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Porter Wayne Wagoner (August 12, 1927–October 28, 2007) was a popular Americanmarker country music singer known for his flashy Nudie and Manuel suits and blond pompadour. He introduced a young Dolly Parton on his long-running television show, and they were a well-known duet team throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. Known as Mr. Grand Ole Oprymarker, Wagoner charted 81 singles; and is a member of the Country Music Hall of Famemarker.

Early career

Wagoner's first band, The Blue Ridge Boys, performed on radio station KWPM-AM from a butcher shop in his native West Plains, Missourimarker where Wagoner cut meat. His big break came in 1951, when he was hired by Si Siman as a performer on KWTO-AMmarker in Springfield, Missourimarker. This led to a contract with RCA Records.

With lagging sales, Wagoner and his trio played schoolhouses for the gate proceeds; but in 1953, his song "Trademark" became a hit for Carl Smith, followed by a few hits of his own on RCA. Starting in 1955 he was a featured performer on ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri. Don Warden joined the Wagonmasters on steel guitar and became Wagoner's long time business manager He moved to Nashville, Tennesseemarker, joining the Grand Ole Opry in 1957.

Chart success

Wagoner's 81 charted records include "A Satisfied Mind" (#1, 1955), “Misery Loves Company” (#1, 1962), “I've Enjoyed As Much of This As I Can Stand” (#7, 1962–1963), “Sorrow on the Rocks” (#5, 1964), “Green Green Grass of Home” (#4, 1965), “Skid Row Joe” (#3, 1965–1966), “The Cold Hard Facts of Life” (#2, 1967), and “The Carroll Countymarker Accident” (#2, 1968–1969). Among his hit duets with Dolly Parton were a cover of Tom Paxton's "The Last Thing on My Mind" (1967), "We'll Get Ahead Someday" (1968), "Just Someone I Used To Know" (1969), "Better Move it on Home" (1971), "The Right Combination" (1972), "Please Don't Stop Loving Me" (#1, 1974) and "Making Plans" (#2, 1980). He also won three Grammy Awards for gospel recordings.

Television show

His syndicated television program, The Porter Wagoner Show, aired from 1960 to 1981. There were 686 30-minute episodes taped; the first 104 in black and white and the remainder in color. At its peak, it was featured in over 100 markets, with an average viewership of over three million. Reruns of the program currently air on the rural cable network RFD-TV.

The shows usually featured opening performances by Wagoner with performances by Norma Jean, or later Parton, and comedic interludes by Rhodes. During Parton's tenure, she and Wagoner usually sang a duet (Wagoner did not duet with Norma Jean). Each episode also featured a guest who would usually perform one or two songs. A spiritual or gospel performance was almost always featured toward the end of the show; generally performed by either Wagoner or Parton, or the show's guest star, or occasionally the entire cast.

The shows had a friendly, informal feel, with Wagoner trading jokes with band members (frequently during songs) and exchanging banter with Parton and Howser. During their duets, Parton and Wagoner both frequently changed lyrics on one another try throw the other off course. Parton wrote the song "I Will Always Love You" after Wagoner suggested she shift from story songs to focus on love songs.

Wagoner's stage alter ego was Skid Row Joe. The cast included:

  • Singer Norma Jean 1960-1967
  • Singer Dolly Parton 1967-1974
  • Singer Mel Tillis
  • Comedian/stand-up bass Curly Harris 1960-Mid 1960's
  • Comedian/stand-up bass Speck Rhodes Mid 1960's onward
  • Announcer Don Howser
  • The house band, The Wagonmasters:
Benny Williams on guitar
Buck Trent on banjo and guitar
George McCormick on rhythm guitar
Don Warden on steel guitar
"Little" Jack Little on drums
Mack Magaha on fiddle
Michael Treadwell on bass
Ray Downs on rhythm guitar and vocal

After 1974:
Fred Newell on banjo/guitar/mandolin
Dave Kirby on guitar
Stu Basor on steel guitar/dobro
Bobby Dyson on bass
Jerry Carey on drums
Mack Magaha on fiddle
Linda Carol Moore vocals

Later career

Wagoner brought James Brown to the Grand Ole Oprymarker, produced a rhythm & blues album for Joe Simon, and appeared in the Clint Eastwood film Honkytonk Man. During the mid-1980s, Wagoner formed an all-girl group, The Right Combination, named after one of his hit records with Parton. He also hosted Opry Backstage during the 1990s on The Nashville Network. Though Parton's departure caused some animosity on both sides, the two reconciled in the late 1980s and appeared together a number of times in the following years; Parton inducted Wagoner into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002.

Wagoner made a guest appearance on the HBO comedy series Da Ali G Show in 2004, its second season being interviewed by Borat Sagdiyev.

On July 14, 2006, he underwent surgery for an abdominal aneurysm.

Wagoner was honored on May 19, 2007 at the Grand Ole Opry for both his fifty years of membership and his 80th birthday. It was telecast on GAC's Grand Ole Opry Live that day with artists such as Parton, Stuart and Patty Loveless. Grand Ole Opry Live host Nan Kelley was part of the birthday celebration as well.

On June 5, 2007, Wagoner released his final album called Wagonmaster. The album was produced by Marty Stuart for the Anti- label. This album received the best reviews of Wagoner's career and briefly charted on the country charts. He also toured during the summer of 2007 to promote the album. One of these was to open for the rock group The White Stripes at a sold-out concert at Madison Square Gardenmarker in New York Citymarker.


Wagoner was married twice, to Velma Johnson for less than a year in 1943, and then to Ruth Olive Williams from 1946 to 1986, though they separated 20 years before the divorce. He was survived by his three children, Richard, Denise and Debra.


Until his illness and death, Wagoner appeared regularly on the Grand Ole Opry and toured actively. He died from lung cancer in Nashville on October 28, 2007.

Wagoner's funeral was held November 1, 2007 at the Grand Ole Opry House. He is buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Nashville.

Dolly Parton performed a concert at her Tennesseemarker theme park, Dollywoodmarker, in his memory after his death.

Porter Wagoner Boulevard in his native West Plains, Missouri is named in his honor.



Year Award Awards Notes
2002 Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Famemarker Country Music Hall of Famemarker
1998 Living Legend TNN/Music City News
1971 Vocal Duo of the Year CMA with Dolly Parton
1970 Vocal Duo of the Year CMA with Dolly Parton
1970 Vocal Duet of the Year Music City News Country with Dolly Parton
1969 Vocal Duet of the Year Music City News Country with Dolly Parton
1969 Best Gospel Performance Grammy
1968 Vocal Duet of the Year Music City News Country with Dolly Parton
1968 Vocal Group of the Year CMA with Dolly Parton
1967 Best Gospel Performance Grammy
1966 Best Sacred Recording Grammy


  1. Washington Post article
  2. Eng, Steve. (1998). "Porter Wagoner". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 565-6.
  4. Country music singer Porter Wagoner diagnosed with lung cancer - International Herald Tribune
  5. "Country Music Hall of Fame Member Porter Wagoner Dies" from, October 28, 2007.

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