Classic Country: Legends of Country Music

By Charles K. Wolfe | Go to book overview
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Stringbean

November 10, 1973. The newspapers are full of Watergate; President Nixon has just appointed Leon Jaworski, a conservative Texan, as special prosecutor in the case. Vice President Agnew resigned a month earlier. In Nashville, the Grand Ole Opry is beginning its last winter at the old Ryman Auditorium before moving in the spring to its new million-dollar home at Opryland Park. This Saturday night, the second show is under way, and veteran cowboy star Tex Ritter is the host for the Union 76 portion of the show. Tex is mellow, very much at ease, basking in the glow of a long career in Hollywood and, for the past eight years, in Nashville. He doesn’t know it, but this is one of his last nights on the Opry; within two months he will die of a heart attack. But tonight he is full of fun, and he likes to kid the guest he’s about to bring on. He has always been amused at the strange, corny costume the guest wears: a long shirt that stretches down a lanky frame to meet a tiny pair of trousers at about the kneecaps. The guest’s name is David Akeman, but for years and years everyone has known him as Stringbean.

As he waits in the wings for Tex to introduce him, String kids with a friend about the earlier show this night. “Tex finally got me on after about fifteen minutes of introduction,” he gripes. Tex had as much trouble getting him off; Stringbean had done an old Kentucky “shout” song called “Y’all Come” and had gotten a good number of the 3,000 members of the audience to sing along with him. “I had to bring him back for an encore,” Tex recalled later. “A lot of young people were screaming.” College kids interested in old-time banjo playing, and television fans of Hee Haw, are threatening to make a new hero out of Stringbean, a laid-back, nature-loving, gentle humorist who is given to pronouncements like, “A man who plays the five-string banjo has got it made. It never interferes with any of the pleasures in his life.”

Tex continues his introduction as the clock drags on toward 10:25. String yawns. He has an early fishing trip planned the next morning with

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