Grady Hockett, 81, of Greensboro passed away on Jan. 5, 2023. A longtime guitarist, dobroist, banjoist, singer and songwriter, he was also the proprietor of the Rand Ol’ Opry, now the Liberty Showcase Theater, for many years.
His love affair with music began as a boy, playing guitar and zither and singing gospel songs at the Pleasant Garden Church of the Nazarene. He formed a band, the Foggy River Boys, and landed a spot on now-defunct radio station WNOS in High Point. Hockett traveled the road with several local bands.
“The first time I saw Grady, he was playing dobro with the McPherson Brothers, in 1967 or ’68,” recalled Cedar Falls’ banjo/bass player Vernon Allred. “He had an old truck with their names painted on the side.”
Hockett later formed a bluegrass gospel band, the Jordan River Boys, and sang at churches from North Carolina to Georgia. In the early ’80s, Hockett and the Jordan River Boys joined the Renfro Valley Barn Dance in Kentucky, one of the oldest and most widely syndicated radio shows in the country. Every weekend, Hockett would travel the 400 miles to the barn dance, perform two shows on Saturday night and one on Sunday morning, and return home. Hockett became a featured soloist on the show when his band broke up.
“There were more people at the barn dance from North Carolina than anywhere else,” Hockett once said.
It fed his dream to start his own live music venue.
``I knew it would work if I could find the right place and put it all together,“ he said.
Hockett found a big, rustic building off Richland Church Road near Liberty and opened the Southeastern Barn Dance in 1991. He said it didn't feel right. Perhaps it was too far out, but he didn't feel comfortable with the location.
The musical entrepreneur moved his show to the old Curtis Theater in downtown Liberty, now home to Dewey and Leslie Brown’s Liberty Showcase Theater. He opened the Rand Ol' Opry, named after its Randolph County location, on Saturday night, March 20, 1993. Hockett was shocked when he and his wife, Betty, threw open the doors for the first time and almost 500 people swarmed in.
``We almost sold out,” he stated after that night.
Much of the Rand Ol' Opry's success was largely due to Hockett's knowledge of the music business and his association with its performers. He booked genuine headliners and top-notch entertainers.
Learning of his death, Chris Malpass of the Malpass Brothers, expressed, "So sad. Grady Hockett put me on stage at the Rand Ol’ Opry in Liberty as a 12-year-old kid and gave me a chance to do what I love. I have so many memories of the shows we did there and Grady with his Martin guitar and fine suits. He was truly a class act and an example of how a country singer should look and act on stage.”
Former Jordan River Boys banjoist Sandy Perdue shared memories of his time spent with Hockett. “The passing of Grady Hockett has saddened my heart. I picked in his band, The Jordan River Boys, in the mid-’70s through the early ’80s. We traveled all over the southeastern states. We had shows with a lot of bluegrass gospel groups: the Easter Brothers, the Coon Creek Girls, the Log Cabin Boys, and many others. I remember once we were with the legendary Chuck Wagon Gang at Denton FarmPark.
“Grady always was professional. He taught me a lot and I’m thankful for that. He frequently had a funny joke or story to share. I got my first banjo from him and probably wouldn’t have ever learned to play if not for Grady and my longtime friend, JB Swaney, who got me started playing banjo.
“When I heard the Jordan River Boys, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to do that someday.’ Grady Hockett had a big part in that. He now joins all the JRBs in Heaven, as I am the last surviving band member. I just want to say to Grady Hockett, JB Swaney, Jim Voncannon, Chester Leonard and Kenneth Reaves: ‘Play one for me boys until we meet again.’ ”
Music was Hockett’s passion. To support his family, he worked with his father in the construction business, ran several music stores and venues, and other odd jobs.
Johnny Ridge, fiddler from Mebane, shared a memory of Hockett’s early days. “One thing you may not be aware of is he used to drive tour buses for Holiday Tours for a while. At the time, he went into the recording studio and recorded a bunch of old standard songs that the older generation would recognize. Had cassettes packaged, and would sing the songs to the older ladies while he drove the bus. Then, he'd sell them a cassette. The reason I know this is because my grandmother Ridge told me about it. She even bought one of his cassettes.”
His burial was held on Sunday, Jan. 8. Memorial contributions can be made to AuthoraCare Collective, formerly Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro, 2500 Summit Avenue, Greensboro, NC 27405.
Thanks for all the music. RIP, Grady Hockett.