Rest in Peace, Mr. Grand Ole Opry

porter.jpg

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…

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18 Responses to “Rest in Peace, Mr. Grand Ole Opry”

  1. Beautiful tribute. And inspiring! I’ve taken your advice and bought “The Rubber Room” off of Amazon.com, which is in import compilation of Wagoner’s off the beaten path cuts. I wish it hadn’t taken his death to finally push me to buy it. I still can’t believe we’ve lost this icon. Got me thinking…who’s left, from that same era, to lose? We’re getting to the point now where the big names left are George, Loretta, Dolly and Merle, all of whom have been making incredibly vibrant music. One of the reasons Wagoner’s loss cuts deeply is because he was still so vibrant, even before he released his landmark album this year. He wasn’t finished with his life’s work, enviable as it already was.

    As a side, you’re finding your voice as a blogger much faster than I did, and your voice is needed, since it’s morally grounded in honoring country music’s legacy. Keep up the amazing work!

  2. Jordan Stacey Says:

    I remember reading about Porter’s death and I cried. I may be one of the few people in my age group that knew Porter’s music so well. Both my grandfathers are fans of country music and both have instilled in me a love for this music. When I first found out about Porter’s death I was listening to George Jone’s singing Who’s Gonna Fill Their shoes. My roommate looked over at me because I was crying. He asked what was wrong and when I told him I could tell he didn’t understand.

  3. i loved that commentary about Porter and the older artists. it has always been a thorn in my side because nearly everyone who listens to country radio these days DO think it all started with Garth…there are some who also feel before Tim McGraw came along, there wasn’t any country music. i always laugh and shrug off those sort of comments because you can’t talk to most listeners of country radio…it’s like talking to a wall…recently, “Suspicions” was a hit for Tim McGraw…not a huge. huge song but a good-sized hit…but if you try and tell a listener of country radio that the song is perhaps older than they are and Eddie Rabbitt popularized the song first, they’ll swear you’re lying. I have always liked Porter…i listen to the Opry every weekend on the radio and back when TNN was around, Porter was a big part of the Opry program’s. As was commented on, Porter appeared to be filled with so much life and energy that one didn’t think of him being 80 when he was up on stage. He’d walk out on stage in those rhinestones…pull his jacket open to reveal the sparkly “Hi” greeting and launch into BIG WIND or SLEWFOOT or DOOLEY, whatever up-tempo sing-a-long he came up with to keep the audience up-beat but he’d often perform CARROLL COUNTY ACCIDENT or COLD HARD FACTS OF LIFE too. I always liked his corny jokes…he’d often stammer and say he was having a Mel Tillis attack. When Hank Snow was living, Porter and a back-up singer, Christy Lynn, would often close a segment singing LAST THING ON MY MIND. Well, Hank would often be the singer following Porter’s segment and i grew used to hearing Porter change the lyrics of the song from “please don’t go” to “it’s time to go, i see Hank Snow”. Those who listened to his Opry appearances will know what i’m talking about. Something interesting, though…Porter and Hank Thompson both died of lung cancer and wasn’t it like a couple days apart of each other? Hank had been battling it but Porter’s death was so quick. We got the news Porter had lung cancer and then just like that he was gone…much like Hank Thompson.

  4. Hank Ohare Says:

    These so called C&W singers today should help keep real country music alive,by singing & playing some of their music.. I see we have a couple of rappers in Nashville now. How come i am not susprised. My hat is off to bands like Asleep At The Wheel, And Kenney Sears & The Time Jumpers.All so ladies like Dawn Sears, & Carolyn Martin that hardly any one has ever heard of, but yet their D– good singers. Go to utube & type in Time Jumpers & listen “PAPA John Hughey. Hoot Hester, just to name a few.. Picker Las Vegas

  5. I’ve only just found this wonderful tribute. Everything you say is so true. I’m a 53 year old Englishman and until I was 34 years old had no interest whatsoever in country music. Then it happened. I was working in the USA and “discovered” country in the (very beautiful) guise of a young Suzy Bogguss. Wow! I was blown away. I’d never seen or heard anything so perfect.
    This led me to listen to country radio and watch CMT. I enjoyed it all. When I came back to England it was difficult to follow my interest until CMT became available here. As the artists and music seemed to be moving more into the pop and rock genre, I bgan to take interest in George Jones, Willy, Johnny etc. and the further back I went, the more interesting it all became.
    The Carter family, Earl Scruggs, Bill monroe etc, etc, the list goes on. It’s wonderful. Real music played on real instruments by talented people with something to say.
    Imagine my delight when RFD TV came to the UK. The Wilburn brothers, Porter, The Cumberland Highlanders Show, The Marty Stuart Show and the Countrys Family Reunion. This last show has made me aware of artists such as Billy Walker, Del Reeves and others who, sadly, are no longer with us. I have now added these to my record / CD collection too.
    It’s imperative that all us country music fans learn about “The old stagers” and make sure they are all given the respect and grattitude that they deserve.
    The industry make have forsaken them but the true fans never will.

    John Bull

  6. Dave Casto Says:

    Music row has stolen the melody, and turned country music into something different. Why don’t they just call it by their own genre
    and leave “country” music out of it. To traditional Ryman fans, what they call country mucic today simply has no soul, no sense of history, and is little more than loud and fast noise, performed by artists who look like
    out of place movie stars.

  7. Porter Wagoner was one of the legends who set the standards, along with Tammy Wynette, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash just to name a few. for what we know as country mnusic today. What about the legends, how come they don’t get radio airplay any more? Call ur radio stations and request songs by legends like porter, miss kitty wells, johnny wright, etc.
    After all the grand ole opry legends are gone, who’s gonna fill their shoes? Thanks toalan jackson and gerge strait for keeping country music country, and to Porter Wagoner, thank you for the many years of great country music. May you rest in peace.

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  9. Virginia Golden Says:

    Maybe onr they will do as Hank did in hie song and see the light, we can only hope.

  10. DAVID R DONALDSON Says:

    ITS A REAL SHAME ALL THE OLDIES IN COUNTRY MUSIC ARE DEAD .IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO WHERE THE MONEY IS IF IT DOSEN’T SELL IT GOES TO HELL ,MONEY IS THE NAME OF TNE GAME IF YOU WANT REAL COUNTRY JUST REQUEST VERN GOSDEN OR CONWAY TWITTY MAYBY EVEN TAMMY WYNETT AND WHO’S MORE FORGOTTEN THAN FARON YOUNG. WHO KILLED COUNTRY MUSIS?

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