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Remembering Two Major Nashville Cats

Revered Nashville guitarists Bucky Baxter and Jimmy Capps have recently died.

Nashville is remembering two key guitar-playing sidemen who’ve recently died. Jimmy Capps, who passed away early this week at the age of 81, earned his way into the Musicians Hall of Fame for his work with the Grand Ole Opry and on classic country records. William “Bucky” Baxter, who toured the world with Bob Dylan and played with Steve Earle, Jean Shepard and R.E.M, died on May 25 at age 65.

Nashville has been called Guitar Town, but Baxter actually has picker’s credit on Earle’s Guitar Town album of 1986. He taught himself the extremely difficult pedal steel after high school and took on band gigs in Virginia and Nashville in the 1980s. After getting married and started a family, he took on jobs he found less interesting but more financially stable. His son Rayland has become a highly respected indie singer songwriter.

Bucky Baxter wound up working with Steve Wariner early in his country career, Johnny Paycheck until the artist went to prison and Opry icon Jean Shepard about the time Guitar Town was made. Baxter joined Earle’s band The Dukes, playing on the iconic Copperhead Road as well. After a Steve Earle tour opening for Bob Dylan, the songwriting legend kept Baxter’s phone number and called him two years later. Baxter joined Dylan’s so-called Never Ending Tour from 1992 to 1999, for more than 700 shows. He also played on the Grammy-winning album Time Out of Mind.

Jimmy Capps spent his career more firmly planted in Nashville. Growing up in Benson, NC, he heard the Opry on the radio and grew to idolize Chet Atkins. After learning Chet’s approach from Louvin Brothers records, he was able to audition for and win a job with the famous Alabama duo. That ushered him into the Music City studio system and the Grand Ole Opry. Capps’s guitar can be heard on Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” George Jones’s “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” and George Strait’s “Amarillo By Morning” among scores of others. His recording credits include Charley Pride, Charlie Rich, Reba McEntire, the Oak Ridge Boys and Conway Twitty.

Capps spent his recent decades as house guitarist for the Grand Ole Opry, backing up thousands of singers with musical grace and understated but deep technique, generally on the acoustic guitar. In all he spent more than 60 years playing on the storied show, and he had a rehearsal room in the Opry House named after him a few years ago. "What a great loss of one of our finest gentlemen in country music and one of our best and most consistent musicians,” said Hall of Famer Connie Smith. “It will be hard to see the Grand Ole Opry stage without Jimmy Capps on it!” 

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org