And the world’s richest person is a pauper at times,
Compared to the one with a satisfied mind.
When my life is over and my time has run out,
All my friends and my loved ones I’m gonna leave them no doubt.
But there’s one thing for certain, when it comes my time,
I’m gonna leave this old world with a satisfied mind.
I hate the need to write this blog post. It is late. I am tired. But we need to think about this man tonight.
Not only is this post about the passing of a country music legend and Grand Ole Opry Star, but it is also about the continuing footsteps that lead to the end of an era. The death of Porter Wagoner, the best ambassador the Opry had, is sad in and of itself. The tall singer with flashy clothes and a strong sense of humor was an essential part of the Nashville story. But with his passing we are also witnessing the turnover of the Opry to the new faces. The old way of making it to stardom and decades of fame is nearing an end. The traditions that made the Opry what it is today are slipping away.
Porter Wagoner made it to the top the old fashioned way. One song at a time.
In the Ozarks where Porter was born in 1927 came a down to earth way of living and talking. His music never strayed far from the basic themes of how he lived life. Those same themes are common to traditional country music. While working in a meat shop in West Plains, Missouri he delivered his hopes via music over KWPM.
His small band played over the airwaves from the store! When I talk of an era passing this is part of what I mean. One can image the Ken Burns imagery of black and white pictures showcasing the way singers once found their niche in the music industry. No slick promotions or well-heeled promoters. Only real talent and ambition were needed, along with a dose of luck. With limited money, but boundless desire, Porter moved to a radio station in Springfield, Missouri where an RCA recording contract soon followed. Even then sales were sparse, and it was not until 1957 that he first stepped on the stage at the Ryman Auditorium.
The other reason the Porter Wagoner story is important is the many ways he proved his talent. From those butcher shop radio shows on the one hand, to 19 years on television with “The Porter Wagoner Show” on the other hand, he proved he had the knack for entertaining. There were nearly 700 thirty-minute shows recorded from 1960-1979. Doubtless many of my readers have seen at least one! The ease that Porter demonstrated as an entertainer is most evident in these TV shows, as it was each weekend on the Opry stage. I am sure if one could hear the old radio shows from the early 1950’s there would be the hint of assuredness and raw talent that were perfected in the following decades of his career.
Perhaps many know Porter best for his famous duets with Dolly Parton on the RCA label. At times the personal nature of their professional relationship transcended the music, but late in the 1980’s the two patched up remaining differences. In fact, it was Dolly who inducted Porter into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002.
The style, flash, and smile that Porter brought with him to the stage was reflected back to him with warm applause and appreciation night after night on the Opry stage, and other venues around the nation. When he appeared in Wisconsin about 15 years ago he bounded on the stage wearing one of his famous Nudie suits that was his trademark. After a long performance he lingered and met the fans. One by one they shared a memory with him and took home an autograph and snapshot. I still recall that night how he seemed utterly content to stay as long as his fans kept talking. I left with an old album cover signed and a deeper appreciation for the man behind the music.
He never forgot how hard it was to make it in the business back in the early days of his career. And because of that he never took his fans for granted.
There are a dwindling number of the old style Opry members, and with each one that moves on to the biggest stage yet, we are left with only memories. So today I write not only about Porter, but also about the larger loss for the Grand Ole Opry.
As the final days approached Porter displayed the side of him that we knew existed all along. As the Washington Post reported he was thankful and satisfied with life.
Country singer and Opry member Dierks Bentley visited Wagoner in the hospice over the weekend and said Wagoner led them in prayer, thanking God for his friends, his family and the Grand Ole Opry.
We will not see one like Porter grace the Opry stage again.
Porter Wagoner Slide Show
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