Rest in Peace, Mr. Grand Ole Opry
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…