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Roy Acuff

Roy Acuff was called the King of Country Music, and for more than 60 years he lived up to that title. If any performer embodied country music, it was Roy Acuff. Throughout his career, Acuff was a champion for traditional country values, enforcing his beliefs as a performer, a music publisher, and as the Grand Master of the Grand Ole Opry. Acuff was the first country music superstar after the death of Jimmie Rodgers, pioneering an influential vocal style that complemented the spare, simple songs he was performing. Generations of artists, from Hank Williams to George Jones, have been influenced by Acuff, and countless others have paid respect to him. At the time of his death in 1992, he was still actively involved in the Grand Ole Opry, and was as popular as ever.

Originally, Acuff didn't plan to be a singer. Born in the small town of Maynardville, TN, in 1903, Acuff sang in the church choir as a schoolboy, but he was more interested in sports, particularly baseball. Not only was he attracted to the sport, he had a wild streak -- after his family moved to Knoxville, he was frequently arrested for fighting. Acuff continued to concentrate on playing ball, eventually becoming strong enough to earn a tryout for the major leagues. However, that tryout never took place. Before he had a chance to play, he was struck by a severe sunstroke while he was on a fishing trip; after the sunstroke, Acuff suffered a nervous breakdown. While he was recovering, he decided that a career in baseball was no longer possible, so he decided to become an entertainer. He began to learn the fiddle and became an apprentice of Doc Hauer, a local medicine show man.

While traveling with the medicine show, Acuff learned how to be a performer -- he learned how to sing, how to imitate, how to entertain, how to put on a show. Soon, Acuff joined the Tennessee Crackerjacks, who had a regular slot on Knoxville radio station WROL. Although he was performing frequently, he wasn't making any significant headway, failing to become a star in Tennessee. One song changed that situation -- "The Great Speckled Bird," an old gospel tune that had become popular with the Church of God sect. After another radio entertainer wrote the words out to the song, Acuff began performing it in his shows. Quickly, he became popular throughout the eastern part of Tennessee and was asked to record the song by ARC, a record label with national distribution. Acuff headed north to Chicago for a recording session, which resulted in 20 different songs. In addition to "The Great Speckled Bird," he recorded "Steamboat Whistle Blues" and "The Wabash Cannonball," another Tennessee standard that featured the singer imitating the sound of a train whistle; he also made a handful of risqué numbers during these sessions, which were released under the name the Bang Boys.

In 1938, the Grand Ole Opry invited Acuff to audition for the show. During the show, he sang "The Great Speckled Bird" and became an instant hit, prompting the Opry to hire him full-time. Before he was given his regular slot, the Opry insisted that he change the name of his band to the Smoky Mountain Boys. The following year, Acuff reassembled his band, with the most notable addition being Bashful Brother Oswald (Pete Kirby), a dobro player who sang high harmonies.

Roy Acuff became a national superstar during the '40s, scoring a long string of hit records, which included the classics "The Wreck on the Highway," "The Precious Jewel," and "Beneath That Lonely Mound of Clay," among many others. During this time, he discovered that there was a potential gold mine in music publishing. Acuff had printed his own songbook, which sold a staggering 100,000 copies. Publishers in New York tried to acquire the rights to his songs, but the success of the songbook convinced Acuff to hold on to the songs and seek out the help of Fred Rose, a professional songwriter and pianist working in Chicago. The pair founded Acuff-Rose Publications in October 1942, using Acuff's songs as its base; Rose also added his songs, including "Faded Love," "Deep Water," and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain." Acuff-Rose was an immediate success, and over the next two decades many of the most popular songs and songwriters were the property of the company, including the songs of Hank Williams, the Louvin Brothers, Don Gibson, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, John D. Loudermilk, Boudleaux & Felice Bryant, and Redd Stewart & Pee Wee King's "Tennessee Waltz."

In the late '40s, Acuff continued to rule the country charts, as well as scoring a number of pop crossovers ("The Prodigal Son," "I'll Forgive You, But I Can't Forget"). For most of the '50s, he concentrated on touring -- he didn't have a single charting record between 1947 and 1958, returning with the Top Ten hit "Once More," as well as two other Top 20 singles, "So Many Times" and "Come and Knock." In 1962, he became the first living performer to be inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame. The '60s yielded some hits, yet he continued to concentrate on touring; by the end of the decade, he decided to leave the road, staying at the Grand Ole Opry.

The beginning of the '80s was a difficult period for Acuff, as he experienced the death of his wife and several longtime bandmembers, including pianist Jimmie Riddle and fiddler Howdy Forrester. In 1987, he released his final charting record, an inspirational duet with Charlie Louvin called "The Precious Jewel."

