Opry band member Capps dies
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Opry band member Capps dies

Wednesday, June 3, 2020 – Grand Ole Opry band member and long-time session guitarist Jimmy Capps died on Tuesday at 81.

Capps played on such classics as "Stand By Your Man" - Tammy Wynette," "He Stopped Loving Her Today" - George Jones, "The Gambler" - Kenny Rogers and * "The Rose" - Conway Twitty.

Capps also played on George Strait's "Amarillo By Morning" and "Unwound," Alan Jackson's "Here In The Real World," The Oak Ridge Boys' "Elvira" and "Sail Away," Barbara Mandrell's "Sleeping Single In A Double Bed" and "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool" ... Conway's "Lost In The Feeling", "Red Neckin' Love Makin' Night", and "Don't Call Him A Cowboy" and all of Ronnie Milsap's recordings through 1988, to include such hits as "Smoky Mtn Rain" and "Legend In My Time."

At one time, Capps averaged 520 recording sessions a year, according to his website.

Born in Fayetteville, N.C. to Alice and Tommy Capps, and raised in Benson, N.C., Capps started listening to the Grand Ole Opry when he was 8 years old. He was inspired by his champion fiddle-playing uncle, Lynn Cook, and local guitarist Hayden Ivey. He sang and played on WCKB-Dunn NC, and in 1956, Capps worked in both radio and TV in Florence, S.C. with a performer named Slim Mims. He moved on to Wilson to work with another "Slim" (Slim Short), and he played local clubs in Benson in a band called The Tar Heels.

But one audition in 1958 changed Capps' life forever when he became the guitar player for The Louvin Brothers.

"When I auditioned for my job with the Louvin Brothers, their current guitar player (Paul Yandell, who had been drafted into the Army)) had heard me working with a duet in North Carolina who sang all the Louvin Brother's songs, so I knew all the intros and turnarounds to their songs. He'd heard me play and recommended me to the Louvins."

"So I went to Burlington, N.C. and after their show, we went back to the hotel, and I auditioned. I did all their intros and turnarounds to the songs they auditioned me with, and they seemed to like me okay. But their guitar player noticed I didn't use a thumbpick...he then asked me if I could play "Malaguena"? I told him, "No I couldn't."

Charlie Louvin spoke up and said, "Well ... Ira and I very seldom sing 'Malaguena' anymore so, we're gonna hire you anyway."

"Thanks to Charlie. I guess I owe my whole career to him. That one split-second decision that he made is the reason I am here. That decision made all the difference in my life."

Capps recalls when the Louvins were scheduled for a guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, he came down with double pneumonia. He said, "No way am I going to miss playing the Opry. If I die on the stage, I'm gonna work the Opry ... just one time."

He remembers playing "The Knoxville Girl," but he was so scared Pete Wade had to help him plug his guitar into the amplifier.

Capps became a member of the Grand Ole Opry Staff Band in 1967.

His guitar heroes were Grady Martin, Chet Atkins, Pete Wade, Ray Edenton on rhythm, Billy Sandford, Leon Rhodes, and Spider Wilson.

"Seriously, I would get up early before I went to school, and my Dad and I would listen to Spider play guitar with Big Jeff. I didn't realize there wasn't that much difference in our ages. Spider was going to school too, just like me. But he is one of my heroes. I've always admired him. It's really wonderful to get to work with your heroes like that."

Capps considered his finest years to be with producers Owen Bradley, Billy Sherrill and Larry Butler. When you left the studio after working with them, you knew you had contributed to a 'puzzle' these masters would put together, and you were a piece of that puzzle."

He has produced albums on artists such as The Wilburn Brothers, Jan Howard, Jim & Jesse, Roy Drusky and David Houston.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher • countrystandardtime@gmail.com
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