Opry Firing Sparks Furor

Removal of Four Guys, planned classic-rock ceremony seen as slight against country music.

NASHVILLE — The last time there was this much fuss at the Grand Ole Opry, it was when Hank Williams was fired from the legendary barn dance show in 1952, for drunkenness and missed shows.

Now in the space of only a couple of days, the 75-year-old Opry and parent company Gaylord Entertainment have managed to rile up a lot of people. They've not only fired an act from the Opry but also have seemed to slight country music in favor of classic rock in upcoming dedication ceremonies for the new Opry Mills.

The vocal group fired from the Opry, the Four Guys, had been a regular act on the show since 1967.

"In 1967 the original Four Guys, consisting of Brent Burkett, Richard Garratt, Sam Wellington and Berl Lyons were invited to join the Grand Ole Opry," Opry general manager Pete Fisher said in a statement. "With the departure of the last two original members, we have made the difficult decision to remove the Four Guys from our current membership roster. We wish the best for them and are grateful for their contributions to the Opry."

Marty Martell, who manages Johnny Paycheck, among other traditional country artists, said he was issuing "a plea to Vince [Gill], Alan [Jackson], Garth [Brooks], Diamond Rio, etc., to stand up for what the Opry is supposed to stand for — the family that sticks together stays together."

Last summer, a similar furor accompanied Fisher's firing of several veteran musicians from the Opry house band. Vince Gill at the time, in noting that Fisher was trying to modernize the Opry, called for such fellow stars as Brooks and Jackson to rally around the Opry.

On another front, Gaylord said that for the May 10 dedication ceremonies of Opry Mills (the day before the huge entertainment and shopping complex opens), the main music will come from a touring review of older rock musicians.

The members of "Voices of Classic Rock" will play the Opry Mills food court for invited dignitaries and guests. The Voices of Classic Rock include Mickey Thomas of Starship, of Joe Lynn Turner of Deep Purple, Jimi Jamison of Survivor, Bobby Kimball of Toto, and John Cafferty of Beaver Brown Band.

When he learned that veteran rockers were picked to open the Opry Mills in place of any of Nashville's hosts of country artists, music publisher Charlie Monk, known as the "unofficial Mayor of Music Row," at first was speechless. "Why don't they just call it 'Bopry Mills,' instead of Opry Mills?" he asked. "I'm serious. Let's change the name to Bopry Mills. I'm astonished."

Julie Smith, Opry Mills vice president and development director, said, "We're trying to represent all types of music with this mall, as well as the arts and crafts of the region and the natural setting of the Middle Tennessee area." She noted that Vince Gill and his wife, gospel singer Amy Grant, would serve as "symbolic hosts" at the event and that a classical orchestra would also be performing.

Opry Mills replaces the former Opryland music and amusement park.