Les Leverette – Interviewed by Art Menius, 8/19/97 at his home in Madison, TN
[Les mentored Becky and accompanied me on this interview. She has a terrific photo of Les in his office during the interview that appeared with the Bluegrass Unlimited article.]
“Roy Acuff was a great friend, a great man.”
“He was my first Mr. DJ USA – Tom Cat Reeder – back in 1960 when I went to work up there. He’s a sight, that man. I haven’t seen him in years.”
“Here are some you haven’t seen from the Friday Night Frolic…. They just changed the name to the Friday Night Opry.”
“I don’t want my pictures on a CD where anyone can get them. I live on Social Security, retirement, and what I can make renting pictures. I’m not going to give that stuff away.”
“I grew up in Perdida and Atmore, Alabama. When I was a little boy it was turpentine, and potatoes, and cotton, and not a lot of that. Atmore was a center for that lower part of Escandia County along the Florida line. It was agricultural. When I got out of school in the spring, I went straight to work in the potato sheds, grading potatoes, sacking potatoes, hauling potatoes, taking them off the lines, and putting them on the box cars. They paid us about 24 cents an hour.
“When I was 18, I had to register for the draft. My birthday was April 23 , and I had to register right then. I believe it was June 15th when they inducted me into the Army. They ran me through a bunch of tests and determined that I would be a good surgical technician. I have always wondered why that was. I don’t think I displayed my religious convictions at that time.”
Although the war ended during his last week of basic training, he ended up working 18 months in the hospital section of a troop carrier that hauled fresh troops to Europe and brought back either POWs or weary vets. Later in 1946 they made two trips to Korea, where the vets told Les that trouble was brewing with North Korea.
By the time he was discharged in early 1947, “I had determined that I wanted to be a photographer, and I was buying those photographic magazines. I found an ad for a school in San Antonio and said, ‘boy, this would be a great place to go.’ That’s where I went to photographic school under the GI Bill.” Les had gotten interested in lenses experimenting with those from a pair of Civil War binoculars that his dad owned, eventually building his own wooden projector. Les’ boss, a corporal, on the troop ship knew a little bit about photography and about selling black market cigarettes to Italian civilians at great profit. Les used his income from that source to buy a box camera, contact paper, and dark room supplies. “We made contact prints of our stuff and had the most wonderful time.”
Les then got a gig at a portrait studio where he really learned how to shoot portraits more so than in school. In San Antonio he met his wife, a native of Nashville who worked for National Life & Accident Insurance Company, which owned WSM and the Grand Ole Opry. Her parents had moved to San Antonio in search, like Jimmie Rodgers, of a better climate due to her father’s heart problems. In 1947 she transferred to the Nat’l Life office in San Antonio to be near her parents. Les’ roommate’s sweetheart worked with Dot and that couple eventually wrangled Les and Dot into a blind date on September 4, 1948. “Five months later to the day, we were married.”
Les left the $25 a week job at the portrait studio because he needed more income to get married. So he went to work at a wholesale dry goods store for $35 per week. Dot made $37.50. By then her father had died and her mom returned to Nashville. The newlyweds soon followed in November 1950.
In 1952 Les took a nights and weekends gig making advertising photos for a department store in Nashville. “The I saw an ad from a place called Associated Photographers looking for a commercial photographer.” It turned out they had been mystified as to who had the department store job and they quickly hired Les for more than $100 a week. “I stayed there from the middle of 1952 through 1956 when he could no longer afford me as the business went bankrupt.”
END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE ONE
“We were living in Madison. We lived in Madison except when we first moved back when we lived in a duplex in West Nashville. Then we built this place in 1960.
“In 1960 I went to work at National Life. I had done a lot of work for National Life and gotten to know everyone there when I was working for Associated Photographers because that was one of our accounts. My boss would generally send me to National Life. In January 1960 I ran into Les Bonard, who edited the periodicals for the field force for National Life. He was at Library, and he told me that Kyle Stamper, who was the boss of the publication department, was thinking about hiring a photographer and opening a dark room. I told him I appreciated the tip, but I was working down here at Frederick’s Studio six days a week for $85 a week. It was bad. Yet at the same time, I thought that if I went to National Life all the photos would be pin presentations and baby showers. I didn’t think I’d like that at all. Then my old boss called me and said that he had some equipment he wanted to sell and if he would convince these people to buy his equipment, he’d tell me who was looking to hire. I already knew it was National Life, but his boom light I was in love with. I thought I would be sure to convince them to buy it…. I was still thinking pin presentations and baby showers, but two people had told me about it and maybe God was trying to tell me something.
