Country Guitar Playing Legend Jimmy Capps Has Died

photo: via the Grand Ole Opry

Editor’s Note: Saving Country Music is observing “Blackout Tuesday” with much of the music industry, but is making an exception to cover the passing of this important country music figure.

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When you played on such iconic country music recordings as “Stand By Your Man” by Tammy Wynette, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones, George Strait’s “Amarillo By Morning,” and “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers, you know your legacy in country music is secured. There have been many legendary guitar players in country music. But there’s been only one Jimmy Capps. Whether live or in the studio, for decades he was considered one of the greatest living country guitarists. And now he’s living no more.

The legendary Jimmy Capps has died at the age of 81, according to the Grand Ole Opry and close friends.

You don’t always recognize the side players in country music. But Jimmy Capps was an exception. Was was the go-to guitar player in country music for the last 60 years. Whether it was as part of the Grand Ole Opry house band where he was a regular since 1967, or playing the Sheriff (and guitar player) on the RFD-TV show Larry’s Country Diner and Country’s Family Reunion, whenever you saw Jimmy take the stage, you knew you were in for a treat.

Yet by far his greatest contributions came in the studio. There’s prolific, and then there’s Jimmy Capps. It might be easier to list off the artists Jimmy’s fretwork did not make it onto the recordings of as opposed to vice versa. During the height of his career, Capps was participating in 520 separate recording sessions a year, along with fulfilling his duties to the Opry. Jimmy Capps was the sound of country music for decades. Sometimes they would bring Jimmy in just to throw down an intro to a song someone else was playing on to give it that extra zip.

Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina on May 25th, 1939 and raised in Benson, Jimmy Capps began playing guitar at 12, and picked it up so naturally, he began performing soon thereafter on local radio station WCKB. By 1956, Capps was already appearing on television in Florence, South Carolina with Slim Mims.

1958 is when Capps got his big break playing guitar for The Louvin Brothers.

“When I auditioned for my job with the Louvin Brothers, their current guitar player (Paul Yandell) had heard me working with a duet in North Carolina who sang all the Louvin Brother’s songs, so I knew all the intros and turnarounds to their songs. He’d heard me play and recommended me to the Louvins. So I went to Burlington, N.C. and after their show, we went back to the hotel and I auditioned. But their guitar player noticed I didn’t use a thumbpick…he then asked me if I could play ‘Malaguena’? I told him, ‘No I couldn’t.’ Charlie Louvin spoke up and said, ‘Well … Ira and I very seldom sing ‘Malaguena’ anymore … so, we’re gonna hire you anyway! Thanks to Charlie … I guess I owe my whole career to him. That one split-second decision that he made is the reason I am here. That decision made all the difference in my life.”

The first time Jimmy Capps appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, it was in the service of the Louvin Brothers. He also happened to have a double pneumonia at the time and was deathly ill, but didn’t want to miss the opportunity. Jimmy Capps would rarely miss an Opry performance for decades afterwards as he became a fixture in the house band. Capps also played in the CMA Awards house band for some 20 years, as well as making numerous other radio show and TV appearances on a regular basis. If you needed a guitar player in Nashville who could learn the material and play anything on the spot, Jimmy Capps was your guy.

Though he’s mostly know for working under many of country music’s iconic producers such as Owen Bradley and Billy Sherrill, Capps also produced numerous records himself for artists such as The Wilburn Brothers, Jan Howard, and Stu Phillips.

Jimmy Capps was the man behind the hits and standards in America country music for decades, and one of the most friendly and familiar faces in the business. Now he’s moved on to that great country music house band in the sky.

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