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June 1

Why today? Sixteen stars are mentioned in this 1961 hit; 15 of them have ascended to Hill-Billy Heaven. The one who’s still with us is celebrating a birthday. Happy 84th, Andy Griffith.

About the record: Capitol 4567, recorded Jan. Feb. 3, 1961, at the label’s studios in Hollywood. Released that spring, eventually reaching No. 5 on Billboard‘s country chart. First LP appearance was on 1961’s Hillbilly Heaven, Capitol ST-1623.

At the time this song was recorded, six of those 16 luminaries were already dead: Will Rogers, Carson Robison, Jimmie Rodgers, Wiley Post, Hank Williams and Johnny Horton. The rest, the song says, were listed in “the big tally book” of the heaven-bound over the next hundred years: Red Foley, Ernest Tubb, Gene Autry, Roy Acuff, Eddy Arnold, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Eddie Dean (who cut “I Dreamed Of A Hill-Billy Heaven” in the mid-’50s), Griffith, Roy Rogers and Ritter himself.

If you Google those folks, you’ll find that not all were hillbilly singers — Post, for instance, was a noted pilot who was flying the plane that crashed and killed him and humorist Rogers. And Griffith, of course, was comedian and actor who at the time was in the second season of his eponymous hit TV show. It, and he, had not become cultural icons yet, so I’ve always thought it interesting that he’d show up in this updated version of the song. Somebody had taken some prescient pills, I guess.

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