When it comes to the preservation of the history and sound of country music, you can make the case there is nobody who does it better and with more passion and dedication than Marty Stuart. Tireless and true to his convictions, from his music, to his archive of memorabilia, to his presence on television and the Grand Ole Opry stage, and to some of the thankless things he does well out of the public eye, Marty Stuart embodies everything behind the idea of Saving Country Music, and is a badass of the genre if there ever was one.
- 10 Badass Willie Nelson Moments
- 10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments
- 10 Badass Johnny Cash Moments
- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
1. Paying His Dues with Johnny Cash & Lester Flatt
Unlike many of the country music prima donnas who’ve set up shop in country music recently, Marty Stuart comes from the school that believes you have to pay your dues in country music before it’s your turn in the spotlight. Marty Stuart started playing professionally as a sideman in Lester Flatt’s bluegrass band in the early 70′s at the tender age of 14 under the tutelage of legendary mandolin player Roland White. Marty stayed with the band until 1978 when it split up because of Lester’s failing health.
After spending a couple of years working with Vassar Clements and Doc Watson, Marty joined Johnny Cash’s band in 1980, and stayed there for half a decade as both a sideman and a studio musician. Stuart also married Cash’s daughter Cindy in 1983. The two divorced five years later after Marty left Cash’s band to pursue a solo career.
2. Keeping One of the Biggest Archives of Country Music Memorabilia
Marty’s vast collection of country music memorabilia is one of the biggest in country music. It has been featured at the Tennessee State Museum, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and pieces are regularly loaned to the Country Music Hall of Fame for exhibits.
“I went to the first Hard Rock and I saw The Beatles, The Stones, Otis Redding, The Who, all their stuff on the wall. And in my mind I went, ‘Well that’s just as important if it’s Porter Wagoner, Hank Williams, George Jones, and who on.’ And so when I came back to America, I made it a mission. I mean it became my whole focus at that time. Get a record deal, start a band, make them look cool, and get all of the country music artifacts you possibly can and preserve them, lock them down, because they’re getting away fast.
“Everything was changing in country music. The look of it, the sound of it, and this stuff was just a throwaway…The ultimate mission is not just to preserve this stuff, protect it, promote it, save it, but to get the music into the hands and hearts of young people that are coming through and [saying), “Well I want to do that, but they tell me I have to be like so and so.” But we’ve already got one of those. Be who you are, at any cost.” (read full story)
3. Inviting Cool Artists Onto The Grand Ole Opry
Playing the Grand Ole Opry stage is one of the biggest thrills and highest honors any artist within the country music realm can be bestowed, but it is not an easy one achieve. One way to grace the stage is to be invited up by a standing member to play during their set, and that is how young, up-and-coming stars like Sturgill Simpson, to one of the oldest living country stars still around, the 90-year-old Don Juan Maddox of The Maddox Brothers & Rose both made their first appearances on the hallowed stage of the storied institution. Marty was also the man who officially invited Old Crow Medicine Show recently to become The Opry’s newest members; the first traditional -leaning band to be invited in the last half decade.
4. Hummingbyrd & The Clarence White Guitar
As explained above, Marty Stuart has many pieces of country music memorabilia, but none of them may be as prized as his guitar affectionately called Hummingbyrd. The 1965 Fender Telecaster was originally owned by famous guitarist Clarence White—a studio musician, member of The Kentucky Colonels, and most-famously, the guitarist for The Byrds (hence the “Y” in the name).
Hummingbyrd is no ordinary guitar. It was the original prototype for what is know as a “B-Bender” guitar—a custom job invented by Clarence White and Byrd drummer Gene Parsons, who happened to also be a machinist. The point of the custom job is to be able to mimic the moaning sounds of a steel guitar by bending the B-string up a whole tone through a series of levers activated by pushing on the guitar’s neck, body, or bridge. When Clarence White passed away, his wife sold the legendary guitar to Marty Stuart, who uses it as his primary instrument.
