His Tunes Are Legendary And The Legend Began In Benson

Benson native and legendary musician Jimmy Capps returned home last week to be honored by the town. Here he plays a few notes on a guitar he has loaned to the Benson Museum of Local History as Amy Adams watches. Daily Record Photo

Jimmy Capps returns with honors

He’s performed on “The Mother Church of Country Music” stage. His tunes can be heard in many of country music’s most iconic songs. And, for Jimmy Capps, his journey to the limelight started here in Benson.

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Capps, who was born in Fayetteville and raised in Benson, returned to his hometown Friday to see his name forever carved in granite in front of his boyhood home. He was honored with a reception at Benson Baptist Church and Capps then returned the honors, donating one of his guitars to the Benson Museum of Local History and performing two free concerts to packed crowds at Crossroads Church of Benson.

Capps has spent the majority of his adult life performing and playing studio sessions for the likes of the Louvin Brothers, George Jones, Tammy Wynette and Ronnie Milsap, just to name a few. But it’s his work as an original member of the Grand Ole Opry Staff Band that became a unique aspect of his career.

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“It’s a unique job to begin with. I’m amazed that the show gets on the air because we all fly by the seat of our britches,” he said. “And that might explain why it’s lasted for 90-something years.”

The Grand Ole Opry has been dubbed “America’s longest-running radio show.” Each week, fans still gather around radios to hear stars such as Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, Bill Anderson and Loretta Lynn perform. The show takes place in the Opry House on the outskirts of Nashville, with the exception of the winter months when it moves back to its original home in downtown Nashville at the Ryman Auditorium.

“A lot of the other country music shows on Saturday night in Cincinnati, Chicago, Shreveport and Wheeling, they all fell by the wayside,” Capps said. “And that may be the reason the Opry has lasted. So I really feel very fortunate to work there.”

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Capps’ wife, Michele, also works at the Opry and is considered to be the Staff Band’s “mother.” The two became friends 24 years ago.

“I first met him on a recording session,” she said. “The man who ran the studio hired him to be the band leader on my session and we became friends. He and the bass player both worked at the Grand Ole Opry so he would clear me to come backstage. We became just great friends over the years and we married almost 12 years ago.”

For the silver-haired, low-key music legend, who has done as many as 500 recording sessions in a year, he says his work hasn’t felt much like work. He also admits the music he has recorded and performed brings the same elements to his work as those brought to other careers.

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“I don’t mean I love every song we play. There’s some things I’d rather not play,” he said. “You have to take the bad with good. And it’s not necessarily bad, it’s just music I wouldn’t have chosen. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

Capps began his professional career at the age of 19 when he was hired by Charlie and Ira Louvin to play guitar for their road show. From there he began a climb up the ladder that was temporarily halted when he was drafted five years later, to the top of the hill.

When you ask him what songs he feels best identify him as the player, he quickly admits there might be too many to mull over. His song stylings have included the lead guitar portion of George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and the guitar rifts that intertwine through Tammy Wynette’s country standard “Stand By Your Man.”

For traditional country music fans, Capps guitar strings have been the foundation of many hours of enjoyment.

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“I can’t think of one,” he said. “I’ve got so many favorites that I can’t think of one in particular.”

He’s especially proud of his work with fellow North Carolinian Ronnie Milsap. Capps’ tunes can be heard on such Milsap classics as “Pure Love,” “The Girl Who Waits on Tables” and “Legend in My Time.”

“I love all the Ronnie Milsap stuff we did,” Capps said. “I love Milsap’s singing. Plus he’s a Tarheel. He can’t be wrong.”

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Capps will turn 80 in a couple of weeks and says he still believes the future has plenty of good things in store for him. He doesn’t see himself stopping anytime soon nor hanging up his guitars for good.

“I’d like to do another CD,” he admits. “I’ve done about four or five, I’d like to do another one. I’d do it with Nashville musicians. My son, Mark, is the engineer, so if he’s there I have no fear.”

-Dunn Daily Record