Roy Acuff / Rockin' Country Style

Roy Acuff

Roy Acuff was one of the most traditional of mountain singers. Known as The King of Country Music, he sold more than 30 million records in a career that lasted more than fifty years. The first living member of The Country Music Hall Of Fame, he was a pillar of The Grand Ole Opry. A one-time promising baseball player, he turned to singing in the early 1930s, and with his sincere, mountain-boy vocal style and Dobro-flavoured band sound replaced Uncle Dave Macon as the most popular Opry performer of the 1940s. His success was built mainly on sentimental hillbilly ballads such as Wreck On the Highway, Low and Lonely, Fireball Mail and The Great Speckled Bird. Something of a music visionary, in the early 1940s, together with songwriter Fred Rose, he set up Acuff-Rose, a music publishing company that was destined to become one of the most important in country music. During that same period, Roy’s recordings became so popular that he headed Frank Sinatra in many major music polls, and reportedly caused Japanese troops to yell, ‘To hell with Roosevelt, to hell with Babe Ruth, to hell with Roy Acuff,’ as they banzai-charged at Okinawa. He was also something of a political animal and was nominated to run as governor of Tennessee in 1944 and 1946. Two years later he won the Republican primary, but failed to win the ensuing election. Nevertheless, he did gain tremendous support, earning a larger slice of the vote than any previous Republican candidate. Also, in 1948, he opened the Dunbar Cave resort, a popular folk music park, which he owned for several years. Something of a road warrior, he toured incessantly throughout his career. In 1965 he was seriously injured in a road accident, but was back touring within a few months. He also made several visits to the Vietnam War front to entertain the troops. Adept with a yoyo, he would often play on stage while his band members were taking instrumental solos. At the opening of the new Nashville Opry House in 1974, he was invited to give President Nixon yoyo lessons.

Roy Claxton Acuff was born September 15, 1903, in a three-room shack in Maynardville, Tennessee, the son of a Baptist minister. As a child he learnt jew’s harp and harmonica. Following a move to Fountain City, near Knoxville he started playing minor league baseball and was considered for the New York Yankees. However, severe sunstroke put an end to his career, confining him to bed for much of 1929 and 1930. Following his illness, he hung around the house learning fiddle and listening to old-time players. In early 1932 he joined a travelling medicine show, playing small towns in Virginia and Tennessee. A year later he formed a group, The Tennessee Crackerjacks, in which Clell Sumney played Dobro, providing the distinctive sound that came to be associated with Roy Acuff. He soon gained a regular programme on Knoxville’s WROL. Adopting the name of The Crazy Tennesseans, they moved to the rival Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round show on KNOX. He married Mildred Douglas in 1936, the same year he made his recording debut for ARC (later to become Columbia). Among the first songs he recorded were The Great Speckled Bird and Wabash Cannonball, which would always be associated with him.

He made his first appearance on The Grand Ole Opry in 1938 and soon became a regular. He changed the name of his band to the Smoky Mountain Boys, a name that was to stick, and recruited long time band members Bashful Brother Oswald, Howdy Forrester and Jimmie Riddle. With his Smoky Mountain Boys he did not just perform hillbilly songs, they gave a complete stage show, including vaudeville/minstrel-style skits and slapstick. Over the years he refashioned the band as an old-time string band and added more traditional sounding and religious songs to their repertoire.

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