewhere in the yard, surrounding acres, or nearby wilderness. The money has to be here, they all thought, it simply has to be. Where else could it have gone? The house itself had seemingly been thoroughly ransacked, first by the burglars, then by everybody and their brother. And they found..... nothing.
Had String been fibbing about his wealth? Had he actually secured a secret bank account, and used the "home under the mattress" story as dazzle camoflage to throw snoopers off the track?23 years later, in 1996, the mystery was solved.
Stringbean's lost treasure was accidentally discovered by a man who had moved into the house. A removable brick near the chimney revealed a hiding place in which over $20,000 in cash was found stashed, but the bills were decayed and partially eaten by rats. According to Wikipedia, $20,000 in 1973 was roughly equivalent to $98,565 today. Given String's income and his spartan, no-big-spending lifestyle, it's entirely possible that twice that amount could have originally been stashed, but ended up completely destroyed and lining some rat's nest.
Nowadays, the Stringbean Festival is held every year in Annville to pay tribute to the man. I was fortunate enough to have attended the inaugural event, which featured appearances by Grandpa Jones, Ramona Jones and Porter Wagoner, plus an early appearance by one of my favorite local combos, The Moron Brothers. The black Stringbean t-shirt I got there was my lucky fishin' shirt for years when I used to live in Berea and cast my line out at Owsley Fork.
The site for the Stringbean Festival consistently spells his name as "Akemon", but his own grave spells it "Akeman".
Hear some Stringbean mp3s by clicking here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

GRAND OLE OPRY WEEK- Grand Ole Opry Video History

All this week, That Nashville Sound is running a series of features celebrating the radio show that launched country music in the consciousness of America and beyond- The Grand Ole Opry. This quick video highlights the Grand Ole' Opry theme from the 1950's used in infomercials and retail packages. Watch it HERE...

GRAND OLE OPRY WEEK- Backstage At The Opry House

We continue on with our weeklong feature on the official stage of country music, The Grand Ole Opry. When they moved from the historic Ryman to the Grand Ole Opry House, it was said that they had an entire city backstage. So much so, that they created their own little mini Opry Post Office- with each and every living Opry member getting their own post office box. And I always smile when I hear the guide say that the mailboxes are in alphabetical order, except Jimmy Dickens’ is a row or two lower than the other “D’s” for reasons of “height-impairment.” You are most welcome to write letters to the Opry members, and you don’t even need a mailbox number. The Opry staff places your mail in the boxes by name of the artist rather than by box number. Simply address your mail as follows:

Artist Name
Grand Ole Opry
2804 Opryland Drive
Nashville, TN 37214

GRAND OLE OPRY WEEK- The Top Tens- The Most Notable Moments In Grand Ole Opry History

There are two institutions in country music that are viewed as hallowed ground for country music lovers. One is the Country Music Hall Of Fame. The other? The Grand Ole Opry. For over 80 years, a radio show turned radio & television show has showcased country music like no other venue in the world. Nearly every single country music artist that even sniffed a whiff of stardom has stood upon its stage.

That Nashville Sound is currently in the middle of running a series of different stories, photos and videos about the Opry. Today’s story is a little feature we like to call The Top Tens.

Ten most notable moments in Grand Ole Opry history:

1. The Opry is born. The Grand Ole Opry started out as the WSM Barn Dance in the new fifth-floor radio station studio of the National Life and Accident Company in downtown Nashville on November 28, 1925. On October 18, 1925, management began a program featuring "Dr. Humphrey Bate and his string quartet of old-time musicians." On November 2, WSM hired long-time announcer and program director George D. Hay, an enterprising pioneer from the National Barn Dance program at WLS Radio in Chicago. Hay launched the WSM Barn Dance with 77 year old fiddler Uncle Jimmy Thompson on November 28, 1925, which is celebrated as the birth date of the Grand Ole Opry.

2. 1939 The NBC network carries a half hour broadcast of the Opry.

3. 1943 The Opry moves to the Ryman Auditorium where it will stay for 30 years.

