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With his knee-high boots, wire-rimmed eyeglasses
suspenders, Jones has entertained millions of fans
throughout the U.S. and abroad since his radio debut in
1929. Noted country music scholar Charles K. Wolfe
wrote in his 1982 book Kentucky Country, "Grandpa's
career shows that it is possible to be a major influence
on country music and never have a million seller. In
many ways, Grandpa's career has paralleled the growth
of country music and mirrored its changes and moods."
Grandpa was born Louis Marshall Jones on October
20, 1913, in Niagra, Kentucky. The youngest of ten
children, both of Jones' parents were musically
inclined. His father was a fine old-time fiddler, and his
mother sang and played the concertina. Throughout his
recording career, which began in 1944, Jones cut many
of the old sentimental songs he had learned from his
Jones' brother, Aubrey, bought him a 75 cent
and the young boy set about the task of learning the
instrument. Young Louis spent countless hours
wood-shedding on the old guitar, and by age 11, he
was sitting in with the band at local dances. In the late
'20s, Jones fell under the spell of country music's first
bona fide recording star, Jimmie Rodgers, and he'd
often slip off by himself to practice his singing and
While a student at West High School
Ohio, Jones won a talent contest with a performance of a pair of
Rodgers' songs. The grand prize was fifty dollars in gold pieces,
which Jones promptly used to purchase a Gibson guitar -- his first
good instrument. The talent contest also landed him a local radio spot.
Performing over WJW in Akron, Jones was dubbed
"The Young Singer of Old Songs." A year after his
radio debut, Jones teamed up with comedian and
harmonica player Joe Troyan, and the duo soon joined
the house band of the popular Lum and Abner Show,
beamed out of Cleveland. When that program moved
its base of operation to Chicago, Jones and Troyan
moved on to Boston, where they worked with Bradley
Working with Kentucky native Kincaid was a
era in Jones' career and musical education. Then at the
height of his popularity, Kincaid's radio show garnered
wide exposure throughout the Eastern U.S. for the
young musician. Jones learned much at the hand of
Kincaid, who was a seasoned performer -- stage
techniques, repertoire and general music business
fundamentals. It was also Kincaid who gave Jones his
now-signature boots and bestowed the stage name of
Grandpa on Jones at age 22. (He was so named
Grandpa because he sounded like a grouchy old man
on their early morning radio shows.) With the help of a
friend, Jones further developed his Grandpa character
by adding the wire-rimmed specs, fake moustache and
painting lines on his face.
In 1937 Jones published his first song, "An
the Maple on the Hill," for the M.M. Cole Company
out of New York. Grandpa would go on to write
numerous songs during his career including "Eight
More Miles to Louisville," which is now a staple in the
bluegrass canon. After his tenure with Kincaid, Jones
moved around from station to station, with stops in
Charleston, Fairmont and the highly popular WWVA
Jamboree in Wheeling, West Virginia. During this time,
Jones picked up the banjo and began to develop his
now-popular frailing style. A student of the late Cousin
Emmy (born Cynthia May Carver), who was also a
Kentucky native, Jones would not play banjo regularly
until the 1940s.
Cincinnati, Ohio, was Grandpa's next stop
1942 -- and it proved to be an extremely
important one for the young entertainer. In
addition to developing life-long friendships with
legendary entertainers Merle Travis and the
Delmore Brothers, it was here that Jones began his
commercial recording career. Above all else, however,
it was in Cincinnati that Jones met his musical partner
and the love of his life, young fiddler and mandolin
player Ramona Riggins.
Settled in at WLW's Boone County Jamboree,
made his recording debut for Syd Nathan's King
Records. "It's Raining Here This Morning,"
accompanied by Merle Travis on electric guitar, was
released under the pseudonym the Shepard Brothers.
That disc also marked the first release on Nathan's
label, which would blossom into the most important
independent country label of the 1950s.
World War II soon beckoned Jones and he was
eventually stationed in Germany. While serving in the
U.S. Army, he formed a group called the Munich
Mountaineers, which broadcast a morning program
over the Armed Forces Network in 1945.
Having completed his Army hitch, Jones
returned to Cincinnati in 1946 and set about to
re-establish his career. Achieving a fair amount
of success with his first record, Jones resumed
his recording activity. He released several fine
gospel efforts as a member of the Brown's
Ferry Four, which also included Travis and the
Delmores, and he recorded several popular
numbers including "Eight More Miles to Louisville"
and "East Bound Freight Train." Sales were brisk
on these titles and garnered Jones national attention.
