Biography All Music GuideWikipedia
All Music Guide:
Louis Marshall "Grandpa" Jones was one person who aged right into his makeup. Like his real appearance, however, his actual background and role in country music were deceptive and more complex than they seem. Beginning in the 1920s, he began attracting attention with his boisterous performing style, old-time banjo performing, and powerful singing, and by the 1940s, with hits like "Rattler" and "Mountain Dew," he began receiving national attention. He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1946 and remained there throughout his career; in the 1960s, with hits like "T for Texas," he continued making a place for himself on the country charts, and as a regular on Hee Haw since its inception in 1969, he became a television celebrity. But Jones' influence went much further than that chain of successes would indicate -- he was almost single-handedly responsible for keeping the banjo alive as a country music instrument during the 1930s and 1940s, and in addition to his own work and songs, he was an important associate and collaborator of Merle Travis.
Jones was born in Niagra, KY, and grew up not in the mountains or the countryside, as one would think from his music, but in industrial Ohio and Kentucky, living in factory towns. His father was a fiddle player, and his mother was a ballad singer. He listened to a lot of radio growing up, especially the National Barn Dance out of Chicago, and his strongest influences included old-time country music and gospel songs as well as the music of Jimmie Rodgers, which led him to begin yodeling. He'd made it onto the radio himself by 1929 at the age of 18 as the Young Singer of Old Songs. Later on he moved to Chicago, teamed with Bashful Harmonica Joe, and appeared on the Lum and Abner show. During the mid-'30s, he started working with Bradley Kincaid, the man who gave Jones the "Grandpa" name, a result of his grouchy moods during their early-morning radio broadcasts -- Jones thought the name worked and adopted makeup to match. Coupled with his skills as a comedian and raconteur, the image was a natural. It was with Kincaid that Jones' career moved to Boston, where their brand of country music proved extremely popular among rural New Englanders.
As a solo act later in the 1930s, Jones had radio shows on numerous stations from West Virginia and Connecticut to Cincinnati, where he sang folk ballads and more old-time country ballads as well as gospel songs. He also learned to play the banjo and made it an integral part of his act at a time when the instrument had all but vanished from country music; it was the combination of Jones' old-time repertory and humor that helped to keep the banjo alive as a viable, popular country instrument. Jones later hooked up with Alton and Rabon Delmore and Merle Travis, and played with them throughout World War II as Brown's Ferry Four. He and Travis also became the first artists to record for the newly founded King label, under the name of the Shepherd Brothers. Jones' own earliest solo records were also done for King during this period, among them "It's Raining Here This Morning," "Eight More Miles to Louisville," "Rattler," and "Mountain Dew."
Those singles brought Grandpa Jones to national attention, and he was poised for the next step in his career, a move to Nashville. Before that, however, he married Ramona Riggins, who became not only his wife but his accompanist on fiddle and mandolin. In 1946, he began playing on the Grand Ole Opry and touring with acts such as Lonzo & Oscar and Cowboy Copas. He didn't stay in Nashville too long at first, moving to Lorton, VA, and a radio show in Arlington, and later on the Old Dominion Barn Dance in Richmond. Finally, he returned to Nashville as a regular member of the Opry. Jones recorded with King Records from 1945 until 1952, when he moved to RCA Victor, where he remained for four years, recording both traditional-sounding country and topical songs ("I'm No Communist").
In 1956, he began a six-year stint on Decca Records, recording a total of 16 songs including the talking-blues country hit "The All-American Boy" in 1959. Jones moved to Fred Foster's Monument Records in 1962 and had a Top Five country hit the following year with "T for Texas." His career during the 1960s continued uninterrupted, and in 1969 he joined the cast of the new country music/comedy showcase Hee Haw, which gave him unprecedented national exposure for the next two decades. By 1978, he'd been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and, by that time, was taking on the real-life role of elder statesman within the community. He continued recording into the 1980s, although his music is somewhat under-represented today on compact disc, apart from the Monument and Decca sides. In 1984, Jones published his autobiography, Everybody's Grandpa. He died February 19, 1998.
Louis Marshall Jones (October 20, 1913 – February 19, 1998), known professionally as Grandpa Jones, was an American banjo player and "old time" country and gospel music singer. He is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Born in the farming community of Niagara in Henderson County, Kentucky, Jones spent his teenage years in Akron, Ohio, where he began singing country music tunes on a radio show on WJW. In 1931, Jones joined the Pine Ridge String Band, which provided the musical accompaniment for the very popular Lum and Abner show. 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" because of his off-stage grumpiness at early-morning radio shows. Jones liked the name and decided to create a stage persona based around it. Later in life, he lived in Mountain View, Arkansas.
Performing as Grandpa Jones, he played the guitar, yodeled, and sang mostly old-time ballads. By 1937, Jones had made his way to West Virginia, where Cousin Emmy taught Jones the art of the clawhammer style of banjo playing, which gave a rough backwoods flavor to his performances. In 1942, Jones joined WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was there that he met fellow Kentuckian Merle Travis. In 1943, the pair made their recording debuts together for Syd Nathan's upstart King Records. Jones was making records under his own name for King by 1944 and had his first hit with "It's Raining Here This Morning". His recording career was briefly put on hold when he enlisted in the Army. Upon his discharge in 1946, he was back recording for King. In March 1946, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee and started performing on the Grand Ole Opry. He also married Ramona Riggins on October 14, 1946. Ramona would not only remain his wife for the rest of his life, but, as an accomplished performer herself, would also be a part of his performances. Jones' vaudevillian humor was a bridge to television entertainment. Some of his more famous songs include, "T For Texas", "Are You From Dixie", "Night Train To Memphis" and "Mountain Dew". He also wrote the song "Eight More Miles To Louisville".
In 1969, Jones became a charter cast member on the long-running television show Hee Haw, often responding to the show's skits with his trademark phrase "Outrageous". He also played banjo, either by himself or with fellow banjo player David "Stringbean" Akeman. Another musical segment featured in the early years of Hee Haw had Grandpa and "His lovely wife, Ramona" accompanying a song while ringing bells held in their hands and on Grandpa's feet. A favorite skit had off-camera cast members asking "Hey Grandpa, what's for supper?", to which he would describe either a delicious, country-style meal ("Buttermilk biscuits smothered in chicken gravy, home-fried potatoes, collard greens and Grandmother's fresh-baked blueberry pie à la mode!" and the cast would reply, "Yum, yum!"); or, occasionally, he would tell about something not so good, ("Because you were bad, thawed out TV dinners!" at which the cast would scoff, "Yuck!"); on one occasion, he said "I ain't got nothing", he was booed. A running gag was that the window he pretended to polish had no glass, and Jones would slip his fingers through the empty frame. He also joined cast mates Buck Owens, Roy Clark and Kenny Price in a gospel segment at the end of some shows.
A resident of rural Ridgetop, Tennessee outside of Nashville, he was a neighbor and friend of fellow musician 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. Jones later testified at the trial of the killers and his testimony helped to secure a conviction. He identified a gun found in their possession as one he had given to Akeman as a gift.
In 1978, Jones was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. His autobiography, Everybody's Grandpa: Fifty Years Behind The Mike was published in 1984 (written with assistance from Charles K. Wolfe).
In January 1998, Jones suffered two strokes after his second show performance at the Grand Ole Opry. He died at 7:00 p.m. Central Time on February 19, 1998 at McKendree village Home Health Center in Hermitage, TN, aged 84. Jones was buried in the Luton Memorial Methodist Church cemetery in Goodlettsville, TN.