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Wagoner at the Grand Ole Opry in 1999
|Birth name||Porter Wayne Wagoner|
|Also known as||Mr. Grand Ole Opry|
|Born||August 12, 1927|
West Plains, Missouri, US
|Died||October 28, 2007 (aged 80)|
Nashville, Tennessee, US
|Genres||Country music, gospel|
|Occupation(s)||Singer, songwriter, musician|
|Labels||RCA Victor (1951–1980)|
Shell Point (2000–2002)
|Associated acts||Dolly Parton, Norma Jean, Mel Tillis, Marty Stuart, Johnny Paycheck, George Jones|
In 1967, he introduced singer Dolly Parton on his television show, and they were a well-known vocal duo throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Early life and career
Wagoner was born in West Plains, Missouri, the son of Bertha May (née Bridges) and Charles E. Wagoner, a farmer. His first band, the Blue Ridge Boys, performed on radio station KWPM-AM from a butcher shop in his native West Plains, Missouri, where Wagoner cut meat. In 1951, he was hired by Si Siman as a performer on KWTO in Springfield, Missouri. This led to a contract with RCA Victor.
With lagging sales, Wagoner and his trio played schoolhouses for the gate proceeds; but in 1953 his song "Trademark" became a hit for Carl Smith, followed by a few hits of his own for RCA Victor. Starting in 1955, he was a featured performer on ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri. He often appeared on the show as part of the Porter Wagoner Trio with Don Warden and Speedy Haworth. Warden, on steel guitar, became Wagoner's long-time business manager. In 1957, Wagoner and Warden moved to Nashville, Tennessee, joining the Grand Ole Opry.
Like many of his contemporaries in country music, Wagoner toured and performed outdoors for fans at American Legion houses in rural towns. Fans sat on wooden benches facing what was often a makeshift stage. Wagoner would mingle with the audience during performance breaks and usually remembered the names of the towns he visited.
Wagoner's 81 charted records include "A Satisfied Mind" (No. 1, 1955), "Misery Loves Company" (No. 1, 1962), "I've Enjoyed as Much of This as I Can Stand" (No. 7, 1962–1963), "Sorrow on the Rocks" (No. 5, 1964), "Green, Green Grass of Home" (No. 4, 1965), "Skid Row Joe" (No. 3, 1965–1966), "The Cold Hard Facts of Life" (No. 2, 1967), and "The Carroll County Accident" (No. 2, 1968–1969).
Among his hit duets with Dolly Parton were a remake of Tom Paxton's "The Last Thing on My Mind" (1967), "We'll Get Ahead Someday" (1968), "Just Someone I Used to Know" (1969), "Daddy Was An Old Time Preacher Man", (1970), "Better Move it on Home" (1971), "The Right Combination" (1972), "Please Don't Stop Loving Me" (No. 1, 1974) and "Making Plans" (No. 2, 1980). He also won three Grammy Awards for gospel recordings.
His syndicated television program, The Porter Wagoner Show, aired from 1960 to 1981. There were 686 30-minute episodes taped, the first 104 (1960–66) in black-and-white and the remainder (1966–81) in color. At its peak, his show was featured in over 100 markets, with an average viewership of over three million. Reruns of the program air on the rural cable network RFD-TV and its sister channel in the UK Rural TV.
The shows usually featured opening performances by Wagoner with performances by Norma Jean, or later Parton, and comedic interludes by Speck Rhodes. During Parton's tenure, she and Wagoner usually sang a duet. Each episode also featured a guest who would usually perform one or two songs. A spiritual or gospel performance was almost always featured toward the end of the show, generally performed by either Wagoner or Parton or the show's guest star, or occasionally the entire cast. After Dolly left the show, Porter began taping the show at Opryland USA in various locations around the park.
The shows had a friendly, informal feel, with Wagoner trading jokes with band members (frequently during songs) and exchanging banter with Parton and Howser. In 1974, Dolly Parton's song "I Will Always Love You", written about her professional break from Wagoner, went to number one on the country music charts.
Wagoner's stage alter ego was Skid Row Joe. The cast included:
- Singer Norma Jean (1960–1965)
- Singer Jeannie Seely (1965–1966)
- Singer Dolly Parton (1966–1974)
- Singer Barbara Lea (1974–1976)
- Singer Linda Carol Moore (1976–1978)
- Singer Mel Tillis (1968 regular)
- Comedian/stand-up bass Curly Harris (1960–mid-60s)
- Announcer Don Howser
- Don Warden on steel guitar
- "Little" Jack Little on fiddle
- Benny Williams on banjo and guitar (1961)
- Speck Rhodes Comedian/stand-up bass
- Buck Trent on banjo and guitar
- George McCormick on rhythm guitar
- Mack Magaha on fiddle
- Ray Downs on rhythm guitar and vocal
- Michael Treadwell on bass guitar
- Shannon Randolph Porter on lead guitar
- Bruce Osborn on lead guitar
- Fred Newell on banjo/guitar/mandolin
- Dave Kirby on guitar
- Stu Basore on steel guitar/dobro
- Bobby Dyson on bass
- Jerry Carrigan on drums
- Mack Magaha on fiddle
- Colene Walters on vocals/harmonica
- Mike Pearson on lead guitar
Wagoner brought James Brown to the Grand Ole Opry, produced a rhythm & blues album for Joe Simon, and appeared in the Clint Eastwood film Honkytonk Man. During the mid 1980s, Wagoner formed an all-girl group, The Right Combination, named after one of his hit records with Parton. He also hosted Opry Backstage during the 1990s on The Nashville Network. Though Parton's departure caused some animosity on both sides, the two reconciled in the late 1980s and appeared together a number of times in the following years. Parton inducted Wagoner into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002.
