Jack Greene performs at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville Tenn. in August, 2006.
(Photo: Jym Wilson, USA TODAY)
(USA TODAY) Country singer Jack Greene, who recorded such '60s favorites as There Goes My Everything and Statue of a Fool and was the Country Music Association's first male vocalist of the year, died Thursday.
The 83-year-old entertainer, nicknamed the Jolly Green Giant, was born in Maryville, Tenn., near the Smoky Mountains. Greene got his first guitar at age 10 and began playing on a local radio station, WGAP-AM, as a teen. He soon made his way to Atlanta, singing and playing guitar, string bass or drums in groups called the Cherokee Trio, the Rhythm Ranch Boys and the Peach Tree Cowboys.
In 1962, Greene joined honky-tonk great Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadours as a drummer and relief singer. He had an important additional qualification: He'd learned about diesel motors during a two-year Army stint and could repair the band's tour bus. Tubb liked to introduce Greene as his "big-eared singing drummer," and one of his recordings singing for the band, The Last Letter, drew so much attention that Decca Records Nashville head Owen Bradley offered Greene a record deal as a solo artist.
Bradley produced records for most of Decca's country roster at that time, including classic hits for Tubb, Webb Pierce, Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee. He gave Greene the countrypolitan treatment, with gentle honky-tonk and waltz rhythms, sumptuous background choruses and dramatic melodies reminiscent of the pop records Roy Orbison had been making across town for Monument Records.
When Greene's second charting single, There Goes My Everything, topped the country charts for two months in 1967, the singer left Tubb's band with the promise that he could always return to his spot behind the drums if things didn't work out.
He needn't have worried. He took three trophies at the inaugural CMA Awards in 1967: male vocalist, single and album of the year. He participated in that year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, singing There Goes My Everything on national television. That December, he joined the Grand Ole Opry cast.
Greene scored five No. 1 country hits in just three years. He also recorded a string of duets with fellow Opry member Jeannie Seely, including the 1969 single Wish I Didn't Have to Miss You, which reached No. 2.
He was a regular Opry presence for more than 40 years before retiring in 2011. When fellow East Tennessee native Kenny Chesney played the radio show for the first time in 1996, Greene accidentally introduced him as "Larry Chesney." But even as he began suffering from Alzheimer's disease, he kept his voice, thrilling audiences with the expressive melodies of his two signature hits. He played the Opry for the final time on Dec. 16, 2011, performing There Goes My Everything, the song that had launched his career.
Brian Mansfield, Special for USA TODAY