THE JAMBOREE GANG – 1954 to Present
So how many different band members have played during the 60 years? Way too many to name. Hundreds to say the least. Has anyone who started on the Jamboree stage become a success in Nashville? Yes. Ron Gaddis, who was George Jones’ bass guitarist and band leader for over 20 years, began his career at the Jamboree in the early 70s. Tommy White, who is the steel guitarist for the Grand Ole Opry house band, got his first regular job at the Jamboree when he was only 13 years old. Tommy also worked as Donna Fargo’s steel guitarist and on Ralph Emery’s Nashville Now television show. Joel Ray is credited with giving White’s number to an agent in Nashville for Fargo’s band. Finally, and most significantly, Kentucky’s own Patty Loveless, a country music superstar in the 80s and 90s, was a regular guest on the Jamboree from 1969 to 1971. Perhaps Joel Ray’s biggest fan was his mother. She stuck with him through thick and thin. She never missed a show as long as her health permitted and, like her son, was a night owl. Mary Lois Morris recalled Joel Ray’s mother ironing his show clothes at 2 and 3 a.m. His mother moved into the office with him and stayed until she finally had to move to Sunrise Manor Nursing Home in Hodgenville. Mrs. Sprowls passed away on February 27 1978 at the age of 87. Joel Ray has let it be known many times one of the hardest things in life was burying his beloved mother on Thursday and putting on a smile for the show on Saturday night. Joel Ray was so well known throughout the state that he received a letter from then Congressman William H. Natcher offering his condolences. The letter is on display in the restaurant. When Joel Ray Sprowls hires an employee, he means to keep them. Just ask Charles Durham who has been the Jamboree’s drummer for 60 out of 61 years. “I just do my job and keep the beat going,” says Durham. Durham has missed very little himself over the 60 years. Durham has survived two heart surgeries, a broken leg & most recently a spinal aneurism in December 2013. Durham had a risky 9 hour trial surgery in early 2014 which was a complete success. Doctors warned Durham that he would be paralyzed and wheelchair bound the rest of his life if the surgery didn’t work. He worked hard in rehab and returned to the show after only 5 months. Like his boss, Durham beat all the odds. Mike Forbis of Campbellsville played from January 4th through May 10th. Durham returned to the drums on May 17, 2014. Like Joel Ray, Durham credits the Jamboree gang and fans’ encouragement with his miraculous recovery. Charles is married to Ann. They have two children, Patrick & Pamela, and four grandchildren.
Ron Browning …Steel Guitar & Vocals
Jay Henderson …Lead Guitar, Fiddle, Vocals & Emcee
Ronnie Benningfield…Piano & Vocals
Camille Bingham Turner.. Vocals
FREQUENT JAMBOREE GUESTS:
Lou Bingham & Jeanne Flanagan
Mary Lois Morris, a mainstay for Joel Ray, has been restaurant manager for the past 56 years. Since Joel Ray’s strokes, Morris has taken over as bookkeeper and Joel Ray’s chauffeur.
At its peak, the Jamboree lobby employed 4 concession workers, 2 workers in souvenir shops, 1 in the box office, 1 ticket taker, and 2 parking cars – a total of 10 employees in the lobby alone on Saturday nights. At one time between the restaurant and the Jamboree, Joel Ray had 32 regular employees on payroll. Several big name stars have appeared at the Lincoln Jamboree, including Bill Anderson, Skeeter Davis, Bill Carlisle, Ernest Tubb, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Billy Grammer, The Louvin Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Grandpa Jones, “Stringbean,” The Stoneman Family, Lonzo & Oscar, The Chuck Wagon Gang, The Florida Boys, Statesman Quartet, Cowboy Copas, Pee Wee King, Redd Stewart, Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, Porter Wagoner, Doug Stone, Stonewall Jackson, Jerry Clower, Lorrie Morgan, and, of course, Patty Loveless.
Joel Ray developed friendships with entertainment business legends. The only Grand Ole Opry performance he’s ever attended was a Friday night show as the guest of his good friend, Opry member Billy Walker. Joel Ray displays several Billy Walker items in the museum. Billy even gave Joel Ray a suit that he wore on the Jamboree’s Country Star Salute in 2014.
When Ralph Emery was still hosting Nashville Now in the 80s, Ricky and Linda Puckett attended a taping. Ralph saw Ricky in the audience and remarked that he looked like Randy Travis, one of the stars he impersonated on the Country Star Salute. Emery turned on the audience lights and introduced himself to the Pucketts. Ricky told Emery that he often performed as Randy Travis at the Lincoln Jamboree. Emery said, “You mean Joel Ray Sprowls’ Lincoln Jamboree?” Ricky replied, “Yes!” Emery said, “Joel Ray and I are buddies.” Ricky and Linda informed Emery that Joel Ray was in the hospital having another surgery from his 1984 plane crash. So Emery found out what hospital Joel Ray was in and called him that evening with get well wishes.
Linda Puckett talked about the three different times her husband, Ricky, has been a member of the Jamboree Gang. “We’ve had disagreements [with Joel Ray]; everyone knows that. But I probably respect him more than anyone in the building,” says Linda. “Our troubles were face to face, and the older I’ve gotten I’ve grown to appreciate those times,” she noted. “Why, you might ask? In going with Ricky to other venues during the years he wasn’t on the Jamboree, I’ve seen how cut throat most owners are. They don’t have the gumption to go to people’s faces and talk it out; they go behind their backs. Joel Ray has never, and will never, do that,” admitted Puckett. “If he has a problem with you, you know it from him, not from someone in the audience like some of the other places Ricky has played,” she recalled. “We never left either time hating each other and, as for the second time we left, I realize now it was due to him beginning to have mini strokes. I just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time when he had one in 2005. Looking back he meant nothing by what he said and during the time wasn’t at himself 100% due to the mini strokes,” Puckett explained.
Some of the Pucketts’ best family memories are their trips with Joel Ray to Nashville and Gatlinburg in his fancy Lincoln cars. “I could tell a million stories about our fun together: from Ricky getting a speeding ticket; to Joel Ray stopping and picking up a raccoon on the side of the road, coming home and turning it into a pet; to walking Broadway in Nashville and a drunk bum off the street asking him for a couple dollars to get him something cold to drink. I’ll never forget Joel Ray’s answer until I die – he said, ‘Sir, I don’t have a penny to my name but if you’re really thirsty go into that restaurant across the street and they’ll give you a glass of water – they have to. I know, because I own a restaurant myself!’”
Puckett noted that Joel Ray goes into “show mode” on Saturday and expects everything to go perfectly. “I’ve always said that his professionalism, not having any dead time and keeping the show moving is what’s kept it popular the entire 60 years. He’s made the show a success. Deep down I love him for who and what he has been to our family, and I know he loves me, too.” “The thing that always made us click is we think alike. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s not!” chuckled Linda Puckett.