“I stand in awe of Porter Wagoner. I think of him as a visionary.”
Porter Wagoner is one of the true legends of country music, selling millions of albums, packing concert venues, and staying true to his humble roots. He started his career by playing guitar for anybody that would listen and built a following of millions that watched his every move. His career has taken him from grocery store performances to the Grand Ole Opry to the New York Stock Exchange.
THE EARLY YEARS
Porter Wagoner was born on August 12, 1927, and grew up around the southern border of Missouri near West Plains. He taught himself to play guitar by listening to the radio and mimicking the songs he heard. He became an accomplished musician by the time he was out of high school, but there were few opportunities to showcase his talent in the Ozarks. That’s when he turned his attention to getting a “real” job to pay the bills.
He got married when he was nineteen, and soon after his marriage, he formed a band called the Blue Ridge Boys. They played small venues across southern Missouri but made very little money. To supplement his income, he worked at a grocery store. It was at this store that Wagoner got his music on the radio. To draw people into the store, the owner convinced local radio station KWPM to broadcast their morning show from the butcher block while Porter cut meat, and
music, for customers.
RISE TO FAME
Soon after the success of the show in the grocery store, Springfield radio station KWTO hired the twenty-four-year-old entertainer to appear on their airwaves. His time in Springfield was shorter than anyone expected as he was soon thereafter signed to a contract with RCA Records.
After signing the record contract, Wagoner quickly made an impact on country music. The same year he joined RCA, he had his first No. 1 song, “A Satisfied Mind,” which meant he had to move his growing family to the Country Music Capital of the World, Nashville.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
In the mid- and late-1950s, Wagoner was a bona fide star, and TV executives were looking for ways to capitalize on his popularity. He hosted the Porter Wagoner Show in 1960, which aired for the next twenty-one years and encompassed nearly seven hundred episodes. The show was broadcast to millions of viewers each week, which also helped increase album sales.
Wagoner was getting more popular than ever, and the awards rolled in. He had several Grammys and numerous top ten hits. Dolly Parton was added to his show in 1967 to expand its popularity. The duo went on to record more than a dozen top ten hits, including “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me,” which peaked at No. 1 in 1975.
Because of his popularity, Wagoner became the unofficial spokesperson for the Grand Ole Opry, while also acting as an Opryland tourist ambassador in the 1990s. He was immortalized in 2002 when he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and honored again in 2006 for fifty years of service to the Grand Ole Opry. He continued making music into his eighties with Wagonmaster released shortly before his death in 2007, climbing all the way to No. 63 on the album charts. He died of lung cancer in Nashville in October of 2007 with a memorial held at the Grand Ole Opry.
*Wagoner rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange while representing Gaylord Entertainment, the parent company of the Grand Ole Opry.
*He appeared in the Clint Eastwood film Honkytonk Man.
*Wagoner and Parton were named the Country Music Association’s Duo of the Year for three years in a row.
*One of the main highways through West Plains is named Porter Wagoner Boulevard.