West Plains native Porter Wagoner, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, died Sunday at age 80.
At one time, his syndicated television show was the top outlet for country music and was shown in this area at 5:30 p.m. every Saturday. Wagoner made his first records in Springfield, before moving to Nashville:
In 1960, he launched TV's syndicated Porter Wagoner Show, on a budget of less than $1,000 an episode. It predated Hee Haw and CMT. At its peak, it aired in more than 100 markets, making it the most important country-music TV property of its time.
Wagoner introduced a young Dolly Parton in 1967. They recorded many duets together, including The Last Thing on My Mind and Just Someone I Used to Know. Wagoner produced some of Parton's early solo hits (1975's The Seeker). The partnership ended acrimoniously in 1974, but Parton wrote I Will Always Love You for him as she left.
More than anything, Wagoner loved a song that told a story. He favored sentimental recitations and macabre tales of murder and insanity, like the cult favorite The Rubber Room. Between 1954 and 1980, he had 20 top 10 country hits, including Green, Green Grass of Home, The Carroll County Accident and The Cold Hard Facts of Life. He won Grammys for three gospel albums with the Blackwood Brothers. In 2002, he became a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Wagoner this year recorded a final album, Wagonmaster. "It's the kind of country that defined what real and true, pure, authentic country music is," says Marty Stuart, who produced Wagonmaster. "It's the remnant of that old cloth that so little is left of, from the Hank Williams era. It's just a tiny remnant of that. But, man, is it a good one."