Included on Marty’s 2010 album Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions is a instrumental called “Hummingbyrd” where Marty Stuart puts on a clinic on how to use this unique instrument. The song went onto win the Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance. Hummingbyrd shows both Marty Stuart’s passion for the preservation of country music’s history, and his prowess as a guitar player matched by few in the genre.
5. Standing Up To CBS / Columbia For Dropping Johnny Cash
A running theme in these 10 Badass Moments has been the firing of Johnny Cash from CBS Records in 1985. Merle Haggard mouthed off to CBS Executive Rick Blackburn about the firing, saying, “You’re the son-of-a-bitch that sat at that desk over there and fired Johnny Cash. Let it go down in history that you’re the dumbest son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever met.”
When Marty Stuart left Johnny Cash’s band, he signed to Columbia (previously CBS), and in 1988 recorded his second album for the label called Let There Be Country. However Columbia refused to release it. Though some have surmised it was because Marty’s first self-titled Columbia album didn’t sell well, in James L. Dickerson’s 2005 book Mojo Triangle, he explains Columbia didn’t release the album because Marty Stuart had a heated exchange with a Columbia record executive about the Johnny Cash firing. Columbia shelved the album in retribution, and Marty eventually left the label without recording another album for them. Marty then signed to MCA where he had his greatest commercial success, and amidst this success, Columbia decided to finally release Let There Be Country in August of 1992.
6. Hosting The Marty Stuart Show
Patterning itself around the classic country music variety shows of the past like The Porter Wagoner Show, Flatt & Scruggs, and Hee Haw, The Marty Stuart Show is one of the last bastions for true, classic country music on television. Carried by RFD-TV, this weekly show features Marty and his Fabulous Superlatives, his wife Connie Smith, and just about the coolest variety of country music artists you can see on TV—artists from the new generation like Justin Townes Earle, Brandy Clark, Sturgill Simpson, Hank3, and The Quebe Sisters, to older artists like Don Maddox, Del McCoury, and Stonewall Jackson, and to artists in between like Jim Lauderdale, and Corb Lund. If they’re good, they appear on The Marty Stuart Show, and after five seasons, it has become its own country music institution, and an important distinction for the artists invited to play the show.
7. Playing with Lester Flatt on the Porter Wagoner Show at 14
Are you kidding me? That’s Marty Stuart folks, playing mandolin and singing!
8. Releasing Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota
Similar to his mentor and hero Johnny Cash who released what was arguably the first country music concept album with his tribute to the American Indian called Bitter Tears in 1964, Marty Stuart released a concept album also in tribute to the American Indian called Badlands: Ballads of the Laokota in 2005. Recorded with his backing band The Fabulous Superlatives, it focused on the struggle of Native Americans, and was entirely written by Stuart except for one song, “Big Foot,” written by Johnny Cash. It was also recorded at the Cash Cabin in Hendersonville, TN, with John Carter Cash as co-producer.
But this album wasn’t just Marty patterning himself after Johnny Cash. Stuart has spent much time in the Dakotas learning about the Lakota Sioux, including studying at the Oglala Lakota College. For Marty, the poor treatment of Native Americans is a very real issue.
9. Marrying Connie Smith
Why would a handsome young Marty Stuart marry a woman 16 years his senior? Well first off, have you seen Connie Smith? Aside from how good time and country music has been to her, she is bona-fide country music royalty and one of the most familiar faces of the Grand Ole Opry. But this isn’t some celebrity sham marriage, the matrimony speaks to Marty’s undying appeal for all things country music and the love between the two country stars is deep. Together, they’re a classic country dynamic duo that is hard to stop (and I have my suspicion at night they dress up as superheroes and do battle with Music Row’s most evil villains).
10. This Quote:
“Today the most outlaw thing you can possibly do in Nashville, Tennessee, is play country music.” –Marty Stuart
The first song to ever be featured on Breaking Bad was a classic country tune by Stonewall Jackson, and the finale prominently featured Marty Robbins’ country classic “El Paso.”
