Country Vet Porter Wagoner Unplugs

Excerpted from the magazine for

Just in time for his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Porter Wagoner is releasing "Unplugged." With a legendary recording career spanning nearly five decades under his belt, Wagoner believes the acoustic project is his best to date. If so, the Sept. 10 release, his second for Select-O-Hits-distributed Shell Point Records, would at least top the title of his acclaimed 2000 label debut, "The Best I've Ever Been," Wagoner's first to include all new material in 25 years.

"It got such wonderful reviews, and it was a great product because the songs were so well-written," says Wagoner, whose last album was almost wholly written by Damon Black, a Missouri farmer who wrote the songs for Wagoner after selling his farm. "But I would have done it even if I'd known it wouldn't be successful: A few things in life you do because you know they're something you need to do -- same with 'Unplugged.'"

The Grand Ole Opry veteran, who is now celebrating his 45th anniversary at the venerable country music institution, was prompted to record again so quickly by the unsettling realization that he had gotten "out of the swing of things."

"I was standing on the sideline watching other people do things, and it really got to me," he recalls. "I felt I still had great material inside me that hadn't come out and that I could do a better job singing and presenting a song."

Wagoner had been aware of other acoustic, unplugged-type albums and thought the idea of "Porter - Unplugged" had the right ring when his steel guitarist Fred Newell suggested it. "I didn't want to do a bluegrass album -- though I love bluegrass," he says. "The first music I was interested in was Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys, and I listened to bluegrass religiously on the radio while growing up. But I felt so many bluegrass albums are out now since 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' -- which is a wonderful thing -- but I wanted to do a country album, because I'm a country music person."

Wagoner, who recorded Monroe material on his 1965 RCA album "The Bluegrass Story," returned to his Monroe roots on "Unplugged" with "Girl in the Blue Velvet Band," altered from its original waltz time. He also included the Dolly Parton-penned "Lost Forever in Your Kiss," which he and his former protege previously recorded as a duet on their 1972 RCA album "Together Always." Wagoner enlisted steel player/vocalist Don Warden -- an integral part of his seminal '50s and '60s trio and since then a longtime member of Parton's management -- to add backup vocals on "I Cried Again."

But Willie Nelson is the star guest of "Unplugged," dueting with Wagoner on Nelson's own "Family Bible" and "Silver Eagle Meets the Great Speckled Bird," both of which Wagoner previously recorded. "We'd never sang together, so it was the icing on the cake," says Wagoner, adding that Nelson will help him launch the album with a joint Sept. 14 Opry appearance.

Other cuts deserve special mention: Lead track "Silence in the Wind" is "one of my favorite songs I ever wrote," says Wagoner, who also penned the album's "After All" with Christie Lynn. "Moses Jones," by Damon Black, "is a story song about an old black man I was raised with and is unique because of the way Damon writes."

Wagoner, who just turned 75 and will be inducted during the Country Music Association Awards in Nashville Nov. 6, is anxious to tour next year in support of "Unplugged."

"I feel that I can do a great show with the new product," says Wagoner, who jokes that he feels "like a new person -- slightly used" after recently undergoing a successful surgical procedure. "I'm back 100%," he adds, "though when I returned to the Opry a few weeks ago I said I was only 70 to 75% -- and they said that's all I ever was!"

Excerpted from the Sept. 7, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the members section.

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