Dale Sledd remembered

Dale Sledd, circa 1959Dale Franklin Sledd passed away on Sunday, August 21, 2016, at the Warsaw Health and Rehabilitation Center, Warsaw, Missouri. He was 79 years old.

Sledd was born on April 23, 1937, in Benton County, Missouri, and according to the 1940 census he lived in Union City, Missouri. He grew up in Benton County and graduated from Warsaw High School in 1955.

By that time, he was already an accomplished musician, having had his first musical job playing at square dances in 1952.

Later he played resophonic guitar on one of Radio KRMS’s talent shows (1954), and had recorded with the Ferguson Sisters on a collection called Missouri Music Memories.

Shortly afterwards, Sledd met and became life-long friends with Ozark Opry regular Lonnie Hoppers. They would play together as very keen students of bluegrass music, spending hours listening to and learning from Don Reno, Ralph Stanley and later Earl Scruggs’ recordings.

When Hoppers was drafted into the army, Sledd took his spot on the Ozark Opry, playing the banjo.

Another artist to appear on the Ozark Opry at this time was Patsy Randolph, of the Randolph Sisters. Dale and Patsy subsequently married and in 1963 the couple moved with other members of the Ozark Opry to the rival Ozark Nashville Opry and become part of the Austin Wood troupe, Dale playing banjo and Patsy piano.

The following year Sledd organized The Ozarks Originals featuring on a television show in Columbia, Missouri.

“Dale was employed by the Kansas City Fire Department and the Lake City Arsenal in Blue Springs, Missouri, for a time. Dale and I played some mostly around the Kansas City area at the time. Sometimes Patsy would join us,” Lonnie Hoppers volunteered.

He moved to Nashville, Tennessee in September of 1965, when he joined the Osborne Brothers band, replacing Gordon Cash. Sledd had three stints with the brothers in a period that spanned over a decade. During one intervening period he played with Lonnie Hoppers.

The Osborne Brothers - Ronnie Reno, Bobby Osborne, Sonny Osborne, Dale SleddHowever, his greatest claim to fame is what some would say was the best third voice, the low tenor, in the superb trios of the Osborne Brothers at the height of their career. Sledd is featured on their hit recordings of Roll Muddy River, Rocky Top, Tennessee Hound Dog, Ruby, Georgia Piney Woods, Midnight Flyer, Up This Hill and Down, Makin’ Plans, Beneath Still Waters, and Fastest Grass Alive, among many others.

In 1971, they won the CMA’s Vocal Group of the Year award and received nominations in the category in 1970, 1974 and 1975. From 1971-1978 they were honored by Music City News as the nation’s top bluegrass group. Along the way, they became one of the first major bluegrass groups to appear extensively at bluegrass festivals. Sledd’s contribution towards the Osborne Brothers’ successes during this era should not be under-stated.

Sonny Osborne rated Sledd highly for his excellent guitar playing, that, with his knowledge of the banjo very evident, he complimented Sonny’s banjo playing, always pushing, ensuring that he was just on top of the beat.

In 1973 Sledd and Sonny Osborne collaborated in the writing of Sledd Ridin’ and Side Saddle, tunes that the Osborne Brothers recorded in the August of that year.

Sledd was seriously injured in an automobile wreck in Morristown, Tennessee, in September 1973 and he wasn’t able to return to play the Osborne Brothers for two months.

During the early to mid-1970s, he worked one fall and winter with Rex Allen Sr., playing some state fairs.

In late March 1977 the Osborne Brothers, with Dale Sledd in tow, played a 10-day tour of Japan. Japanese Victor/MCA released three albums commemorating the tour; The Best of the Osborne Brothers Vol. 1 (VIM-4019), The Best of the Osborne Brothers Vol. 2 (VIM-4020), and Bluegrass Special (RCA-5195 (aka Bluegrass Banjo Pickers).

After leaving the Osborne Brothers, Dale and Patsy divorced and Dale Sledd, playing guitar, went to work with Grandpa and Ramona Jones, with whom they had become acquainted while living in Nashville. He often played at Grandpa and Ramona’s Dinner Theater in Mountain View, Arkansas, and appeared in ten different episodes of the Hee Haw Show.

In 1982 he recorded an album, Music the Way I Feel (History 1990), at Audio Loft Studio, Macks Creek, Missouri.

In 1984 he returned to Warsaw, Missouri, to work on his farm and raise cattle.

However, Sledd didn’t eschew music entirely, recording American Banjo in 2000, and in 2006 he recorded a CD called Big Muddy MO.

81 year-old Lonnie Hoppers befriended Dale Sledd over 60 years ago …..

Lonnie Hoppers“Dale and I were close friends and pickin’ buddies since 1953, he was 16 and I 17 when we first met!

I’m 81 years old now, and a little slower gettin’ things done than I used to be! There’s several things I could tell you about that might be off interest.

I was an original member of The Ozark Opry, located at the Lake of the Ozarks here in Missouri. We were working out of KRMS radio station (Osage Beach, Missouri) doing some live shows. We did half the show and advertised a talent show for the second half. Of course the reason for the talent part of the show was to draw in all the friends and relatives as paying audiences!

I first met Dale, who was entering the talent shows playing electric guitar with Richard Childress, a country singer and guitarist. Dale was from Warsaw, Missouri, Richard was from Preston. As a sixteen-year-old, Dale was already playing good guitar. I got acquainted with him and found out he also played resophonic guitar, not a Dobro, but an old metal National. He just knew two tunes on it, Wabash Cannonball and Poison Love, but he played them just exactly like Oswald and Shot Jackson!

I knew Lee Mace (the show’s M.C.) loved Oswald’s Dobro playing with Roy Acuff. I told Dale we were going to rehearse at Bob McCoy’s home in Hermitage the following week and if he would come over and bring his old National resophonic guitar, I was bettin’ Lee would hire him. I was right… Lee hired Dale! He worked at the Ozark Opry off and on for probably ten years. I say off and on because the Ozark Opry wasn’t playing much in the winter at that time. That gave Dale and I a lot of time to get around, and do some pickin’ with other folks and have some good times.

Billie Moore, from Red Oak, Iowa, was playin’ fiddle with Ozark Opry the first two or three years. He was 18 years when he first came with us, and an amazing fiddle player. He had studied classical, but was really interested in old hoedowns and bluegrass. He could play Benny Martin stuff note for note, with just as good of tone. When he was probably about 20 years old, Bill Monroe offered him a job, and when Paul Warren left the Johnnie, Jack and Kitty Wells show, they offered Billie Moore the job. Billie was dating his future wife, who lived in Camdenton. He turned down the Johnnie, Jack and Kitty Wells job. Interestingly they hired Benny Martin!

I told all this about Billie to relate a story about the time Dale, Billie and I went to Bean Blossom, Indiana. We went to the old Brown Country Jamboree barn to see a show. At that time, they had a country act, sometimes bluegrass, every Sunday. Bill Monroe’s brother, Birch, ran the Jamboree. He normally used a house band for entertainers who came without their band. We talked Birch into letting us do a little pickin’ on the show that day. He offered us a job as house band. Also told us we would have to go do a live radio show each week at a nearby station, to advertise the next Sunday show at the old barn.

Birch let us stay at one of the old cabins there on the property, pretty rustic, to say the least. No running water, one pull-chain light in the middle of the room. By the next morning we had decided, between the rustic cabin and the rather conservative wages he was offering, we would come on back to Missouri! I am happy to say I did get to play the old barn again, as a Blue Grass Boy with Bill Monroe, in October 1962.”

We are grateful for the tremendous assistance of Lonnie Hoppers in the completion of this remembrance.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.