They may not play real country on the radio anymore, but there’s many different ways you can skin a cat. As popular and critically-acclaimed TV series like Breaking Bad breathe new life into television, they have become an invaluable market for showcasing quality country and roots music from the past and present. From legends of country like Stonewall Jackson, Conway Twitty and James “Slim” Hand, to cool independent roots acts like the Be Good Tanyas and Left Lane Cruiser, the creators of Breaking Bad delivered quality music to a wide audience.
Here are 10 great country and roots songs featured in the Breaking Bad series, in order of when they appeared.
Stonewall Jackson, “Come on Home and Have Your Next Affair With Me”
From Season 1, in the pilot episode, it was the first song showcased on Breaking Bad.
J.J. Cale, “Any Way the Wind Blows”
From J. J. Cale’s 4th album Okie from 1974, “Any Way The Wind Blows” was featured in Episode 1 of Season 2 called “Seven Thirty Seven.”
The Be Good Tanyas, “Waiting Around to Die”
The Canadian trio’s take on the very first song Townes Van Zandt ever wrote was showcased on Episode 3 of Season 2, “Bit Like A Dead Bee.”
Featured in Season, 2, Episode 8 entitled “Better Call Saul,” the instrumental was first featured in the soundtrack for the movie Sprout in 2004.
The Marshall Tucker Band, “Heard It In A Love Song”
Arguably the Southern rock band’s signature song from 1977, it found its way on to Season 2, Episode 10
The Outlaws, “Green Grass & High Tides”
The Southern rock 10-minute epic from 1975 was featured in Season 2, Episode 12 entitled “Phoenix.”
Left Lane Cruiser, “Waynedale”
From their 2009 album All You Can Eat, the Deep Blues band made it on to Season 3, Episode 8.
Conway Twitty, “I Can’t Believe She Gives it all to Me”
Written by Conway and released on his 1975 album Play Guitar Play, it became Conway’s 18th #1 hit. It was featured in Season 4, Episode 8 playing in a diner.
James Hand, “Here Lies A Good Old Boy”
From James Hand’s 2006 album The Truth Will Set You Free, the song from one of the last authentic Texas troubadours was heard on Season 4, episode 6 playing in a diner.
Marty Robbins, “El Paso”
Featured in the series finale and considered seminal to the message the show’s creators were trying to convey, Marty Robbins’ classic “El Paso” helped put a period on the Breaking Bad phenomenon. The final episode was also entitled “Felina,” which is the name of the girl in “El Paso.”
When looking at the historical timeline of country music, many times it is big events that set the wheels of change in motion, for the good and the bad. Whether it is intrusion of pop or rap into country, or the ill-treatment of country music greats, here are some of the most embarrassing moments in country music history.
Shuttering of the Country Music Mother Church
The Grand Ole Opry needed a bigger home and the move was inevitable, but the result was the complete shuttering Ryman Auditorium, also known as the Country Music Mother Church, for 20 years. Aside from being opened by special permission to shoot videos for folks like Jason & The Scorchers, John Hartford, and for parts of the Coal Miner’s Daughter movie, the venue was abandoned between 1974 and 1994, also allowing the surrounding lower Broadway area to be overrun with strip clubs and dirty bookstores. It wasn’t until Emmylou Harris recorded a live album at the Ryman that a renewed interest in the historic venue was sparked, eventually leading to its restoration and re-opening.
Garth Brooks Goes Flying Over Texas Stadium
In 1993 at the old Texas Stadium in Irving, TX, Garth Brooks does a video shoot and decides to pull a Sandy Duncan and go flying over the crowd suspended with wires. Though it was a one-off demonstration, it illustrated Garth’s influence of turning country into more of a commercial, arena-rock presentation.
