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.
Also, check out The 9513 and iCF Music for their tributes to Wagoner.
I’ll just repeat what I posted on the 9513:
I think it would be difficult for younger listeners to imagine the impact Porter Wagoner had on country music.
The televised Porter Wagoner Show was like having friends over for a spell to chat and sing. You definitely felt like you knew Porter, Pretty Miss Norma Jean (and later Dolly Parton) Spec Rhodes and the crew.
While never quite a top tier recording artist, Porter’s sense of the unusual enabled him to sing songs that even the folks such as Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard wouldn’t touch. The cover art on Porter’s LP’s remain among the most remarkable ever.
And of course, those great duets with Dolly – easily the greatest male-female duets in the history of the genre, maybe the best harmonizers in any genre of music
I finally got to meet Porter last year when Bobby Bare performed at the Florida Subshine Opry in Eustis and brought his old fishing buddy with him (they were both fishing at Lake Panosoffkee)
I have seen Porter many times at the Opry and he loved to entertain. He was a great mentor to young artists, including my fave, Ms. Loveless.
I still watch the old Porter Wagoner shows on the RFD channel. I love those old shows.
He will be greatly missed.
Kevin is the reason i know who Porter was, and I was sad to see him gone. In my limited country knowledge, he represented an “old guard” of country that I respect a lot.
I write this witha sad hand. No doubt it is with heavy hearts that the legions of true country fans pack their bags to head to Nashville for the Memorial and Funeral. Another legend is gone. Had we forgotten that he was even here? I fear that we must have. Looking back a few months, to June, when Porter released his last single, Committed to Parkview, few noticed. I love Country Universe. I read it daily, and I noticed this trend then, and I must now point it out. Among threads of Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney, even Halfway to Hazard that run on for over 100 posts, was Porter. And there were only two. A discovery, and a rant about forgetting Porter as we forgot Johnny Cash. I wrote that rant, and I doubt that very few ever read it. Surely, no one responded. Kevin’s review was on point, and no one said a word. So don’t flood the world now with your tears. Don’t pretend that you were always there, and are so sad now. Just write your apology to Porter. And to Country Music. And to yourself. You missed out. If you never sat in the Ryman or the Opry House and were lucky enough to be entertained by Mr. Grand Ole Opry himself, then you really missed out. If you never saw an episode of the Porter Wagoner Show, you really don’t know much about the roots of country on television. See, if you missed out on Porter, you missed out on country.
I wish we had do-overs, but sadly, in life, we don’t. We just get the one chance to get it right. Sure, he was far from perfect, but Porter got it right. He never lost his sense of humility, as he showed so gracefully when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002. And we failed, again, to recognize the genius in our midst. There aren’t many of the Legends of Country left, folks. Will we forget about them, too?
Don’t get me wrong. Porter loved his fans, loved fans of music, of the Opry, of life. He left this world at peace, I have no doubt. I’m sure his spirit was backstage at the Ryman last night, watching the show, and no doubt in my mind, smiling from ear to ear. We’re gonna miss that smile…
To address paul’s comment, even the younger croud knows the impact of Porter Wagoner. Of course it is understood that the older style country isn’t as attractive to the “younger croud” today as the newer music, many still respect it. I’m a 17, going on 18 year old country fan. Coming from a younger fan I think Porter was one of counrty musics golden boys, the few who everyone would remember young and old. Johnny Cash was one as was jennings. And George Jones and Willie nelson will go down in history also as golden boys. I may not have had as much experience in his music as everyone else, but I personally respect him all the same. Of course I don’t do him complete justice because I didn’t hear a lot of his music but from what i knew of the personl and the inspiration he gave he was and always will be one of the best.
When Porter Wagoner died on sunday night, part of country music’s heart and soul died too. Much like Johnny Cash, he still made music right up into his last days. Cash had his American Man recordings that have lasted for the last 15-20 years and Wagoner had his most recent release that came out a few short months before his departure.
Only a select few get better as they age, and the likes of Wagoner, Cash, and George Jones are those few.