Rollin “Oscar” Sullivan of the long-running Grand Ole Opry comedy team of Lonzo & Oscar, died last week at age 93.
According to The Tennessean, Sullivan died in hospice care in Madison, TN on Friday, Sept. 7. He was an Opry regular between 1947 and 1985.
Rollin Sullivan began his career in his native Kentucky in the 1930s performing in string bands with his older brother Johnny Sullivan (1917-1967). Their radio career began in Jackson, TN on WTJS.
Rollin, a singer, songwriter and mandolin player, joined the Opry group Paul Howard & His Arkansas Cotton Pickers in 1942 while Johnny was serving in the Navy during World War II. The brothers reunited as members of Eddy Arnold’s Tennessee Plowboys in 1944.
In 1946, Arnold paired Rollin Sullivan with his fellow band member Lloyd George (1924-1991) to form a music/comedy team to open his shows. The duo was initially dubbed “Cicero & Oscar,” but the billing was soon changed. George, a guitarist and singer, was the straight man and Sullivan told the gags. Lonzo & Oscar were an instant hit with fans.
Arnold urged Lonzo & Oscar to go out on their own, recommended them to The Grand Ole Opry and got them a recording contract with RCA Victor. The duo scored a million-selling hit with the 1947-48 novelty smash “I’m My Own Grandpa.” The song was covered by Guy Lombardo and Jo Stafford for the pop market, as well as by numerous country stars.
Lonzo & Oscar were reportedly the first Opry act with their own custom tour bus, beginning a Nashville transportation tradition that continues to this day.
Lloyd George quit being “Lonzo” in 1950 to try a solo career as “Ken Marvin.” He was replaced by Rollin’s brother Johnny Sullivan. This version of the team scored the 1961 radio hit “Country Music Time” on Starday Records. Lonzo & Oscar also recorded for Decca, Dot, GRC, Capitol, Columbia, Chalet and Nugget.
But it was the act’s live show, rather than recordings, that brought it stardom. Lonzo & Oscar are more often remembered for Opry stage songs such as “There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea,” “Take Them Cold Feet Outta My Back” and “You Blacked My Blue Eyes Once Too Often.” In live performance, Lonzo & Oscar could also demonstrate what excellent, serious, instrumentalists they were.
The second version of Lonzo & Oscar was featured in several films, including 1958’s Country Music Holiday. It also had its own syndicated television series and guest starred on Hee Haw several times.
Following Johnny Sullivan’s untimely death at age 49, Rollin Sullivan teamed up with a third “Lonzo,” David Hooten. This version of the team made a non-comedy album for GRC, and from it came the 1974 hit “Traces of Life.” Both Hooten and Sullivan eventually developed heart problems and retired from the Opry in 1985.
After that, Rollin Sullivan performed with Cleo C. Hogan, then Billy Henson in the role of “Lonzo.” Henson bought the rights to the Lonzo & Oscar name from Sullivan when the latter retired in 1999. Since then, Henson has been performing as “Oscar” with Ron Ryan portraying “Lonzo.”
Rollin Sullivan is survived by daughter Linda Harper, grandchildren Ginger Farmer, Dana Jansen, Bonnie Coleman and T.C. Penick and six great grandchildren.
Visitation is today [Monday 9/10] from 2-8 p.m. at Bethel Primitive Baptist Church, 515 Long Hollow Pike in Goodlettsville. The funeral service will be there at 11 .a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11 with internment to follow at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens.
- DISClaimer Single Reviews: Tim McGraw Delivers ‘Downright Inspirational’ New Track - November 30, 2023
- Hit Producer & MGM Exec Jim Vienneau Dies At Age 97 - November 20, 2023
- DISClaimer Single Reviews: Mickey Guyton Gives ‘A Thrilling Take’ On Tina Turner Hit - November 16, 2023