Wagoner was honored on May 19, 2007, at the Grand Ole Opry for both his 50 years of membership and his 80th birthday. It was telecast on GAC's Grand Ole Opry Live that day with artists including Parton, Stuart and Patty Loveless. Grand Ole Opry Live host Nan Kelley was part of the birthday celebration as well.
On June 5, 2007, Wagoner released his final album, called Wagonmaster. The album was produced by Marty Stuart for the Anti- label. The album received the best reviews of Wagoner's career and briefly charted on the country charts; a music video was also produced of one of the tracks, a cover of Johnny Cash's "Committed to Parkview". He toured during the summer of 2007 to promote the album, including a late-July appearance on Late Show with David Letterman. One of these was to open for the rock group The White Stripes at a sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Wagoner was married twice, to Velma Johnson for less than a year in 1943; and then to Ruth Olive Williams from 1946 to 1986, though they separated 20 years before the divorce. He was survived by his three children, Richard, Denise and Debra.
Until his final illness, Wagoner appeared regularly on the Grand Ole Opry and toured actively. He died from lung cancer in Nashville on October 28, 2007, with his family and Dolly Parton at his side. Wagoner's funeral was held November 1, 2007, at the Grand Ole Opry House. He is buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Nashville.
Porter Wagoner Boulevard in his native West Plains, Missouri, is named in his honor.
In popular culture
- In 2009, Lily Allen used clips of Wagoner and his show in the music video for her song "Not Fair".
- Satisfied Mind (1957)
- A Slice of Life: Songs Happy 'n' Sad (1962)
- Porter Wagoner and Skeeter Davis Sing Duets (with Skeeter Davis) (1962)
- Y'all Come (1963)
- The Bluegrass Story (1964)
- The Thin Man from West Plains (1965)
- The Grand Ole Gospel (with the Blackwood Brothers Quartet) (1966)
- Confessions of a Broken Man (1966)
- Soul of a Convict and More Great Prison Songs (1967)
- More Grand Ole Gospel (with the Blackwood Brothers Quartet) (1967)
- The Cold Hard Facts of Life (1967)
- Just Between You and Me (with Dolly Parton) (1968)
- The Bottom of the Bottle (1968)
- Just the Two of Us (with Dolly Parton) (1968)
- In Gospel Country (with the Blackwood Brothers Quartet) (1968)
- The Carroll County Accident (1969)
- Always, Always (with Dolly Parton) (1969)
- Me and My Boys (1969)
- You Got-ta Have a License (1970)
- Porter Wayne and Dolly Rebecca (with Dolly Parton) (1970)
- Once More (with Dolly Parton) (1970)
- Skid Row Joe Down in the Alley (1970)
- Two of a Kind (with Dolly Parton) (1971)
- Simple as I Am (1971)
- Porter Wagoner Sings His Own (1971)
- The Right Combination • Burning the Midnight Oil (with Dolly Parton) (1972)
- What Ain't to Be, Just Might Happen (1972)
- Ballads of Love (1972)
- Together Always (with Dolly Parton) (1972)
- Experience (1972)
- We Found It (with Dolly Parton) (1973)
- Love and Music (with Dolly Parton) (1973)
- I'll Keep on Lovin' You (1973)
- The Farmer (1973)
- Tore Down (1974)
- Porter 'n' Dolly (with Dolly Parton) (1974)
- Highway Headin' South (1974)
- Sing Some Love Songs, Porter Wagoner (1975)
- Say Forever You'll Be Mine (with Dolly Parton) (1975)
- Porter (1977)
- Today (1979)
- When I Sing for Him (1979)
- Porter & Dolly (with Dolly Parton) (1980)
- Porter Wagoner's Greatest (1981)
- Natural Wonder (1982)
- Viva (1983)
- Porter Wagoner (1986)
- The Best I've Ever Been (2000)
- Unplugged (2002)
- 22 Grand Ole Gospel 2004 (2003)
- Something to Brag About (with Pam Gadd) (2004)
- 18 Grand Ole Gospel 2005 (2005)
- Gospel 2006 (2006)
- The Versatile Porter Wagoner (2006)
- Wagonmaster (2007)
- Best of Grand Ole Gospel 2008 (2007)
|2007||WagonMaster Award||Americana Music Association|
|2002||Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame||Country Music Hall of Fame|
|1998||Living Legend||TNN/Music City News|
|1971||Vocal Duo of the Year||CMA||with Dolly Parton|
|1970||Vocal Duo of the Year||CMA||with Dolly Parton|
|1970||Vocal Duet of the Year||Music City News Country||with Dolly Parton|
|1969||Vocal Duet of the Year||Music City News Country||with Dolly Parton|
|1969||Best Gospel Performance||Grammy|
|1968||Vocal Duet of the Year||Music City News Country||with Dolly Parton|
|1968||Vocal Group of the Year||CMA||with Dolly Parton|
|1967||Best Gospel Performance||Grammy|
|1966||Best Sacred Recording (Musical)||Grammy|
- "Who is Porter Wagoner, and what sort of influence did he have on the music scene?". eNotes.com. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
- Eng, Steve (1992), A Satisfied Mind: the Country Music Life of Porter Wagoner, Rutledge Hill Press, ISBN 1-55853-133-5
- "Error - washingtonpost.com". 3 November 2012. Archived from the original on 3 November 2012.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
- Eng, Steve. (1998). "Porter Wagoner". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 565–6.
- [dead link]
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-10-28. Retrieved 2007-10-21.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Porter Wagoner Memorial Services Set". CMT.com. 2007-10-28. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
- Rosen, Jody (June 25, 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
- "Lily Allen - Not Fair". YouTube. 2009-03-20. Retrieved 2016-10-06.