Porter Wagoner - Biography

by J Poet

Porter Wagoner, known for his flashy rhinestone-studded Nudie suits (designed by clothier to the stars Nudie Cohn) and discovering Dolly Parton, help propel country music into the consciousness of mainstream America with his syndicated Porter Wagoner Show. At its height in the 1960s the show was seen on more than 100 TV stations nationwide reaching an estimated four million viewers. Long before Hee Haw, Wagoner’s one liners and rustic stage sets celebrated the values of down home Southern America, while the show’s popularity helped propel 81 Wagoner tunes up the charts. Wagoner got James Brown a gig on the Grand Ole Opry, produced a rhythm & blues album for Joe Simon, appeared in Clint Eastwood’s Honkytonk Man (1982) and toured with an all female band called The Right Combination. He won four Grammys, three of them for Gospel music, and was his inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2002. He was poised for a major comeback in 2007 when his first album for LA’s maverick Anti label, Wagonmaster (2007 Anti), introduced him to a new generation of rock and punk fans, but he was diagnosed with lung cancer soon after. He died in October of 2007 after a triumphant Madison Square Garden show opening for The White Stripes.


Wagoner was born on a Missouri farm in 1927. Wagoner got his first guitar while he was still in grammar school and learned to play singing along to country songs on the radio. When his father got too old for farm work the family moved to West Plains: Wagoner dropped out of school in the seventh grade to help support the family. As a teenager, he worked Vaughn’s butcher shop, singing and playing guitar when business was slow. Soon people were coming into the store to hear him play. The Mr. Vaughn knew a good thing when he saw it and sponsored 15-minute morning radio show featuring Wagoner on KWPM. Springfield station KWTO heard the show and brought Wagoner to Springfield in 1951. Red Foley, just organizing his Ozark Jamboree program, signed Wagoner giving him his first national TV exposure. Wagoner was performing locally with his Trio when RCA signed him in1952. His early sides were heavily influenced by Hank Williams and went nowhere, but he’s also started to write songs. Carl Smith took his tune “Trademark” into the Top 10 in1953, and in 1954 Wagoner cut his first Top 10 hit, “A Satisfied Mind. ” It stayed on the charts for eight months and gave its name to his first LP Satisfied Mind (1956 RCA.)


Wagoner left the Ozark Jamboree and joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1957, and became one of the show’s stars. The Jamboree taught Wagoner the power of television and in 1960 he started The Porter Wagoner Show, which ran for 21 years and helped introduce his blend of hard core honky tonk and stirring southern gospel music to mainstream America. In 1967 he discovered a new young singer/songwriter named Dolly Parton. With the addition of her charismatic presence, The Porter Wagoner Show became one of the highest rated shows in syndication. From 1961 to 1972 Wagoner was seldom off the charts; his hits included “Your Old Love Letters” (1961), “I've Enjoyed as Much of This as I Can Stand” (1963) and “Green, Green Grass of Home” (1965). His albums from those years are all solid, many of them featuring his big hit singles – A Slice of Life (1962 RCA), Ya’ll Come (1963 RCA), The Bluegrass Story (1964 RCA), Thin Man from West Plains (1965 RCA) Confessions of a Broken Man (1966 RCA) which won a Best Album Art Grammy, Cold Hard facts of Life (1967 RCA), Bottom of the Bottle (1968 RCA) The Carroll Country Accident (1969 RCA), You Gotta Have a License (1970 RCA), Porter Wagoner Sings His Own (1971 RCA), a collection of original compositions and What Ain’t to Be, Just Might Happen (1972 RCA). Thin Man from West Plains is also the title of a four CD box from Germany’s Bear Family that collects over 100 of his best RCA sides. During those years he also made three Grammy winning gospel albums with the Blackwood Brothers - Grand Old Gospel (1965 RCA), More Grand Old Gospel (1967 RCA) and In Gospel Country (1968 RCA) as well as best selling duet albums with Parton – Just Between You and Me (1968 RCA), Just the Two of Us (1968 RCA), Always Always (1969 RCA) and Porter Wayne and Dolly Rebecca (1970 RCA).


Wagon had more hits in the 70s, both alone and with Parton, and continued touring. Parton left The Porter Wagoner Show in 1974 to start her own career in a famous acrimonious break up. Wagoner stopped touring in 1976 and started producing records at his own Fireside studios. He also hosted James Brown on his memorable Grand Ole Opry appearance. He stopped recording in the late ‘70s too, but before then cut another batch of classic albums – The Right Combination (1972 RCA) with Parton, Experience (1972 RCA), I’ll Keep on Loving You (1973 RCA), Love and Music (1973 RCA) with Parton, Highway Heading South (1974 RCA), Say Forever You’ll Be Mine (1975 RCA) with Parton and Today (1979 RCA).


In the 1980s Wagoner appeared in Clint Eastwood’s Honkytonk Man and went back on the road with his all woman band, The Right Combination. In 2006 he went back into the studio and cut Gospel 2006 (2006 Gusto TeeVee) and The Versatile Porter Wagoner (2006 Gusto TeeVee). His voice was a bit weathered, but it only added authority to his expression of faith and hard times. He was ready to resume touring after his first album for LA’s maverick Anti label, Wagonmaster (2007 Anti), introduced him to a new generation of fans, but he was diagnosed with lung cancer soon after. He died in October of 2007.












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