He’s the oldest current member of the Grand Ole Opry, someone the other members look up to — even if they have to look down to do it. Little Jimmy Dickens, all 4’-11” of him, turns 90 on Sunday, and some of his music industry friends have a party cooked up for him this weekend to celebrate.
And he’s got plenty of friends. Randy Houser was thrilled to make the introductory speech last month when the Music City Walk of Fame inducted “Tater,” a nickname Jimmy picked up from Hank Williams for his first hit, “Take An Old Cold ‘Tater (And Wait).” Fellow West Virginian Brad Paisley has repeatedly employed Little Jimmy in his videos and plopped him onto his albums in comedic tracks. And that’s just a start on the list.
But Little Jimmy’s always been a friend of his fellow Opry members. He used to walk across the alley between the Ryman Auditorium and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge with Hank. And he got his shot at the Opry and his first recording contract when he was championed by Roy Acuff, who was considered the King of Country Music.
“It has been a long road for me,” Little Jimmy acknowledged at his Walk of Fame induction. “From the coal mines of West Virginia to where I stand here today is a long ways, folks. And I think the answer to that is what Mr. Acuff taught me when he brought me here. I lived at his house for almost a year. The daily lesson of the do’s and the don’t’s that you do in country music, and that stuck with me all my life.”
Jimmy had an appropriate role this year in the revival of the Grand Ole Opry House. The venue was shut down for months following the flood in May, and Jimmy joined Brad at an official ceremony that completed the restoration of the stage when a six-foot circle of wood that was originally in the Ryman Auditorium was fitted back into the Opry House. Hank, Roy, Ernest Tubb and Patsy Cline all stood on that wood when it was at the Ryman. Opry members Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire and Blake Shelton have all stood on it at its current location. Jimmy is a connective tissue for several generations of Opry members, and he and Brad led a conglomeration of Opry members in “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” when the Opry House was reopened.
Little Jimmy’s birthday isn’t his only significant anniversary coming up. Christmas Eve will mark 39 years since Little Jimmy married the former Mona Evans. She is, he says, “one of the reasons that I’ve lived this long.”
Little Jimmy will spend Saturday — his last night as an 89-year-old — in the perfect spot: hosting the night’s last segment of the Opry at the Ryman Auditorium. Joining him on the bill that evening: Steel Magnolia, Jeannie Seely, John Conlee, Bill Anderson and Marty Stuart, who’ll also be bringing a former member of the Byrds, Roger McGuinn.