Eddie Stubbs – now that’s a gol dern country music name – plays classic country from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s on the radio:
- Country music has its share of wild characters, but old-fashioned, clean-cut, suit-and-tie-wearing Eddie Stubbs isn’t one of them. He abstains from bad habits (“dadgummit!” is as close as he comes to swearing), goes to church every Sunday and has a work ethic that would put Puritans to shame. Above all, he is an evangelist, a spreader of the word, eager to initiate the uninitiated and bring those who have strayed back into the fold. It is not belief in God, though, that he is trying to sell. Eddie Stubbs is on a mission to save the soul of country music.
He’ll come right out and tell you as much if you ask him. Country has forgotten its roots, he’ll say. It has neglected its pioneers and forsaken its heroes. What he won’t say out loud, but what you think he secretly believes, is that most new country music isn’t country music at all.
For a radio disc jockey faced with media conglomeration, target audiences and shrunken playlists, filling commercial and even public airwaves with classic country — music from its golden era of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s — is a tall order. But as any listener to his Sunday afternoon show on Washington’s WAMU-FM or his weeknight and Saturday morning shows on Nashville’s WSM-AM knows, Stubbs is diligently stoking the embers of old-time country, bluegrass and honky-tonk. “Yes sir, friends, that was Johnny Paycheck singing ‘The Real Mr. Heartache.’ I’ll tell you what, he makes you believe he’s been there. Wow, it doesn’t get any better than that. Great stuff.” Stubbs is standing in front of the microphone in his fishbowl of a studio in the lobby of the Gaylord Opryland Resort hotel. Tall and fence-post thin, he has a slightly haunted face that’s all bone and little flesh.
Unless he’s flashing his grimace of a smile, he looks straight out of a Depression-era photo. Listeners, he says, are often surprised by his appearance. “They usually think I’m 65 to 70, bald, portly, smoking a pipe and do the show every week with a dog at my feet,” he says. “Well, I don’t like dogs, I don’t smoke, I’m far from portly and I’m 41.”
….As the music plays, he takes calls off the air from listeners like the 37-year-old trucker speeding along I-70 in Missouri who thanks him “for playing all that old music ’cause no one else does.” And the elderly woman in Chillicothe, Ohio, who praises him for digging up a favorite Hawkshaw Hawkins song she requested. “How’d you find that so fast, Eddie?”
There is wide agreement in the country music world that no one is as knowledgeable about the music as Eddie Stubbs. “Everybody understands that he knows more about it than anybody else, and they just defer to him,” says country star and historian Marty Stuart. “He’s a beacon. He’s a reminder of greatness. Any time you need to know where the standard lies, tune in.”
Bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs concurs. “Eddie is one of the best things that ever happened to Nashville,” he says. “All of the extra facts and information he provides about the music, well, no one else can do what he does.”
From 8 p.m. until midnight Monday through Thursday and 6 until 10 Saturday mornings, Stubbs stands alone at the WSM mike, working without notes and dipping into his memory for the back story about songs and performers. “Little tidbits to try and help sell the artist, sell the record,” he calls them.
….Listening to Stubbs’s shows is tantamount to a distance-learning class at the University of Country Music. Unlike most DJs, he is given plenty of latitude as to what songs he can play. At WSM, there are a few he’s required to include each night, but the majority are his own selections. His WAMU show, on the other hand — which he now records in Nashville — is entirely up to him.
His authoritative knowledge and easygoing, radio-rich voice were instrumental in helping Stubbs land a premier gig, one of the three regular announcers at the Grand Ole Opry, which hosts the longest continuously running radio broadcast in history. Every Friday and Saturday night he shares duties with his fellow announcers, welcoming the audience at the show’s 4,400-seat venue and introducing Opry legends like Little Jimmy Dickens and Porter Wagoner.
It is a dream come true for the kid from Gaithersburg, whose dad taught him to play the fiddle at age 4. For Stubbs, who had visited the Opry as a youngster with his parents, the program is sacred territory.
“Don’t ever forget what you’re seeing here tonight,” he whispers urgently to a visitor backstage at the Opry earlier this year. “History is passing us by, and this is a very special place.” [Washington Post]
There’s nothing like the zeal of a missionary – today’s pop country is decidedly lacking in soul. I’ll take the old time religion every time.