Porter Wagoner passed away today, and he leaves behind a unique void that I don’t believe can ever be filled. He was country music’s ambassador, the man who loved to rock a flashy Nudie suit, but never got above his raisin’. He was also the symbol of the Grand Ole Opry, capturing its spirit and representing its heritage more than any other artist on the show in the years after the deaths of Roy Acuff and Minne Pearl.
Tributes will abound, and they’ll all mention his mentoring of Dolly Parton, but he mentored Patty Loveless and scores of other acts as well. He brought country music into the living room before Hee Haw, made some of the best country gospel in history, and told a story song like no other, whether he was the patient in a rubber room or the cuckolded husband about to teach his cheating wife “the Cold Hard Facts of Life.”
From his first single, “Company’s Comin'” way back in 1954 through his stunning return to recorded music earlier this year with Wagonmaster, he was an indispensable part of country music for more than five decades. He was Nashville when it started to go a little bit uptown, then stuck around as an important reminder of the genre’s traditions when the music got a little too uptown.
When my friend text messaged me – “Porter Wagoner, R.I.P.” – all I could reply was, “Wow.” There will never be another one quite like him. What a sad day for country music. We’ve lost one of our best.
I encourage readers to add their tribute to Wagoner in the comment thread. I’ll post highlights later in the week.