Grandpa Jones (born Louis Marshall Jones) (October 20, 1913 – February 19, 1998) was an American banjo player and "old time" country and gospel music singer. He adopted the "Grandpa" stage personality as a young man and pleased audiences throughout the country with his exuberant singing, energetic banjo strumming, and comedic antics. Among his best known hits were "Mountain Dew," "Eight More Miles to Louisville," and "It's Rainin,' Rainin,' Rainin' Here This Morning."
A star of the Grand Ole Opry dating back to the late 1940s, Jones became a regular member of the popular network television show Hee Haw in the 1960s. He is credited as being one of the most important influences in the survival and later popularity of the banjo as an American instrument. A man who humbled his own ego to become everyone's kind old grandfather, he was a rare performer, who lived for the sake of others, and was rewarded for it.
Born in Niagara, Kentucky, Jones and grew up in the factory towns of Ohio and Kentucky. He inherited a love for old-time country music from his father, who was a fiddle player, and his mother who was a ballad singer. He spent his teenage years in Akron, Ohio where he began singing country music tunes on a local radio show, where he billed himself as the "Young Singer of Old Songs." By 1935 his pursuit of a musical career took him to WBZ (AM) radio in Boston, Massachusetts where he met musician/songwriter Bradley Kincaid, who gave him the nickname "Grandpa" due to his off-stage grumpiness at early-morning radio shows. Jones liked the name and decided to create a stage persona based around it. Still a young man in his 20s, it would not be until much later in his career that "Grandpa Jones" finally grew into his old man's stage make-up. His red-suspendered jeans over a plaid flannel shirt, hat with a flipped up rim, spectacles, big boots, and a huge gray mustache constituted his signature stage costume as he bounced up and down and occasionally kicked or stomped his feet while playing.
In the 1930s he went solo and learned the banjo at a time when few performers still used the instrument. He is credited as a major reason for the instrument's survival and continued popularity. He also yodeled, sang old-time ballads and novelty songs, and acted the clown. His boisterous, foot-stomping style was reminiscent of banjo great Uncle Dave Macon, and his warm, whimsical stage presence was a tremendous crowd-pleaser. His self-effacing "Grandpa" persona belied the fact that he was also an top exponent of the frailing style of banjo playing and a more than competent singer as well.
During World War II, he played with Alton and Rabon Delmore and Merle Travis, as the Brown's Ferry Four. By the 1940s, he began receiving national attention with such songs as "Rattler," and "Mountain Dew." After signing with the King record label, he scored a string of hits and gained national attention with "It's Raining Here This Morning," "Eight More Miles to Louisville," "Rattler," and "Mountain Dew." He also married, Ramona Riggins, who also accompanied him on fiddle and mandolin.
Nashville and Beyond
In 1946, Jones moved to Nashville, Tennessee and became part of the Grand Ole Opry. He also toured with such acts as Lonzo & Oscar and the Cowboy Copas. After several years with RCA records, he switched to Decca in 1956, scoring a moderate hit with the talking-blues number, "The All-American Boy" in 1959. He moved to Monument records in 1962 and had a top-ten country hit with "T for Texas," his cover of the classic Jimmie Rodgers "blue yodel" song.
In his later career, beginning in 1968, Jones was one of the most popular cast members of the long-running Hee Haw television show, starring Buck Owens and Roy Clark. He gained wide national exposure through the show, contenting himself for the most part to play the comedian and occasionally playing one of his trademark banjo songs. A running gag on the show was that the window he was pretending to polish had no glass, and Jones would slip his fingers through the empty panes. Jones also joined castmates Owens, Clark, and Kenny Price with a gospel segment at the end of each show.
A resident of rural Ridgetop, Tennessee outside of Nashville, he was a neighbor and friend of fellow banjo player David "Stringbean" Akeman. On the morning of November 11, 1973, Jones discovered the bodies of Akeman and his wife, who had been murdered during the night by robbers.
In 1978 Grandpa Jones was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. His autobiography (with Charles K. Wolfe), Everybody's Grandpa: Fifty Years Behind The Mike was published in 1984.
In January of 1998, he suffered a stroke after his second-show performance at the Grand Ole Opry and died a few weeks later. He is interred in the Luton Memorial Methodist Church cemetery in Nashville.
- Jones, Louis M. "Grandpa" with Charles K. Wolfe. Everybody's Grandpa: Fifty Year Behind The Mike. University of Tennessee Press, 1984. ISBN 9780870494390
- Jones, Mark. Mel Bay Grandpa Jones 5-String Banjo. Mel Bay Publications, Inc., 2003. ISBN 9780786667079
- Wolfe, Charles K. "Grandpa Jones" In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Edited by Paul Kingsbury, pp. 269-270. Oxford University Press USA, 2004. ISBN 9780195176087
All links retrieved July 10, 2017.
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