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Ernie Ashworth Ernie Ashworth 

Talks Back To Graham Lees


Born in Huntsville, Alabama in 1928, Ernest B. Ashworth longed to be a star on the Grand Ole Opry. In the late 40's he started playing guitar, sang on local radio in Huntsville and played in a local band, the Tune Twisters. In 1950 Ashworth moved to Nashville, where he worked for radio station WSIX. As a songwriter Ernie Ashworth had success with Carl Smith and Little Jimmy Dickens recording his songs. Using the name Billy Worth in 1955 Ernie Ashworth made his first recordings for MGM. Growing disillusioned, Ernie returned home to Huntsville in 1957 and took a job at the Army's Redstone Arsenal.

Ernie Ashworth

In the meantime, Wesley Rose who'd initiated Ashworth's contract with MGM won him another deal with Decca. "Each Moment (Spent With You)" made #4 in the U.S. country charts in 1960 and further successes came with "You Can't Pick A Rose In September" and " Forever Gone". With a move to Hickory Records, hits continued for Ernie Ashworth with "Everybody But Me" and in 1963 Ernie took John D. Loudermilk's "Talk Back Trembling Lips" to the #1 spot on the country charts (it was also a pop hit for Johnny Tillotson). In 1964 Ernie Ashworth finally fulfilled his dream of becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry. 1963/64 also saw awards for Most Promising C&W Artiste from Cashbox and Billboard polls and in 1965 Ernie appeared in the movie The Farmer's Other Daughter. During the 1970's Ernie worked regularly performing for tourists in the theatre shows in Pigeon Forge, where Dolly Parton has her theme park Dollywood.

Ernie at the Opry Stand

Living about 60 miles outside Nashville, once a month Ernie Ashworth can be found performing at Nashville's prestigious Grand Ole Opry. Ernie is highly respected by his fellow artistes and while my wife Marlene and  I was visiting Nashville this year, he invited us backstage at the Grand Ole Opry and told me about being an Opry member.

"I'm so grateful that I'm here. Over 38 years...March 7th 1964 was when I was made a member on the strength of a record I had out. #1 record on the country field and #3 on the pop field....a song called "Talk Back Trembling Lips". They invited me to become a member of the Opry show, and thank the Good Lord, I've been here ever since.

Loretta Lynne recommended me. I'd known Loretta...we started out together. She contacted the management in Nashville and told them that they should make me a member. She did that and then I had the help of Mr Wesley Rose who was president of Acuff Rose publishing company here in Nashville that I wrote songs for. I recorded for Hickory Records...that was the company I had the hit "Talk Back Trembling Lips" on, and Archie Campbell recommended me also.

Ernie Ashworth

I was made a member on a handshake; I never had a contract with them. They said 'just keep your nose clean and you'll be here for the rest of your life! And I have, it's been 38 years. (laughing) I guess this is the pedestal of country music; this is where all the country artistes want to end up...as members of the Grand Ole Opry. There are only 70 of us. Of all the artistes in the whole wide world, only 70 people can say 'I'm a member of the Grand Ole Opry'. People love the Grand Ole Opry."

Ernie was a good friend of Boxcar Willie. Boxie was little know in America until he came to Britain and performed on the Wembley Festival. After this performance his reputation grew in the U.S.A., becoming a well-known star in the States. Boxie always said that it was the British fans who gave a significant kick-start to his career.

"Let me tell you a story about Boxcar Willie. Back when I had the record out, I always kept in touch with disc jockeys by letter. Today they have e-mail, but then it had to be done by letter. I got to know a feller out in Boise, Idaho who had just started called Marty Martin. And he and I just stayed together writing letters for a while, though I'd never met him; I suppose at that time we were just good pen pals.

Boxcar Willie

When I joined the Opry, they had a show here on the Friday night called Mr D.J. U.S.A. and brought disc jockeys from somewhere around the United States to be disc jockey on a Friday night for about three hours. So Marty said 'Ernie, you're a member of the Grand Ole Opry; why don't you get me on Mr D.J.' So Grant Turner was on the panel for this and I asked him and he said 'Sure'!!! So he put him down for it and brought Marty onto Mr D.J. U.S.A.