As his health began to decline in the late '80s, Acuff built a house near the Opry so he could greet friends and fans. He passed away in 1992, leaving behind a legacy that isn't limited to his music. Through his records, his performances, and Acuff-Rose, Roy Acuff has had an enormous effect on shaping the role of country music in the 20th century; it is hard to imagine the music without him. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: The Best Of Roy Acuff

1. Wabash Cannonball

2. Oh, Lonesome Me

3. Sally Goodin (Live)

4. The Precious Jewel

5. Hey, Good Lookin'

6. Good Ole Mountain Dew

7. Jambalaya

8. The Great Speckled Bird

9. New Ft. Worth Rag (Live)

10. Little Moses

11. I Saw The Light

12. Tennessee Fox Chase

x

Track List: King Of Country Music

Disc 1

1. Great Speckle Bird

2. My Mountain Home Sweet Home

3. Wabash Cannonball

4. Freight Train Blues

5. You've Gotta See Mama Every Night

6. Gonna Have A Big Time Tonight

7. Yes Sir That's My Baby

8. You're The Only Star In My Blue Heaven

9. Charming Betsy

10. New Greenback Dollar

11. Steamboat Whistle Blues

12. Doin' It The Old Fashioned Way

13. An Old Three Room Shack

14. Steel Guitar Blues

15. Sad Memories

16. Red Lips

17. What Would You Do With Gabriel's Trumpet

18. Shout Oh Lulu

19. Blue Ridge Sweetheart

20. One Old Shirt

21. Bonnie Blue Eyes

22. Automobile Of Life

23. Smoky Mountain Rag

25. Honky Tonk Mamas

Disc 2

1. Answer To Sparkling Eyes

2. Fly Birdie Fly

3. Ida Red

4. Beautiful Brown Eyes

5. Mother's Prayers Guide Me

6. Living On The Mountain Baby Mine

7. A Vagabond's Prayer

8. Old Age Pension Cheque

9. Eyes Watching You

10. I'm Building A Home

11. Walkin' In My Sleep

12. Drifting Too Far From Shore

13. Come Back Little Pal

14. Will The Circle Be Unbroken

15. When I Lay My Burden Down

16. The Streamlined Cannonball

17. Weary River

18. The Broken Heart

19. The Precious Jewel

20. Mule Skinner Blues

21. Just To Ease My Worried Mind

22. Be Honest With Me

23. Worried Mind

24. It Won't Be Long (Til I'm Leaving)

25. I Know You're Saying Goodbye

26. Brother Take Warning

Disc 3

1. Stuck Up Blues

2. Lying Woman Blues

3. You Are My Love

4. Are You Thinking Of Me Darling

5. I Called And Nobody Answered

6. Wreck On The Highway

7. Fireball Mail

8. I'll Reap My Harvest In Heaven

9. Night Train To Memphis

10. The Prodigal Son

11. Low And Lonely

12. Write Me Sweetheart

13. Not A Word From Home

14. I'll Forgive But I Can't Forget

15. Blues In My Mind

16. I Heard A Silver Trumpet

17. Easy Rockin' Chair

18. Wait For The Light To Shine

19. I Think I'll Go Home And Cry

20. We Live In Two Different Worlds

21. Pins And Needles (In My Heart)

22. Golden Treasure

23. Let Me Be The First To Say I'm Sorry

24. Waiting For The Call To Glory

25. Gone Gone Gone (But Not Forgotten)

Disc 4

1. I Talk To Myself About You

2. Freight Train Blues

3. Wabash Cannonball

4. Our Own Jole Blon

5. Waltz Of The Wind

6. A Sinner's Death (I'm Dying)

8. There's A Big Rock In The Road

9. Po' Folks All The Time

10. When They Take The Last Look At You

11. Heartaches And Flowers

12. You'll Reap These Tears

13. It's Just About Time

14. I'll Always Care

15. It's So Hard To Smile

16. The Midnight Train

17. Tennessee Waltz

18. Dance Around Molly

19. Black Mountain Rag

20. Smoky Mountain Rag

21. Lonesome Indian

22. Polk County Breakdown

23. Jesus Died For Me

24. The Day They Laid Mary Away

25. It's All Right Now

x

Track List: 20 Greatest Songs

1. (Our Own) Jole Blon

2. Write Me Sweetheart

3. Waltz Of The Wind

4. I Saw The Light

5. Will The Circle Be Unbroken

6. As Long As I Live

7. Branded Wherever I Go

8. The Great Speckled Bird

10. The Precious Jewel

11. The Wreck On The Highway

12. Fireball Mail

13. Wait For The Light to Shine

14. Unloved And Unclaimed

15. This World Can't Stand Long

16. Once More

17. So Many Times

19. Freight Train Blues

20. Back In The Country

x

Track List: The Essential Roy Acuff 1936-1949

1. Great Speckle Bird

2. Steel Guitar Blues

3. Just To Ease My Worried Mind

4. Lonesome Old River Blues

5. The Precious Jewel

6. It Won't Be Long (Till I'll Be Leaving)

7. Wreck On The Highway

8. Fireball Mail

9. Night Train To Memphis

10. The Prodigal Son

11. Not A Word From Home

12. I'll Forgive You, But I Can't Forget You

13. Freight Train Blues

14. Wabash Cannon Ball

15. Jole Blon

16. This World Can't Stand Long

17. Waltz Of The Wind

18. A Sinner's Death (I'm Dying)

19. Tennessee Waltz

20. Black Mountain Rag

x

Track List: Greatest Hits

1. Lonesome Old River Blues

2. Were You There When They Crucified My Lord

3. Tennessee Waltz

4. Waiting For My Call To Glory

5. Mule Skinner Blues (Blue Yodel #8)

6. I Saw The Light

7. Fire Ball Mail

8. Night Train To Memphis

9. Great Speckle Bird

