Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Browns, Grady Martin and the Oak Ridge Boys Make 2015 Country Music Hall of Fame Class

The Country Music Association announced three newly elected inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Jim Ed Brown and the Browns will be inducted in the Veteran’s Era category.  The late Grady Martin will be inducted as a Recording and/or Touring Musician active prior to 1980.  The Oak Ridge Boys will be the 2015 inductee in the Modern Era category.

These artists will be inducted during a special Medallion Ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in the CMA Theater later this year. During the Medallion Ceremony, friends and colleagues pay tribute to each inductee through words and song. Bronze plaques honoring each inductee are unveiled, to be displayed later in the museum’s Rotunda.

For more than sixty years, Jim Ed Brown has maintained a solid reputation as a versatile country performer, radio and television host, and recording artist. On the air, on disc, and in personal appearances, he has extended the smooth-singing tradition established by country stars such as Red Foley, Eddy Arnold, and Jim Reeves. With the Browns—a trio he formed with sisters Maxine and Bonnie—as a solo artist, and as a duet singer, he placed hits in the country charts from 1954 into the early 1980s. Through his recordings and his performances on the Grand Ole Opry, many of these hits have become standards.

James Edward Brown began singing with his sisters in school programs and at church functions when the siblings were teenagers in southwestern Arkansas. In 1952, Maxine entered Jim Ed in a talent contest organized by radio station KLRA in Little Rock, on the program Dutch O’Neal’s Barnyard Frolic. Although a harmonica player took first prize, Jim Ed was asked to join the cast, Maxine quickly followed suit. Within two years, the duo was singing on the regionally prominent Louisiana Hayride, broadcast by Shreveport radio outlet KWKH. Using a KWKH studio, Maxine and Jim Ed recorded their original song “Looking Back to See” for Fabor Records, in March 1954. That summer the record became a Top Ten hit on Billboard’s country charts. Soon Jim Ed and Maxine moved up to KWTO’s Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri.

After Bonnie joined the act in 1955, the trio’s rendition of “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow” also cracked Billboard’s country Top Ten. RCA Records, one of the music industry’s major labels, signed the Browns, and during 1956–57, they scored Top Five hits with “I Take the Chance” and “I Heard the Bluebirds Sing.”

Legendary guitarist Grady Martin was a member of Nashville’s original “A-Team” of studio musicians. Whether playing the fiddle or the guitar—electric, acoustic, or six-string electric bass—his versatility and creativity helped to make hits of many records from the 1950s through the 1970s.
Thomas Grady Martin was fifteen when he became the fiddler for Nashville’s Big Jeff & the Radio Playboys. In 1946 Martin briefly joined Paul Howard’s western swing-oriented Arkansas Cotton Pickers as half of Howard’s “twin guitar” ensemble, along with Robert “Jabbo” Arrington. After Howard left the Grand Ole Opry, Opry newcomer Little Jimmy Dickens hired several former Cotton Pickers as his original Country Boys band. Martin backed Dickens in the studio, though he seldom toured with Dickens.

Martin’s role as studio guitarist yielded numerous memorable moments. It was he who played the throbbing leads on Johnny Horton’s 1956 hit “Honky-Tonk Man” and the exquisite acoustic guitar fills on Marty Robbins’s 1959 crossover smash “El Paso” and Lefty Frizzell’s 1964 hit “Saginaw, Michigan.” One of his most famous sessions involved an accidental preamplifier malfunction, when Martin played the distorted “fuzz” guitar solo on Robbins’s 1960 hit “Don’t Worry.” Producers often designated Martin as “session leader,” which meant that he directed the impromptu arrangements that became a trademark of Nashville recording and often became the de facto producer. Columbia A&R man Don Law used Martin in this capacity for years.

Martin continued to play sessions through the 1970s, working extensively with Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, and producing country-rock band Brush Arbor. His signature lead parts helped to make a hit of Jeanne Pruett’s 1973 “Satin Sheets.” Martin eventually returned to performing, first with Jerry Reed and then with Willie Nelson’s band, with whom he worked from 1980 to 1994.

By injecting gospel-based, four-part harmonies and exciting live shows into country music, the Oak Ridge Boys helped pave the way for the many vocal groups that followed them. From 1977 to 1987, with a lineup of Duane Allen, lead; William Lee Golden, baritone; Richard Sterban, bass; and Joe Bonsall, tenor – they notched twenty-six Top Ten hits (including fifteen #1s), sold millions of records, won numerous industry awards, filled top-tier performance venues, and notched Top Twenty pop hits with “Elvira” and “Bobbie Sue.”

Prior to 1977, the Oaks had been a gospel act for more than thirty years. They began in 1945 as the Oak Ridge Quartet, a gospel ensemble within Wally Fowler’s country group, the Georgia Clodhoppers. The original quartet consisted of Fowler, lead; Curly Kinsey, bass; Lon “Deacon” Freeman, baritone; and Johnny New, tenor. They joined the Grand Ole Opry in September 1945.
In 1962, the Oak Ridge Quartet became the Oak Ridge Boys. Golden joined the group in 1965, Allen in 1966, Sterban in 1972, and Bonsall in 1973. By then, they had won a dozen gospel music Dove Awards as well as a Grammy. They signed with Columbia Records to broaden their audience, but three albums of “message” music produced two singles that didn’t make the country charts. Having removed themselves from the gospel world, the Oaks were struggling mightily to make waves in commercial country music.

Conventional industry wisdom held that there was room for only one gospel-rooted vocal quartet in country music (the Statler Brothers), but record executive Jim Foglesong was impressed with the Oak Ridge Boys’ versatility and range, and he signed them to ABC/Dot (later absorbed by MCA) in 1977. The group’s initial ABC/Dot single, the Sharon Vaughn-penned “Y’all Come Back Saloon,” was a country radio hit that sparked a remarkable run that included chart-toppers such as “I’ll Be True to You,” “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” “American Made,” “Fancy Free,” I Guess It Never Hurts to Hurt Sometimes,” and “Touch a Hand, Make a Friend.”

In 1987, William Lee Golden was replaced by Steve Sanders, a former child star in gospel music who was, at the time, the rhythm guitarist in the Oaks’ band. In 1996, Golden returned to the group, which remains a touring and recording force.

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