Grand Ole Opry management has overhauled the show’s staff band by letting go some of Nashville’s legendary sidemen.
Former Texas Troubadour guitarist Leon Rhodes, “A-Team” drummer Buddy Harman, fiddler Joe Edwards, guitarist Ralph Davis and drummer Jerry Ray Johnston were recently told that they would not be needed after the year. Three new musicians will be hired, reducing the band from 10 to eight members.
“I made a decision to restructure [the band], not only to achieve efficiency, but also to upgrade the quality so that we’re providing the best service we can,” Opry general manager Pete Fisher told The Tennessean.
The dismissals are an attempt to reinvigorate the 74-year-old radio show, which is campaigning to reach a youthful audience.
Grand Ole Opry member Vince Gill questions the decision. “Leon Rhodes can play circles around most guitar players, and Buddy Harman can play circles around most drummers,” he told the Nashville newspaper. “The sad thing is, younger ain’t better.”
Indeed. Harman, 70, has played on some 18,000 recording sessions. You might not recognize his name, but you’ll recognize some of the immortal hits to which he’s applied his sticks: “Pretty Woman,” “Crazy,” “Cathy’s Clown” and a stack of Elvis Presley tracks.
“The real crux of the problem for me is in Garth and in Reba and in Alan and in Clint and on and on and on — the so-called big stars of today that don’t support the Grand Ole Opry,” Gill said. “That’s just a cold hard fact. That’s what it needs.”