In 1947, he was called up to the big leagues -- the
Grand Ole Opry invited him to join its cast.
Jones accepted the invitation, and shortly
move to Nashville, he and Ramona were married.
The following year Grandpa recorded two of his
most popular numbers for King , "Old Rattler" and
"Mountain Dew." These two songs marked Jones'
recording debut accompanying himself on the banjo,
thus prompting a stylistic change from mainstream
country to older, more roots-oriented music. Ramona,
who had a deep love and appreciation for traditional
music, encouraged Grandpa's change in direction. Until
his death, he remained a solid supporter of traditional
music and worked the folk music circuit.
At the invitation of country music promoter
jockey Connie B. Gay, Grandpa and Ramona left
Nashville for WARL Radio in Arlington, Virginia. From
there Jones traveled to Richmond, where he was a
headliner on the Old Dominion Barn Dance, but by
1952 he returned to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry.
During the late 1950s, Jones switched record labels
often, first signing with RCA, then Decca, where he
scored a Top 25 single with "All American Boy." Jones
pulled up stakes for a second stint for Gay (this time he
was hosting a television program) before returning to
Nashville permanently in 1959.
In 1963 he enjoyed his first and only Top
with a cover of Jimmie Rodgers' "T for Texas" for
Fred Foster's Monument Label. When casting was
done in 1968 for CBS' network country comedy
program, Hee Haw, Grandpa was among those enlisted
for the show. During that show's lengthy run, Jones
was a key member of the cast, be it performing
comedy skits with Minnie Pearl, singing in the Hee
Haw Gospel Quartet, or playing his distinctive style of
country music on his beloved banjo. Hee Haw also
introduced the nation to Grandpa's "what's for supper"
In 1978 Jones was awarded the highest accolade
country music industry -- induction into the Country
Music Hall of Fame. In 1984, he penned his autobiography,
Everybody's Grandpa (with Charles K. Wolfe) for the
University of Tennessee Press and continued to make
personal appearances. In recent years, Jones continued
to work the road and appear on the Grand Ole Opry,
and record on a limited basis.
Jones is survived by Ramona, his wife of more
years, three children, Mark, Eloise and Alisa and a
number of grandchildren. A daughter, Marsha,
preceded him in death. In lieu of flowers, the family
has requested that contributions be made to the Grand
Ole Opry Trust Fund, 2804 Opryland Drive, Nashville,
Visitation for Grandpa Jones will be held
February 22, and Monday, February 23, from 3-9 p.m.
CT at Cole and Garrett Funeral Home in
Goodlettsville, Tennessee. His funeral will be held
Tuesday, February 24, at 1 p.m CT at the Grand Ole
Opry and is open to the public.
The staff of country.com
wishes to extend its
sympathies to Grandpa's family and his Grand Ole
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Grandpa Jones reached the end his life probably in the way that he would
have wanted it, having made his last performance on the Grand Ole Opry.
It was after his performance on January 3, at the Opry, when he was
rushed to Nashville's Baptist Hospital. Where it was determined he had,
had a stroke. Jones remained in intensive care for several weeks, and just
last week was taken to a long term care facility. His family and some
friends where with him when he died.
Born Louis Marshall Jones in 1913 he earned his nickname at a Boston
radio station because of his thick eyebrows and older sounding voice, he
was 22 then. In 1947 Jones became a Grand Ole Opry member after
having served in the Armed Forces during the war.
In 1969 Jones joined the cast of the now infamous Hee
Haw television show. In 1978 Jones was inducted into
the Country Music Hall of Fame. Some of his hit songs
include "Old Rattler," "Good Ole Mountain Dew," and
his version of the Lonzo and Oscar hit "I'm My Own
For generations Grandpa Jones has been given younger Opry stars his
wisdom and guidance. He never ran out of energy when it came down to
As Opry spokesperson Jerry Strobel said, "Grandpa
Jones was a pillar of the Grand Ole Opry and he was
certainly a credit to the Opry, to country music and to the
Country Music Hall of Fame."
Grandpa Jones is survived by his wife Ramona, his two
daughters, Eloise and Alisa, and his son, Mark. Funeral arrangements have
not yet been finalized.