Then I started working in the Great Smoky Mountains at the Coliseum...I used to spend 24 weeks a year up there, so I lost contact with the disc jockeys, because I was up there 7 nights a week for 24 weeks.

Ernie Ashworth

I started hearing about this guy Boxcar Willie. He was very big, popular and he was all over the television. I was here at the Opry one night. And here on the wall we have the schedule of who's on the show. I saw this name Boxcar Willie was on the Opry with me. Then along comes this odd ball. I looked up and there is Boxcar Willie. He says' Ernie, don't you know me?' I say; Boxcar I've never met you in my life! And he says 'I'm Marty Martin the disc jockey!' So he wrote a line on one of my albums 'If it hadn't been for Ernie Ashworth, there would have been no Boxcar Willie. He was the first one who brought me to Nashville.' In all those years I didn't know he was a performer. I thought he was still a disc jockey. And I didn't know that Marty Martin was Boxcar Willie. Surprise, Surprise!!!

I think that he took the name Boxcar Willie, because his father was a hobo. That's what I heard, but he made a fortune out of it."

Ernie outside one of his radio stations

Over the years Ernie Ashworth has owned seven of his own radio stations, most of which he has disposed of, but has retained one that his daughter runs for him. At the age of 74 Ernie continues to play a few gigs today and is still a prominent songwriter, releasing several songs to radio via the Country Music HotDisc here in the UK and similar US compilations. Many of these tracks have been found at the top end of the European Media Services (EMS) charts and Ernie has topped the Worldwide Mainstream "Most Played "Major & Indie" Artists Chart" during April, May and June 2002. As of mid-June Ernie's current release "Country Music DJ" on #37 StarDust CD is # 15 in the EMS

"I still writing, still recording and the EMS has been very good to me! They have just revived my career you know! When I was in Pigeon Forge I was out of the music business completely, except to perform live there for 24 weeks a year and hadn't recorded commercially. When I came out of the Smokey Mountains I started buying some radio stations and got into the business side of it and ended up buying seven radio stations. I bought my first radio station in 1980 and sold my last in 1995, so I was in it for 15 years running the business side.

Ernie in the recording studio

In 1999 it was my 35th Grand Ole Opry anniversary. So I told my wife Bettye 'For this occasion I'm going to go into the studio and I'm going to record what I want to record and like I want to record it and just see what happens.' I went to see Garry Bradshaw who had a record label called WHP Records in Phoenix, Arizona. Then I had the chance to meet John Melissen who was the president of the Disc Jockey Association in the Nederlands. I told them what I was doing and they said send me your CDs and I'll get my people to get them out and I distributed them to the disc jockeys on my list.

Ernie with his wife Bettye and my wife Marlene

So Europe is where we were 25 years ago when D.J.s could play what they wanted to play, he could make up their own playlist. So I learned to switch a computer on and off and write e-mails. It helped me so much, because I started making a lot of contacts in Europe and I released my 35th Grand Ole Opry anniversary album. I sent the CDs to John Melissen and he put them out over there for me. I had a song on there called "She Don't Drink, She Don't Smoke, But She Lies". The disc jockeys put that out and made it became a #4 song in Europe. That opened a lot of doors! I made contact with Mr Stuart Cameron who has Hot Disc and I started releasing records with him and with Garry Bradshaw and they have been very successful for me; these two great labels Hot Disc and Garry Bradshaw's Western Heart Records.

I'm very thankful Graham, for all the people in Europe who have played my music. Your buddy Ray Grundy and all those folks…just a bunch of them. I'm just very grateful that they have accepted my music like they have. It has just revived my career….and I'm having fun with it!!!"

Postscript March 2009. Ernie had been suffering ill-health for some time and had bypass surgery in Jan this year. I spoke with him on the phone at the beginning of February when he told me that he was recovering slowly and taking short walk from him home in Hartsville, Tennessee.  Sadly Ernie passed away on Monday 2 March.  He was 80 years of age.