10. If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again

11. Wreck On The Highway

12. Freight Train Blues

13. The Devil's Train

14. It Won't Be Long (Till I'll Be Leaving)

15. Wabash Cannon Ball

x

Track List: Roy Acuff Sings Hank Williams

1. Hey, Good Lookin'

3. Mansion On The Hill

4. Your Cheatin' Heart

5. You Win Again

6. Kaw-Liga

7. Jambalaya (On The Bayou)

8. There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight

9. Cold, Cold Heart

10. I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You)

11. Take These Chains From My Heart

12. I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry

x

Track List: Great Train Songs

2. Wabash Cannonball

3. Night Train To Memphis

4. Sunshine Special

5. That Glory Bound Train

6. Wreck Of The Old 97

7. Pan American

8. Freight Train Blues

9. Fireball Mail

11. Midnight Train

12. Life's Railway To Heaven

x

Track List: Hand-Clapping Gospel Songs

1. Somebody Touched Me

2. Turn Your Radio On

3. Jesus Died For Me

4. Wait For The Light To Shine

5. Lord, Build Me A Cabin In Glory

6. Thank God

7. That Glory Bound Train

8. I Saw The Light

9. I'll Fly Away

10. It's All Right Now

11. Traveling The Highway Home

12. Glory Is Coming

14. The Precious Jewel

15. This World Can't Stand Long

16. Hallelujah Square

17. Little Moses

18. From Cradle To Cross To Crown

x

Track List: Great Train Tracks

1. Fireball Mail

2. Freight Train Blues

3. (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle

4. Midnight Train

5. Night Train To Memphis

6. Pan American

7. Tennessee Central Number 9

8. The Wreck Of The Old 97

9. I Can't Find A Train

10. Boxcar Willie

11. We Robbed Trains

12. Streamlined Cannonball

13. What Have They Done To The Trains

14. That Glory Bound Train

15. Life's Railway To Heaven

Comments

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Roy was good, but he doesn't compare to Hank.
Report as inappropriate
great writer but Hank will always have the better voice
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Roy Acuff was the King and was a humble classy gentleman. For the younger groups, mountain dew is not the soft drink ...
Report as inappropriate
everyone talks about hank williams jr., they should be talking about Roy. All in opinion i guess.
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How bout tex ritter?
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Ain't got a thing on Hank Sr. - the REAL King of Country
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I grew up listen to him because they listen to him and i still like him to this day
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I remember him when I was Just child. 1950's
Report as inappropriate
I love Acuff, but let's be real--the only reason he is listed as the king is because he was a recording industry yes man. Hank Williams wrote more songs, had a more iconic vocal style and didn't yield to the establishmen t which makes him The King of Country Music.
Report as inappropriate
My great-granda d , Roy Acuff, was a cousin to this famous Roy Acuff. Music is such a huge part of our family heritage and its so great to see him still be appreciated. :)
Report as inappropriate
I wasn't familiar with Roy Acuff until he was featured in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" came out in 1972. After that I was hooked especially with "Pins and Needles(in my heart). I still am.
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He's what countrys all about
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elmojr0
I just love the early country songs
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dcwmoose
only the best.there will never be anoyher like him.
Report as inappropriate
tonyandmary
luv roy and trains. i used to sit as a boy and wonder just where all those trains were goin'
Report as inappropriate
great......
Report as inappropriate
I first heard about Roy Acuff from watching Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Rease broadcasting the game of the week in the 1950's.... Dizzy loved to sing Wabash Cannonball and put a plug in for Roy and his band during slow moments of the game. I just learned from reading the bio information that Roy was a pretty good country ball player himself... and I have loved his music for a long time now.
Report as inappropriate
I was stationed at Fairbanks Alaska in 1949 or 50 when Roy Acuff and his band showed up as a USO show and although I was already a country music fan this group gave me every reason to totally devote all of my listening pleasure to this kind of music, and the antics of the band members was. astounding. H. Metcalf
Report as inappropriate
I listened TO and loved his music most of my life!
Report as inappropriate
Love Roy Acuff

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