[Update]: A visitation and a Celebration of Life service have been set for late guitarist Jimmy Capps.
Visitation will be held Monday, June 8 from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. at Spring Hill Funeral Home (5110 Gallatin Pike S, Nashville, TN 37216). A Celebration of Life Service will be held Tuesday, June 9 at 1 p.m. at the Grand Ole Opry House (2804 Opryland Drive, Nashville, TN 37214).
[Original post: Wednesday, June 3, 2020]
Jimmy Capps, the genial, white-haired and goateed guitarist who is one of Nashville’s most beloved pickers, died Tuesday, June 2, at age 81.
Best known as the long-time lead guitar player in the Grand Ole Opry staff band, Capps also performed on a breathtaking number of country music standards. He can be heard on “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “The Gambler,” “Stand By Your Man,” “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” “Elvira” and “Amarillo By Morning,” among many other familiar megahits.
He is a member of The Musicians Hall of Fame. Capps was saluted in 2012 by the Country Music Hall of Fame in its “Nashville Cats” series profiling recording-session greats.
Born in 1939 in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Capps began playing guitar at age 12. By age 16, he was performing on local radio and TV shows. He was just 19 when he successfully auditioned to join The Louvin Brothers band in 1958. He debuted on the Opry by performing “The Knoxville Girl” with the duo later that year. He also recorded with the Louvin Brothers on such hits as “How’s the World Treating You” (1961).
Following military service and a stint in Ferlin Husky’s band, Capps launched his recording-studio career on Music Row. At his peak, Capps was playing on more than 500 recording sessions a year. Although usually cited for his tasteful acoustic-guitar work, Capps was also a skilled electric guitarist. He is considered to be one of Nashville’s finest and most prolific session guitarists in history, alongside Grady Martin, Ray Edenton, Chet Atkins, Hank Garland and Harold Bradley.
Jimmy Capps joined the Grand Ole Opry staff band in 1967. During the following five decades, he performed on more Opry shows than anyone in history.
The Opry occurs on weekends so during the week, Capps collaborated in the studio with the biggest stars of Nashville music. Even a year-by-year sampling of his work illustrates the breadth of his accomplishments – Mickey Newbury (1970), Freddie Hart (“Easy Lovin’” 1971), J.J. Cale (1972), Dolly Parton (“My Tennessee Mountain Home” 1973), Waylon Jennings (1974), the soundtrack of the movie Nashville (1975), Moe Bandy (1976), Ronnie Milsap (“It Was Almost Like a Song” 1977), Johnny Cash (1978), Ernest Tubb (1979), Amy Grant (1980).
That’s just one decade. His session work became even more intense during the 1980s. During that era, Capps could be heard on records by John Denver, George Strait, Tom Jones, Reba McEntire, K.D. Lang, The Whites, Alan Jackson, George Jones, Wayne Newton, B.J. Thomas, Barbara Mandrell, Vern Gosdin, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Keith Whitley, Lacy J. Dalton, The Oak Ridge Boys, Kenny Rogers, David Allan Coe, Charlie Rich, Dottie West and a jaw-dropping number of others.
At the annual NARAS Super Picker Awards in the 1970s and 1980s, Jimmy Capps was repeatedly honored as “Most Valuable Acoustic Player.” He also rose to become the Opry’s bandleader. Capps performed in the “house band” for the CMA Awards telecasts for more than 20 years.
He was known as “the master of smoothness” for the way he made intricate picking appear effortless. As such, he was a Nashville guitar institution by the 1990s. That is when Capps recorded with The Statler Brothers, Lorrie Morgan, Gene Watson, Connie Smith, Conway Twitty, The Florida Boys, Loretta Lynn, John Conlee, Ed Bruce, Ray Charles, Hank Locklin, Riders in the Sky and T. Graham Brown, as well as dozens of newcomers of the day.
In addition to the many listed above, his guitar can be heard on the records of such Country Music Hall of Fame members as Roy Clark, Jean Shepard, Eddy Arnold, Porter Wagoner, Ray Price, Charley Pride, Faron Young, Don Gibson, Bill Anderson, Charlie McCoy and Dottie West.
A new generation of country fans has been charmed by Jimmy Capps in recent years thanks to his regular appearances on RFD-TV’s Larry’s Country Diner. That’s where he was billed as “The Sheriff.”
Fellow topnotch musicians Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, Charlie Daniels, Ricky Skaggs and Steve Wariner have all praised Capps as an influence.
Capps was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2014. The State of Tennessee honored him as a Goodwill Ambassador in 2015. He published his autobiography, The Man in Back, in 2018. At that time, the rehearsal space backstage in the Opry House was named The Jimmy Capps Music Room.
Capps is survived by his wife Michele and three sons.
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