“I went up there to talk to Kyle Stamper and he was a crusty ole bird. I loved him as much as anything because he was a straight a shooter as you ever met. You never had to doubt how you fit in his plans or what his opinion was. He said that whoever takes this job is going to replace four photographers. They’re going to be doing National Life, WSM radio, WSM TV, and the Grand Ole Opry. The minute he said ‘WSM television and the Grand Ole Opry,” something clicked inside of me, and I wanted that job.”
Les said he wanted job, but Stamper said he had to interview two more candidates – the nephew of an executive and a current National Life employee. Les assumed then that he had no chance. As it turned out, however, the underwriting department wouldn’t let the current employee transfer and the nephew lost interest.
“I kept worrying Mr. Stamper. I’d call him every week, sometimes twice a week. Sometimes he brought it on himself by saying ‘Call me back in a few days.’ You had better believe that I would…. I went up there unannounced one Monday, knowing Mondays are one of the worst days for executives. Kyle Stamper was sort of a Lionel Barrymore character, he slammed his hand across his face and said ‘Come on. Let’s go down to the Personnel Department.’ They started me out at $90 a week, and I complained. He said, ‘Take the money and in six months I’ll get you a raise. You won’t have to wait a year like most folks.’ True to his word, at the end of six months he gave me a $25 a month raise and at the end of the first year he gave me another $25 a month raise. Slowly we built up to where I almost had a living salary.”
The work was so much and after two years “they hired the most wonderful man to help me by the name of Bev LaTroy, who worked around the corner on the same floor WSM radio was on. Way back across the alley in an old building which housed the swimming pool, cafeteria, and basketball court. They built a crossover from the National Life building across that alley. It was downtown at 7th and Union. They built me a nice darkroom and a monster studio.” Bev was a musician in the “Waking Crew” orchestra on WSM, which meant he started and worked later than Les, taking the evening work away from Les. Soon they added a third person, Marvin Cartright, who came from the printing department. With him came a giant graphics camera and “pretty soon we were doing the halftone negatives for the printing department and a lot of stuff for the art department. We were really an asset to that company, and Mr. Stamper said that creating that department was what he would be remembered for. He was proud of our program, and I was proud that he was proud.”
“I served there through 1983 when the American General company took over the National Life Insurance Company in what I would call a hostile stock takeover. We didn’t want to sell the company, but they made an offer to the stockholders that they could not refuse. They went for it, and there went our company down the tubes. I didn’t like working for American General at all when I saw whole departments being closed or moved away. It really worried me and I got to where I could hardly sleep at night. So I called Bud Wendell, who at that time was CEO at Opryland and who had been my friend since he came to the National Life home office from Ohio as a regional administrative manager…. American General had put the WSM and Opry on the block because they were not interested in entertainment and hospitality. The Nashville Network had just been created and was a big red whole in the books. Ed Gaylord from Oklahoma City, who owned the Daily Oklahoman, wrote a check for $270 million and bought the whole of Opryland, including the Opry, and TNN.
“I called Bud Wendell and said ‘I am leaving this mess. I am not going to stay up here and work, and I need a job. He said, ‘I hadn’t thought about that.’ But he had because I had written him a letter when they opened the new Opryhouse in 1974, a three page letter explaining why I should be there instead of at National Life. Those guys at National Life wouldn’t have let me go even if Bud had wanted to get into it. When he found out this time that I was leaving for my own reasons, he said ‘Let me talk to my manager and I’ll be right back.’ True to his word, he called me back in a couple of weeks and said, ‘Hell, yes, they want you,’ but I didn’t know what I would be doing. I wanted to be full time Opry, promoting the Opry, maintaining the Opry Picture Book which is an ongoing task, and keeping the portraits up to date. They put me at the Opryland Hotel and I had 100 months before I reached 65 and could hit the silk [in 1992]. I out in those 100 months at Opryland Hotel and very honestly, I thought it would kill me. It worked me to death. I went there the first of January 1984. In November of ’87 I had a heart attack on the job. A few days later they did a quintuple bypass on me. In two months I was back on a part time basis, never to do the heavy work I had done before. I had a string of photographers to call in to help me when we had a lot of convention work, but I ran that little office all by myself. I had no secretary. It was just about more than I could handle. I worked really hard for eight solid years, and I have been retired since April 12, 1992.”