4. 1945 Western swing band leader, Bob Wills, brings drums to the Opry stage for the first time

5. 1949 Hank Williams makes his Opry debut. On August 11, 1952, Williams was fired from the Grand Ole Opry for drunkedness. Told not to return until he was sober, he instead rejoined the Louisiana Hayride.

6. 1954 Elvis appears on the Opry for the first and last time. Although the public reacted politely to his revolutionary brand of rockabilily music, after the show he was told by one of the organizers (Opry manager Jim Denny) that he ought to return to Memphis to resume his truck-driving career, prompting him to swear never to return.

7. 1965 Johnny Cash stomps out the footlights and is banned.

8. The start of the Opry 'Curse', that begins with the airplane crash in 1963 that killed Patsy Cline, along with Hankshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas and Randy Hughes, the pilot and manager. Jack Anglin, from the duo Johnny and Jack, was killed in a car accident on the way to Cline's memorial service. Three weeks later, Texas Ruby died in a trailer fire while her fiddler husband, Curly Fox, was playing onstage at the Opry.

9. 1974 The Opry moves to its current home, The Grand Ole Opry House. President Nixon attends the first show and Roy Acuff teaches him to yo-yo on stage.

10. 2005 The Opry is telecast live over Armed Forces Television for the first time for the soldiers in Iraq.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

GRAND OLE OPRY WEEK- Living At The Opry House

All this week, it’s all about the Opry and we have one more little interesting tidbit to share with our readers. Back when the Opryland Theme Park was in full force, there was a legend of country music that actually lived on the grounds of the Opry House- Roy Acuff himself. (Acuff was the very first person inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame.) The home just to the left of the Opry House when you’re standing in the Opry Plaza looking toward the Opry House was built for the King of Country Music after his wife Mildred died in 1981. It is literally within a golf shot of the front doors of the Opry House. He would frequently greet guests going into the theme park and Acuff was known to visit with fans outside his home often. Security guards at the Opry widely reported that many times they would no sooner have escorted the King of Country to his house after an Opry performance than he would be back in his dressing room visiting with passersby. The house is now made up offices.


You’re right in the middle of a fun week-long feature on the centerpiece home of country music, the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry made its home at the Ryman Auditorium from June 5, 1943 to March, 1974. It has recently been the winter home of the Grand Ole Opry the last couple of years as well. Did you know it was rumored to be haunted?

Over the years, one of the Gallery visitors, a mysterious man in gray, has been sighted from time to time. He had never been seen during performances, but late at night, after the audience has gone home. At times when only maintenance workers and security guards are in the building, the Gray Man has been spotted sitting in the balcony. Others say that he has been seen during rehearsals as well. However, when anyone goes up to the Gallery to send him on his way, the balcony is always found to be deserted. Often when they return downstairs, they will once again see him in the same seat... a seat that was empty moments before. No one knows who this strange figure may be, whether a past patron to a forgotten show or a long dead Confederate soldier, but whoever he is, he does not haunt the Ryman alone!

Legend has it that the building's original owner, Captain Ryman, has also chosen to remain behind in this world to watch over his beloved building. He passed away in 1904 and was so well thought of that over 4,000 people packed into the auditorium to bid him farewell. It was during the funeral that a change of name was proposed for the place and it became the Ryman Auditorium.

The stories have it that Captain Ryman's ghost first made his presence known in the early 1900's, during a production of Carmen at the theater. The show had a rather risqué reputation and it was certain that Captain Ryman would not have approved of the material. It was said that his ghost made so much noise during the show that patrons complained about not being able to hear what was going on.

Another ghost said to the haunt the Auditorium is that of the legendary country musician, Hank Williams Sr.. Staff members have reported being seen Hank backstage and even, at times, on the stage itself. Another popular place for him to be spotted is in the alley in-between the Ryman and Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, a place where Hank would go for a quick drink at breaks. The Lounge is no stranger to Hank Williams sightings either and is one of many locations he is said to haunt.

