Country comedian Speck Rhodes, 84, died Sunday, March 19, after a long battle with cancer. Known to millions of fans for his work on the weekly Porter Wagoner television show, Speck was one of the last of the old-time country comics. With his plaid suit, bowler hat and blacked-out teeth, he was always doing an inane telephone routine with his girlfriend, the hapless Sadie Sites.
Born Gilbert Ray Rhodes in the southern Missouri town of West Plains in 1915, Speck was one of six children. All were musical, but the three boys — Speck, Slim, and Dusty — were turning professional by the time they were in their teens. By 1934 they were touring the RKO vaudeville circuit as the Log Cabin Mountaineers. Later on, Dusty became a fiddle champion, and Slim organized one of the best-known radio bands in the Memphis-Arkansas area. During this time Speck played a little banjo, a lot of bass fiddle and developed his comic character. In 1960 Speck auditioned for the new TV show Porter Wagoner was starting in Nashville. Though both he and Porter had come from West Plains, and though they knew each other, they had not worked together before. The chemistry was there, though, and Speck began an association with Porter that would last over 20 years. His colleagues in the show were banjoist Buck Trent, dancing fiddler Mack Magaha, guitarist George McCormick and Don Warden.