Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On Porter Wagoner

I have to keep up with this stuff. I didn't realize that Porter Wagoner passed away last year.

If you're not familiar with Wagoner, perhaps you're familiar with his more famous television co-host. But before we get to that, let's look at Wagoner's musical career:

Mr. Wagoner had 81 singles on the country charts, including 29 Top 10 records. His hits included “Green, Green Grass of Home,” “Skid Row Joe” and “The Cold Hard Facts of Life.” He was famous for capturing straight up the raw emotions of people living tough lives, sometimes using his speaking voice in an old-time country technique called recitation.

This landed him a TV gig:

For 21 years he was the host of “The Porter Wagoner Show,” which was eventually syndicated in 100 markets, reaching 3.5 million viewers a week and giving many of them their first brush with country music.

And a co-host:

And if he didn’t exactly discover Ms. [Dolly] Parton, her regular appearances on his television show were the foundation of her career. The two won the Country Music Association’s duo of the year award three times.

But Parton eventually left Wagoner.

After Ms. Parton left his show in 1974, there were lawsuits and countersuits between the two in a six-year legal tangle over business interests that produced not a few tabloid headlines. One reported that Mr. Wagoner’s wife had found him and Ms. Parton in bed and had shot both. “There wasn’t nothing to that,” Mr. Wagoner told The Tennessean in 2000 (“with a wink,” the newspaper said). “She didn’t even hit Dolly.”

But the tension between the two, as tension often does, created a great musical moment. No, not Whitney's volume 11 rendition, but Parton's understated original.

After his death, Parton spoke about Wagoner:

"I worked with Porter Wagoner on his show for seven years, and he was very much - I don't mean this in a bad way, so don't play it up that way - but he very much was a male chauvinist pig," She said. "That's why we fought like crazy, because I wouldn't put up with a bunch of stuff."

She continued, "Out of respect for him, I knew he was the boss, and I would go along to where I felt this was reasonable for me. But once it passed points where it was like, your way or my way, and this is just to control, to prove to you that I can do it, then I would just pitch a damn fit. I wouldn't care if it killed me. I would just say what I thought. I would do like the Doralee character and say, 'I would turn you from a rooster to a hen if you don't stop!' "

Wagoner and Parton eventually reconciled, and she was at his bedside when he died last year at age 80.
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