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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.