Little Jimmy Dickens Go Rest High Tater

Little Jimmy Dickens.jpg

Submitted by Don Graham

Jimmy Dickens, the little giant of country music has passed away at age 94.

He starred on the "Grand Ole Opry," for decades and was a fixture both onstage and backstage, where his dressing room was an important stop for performers on the show. It was there that he held court for artists, old and new, for  more than a half century since his 1948 debut.

Many performers claim to have entertained right up to the end and in Jimmy’s case it was true. He last played the "Opry" on Dec. 20, a day after his 94th birthday and five days before he would be admitted to the hospital after suffering a stroke on Christmas Day. He died of cardiac arrest on January 2nd, 2015.

Dickens would often make fun of his size introducing himself with "I'm Little Jimmy Dickens, or Willie Nelson after taxes" or poke fun at his rhinestone-studded outfits with "There goes Mighty Mouse in his pajamas!” and his old-timer status by saying “Here’s my latest hit from 1965.”

Opry president and general manager Pete Fisher gave the statement  "The Grand Ole Opry did not have a better friend than Little Jimmy Dickens. He loved the audience and his Opry family, and all of us loved him back. He was a one-of-kind entertainer and a great soul whose spirit will live on for years to come."

Jimmy Dickens may well be the last living link to the golden formative years of country music having been a contemporary of the likes of Roy Acuff and the late, great Hank Williams. In fact it was Hank who gave Jimmy the nickname Tater. Hank  heard "Take an Old Cold 'Tater (and Wait)" and began referring to Dickens as "Tater," a nickname that stuck throughout his life. Dickens wore the moniker proudly, and he often talked about witnessing Williams' historic  "Opry" debut.

Jimmy is a member of the Hall of Fame, alongside Williams and Acuff, but always retained a sense of wonder about being in the presence of such great talent. "Sometimes I can't believe that I'm thought of as someone who's contributed to this industry," he said in a 1995 interview. "It's hard for me to explain how I feel about it. Because country music is my life. I've lived it."

Dickens was born surrounded by the coal fields of southeastern West Virginia on Dec. 19, 1920,  in the town of  Bolt. He was the youngest of 13 children with a childhood filled with poverty, sacrifice and music. His mother and three uncles all played guitar, and as a boy he would sit and watch his family members play and sing."All my people are coal miners, but I never wanted to go into the mines," he said. "From childhood on, I wanted to be an entertainer. And I set out to do that when I was still in high school."

Performer T. Texas Tyler recruited Dickens to take part in Tyler's Indianapolis radio show in 1941, and it was Tyler who offered the nickname "Little Jimmy Dickens."
 Dickens met "Opry" star Roy Acuff, in 1945 and it was Acuff who would bring him to Nashville. In 1947, Dickens was performing in Saginaw, Michigan and was working in a band that played a mixture of country and polka music. Acuff played a show in Saginaw, and Dickens was the opening act. Acuff was impressed with  Dickens' abilities as a singer and as an entertainer. Acuff  and got him  a spot on the "Opry" in February 1948, where he  became a member in August 1948, before even making  a record.

He started making records in 1949, recording the hit single "Take an Old Cold 'Tater (and Wait)" for Columbia Records. In April of 1949, the same month that "Tater" peaked at No. 7 in the  country Top 10, he cut "Country Boy" which  became another Top 10 single. That was followed by hits "Pennies for Papa" and "My Heart's Bouquet." "Country Boy" was written by the then-unknown Boudleaux Bryant, who would go on to become a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Bryant also wrote the 1954 hit "Out Behind the Barn" for Mr. Dickens, and the two men collaborated on "I'm Little But I'm Loud," "It May Be Silly (But Ain't It Fun)" among others.
He was the first to wear rhinestone suits on the "Opry", drew plenty of attention, and he quickly became one of country music's most recognizable entertainers.
A typical Little Jimmy Dickens Opry performance would start with "Thank you kindly, and once again allow us to say a great big special hello and howdy to all our good folks and friends and neighbours all, and welcome once again to another of our little friendly get-togethers. Our plans for today are a lot of fun."

Dickens left the Grand Ole Opry in 1957 to join the Philip Morris Country Music Show as a headliner. While the Morris tour lasted only about a year, he did not rejoin the Opry until 1975.

His 1965 recording of novelty song "May the Bird of Paradise Fly up Your Nose" became his only No. 1 country hit, and it crossed into the Top 20 pop chart as well.
At the Opry Dickens fell into the role of an elder statesman. He would befriend the newcomers and make them welcome. He arrived hours before taking the stage, changing into his showy stage outfits so that those who wanted a pre-show photograph with him would be able to document the dazzle and was a showman, even long before the show went on.

Never afraid to play his size for laughs,  Dickens climbed a kitchen ladder to invite tall and burly Trace Adkins into the Opry family in 2003. Adkins and Brad Paisley were among those who came to the "Opry" in November 2008 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Dickens' induction.

"Little Jimmy Dickens was a treasure in country music, not only a friend to George and I but a friend to every country artist that walked across the stage at The Grand Ole Opry," said Nancy Jones, George Jones' widow. "I have lost a dear friend."

Jimmy Dickens is survived by his wife, Mona, and two daughters, Pamela Detert and Lisa King.

Go rest high Tater, your work on earth is done.