GRAND OLE OPRY WEEK- The First Opry Star- DeFord Bailey

That Nashville Sound is in the middle of a weeklong special series of columns on special features, historic impacts and photos on the country's most special country music institution- the Grand Ole Opry. Today's story is about the very first star of the Opry- DeFord Bailey. It's a story equally inspirational and tragic, nearly beginning and ending with the Grand Ole Opry.

DeFord Bailey (1899-1982) was born as a young black man in Smith County, Tennessee, about forty miles east of downtown Nashville. DeFord's mother, Mary Reedy, named him after two of her former schoolteachers, Mr. DeBerry and Mrs. Ford. When he was a little over a year old, his mother died of an unknown illness. DeFord's father, John Henry, had a younger sister named Barbara Lou who helped care for DeFord. Gradually, she took over complete care of DeFord and became his foster mother. Barbara Lou gave DeFord his first harmonica (or mouth harp).

At the age of three, DeFord contracted infantile paralysis (polio). At the time, the disease was almost always fatal. He was confined to bed for a year and was only able to move his head and his arms. It was at this time that he started to develop his playing style. He would lie in bed and listen to the sounds of dogs howling, of wild geese flying overhead, of the wind blowing through cracks in the wall, and most importantly, of trains rumbling in the distance. Eventually he recovered, although the disease severely stunted his growth and left him with a slight hunchback.

Music continued to be a large part of DeFord's upbringing in Smith County. Most members of his family played instruments and his grandfather, Lewis Bailey, was a champion fiddler. The tunes they played were part of a rich tradition of string band music, a style DeFord called black hillbilly music.

On October 5, 1925, a new broadcast station, WSM, went on the air. The station, which was created by the National Life and Accident Insurance Company, was interested in presenting a first-class image so it hired George D. Hay, one of America's most popular announcers. Shortly after he arrived in Nashville, Hay aired a similar program with a local champion fiddler named Uncle Jimmy Thompson. The show received a huge response. On December 27, 1925, WSM and Judge Hay sent out a press release announcing that WSM would begin a regular broadcast of an hour or two of old familiar tunes — a show that became known as "The Barn Dance," and later the "Grand Ole Opry."

Nashville was home to another radio station that started in the fall of 1925. WDAD went on the air a few months earlier than WSM and was operated by a local radio supply store called Dad's. Pop Exum, the manager of the store and one of DeFord's biggest fans, made DeFord a regular on WDAD. Pop had met DeFord at an auto accessory store that he had managed prior to Dad's and where DeFord would come to buy auto parts for his bicycle. Another one of Dad's regulars was Dr. Humphrey Bate, a country doctor who also played the harmonica. Dr. Bate's band, later called the Possum Hunters, played on both WDAD and WSM. When Dr. Bates heard DeFord play, he insisted that DeFord join him on WSM's new Saturday night "Barn Dance" program. One night, DeFord agreed to come and played on that evening's show without an audition. The show's announcer, Judge Hay, liked DeFord so much he asked him to perform regularly from that point forward.

Throughout 1926, DeFord was a regular on the weekly show. Judge Hay, who liked to find colorful nicknames for all of his performers, dubbed DeFord "The Harmonica Wizard." In fact, the Harmonica Wizard's music inspired the show's famous name--the Grand Ole Opry.

