Grand Ole Opry member Billy Grammer passed away yesterday from natural causes at his home in Illinois. He was 85 years old and had been a member of the Opry since 1959. He was recognized as one of country music’s greatest guitar players.
Born one of 13 children to a coal mining family in Illinois, he spent his childhood on a farm where music was a major part of his life. After high school Billy served in the Army. Following his time in service, he heard of a possible opening with Connie B. Gay, a disc jockey and promoter in Washington, D.C. area. Billy hitchhiked to Arlington, Virginia, auditioned, and was given the job.
As a musician, Billy played in the bands of artists such as Hawkshaw Hawkins and Grandpa Jones and also as a sideman role on Jimmy Dean’s television show. He then formed his own band and began performing as a solo artist. In early 1959, he recorded his hit “Gotta Travel On” and the song’s success gained him Opry membership later that same year.
Besides performing and playing in bands, Billy was also an in demand session player. “Musicians I have talked to through the years have told me that I have a little extra punch, a little extra push,” he once said. During the 1960s, he worked to develop the Grammer Guitar, which was once called “the finest flat-top guitar on the market.” He celebrated his 50th anniversary as an Opry member at the Opry in February of 2009.
His funeral will be held at Morton & Johnston Funeral Home in Benton, Illinois on Saturday, August 13 at 11 a.m. Visitation will be held the day before from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.