Wagoner, Porter (Wayne)
Wagoner, Porter (Wayne)
Wagoner, Porter (Wayne) American country singer, guitarist, and songwriter; b. near West Plains, Mo., Aug. 12, 1927. Wagoner was a reliable source of country hits from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, many of them in the maudlin, melodramatic style of his best-known recording, “Green, Green Grass of Home/” This was one of his biggest hits of the period, along with “A Satisfied Mind,” “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry (Tomorrow YouTl Cry),” “Misery Loves Company,” “Skid Row Joe,” and “The Cold Hard Facts of Life.” For 20 years he hosted a syndicated television show that brought Dolly Parton to prominence. He duetted with her on 21 chart hits between 1967 and 1980, including “If Teardrops Were Pennies,” “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me,” and “Making Plans,” while also scoring such solo hits as “The Carroll County Accident” and “Big Wind.”
The son of Charles and Bertha Wagoner grew up on a farm and was forced to take on much of the work early in his life when his father was stricken with arthritis. He picked up the guitar at ten. In 1943 the family lost the farm and moved into West Plains, Mo., where he held a series of menial jobs. On April 29, 1944, he married Velma Johnson, a marriage that lasted only a short time, although it apparently was never officially dissolved. On Jan. 25,1946, he married Ruth Olive Williams, with whom he had three children; they separated in 1966 and divorced in 1986.
In 1950, Wagoner’s employer, a butcher, bought time on the local radio station and had him sing and do advertisements for the store. He became a full-time entertainer when he was hired away by a station in Springfield, Mo., in September 1951. He signed to RCA Victor Records in August 1952 but was initially unable to score on the country charts, though one of his compositions, “Trademark” (music and lyrics by Porter Wagoner and Gary Walker), became a hit for Carl Smith in July 1953. Then, in October 1954, Wagoner himself entered the country charts with “Company’s Coming” which peaked in the Top Ten in January 1955. His next single, “A Satisfied Mind” (music and lyrics by Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes), hit #1 in July, and “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry (Tomorrow You’ll Cry),” entered the charts in December, peaking in the Top Ten in January 1956.
Starting in 1954, Wagoner had been appearing as a regular on the Springfield-based Ozark Jubileetelevision show hosted by Red Foley. In January 1955 the show was picked up for national network broadcast, affording Wagoner much greater exposure; he stayed with it through 1956. That year, he had three country chart entries, including the Top Ten hit “What Would You Do? (If Jesus Came to Your House).” On Feb. 23, 1957, he joined the Grand Ole Opryradio show in Nashville. He had relatively few country chart entries in the late 1950s but bounced back in 1960 after he was hired to host a syndicated television series, The Porter Wagoner Show. He returned to the Top Ten in March 1961 with “Your Old Love Letters” (music and lyrics by Johnny Bond). It was the first of four consecutive country Top Ten hits through the end of 1962, the most successful of which was the chart-topping “Misery Loves Company” (music and lyrics by Jerry Reed) in March 1962.
Wagoner gained his first recognition from NARAS in 1963 when his album The Porter Wagoner Showwas nominated for the Grammy for Best Country & Western Recording. Thereafter, he was cited primarily for his inspirational efforts on which he was accompanied by the Blackwood Brothers: they won the Grammy for Best Sacred Recording, Musical, for Grand Old Gospelin 1966, for Best Gospel Performance for More Grand Old Gospelin 1967, and again in the gospel category for In Gospel Countryin 1969.
Wagoner scored a few more country Top Ten hits in the mid- 1960s—“Sorrow on the Rocks” (music and lyrics by Tony Moon) in 1964; “Green, Green Grass of Home” (music and lyrics by Curly Putnam) in 1965; “Skid Row Joe” (music and lyrics by Freddie Hart) in 1966; and “The Cold Hard Facts of Life” (music and lyrics by Bill Anderson) in 1967 (the last earning him Grammy nominations for Best Country & Western Recording and Best Country & Western Solo Vocal Performance, Male)—but his career really took off in September 1967 when Dolly Parton replaced Norma Jean as the female singer on his TV show and on his tours. Their duet recording, “The Last Thing on My Mind” (music and lyrics by Tom Paxton), peaked in the country Top Ten in February 1968, and they had three more country chart entries during the year, two of which made the Top Ten.
On his own, Wagoner returned to the country Top Ten at the end of 1968 with “The Carroll County Accident” (music and lyrics by Bob Ferguson), which earned him another Grammy nomination for Best Country Solo Vocal Performance, Male. He had five more songs in the country charts during 1969, three in the Top Ten—“Yours Love” and “Just Someone I Used to Know” (music and lyrics by Jack Clement) with Parton and “Big Wind” (music and lyrics by George McCormick, Wayne Walker, and Alex Zanetis) solo—which was enough to make him the most successful recording artist in country music that year.
The Wagoner-Parton partnership lasted another five years, and they scored six country Top Ten hits together, the most successful of which was “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me” (music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner), which hit #1 in October 1974. “Daddy Was an Old Time Preacher Man” (1970), “Better Move It on Home” (1971), and “If Teardrops Were Pennies” (music and lyrics by Carl Butler), each of which reached the country Top Ten, earned Grammy nominations for Best Country Vocal Performance, Duo or Group. During this period Wagoner scored one major hit on his own, “What Ain’t to Be, Just Might Happen” (music and lyrics by Porter Wagoner), which peaked in the country Top Ten in April 1972. Meanwhile, his television show was being broadcast by upwards of a hundred stations.
Parton left Wagoner in 1974, although the partnership produced three more Top Ten country hits, “Say Forever You’ll Be Mine” (music and lyrics by Dolly Parton) and “Is Forever Longer Than Always” (music and lyrics by Porter Wagoner and F. Dycus) in 1975 and, after a financial settlement, “Making Plans” (music and lyrics by Voni Morrison and Johnny Russell) in 1980.
Wagoner performed less frequently after the mid-1970s but continued to reach the country charts through 1980, when he left RCA. In 1981 his television series came to an end after 20 years. He signed to Warner Bros. Records, for whom he recorded a couple of more country chart entries, and appeared in the 1982 film Honky Tonk Man. He was less active in the 1980s, but by the early 1990s he had become a fixture at the Grand Ole Opry,at the theme park Opryland, and on the country-music cable-TV network TNN, cohosting the show Opry Backstagewith Bill Anderson.
The Thin Man from West Plains (ree. 1951-60s); Essential (ree. 1950s-70s; rei. 1997).
S. Eng, A Satisfied Mind: The Country Music Life of P. W.(Nashville, 1992).
— William Ruhlmann