Obituary: Grandpa Jones

LOUIS MARSHALL JONES was for over 60 years one of the most popular stars in country music. A singer, banjoist and all-around entertainer, he gained the sobriquet "Grandpa Jones" at the age of only 22.

In the mid-Thirties he and Joe Troyan, "Bashful Harmonica Joe", had joined Bradley Kincaid's radio show on WBZ, Boston. When letters poured in asking after the singer with "the old voice", Kincaid furnished Jones both with a new name and with the stage attire which later became his trademark: flat round hat, spectacles, braces, white hair and moustache and, initially, a pair of 100-year-old boots. It was a persona that was to stay with him for over six decades.

The youngest of 10 children of a Kentucky sharecropping family, young Louis, in common with many musicians of his generation, idolised America's Blue Yodeller Jimmie Rodgers. At the age of 15, playing guitar and singing in the style of his hero, Jones won a talent contest organised by the hillbilly recording pioneer Wendell Hall and found himself in demand locally.

In 1934 he joined Lum and Abner's Pine Ridge String Band, making the move to Boston a year later. In 1937 he joined the cast of the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree, broadcasting out of Wheeling, West Virginia, where he was taught to play banjo in the traditional drop thumb frailing style by Cousin Emmy (Cynthia May Carver).

He made his recording debut the same year, returning to the studio on completion of his war service to join Merle Travis and Alton and Rabon Delmore in forming The Brown's Ferry Four, a largely gospel quartet whose work for Syd Nathan's Cincinnati-based King label is now much valued by aficionados. He also enjoyed solo success, cutting tracks like "Old Rattler" and "Mountain Dew" that were effectively to become signature songs.

After signing to RCA in 1952, he found himself recording predominantly novelty numbers including "I'm No Communist", "Herd O' Turtles", "Gooseberry Pie" and "TV Blues", but balked, perhaps understandably, when asked to tackle "Hey, Liberace". Unhappy at the musical direction in which he was being pushed, he then switched to Decca. His output for the label, although limited, included some of his finest work: "Eight More Miles To Louisville", "Waiting For A Train" and the superb "Falling Leaves" which was belatedly issued in 1992.

Label-hopping to Monument, he found himself in the country Top Ten for the first and last time in 1962 with a remake of Jimmie Rodgers's "T For Texas", one of several songs by his hero he cut over the years.

Exposure on the burgeoning folk circuit over the next decade broadened his audience as, in more dramatic style, did his appearances on the popular syndicated television show Hee Haw. Jones was no stranger to the medium, having appeared on Connie B. Gay's Washington-based show in the late Forties, but his membership of the Hee Haw cast brought his old-time music and cornball comedy into millions of American homes.

In 1978 Grandpa Jones was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Six years later an autobiography was published: Everybody's Grandpa: Fifty Years Behind the Mike which contrasted the highs of his career - his happy marriage to his wife Ramona, his membership of the Grand Ole Opry - with the tragic 1973 murder of his friend and fellow Opry star Stringbean (David Akeman).

A fellow comic and banjo player, Akeman and Jones had both performed on the Opry on 10 November, and had agreed to meet early the next day for a hunting trip to Virginia. That night on their return to their Goodlettsville farm, Akeman and his wife Estelle were gunned down by cousins John and Douglas Brown in a bungled robbery. Jones found the bodies at 6.40 the following morning.

Over the past few years, Jones continued to appear regularly on the Opry; a duet version of "Eight More Miles To Louisville", with Willie Nelson on the latter's 1995 album Just One Love, proved that the octogenerian could still sing and play as exuberantly as ever.

Paul Wadey

Louis Marshall (Grandpa) Jones, singer and banjo player: born Niagra, Kentucky 20 October 1913; twice married (one son, three daughters); died Nashville, Tennessee 19 February 1998.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
Life and Style
food + drink
News
video
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial IT Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Commercial IT Solicitor - London We h...

Business Analyst / Project Manager - Financial Services

£40000 - £45000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: One of the mos...

Lead Business Analyst - Banking - London - £585

£525 - £585 per day: Orgtel: Lead Business Analyst - Investment Banking - Lond...

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home