Jessica Simpson plays the Grand Ole Opry
You already forgot that reality star Jessica Simpson had a stint trying to be a country performer, didn’t you? Her career lasted weeks, but that was long enough for the Opry to decide to give her an opportunity to be on the sainted Opry stage on September 6th, 2008, while many other more worthy performers still wait indefinitely in the wings for the distinguished Opry opportunity.
Unfinished Hank Williams Songs Turned Into Lost Notebooks Album
Publisher Sony ATV cashed in on a collection of lyric sheets left behind by Hank Williams—some unfinished, and all without music—by doling them out surreptitiously to Bob Dylan, and a bevy of undeserving artists including Jakob Dylan and Sheryl Crow, to finish and record. The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams raised the ire of many, including Hank’s daughter and Williams estate executor Jett Williams who said about the project, “It was like ‘here are some lyrics’ instead of trying to think, “If Hank Williams was sitting here with me and it’s got his musical footprints all over it.” You would think that when you heard the song being sung by the artist, that it would have some kind of (Hank) feel to it, which I’m not feeling it myself.”
DeFord Bailey Fired from the Grand Ole Opry
Harmonica player and Country Music Hall of Famer DeFord Bailey was one of the early stars of the Grand Ole Opry, and was an official member from 1927 to 1941 when a dispute with BMI-ASCAP wouldn’t allow him to perform his most famous songs on the radio. Instead of standing behind one of their founding performers, the Opry fired DeFord. This ended his performance career and DeFord shined shoes for the rest of his life to make a living. DeFord did not play the Opry again until 1974 when he appeared on an “Old Timers’ Show.”
Jason Aldean Performs “Dirt Road Anthem” with Ludacris on CMT Awards
“History has been made baby!” Ludacris declared from the stage in June of 2011 when country music saw its first rap performance on an awards show, and the first live mainstream collaboration with a rap artist. This event and “Dirt Road Anthem” hitting #1 would open the country rap flood gates.
Olivia Newton-John and John Denver Winning CMA Awards
Olivia Newton-John’s CMA for “Female Vocalist of the Year” in 1974, and John Denver’s CMA for “Entertainer of the Year” in 1975 symbolized the historic intrusion of pop into the country format in the mid-70′s. The trend was staved off the next year when Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings ushered in the Outlaw movement in country.
Taylor Swift Wins First CMA for Entertainer of the Year
The date 11/11 was not good luck for country music in 2009, when Taylor Swift took home her first Country Music Association “Entertainer of the Year” award along with three other trophies on the night. Teen pop had now taken center stage in country music.
Induction of Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, & Darius Rucker Into The Grand Ole Opry
The Grand Ole Opry had already been wanting to appeal to a younger, more youthful crowd, but in recent years they have ratcheted it up another notch, completely ignoring older country stars worthy of induction for pop country’s latest trends.
“Struggle” Turns Waylon Songs Into Rap
It was bad enough when rap infiltrated country music. Now it has gone back in time to overwrite the songs of country greats that have passed on. Waylon Jennings’ grandson-in-law nicknamed “Struggle” (his real name is Will Harness, and his real grandfather is Duane Eddy) took 7 Waylon Jennings songs, and rehashed them into rap songs in an album entitled I Am Struggle released in May of 2013. It was an unprecedented intrusion of rap into country music’s past, perpetrated by one of the few people who could get the blessing of the Waylon estate to do so. (read more)
Stonewall Jackson Stonewalled by the Grand Ole Opry
After having his performances on the Grand Ole Opry cut back so much that he lost his health benefits, Stonewall Jackson sued the Opry claiming age discrimination against Opry General Manager Pete Fisher. Stonewall claimed the Opry breached a long-standing code that if stars performed a set number of dates each year, even when they could make more money playing tour dates, they would always have a place to play at the Opry even in their older age. The lawsuit was eventually settled in court, and though the specific details of it were never revealed, Stonewall was happy with the outcome, and his performance schedule increased afterward.