Once retired, Les pretty much quit making photos. In 1994, after much arm twisting, Les did an album cover shoot in Rosine for Bill Evans solo album. Soon thereafter Jimmy Campbell contacted Les to do the same for him. Les again said he didn’t do that anymore. “Jimmy said, ‘Les, us bluegrass guys aren’t going to let you quit work! I just want you to go up to Mr. Bill’s one day and shoot a roll of black and white of me, Mr. Monroe, and my son Casey…. Then the record company, Red Clay, said they wanted the photos hand colored. So I did it, and it turned out to be a really good keepsake CD cover. Then Billy Smith called wanting the same thing for Billy & Terry’s Red Clay CD.”
Les’ photo of Monroe appears on the cover of the Sugar Hill Grammy winning tribute album.
“They just keep coming and I keep saying I’m not doing any more. That’s the limit of my photography.”
“I lease photographs to books, magazines, video production companies, and record companies. These things just keep happening.” Patsy Cline, Flatt & Scruggs, Dolly Parton “That’s the only photography I do anymore – leasing stuff – except for occasional bluegrass friends.”
“In Perdida, AL, my daddy, who was a Baptist evangelist, had an old Stewart-Warner radio, and I remember when he bought it. I remember him skinning a couple of pine trees and putting them up way down in the back garden area, and putting some glass insulators out there, and hanging a wire from one of those to another and bringing the wire into the house to use for an aerial. He took another wire under the house and drilled a hole in the floor and made a ground. Every Saturday night we listened to the Grand Ole Opry. And some of those names I heard coming across the airwaves like Sam & Kirk McGee from sunny Tennessee. I remember David Cobb, who was an announcer, and Louie Buck and the Solemn Ole Judge, and, of course, people like Acuff, Minnie Pearl. From a little, bitty boy I remember the Fruit Jar Drinkers, and the Gully Jumpers, ad the Possum Hunters. I remember those names. I remember hearing DeFord Bailey play that harmonica on the Opry. I’m talking 1934, ’35, ’36, along in there, ‘cause I was born in 1927 and we moved from Perdida to Atmore when I was ten. My daddy would whip up a big ole freezer of ice cream and invite neighbors over to sit around and eat ice cream and listen to the Opry. My mother would put a pallet on the floor and my sister, who was two years younger, and I would lay on that pallet until we fell asleep and they took us off to bed. That’s my earliest remembrances of the Grand Ole Opry and country music. I used to listen to it a lot as I lived in Atmore as a young teenager.
“But I kind of fell out with it. I went to San Antonio to go to photographic school, and those guys were listening to it around the boarding house. I carried a big, ole portable radio with me on the Greyhound to San Antonio, and I listened to the country and western music they had out there. Well, sir, the first date that I had with Dot, that gang at the boarding house said that Saturday night we’re going to the Almas Club to hear Bob Wills. He’s playing for a dance.”
Dot agreed to go, but asked who Wills was. “We went out to the club, and that was a night to remember. I carried a dollar bill down there and got Bob Wills to autograph it, and Tommy Duncan autographed it…. Right there in San Antonio is where I really got into that country and western music. It wasn’t long until I was buying an occasional Bob Wills 78 on MGM. Before that I had been buying Stan Kenton and Louis Jordan, Dorsey, Miller, Harry James, Lionel Hampton, Cab Calloway, and stuff like that, more so than country, before I left home.
“Country music has lost a lot of its flavor to me. Today every act sounds like the next act to me. Lefty Frizzell had his own sound. Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Tex Ritter all had there own sound, and when you heard the first word out of their mouths on a record, you didn’t have to wonder who it was.
“I think bluegrass music is where it is at nowadays. Your best musicians in all the world are in bluegrass music. I just got my ballot for the IBMA Awards and I can’t even face it. How are you going to choose among some of these folks? Not only are they great musicians, in a lot of cases these people are your friends.”
END OF TAPE ONE
START OF TAPE TWO
How did you come to photograph country musicians?
“I was working at Frederick’s Studio from October 1956 until March of 1960. Hylo Brown called and made an appointment to come in and have a portrait made. I asked my boss lady to let me shoot that. He was almost a neighbor of ours; we lived on Due West Avenue, a little ways off of Gallatin Road. So I knew who he was and made the portrait and got to know the guy. Years later I did a cover for an LP that he did. I guess that was my first touch with it, except that when I worked at Associated Photographers between 1952 and 1956, Del Wood came out there for a portrait and I stayed and helped my boss with the lights. Then one night Eddy Arnold and the Willis Brothers came out to the studio. My boss shot that, but I watched all of it and tried to help with the retouching. Eddy looked over my shoulder to find out what I was doing with the retouching.
