“I can’t imagine a world without Porter Wagoner.” 

 Mr. Smiff said that about three times during the time before and after the funeral service for the legendary Wagonmaster today.  I got to thinking that that was true for him, me and so many others of our generation.  For so many of us, Porter was the first face we can recollect of seeing country music on tv as small children.  Porter’s tv show started the same year Mr. Smiff was born.  He remembers black and white Porter while some of my earliest memories of Porter were bright and sparkly. Vince Gill shared the same sentiment before he, Patty Loveless and Ricky Skaggs did their now classic Go Rest High.  (That song has become “The Funeral Song” for country music people.  I’ve heard Vince sing that thing at probably 10-12 funerals)

Then, Mr. S. spoke of all the years he’s been playing on the Grand Ole Opry…since 1978, he has been playing there with different people. Porter was always there.   I remember through those same years, as a kid drinking Opry Juice that Miss Rosa would put in the blue and white Opryland cups and running around backstage, which I like to refer to as Disco Porter, when he and some of the Opry Band members got perms.  Heh.  Even Mr. S. had one. (Remind me to scan that picture and put here. It’s classic hilarity.) He also spoke of being introduced by him on the Opry stage many times with the Grascals and even being scolded by him for going too long.

After Roy Acuff died in 1992, Porter stepped in as the Grand Poobah of the Opry. That’s my title…he was kinda the Big Daddy of the Opry.  He had his own dressing room and sorta held court. I guess I always thought Porter would be around a lot longer.  It is hard to imagine the Grand Ole Opry and the world without Porter.

I will never go into Hot Nails in Hendersonville again without the picture in my mind of going in there 2 years ago on the morning of the IBMA Awards.  Nobody else was in there except me and I noticed this man in the pedicure chair.  He had on a baseball hat, flannel shirt, jeans rolled up to his knees.  My first thought was “There’s a farmer getting a pedicure.”  That was no farmer, but, instead the Thin Man From West Plains.

My memories of being in the same place Porter Wagoner was are so many. I’ve seen happy Porter, cantankerous Porter, Charming Porter, Elder Statesman Porter, Porter with the All Girl Band and of course Disco Porter …Underneath the rhinestones  was indeed a fairly complex 6fcd7bdf-80f3-4a0f-b9d8-8c29b3ddba9c.jpgindividual.  He was married to the same woman for something like 40 years, however, they were separated for something like 20 years before they finally divorced in the 80’s.  He had many relationships with women of various ages.  I think his first wife was older than he and he romanced much younger women in later years.

I’ve heard of various “disagreements” he had with various people.  Funny how lots of those people who disagreed with Porter were there today at the Opry House to pay their respects.  It was an impressive crowd.  I’m not good at guessing crowd numbers. 

The music was fantastic. Marty Stuart, Ricky, Sharon, Cheryl, Buck, Vince, Patty, etc.  They all did a great job, but, I was most touched by Danny Davis, who has been a member of Porter’s band for 19 years, as he sang, at the request of the family, Rank Stranger. That was not easy for him to do, but, he did it beautifully. A great tribute to his bossman.

The other song that moved me tremendously was Duane Allen of the Oak Ridge Boys, sang a song written by Porter (I remember a recording of Dolly doing that song years ago in the 70’s). Duane told of how Porter gave that to him on a tape one time and said that that song summed up how he felt about God and his life. Duane was sans Oak Ridge Boys (although Richard Sterban was there) and had his family sing with him and I tell you what….he tore it up.  Duane can sing with the best of them, make no mistake.  It was very sweet.

We walked behind Dan Miller and he sat across from us.   Dan shares some nice thoughts about Porter here.  I will confess right here, if I would’ve gurmed anybody there today (Garth, Dolly, George, Martina, any of them) I’d have gurmed Dan Miller. I’ve had a crush on him since I was a little tyke. 

I wasn’t sure if Dolly would be there or not because I know she has a strong disdain for funerals and does not go to many. She sat on the front row with Don Warden, who is her manager and who played steel for the Wagonmasters for many a year. She led the Opry members in I Saw The Light at the end and threw in some of her classic humor (no doubt to keep from crying) to give us all some relief.

Mr. S. leaned over during the Opry Choir and said “Is that George?” All I saw was the top of his hair.  You can’t miss the top of George Jones’ hair.  It’s perfectly coiffed. He looked really good.

When the service was over, I ran into Norma Jean as in “Pretty Miss”, who preceded Dolly as the “Girl Singer” (that’s what they called them in those days) in Porter’s band.  I haven’t seen her in a long time and she’s still as pretty as ever.

The Carol Lee Singers sang a number and I could not help but remember Doyle Wilburn’s funeral 25 years ago this last month.  I remember as vividly as it were yesterday, Carol Lee, Norah Lee, Dennis and Herman singing so beautifully at that service and thinking of how many more funerals there have been since.  Dennis, Norah Lee and Carol Lee look EXACTLY the same today as they did then.   You start naming people and so many of them are gone….Ernest, Bill, All of the Carter Girls, Cash, Skeeter, Teddy, Dottie, Tammy…  Some of them long gone.  I forget my dad has been dead for almost 16 years. That generation is slowly fading out.

Dr. Jerry Sutton, who is under tremendous stress and pressure from his congregation as we speak, did a lovely job.  I hate going to stuff like that where you know the preacher didn’t know the deceased.  This was not the case here.

Another cool aspect to the whole event was that it was open to the public and the public did come.  Porter was such a hands on kinda guy with the fans, it would’ve not been 11-01-07_1230.jpgappropriate to not open it up like that.

When I think of what I loved to hear Porter sing best? You’re gonna laugh….

“He’s big around the middle and he’s broad across the rump,

Running 90 miles an hour taking 30 feet to jump

Ain’t never been caught he ain’t never been treed

Some folks say he looks a lot like me”

Thanks, Porter.