Acclaimed guitarist Jimmy Capps, loved by everyone who knew him, died June 2 at 81 due to health complications.
Capps was lead guitar in the house band at the Grand Ole Opry and a member of the Musicians Hall of Fame. He played on timeless country songs as Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler,” George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and George Strait’s “Amarillo by Morning.”
“The loss of Jimmy Capps will be felt on so many levels… certainly at the Opry, on so many recording sessions, Larry’s Country Diner, Country Family Reunion, the Musician’s Hall of Fame…and most of all by his family and many, many friends and fans,” said Jeannie Seely. “He will be remembered not only as a great musician, but also as one of the most wonderful men you could ever know. My heart goes out to my friend Michele, with the assurance I will be there for her. I feel it is ironic and yet appropriate that the CMA hashtag today said #theshowmustbepaused, yes Jimmy it must.”
According to his website, Capps averaged 520 recording sessions a year at one time, yet he still took time to go to Belmont College to learn his craft even more, studying time evaluation under John Pell.
“I am convinced that Jimmy was the most-loved person in Nashville. Every artist loved him so much. While his book, “The Man in Back,” was a great tribute to him, I thought he deserved even more. So I produced a TV documentary on his life. When he saw it, he cried and cried. He said, ‘It’s kind of like going to your own funeral.’ I replied, ‘I wanted to bring your flowers while you were still here. I wanted you to see how much you mean to everyone.’ When it comes to the greatest men who ever walked the earth…I’d put Jimmy Capps in the top two, just behind another JC, Jesus Christ,” said Scot England, author of “The Man In Back.”
Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina to Alice and Tommy Capps and raised in Benson, North Carolina, Capps listened to the Grand Ole Opry since he was 8 years old. He was inspired by his champion fiddle-playing uncle, Lynn Cook, and local guitarist Hayden Ivey.
He sang and played on WCKB-Dunn, North Carolina, and in 1956, Capps worked in both radio and TV in Florence, South Carolina with a performer named Slim Mims. He moved on to Wilson to work with another "Slim" – Slim Short – and he played local clubs in Benson in a band called the Tar Heels.
"He was the country guitar greatest of all time,” said Gus Arrendale with Springer Mountain Farms. “He was one of the most humble, grateful and honest people I’ve ever met. I knew he was a true friend. All my memories of Jimmy are fond. One that stands out was getting to sit and listen to Jimmy Capps and Ashley Campbell. Jimmy on guitar and Ashley on banjo trading licks and stories for an hour backstage on the Larry’s Country Diner cruise ship. Do wish so much it had been recorded."
According to his website, one audition in 1958 changed Capps’ life forever when he became the guitar player for one of country music's all-time greatest duo-teams, the Louvin Brothers.
Capps recalled when the Louvins were scheduled for a guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, he came down with double pneumonia.
He said, "No way am I going to miss playing the Opry ... if I die on the stage ... I'm gonna work the Opry ... just one time."
And he did! He remembered playing "The Knoxville Girl", but he was so scared Pete Wade had to help him plug his guitar into the amplifier. Capps said that was one of his most cherished moments. That was the latter part of 1958 ... of course his 'just one time' has turned into years of history on that hallowed stage.
Capps was a member of the Grand Ole Opry Staff Band since 1967, although it wasn't officially graced with that title at that point in time.
All of the Grand Ole Opry Staff Band was honored Oct. 11, 1982 when the CMA nominated them for instrumental group of the year."
Capps said his guitar heroes were Grady Martin, Chet Atkins, Pete Wade, Ray Edenton on rhythm, Billy Sandford, Leon Rhodes and Spider Wilson.
He said, "Seriously, I would get up early before I went to school, and my Dad and I would listen to Spider play guitar with Big Jeff. I didn't realize there wasn't that much difference in our ages. Spider was going to school too, just like me. But he is one of my heroes. I've always admired him ... it's really wonderful to get to work with your heroes like that."
“What a great loss of one of our finest gentlemen in country music and one of our best and most consistent musicians,” said Connie Smith. “It will be hard to see the Grand Ole Opry stage without Jimmy Capps on it! He was a dear friend and will be dearly missed. Thank the Lord we have his music on so many hit recordings and Opry shows. Our prayers are with his living wife, Michelle, and his whole family.”