Little Jimmy Dickens Explained- Get More Information
The long-time Grand Ole Opry performer and legendary country music entertainer Little Jimmy Dickens died away on January 2, 2015. He was 94. On December 25, 2014, the singer had a stroke and was sent to the hospital. Eight days later, he died away from a heart arrest. He was considerably eclipsed by his more diversified contemporaries, such as Roy Acuff, Carl Smith, and Hank Snow. He is best known for his novelty songs. But he was a significant—if eccentric—talent in his day, and with his brilliant comedic routines in later life, he rose to fame as a star on the Opry and became one of the most adored figures in country music.
On December 19, 1920, James Cecil Dickens, the thirteenth child of a farmer in the chilly coal fields of southeast West Virginia, was born in Bolt, West Virginia. His early years were distinguished by childhood, sacrifice, and music. As a youngster, he sat in awe as he watched his mother and three uncles play the guitar and sing.
In 2009, he commented, “All my folks are coal miners, but I never wanted to go into the mines.” “I have wanted to be an entertainer since I was a little childhood. And while I was still a senior in high school, I set out to achieve it.
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Despite being just four feet eleven inches tall and having a small body, Jimmie played basketball for his high school. He presided over the senior class of Trap Hill High School in 1938. He landed a guest role on a radio show in Beckley, West Virginia, when he was seventeen. He had to go a long distance by foot to and from Beckley, where he began each morning’s show on WJLS by mimicking a rooster’s crow. While enrolled at the University of West Virginia on a theatre scholarship, he continued to work professionally. Later, he declined an offer to work as a professional jockey in order to focus more on his music career. He then started touring the country while performing as Jimmy The Kid on radio programs in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.
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In 1941, member T. Texas Tyler hired Jimmy to join the cast of Tyler’s Indianapolis radio show and proposed the name change to Little Jimmy Dickens. Roy Acuff, a Grand Ole Opry singer who Jimmy first met in 1945, was appropriately pleased by the small entertainer. Two years later, Jimmy was selected to perform as the opening act for a Roy Acuff show when he was playing in a band in Saginaw, Michigan that mixed country and polka music. The major celebrity introduced Jimmy to move to Nashville, and he assisted him by signing him to a publishing agreement with Acuff-Rose, introducing him to Art Satherley at Columbia Records, and securing a position on the Grand Ole Opry in February 1948.
Before he had put out a record, Little Jimmy Dickens joined the Opry in August 1948. His first top 10 countries hit, the novelty song Take An Old Cold ‘Tater (And Wait), from his first record, was a success in early 1949. Jimmy’s performance of the song on the Opry inspired Hank Williams to sing calling him “Tater,” a moniker that he used for the rest of his life. Country Boy, A-Sleeping At The Foot Of The Bed, My Heart’s Bouquet, and Hillbilly Fever were among the other hits that came after, all of which made the top 10 in the country charts between 1949 and 1950.
The then-unknown Boudleaux Bryant, who later collaborated with his wife Felice Bryant to compose scores of successful songs for the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, and Jim Reeves, and who is now a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, wrote Country Boy. Bryant co-wrote with Dickens a number of songs, including 1954 hit Out Behind The Barn, I’m Little But I’m Loud, It May Be Silly (But Ain’t It Fun, and others. He was also the first to record the Bryants’ We Could, which went on to become a country classic and a great success for Charley Pride.
Although Jimmy preferred to sing depressing country weepers, novelty songs were where he found the most popularity. Sadly, he was never a reliable hit-maker; despite the success of some of his singles, including A Rose From A Bride’s Bouquet, Sign of the Highway, and Wedding Bell Waltz, he went four years between 1950’s Hillbilly Fever and 1954’s Out Behind The Barn before making a significant impact on the charts.
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He may have spent a significant amount of time touring, which might have contributed in part to the issue. Little Jimmy Dickens soon rose to prominence as one of country music’s most recognizable performers because to his little stature, outgoing demeanor, and outrageous outfits (he was the first Opry performer to wear rhinestone jackets).
