The Grand Oe Opry family lost another member today with the death of Jan Howard.
She was not only an independent voice in her own right, with many recordings, but also was one of the classic country ladies along with Jean Shepherd, Skeeter Davis, and others who would band together and make music from the world-famous stage in Nashville Tennessee.
When I was in the third grade my parents had tickets to see Bill Anderson, and his then singing partner Jan Howard, when they were to do a concert in Waupaca Wisconsin. I was going through a severe bout of the flu, and there were real concerns whether or not I could attend the show. But there was a miraculous recovery and I was there in the bleachers to watch, but it was Jan Howard who had come down with the flu and missed the concert!
I did not see her that night but many years later at the world-famous stage of the Grand Ole Opry, I saw Howard, along with the full array of performers. Tonight she is with so many other legends on the largest stage ever.
Many years ago a friend of mine, who worked in marketing for a New York firm, advised me how to make this blog more focused. More niche-oriented. She told me I was aiming for an audience that was too diverse, and in so doing missing a larger share of a certain type of reader looking for content of a specialized type. I have no doubt that was sage advice.
But I like to write about the topics of the day which strike my fancy. That means almost anything under the sun might be found, at some point, to have been posted on CP. Which is how the voice from over the airwaves on Saturday nights, which I loved to hear as a boy, made it to this blog. Grant Turner was an announcer from WSM, broadcasting live from the world-famous Grand Ole Opry stage. In 2007 I paid tribute to Turner in a post, which attracted attention from his daughter.
Yes, this blog could have been more focused and laser-oriented in the content which appears in over 14,000 posts. My friend was right. But today I know I am right too, as there are just too many topics in the world that ignite my passion to limit what might be posted tomorrow.
Grant Turner made me smile as a boy on many Saturday nights. These decades later he is doing the same on this winter-like Saturday night in Madison.
It is a magical night at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville as Dolly Parton celebrates 50 years of standing on the famed stage and being a part of the longest-running radio show in American history on WSM.
There is no way such an occasion could happen without a salute from Caffeinated Politics. I found the perfect way to showcase Dolly, and the Opry. This video starts with an Opry announcer I heard as a boy, admired as a man, and even these many years after his passing, still consider his smooth vocal delivery to be worthy of a listen. Grant Turner has been praised on CP, and I am glad to do it again with Dolly in this video. Grant’s daughter saw my tribute and commented on this blog. This little part of the internet highway has brought many smiles.
Dolly Parton performed at the Dane County Coliseum a number of years ago. It was James’ first-ever large concert. The night remains a special one for us both. Dolly as a singer is simply superb, but the entertainer persona that Dolly has mastered in her performance was one of the best I have witnessed. And I have seen Frank and Wayne.
I am delighted that Dolly has received this awesome weekend–she is a national treasure. The stars on the stage in this video are a way to sum up Opry history and Dolly’s history, too!
With this being the 94th Birthday weekend for the Grand Ole Opry, and the fantastic Ken Burns documentary on Country Music concluded on PBS, I want to post a long ago forgotten song.
In 1974 the Opry moved from downtown Nashville to a new home about six miles down the Cumberland River. The Ryman Auditorium had such an acoustically perfect sound that it was restored in later decades, with the winter months of the famed radio show once again broadcast over WSM from that stage.
But at the time of the final show in 1974 it was mighty sad. In the Hank Locklin song, Goodbye Dear Old Ryman, the background voices of The Jordanaires can be heard. They were also the voices that sang background on so many Elvis recordings.
It has been years in the making, and like every other Ken Burns documentary, it has created a lot of buzz. Or in this case, a lot of yearning to hear the fiddles play.
What will turn PBS (starting Sept 15th) into many nights of must-see-television is Country Music, Burns’ 16.5 hour series as he presents the origins and meaning of a major musical force in this land. But such a task will be very hard as getting to the core of the music is almost impossible. The legends in the field admit as much.
Veteran songwriter Harlan Howard famously asserted that “Country music is three chords and the truth.” In one of many revealing juxtapositions over the course of Burns’ series, critically acclaimed singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell agrees, then points out: “It’s about the truth, even when it’s a big, fat lie.”
Other artists have taken stabs at crystallizing what they do. “Country songs are the dreams of the working man,” Merle Haggard said. Waylon Jennings offered a broadly inclusive outline: “Country music isn’t a guitar, it isn’t a banjo, it isn’t a melody, it isn’t a lyric. It’s a feeling.”
All my life I have had deep regard for, and interest in classic country music. The contemporary country sound has lost its soul and aims more for mass marketing than hitting the chords of its golden years. Burns will try to show the path that today’s singers have taken, and it will be interesting to see if a credible line can be drawn from Bill Monroe and Roy Acuff to the likes of Lee Brice.
Madison, Wisconsin will have a special reason to pay heed to this series as country music historian Bill Malone is front and center as the musical story is revealed through film. Last year a good friend gave me a copy of Malone’s masterpiece, Country Music U.S.A. He writes with depth and passion about the music which his mother introduced him to as a child.
There will also be background added for this series with Ketch Secor who has provided a traditional sound with Old Crow Medicine Show. His care for the music, and the early influences, is proven with each performance around the country. I much respect what he does.
I will be watching the series from my home on the isthmus, but the first night my heart will be in Nashville as Opry Entertainment and Belmont University will celebrate by screening part one from the hallowed Grand Ole Opry stage. That is most appropriate to have such a setting at the Mother Church Of Country Music.
Since the start of this blog in 2006 I have posted about country music, the Grand Ole Opry, WSM, and the many performers I have had the chance to meet and chat with after a show. My guitar is one of my prized belongings which carries more than their autographs, as it contains priceless memories. From George Jones to ‘Little’ Jimmy Dickens there is a story to be told with each one.