Garth Brooks Becomes Chris Gains
In 1999, a bored Garth Brooks created a fictional dark pop character from Australia called Chris Gaines and released an album called The Life of Chris Gains. It gained Garth one Top 5 hit, “Lost In You,” but Brooks’ Chris Gaines idea met with very heavy criticism and confusion from fans, and after only a few weeks, Chris Gains rode off into the sunset and Garth Brooks re-appeared before a planned movie The Lamb could go into production.
The Grand Ole Opry’s Refusal to Reinstate Hank Williams
Even though there is a Hank Williams impersonator to greet Opry attendees at the door, the institution has refused to reinstate one of country music’s most legendary icons, and one that made the Opry an internationally-known institution, even in a symbolic gesture. Hank was dismissed from the Opry in 1952 for missing performances and rehearsals due to alcoholism, and was told he could return once he sobered up. Hank never got that opportunity, dying on New Years Eve of that year. A movement called Reinstate Hank looks to reinstate the country star back into the institution.
George Jones “Choices” & Other CMA Performances Cut Short
At the 1999 CMA Awards, George Jones was asked to perform an abbreviated version of his song “Choices.” George refused and boycotted the show, and in response Alan Jackson, while preforming his song “Pop A Top,” cut his own song short, and launched into George’s “Choices.” (read more)
This was actually the second time an artist boycotted the CMA’s. In a much less publicized event, Waylon Jennings refused to perform an abbreviated version of “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line.” Waylon recalls, “They told me not to get smart. Either I did it or I got out. They said, ‘We don’t need you.’ I decided that was true and left.”
Let me start this off by admitting this is somewhat of a hairbrained idea, and that the chances of it actually happening are slim. Talking about the Country Music Hall of Fame buying The Grand Ole Opry is the music version of fantasy football. However what makes the idea interesting is how perfect it would be, and it is nurtured along by the ever so slight, but nonetheless present possibility that it could actually happen, or happen in some partial measure, some day.
The Grand Ole Opry is the most revered and important institution in country music, charged with preserving the history of country music and the legacies of its performers, while still remaining a relevant institution by showcasing today’s talent. Country music, The Grand Ole Opry, and the city of Nashville are all tied at the hip. If it wasn’t for country music, The Grand Ole Opry would have never existed. Without the The Grand Ole Opry, Nashville may have never become country music’s home. Without Nashville and The Grand Ole Opry, country music may have never become a dominant American music genre.
Why Gaylord is a Bad Fit for The Opry, and The Country Music HOF is a Good One
The problem with The Grand Ole Opry is that it is owned by a public company, Gaylord Entertainment, who is beholden to shareholders and profit margins before the Grand Ole Opry’s charter of preserving the roots and traditions of country music. Gaylord’s ownership fits in the classic modern dilemma for the American investor. With money tied up into investments, we all demand not only profit, but growth from our companies. To achieve this profit and growth, corporations like Gaylord must must deliver less and take more, ostensibly robbing investors of what they desire to eventually be repaid back in dividends and stock appreciation.
The Country Music Hall of Fame on the other hand is a private, not-for-profit institution that subsists on admission fees to The Hall and special events, retail sales in its gift shop and cafe, renting of its spaces, and donations. The Country HOF has no need to show profit or growth, only a balanced, sustainable budget, insulating it from trend chasing, austere cost cutting campaigns, and other corporate bureaucratic trappings of public entities.
The fundamental problem with The Grand Ole Opry is it was built on a business model constructed in the early 20th Century, when radio was the dominant media, and real estate and talent were cheap. The promise of The Opry to its performers has always been that if they give to The Opry during the heyday of their career, The Opry will be there to support them in the twilight of their career. But unfortunately this handshake-like, loose relationship does not translate to the modern, HR-style corporate policies that Gaylord must operate under. This has resulted in lawsuits and bad publicity like in the Stonewall Jackson age discrimination case and others.
