Sunstroke caused it, the premature end of his baseball career. It was followed by a nervous breakdown, and then while recovering, he began to perfect his violin skills on the porch after sunset. He would be called the king of Country Music, Roy Acuff.
The young athlete was trying out for a minor league team, the Knoxville Smokies. They were affiliated with the then New York and now San Francisco Giants. Several collapses followed the sun stroke, and he had to accept that baseball was not his future.
For a long time he couldn’t be outside until the sun went down. His Father, a Baptist Minister, gave him records of locally famous fiddlers that influenced his style. In 1932 he joined Dr Hauer’s medicine show. With no microphones, Roy learned to sing loud enough to be heard. This skill would propel him to fame very soon.
He left the medicine show circuit in 1934 and formed the band, the Tennessee Crackerjacks. Roy’s version of the Gospel song, The Great Speckled Bird, landed the band their first recording contract. They also recorded The Wabash Cannonball in 1936.
In 1938 they changed their name to the Smoky Mountain Boys, and joined The Grand Ole Opry. The first audition didn’t go well, but the second gained them the spot. Shortly after that, the dobro player Beecher Kirby joined the group. Roy had met him at a Knoxville bakery. The man would become famous as Bashful Brother Oswald, his stage name.
In the forties, the band went to Hollywood, appearing in at least four pictures. Roy played a singing sheriff in Night Train To Memphis. He also starred in Home In San Antone.
A dispute with management caused Roy to leave the Opry in 1946. A few years earlier he and Fred Rose had formed Acuff-Rose Music. They signed Hank Williams Sr in 1946. Their company became the most important publishing company in Country music.
The non Opry years saw Roy run and lose the Governor’s race for the Republican ticket in 1948. As well as several years touring the western states. He eventually returned to the Opry, but wasn’t as popular as the younger singers, Ernest Tubb and Eddy Arnold. Roy considered retirement, but had a resurgence in the early seventies.
On March 16, 1974, Roy was the headliner all over again. That night, the Opry moved from the Ryman to the Grand Ole Opry house. The first show began with a picture of a 1939 Roy and the Smoky Mountain Boys. A recording of George Hay introducing them was followed by a live performance of the Wabash Cannonball.
Before his death in 1992, he would be given both the National Medal Of Arts, and a lifetime achievement award from the John F. Kennedy Center. Roy also has a star on Hollywood’s Walk Of Fame. The title that described the singer, yo-yo and fiddle player best, was the one I grew up hearing, Roy Acuff, King Of Country Music.