Sunday, January 4, 2015

Little Jimmy Dickens: 1920-2015

As those of you that are fans of classic country music or those that follow the Grand Ole Opry you no doubt have heard the news of Little Jimmy Dickens passing away at the age of 94 a couple of days ago (January 2). I've known of Little Jimmy Dickens for as long as I can remember...and I remember a lot of entertaining Opry segments throughout the 1990s and beyond that Dickens hosted. I'd estimate it being the mid 1980's as the time I first heard of Little Jimmy Dickens.

My grandparent's had attended one of his concerts at a local county fair and had told me about it...then I seen him on an episode of a country music program. His death marks the ending of an era at the Grand Ole Opry, too.

He had been the last surviving link to some historical performances and events that took place in the Opry's history post-1945 (having joined in 1948). Among members of the Opry, specifically those artists in the generation immediately following Dickens, include only Jean Sheppard (she's the only member currently on the roster that arrived in the 1950s). Jeannie Seely, Bill Anderson, Jim Ed Brown, and Connie Smith make up the next generation of Opry performers (artists that had their first major impact in the 1960s).

One of the funniest phrases that he liked to use before performing a ballad was something like this: "Thank ya, thank ya very much ladies and gentleman, we're gonna do this number for ya right now...I know you all haven't heard this...it happened to be the flip-side of a flop record...". If a woman happened to be snapping pictures he'd often tell the audience that there's no need to take any pictures of him...he'd be glad to sit on their night-stands in person. The joke that seemed to always get the loudest laughs is the one he'd tell about the whisper.

Little Jimmy's Opry membership comes with an asterisk...having 2 separate runs. There's the first run, lasting 9 years, 1948-1957. Those are considered the golden era performances. In a move that may have seemed shocking at the time Little Jimmy departed the Opry, in 1957, and joined a competitor, the Philip Morris Country Music Show. This association lasted maybe a couple of years but an immediate return to the Opry wasn't forthcoming.

He eventually came back to the Opry in 1975 and remained a member up until his death. His last performance/appearance happened to be a day after his 94th birthday last month. 

He became a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983.

As an artist Little Jimmy Dickens often gets painted as a novelty performer. This was basically due to his tendency to record ditties and sing-a-longs (not all of them humorous) but because not enough of his ballads and recitations received widespread acclaim or proper exposure he became noted as a comical artist. His performing style...especially in his early years on through the latter half of the 1980s...featured a physically bouncy delivery and frenetic guitar playing. His famed grin and eye winks, short stature, Nudie suits, and cowboy hat attributed to this notion that he was a 'novelty act'; but, audio and video footage also proves that he could deliver ballads and recitations like no other.

Little Jimmy Dickens was seemingly in great health on up through the early part of this decade. You could always count on seeing/hearing him at the Opry each weekend. In 2008 the Opry celebrated the 60th Anniversary of Little Jimmy's Opry induction (purists, though, reminded everyone that for 18 of those 60 years he wasn't a member of the Opry). He had suffered a light stroke several years earlier but suffered a further stroke on December 25, 2014 and died of a heart attack on January 2, 2015 at the age of 94 (he turned 94 on December 19th last year).

Sales spikes of several CD's on Little Jimmy Dickens have predictably appeared. The 16 Biggest Hits compilation is currently the #1 CD in the Classic Country/Nashville Sound category and ranked #31 among Today's Country (!). You can purchase it either in CD format or as an Mp3. The digital copy is ranked #85 among all digital purchases in Country Music. You can buy it HERE.

I happen to recommend a different collection. The Essential Little Jimmy Dickens is a 40 song collection and it captures the essence of Little Jimmy in various stages of his recording career (up through the mid '70s at least). The collection closes with an obscure truck driver's recitation, "The Preacherman" (from 1976). You can buy that Mp3 HERE. It's heavy on the novelty songs...but there are a lot of up-tempo non-comical songs on that collection that just can't be found hardly anywhere.

Those are collections you can get on a budget...however, if you so desire, you can invest in the career overview box set called Out Behind the Barn...

Amazon states that there are only 2 left in stock and so here's the LINK to the collection. The box set contains all of his Columbia Records recordings during a 9-year span, 1957-1966, and it includes a 48 page booklet.

Neither of the products I've given a link to contain his recitation of "You've Been Quite a Doll, Raggedy Ann". If you want that track you'll have to purchase it separately (that is, if you can find it on Mp3!). I've come across it on an out of stock CD, the I'm Little, But I'm Loud: The Little Jimmy Dickens Collection. It can also be found on a CD, available through the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, called Country Gold. You can read more HERE. There is an emotional video of Little Jimmy performing the song on an episode of a classic country music television program...it can be seen on YouTube. I didn't embed the video because of the nature of videos being removed without notice. I didn't want to have a blank video box on this tribute post in case the upload becomes unavailable at a later date. If you search YouTube for "Little Jimmy Dickens + Raggedy Ann" you're most likely going to find the clip I'm referring to.

Some notable Little Jimmy recordings... "Hillbilly Fever", "Out Behind the Barn", "Life Turned Her That Way", "We Could", "A Death in the Family", "Country Music Lover", "Sleepin' at the Foot of the Bed", "Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait", "Country Boy", "I'm Little but I'm Loud", "Me and My Big Loud Mouth"...and in the obscure department he recorded "Farewell Party" years before Gene Watson.

Little Jimmy's biggest hit happened to be "May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose", a surprise hit single in 1965 that reached #1 and crossed over to the pop Top-20 (explaining the reason a national audience, perhaps, only knew of Little Jimmy for that one song).

The fans of classic country music and those that made their journey to the Grand Ole Opry certainly knew of Little Jimmy Dickens for much more than 1 novelty recording. In later years he became popular for his comical pairings with Brad Paisley on the CMA awards and on CD.

James Cecil "Little Jimmy" Dickens

December 19, 1920 - January 2, 2015

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