“When I went to work at National Life/WSM, my studio being over on the same section that WSM radio was on, I came into contact with a lot of those people. [Previously Dot used to tell Les about the country stars appearing on “Noontime Neighbors” she would meet working at National Life. Dot was a Vandever, but when Monroe first spoke to her about their possible kinship, she thought he was just trying to pick her up — “She was very sharp and very cool with him,” and maintained that belief until Les heard Bill intro “Uncle Pen” in 1960.]
“In later years, she and Bill would get together and talk about Vandevers. I not sure if they ever dug up a kinship, but we loved Bill Monroe. I went to see him 13 days before he died up there at that rehabilitation hospital. I always remember that. It was sad, yet I was glad that I was able to get there and do it.”
Les never noticed Monroe before hearing him on the Opry. “I was almost knew to live country music when I went to work at National Life. I’d hardly gone to a concert, except in my home town when some group would come through and you’d go to the high school auditorium and pay a dime or a quarter. The first impression I had of Bill Monroe’s groups was when they walked out on the stage: they were dressed. They looked super good. Dark suits, white hats, and they had on boots. They impressed me because they were so sharp. Then they impressed me as to how they worked together to playing those tunes and singing those songs. They played together, and that’s what grabbed me about them.
“Then I got to noticing Lester and Earl, because I had already seen them on their TV show. I loved the way those guys played to a microphone. It is like watching ballet dancers. Each one did his own thing at the very split second he had to. I always waited for the day that Paul Warren’s fiddle would pock Lester Flatt in the eye, and it never did.”
“I’ve been retired five (now ten) years, and loving every minute of it. I would highly recommend it to anybody that’s able.”
“Porter Wagonner did an album in 1966 called Confessions of a Broken Man, that was a result of a hit called ‘Skid Row Joe.’ Bob Ferguson was his producer. He was senior producer over at RCA. Bob called me and explained the idea of doing an album cover with Porter dressed up as Skid Row Joe – washed out, tired, drunk, if you may. He’s a bum. We agreed to go down to the steps at the back of the Ryman one afternoon so that the sun would be away, and it would be nice, soft lighting. Knowing the fact that this was a sad album – recitations, men with broken hearts — and knowing that Ektakrome film in the daylight will give you a kind of blue cast when you are away from the sun, especially late in the day, I chose to use that. That doggone cover went on to when the Grammy for Album Cover of the Year from NARAS, much to everybody’s surprise. The first time a Nashville photographer ever won that award. They changed the qualifications so that it is for the whole package and the Grammy goes to the art director, not the photographer.
“Nowadays they take so many photos for a CD package. They spent a lot of times and a lot of money. In the old days we did one picture or I’s shoot one twelve-exposure roll of two and a quarter film. We were always in a hurry for time, or we only had the one place we could shoot it, or said, ‘What the heck, if you don’t get it in twelve shots, what are you going to do?’ Nowadays, they shoot hundreds and hundreds.”
Les paid $200 for the Confessions of a Broken Man cover and another $200 for a sequel from the same sessions.
“Then in 1973 I won the Billboard County Cover of the Year for a thing on Dolly Parton. That’s the only two awards I’ve gotten for photography. You know what I tell people – you can take that Grammy and $1.80 and ride any bus in Nashville. That’s the highest honor I’ve ever received for photography, and it has sentimental value for me. Tex Ritter was one of my heroes when I was a young man. I love the cowboy movies.” In San Antonio, when Les was still single, Tex Ritter and his band was playing between showings of a movie downtown. Les took a young woman named Louise as a date. He got Tex to give her a autograph in the lobby.] “That was the first time I met him, back in 1948. Tex came to the Opry in 1965, not only as an Opry star but as co-host of the late night radio program on WSM with Grant Turner. They let Ralph Emery come back because he wanted to be on that late night show again with Tex Ritter. If I was working late in my dark room and got a little break, I would walk up there and sit down and chat with Tex. ‘Hi, Ralph,’ and I’d talk to Tex. I got to be where I could not do that and try to leave without Tex going, ‘Come back here! Sit down here. I’m not through with you yet.’ He even put me on the air. The first time Ralph Emery put me on the air, and it nearly scared me to death. But I got to where I was used to it, and Tex became a real friend. They tell me that when they announced my name at our NARAS awards at the country club, Tex told the people at his table, ‘Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no! I can’t believe it. Oh, no!’ Ralph Emery had a live afternoon TV show at that time. He came up to the stage and tapped me on the toe and asked me to be on his show the next day. I was feeling so brave, I said yes. Later I was scared to death.”