By 1928, DeFord had settled into a weekly routine with the Opry, appearing twice as often as any other performer. In early Opry years, the show embraced all types of indigenous music and made no attempts to limit itself to an all white audience. In fact, efforts were made to attract a "colored" audience. The Opry and all other WSM shows were designed to sell National Life insurance. A large portion of National Life's business consisted of small policies popular with both white and black low-income customers. Judge Hay told DeFord that "half of National Life's money comes from colored people and that DeFord had helped make those sales."Over the years, however, the Opry became more identified with music of the rural white south. The cast of the show was all white, with the exception of DeFord. Occasionally other black performers, including the Fisk Jubilees Singers and the Carthage Quartet, were featured on the show, but DeFord was the only one of any long-term duration. The combination of his musical skills and his diminutive, non-threatening physical appearance may have opened doors for him that were closed for others of his race.
In the spring of 1941, DeFord was about to begin his sixteenth season with the Grand Ole Opry. The NBC network had been broadcasting the show for about a year and a half, and the Opry was changing, becoming more slick and professional. DeFord appeared only on a handful of the network broadcasts. The slick new "uptown" acts that had arrived in the mid-1930's appeared on that portion of the show, while the old-timers played on the non-network portion.
Also affecting DeFord's appearances on the show was a licensing issue with ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), which required venues to pay fees for the use of copyrighted music. ASCAP's contract with radio was coming up for renewal in 1940, and in the process ASCAP was attempting to double its usage fees. Radio networks were furious and were trying to boycott all songs copyrighted by ASCAP. DeFord was hit hard by the ban because most of his repertoire was copyrighted by ASCAP.

To counter the loss of ASCAP material, radio broadcasters, including those responsible for the Opry, created a new organization called BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) and began creating a catalog of music designed primarily for radio. Besides countering ASCAP, another reason the Opry may have been insistent on creating and licensing new songs to BMI was because one of the original six hundred stockholders in BMI was WSM's Edwin Craig. He made it clear that performers on his station were expected to do their part by creating new songs that could be copyrighted and licensed through BMI.

Hurt, puzzled, and offended by the Opry's insistence that he now create new material, DeFord continued to perform his old tunes. By the end of July, the boycott was over and NBC signed an agreement with ASCAP. Things returned to the way they were, with one exception. After May 24, 1941, DeFord's name no longer appeared on the show's line-up. He had been let go. The firing of DeFord Bailey is one of the most controversial aspects of Opry history. Judge Hay offered his own explanation in his book A Story of the Grand Ole Opry: (1946)

"That brings us to DeFord Bailey, a little crippled colored boy who was a bright feature of our show for about fifteen years. Like some members of his race and other races, DeFord was lazy. He knew about a dozen numbers, which he put on the air and recorded for a major company, but he refused to learn any more, even though his reward was great. He was our mascot and is still loved by the entire company. We gave him a whole year's notice to learn some more tunes, but he would not. When we were forced to give him his final notice, DeFord said, without malice, ‘I knowed it waz comin', Judge, I knowed it waz comin'." - Judge Hay

DeFord's remembrance of the events was very different. While he strongly disagreed with Hay's explanation, he didn't blame Hay for being fired.

"He had a boss too. It was the company. It's terrible for a company to say things like that about me. That I didn't know no songs. I read between the lines. They seen the day was coming when they'd have to pay me right … and they used the excuse about me playing the same old tunes."
This charge was unfounded and it didn't seem to apply to other Opry members. DeFord played a certain body of work mainly because, for years, the Opry management insisted that he play those tunes.
DeFord remembered, "I told them I got tired of blowing that same thing, but I had to go along with 'em you know. Gene Austin played on Saturday night when I was there. Played 'Blue Heaven' on his guitar. Well, I come back next week and had that down on my harp. They said, "No. Naw, don't play that. That's their song. You play blues like you've been playing."

Alcyone Bate Beasley, the daughter of DeFord's first mentor, Dr. Humphrey Bate, once said,
"On today's Opry, and on the Opry for generations, most performers do exactly what DeFord was let go for. They play the tunes they are best known for. Who can imagine Roy Acuff on the Opry not playing either 'Wabash Cannonball' or 'Great Speckled Bird," said Alcyone Bate Beasley.

In the last decade of his life, DeFord was befriended by David Morton, a Vanderbilt graduate history student and public housing employee. Morton developed a strong friendship with DeFord and eventually recorded the only publicly available album. He even asked Morton to write his biography.

Morton convinced DeFord to return to the Opry stage four times before he died. Though he never made the spectacular comeback that Morton envisioned, DeFord was satisfied with his accomplishments, realizing at last his preeminence in the field.

