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Famed country music fiddler Gordon Terry, seen here in 1997, died Sunday in Spring Hill, Tenn., after a lengthy illness.
DAILY File Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Famed country music fiddler Gordon Terry, seen here in 1997, died Sunday in Spring Hill, Tenn., after a lengthy illness.

Gordon Terry
dies at 74

Country Music Hall of Fame member was Lawrence native

By Bayne Hughes
DAILY Staff Writer

hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

Floyd Terry loved country music, so he made his oldest three sons learn to play instruments. He taught them so well that it wasn't long before they were playing at the Grand Ole Opry.

That was the start of a hall-of-fame career for fiddler and Lawrence County native Gordon Terry, age 9 at his first Opry performance. His career lasted almost four decades and included playing with legendary country music performers.

Gordon Terry, who lived in Pulaski, Tenn., died Sunday morning at the home of his daughter, Mitzi Winter, in Spring Hill, Tenn., after a lengthy illness.

The 74-year-old Mr. Terry, namesake of Gordon Terry Parkway — Alabama 24 between Moulton and Decatur — was a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. He was a charter member of the Fiddlers' Hall of Fame.

Monroe, Haggard, Cash, Young

He played with Bill Monroe, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Faron Young. Cash once called Mr. Terry "a dear friend for years" and described him as "one of a kind."

"They had their fans, but Gordon had his and he could really wake up a crowd," said his brother Calvin of Trinity. "He could handle a crowd as well anybody I've ever seen."

Gordon Terry summarized his career in a 1997 interview with THE DECATUR DAILY: "It's all been having a big time and getting paid."

In 1941, Calvin said, his late father took the family, called "Floyd Terry and His Young 'Uns," to Nashville. He thought they could just show up at the Grand Ole Opry and play.

When they reached the Opry offices, a secretary showed them filing cabinets full of applications on white paper for people wanting to play on country's grandest stage.

"He asked the lady if every application was in white, and she said yes," Calvin said. "So he asked for a red piece of crepe paper so his application would stand out."

It did. By the time Floyd Terry got home to Moulton several days later, Stella Terry, Gordon's mother, had a letter from Opry founder George Dewey Hayes that the group was on the schedule for the next Saturday night, June 6. Gordon was the youngest of the three sons and played mandolin and fiddle.

"They had to rush back to Nashville," Calvin said.

Hayes liked them so much that he asked them to come back and play a second Saturday night.

Fiddle champ at 14

Gordon won the Alabama Fiddling Championship in Birmingham at age 14.

Gordon was 18 years older than Calvin and 13 years older than his sister, Jimmie Terry Lemmond, now of Priceville. Gordon was off touring most of his younger siblings' lives.

"He called me 'Jim,' and he was always so gentle," Lemmond said. "He always asked me a lot of questions, and he was very protective."

In 1949 at age 17, Gordon Terry married Virginia Russell of Decatur. They were together for 57 years until his death and had two girls, Winter and Rhonda Terry Thorson.

Goodbye, chicken plant

He also auditioned for Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in 1949. He walked off his job at a chicken processing plant in Decatur when he got the music job.

After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Gordon began a career as a recording artist. His biggest hit was "Wild Honey," released in 1957.

He moved to California in 1958, and even tried his hand at acting. His manager turned down an offer to play in the movie "Tarzan" while Gordon was out on tour.

"The manager said the money wasn't good enough," Calvin said. "Gordon was so mad."

Calvin said that his brother didn't always play bluegrass, and that he liked to play ballads. He said he could get very lively on stage in his prime.

Terrytown resort

In 1964 Gordon built Terrytown, a rustic resort and Western theme park that featured top country artists in Loretto, Tenn. Running the resort and touring became too much, however, and he sold it in just three seasons.

He then spent time touring in California and Europe before returning to Nashville, performing there until ill health forced him into semi-retirement in 1983.

Thorson said he then became founder and chief executive officer in 1980 of Reunion Of Professional Entertainers, also known as ROPE. The hope was to raise enough money to build a retirement home for entertainers and those working behind the scenes in the entertainment business. His dream lives on with the proposed Country Music Retirement Center.

"That was one of his pride and joys," Thorson said.

The state named Alabama 24 after Gordon Terry in the late 1980s.

Lemmond said she last heard her brother play at his 50th wedding anniversary cookout with Barbara Mandrell.

Calvin said he took Gordon to Childersburg, Tenn., about four years ago to play with his good friend well-known country singer Freddie Hart at the Hart family reunion.

"My brother could really play," Calvin said.

Parkway Funeral Home is handling arrangements.

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