Albert C. Gannaway, Jr., (1920-2008) was years ahead of his time. A noted film and television producer and songwriter, he had written songs for Nat King Cole, Bob Hope, Frankie Lane, and collaborated with Johnny Mercer on others. He produced several full-length feature motion pictures during the 1950s and ’60s, but is perhaps best known for his connection to the world of country music. During the mid-1950s he produced the long-running weekly television series Stars Of The Grand Ole Opry. Unlike other country music television of the period, Gannaway was forward-thinking and captured his shows on 35mm color film in an era before color TV was available to the public.
For whatever reason, Gannaway was not allowed to film the segments on the Opry stage. Instead, he made arrangements to use the facilities at Vanderbilt University. The format was similar to the Opry shows; each week a different high profile star—such luminaries as Ernest Tubb, Marty Robbins, and Faron Young—would host the show and introduce the acts. For the most part, the performances consisted of mainstream country personalities of the time, but scattered among them were some wonderful traditional artists.
During the 1970s and ’80s, Gannaway marketed the shows in a series of VHS tapes from a firm in Florida. The only problem was that customers had to buy the whole set in order to get desired performances. This writer finally caved in and purchased the entire package, which came with a hefty price tag. I had to fast-forward through some commonplace (at least for me) segments searching for ones of interest; but not anymore thanks to the folks at Shanachie.
The highlight for most BU readers will be six numbers by Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys; they were at the top of their form. Jackie Phelps was guitarist on all but one of the tunes, switching to impressive two-finger banjo for “Roanoke.” On that piece, the guitarist was a youthful looking Carlos Brock with twin-fiddles by Bobby Hicks and Charlie Cline. The first song is a powerful reading of “Close By,” featuring the triple fiddles of Bobby Hicks, Gordon Terry, and Red Taylor, and on banjo Charlie Cline. There’s also a fine trio version of “A Voice From On High” with vocals by Monroe, Phelps, and Cline. Hicks and Cline play both fiddle or banjo on various numbers, while Opry staff musician Ernie Newton is seen playing upright bass on all six. By themselves, these classic performances are well worth the price of the set.
A duo who will be of interest to many are the Louvin Brothers, with two awesome performances (“I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby” and “Love Thy Neighbor”). Those who never saw Charlie and Ira perform will be amazed by their energy and charisma. There are delightful performances by Grandpa Jones with Ramona, Stringbean, Lonzo & Oscar, Benny Martin, Sam & Kirk McGee, the Crook Brothers, and the Fruit Jar Drinkers.
Finally, there are several clips of Hank Williams. These are rare black & white videos from early kinescopes, one of which is a charming performance with Anita Carter. Conversely, I’m disappointed that there are no performances by Johnnie & Jack (seen only in the grand finale) or Mother Maybelle and the Carter Family. Also, I’d have preferred that they had retained a few more introductions of the bands. Minor complaints aside, this is one of the most delightful video releases ever. To this writer, it’s an indispensable addition to anyone’s library and receives my heartiest recommendation. (Shanachie Entertainment Corp., 37 E. Clinton St., Newton, NJ 07860, www.shanachie.com.)WVS