An Interview with Grand Ole Opry Legend Jean Shepard
Q: Congratulations on being inducted into the Oklahoma Country Music Hall of Fame in November, also celebrating your 77th birthday (you told me your age), your 42 years of marriage to Benny, and for being the longest and continuous member of The Grand Ole Opry, with 55 years of seniority. How does this feel with so many great events happening all at one time.
A: First, I feel very blessed to be in good health, to be married for 42 years to Benny, my husband and partner, and I am especially proud of carrying the banner of The Grand Ole Opry continually for 55 years and hopefully many more to come. As for being inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, it was an honor and I am happy that they gave me the opportunity to be honored by my home state. My friend Vince Gill kept telling me that I should be inducted, but the times that they wanted to do the induction, I was already committed with my schedule. I am so happy I was able to be a part of this induction, and they treated me so good, and I thank them for this great honor.
Q: Is retirement in your mind or will it ever be?
A: Maybe semi-retirement, but as long as my voice and health are holding up I probably never will retire. I guess my voice is so strong from hollering at the grand kids.
Q: You and Benny have been dear friends of mine for over 40 years, so this question is not a loaded question, just maybe a reflection of how you feel. What changes have you seen in country music over the past, let’s say 10-15 years, and what bothers you the most with the music of today?
A: I have witnessed many changes, some I agree with, some I disagree with. We have some great artists and some great entertainers, but I just wish they would sing country songs, and I am not sure if there are any great country songs being written like they used to be. You can only write so many songs about cheating, drinking, and divorce, but I really would like to hear more fiddles and steel guitars on the new artist’s records. I understand that the days of Webb Pierce, Carl Smith, and all of the great country music artists of the past, are gone, but there was no blaring guitars or loud drums to take away from the singers back then. Maybe I am ole hat, but I am happy with the music of yesterday and I hope I can hear it again.
Q: One of the most important questions I have been wanting to ask you is “Who do you feel is the Queen of Country Music and why?”
A: That is a dumb question Marty, and I know why you are asking me, so my answer is the same today as it has been through all of my years in country music-KITTY WELLS IS THE UNDISPUTED QUEEN OF COUNTRY MUSIC, ALWAYS HAS BEEN, AND ALWAYS WILL BE. She was there in the beginning and I was right behind her. She is such a kind and loving lady and I love her for what she has given to country music. Anyone who disagrees is an idiot.
Q: Jean, do you have a favorite artist in today’s country music?
A: I really like Brad Paisley and Faith Hill. Brad sing’s country music, and he loves traditional country music, and I would love to hear Faith do a traditional country music album with fiddles and steel guitars. I think she would be great doing real country songs.
Q: This is a tough question, but tell me what you think needs to be done for country music to regain its status as the best music genre in the world, and if you could make one change in the country music of today, what would it be?
A: If artists would get rid of those blaring guitars and loud drums, find great country songs, and there are some great songs still out there that no one has recorded because, they are country songs. All in all I feel that country music as I know it has passed its time, but I hope and pray it is not gone forever. It would be sad not to hear it again. I don’t want to sound like sour grapes, and I understand changes take place throughout our life’s, but when you lose something by not taking care of it, it dies, and I hope with all of my heart, that I am wrong.
Q: When will your fans and the country music industry hear new Jean Shepard music?
A: Marty, I am going to do one final album of songs. Songs that I have loved for years, but I will listen to new songs and if I find one that is vintage Jean Shepard,
and of course it has to be country, pure traditional country, I will record it. I don’t have a timetable for the new album as of yet, but it will be soon. I am still touring as much as I want, and my fans are still attending my concerts, so I am thrilled that they have not forgotten me, although they do not hear my music on “country radio” anymore.
Q: You have a great new website, in fact, your very first website, so let’s give them your website address.
A: Yes it is my first and official website and I am very proud of it. I hope my fans and everyone will take a look see and leave me a message. Everything is on the site so that gives them information about my career, how to purchase CD’s, where I will be appearing, just everything that should be there, is there.
Q: Does Benny still play guitar on your shows, and does he sing harmony with you, because Benny Birchfield is one of the greatest harmony singers that country music and bluegrass music has ever know. Benny performed many years with the Osborne Bros. and was part of their great harmony sound. I would have loved to hear him and PayCheck sing together.
A: Benny still plays guitar on my shows and we do a lot of joking around when we do our shows. Funny stories and we just have a great time, and yes he is one of the great harmony singers of all time. That would have been a great pairing of Benny and Johnny singing together. Now that is country.
Q: How do you want Jean Shepard and her music to be remembered when you are inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame?
A: Marty, that is a loaded question, but should that happen someday, and I hope that it will, I would like my fans and the country music industry to know that “I loved what I did, and I did what I loved.” People have probably forgotten a lot of my music, just because time moves on, but I am very, very proud of what I have done up to this point in country music, and I am still doing it. And I am proud that I was a part of the Golden Era of Country Music.
There doesn’t seem to be any Golden Era out there today, but there are great new country artists who could sing great country music, “if they wanted to.” I pray to God they will come forward.
Everything I have said, I did not mean any harm or disrespect to anyone in the business, it is just how I feel.
Q: Final question for you. You are the Grand Lady of The Grand Ole Opry, so what does that mean to you?
A: It means that I love the Grand Ole Opry and that I have been there longer than anyone and I am so proud of that, and to be a Grand Lady along with Jan Howard, Wilma Lee Cooper, Jeannie Pruett, Jeanne Seely, and Skeeter Davis (deceased). The Opry has been a most important part of my life and my career and I hope that I have brought to the Opry something that was good for everyone and for country music because the Opry was good for me.
Jean, thank you for taking time out of your busy career and family schedule to allow me to have this interview with you, and most of all for being so outspoken and candid with your answers. You have been one of the pioneers in country music, helping pave the way with Miss Kitty for all of the females of today and for all artists who are traveling on the road that you were so instrumental in helping to build the foundation of Country Music and The Grand Ole Opry.
Congratulations on a platinum career that continues to gather steam and popularity. I cannot wait to hear your new music, and if there is one thing I want to happen to Jean Shepard, it is to hear your name called out as one of the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, so that you can join all of your friends in that Circle at the Hall of Fame. I, along with your family, friends, your fans, and the country music industry are anxiously awaiting that day for you.
By: Marty Martel