He started his traveling band, the Country Boys, in 1950. It was one of the first country bands to use the now-standard lineup of twin electric lead guitars, bass, and drums together with a steel guitar. Dickens and his band distinguished themselves from other traveling bands with their lively traditional country style and subtle rockabilly inflections, putting out more volume than Chuck Berry or Elvis Presley could manage. The legendary Country Boys bands of the 1950s featured talented musicians like bassist Bob Moore, guitarists Jabbo Arrington, Howard Rhoton, Grady Martin, Thumbs Carlile, and Spider Wilson, as well as steel guitarists Walter Haynes and Buddy Emmons, all of whom went on to become important Nashville session musicians.
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Even though Jimmy sometimes minimized his own rock’n’roll efforts, albums like Hey Ma! (Hide The Daughter), Country Boy Bounce, Raisin’ the Dickens, and (I Got) A Hole In My Pocket was energizing and visceral. A powerful, even revolutionary performer, he had a distinctive and successful stage persona that mixed ferocious performances with genuine friendliness.
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Along with his heartbreaking breakup songs, Jimmy was a master of spoken word, and his rendition of (You’ve Been Quite a Doll) Raggedy Ann, in which a father addresses his deceased daughter’s favorite pet, brought tears to the audience’s eyes. Deeply devout, he released a number of gospel songs in the early 1950s, such as Old Rugged Cross, They Locked God Outside of The Iron Curtain, and Take Up Thy Cross. His very first album, THE OLD COUNTRY CHURCH, was released in 1954.
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Jimmy has a long history of supporting and being a friend to other musicians. While on tour with the Grand Ole Opry road show in 1951, he made the future Country Music Hall of Famer Marty Robbins aware of him at a Phoenix, Arizona television station. He set up an audition for Robbins with Columbia Records and encouraged him to try his luck there.
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Jimmy remained a well-liked traveling act and Opry favorite despite not having a hit between 1954’s Out Behind The Barn and 1962’s The Violet And A Rose on the charts. He began traveling with the Phillip Morris Caravan of Stars in 1950 and made a lot of recordings. Little Jimmy Dickens made his first world tour in 1964 when he performed in Tokyo, Okinawa, Taipei, Bangkok, Saigon, Turkey, Denmark, Germany, and Montreal.
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Jimmy’s greatest success, May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose, came the next year. The song reached the number one spot on the country charts and the fifteenth spot on the pop charts. Little Jimmy Dickens was propelled into the public eye by the song’s success, and he started appearing on national television (once on Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is show, lip-syncing Bird of Paradise on a beach as teens danced to the music).
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More funny songs like When the Ship Hit The Sand, Jenny Needs A G String (For Her Old Guitar), Who Licked the Red Off Your Candy, and How to Catch an African Skeeter Alive were among his unsuccessful attempts to capitalize on that mainstream popularity. Jimmy had no more successful singles after the Bobby Braddock-penned Country Music Lover rose to the country Top 30 in 1967.
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He featured in the country-themed films Second Fiddle to an Old Guitar and Tennessee Jamboree. He switched labels and signed with Decca Records in 1968. The late 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s saw him only have a few small hits, despite the handful that he recorded three albums in just as many years. Two more modest hits came as a consequence of the move to United Artists in 1971. He wed his wife Mona in the same year. He released the album HYMNS OF THE HOUR in 1976, and in the early 1980s, he also cut a few singles for Little Gem Records and albums for Gusto and his own Tater Patch label. After being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983, he started to prioritize performance as his primary method of artistic expression.
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He sang Jingle Bells with the cast on the In the Heat of the Night cast CD CHRISTMAS TIME’S A COMIN’ (released on Sonlite and MGM/UA and one of the most well-liked Christmas albums of 1991 and 1992 among lovers of rural country music), joining producers Randall Franks and Alan Autry.
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Little Jimmy Dickens was introduced to new generations of country music listeners via his many performances on the Grand Ole Opry as he took the position of an elder statesman. Martina McBride’s 1997 CD EVOLUTION had a brief excerpt of a live recording of her singing I’m Little But I’m Loud at the age of seven.
