SLOAN COLUMN: From the Dream Ranch to the Ryman
By any standard, Jimmy Capps was an extraordinary musician. Some would argue that the North Carolina native with silver hair and matching goatee is the standard by which other studio musicians in Nashville should be compared.
I was unfamiliar with Jimmy Capps until a few weeks ago when a reader stopped by the office and left on my desk a book and a framed photo she thought might interest me. The old black and white photo shows a group of country musicians. Written at the top of the photo are the words, “WBTW TV 1956 – Slim Mims and the Dream Ranch Boys.” The young lad with a bandana around his neck and the opossum-like grin on his face is a 17-year-old guitar picker named Jimmy Capps.
The title of the book, “The Man in Back,” immediately made me think of country music legend Johnny Cash, known worldwide as “The Man in Black.” The book is an autobiography, written by Capps with the help of Scott England. The cover photo shows a much older Jimmy Capps. He is wearing jeans and a black sports coat while resting his foot on an old wooden kitchen chair. His left hand is supporting a bright red Fender guitar.
On one of the opening pages of the book, Jimmy Capps’ name was underlined. Written in cursive underneath his name are the words, “Died June 1, 2020.” A search on the Internet led me to this obituary notice in The Tennessean newspaper.
“Beloved veteran musician Jimmy Capps, who played on hit songs such as Kenny Rogers’ ‘The Gambler,’ George Jones’ ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today,’ and George Strait’s ‘Amarillo by Morning,’ passed away on Monday, June 1, 2020 at 81 years of age.
“He was a guitarist on the Grand Ole Opry for over sixty-one years - longer than any musician. In 2014, he was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame with fellow inductees, Peter Frampton, Will Lee, and Barbara Mandrell. In that same year, he was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.
“Along with his onstage work, Capps was an in-demand session musician, known for his smooth playing style of both acoustic and electric guitar, on recordings like Tammy Wynette’s ‘Stand by Your Man,’ Barbara Mandrell’s ‘I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,’ Alan Jackson’s ‘Here in the Real World,’ the Oak Ridge Boys’ ‘Elvira,’ Ronnie Milsap’s ‘Smoky Mountain Rain,’ Reba McEntire’s ‘How Blue,’ and many others.”
To describe Capps’ career as a studio musician and performer on the Grand Ole Opry as impressive is most assuredly an understatement. He leaves behind a resume second to none.
Capps explains the book’s interesting title in its introduction.
“It’s very simple: that’s where I’ve always been. I’ve always been a musician who backed up the person standing up at the middle mic. It describes exactly who I am and what I do. Most people in any kind of entertainment want to be the center of attention. They desire to always be out front. so everyone can see them. Not me. I’m the man in back.”
In reading the book I discovered Capps was born in Fayetteville, N.C., and had ties to the Pee Dee. As a guitarist for Mims, Capps helped entertain audiences over WJMX radio on the “Dream Ranch Jamboree.” The show was also broadcast on WBTW-TV.
Capps recounts of his days of playing at the Dream Ranch in his book.
“Slim had a place in Florence called the Dream Ranch Barn. It was a big metal building that had originally been an airplane hangar. He called us the “Dream Ranch Boys” and dressed us in western outfits.
The group, Capps recalled, would play square dances at the barn every Saturday. They did radio shows on others nights, but not on Wednesdays. Wednesdays were reserved for wrestling. Part of Capps’ job was to clean up after the wrestling matches.
“Since Slim was paying us a weekly salary, he’d get his money’s worth by having us sweep up the popcorn and soda cups,” Capps wrote. “There was always a big mess.”
The Dream Ranch turned into a nightmare, according to Capps, when a fatal shooting occurred in 1957.
“We were playing a song called ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’ when I heard something like firecrackers going off,” Capps wrote. “It turned out to be gunshots. A man had been dancing with another guy’s wife, and the guy had come in and shot and killed both of them.”
Capps remembers the audiences got smaller and smaller in the weeks after the shooting. By the third week after the shooting there were on 25 people showing up for the dance.
“It got to a point where Slim couldn’t pay us anymore and we all started looking for other work.”
Capps would go on the play back-up for a long, long list of country music legends. From the Dream Ranch to the longest regularly performing artist at the Ryman Auditorium. Not too shabby for a simple country boy from the Carolinas.
Contact Bob Sloan at editor@florencenewsjournal. com.