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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 775

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This is the grave of George Morgan.

Born in 1925 in Waverly, Tennessee, Morgan grew up in Doylestown, Ohio. He started playing on the radio when he was a young teen. He became a regular on country radio stations in Akron and Wooster, Ohio (Wooster’s only connection to country music no doubt; I spent one year teaching there and so this amuses me significantly) and then moved to the WWVA Jamboree in Wheeling, West Virginia, which started getting him greater attention.

In 1948, Morgan joined the Grand Ole Opry. He was not an old-timey or hard country singer. He was a representation of growing Nashville Sound of country-pop. Debates over what is “real country music” have existed since the beginning of the genre. I personally despite the contemporary country played on the radio (I prefer the term “Douche Country” myself). But it’s not because it’s not true to the genre. It’s because it sucks. Anyway, these debates weren’t any different in 1948. There was your Ernest Tubbs and Roy Acuffs out there playing a type of music that actually sounded like it was out of rural America. But Nashville was always about money first, foremost, and in entirety. And so, executives wanted people to find the pop charts too. The fans weren’t exactly opposed to that either. So by the late 40s, you started seeing people like George Morgan, Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, and just a bit later, Marty Robbins. When you listen to Marty Robbins for instance, “El Paso” sounds country because of its theme. But does “A White Sportcoat”? No. Does it matter? Not really, no. Morgan was added to the Opry specifically in order to replace Arnold, who had recently left, even though Morgan had just signed his first record deal and hadn’t even had a hit yet. But he sounded good.

Morgan had a huge hit in 1949 with “Candy Kisses,” easily the biggest of his career. In fact, it was so iconic that when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band recorded its wonderful Will the Circle Be Unbroken album (I actually think the Dirt Band was quite mediocre overall, but they had the access to big country stars thanks to being friends with Earl Scruggs‘ kids and so produced one of the great moments in the history of American music), the lead song “Grand Ole Opry Song,” referred to Morgan by name and “Candy Kisses.” Morgan had a few other big hits too, usually kind of sappy love songs. Probably his second most well-known hit is “Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” which was not originally his song and which has been recorded by a lot of artists. But his second biggest hit in terms of sales was his version of “Almost” from 1952. There’s also “Room Full of Roses,” which hit #4 in 1949 and also hit #25 on the pop charts.

The Grand Ole Opry is a weird institution in the sense that it has its insiders that often include a lot of people who aren’t making big hits anymore. When I went in 2018, the featured hosts of the half-hour slots included Bill Anderson, still a common performer after a mere 60 years, Jeannie Seely, and John Conlee. I actually like Conlee a good bit and was happy enough to see him do a Guy Clark song, but these are odd performers if the goal is to highlight the most recent work. George Morgan was one of these people. He hadn’t had a hit in years, but he was still a big enough Opry insider to be chosen in 1974 as the singer to close out the Opry’s long run at the Ryman and then as the singer to open the Opry’s new palace out in the suburbs.

However, that was about it for Morgan. He had a bum ticker and died of a heart attack after open heart surgery in 1975. He was 50 years old. His daughter Lorrie Morgan later became a huge country hitmaker of her own. She was only 16 when her father died.

In 1998, Morgan was inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame. I have to say…why? He had a grand total of 1 #1 hit on the country charts. He wasn’t that well known outside of the insider country world. But that’s all it takes. I would like to point that the Morgan was inducted 23 years ago and Johnny Paycheck remains outside of the Hall today.

Let’s listen to some George Morgan.

George Morgan is buried in Spring Hill Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee.

This grave visit was sponsored by LGM readers. Many thanks! If you would like this series to visit other members of the Country Music Hall of Fame inducted in 1998, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Elvis Presley is, naturally, in Memphis and Tammy Wynette is in Nashville. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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