Porter Wagoner, 80, has passed away. One of the last of the sequin-spangled showmen from the Golden Age of Country music, Wagoner succumbed to cancer last night in Nashville. Wagoner was co-host of the Grand Old Opry (along with Little Jimmy Dickens) since 1996, following the death of Minnie Pearl. He celebrated his 50th year on the Opry stage in 2007.
Porter released his last record, "Wagonmaster", earlier this year. Produced by Marty Stuart, the album received great reviews and with the re-release of Wagoner 's "Rubber Room", a collection of left-of-center Country tunes, put Wagoner in the spotlight once again. He was tapped to be the opening act at the White Stripes' Madison Square Garden gig, and by all accounts, tore the place up.
Best known for the hits "A Satisfied Mind" (later covered by The Byrds on the Turn! Turn! Turn! album), "Green, Green Grass of Home", "Carroll County Accident", and "Go Down Swinging", a fabulous shuffle written by Bill Anderson, Wagoner was a master of the "story song" and is credited with the first "concept album" in country music.
In 1967 he discovered a big-haired singer from Sevierville, Tennesse and put her on his TV show, which had begun in 1960. Porter and Dolly Parton had several hit singles as a duet. Parton wrote "I Will Always Love You" about her relationship with Wagoner upon leaving his show to pursue her enormously successful solo career.
Wagoner belongs on the same pedestal as Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and the other legends in Country music. His refusal to follow trends and ability to gig until just weeks before his death - 50 years at the Opry - negates the need for bigger fame and more hit records. He lived the life, sang about the life, and he went down swinging.