Floyd Terry loved country music, so he made his oldest three sons learn to
play instruments. He taught them so well that it wasn't long before they
were playing at the Grand Ole Opry.
That was the start of a hall-of-fame career for fiddler and Lawrence County
native Gordon Terry, age 9 at his first Opry performance. His career lasted
almost four decades and included playing with legendary country music
Gordon Terry, who lived in Pulaski, Tenn., died Sunday morning at the home
of his daughter, Mitzi Winter, in Spring Hill, Tenn., after a lengthy
The 74-year-old Mr. Terry, namesake of Gordon Terry Parkway — Alabama 24
between Moulton and Decatur — was a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame
and Museum in Nashville and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. He was a charter
member of the Fiddlers' Hall of Fame.
Monroe, Haggard, Cash, Young
He played with Bill Monroe, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Faron Young. Cash
once called Mr. Terry "a dear friend for years" and described him as "one of
"They had their fans, but Gordon had his and he could really wake up a
crowd," said his brother Calvin of Trinity. "He could handle a crowd as well
anybody I've ever seen."
Gordon Terry summarized his career in a 1997 interview with THE DECATUR
DAILY: "It's all been having a big time and getting paid."
In 1941, Calvin said, his late father took the family, called "Floyd Terry
and His Young 'Uns," to Nashville. He thought they could just show up at the
Grand Ole Opry and play.
When they reached the Opry offices, a secretary showed them filing cabinets
full of applications on white paper for people wanting to play on country's
"He asked the lady if every application was in white, and she said yes,"
Calvin said. "So he asked for a red piece of crepe paper so his application
would stand out."
It did. By the time Floyd Terry got home to Moulton several days later,
Stella Terry, Gordon's mother, had a letter from Opry founder George Dewey
Hayes that the group was on the schedule for the next Saturday night, June
6. Gordon was the youngest of the three sons and played mandolin and fiddle.
"They had to rush back to Nashville," Calvin said.
Hayes liked them so much that he asked them to come back and play a second
Fiddle champ at 14
Gordon won the Alabama Fiddling Championship in Birmingham at age 14.
Gordon was 18 years older than Calvin and 13 years older than his sister,
Jimmie Terry Lemmond, now of Priceville. Gordon was off touring most of his
younger siblings' lives.
"He called me 'Jim,' and he was always so gentle," Lemmond said. "He always
asked me a lot of questions, and he was very protective."
In 1949 at age 17, Gordon Terry married Virginia Russell of Decatur. They
were together for 57 years until his death and had two girls, Winter and
Rhonda Terry Thorson.
Goodbye, chicken plant
He also auditioned for Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in 1949. He walked off
his job at a chicken processing plant in Decatur when he got the music job.
After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Gordon began a career
as a recording artist. His biggest hit was "Wild Honey," released in 1957.
He moved to California in 1958, and even tried his hand at acting. His
manager turned down an offer to play in the movie "Tarzan" while Gordon was
out on tour.
"The manager said the money wasn't good enough," Calvin said. "Gordon was so
Calvin said that his brother didn't always play bluegrass, and that he liked
to play ballads. He said he could get very lively on stage in his prime.
In 1964 Gordon built Terrytown, a rustic resort and Western theme park that
featured top country artists in Loretto, Tenn. Running the resort and
touring became too much, however, and he sold it in just three seasons.
He then spent time touring in California and Europe before returning to
Nashville, performing there until ill health forced him into semi-retirement
[He recorded for Chart Records in the late 1960's and Plantation Records
in the 1970's]
Thorson said he then became founder and chief executive officer in 1980 of
Reunion Of Professional Entertainers, also known as ROPE. The hope was to
raise enough money to build a retirement home for entertainers and those
working behind the scenes in the entertainment business. His dream lives on
with the proposed Country Music Retirement Center.
"That was one of his pride and joys," Thorson said.
The state named Alabama 24 after Gordon Terry in the late 1980s.
Lemmond said she last heard her brother play at his 50th wedding anniversary
cookout with Barbara Mandrell.
Calvin said he took Gordon to Childersburg, Tenn., about four years ago to
play with his good friend well-known country singer Freddie Hart at the Hart
"My brother could really play," Calvin said.
Parkway Funeral Home is handling arrangements.