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Obituaries

Grandpa Jones; Opry, 'Hee Haw' Banjo Player

February 21, 1998|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Grandpa Jones, the banjo-playing fixture of the Grand Ole Opry and "Hee Haw" who was known for his whimsical recitations of country menus, has died. He was 84.

The singer and instrumentalist, whose given name was Louis Marshall Jones, died Thursday in Nashville after a series of strokes. He had undergone open heart surgery in 1980 and suffered his first stroke in 1991.

"Grandpa was one of the pillars of country music," said Bob Whittaker, president of the Grand Ole Opry. Jones' last appeared there Jan. 3.

Valued as a comedic storyteller as well as a musician, he appeared on the television country series "Hee Haw" from 1969 to 1993, often working with the late Minnie Pearl.

When other cast members chanted, "Hey, Grandpa, what's for supper?" Jones would exuberantly start mouths watering with a typical country menu: "Corn bread and gravy. Candied yams. Butter beans. Blueberry cobbler. The more to eat, the more to spare."

Born in Niagara, Ky., the last of 10 children of a tobacco farmer, Jones learned to play violin, mandolin and guitar and first appeared on radio when he was 16. He soon had his own show on WJW Akron in Ohio, where he was known as "The Young Singer of Old Songs."

In 1935, Jones began touring with the late Bradley Kincaid, who gave him the nickname and the persona of "Grandpa"--claiming Jones sounded like a grumpy old man on their Boston morning radio show.

Although he was only 22, Jones put on an old hat, spectacles, flannel shirt, boots and big, bright suspenders and became "Grandpa" to country music lovers everywhere.

He worked at radio stations in West Virginia and Cincinnati and made his first recording in 1943, teaming with Merle Travis as the Shepherd Brothers.

Jones served in the military police in Germany at the end of World War II, broadcasting daily on Armed Forces Radio with his band, the Munich Mountaineers.

In 1946, he moved to Nashville and made his first appearance with the Grand Ole Opry, where he stayed popular more than 50 years.

His early hit records included "Eight More Miles to Louisville," "Mountain Dew" and his first with a banjo, "Old Rattler." Later hits included "The All-American Boy" in 1959 and "T for Texas" in 1963.

In addition to the "Hee Haw" series, Jones appeared on several country music television specials over the years, including "Country Music Caravan" in 1974, "Johnny Cash: The First 25 Years" in 1980, "Hats Off to Minnie Pearl" in 1992 and "Grand Ole Opry Live Christmas" in 1994.

He entertained troops in Korea in 1951 and later performed in concerts in such diverse venues as county fairs, Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. Jones was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1978.

Survivors include his wife, fiddler Ramona Riggins, and their three children.

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