How they came to fame and what their music tells us about the nation and the industry is part of what Burns will allow us to better understand on PBS.
Five people were killed and at least 21 others were injured in a brazen daylight drive-by mass shooting in the West Texas cities of Midland and Odessa. A gunman drove on the highways and streets opening fire on residents, motorists, and shoppers. This is what happens when the NRA is allowed to set the gun policy laws of a nation. This is what happens when Congressional Republicans are bought and sold like a cheap burger and salad at a deli.
Words fail me. Truly. What does one continue to say when shootings of this type happen with such regularity?
As James and I drove home after dinner we had the Grand Ole Opry on the radio. Live from Nashville on a Saturday night. From that world-famous stage, Vince Gill spoke about the mass shooting and the tragedy.
Again, what words are left to be said about a nation that will not stop gun deaths? He was at a loss, too.
Let me be gut-honest once again. Until a majority of the American people grasp the connection between NRA controlled puppets in congress and the weak-minded supporters around the nation, then this problem will persist. What we see every few days will not change until there is relentless pressure on the representatives to act–swiftly and decisively to enact meaningful gun control legislation.
The song Gill chose to sing for the dead from gun violence tonight was the following. (The video has more singers than what stood in Nashville this evening.)
Vestal Goodman, I am sure, is not a topic many of my readers think about with any regularity. But I do. She still remains one of my favorite gospel singers. At a time of great despair, the loss of a loved one, or times when I am feeling glum her musical styling, and vocals about truths unseen have always made a huge difference for me. Over the past couple of weeks she has been on my mind as I thought about what to do with a memory from her that needed a new home.
Many years ago I received two signed handkerchiefs from Vestal. She never took to a stage without that southern adornment held in her hand to gently wipe her face as the heat of the concert lights took hold. When she started her own online music site there was a window of time when she sent out signed lace hankies. While one of them was placed in a special photo box, I gave the other hanky to my Aunt Evelyn who enjoyed watching and listening to the Homecoming Friends videos, as did Uncle Bob.
This spring Evie died and the hanky found its way back to me. The mission was to find it a new home. After some thinking on a late night walk James and I thought of a friend of mine who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He has the same regard for music as I do, and also was heavily involved with the restoration of the Hank Snow Ranch. But he also works at the famed Ernest Tubb Record Shop.
The Grand Ole Opry Star started his record shop in 1947 and it still is the place to go for the classic country sounds that made Nashville known as “Music City”. Each Saturday night the “Midnight Jamboree” is broadcast live from the store over WSM radio, AM 650, the “Air Castle Of The South”. The store also is the home to artifacts and memories from over the decades of country and gospel music.
It was the place I hoped to find a new home for Vestal’s signed handkerchief. When I contacted Terry he was delighted to have it and will place it for viewing.
The Happy Goodmans and their music connected with me in my teenage years. The vocals of Vestal set her apart from any other sound I had heard. By the time I was a young man and taking over the Sunday morning radio show on WDOR in Sturgeon Bay I was loving Southern Gospel. I wrote about that time in my book Walking Up The Ramp.
I was told to play inspirational music, and was offered suggestions–as if I seemed a heathen unaccustomed to religion. The selections offered to ‘show me the way’ included George Beverley Shea, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. While both of those had merit, if you resided in a poorly managed nursing home where the intent was to keep the old people in bed, then yes, those might have been just the ticket. But what would better suit the lady, who from time to time delivered a baked good from her oven to me at the station on her way to church? The proposed format I was to follow needed some sprucing up and I had a different idea about the tone of the show I wanted to create on Sunday mornings. I wanted something quite different for those hours when folks get up, start their day, and head to church. I was going to make their day start off on the up-tempo side. Just to be clear: when the broadcast day starts at 6:00 A.M., I think that there has to be a bit of verve to the music. I needed the extra ‘umph’ in my morning as much as the listeners.
That first Sunday when I opened the broadcast day, I pulled a selection of albums from the station’s collection ranging from the Speer Family to the Oak Ridge Boys, from the Cathedrals to the gospel sounds of the Statler Brothers. I pulled from the shelves music from the Stamps Quartet, as well as the Blackwood Brothers. Things were going to heat up at the nursing home that day!
As I rummaged through the recordings at the station, I came upon a glaring omission in the stack. Something would have to be done. I knew one way or another that Vestal and her piano-playing husband, Howard, were going to be a part of Sunday mornings at the station.
So, off I headed that same week to Ace Records located on Main Street which was one of those (now) old-fashioned, and wonderful stores where anything on vinyl could be found, and if not in stock, it could be ordered and picked up in just a few days. I did a search of the possible selections and ordered a double-album set from a live concert, along with an album with some selections I knew contained just the type of sound I wanted. I paid for the albums with my own money, and still have the recordings, and play them at home on my turntable.
Back at WDOR, armed with my albums I saw to it that Vestal Goodman hit the airwaves the following Sunday. (In 2003 at a Homecoming Friends concert in Champaign, Illinois, I was able to meet her, and even get a hug as she was slowly walking her way to the stage for the second half of the show which featured a sing-a-long with all the others groups. I hugged her, telling her I loved her, and in true southern style she said, “Bless you, darling.”)
The hanky is on its way to Nashville as I write this blog post. And I know that if Evie were to have been told of this news she would smile and softly say words akin to “Well that is really something”. She would have enjoyed hearing it all.
When wanting to take a photo of the hanky so to have some meaning I opened a piano music book of Goodman songs to the one that speaks to the larger connection that Evie and Bob shared in their decades of togetherness.