Still Kickin’: Three On A String inducted into Alabama Music Hall of Fame

This report is a contribution from Skip Tucker of Birmingham, AL

The legendary Birmingham bluegrass show band, Three on a String, wore tuxedos on stage for the first time in its storied half-century career. It had to. They were inducted over the weekend into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia.

The appreciative crowd numbered in the several hundreds and was interspersed with golden names.

Band leader Jerry Ryan, acknowledging the award, said, “It took Hank Williams five years to make it into this hall. We did it in only 52.”

Hank is in there. So is Emmylou. Sister Rose Maddox. The Louvins. Vern Gosdin.

The four talented guys who comprise the String are Jerry, guitar; Bobby Horton, banjoist and co-founding member; Brad Ryan, fiddle; and Andy Meginniss, bass. They all sing. They sing very well, in solo and harmony. 

And they are funny. Skits. Take-offs. Family humor. They’ve caused knee-slaps and side splits from Canada to California. They do a sad song or a love song as well as the next, at least. They do cover songs and occasionally one of their own.
At the show, they performed their autobiographical tune, Still Kickin’. They ended the song arms linked with Rockette style kicks. It drew howls of laughter and thunderous applause. As do all their shows.

By the time they take the parting hand, and the encores are done, the audience is in ovation mode, most every time. 

“We love to go before a good crowd that doesn’t know a thing about us, and establish with them, and leave them on their feet and yelling for more,” Jerry said. That means reading the crowd. 

“Sometimes we can sense the crowd might be a little edgy,” he said, “so we sort of strain to kick it off with the right song. We don’t miss very often. We’ve been doing it a while.”

A while, to Three on a String, is 52 consecutive years, whether in a couple of clubs it called home, or on the road. There’s been at least 10,000 performances and a half-million miles of travel, rotating the driving shifts in in an old van they named Skippy.

They’ve opened for Bill Cosby, Barbara Mandrell, Red Skelton, symphony orchestras and George Goober Lindsey. They did the Ray Stephens Show by special invitation after he caught their act one night in Birmingham at the old Lowenbrau Haus.

Over the decades the songs changed but not the singers, nor the good time show. At times the play list has been mostly bluegrass. It’s how they started. Times changed the tunes some, but always bluegrass weaved in and out through the beats.

And always there was laughter, weaving through it as well. Jerry always said, at the top of the show, “We’re here to have fun and we want yall to have fun, too.” Everybody did. Every time. Always.

It was the same at the hall of fame. 

“We were on stage,” said Jerry. “Rhonda Vincent was in the wings. We didn’t even know it until after the show, but she was playing back up to us on her mandolin. Somebody was videoing her on the cell phone and got the sound. It was played for us and it was amazing. She’s even nicer than her picking and singing, and that’s going a ways.”

Later in the show, which featured five other inductees, Rhonda and Randy Owens did an impromptu duet that brought on a roar. 

All who know the four members of Three on a String love them. They couldn’t be nicer. But those who have known and loved them for so long feel that those guys should have been inducted into the hall decades ago. 

Vindication, right? No.

“That thought never crossed our minds,” Jerry said. “We were and are so proud to be among the truly great artists who make up the hall membership.” 

Hall of Fame membership swung in and out of their dreams over the years, but never in a haunting way. And when it happened, well, it took a while to sink in.

“We were walking around after the show looking at all these great talents, some who’ve been in for years, wearing these great beautiful medallions around their necks,” he said. “And I thought ‘my, that’s something,’ and I look down and I’m wearing one, too.” It’s still sinking in.

Bobby Horton is as self-effacing as he is multi-talented. “It was great,” he said, “and mostly for Jerry. He is the engine that could and did. For me, the limelight is a little awkward. My daddy and my grandaddy told me, ‘If anyone brags on you, it better not be you,’ and they said it more times than twice. I really don’t know how to handle these type of things. This is really so fortunate for Jerry, and I’m so proud for him. These guys are like family. I’m having more fun than ever. And I remembered to thank the Man upstairs. We ran the roads for 52 years and never had an accident.”

Andy Meginniss is still drinking it in. “I feel great,” he said, “but still in a bit of disbelief. The evening was even better than I hoped. I was surprised at the turnout and all of the illustrious people among the audience. The show was fantastic, and by the end, I began to believe that we actually belonged there. To be included in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame is such an honor. It means the world!”

Brad Ryan, Jerry’s son and band heir apparent, was briefest. “So proud for my Dad, and for Bobby, who started this thing in 1971.  And of course Andy has been such a big part of this group for so long. I’m just glad they let me tag along for the past 30 somethin’ years! This night and honor is for him.”

Emceed by board member and American Idol winner Taylor Hicks, there were featured performances by fellow Idol winner Rueben Studdard, Randy Owen, Rhonda Vincent, Wade Hayes, Bill Golden and the Goldens, Gary Nichols, and Chris Thompkins,

Also performing were Charles Rose, David Hood, Clayton Ivey, Kelvin Holly, Will McFarlane, Mark Beckett, Steve Herrman, Tom McGinley, Cindy Walker, Marie Lewey, Carla Russell, Lenny LeBlanc, Brad Guin, Gary Baker, and Cadence Baker.

The five other inductees were singer Jeanne Pruett, Pell City; songwriter Jim McBride, Sheffield; songwriters Lenny LeBlanc and Peter Carr, Muscle Shoals; songwriter Jim McBride, Huntsville; Dr. Henry Panion, III, Birmingham, music conductor and arranger.

Pruett’s lengthy career was highlighted by her top hit, Satin Sheets.

McBride is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and past president of Nashville Songwriters Association International. In his prolific career, he has written dozens of chart singles and several No. 1 hits. His song Chattahoochee, recorded by Alan Jackson, was the 1994 CMA song of the year.

Pete Carr died in Florence, AL, in 2020, but LeBlanc accepted for both men. They wrote and released the love song Falling in 1975, which Billboard magazine listed as one of its all-time Top 40 hits. Faith has become a larger focus in his life and he has received numerous Dove Song nominations.

Montgomery is a songwriter, singer, musician, and Baptist minister. George Jones recorded 73 Montgomery songs. In 1977, he was awarded the Arthur Alexander Songwriter’s Award by the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

Dr. Henry Panion III holds degrees in music education and music theory. He is known for his work as conductor and arranger for orchestras, including the Royal Philharmonic, the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, and the Melbourne Symphony. He has worked with Stevie Wonder, Chet Atkins, and The Blind Boys of Alabama, among many other celestials. He and Randy Owen led the team that produced Hope of Alabama for The World Games 2022.

April 2 at Birmingham’s Lyric Theater, Three on a String will stage a celebration of its induction into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

My, that is something.