Under Gaylord ownership, The Grand Ole Opry can only worry about the preservation of country music history and values in ways that also can fit in Gaylord’s business model and turn profit and growth. Part of Gaylord’s management structure and executives do not have backgrounds in country music, rendering them uninformed and/or out-of-touch with the public demands of the unique Opry institution.
What is The Grand Ole Opry?
The business consists of five major assets:
- The copyrighted “Grand Ole Opry” name.
- Local radio station WSM in Nashville.
- The Opry radio show broadcast on WSM, and their live performances at The Ryman and Opry House.
- The Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville.
- The Grand Ole Opry House 9 miles east of downtown Nashville.
Would Gaylord Entertainment be sellers?
Over the last 15 years, Gaylord Entertainment has dramatically shifted their business model from a broadcast and entertainment company, to a hospitality resort-holdings, real estate-based model. Gaylord used to own over 10 local television stations, as well as CMT (Country Music Television), TNN (The Nashville Network), WKY Radio in Oklahoma City, The Daily Oklahoman newspaper, and the massive Acuff-Rose music publishing firm (now Sony ATV), and other broadcasting and entertainment assets. All of these have now been sold off, with The Opry’s WSM the only remaining broadcasting arm of the business.
Today Gaylord’s core business is its 5 resorts and convention centers in Nashville, Orlando, Grapevine, TX (Dallas), National Harbor, MD, and Denver (scheduled to open 2014), as well as other real estate assets including the Wildhorse Saloon in downtown Nashville, and the General Jackson riverboat. The way The Grand Ole Opry fits into Gaylord’s structure is not as a country music institution or a broadcast entity, but as a tourist destination.
If you take away the real estate and tourist component from The Grand Ole Opry, the Opry franchise sticks out like a sore thumb in the current Gaylord Entertainment business structure. One of the reasons Gaylord may be reluctant to sell or otherwise part with its Grand Ole Opry assets is because of the very lucrative naming rights that come with the Opry/WSM franchise. “The Grand Ole Opry” is one of the most powerful brands in the city of Nashville, and is tied to their Opryland Resort, and was previously-tied to the Gaylord-owned Opryland USA theme park that closed in 1997 that later became the Opry Mills shopping mall. A new theme park partnering Gaylord with Dolly Parton is now scheduled to open in 2014 adjacent to the Opryland Resort.
Why Would The Country HOF Be Buyers?
As an entity whose purpose is to preserve the roots and history of country music, and one that is not beholden to public shareholders or profitability, the Country Music Hall of Fame is a perfect fit for The Grand Ole Opry. Furthermore, whether the Country HOF wants to be a buyer, they may have no choice but to be a buyer to preserve The Grand Ole Opry as an institution long term. Radio, especially country radio, continues to be a dwindling asset with declining revenues and listeners. The sale of WSM and The Grand Ole Opry as a radio show to an entity that can maintain the institution on a not-for-profit basis may be the only way long-term for the asset of the Grand Ole Opry radio show to be sustained.
There is precedent for the Hall of Fame purchasing or taking control of satellite properties or assets, as well as partnering with other entities. The Hall of Fame is already working closely with the Nashville Convention Center being constructed across the street from it, and eventually the two buildings will be joined with the Hall of Fame expanding into a collaborative use of space with the Convention Center. Another great example is the old RCA Studio B that is now part of the Hall of Fame despite being located 1 1/2 miles west, on Music Row. The Hall currently shuttles museum attendees back and forth to the studio’s location as part of their tour.
Comparatively the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of The Grand Ole Opry, also dubbed the “Country Music Mother Church” and where the Opry still holds winter shows, is only a few blocks from the Hall of Fame. In many ways the Hall of Fame’s stewardship of The Ryman seems perfect, and in line with its charter to preserve country music’s history. The Ryman was virtually abandoned for over 20 years after the Opry House was opened in 1974.
