Few country stars in the 1950s sounded or looked cooler than Porter Wagoner. “The Wagonmaster” stuck with his blond pompadour, flashy Nudie suits and distinct honky-tonk sound in the ‘60s as the business changed around him. Staying the course earned Wagoner an honored spot as the longtime second-in-command and eventual heir apparent to the heart and voice of the Grand Ole Opry, Roy Acuff.
Wagoner, born on Aug. 12, 1927, in West Plains, Mo., turned his success as the writer of Carl Smith’s 1953 hit “Trademark” into a long solo career. His run of charted singles began in 1954 with the Top 10 hit “Company’s Comin’” and lasted all the way through 1983’s Top 40 entry “This Cowboy’s Hat.”
He’s just as well-known for his long-running television program, The Porter Wagoner Show, which lasted from 1960 to 1981. A huge part of the syndicated show’s legacy first unfolded in 1966, when Dolly Parton replaced Norma Jean in the “girl singer” role featured on most television programs of the time. Parton’s growing fame positioned her and Wagoner to become a popular duo with their own albums and singles, including the 1974 No. 1 hit “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me.” Eventually, Parton left the show for greener pastures, prompting her to write the song “I Will Always Love You” to thank Wagoner.
Until the end, Wagoner remained a larger-than-life star. In the months before he died on Oct. 28, 2007, the 80-year-old celebrated 50 years as an Opry member and became one of the first country legends honored by Jack White when he opened for the White Stripes at Madison Square Garden.
Read on to find out how The Boot ranks 10 of the best songs from Wagoner’s catalog as a solo artist and duet partner: