One of the thrills of doing this blog is the time I get to spend researching artists and listening to their music. I revisit some music I hadn’t heard in a long time and I always discover new music too. Donelson is full of wonderful neighbors who are immensely talented, have incredible stories about where their music has taken them and are musical heroes of mine. Leon Rhodes is in a class of his own. His musical talent is truly a gift from God. He never had a lesson and doesn’t read music, but his playing showcases him as one of the true masters of the guitar. His older brother had a guitar while growing up and he would pick it up and play it every chance he got. At ten years old, his dad sold his bed to buy him his first guitar. Although the guitar has always been his main instrument, he can play anything with strings. Leon has also played drums and sang at various clubs in the early days of his career while in Dallas, Texas. He would later also sing on albums with The Texas Troubadours and while part of the staff band at the Grand Ole Opry.
At 16, Leon started working for the staff band at The Big D Jamboree at KRLD-AM in Dallas and played there for about three years. In the early 1950’s, Leon played with greats such as Lefty Frizzell, Sonny James, Charlie Walker, Ray Price and others. He toured with Ray Price and played on Lefty Frizzell’s Mom and Dad’s Waltz, which was a Top 10 hit in 1951. Leon also worked in The Silver Spur and Bob Wills Ranch House (later renamed The Longhorn Ballroom under new ownership), two clubs owned by Jack Ruby (infamous for gunning down Lee Harvey Oswald hours after he was arrested for the murder of President John F Kennedy). I’ve read all sorts of articles and stories about Jack Ruby’s nefarious affairs leading up to his involvement in the JFK assassination, but I never knew too much about him as a club owner. I asked Leon about it and he said that Ruby was a fair and kind man to work for and even lent Leon his car for 6-weeks while his was in the shop.
Leon’s talents went beyond music. He played fast-pitch softball in and around Dallas and played in five world tournaments. When he was working at The Longhorn Ballroom, he was offered the job with Ernest Tubb and was in the band from October 1959 to December 1966. Leon says it was the greatest experience of his life.
Leon has been featured on numerous recordings by many great artists. They include Roy Clark, John Denver, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Mel Tillis, and the list goes on and on…
Leon moved to Donelson in 1964 and had been previously living in Goodlettsville, but wanted to be closer to downtown. As it turned out, the new Grand Ole Opry House was built in 1974 in Donelson and was even closer. Leon was part of the Grand Ole Opry staff band from 1967 to 1999. He appeared on Hee Haw for about 23 years and on April 29, 2010, he was honored by The State of Tennessee House of Representatives (House Joint Resolution #1132), recognizing his career in country music and 50 years on the Grand Ole Opry. In March 2014, Leon was honored by the Country Music Hall of Fame, featured in their program Nashville Cats, held in the museum’s Ford Theater.
Leon and his wife Judi celebrated their 50th anniversary this year and have four children.
- Mom and Dad’s Waltz (written and performed by Lefty Frizzell)
- Waltz Across Texas (written by Billy Talmadge Tubb and performed by Ernest Tubb and The Texas Troubadours)
- Thanks A Lot (written by Dan Sessions and Eddie Miller and performed by Ernest Tubb and The Texas Troubadours)
- Rhodes-Bud Boogie (written by Clay Allen, Buddy Charleton and Leon Rhodes and performed by The Texas Troubadours)
- Honey Fingers (written by Clay Allen and Leon Rhodes and performed by The Texas Troubadours)
- Leon’s Guitar Boogie (written by William Dycus and Leon Rhodes and performed by The Texas Troubadours)
- Houston (Means I’m One Day Closer to You) (written and performed by Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers)
- My Window Faces the South (written by Jerry Livingston, Mitchell Parish and Abner Silver and performed by Willie Nelson)
- Ramblin’ Man (written by Ray Pennington and performed by Waylon Jennings)
- Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone) (written by Dick Feller and performed by John Denver)
- Paper Rosie (written by Dallas Harms and performed by Gene Watson)
- Good Woman Blues (written by Ken McDuffie and performed by Mel Tillis)