“How do you get to the Grand Ol’ Opry?”

with Crystal Gayle after our show with her in Lancaster, PA at the American Music Theatre (Sep. 18, 2008)
Me with Crystal Gayle after our show with her in Lancaster, PA at the American Music Theatre (September 18, 2008)

Practice, practice, practice?

That’s one way.

Two years today it was just part of my regular gig.  I mentioned the other day that one of the search phrases that brought someone to this blog was “don helms” who was the steel guitarist of the Drifting Cowboys, who were the back-up band for Hank Williams Sr.  I mentioned that I played a tribute show in Nashville after his passing–the tribute show happened two years ago tomorrow (March 8, 2009).

So what’s a classically-trained/world/experimental cellist doing at the what is otherwise known as the “Carnegie Hall of Country Music” (hence the joke in the blog post title)?

Well, a little over a year before the weekend referred to above I started playing in the back-up band of another Country Music legend, Ray Price.  He’s a multi-Grammy award winner with a group called the Cherokee Cowboys named in honer of the Drifting Cowboys and Hank Williams Sr. since the Chief (That’s what we called Mr. Price) was with Williams in the last year or so of his life.  After Hank Williams Sr.’s death, he took over the band and called them the Cherokee Cowboys.

Some former members of this band were Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Darrell McCall, Johnny Paycheck, Bobby Flores and Johnny Bush (amongst many others).  This was the band I was a member of (so yeah, it’s kinda cool to say I played in the same band that Willie Nelson played in!).

How did I get there?  That was due to my brother, Joe.

In January (12th) 2008, Ray Price was playing his birthday celebration show at the Caldwell Auditorium in Tyler Texas.  It was supposed to be a bit of a big event so many of the strings from the local symphony were to accompany and back up the band and the Chief.  My brother asked if I could come play and after a 12 hour drive to Texas, I got changed into my suit, ate lunch and basically sight-read the music for the show.

The rest, as they say, was history.

So, the Grand Ole Opry – Splendid venue, state of the art and a stage crew that really knows their trade!  But what many people don’t realize is that the Grand Ole Opry is actually three venues: the Ryman Auditorium (the former and original Grand Ole Opry), the Acuff Theatre (smaller veune right next door to the big one) and the current Grand Ole Opry proper.

I’ve played all three!

Here’s a collage of our show at the Ryman Auditorium from April 30, 2008:

As you can see we had a few extra players including a full winds/brass section.

And a video shoot we did at the Acuff Theatre in 2009–of course I’m sitting behind all the violins/viola (Joe is on the far right):

In October of 2008 while I was on the road, my mother was diagnosed with Leukemia and I decided I needed to not be on the road so that I could take care of her.  So I was on hiatus until she went into remission later the next year.  The Grand Ole Opry show (and the Don Helms tribute) were the first shows I had done with the crew since October–though my mother was still finishing up her chemotherapy, she came down with me to the shows.  It was pretty much the start of having her at nearly all my shows since, which I don’t mind a bit.  I had only done these two as they were relatively close (Nashville is about three hours drive from Louisville).

Since I had no idea how long my mother would be down, most of the gigs I took were local and so I booked myself pretty full till the end of 2009 which left me next to no room to tour even when my she was in remission.  It wasn’t until January of 2010 that I was ale to get on the road again–hitting Odessa and Stafford in Texas, and Newberry, SC and Weirsdale, FL.  I was already booked pretty heavily into 2010 as well, so wasn’t planning on getting back on regularly until after the Canada tour the Chief did in June.

Those would be the last shows I played with Joe.  As some of you know, Joe passed away last August 5 (7 months from this past Saturday).  It’s still strange not having him here.  I set-up a tribute page for Joe at the following URL: http://www.clemjoe.com/

I haven’t played with the group since January of last year, but I still remember the experiences fondly–mostly because during that period I was able to spend more time with my brother than I had since we were in Music school together.  I love you and miss you, Joe.


6 thoughts on ““How do you get to the Grand Ol’ Opry?”

  1. saw your brother in wisconsin,with ray price,also went to nashville,for memorial,meet your family too,we went with carl& peg heinz,face book friends of your brother,


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