Pee Wee King, country music’s most famous accordion player, composer of “The Tennessee Waltz” and half a dozen other standards, vividly remembers his first night on the Grand Ole Opry. It was a landmark not only for his own career, but for the history of the Opry and even for country music. “We had been playing over WHAS in Louisville,” he recalled, “and our manager, J. L. Frank, said, ‘Let’s go to the Opry and audition.’ We played a theater at Horse Cave, Kentucky, on Friday, and on Saturday we drove on down to Nashville, to WSM. At eleven o’clock that morning we auditioned for David Stone and Harry Stone and an engineer named Percy White. And they said, ‘Gee, why don’t you just stay over and do the Grand Ole Opry with us tonight?’ This was about June 1, 1937. So we did the Opry that Saturday night—then we went back to Louisville, knowing that in two weeks, we were coming back as permanent members of the Opry.”
In those days Pee Wee’s band was called simply the Golden West Cowboys, and that’s how their name appeared in their first Opry radio listing. Almost at once, Pee Wee sensed that his act was different from anything else on the show. Neither Roy Acuff nor Bill Monroe had joined the cast as yet, and though cowboy music was the rage on radio and on movie screens across the country, the Opry hadn’t really fully embraced the trend. That summer of 1937, the show was still being broadcast from an open-air tabernacle in East Nashville, and people were still talking about the great Ohio flood and the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. The show’s stars included old favorites like Uncle Dave Macon and the McGee Brothers and DeFord Bailey, as well as newer names like the Delmore Brothers, Robert Lunn (the Talking Blues Man), the Lakeland Sisters, Curt Poulton, and the Missouri Mountaineers.
What did the Golden West Cowboys bring to all this? “Organization!” laughed Pee Wee. “Most of them on the Opry were farmers and had jobs and did this on a Saturday night only. We were trying to make our living