[Ronnie Dove, Ernest Tubb, and Tex were among Ralph’s guests that day.] When Tex say me standing there holding the Grammy, he comes over and says, ‘Let me see it!’ He took that thing, and he fondled it, and turned it, and read the inscription. Here’s a man who had made million movies from 1936 right on. He has starred on Broadway. He has been on radio and television. He sang the ‘High Noon’ theme song that won the Oscar. Of all the things in the world, the man never won the Grammy. And I, a little ole dinky photographer from Cottontown down in Alabama, am the possessor of a Grammy. It is unlawful. It’s obscene that Tex Ritter doesn’t own that thing, I was thinking. Tex Ritter stood there and handled that thing, and to me, that was like putting 24 carat gold on that thing.”
How did you get started doing album covers?
“Porter Wagoner called me one day. When I first went up there we were doing books, Opry picture books. Trudy Stamper, the wife of the man who had hired me at National Life, was the PR girl at the Opry. She said, ‘We need to get a new Opry book together.’ She kept gathering up these Opry stars – ‘How many more can you take tomorrow?’ She would line them up, and I was shooting black and whites. Then I got the two and a quarter and started shooting color. Porter came in wearing a gold suit with that yellow pompadour hair, and I put him against a blue background, and it was startling. I said, ‘Man, this sure would make a good album cover,’ and it stuck in Porter’s brain. It wasn’t too much longer that he called me and said, ‘Les, RCA is doing an album called The Thin Man from West Plains. Could you bring one of those photographs you took of me over here and let Bob Ferguson and Chet Atkins take a look at it?’” [Les took the shot over after work, and they immediately wanted to use it.] “That was my first paid album cover. I had done one on Lightnin’ Chance for Trudy Stamper one time while they were changing the stage at the Opry, and Lightnin’ ran out there with his bass and stood like he was performing on the Opry. I shot that, and he did a comedy album.”
How much of your time was spent on the Opry and WSM while you were at National Life?
“Not a lot. Every Friday or Saturday I would have to go to Opry and make pictures of ‘Mr. DJ USA,’ who was a visiting DJ. I made four pictures of the guest with Opry stars. Trudy said don’t do any more than four, because she was having to pay fifty cents a piece for those prints. She would mail copies to that guy, and he would put them in his local papers. One of the best program jobs anybody ever came up with. All over this country DJs were getting in their local papers. Usually on Monday I would give those prints to Trudy, because she wanted to get them out.”
“We worked a 35 hour week at National Life. Above that they paid you regular time to forty hours, and then time and a half beyond forty. Then I started getting overtime for going to the Opry on Friday or Saturday night. WSM television would work me a lot in the daytime, but I sent one of my men out there a lot to the noon show. You could never tell who would be on that noon show. It could be Bobby Kennedy or County Basie. When politicians came to town, I had to photograph Channel-4 covering it. I shot…. I photographed every president from John Kennedy through the first George Bush. But most of my work was for National Life.”
Dr. Charles Wolfe, then a trustee of the IBMM, contacted Les about a photo exhibit for the grand opening of the museum. Les was reticent to do images, explaining that he was retired. “Then Charles told me about Dr. Tom Adler, who was director of the museum. Dr. Adler called and said he would help me with.” So Les acquiesced and went through his archives. Les pulled negatives he liked, and Dr. Wolfe helped him go through them. “We got it down to forty-four pictures.” IBMM paid to have Les make the prints for the exhibit at his daughter’s dark room. “The museum had them matted and framed. Dr. Adler and his son came down here and got them just in the nick of time [for the opening.] I like the way they looked up there.”
When the IBMM initially opened, Les’ images joined the Hall of Honor plaques as twin centerpieces of the museum. When the museum reopened in April 2002 with vastly expanded and improved offerings, the Leverette photos could be found on the second floor in the room designated for rotating exhibits.
Dr. Adler suggested a small book they could sell in the gift shop, and Les thought this was a good idea. He said they could use the images for that purpose or postcards. Les told a friend from California in the photography book business about the book idea, and the acquaintance offered to publish it. After a year, the fellow had done captions for all the images, but nothing else.
