Hi guys and gals,
I really appreciate all the email response I got from the last newsletter about the history of one of the great Sho-Bud guitars, the Super Pro II, but I was reminded that even though it’s history for you, for me it’s memory.
That’s what started me thinking about this weeks newletter … my memories of the Grand Ole Opry.
Upon moving to Nashville in the sixties, one of my first road jobs was working with Stonewall Jackson, one of classic, traditional country singers and Opry members. I remember being home one Thursday afternoon and having Stonewall call me and say that we were working the Opry Saturday night and then leaving after the show and playing southern Georgia Sunday afternoon. I put very little thought into the significance of me actually playing the Opry because to me, at the time it was just another job to get paid for. I remember loading up my car, driving down to the Ryman and pulling in to park behind Sho-Bud, whose back door butted right up against the back door of the Opry. I grabbed my guitar … there were no pack-a-seats in those days … went up the seven steps to the backstage area, past Mr. Bell the security guard who really had nothing to do with security because in those days, it wasn’t needed. This was mid-summer and of course, there was no air-conditioning in the Opry because as I remember, backstage it was near a hundred degrees, not that I cared or noticed much due to all the excitement of being backstage at the Opry and knee deep in musicians and sharing the common experience of playing in this great and famous auditorium, the mother church of country music.
As I was setting up my steel guitar in one of the small cramped dressing rooms, it seems like everybody stuck their head in to say hello. Stringbean, Grandpa Jones, Dolly and Porter, Jim and Jesse, Faron Young, Roy Acuff, Marty Robbins, Sam McGee and the Fruitjar Drinkers, June Carter, Chet Atkins, Hank Snow, Jean Sheppard, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, Buddy Charlton, Big Jim Webb, Weldon Myrick, Hal Rugg, Sonny Burnette and of course, the great Shot Jackson. The pressure was starting to mount. Luckily I was very familiar with Stonewall’s material having already worked with him for three weeks and being pretty easy material to start with. After tuning and getting ready, I heard the announcement that we were on next. Leaving the safety of the dressing room and pushing my way through the legends of country music backstage, I was suddenly exposed to the audience and the world through 50,000 watts of clear channel power from WSM radio. I had the intro on Don’t Be Angry, Reggie Allie, our guitar player, had the first fills and when it came time for the turnaround, Hal, Weldon, Buddy, Shot and Sonny ran up behind me on the stage yelling “You can do it … you won’t mess up much … and look boys, he’s shaking.” along with Shot hitting me on the head with his fist. I don’t know why, even laughing out loud, I played the best instrumental break I had probably ever played in my life. I could hear this hoard of steel guitar players as the retreated backstage and Hal Rugg saying “Hey, he did pretty good.” and Shot saying “Next time I’ll cut his strings off”.
I’ll never forget the response of the crowd and my initiation to the Opry from the singing legends and the great steel guitars that I had appreciated growing up.
The camaraderie, respect and love that I feel for the Ryman and it’s glorious past will always be a part of me. The significance of all this didn’t hit me until I walked back down those seven steps into the evening air and put my guitar back in the car, drove away and turned the Opry on on my radio. Suddenly it hit me as I was listening to Marty Robbins that I was just there. That’s when it all fell into place.
Some people say country music isn’t the same as it was in those days and I won’t take sides pro or con, however and this could be because of my age at the time but that magic Opry at the Ryman in the fifties and sixties … those cramped dressing rooms, the lack of air-conditioning, the great acoustics, the monitoring system on the stage which I loved, and all the sights, sounds, smells and memories … well, it just can’t get any better than that. One of the things I remember most about the Opry of those days is how much fun it was and how much love everybody had. After growing up on a dairy farm 650 miles from the Opry and listening to it every Saturday night, to actually be there with the people I had idolized all my life … and here they were, treating me like they had known me all their life, what else could a steel guitar player wish for … besides sharing a dressing room with Dolly and getting paid for it … which also happened!
It may be history for some, but it’s memories for me.