Grandpa Jones – The Banjo Am The Instrument For Me
Published on Jul 19, 2014
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. 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.