Grandpa Jones, whose banjo playing, brightly colored suspenders and mischievous grin made him a country music favorite and a “Hee Haw” regular for more than two decades, died Feb. 19 in Nashville of complications resulting from a series of strokes he had suffered. He was 84.
Jones suffered his first stroke in 1991, but came back to perform on the Opry. He was debilitated by a series of strokes after an Opry performance in January, and was placed in Nashville’s McKendree Hospital on Feb. 10.
“One of the pleasures of my life was knowing and working with Grandpa Jones,” said Bob Whittaker, president of the Opry. “Grandpa was one of the pillars of country music.”
Singer Roy Clark called Jones “a remarkable talent.”
Jones, born Louis Marshall Jones, was best known for his banjo playing, singing and comedy on the syndicated TV show “Hee Haw,” which ran from 1968-93.
His outfit never changed down through the years: the suspenders, battered gray hat and brown western boots.
On the “Hee Haw” set, when Jones was off camera he often sat offstage, trading quips and spinning yarns with fellow entertainers.
He picked up the nickname “Grandpa” when he was 22 and he disguised himself as an old-timer during a performance. A colleague said offhandedly, “Get up here to the mike; you’re just like an old grandpa.”
Jones was born Oct. 20, 1913, in Henderson County, Ky., the youngest of 10 children. He began playing mandolin and fiddle as a youngster, and also learned to play a 75¢ guitar.
He spent his early years as an entertainer in Wheeling, W.Va., and Cincinnati. He began singing on the Grand Ole Opry in 1946.
Among his hit songs were “Old Rattler,” “Eight More Miles to Louisville,” “Mountain Dew,” “Old Rattler’s Pup” and “Tragic Romance.”
He once said his proudest moment was entertaining American troops in Korea in 1951 on a flatbed truck in rice paddies.
“We went as far as they’d let us go,” he said. “It was rewarding to see the boys who had not seen anybody from the United States for nine months at least.”
He performed at such diverse venues as Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, various state fairs and the Smithsonian Institution.
Jones was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1978.