The Wayne County Museum Committee has been working hard on the new “Music Walk of Fame,” located at the north side of the courthouse on the square. On Friday, July 3rd, the first three stars on the Walk of Fame were revealed: Earl “Peanutt” Montgomery, Ralph Davis, and Neal “Tywop” Jones. The Museum Committee will continue to add stars to the Walk of Fame to represent all of the truly great musical talent that has come from Wayne County.
Earl “Peanutt” Montgomery is a songwriter, singer, musician, and Baptist minister. He was born on February 6, 1941, in Wayne County, Tennesee. He spent many years in the music industry as one of Nashville’s top songwriters and musicians. He was one of Nashville’s top songwriters and session players for many years. Montgomery began his career as the lead guitarist at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and has played with such legendary artists as Bob Dylan, Etta James and Patsy Cline. George Jones recorded 73 songs written by Montgomery, including many duets with Tammy Wynette. Other country artists such as Barbara Mandrell, Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker, Hank Williams, Jr., and Merle Haggard have also recorded his songs. Montgomery was awarded the Arthur Alexander Songwriter’s Award by the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1997.
Earl toured with Michael Landon (Little Joe on Bonanza), worked with Red Foley, Cowboy Copus and the Willis Brothers on the road and on the Grand Ole Opry; played in the band with Billy Sherrill, one of Nashville’s top record producers, and Rick Hall of Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
Earl says that on May 17, 1976, his life was completely changed when he found the Lord Jesus Christ. Four years after Earl became a Christian, he began preaching and pastoring.
Ralph Davis was born on March 15, 1930 in rural Wayne County, Tennessee. He moved to Wayne County, Michigan in 1951. After being drafted into the army, Ralph was stationed in Missouri, playing western swing with a ten-piece band nightly. After his military service was over, Ralph returned to Detroit in 1957 and formed the Western Rhythm Boys with two of his brothers: Kenneth on the fiddle, Guy on bass guitar, and Ralph on guitar.
During late 1957, Davis cut two original songs for Jack Brown of Fortune Records in Detroit. “Searching For You” featured bass, drums, steel guitar, fiddle, and Davis’ vocal and rhythm guitar. “That’s all I played back then,” Ralph said. “That’s all I’ve ever played, mountain guitar. I play a little banjo and mandolin, but not enough to amount to anything. … my brother Kenny, he’s a great musician. A great mandolin player…he played fiddle fluently, and he plays a great guitar.”
In an interview conducted several years ago, Ralph said, “One night we was working this club in Ann Arbor (Michigan), I’ll never forget it. I had an old ’53 Buick, and it had those fluid (electric) windows in it, and somebody rolled one down behind, and we couldn’t get it up. Boy, I was freezing! On the way home, Marty (Robbins) was singing on the radio. We had tuned in to WSM, I always listened. I told Kenny, ‘Do you know what I’m gonna do?’ And he said, ‘Nah.’ I said, ‘I’m going back to Nashville.’ He said, ‘What for?’ I said, ‘I’m gonna get on the Opry.’ And he just laughed, ‘Oh yeah?’ I said, ‘Yeah. In two weeks, I’m leaving.’ And so I did. I went out there and gave them my notice, and you know what? He left before I did!”
Soon after moving to Nashville during the winter of 1958, Ralph and his brothers Kenneth and Guy rustled up some gigs playing music in the city’s active night club scene. “I had to get a job when I went down there – something to do besides the music,” recalled Ralph. “I got a job in a print shop. Then I started writing songs, and hanging around Tootsie’s. I met a lot of people there…next thing I knew, I had a song on an Ernest Tubb record!”
Ralph worked with bandleader “Big Jeff” (Grover Franklin Bess) and his Radio Playboys for a while. At that time, Big Jeff and his wife, Tootsie, owned Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Broadway, a hangout for musicians who worked the Opry stage at the Ryman Auditorium, which was located near a back door to the club.
“Tommy Hill was a great influence on me,” said Davis. “He liked some of the songs I’d written, so I made a demo at Starday Recording Studio. They started getting some of them recorded by Archie Campbell, Roy Drusky…then Tommy asked me once if I’d fill in for him at the Opry. He was a rhythm (guitar) player. I said, ‘Sure, man!’ I got to know all the acts down there. When Tommy decided he didn’t want to play on a particular night, I’d go take his place. One day he told me, ‘I’m gonna quit. Do you want the job?’ I said, ‘You bet I do.’ This was, like, 1960. I talked with the manager and he said, ‘Yeah, as far as I’m concerned.’ It wasn’t really called a ‘staff band’ at that time. It depended on the artists who wanted to use you. That went on until about ’68. But then one day they called the musicians in and told us they were making a staff band, and they were just gonna keep so many of us to play. Me and my brother Guy were included in it. Hal Love, Billy Linneman, Junior Husky, Pete Drake, Jimmy ‘Spider’ Wilson…there were ten of us that was kept there. We stayed there for the next forty years.”
1999 marked the end of an era at the Grand Ole Opry, when management asked most of the regular musicians to retire. After forty years, Davis left the stage of the Opry for the last time. “I got to work with some great people,” he said. “It was my desire, when I was young, growing up on the little farm over here. We had a battery-operated radio and I’d listen to the Opry every Saturday night.” A decade after leaving the Opry, Ralph Davis passed away in Waynesboro on October 29, 2010.
Neal “Tywop” Jones was born on March 22, 1922 near Scotts Hill, Tennessee. He learned guitar as a boy, and first worked at the radio station WTJS Jackson in 1940 with Eddy Arnold and the Johnson Brothers. He relocated to WREC Memphis and played lead guitar with Curly Fox and Texas Ruby, but later rejoined the Johnson Brothers at WKPT Kingsport. In May 1942, they moved to WDOD Chattanooga, where he also played fiddle. Tywop once said that he could only play three fiddle tunes, and was somewhat embarrassed at one show to find Curly Fox in the audience. He was drafted in October 1942 and served as a radar operator during World War II. During these years, he played guitar with a service band. In March 1946, he returned to work with Arnold at WTJS, where he also incorporated comedy into his act. During the late 40s, he also worked with Billy Walker. In the early 50s, he became a specialty act at WMPS Memphis and toured with several acts including the Louvin Brothers, the Blackwood Brothers and Sonny James. He also became a regular on the Daily Shindig Show on WFAA Dallas. In 1954, Tywop joined Columbia Records and recorded several sessions for the label. Between 1954 and 1958, he worked radio and television at WBAP Fort Worth, Texas, where at times he co-hosted Barn Dance with Pat Boone and his own daily show called The Jones Place, which at one time had Willie Nelson as a regular cast member. In the late 50s, he also hosted Jones Junction on KTLA Shreveport, Louisiana and worked with Jimmie Davis. In the early 60s, he began to combine his performing with work as a disc jockey and presented radio and television programs on several California and Texas stations. In 1971, he moved to Nashville, presenting syndicated shows including Inside Nashville.
People in Wayne County immediately came to know and love Jones when he “retired” to Wayne County in the 1970s and became the disc jockey at the radio station in Waynesboro. Many can still fondly remember Tywop sitting in front of the big window at the radio station on the square, calling out greetings to people across the airwaves that he saw driving or walking around the square. He continued to enjoy playing music and exchanging stories with his friends up until his death in 2005.