A Partial Sale
As unlikely as any sale or exchange of ownership of The Grand Ole Opry may or may not be, it is significantly more likely that a partial sale or split of the Opry assets could occur. Gaylord is probably less likely to sell its Opry real estate assets of The Grand Ole Opry House and The Ryman since real estate is Gaylord’s new core business, but these properties could be split, or leased to The Hall of Fame or another entity as part of the sale of WSM and The Opry radio show.
Maybe the most coveted asset of The Grand Ole Opry to Gaylord, the precious naming rights, might could be negotiated in a lease or partial ownership arrangement. Either the Opry name could be retained by Gaylord and leased to the Hall of Fame, or they could be given or sold to the Hall of Fame and then leased back to Gaylord for use in their Nashville properties. The naming rights are probably the most difficult portion of the dilemma of how to divest Gaylord from The Grand Ole Opry, and probably the main reason The Opry has not been spun off or sold yet like all of Gaylord’s other media assets.
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However unlikely it might be that The Country Music Hall of Fame would buy The Grand Ole Opry, the likelihood that Gaylord Broadcasting would be sellers is somewhere between likely and inevitable, especially if the difficult naming rights issue can be resolved with the new owners. The list of other potential new owners if The Hall of Fame is eliminated is limitless, but in the changing world of media where radio’s relevance and revenue is declining, this might just plunge the Grand Ole Opry into a foster care situation where it is bounced back and forth in the portfolios of companies that care even less for its history and significance than Gaylord does until it is eventually liquidated.
Pointing up from the top of the dome of the Country Music Hall of Fame is a radio antenna, with a corresponding antenna pointing down into the center of the Hall’s rotunda, symbolizing the importance of WSM and The Grand Ole Opry radio program to the formation and continued success of country music. How fitting it would be if that antenna actually broadcast the station and program it was built to symbolize, with its base being the circular Hall itself lined with bronze plaques of its inductees and the eternal question “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” The Hall of Fame taking stewardship of the most reverent of country music institutions in The Grand Ole Opry may be the only way the answer to that “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” question continues to be “No”.
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the Hank 3 music blog about Hank III Listening Parties happening around the country. I might have more about this in a future blog.
If you read my blog from yesterday and thought you saw some of the language change, you were not high. Or maybe you were high, but the language changed also. After I posted that blog, someone in the know told me that the Jimmy Kimmel gig IS NOT CONFIRMED! There’s still definitely a chance it’ll go down, or that Hank III will play another LA show like The Tonight Show, or Carson Daly’s thing, they just haven’t confirmed any of that yet, so stay tuned.
Also, Galea Bad Housewife has posted her cover of Hank III’s Straight to Hell, so go over there and check that out. I wrote about her in my Ode to the Hellbetties blog. The significance of this is it’s the first time anyone has officially covered a Hank III song, where he’ll get royalties from it and the whole bit. Other artists covering Hank III’s songs is a great way to get III’s music out there.
Stonewall Jackson Back at the Opry
It might seem like a small victory to some, but not if you’re Stonewall or a Stonewall fan. This also has some significance in the movement to Reinstate Hank Williams into the Grand Ole Opry.
For those of you who do not know who Stonewall Jackson is you can click here, but he is a long time Opry performer who recently had his performances cut to the point that he no longer was considered ‘full time’ and was not able to get health insurance and other benefits.
So Stonewall started a lawsuit against to Opry for $20 million for age discrimination. Stonewall, like so many aging performers believed in a code of the Opry: Perform a set number of dates each year, even when you could make more money playing tour dates — and always have a place to play when the hits stop coming. But like so many Opry performers, Stonewall was being forced out, a trend that started when Gaylord Entertainment, the current owner of the Opry, brought in Pete Fisher (the same man that said the Opry would never reinstate a dead man) in 1998.
Nobody knows exactly how the lawsuit was settled, but Stonewall is back on the Opry performing with other legacy members like Little Jimmy Dickens again. This is very good news.