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Onstage, the self-deprecating entertainer often made fun of his stature by joking that he was “Willie Nelson after taxes.” Along with Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who served as the co-hosts of the CMA Awards show, he also took part in a number of humorous skits, including one that stole the show in 2009 and one in which he played the role of “Little Justin Bieber” and made fun of the pop star’s then-current paternity scandal.
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Additionally, he made cameos in a number of music videos by West Virginia native and fellow country artist Brad Paisley, who in his country opened for the legendary performer for numerous years. As a member of the Kung Pao Buckaroos, a group of Hall of Famers that Paisley engaged to do comedy routines on multiple albums, Jimmy was also featured on several of Paisley’s albums in additional comedy songs. The Buckaroos sketches provided audiences with the only accurate representation of Little Jimmy Dickens’ sometimes raucous backstage humor available on record.
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Little Jimmy Dickens was a skilled comic and a dynamic stage presence, whether performing on a nightclub stage or in front of a large audience. He was an entertainer and a showman, and it was these traits that made him become so well-liked and almost a constant on the Nashville music scene for more than sixty years. He was the oldest Grand Ole Opry performer, having been a member of the show virtually continuously since 1948. He had his last Opry performance on December 20, one day after his 94th birthday, and five days before he would be brought to the hospital after having a stroke on Christmas Day.
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Jimmy Dickens, a little boy, was only 4’10” tall, but when he put on the appropriate footwear and hat—a white straw Stetson with a 5.5″ crown—he seemed to be 5’5″ tall. Dickens, who is renowned for his diminutive size, his humorous songs, and his rhinestone-adorned “Nudie suits,” was the first country artist to complete a global tour and has been dubbed the genre’s top entertainer. Dickens had a reputation as an exceptional ballad singer and managed to have hits in every decade from 1940 to 1980, despite the fact that he never consistently appeared in the top echelons of the country charts. In 1983, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
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James Cecil Dickens, the oldest of 13 children, was born at home in the small, unincorporated community of Bolt, which is located in the heart of southern West Virginia’s coal-mining area. He was reared by his grandparents and would spend Saturday evenings listening to the Grand Ole Opry on a battery-operated radio. He started making appearances on radio station WJLS-Beckley in 1938 while still a high school student when he opened the morning show by crowing like a rooster.
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Now, that rooster’s crow dates back a long time. Before they allowed me to sing, the rooster cried! They would take me along with them to a fifteen-minute show on WJLS that my uncle and two of his friends had. We need someone to crow like a rooster, the manager said one day. You have him right here, I said.
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Dickens performed over the following 10 years on stations all across the Midwest, often using his small stature to portray characters considerably younger than his true age. It was during one of his appearances on WIBC-Indianapolis that T. Texas Tyler gave him the nickname “Little Jimmy.” Roy Acuff was thrilled when he saw him play in Cincinnati in 1946. Acuff extended an invitation to Dickens to visit Nashville two years later and introduced him to Art Satherly at Columbia Records and representatives from the Grand Ole Opry. Dickens signed a contract with Columbia in September after joining the Opry in August.
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“Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait,” Columbia’s first Dickens single, was released in February of that year. It was Dickens’ first of many hits, peaking at No. 7 on the charts. His greatest hit, “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose,” was released in 1965 and peaked at No. 1 on both the country music and mainstream charts. Dickens was renowned for these lighthearted songs, but he was also a superb singer of more somber music. Biographer Eddie Stubbs contends that his “heart” songs, including “Take Me As I Am,” “We Could,” “Just When I Needed You,” and others, are “some of the greatest ballads the industry has to offer,” “interpreted by one of the genre’s most emotion-filled voices.”
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When Dickens was nearing the end of his life, fellow West Virginian Brad Paisley called him “the Kung-Pao Buckaroos” and featured him on multiple CDs with George Jones and Bill Anderson, two other stalwarts of the Opry. He kept appearing on the Opry as a host on a regular basis. Just a few days before having the stroke that would cause his death a week later, he made his last appearance on the show. Little Jimmy Dickens was the first country member in history to have performed on the Grand Ole Opry for more than 66 years at the time of his death.
Born: December 19, 1920; passed away: January 2, 2015; Bolt, West Virginia