Jack Greene, 1930-2013: ‘A local boy who made it in the big time but always remembered his roots’
By Steve Wildsmith (email@example.com)
Maryville native and country music legend Jack Greene died Thursday night at his home in Nashville from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 83.
Greene, nicknamed “The Jolly Green Giant,” was born in Blount County in 1930, and in the early 1950s, he moved to Atlanta, where he formed the band The Peach Tree Boys. In 1959, he moved to Nashville and formed The Tennessee Mountain Boys, and while opening for the legendary Ernest Tubb a few years later, Greene drew Tubb’s attention and was asked to join the fold.
He did, and for the next few years, he was a drummer, guitarist and vocalist for The Texas Troubadours. In 1964, after being asked to open Tubb’s shows as a solo artist, he released his first single, “The Last Letter.”
Other singles followed, and his first Top 40 hit came in 1966 with “Ever Since My Baby Went Away.” His next single, “There Goes My Everything,” put him on the map, spending seven weeks atop the country charts and opening the doors for his subsequent success: the No. 1 hit “All the Time” (on top for five weeks) and the No. 2 hit “What Locks the Door.”
In 1967, the Country Music Association gave him three of its top awards — Male Vocalist of the Year, Single of the Year and Album of the Year.
“Jack had nine No. 1 hits in a row, and when you had a No. 1 hit back then, they didn’t just play it once or twice on the radio for a week; they played it for weeks and weeks and weeks,” Lenoir City-based music promoter Greg White told The Daily Times on Friday.
White was the president of International Audio Corp. in 2007 when he organized a showcase at The Bijou Theatre in downtown Knoxville, during which time City of Maryville officials — including Mayor Tom Taylor, who was vice mayor at the time — presented Greene with a key to the city.
“Not only was Jack Greene a gifted performer and a talented songwriter, he was also a gracious and charming gentleman,” Taylor told The Daily Times on Friday. “When I visited him backstage at the Bijou, he acknowledged every visitor and made an honest attempt to make a local connection. He was the perfect example of a local boy who made it in the big time but always remembered his roots.”
After his sweep of the 1967 CMA Awards, other hits followed — “You Are My Treasure,” Love Takes Care of Me,” “Until My Dreams Come True,” “Statue of a Fool” and “Back in the Arms of Love” — and in 1970, he partnered up with singer Jeannie Seely. They became one of the biggest touring acts of the 1970s, releasing a string of hits as solo artists and as a duet, before MCA Records dropped him in 1976.
By that time, he’d been a member of the Grand Ole Opry for almost a decade, and although he achieved minor hits in the 1980s, his place in country music lore had been cemented. He did an email interview with The Daily Times in 2007, when he fondly recalled his Blount County roots: “The family atmosphere is very special to me, and that is something I hold dearly in my memories about Blount County,” he wrote. “There are so many good memories I cherish. Musically, the best memory I have is being ill and having my mother spend hours teaching me the guitar at age 10 while I was housebound and recovering.”
In later years, Greene would employ the services of Lee Ann Malone as his manager; a fiercely loyal advocate of Greene and a friend until the end, she was with Greene when he died Thursday night, White said.
“Jack’s career would have been over 15 years ago if it hadn’t been for Lee Ann,” White said. “He was just a good ol’ Tennessee boy who never got above his raising. She was one of the most valuable people in Jack’s lifetime.”
From that 2007 performance, White struck up a friendship with Malone and Greene, often traveling to Nashville to visit them both. It was no big deal, he said, to be at Greene’s home when marquee country stars stopped by for a visit.
“Gary (LeVox) from Rascal Flatts, Garth Brooks ... I’ve got pictures of everybody,” he said. “Jack helped me get into the performing end of it, too. Knowing Jack Greene and being his friend gave you instant access to anywhere you wanted to go in Nashville.”
Several years ago, Blount County resident Rhonda Whiting, a member of the local country-Western trio Sisters of the Silver Sage, met Malone and Greene when they agreed to perform a benefit concert she organized for the nonprofit charity Big South Fork Opry in Crossville. She also struck up a friendship with the artist and often used her vacation time to visit him in Nashville and assist with whatever needed doing as his Alzheimer’s progressed.
“I remember he had surgery at one time, and I stayed with him for a week, sleeping on a little cot beside the recliner where he was recuperating,” she said. “That’s when I truly knew Jack had God in him, he would sing in his sleep. I would look over there, and his eyes would be closed, but he would be singing or humming. That’s when I knew I would do anything to help Jack Greene.”
She was with Greene in 2010 at the Foothills Fall Festival, where he performed and the city changed the name of Theater in the Park to honor him. Now known as Jack Greene Park, it’s the least the city could do for a man who never forgot it.
“His pitch was still good and the smoothness was still in his voice; my only concern was that we in Maryville did not accord him the recognition he deserves,” Taylor said. “Hopefully by naming the park in his honor, we’ll keep his memory fresh in our minds for years to come. His response to me at the time was, ‘I always tried to make Maryville proud of me,’ and I think he certainly did.”
According to Music Row, a country music industry publication in Nashville, arrangements have been made for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.