Little Jimmy Dickens
Little Jimmy Dickens
year of induction1983
place of birthBolt, West Virginia
date of birthDecember 19, 1920
James Cecil Dickens burst onto the country scene at the end of the 1940s with a string of humorous novelty songs typified by “Take an Old Cold Tater (And Wait)” (1949), “I’m Little But I’m Loud” (1950), “Country Boy” (1949), and “A-Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed” (1950). His small physical stature (four feet, eleven inches), big voice, and brassy style made him a longtime favorite with country fans.
Born into a large West Virginia family, Dickens got his early radio experience on local radio station WJLS with performers like Mel Steele, Molly O’Day, and Johnnie Bailes. Through the 1940s he had his own radio programs in such spots as Fairmont, West Virginia; Indianapolis; Cincinnati; Topeka; and Saginaw, Michigan. Roy Acuff heard him for the first time in Cincinnati in 1947 and brought him to the attention of both Grand Ole Opry officials and Art Satherley at Columbia Records. After guest appearances he signed with Columbia on September 16, 1948, and joined the Opry shortly thereafter. Dickens became an instant success for both, beginning in early 1949.
At the Opry, Hank Williams gave Dickens the nickname Tater, from the Dickens hit “Take an Old Cold ’Tater (And Wait).” Shortly after joining the show, Dickens took over Paul Howard’s band, which included crack guitarists Jabbo Arrington and Grady Moore (later Jimmy “Spider” Wilson and Howard Rhoton), and bassist Bob Moore. Named the Country Boys, Dickens’s band became known for its topflight musicianship and for its pioneering twin lead guitar sound. Later Dickens hired young steel guitarist Buddy Emmons and guitarist Thumbs Carllile.
In the late 1950s, Dickens recorded some rockabilly numbers--including “Salty Boogie,” “Blackeyed Joe’s,” and “(I Got) A Hole in My Pocket” (later a hit for Ricky Van Shelton). Other well-known Dickens novelty numbers include “Hillbilly Fever,” “Bessie the Heifer,” “Hot Diggity Dog,” and “Cold Feet.” He also performed romantic ballads, such as “I’ve Just Got to See You Once More” and “My Heart’s Bouquet,” but his novelty hits overshadowed them.
Following his #9 hit with Boudleaux and Felice Bryant’s “Out Behind the Barn” in 1954, Dickens failed to place another song on the country chart until “The Violet and a Rose” in 1962. In 1957, he left the Opry to tour with the Philip Morris Country Music Show, but he returned in 1975. His biggest hit came in 1965 with a new novelty song, “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose,” which peaked at #1 and went on to #15 on the pop listings. Thereafter, Dickens placed singles for Columbia regularly on the charts until 1972. He moved to Decca Records in 1967 and United Artists in 1971. Of his later songs, “Country Music Lover” in 1967 had the highest chart ranking, but along with his novelty classics, the sentimental recitation “Raggedy Ann (You’ve Been Quite a Doll)” has probably retained the longest popularity with his fans.
At the Opry, Dickens continues to be an enduring favorite. An inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983, Dickens often jokes about his size, referring to himself as “Mighty Mouse in his pajamas,” but his stature in country history is great. - Ivan M. Tribe
- Adapted from the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s Encyclopedia of Country Music, published by Oxford University Press.