“I said, ‘Man, we’ve got to get going.’ My friend Don Key, in North Carolina, called me and said that our mutual friend in California had called him and asked if he wanted to co-publish my book. Don said, ‘No. I don’t co-publish. I want to work on my own stuff.’ Don said he would like to publish it if I could get it away from their friend.” That was arranged with one phone call, and Empire Publishing of Madison, North Carolina immediately received the images and captions from California. Dot and Les spent many tedious hours proofing the blue lines Empire, which specializes in western movie books and also published Becky Johnson’s Inside Bluegrass, sent.
“He wanted to call the book Blue Moon of Kentucky. I asked why he wanted to do that, and he said because it says bluegrass. He was going to use a picture on the cover that I made when we finally got him to go up there to the museum, standing there peering at one of his pictures there in the exhibit. We were going to call it by Dr. Wolfe’s name for that exhibit, ‘Long Journey Home: The Bluegrass Chronicle of Les Leverette.’ Don asked if I had a better title, and I didn’t.
“It’s been a successful book. It has sold faster than anything Empire has done. We’re very happy with. I wish the printer had done a better job. It is an acceptable job and, in some cases, a really good printing job. In other cases, it is not. Some of my favorite pictures in there are kind of washed out, and they should not be that way. I have gotten a lot of publicity from that thing. TNN has done me a couple of jobs on it. St. Louis Post-Dispatch did a story. Country Weekly magazine did a big story, about four or five pages of pictures and stories. I’ve been on various radio stations around the country. It never was about the money. You never make money out of a book, hardly anybody does. It has been a lot of fun, and I have met a lot of people.
“I was down at the Ryman autographing books the other week. A mother came up with a young son and said that he wanted that book for Christmas, and she could not find it. So the kid knew about it from somewhere, and I autographed one for him right there. I had two different people who had bought books from me months and months before at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop near Opryland and said they loved the book. That’s all I wanted to know, that they’re happy to have it.”
Images of Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and the Foggy Mountain Boys on the road, especially at the counter of a diner, immediately attract those enjoying the book or the exhibit.
Frank McGee, the NBC newsman, was doing a new series for NBC-TV, “See It Now.” “For some reason, thank God, somebody wanted to do a thing on Flatt & Scruggs. They were hot then on the college circuit. CBS had already used them. Being employed by WSM, that provided, I always supposed, a source for easy, handy, and inexpensive photos for that program. For me to go do it cost them nothing since I worked for the NBC affiliate. Little did they know that they were marking up one of the highlights of my life.
“So I went on two trips with Lester and Earl. The first one went to Caves City, Kentucky. We went up there one day and came back that night. They entertained on top of the concession stand at a drive in theater. It was wonderful. Lightning bugs, candleflies, and all those bugs flying all around! It was something. The NBC crew had a ball; they loved it. Only technicians, the cameraman, and the director went with us. Frank McGee was in New York.
“A few days later, we went down to Jumpertown, Mississippi, for them to play at a high school auditorium. That’s the perfect place for NBC. On the way down to Jumpertown, we stopped for lunch at a little roadside café. The NBC crew got there pictures and lights out and made a picture of them sitting there at the counter eating their lunch, and I made pictures, too. That’s the one you are referring to.”
END OF TAPE TWO, SIDE A
START OF TAPE TWO, SIDE B
Was it easier to photograph at the Ryman or the new Opry house?
“Both had their advantages. I’ll tell you what I mean by that. I got so used to that Ryman. Oft times, instead of making my way through whoever happened to be backstage to get to that back door, to run out into that audience, and take a right and run down that wall to get to the stage, I would just go and walk the stage right there. I was ease down just off center over to the edge of the stage, and I would jump back up there to get my stuff. I had to be backstage, had to be out front. I did it all right there. At the new house, I only went over those lights one time. I decided then I’d never do it again, because I tripped and darn near lost control. I had already jumped over a wall out there at Opryland in 1976 and broke a knee all to pieces. At the new place they went to bright, incandescent lights, and if they are really shining, it is the greatest place in the world. If those guys are working on dim up there, like blue lights for Don Gibson, it is hard to photograph. I have hardly ever, unless it had to be done, used a flash from out front. I have used available light. When both those spotlights at the new Opry House are working, that’s the perfect place. You knew what your exposure was. You knew how to set your lens. At the Ryman, they had arc lights, which was daylight. If you were shooting color down there at that old Ryman, you’d use daylight film. They had those hot, hot, hot monster, looked like cannons, arc lights, and they were burning. At the new place, they had incandescent. I used daylight anyway because it gave me a warmer image. If you used indoor color film out there, it was more natural. The door is closer to the front of the stage in the new house. You can just scoot in and out. I love the new place, but my old knees got to where it was hard the last few years.