I headed out last night to the Bayou Café, a Savannah-River Street dive that I suppose could be called my hangout…if I spent more time in the joint…and my buddy “The Chief” mentioned to me that country music legend Porter Wagoner was apparently not long for this world. I was taken aback by this, particularly since I had read an AP article (which I had bookmarked, and now appear to have lost) telling of Porter’s recent “comeback” and how he was winning a legion of entirely new (and younger) fans.
So you can imagine how sad I was to learn of his passing this morning at the age of 80. Wagoner was, to my mind, sort of the litmus test for one’s tolerance for country music. He was an unforgettable presence on stage, with his trademark pompadour and rhinestone Nudie suits, but he recorded a litany of country music hits that will live forever, including his breakout smash for RCA in 1955, A Satisfied Mind, and classics like Misery Loves Company (written by Jerry Reed), The Carroll County Accident, Sorrow on the Rocks and The Cold Hard Facts of Life (written by Bill Anderson). Wagoner will also be remembered for launching the career of country music superstar Dolly Parton, whom he hooked up with in 1967 and also recorded a passel o’hits, including If Teardrops Were Pennies, Say Forever You’ll Be Mine and the 1974 chart-topper Please Don’t Stop Loving Me.
I’m a little too young to remember this, but the ‘rents and I actually saw Porter Wagoner perform live at an amusement park in Huntington, WV known as Camden Park. (Porter wasn’t with Dolly then—his first female partner was a gal named Norma Jean, who had a few hits including Let’s Go All the Way and Go Cat Go.) I knew Wagoner primarily from his syndicated TV series, which began in 1960 and was on the air for over twenty years. At the time, I dismissed the man as part of the embarrassing “cornball” coterie (like Buck Owens and the whole Hee Haw gang) that gave a country music a bad name—but as I got much older and wiser, realized that he was truly a first-rate singer and songwriter…and that in the end, it’s the music that counts.
R.I.P., Porter. You will be missed.
While I’m at it, I’d like to apologize for not commenting on the recent passings of Deborah Kerr at age 86 (who I wasn’t really a huge fan of but she stars in Black Narcissus, and that qualifies her to an indulgence in the afterlife) and Joey Bishop at age 89. (I like what Rich Brooks had to say about that “son of a gun” over at Cultureshark: “Remember when TV Land used to do cool little tributes to TV stars that passed away? Not anymore…a token 3-or-4 episode batch of that show, even if exiled to the wee hours, would have been a nice gesture.”). Eddie Copeland reminded me that we’ve also said goodbye to actress Carol Bruce—best known for her semi-regular appearances as “Mama” Carlson on beloved sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. Rest in peace to them all.