Jimmy Capps, a Nashville guitarist who performed on some of country music's most influential
recordings, has died at age 81.
The Grand Ole Opry, where Capps played in the house band for more than 50 years,
confirmed his death Tuesday to The Tennessean.
Moving to Nashville in 1958, Capps chiseled a six-decade career rich in credits
alongside leading figures in country music — Johnny Cash, George Strait and Kenny Rogers
among them, per the Opry website.
It could be argued that Capps' playing reached virtually all country music listeners
in the 20th century. He performed on standards the likes of Rogers' "The Gambler,"
Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man," George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and Strait's "Amarillo By Morning."
"The heavenly choir has gained one of the finest players to ever play," The Oak Ridge Boys —
who enlisted Capps to perform on the 1981 hit "Elvira" — shared Tuesday via social
media. "And quite frankly one of the finest men to ever live."
Born May 25, 1939, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and raised in neighboring Benson,
North Carolina, Capps' website biography said he began picking at age 12, when his parents bought him a Stella guitar.
He worked in television and radio, logging nights in local clubs, before being tapped to
play guitar for duo The Louvin Brothers.
Capps considered the gig his "big break." He once said, "Thanks to Charlie (Louvin) ... I guess I
owe my whole career to him."
"That decision made all the difference in my life," he added.
Capps made his Grand Ole Opry debut in December 1958 to perform "Knoxville Girl" with The Louvin
Brothers. A fan of country music's longest-running radio program since childhood, he joined the Opry house band in 1967.
During his Opry tenure, Capps quietly added "brilliance and class to new and veteran performers alike,"
country singer Brad Paisley told The Tennessean.
"My first time at the Opry I remember being struck by the fact that legends like Jimmy Capps blended
in without fanfare in the background," Paisley said. "All the while, the younger acts were most likely
unaware of the fact that the guy strumming a guitar on their song also did that on 'He Stopped Loving
Her Today.' And 'Stand By Your Man.' And 'Amarillo By Morning.'"
Paisley continued, "We will miss this man so much ... but I'm so glad I got to be on that stage at the same time he was."
Along with a regular Opry gig, Capps became a premier studio player in Nashville. He'd sometimes
worked more than 500 sessions annually, his biography said. Capps also served on the executive board
of the Nashville Musicians Local 257 union.
Country Music Hall of Fame member Ricky Skaggs described Capps as a "historic, amazing musician
of the Nashville sound."
"He had forgotten more history about Nashville music and the musicians who played it than most
people will ever know," Skaggs told The Tennessean. "A tremendous loss for Nashville and our Grand Ole Opry family."
Capps wanted to be "behind the artist" from day one, he told the American Federation of Musicians in 2019.
"I feel more comfortable in that position," he said, "and it has allowed me to basically create on
my own — unless the artist wanted one particular thing — but most of the time they let you create
on your own and try to add something to the song.”
His list of performances continues with Reba McEntire's "How Blue," Alan Jackson's "Here In
The Real World" and Conway Twitty's "Lost In The Feeling." Capps' website notes that he shared
studio time with Ray Charles, Andy Williams and Ronnie Milsap.
Capps eventually found his way behind the studio controls, producing albums for Jan Howard and
The Wilburn Brothers, among others.
And he was a "dear friend" to many in Nashville, including country and gospel singer Larry Gatlin.
"Jimmy Capps played guitar on my very first demo in Nashville in 1971," Gatlin told The T
ennessean. "He told me that night, 'Kid, you're going to be a big star and I'm rooting for you.' I miss
him already. The world will miss 'The Sheriff' Jimmy Capps."
In 2012, the Country Music Hall of Fame honored Capps as one of the lauded "Nashville Cats" players. The
Musicians Hall of Fame inducted Capps in 2014, a class that included Peter Frampton, Barbara Mandrell and
Buddy Guy. The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame honored him in 2018.
The Opry celebrated Capps in December 2018, sixty years after his debut, by naming a venue rehearsal space
the "Jimmy Capps Music Room."
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