Saturday night, I was grilling hamburgers and listening to Little Jimmy Dickens on the “Grand Ole Opry,” and I thought, this is a good Saturday night.
There’s just something deeply satisfying about hearing Little Jimmy Dickens on the radio and knowing he’s there at the Opry, knowing that Little Jimmy Dickens has always been on the Opry and probably always will be.
If you recognize his name, chances are it’s because of his only No. 1 song, “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose,” but while he may be most famous for a nearly 50-year-old novelty song, here in Nashville, Little Jimmy Dickens is beloved.
Little Jimmy Dickens is 4-foot-11 and 90 years old. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983, and he’s been a member of the Opry since ’48. Hank Williams nicknamed him Tater. The name suits him.
If you don’t know a lot about the Opry, it’s the country’s longest-running live radio show. It’s on every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday night, and Little Jimmy Dickens is usually there. I’ve heard he loves the show so much that he’s usually the first performer to arrive at the Opry House. He just likes hanging out there.
Little Jimmy Dickens’ voice isn’t as strong as it used to be, but no one listening seems to mind. On nights he doesn’t sing, he talks and tells jokes. He has a self-deprecating sense of humor.
“I’d like to play a song from my latest album,” he’ll say. “It came out in 1963.”
One night we went to Opry, the auditorium was about half empty. He said. “There aren’t a lot of people here tonight, but that’s OK. We’ve played to smaller crowds.
“One time, we drove all night, and when we got there, there was one person in the audience. I said, ‘Sir, we drove all night to get here, and we’re gonna do our show just for you.’ He said, ‘Well, hurry up. I’m the janitor, and I can’t go home until you’re done.'”
He tells the same jokes over and over. People who don’t listen to the Opry a lot don’t notice. The rest of us, I think, find it comforting.
Here are 2 videos of Little Jimmy Dickens. In the first, he pulls a Kanye West on Brad Paisley at the Country Music Association awards a couple years ago:
And here’s a clip of Little Jimmy Dickens on the Opry a few years ago. The song is called, “(You’ve Been Quite a Doll) Raggedy Ann.” It peaked at No. 75 on Billboard’s country chart in 1970. They don’t make country records like “Raggedy Ann” anymore. These days, country songs are about partying in the woods. This one is about grieving. These days, country songs are ironic. In this one, Little Jimmy Dickens means every word.