It was a hot night at the Grand Ole Opry in the summer of 1995. Out front, the crowd in the Opry house was stocking up on Cokes and trying to explain to northern visitors what Goo-Goos were. Backstage the talk was about whether or not the Houston Oilers were serious about moving to Nashville. Announcer Kyle Cantrell was checking over his schedule and getting ready to introduce the host for the 8:30 p.m. segment of the world’s longest running radio show. He smiled when he saw who was up next.
Accompanied by his backup band of Joe Carroll and George McCormick, eighty-one-year-old Grandpa Jones came out of his dressing room. The backstage crowd in the hallway reverently parted to let him by, recognizing at once the familiar figure and costume: an old checkered shirt, red suspenders, porkpie hat, bristling white mustache, and big old leather boots that had been given to him in 1935 by singer Bradley Kincaid—boots that were already fifty years old by then. His banjo was strapped on, and he paused a minute to say to his boys, “Let’s see if we’re in tune,” and whammed out a chord almost loud enough to be heard out on stage. There’s nothing timid about Grandpa’s music—he has for the past two weeks been suffering through the agonies of a root canal, but he is a trooper of the old school, and the show will go on. Someone asks, “Grandpa, they want to know if you’re gonna need the drums.” “No,” he snaps, “we’re trying to keep it country!”
Then the big red curtain is rising and Cantrell is saying, “And now let’s make welcome a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, everybody’s grandpa, Grandpa Jones!” The band breaks into his theme song, “Eight More Miles to Louisville,” and the audience applauds in recognition. Newly energized, Grandpa struts on to the stage and tears into a song called “Banjo Sam,” an old-time banjo tune he first recorded back in 1961 and has recently resurrected. After singing the first verse, he holds his big banjo up to the mike and plays a chorus with an energetic downstroke style