Source for the material in this section, including excerpts: David C. Morton with Charles K. Wolfe, DeFord Bailey: A Black Star in Early Country Music (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1991)

Monday, July 6, 2009

GRAND OLE OPRY WEEK- The Unbroken Circle

The Grand Ole Opry is the show that made country music famous. Early Opry performers such as Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl, Ernest Tubb, and Bill Monroe became musical foundations for the Opry during its years in residence at the historic Ryman Auditorium, later welcoming to the stage artists who would become entertainment icons in their own right including Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Bill Anderson. All this week, That Nashville Sound is highlighting some interesting tidbits on the Opry. Today we’ll highlight its most important physical feature, the Unbroken Circle…

The Opry said goodbye to the Ryman Auditorium on Friday night, March 15, 1974. The Opry members gathered there one last time for an Opry performance, with Johnny Cash leading them in the appropriate finale, ''Will the Circle Be Unbroken?'' The next night, the circle remained unbroken, as the cast unveiled the new Opry, a $15 million palace outside of town. With its air-conditioning, high-tech equipment, and padded seats, it bore little resemblance to the rickety Ryman. One singer said, ''We're going from the barn to the house.''

The first night in the new Opry House, President Richard Nixon joined Roy Acuff on stage at the Grand Ole Opry House. Still, they could keep in touch with the traditions of the Ryman because a six-foot circle of hardwood was taken from the Ryman and placed center stage at the Opry House.

The six-foot circle of dark, oak wood in the Opry House stage is shiny but clearly well worn. Cut from the stage of the Opry's famous former home, the Ryman Auditorium, this circle gives newcomers and veterans alike the opportunity to sing on the same spot that once supported Uncle Dave Macon, Ernest Tubb, Patsy Cline, and others.

"That circle is the most magical thing when you're a performer," says Brad Paisley, "to stand there and get to sing on those same boards that probably still contain dust from Hank Williams' boots."

There is a reverence for this place. Built in 1974, there are 4,424 seats in the Grand Ole Opry House. The seating is laid out in rows of pews, each covered in felt-like fabric and padding, filling 37 sections. The pews of the first level stretch back below a second deck of pews, which rise almost vertically so that the second level almost appears to hang over the stage.

But it is that wooden circle that is the heart of the stage, the Opry's heart, its music and its members…

GRAND OLE OPRY WEEK- Grand Ole Opry Video History

All this week, That Nashville Sound is running articles, videos and features on the foundation by which country music was built on- The Grand Ole Opry. This quick video was made back in 1986 celebrating the Opry's 60th Anniversary. It's filled with Opry members and Country Music Hall-Of-Famers- watch it HERE...

GRAND OLE OPRY WEEK- Top Ten All-Time Notable Grand Ole Opry Performers

For over 80 years, the Grand Ole Opry has been a weekly radio program featuring the best of country music, folk songs and bluegrass mountain tunes. Beginning in the 1950’s, it became the nation’s favorite radio program- where every song played on the stage was broadcast to a huge swath of America. Postcards and telegrams would come in from Vancouver to Cuba and all spots in between. It solidified Nashville as Music City- the country music capital of the world. All this week, we’re running a series of articles and observations featuring this legendary program. This article features another one of our Top Ten lists- this one called The Top Ten All-Time Notable Grand Ole Opry Performers. And we begin the countdown to the #1 here...

10. (tie) Garth Brooks- With four of his country records exceeding the sales number of ten million sold, Brooks has “retired” from recording (but not from his Opry membership) with over 100 million albums sold. He helped re-raise the profile of the Opry in the 1990’s to super-uber-cool status and he ranks his Opry membership as his proudest career accomplishment.

10. (Tie) Little Jimmy Dickens- Standing at a whopping 4 foot 11 inches tall, Jimmy has spent an amazing 50 years as an Opry member. He joined the Grand Ole Opry way back in 1953 and has quite possibly performed more times on the Ryman and Grand Ole Opry House stages more than any other performer. Hanging out in equal time with Hank Williams Sr and Brad Paisley, he goes beyond the element of time in country music.

