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Porter Wagoner Made It To Fame With A Satisfied Mind

October 29, 2007

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.
 

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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.   

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  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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10 Comments
  1. m. lee permalink
    November 6, 2010 8:51 AM

    Miss you, Jeanne…

  2. Jim Hart permalink
    September 2, 2009 12:33 AM

    Debra, My name is Jim Hart and I married Janet Eanes some thirty-four years ago. My wife used to work with you and she has always wondered how you all are doing. We moved to the west coast thirty years ago. Just want you to know my wife has always appreciated your friendship and that you are in our thoughts and prayers.

  3. May 18, 2009 7:32 AM

    Thank you for the kind words. You can be very proud of your Dad.

  4. debra jean permalink
    May 18, 2009 12:06 AM

    While looking for my Aunt’s death notice in the Missouri newspapers online tonight, I found this article in cyber space. My Dad’s oldest sister passed away friday, 5/15/09, in West Plains, MO, she was 97 yrs old.

    I want to thank dekerivers for this wonderful tribute to my Dad, Porter Wagoner.

    I’ve printed your article, to share with Porter’s Grandchildren, and my brother and sister to read.

    We know that our Dad left this ole world with a “Satisfied Mind”.
    Thank you to each of his fans for your prayers and support for our family. We appreciate your loyalty to Porter’s music and career through the years.

    Debra Jean
    Porter Wagoner’s daughter

  5. MusicCityFan permalink
    March 26, 2008 12:25 PM

    What a wonderful article you have posted. I knew Porter and know he would have loved your words. You are a sweet writer and clearly care about the Grand Ole Opry. I am almost Porter’s age and have seen much here in Nashville. You write as I feel.

  6. January 4, 2008 3:16 PM

    Hello Everyone
    We are the Arizona Country Cousins Band out of Wickenburg, AZ and we loved Porter and still do. His music was our inspiration and his suits were always top notch! He will be greatly missed, but his memory and his music will live on forever!

    Ron, David, Connie and little Jeanne Rose

    the Arizona Country Cousins

  7. October 31, 2007 7:17 AM

    Today is a sad day in the world of country music, and in the hearts of many fans. Another legend passed away on Sunday night, Mr. Porter Wagoner. Country will never be the same.

    As countless tributes and memorials will be forthcoming over the next week, and as many already have, I’m going to take a different path with mine. I loved the music Porter gave us, and I can’t count the smiles he out on my face sitting in the audience at the Opry. His legacy stands for itself, and will forever. I’m going to take this a different route, one that I think he’d approve of, though he’d never have said this himself.

    I’m tired. I’m embarrassed. And I’m ashamed. We should all be. Again, we got too busy, too driven by success, and we forgot. We forgot about Porter, the same way we forgot about Johnny, the same way we forgot about Buck. Porter Wagoner was an institution in country music. Recently, his 50 years as a cast member of the Grand Ole Opry was celebrated. He released his final album, Wagonmaster, and what I believe will be his enduring single, Comitted to Parkview. And we hardly noticed. If CMT and country radio is your connection to country music, then you probably didn’t notice at all. Save the sites that have vision and roots, the coverage was minimal. Same for Buck and Johnny. Same for Waylon. Tammy. I could go on and on. We concentrate on the here and now so much, that we forget we have a past. A past filled with icons, without whom we would not be where we are today.

    Then, after we’ve barely even spoken their name in years, one of these icons of a day gone by passes on to the Big Stage in the Sky. And you’d think it had all been different. We cry, we have television specials, we have tributes, and make a production of it all. We even go to the awards shows, and hold them in memorial for all to see. When was the last time we even thought of them before that moment. No doubt they will honor Porter at this years CMA’s. When was the last time you saw or even heard mention of him on a CMA show as a relevant artist? Years and years. They’ve been forgotten, til now.

    Sure, we bring out one or two of the Old School each year, and induct them into the Hall of Fame. We do it in such a manner as to say, “Good job, old fella. You’re done. Here’s your spot in the Circle, and we love you. Now go back to retirement and we’ll move on. We’ve got a few million more albums to sell.”

    Remember all the way back to 1980, when Johnny Cash was inducted into the Hall? He said, in his acceptance speech, after an humble thanks, that he wasn’t done. He said watch out, I’m just gettin’ started. But the country music establishment saw to otherwise. He was done in commercial country. Forgotten for the better part of two decades. Only after the American Recordings projects got too big to ignore, and he passed, did the establishment change its tune. The honors and accolades then fell from the rafters, from the very people who turned him to the streets. And where was the apology, where was the change of how we do business to assure we never make the same mistake again? Curiously absent.

    This madness has to stop. I hated to write such an article while mourning the death of Porter. I’d like to just sit and listen to his great catalog and have a good cry. But I’ve done that too many times before. We have to stop ourselves right now, while the pain is fresh, the void too big to overlook, and make some changes. There’s still a few of the Old Dogs left. The Hag, Willie, Ray Price, Billy Joe Shaver, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Jerry Lee, Charlie Pride, Little Jimmy, Bill Anderson – just to name a few. Will we do the same to them? God, I hope not.

    Here’s my challenge to you. Do something to make a difference. Anything. Just don’t allow this to happen again. What am I suggesting? Many things. First, educate yourself. Take the time to do your homework. Never again call yourself a country fan if you think it all started with Garth. For you, it may well have. But that’s just not good enough. Do your homework. Trace it all back to its roots. And enjoy the ride, as I know you will. Then take some sort of action. Go to the Hall the next time your in Music City, and spend the day. See it for yourself. Go to the Opry. Buy the old albums, and then buy the new ones that the old artists put out. You just may find yourself hooked. Call your radio station. Tell ‘em to ease off the pop they keep playing and put something real on. When the CMT awards come around, to hell with what they want you to vote for, write one in, and make a statement. Give the old hands a fair shake. They know how it’s supposed to be done, and they still do it oh, so well.

    Now, see, just like Porter, they aren’t gonna ask you for this. They have too much dignity to do that. And they shouldn’t have to. That’s what I’m here for. A wake up call, and a call to arms, all in one. You want to honor Porter, and his memory? The take a stand. Refuse, along with me, to allow this to ever happen again. No greater compliment could be paid. And, along the way, stop and ask yourself, as you write a tribute of your own, to look at yourself. When was the last time you popped a Porter album in and gave it a listen? If you don’t wanna answer that question, you’re a part of the problem. Be a part of the solution.

    I’ll close with the chorus of a Dale Watson song, Legends (What If), from his Live in London cd. I believe that Dale, as he so often does, says it best…

    Each time one slips away,

    We say, “Man, they were great.”

    Wish I’d went to see them their last show.

    Radio may have buried them,

    While they’re here let’s cherish them.

    Before all our Legends are gone…

  8. Jim Marchant permalink
    October 29, 2007 9:40 AM

    Thanks for the blog on Porter.He was one of the greats and will surely be missed.
    Jim

  9. October 29, 2007 5:54 AM

    he will be miss a lot we At Harley Radio will miss His music

  10. Laurence Brazil permalink
    October 29, 2007 5:44 AM

    Dear Mr. Wagner, You will surely be missed. Your legacy will live on. May God Bless You!

    Laurence Brazil

    Red Bay, Alabama

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