I think this development also has some significance with the movement to reinstate Hank Williams to the Opry, because it involves the Opry reversing a decision it made about a performer. It also shows what public pressure can do, and what can happen when the Opry has a public relations nightmare on their hands. The story of Stonewall, a legendary performer who has been an Opry member since 1956 being denied health benefits became a juicy story for media outlets, especially with the current economic situation. The media stories and the lawsuit eventually made it where it was not worth it to the Opry to save whatever money they were saving by denying Stonewall benefits.
If the Opry found itself in a similar situation with Hank Williams, where whatever principles the Opry was holding firm to were not worth the public relations problems they were causing, then they would have no other choice but to bow to public pressure.
I feel and have always felt that this course of action is the best way to make the Reinstate Hank movement successful. Hopefully in the next few days I’ll have the time to iterate exactly how I think this can be done.
DeFord Bailey was the most influential harmonica player of the early 20th Century, and is known as the ‘Lost Legend of the Grand Ole Opry.’ The Opry owes this dude a ton. He is credited for actually inspiring the name ‘Grand Ole Opry,’ he was in the first ever recording session to ever take place in Nashville, and he played the FIRST EVER song on the Grand Ole Opry, the ‘Pan American Blues.’
Problem was Deford was a brother, and the other performers would not allow him to eat in the same restaurants, and he’d sleep out in the car while the other slept in posh hotel rooms. Then in 1941, they fired his black ass, because his ass was black.
Some of you hardcore people may think a brother has no place in country music to begin with, but as Hank Jr. pointed out a couple of years back when his two daughters were in a bad car accident and he was being accused of being a racist: “A black man taught Hank Williams Sr. how to play the guitar, and if it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t even be here.”
The influence of the brother in the early formation of country music cannot be denied.
Charlie Louvin, Stonewall Jackson, and Other Aging Opry Members :
Many aging Opry members, including legends Charlie Louvin and Stonewall Jackson are being kicked out of the Opry, in a move that violates a long standing unwritten code between the Opry and its musicians. The Opry has never paid their performers very well, but the code has always been that if you showed loyalty to the Opry in the highlight of your career, then they would take care of you in the twilight of your career, giving you a place to perform even when you are not a current-day superstar.
In 2000, Louvin and Jackson got purged out of the Opry along with many other aging musicians, causing them to lose health insurance and other benefits.
“The only ones they want to see in the audience and on stage are young people,” said Joe Edwards, a musician in the Opry’s house band for about 45 years before he was asked to leave.
Skeeter Davis & Jerry Lee Lewis:
During a 1973 performance at the Grand Ole Opry, Skeeter Davis dedicated a gospel song to some evangelists that had been arrested. The Opry saw this as political grandstanding, and suspended Skeeter for 15 months.
Jerry Lee Lewis, who was launching a country and western career after his rock ‘n roll career had tanked for nearly a decade due to a controversy involving him marrying his 13-year-old second cousin, was publicly admonished by the Opry when he said on stage to the family-oriented crowd, “”I am a rock and rollin’, country & western, rhythm & blues singing mother fucker!”
So as you can see, the Grand Ole Opry has a history of pissing people off, and on the other hand, being pissed off themselves.
Out of one side of their mouth they talk about family values, and out of the other bark marching orders to drum out all the elderlies and minorities.
It is a theme with the Opry throughout it’s history, a long standing pattern of collusion and closed-mindedness. It seems to be a pillar of their existence, just like the music and the mother church itself.
The major hangup between the Opry and the Reinstate Hank movement seems to be that as soon as a member dies, they are immediately removed from the member roster. First, isn’t this just a morbid practice in its own right? I mean why couldn’t they at least have ‘lifetime members’ or something, for the legends that have filled its ranks? Furthermore, why can’t they just reinstate him, AS THEY WERE PLANNING TO DO ALREADY (see prev. blog) as a gesture to the family, and then remove him later if that, as they say, is what they do with all their dead members. Reinstating Hank Sr. could be an event to draw revenue and attention to the Opry.
But most importantly, it is the right thing to do.
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