9. Minnie Pearl- Born Sarah Colley, an upper-class girl from Tennessee, Minnie Pearl created her character after watching a brassy female comedian way back in 1936. She would join the Opry in 1940 and spend the next 50 years as an Opry member making audiences laugh until their sides hurt- all while wearing her trademark straw hat with the price tag still attached.

8. Uncle Dave Macon- He was one of the very first true stars of the Grand Ole Opry- even playing on WSM before it had a name- known then as the Barn Dance. David Harrison Macon was one of the most influential country music catalysts in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s- bringing this unique sound to radio, stage and performances. The banjo player is a Country Music Hall-Of-Fame member.

7. Roy Acuff- He was the Garth Brooks of the 1930’s and 1940’s- selling more records than anyone else in his generation. Affectionately known as the “King of Country Music”, he influenced the careers of dozens of other Opry performers.

6. Loretta Lynn- Everyone’s favorite “Coal Miner’s Daughter” is quickly approaching her 50th year as an Opry member as well- she was originally inducted back in 1962. She was first noticed and supported by Patsy Cline, but it was Texan Ernest Tubb who would be an early partner and introduce her on her first Opry performance back in 1960. She has consistently called that evening “the best moment of my life.”

5. Dolly Parton- Despite being famous for an actor, author, cosmetic pioneer, amusement park owner and television star, it all begins and ends with music for Dolly Parton. She is a Country Music Hall-Of-Fame member, a Songwriters Hall-Of-Fame member and a Gospel Music Hall-Of-Fame member in addition to being a Grand Ole Opry member since 1969. Her first performance was way back in 1959.

4. Patsy Cline- Possibly the shortest notable member of the bunch, Patsy became an Opry member in 1960 before tragically passing away in a plane crash in 1963. She is still viewed as the quintessential voice in country music and her trademark song “Crazy” is considered to many to be the #1 country music song in history.

3. Johnny Cash- The “Man in Black” had a tumultuous relationship with the Opry. In 1965, he dragged his microphone stand across the front of the Ryman stage breaking all of the footlights. He was banished from the Opry that night- later that evening he crashed his car breaking his nose and jaw. Some of his personal career highlights were his performances with or adjacent to the love of his life, June Carter Cash. He joined the Opry cast in 1956.

2. The Carter Family- On May 29, 1950, “Mother” Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters- June, Anita and Helen” were formally inducted to become Opry members. From extremely rural roots, this family personified the country music scene beginning in the late 30’s and had a major influence until June’s recent death.

1. Hank Williams- Way back on June 11, 1949, Hank Williams made his Opry debut. The audience there that day called him back six times to encore his song “Lovesick Blues.” Opry legend Little Jimmy Dickens calls it the most amazing performance he’s ever seen. Hank also became the most famous Opry firing as his alcoholism that derailed his life at the young age of 29 also forced the Opry management to relieve him of his Opry membership that same year.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

GRAND OLE OPRY WEEK- Behind The Man That Started It All

The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly music program and live concert broadcast live on WSM 650 radio in the heart of Tennessee every Friday and Saturday night, as well as Tuesdays from March through December. It is the oldest continuous radio program in the United States, having been broadcast since October 5, 1925. But it is much more than that. In many ways, the artists and repertoire of the Opry has defined American country music. Hundreds of performers have entertained as cast members through the years, including new stars, superstars and legends. Being made a member of the Grand Ole Opry, country music's longest, most endurable "Hall of Fame" is to be identified as a member of the most elite of country music. This week, That Nashville Sound will be highlighting a variety of key components and doing special articles on the Opry (as well as making our annual pilgrimage to this sacred stage.) Our first article is on the man who started it all- one George D. Hay…

George Dewey Hay (November 9, 1895- May 8, 1968) was the founder of the original Grand Ole Opry radio program on WSM (AM) in Nashville, Tennessee, from which today's country music stage show of the same name has evolved.

In Memphis, Tennessee, after World War I, Hay was a reporter for the Commercial Appeal, and when the newspaper launched its own radio station, WMC, in January 1923, he became a late-night announcer at the station. His popularity increased and in May 1924 he left for WLS in Chicago, where he served as the announcer on a program that became National Barn Dance.

