Porter Wayne Wagoner (August 12, 1927 - October 28, 2007) was a popular American country music singer known for his flashy Nudie and Manuel suits and blond pompadour.
In 1967, he introduced then-obscure singer Dolly Parton on his long-running television show, and they were a well-known vocal duo throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Known as Mr. Grand Ole Opry, Wagoner charted 81 singles from 1954-1983. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002.
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 cover 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 Rhodes. During Parton's tenure, she and Wagoner usually sang a duet (Wagoner did not perform any duets with Norma Jean). 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
Bruce Osborn - lead guitar
Fred Newell on banjo/guitar/mandolin
Dave Kirby on guitar
Stu Basor on steel guitar/dobro
Bobby Dyson on bass
Jerry Carrigan on drums
Mack Magaha on fiddle
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 made a guest appearance on the HBO comedy series Da Ali G Show in 2004, its second season, interviewed by Borat Sagdiyev.
On July 14, 2006, he underwent surgery for an abdominal aneurysm.
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. He also toured during the summer of 2007 to promote the album. 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.
Dolly Parton performed a concert at her Tennessee theme park, Dollywood, in his memory after his death.,
Porter Wagoner Boulevard in his native West Plains, Missouri is named in his honor.,
In 2013, the television show Drunk History presented a brief summary of Wagoner's relationship with Parton.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license