While growing up in the late 60’s and 70’s in Birmingham, Alabama there was three programs that were staples in households I would visit: Country Boy Eddie, Hee Haw and The Porter Wagoner Show. My parents were not big Country and Western fans but at 5am, when Dad would be leaving for work, Country Boy Eddie is all that was on. If you liked one of his guests you might catch them later on the Porter Wagoner show. My best friend’s father did like country and I remember watching Wagoner on a huge black and white set while his rhinestones flashed at the camera iris.
Porter Wagoner, who placed over 81 songs on the country-music chart, has taken his Final Taxi.
Porter Wagoner was born Aug. 12, 1927, in West Plains, Mo. He grew up helping out on the family farm, but when he wasn’t busy with farm chores he would spend hours standing on the trunk of a felled oak tree pretending he was host of the Grand Ole Opry, of which he was a huge fan of.
He got his first guitar from his older brother, Glenn, whose death before age 20 from a heart ailment hit Wagoner hard. He became determined to carry on his brother’s love for music. Working at a department store in West Plains, Wagoner was hired by the owner to sing on a radio show he sponsored.
He wrote and recorded “A Satisfied Mind,” a song that discounts the rewards of the material world in favor of the facets of life that lead to peace of mind. It took him to the top of the country chart in 1955 for the first time and remained his biggest hit.
He reached the No. 1 spot two more times, in 1962 with “Misery Loves Company,” and a dozen years later with “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me,” a duet with Parton.
One of the first songs I remember hearing from Porter Wagoner was his song “Green, Green Grass of Home” which I recall him singing on his syndicated TV series, The Porter Wagoner Show, which ran from 1960 to 1979.
Whilst hosting the show, Wagoner introduced newcomer Dolly Parton as his new duetting partner in 1967. Together they were a huge hit, and recorded several records. At it’s peak, his TV show was syndicated in 100 countries and attracted audiences of over 3 million. They won several awards for their duets, including two Country Music Awards in 1970 and ’71.
The pair’s complex relationship deteriorated resulting with Wagoner suing Parton in the late 70s, however they settled out of court and remained friends.
Parton acknowledged writing “I Will Always Love You” as a peace offering to Wagoner, but she said it took him years to understand its message. The song was a hit for her three separate times — when it was released in 1974, as a remake for the 1982 movie “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and in 1995 as a duet with Vince Gill. It became an international pop smash when Whitney Houston recorded it in 1992.
Wagoner’s old-school country style fell out of favor with Nashville, except for his role at the Opry, as country moved on in the ’80s to younger, more pop-music minded stars such as Alabama.
Porter Wagoner career lasted a period of nearly 40 years and in 2002, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.