On November 9, 1925 he moved on to WSM in Nashville. Getting a strong listener reaction to 78-year-old fiddler Uncle Jimmy Thompson that November, Hay announced the following month that WSM would feature "an hour or two" of old-time music every Saturday night. He promoted the music and formed a booking agency.

The show was originally named WSM Barn Dance, and Hay billed himself as "The Solemn Old Judge." The Barn Dance was broadcast after NBC's Music Appreciation Hour, a program featuring classical music and grand opera. One day in December 1927, the final music piece on the Music Appreciation Hour depicted the sound of a rushing locomotive. After the show ended, "Judge Hay" opened the WSM Barn Dance with this announcement:

“Friends, the program which just came to a close was devoted to the classics. Doctor Damrosch [host of the program] told us that there is no place in the classics for realism. However, from here on out for the next three hours, we will present nothing but realism. It will be down to earth for the 'earthy'.”

Hay then introduced the man he dubbed "The Harmonica Wizard," DeFord Bailey, who played his classic train song, "The Pan American Blues," named for the crack Louisville and Nashville Railroad passenger train The Pan-American. After Bailey's performance, Hay commented, "For the past hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from Grand Opera. From now on we will present the Grand Ole Opry."

Hay's weekly broadcasts continued and proved enormously popular, and he renamed the show the Grand Ole Opry in 1927. Crowds soon clogged hallways as they gathered to observe the performers, prompting the National Life company to build an acoustically designed auditorium capable of holding 500 fans. When WSM radio increased broadcasting power to 50,000 watts in 1932, most of the United States and parts of Canada could tune into the Opry on Saturday nights, broadening the show's outreach.

During the 1930s, he was involved with Rural Radio, one of the first magazines about country music, developing the Opry for NBC and working on the movie Grand Ole Opry (1940). He was an announcer with the radio show during the 1940s and toured with Opry acts, including the September 1947 Opry show at Carnegie Hall.

In 1945 Hay wrote A Story of the Grand Ole Opry, and he became an editor of Nashville's Pickin’ and Singin’ News in 1953. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966.

Hay moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia, where he died in 1968.

Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Has New Johnny Cash Exhibit

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has made a new exhibit featuring the Man in Black, Mr. Johnny Cash. The Hall has obtained the tour bus that Cash used for nearly 25 years.

Cash used this touring bus, the JC Unit One, for the last two decades of his career. A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Cash wrote in his 1997 autobiography, “I have a home that takes me anywhere I need to go, that cradles me and comforts me, that lets me nod off in the mountains and wake up in the plains: my bus, of course. We call it Unit One. I love my bus. It really is my home too. When I make it off another plane through another airport, the sight of that big black MCI waiting by the curb sends waves of relief through me – Aah! – safety, familiarity, solitude. Peace at last. My cocoon.”

When viewing the bus one can almost feel Johnny Cash and June Carter’s presence, from the coffee ring Cash left on a table to the rotisserie oven that catered to his love for barbeque. One should also take note of:

• The table in Cash’s personal compartment that was built of wood salvaged near Cash’s birthplace from a Civil War-era house that was General Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters.

• Johnny, June and their son, John Carter, all had separate compartments, along with an extra compartment for the bus driver

• June’s blue velour upholstered furniture.

• Each compartment was equipped with a television and stereo, with individual remote-controlled antennas.

• Cash used the bus for the 1991 Highwayman Tour which transported Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson.

• Cash spent more than $553,000 in 1980 on the coach.

Cash bought the coach in 1980 and used it until 2003. He sold the bus just three months before his death to the American Heritage Music Foundation in Blytheville, Arkansas. They sold the bus to MotoeXotica in St. Louis, Missouri, who then auctioned it on e-bay in 2005. Dave Wright bought the bus and donated it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, its now permanent home.

Admission for Johnny Cash’s tour bus is FREE with the purchase of a regular admission ticket.