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Porter Wagoner, 80; star of Grand Ole Opry

October 29, 2007|Randy Lewis | Times Staff Writer

He sang with an unadorned, everyman voice, not the booming bass-baritone of a Johnny Cash, the jazz-inflected acrobatics of Willie Nelson or the bluegrass-steeped purity of a Vince Gill.

"I don't try to show off a so-called beautiful voice, because I don't feel my voice is beautiful," Wagoner once said. "I believe there is a different kind of beauty, the beauty of being honest, of being yourself, of singing like you feel it."

He reached the No. 1 spot two more times, in 1962 with "Misery Loves Company," and a dozen years later with "Please Don't Stop Loving Me," a duet with Parton.

More than his own music, Wagoner's greatest legacy was his syndicated TV series, "The Porter Wagoner Show," which ran from 1960 to 1979.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, October 30, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Wagoner obituary: An obituary of country music star Porter Wagoner in Monday's California section misspelled the name of his first female duet partner on his long-running television show. It was Norma Jean, not Norman Jean.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, November 02, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Porter Wagoner: The obituary of country singer Porter Wagoner in Monday's California section referred to his 1955 hit "A Satisfied Mind" as a song that he wrote and recorded. It was written by Joe Hayes and Jack Rhodes.

When Parton left his TV show to launch a solo career that made her one of country's biggest stars, Wagoner felt betrayed; meanwhile, she felt he had exploited her songwriting talent for his own benefit. Wagoner sued her, but they eventually settled the lawsuit and reconciled.

Part of the settlement was that Parton agreed to record another album with Wagoner during the height of her own success in the late 1970s and early '80s. The session yielded a pair of hits, "Making Plans" and "If You Go, I'll Follow You," but failed to substantially revive Wagoner as a hit-maker.

Parton acknowledged writing "I Will Always Love You" as a peace offering to Wagoner, but she said it took him years to understand its message. The song was a hit for her three separate times -- when it was released in 1974, as a remake for the 1982 movie "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and in 1995 as a duet with Vince Gill. It became an international pop smash when Whitney Houston recorded it in 1992.

Wagoner's old-school country style fell out of favor with Nashville, except for his role at the Opry, as country moved on in the '80s to younger, more pop-music minded stars such as Alabama. But Wagoner never relinquished his love for flashy Nudie Cohn-designed outfits.

At his Safari Sam's performance in June, Stuart, who led his backing band, quipped that "they should rename Lankershim as Porter Wagoner Boulevard" for his undying patronage of the veteran North Hollywood western-wear designer.

Marty Stuart, who spent time as a member of Johnny Cash's band in the '80s before launching a successful career of his own, grew up in Mississippi watching Wagoner's TV show every Saturday afternoon with his father.

The album they recorded together, "The Wagonmaster," resuscitated some of Wagoner's old songs and added a few new ones.

Funeral services were pending.

Wagoner's survivors include a son, Richard; and two daughters, Denise and Debra.

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