Nearly 2000 friends, family and extended family
came to the Grand Ole Opry house yesterday for a
final tribute to the man they called Grandpa
Louis Marshall Jones was better known to friends and fans as Grandpa
Jones, and yesterday through songs and jokes he was laid to rest. His
career ended just a mere month ago at the Grand Ole Opry, when after the
first show on a Saturday night he exited the stage to tell all that something
was wrong. He was rushed to the hospital, diagnosed with having a stroke,
Grandpa died late last Thursday.
Marty Stuart and Ricky Skaggs paid musical tributes to
Grandpa. Gary Chapman read scripture and reflected on
what Grandpa had ment to country music and him.
"Grandpa always knew how to make funny out of
anything." Chapman said.
"To your grave there's no use taking any
gold, you cannot use it when it's time for
hands to fold. When you leave this earth for a
better home someday. The only thing you
take is what you gave away.
Marty Stuart said, "Grandpa was a man of the Earth." Sam Lovuilo,
time friend and producer of Hee Haw, told us how Grandpa was an
inspiration to the entire staff, crew and artists on the show. How he guided
an L.A. producer through the world of country music. The staff and crew
members of the show paid a special final salute to Grandpa.
Garth Brooks who attended the service said that the passing of Grandpa
Jones and other Grand Ole Opry legends has left a void in country music.
Brooks feels that today's country music artists are going to have to work
that much harder to fill the hole, and if they don't . Americana will slip away.
Grandpa Jones was laid to rest in a small rural cemetary near his home
February 20, 1998
Web posted at: 12:17 p.m. EST (1717 GMT)
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) --
Grandpa Jones, whose banjo playing, brightly colored suspenders
and mischievous grin made him a country music favorite and a
"Hee Haw" regular for more than two decades, died Thursday
evening. He was 84.
Jones died at about 7 p.m. at McKendree Village Home Health
center in Hermitage of complications from a series of strokes, said
Grand Ole Opry spokesman Jerry Stroble.
Jones suffered his first stroke in 1991, but came back to perform
on the Opry. He was debilitated by a series of strokes after an
Opry performance in January, and was placed in McKendree on
'A remarkable talent'
"One of the pleasures of my life was knowing and working with
Grandpa Jones," said Bob Whittaker, president of the Opry.
"Grandpa was one of the pillars of country music."
Singer Roy Clark called Jones "a remarkable talent."
Jones, born Louis Marshall Jones, was best known for his banjo
playing, singing and comedy on the syndicated TV show "Hee
Haw," which ran from 1968 to 1993.
In his most famous segment, cast members would ask in unison,
"Hey Grandpa, what's for supper?" Jones would respond
exuberantly with a lip-smacking menu of country food:
"Corn bread and gravy. Candied yams. Butter beans. Blueberry
cobbler. The more to eat, the more to spare."
He said in a 1990 Associated Press interview that he was not sure
how the "what's for supper?" routine began. But it became part of
"When I go out on personal appearances, they holler that from the
audience all the time. I have to have an answer quick."
His outfit never changed down through the years: the suspenders,
battered gray hat and brown western boots.
On the "Hee Haw" set, when Jones was off camera he often sat off
stage, trading quips and spinning yarns with fellow entertainers.
Got the name 'Grandpa' at age 22
He picked up the nickname "Grandpa" when he was 22 and he
disguised himself as an old-timer during a performance. A
colleague said offhandedly, "get up here to the mike; you're just
like an old grandpa."
Jones was born Oct. 20, 1913, in Henderson County, Kentucky,
the youngest of 10 children. He began playing mandolin and fiddle
as a youngster, and also learned to play a 75-cent guitar.
He spent his early years as an entertainer in Wheeling, West
Virginia and Cincinnati. He began singing on the Grand Ole Opry
Among his hit songs were "Old Rattler," "Eight More Miles to
Louisville," "Mountain Dew," "Old Rattler's Pup" and "Tragic
He once said his proudest moment was entertaining American
troops in Korea in 1951 on a flatbed truck in rice paddies.
"We went as far as they'd let us go," he said. "It was rewarding to
see the boys who had not seen anybody from the United States for
nine months at least."
He performed at such diverse venues as Carnegie Hall, the
Hollywood Bowl, various state fairs and the Smithsonian
Jones was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1978.