Leon Rhodes shares memories of his time as an electric lead guitarist in Ernest Tubb’s band, the Texas Troubadours, playing in the Grand Ole Opry band, the “Hee Haw” house band, and on numerous recording sessions. Part of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Nashville Cats series, the interview was held on March 8, 2014.
Rhodes tearfully recalls selling his bed to afford a guitar as a boy. A Dallas native born in 1948, Rhodes says he grew up in the Pentecostal church, where secular music was discouraged. He began his professional music career in 1948, at age sixteen, when he joined the staff of Dallas radio program the “Big D Jamboree.” He recalls his encounters with Jack Ruby, who owned local nightclubs, and describes his time as a professional fast-pitch softball player.
In the 1950s, Rhodes recorded with Lefty Frizzell and Ray Price, and worked as a drummer, guitarist, and vocalist on the local club scene. He worked for Tubb from 1960 to 1966. (The lineup of Rhodes, steel player Buddy Charleton, bassist Jack Drake, drummer Jack Greene, and front man Cal Smith worked under Tubb for nearly five years and are regarded as his greatest band.) The group recorded numerous instrumental tunes including the Rhodes-penned “Honey Fingers,” which became his nickname.
After leaving Tubb, Rhodes joined the Grand Ole Opry band and worked in Nashville studios, playing on records by John Denver, Larry Gatlin, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire, Willie Nelson, and George Strait. He also spent twenty years in the “Hee Haw” house band, and after leaving the Opry in 1999, toured with Porter Wagoner.
Admitting to some nerves, Rhodes concludes the program with performances of “Walking the Floor Over You” and “My Window Faces the South” with vocalist-guitarist Anita Stapleton.
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