During its 40 years, hundreds of musicians performed on the Mountain Opry stage. The board of directors recently decided to close the Friday night show at the Walden’s Ridge Civic Center. President Ken Holloway said the condition of the building and declining attendance helped lead to the decision.
Of all the musicians, one man stands out in my mind, Fiddlin Bob Douglas. He started playing in the 1920’s. Holloway said Uncle Bob, as some called him, performed many, many times at the Mountain Opry and always got a standing ovation.
Holloway said Douglas loved the fiddle and it made him happy to see younger fiddle players on stage.
Bob Douglas was born in Sequatchie Valley and lived to be 101 years old. He died in neighboring Rhea County. As a young man Douglas worked in a saw mill and became interested in fiddle music. Douglas said in 1928 his dad gave him a 200-year-old fiddle saying, “Son, someday you’ll make a good fiddle player.”
Douglas was one of the original musicians on the WDOD radio playhouse in the 40’s in downtown Chattanooga. He often spoke of the cramped auditorium which later became the Capitol Theater on Market Street. Douglas often bragged about giving the Louvin Brothers their first job.
Douglas played the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, The Grand Ole Opry and made a guest appearance on Prairie Home Companion. Douglas was recognized in 1975 at the Smithsonian Festival of American Folk life. Douglas walked away with many trophies after competing in over 100 “Fiddlers Contests”.
I can’t remember the exact date, maybe about 1985; he invited me to his apartment on Shallowford Road to see his collection of fiddles and awards. While sitting around his kitchen table sipping coffee and eating cookies a friend had brought, he told me about his career. He talked about working the radio playhouse with Archie Campbell, George Gobel, the String Dusters (later known as Homer and Jethro), Swanee River Boys and many others. One thing was for certain - he loved the stage. At the end of the conversation he pulled out a red album entitled Special Collector’s Edition and signed “with loving thought and best wishes, thanks Bob Douglas”. Some of the songs on the LP are “Keep on the Sunnyside”, “Somewhere My Love”, “Wildwood Flower” and “Girl of my Dreams”. He made it a point to tell me he won the 1969 Grand Championship in Athens, Alabama. I asked Mr. Douglas about his favorite fiddle player. He responded, Curley Fox, Fletcher Bright, Harold Bradford and all those who played the Mountain Opry. As I was leaving Mr. Douglas said his favorite place to perform was on the Mountain Opry and he hoped to go back real soon. I only wish we had the camera phones back then so I could have made pictures of our visit.
The late Hamilton County Executive Dalton Roberts told me Bob Douglas was one of his favorite fiddle players. Roberts, who also performed at the Mountain Opry, said he could sit and listen to Douglas play those simple fiddle melodies for hours. Roberts said he’d never forget the time he got to strum along with Douglas on “Somewhere my Love”.
Douglas passed a few days before he was to receive the “Governors Award" in the Arts at the Ryman Auditorium.
There are several videos of Bob Douglas on youtube that fans might enjoy. I’m sure there are hundreds more stories about the Mountain Opry that we can share in coming months.