Country Legend Porter Wagoner Dies At 80
Country legend Porter Wagoner died yesterday (Oct. 28) in Nashville, just a few weeks after being hospitalized with lung cancer. Wagoner was known for a string of country hits in the ’60s, perennial appearances at the Grand Ole Opry in his trademark rhinestone suits and for launching the career of Dolly Parton.
The Missouri-born Wagoner signed with RCA Records in 1955 and joined the Opry in 1957, “the greatest place in the world to have a career in country music,” he said in 1997. His showmanship, suits and pompadoured hair made him famous.
He had his own syndicated TV show, “The Porter Wagoner Show,” for 21 years, beginning in 1960. It was one of the first syndicated shows to come out of Nashville and set a pattern for many others.
Among his hits, many of which he wrote or co-wrote, were “Carroll County Accident,” “A Satisfied Mind,” “Company’s Comin’,” “Skid Row Joe,” “Misery Loves Company” and “Green Green Grass of Home.”
In May, after years without a recording contract, he signed with Anti- records, an eclectic Los Angeles label best known for alt-rock acts like Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Neko Case.
Wagoner’s final album, “Wagonmaster,” was released in June and earned him some of the best reviews of his career. Over the summer, he was the opening act for the White Stripes at a sold-out show at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
“The young people I met backstage, some of them were 20 years old. They wanted to get my autograph and tell me they really liked me,” Porter said with tears in his eyes the day after the New York show. “If only they knew how that made me feel — like a new breath of fresh air.”
To many music fans, Wagoner was best known as the man who boosted Parton’s career. He had hired the 21-year-old singer as his duet partner in 1967, when she was just beginning to gain notice through songs such as “Dumb Blonde.” They were the Country Music Association’s duo of the year in 1970 and 1971, recording hit duets including “The Last Thing on My Mind.”
Wagoner was born in West Plains, Mo., and became known as “The Thin Man From West Plains” because of his lanky frame. He recalled that he spent hours as a child pretending to be an Opry performer, using a tree stump as a stage.
He started in radio, then became a regular on the “Ozark Jubilee,” one of the first televised national country music shows. On the Opry since 1957, he joined Roy Acuff and other onetime idols.
At one point his wardrobe included more than 60 handmade rhinestone suits. “Rhinestone suits are just beautiful under the lights,” he said. “They’ve become a big part of my career. I get more compliments on my outfits than any other entertainer — except for Liberace.”
While he continued with the Opry, and even had a small part in the 1982 movie “Honky Tonk Man” starring Clint Eastwood, his recording career dried up in the 1980s — until his return this year.
“I stopped making records because I didn’t like the way they were wanting me to record,” he said. “When RCA dropped me from the label, I didn’t really care about making records for another label because I didn’t have any say in what they would release and how they would make the records and so forth.”