Guitarist Jimmy Capps, a member of the Musicians Hall of Fame who played on such timeless country songs as Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler,” George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” and George Strait’s “Amarillo by Morning,” has died at 81. Capps was also a member of the Grand Ole Opry, playing lead guitar in the house band. A rep for the Opry confirmed his death.
Born May 25th, 1939, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Capps began playing guitar when he was 12. In 1958, he auditioned for the Louvin Brothers’ band and was ultimately asked to join the sibling duo by Charlie Louvin. “Thanks to Charlie…I guess I owe my whole career to him,” Capps said in his 2018 autobiography The Man in Black. “That one split-second decision that he made is the reason I am here. That decision made all the difference in my life.”
Capps made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry stage with the Louvins, performing their murder ballad “Knoxville Girl,” and became an Opry member in 1959. He joined the Opry house band in 1967, playing lead guitar behind the radio show’s guest artists every week up until his death.
Along with his onstage work, Capps was an in-demand session musician, known for his smooth playing style of both acoustic and electric guitar, on recordings like Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man,” Barbara Mandrell’s “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” and Strait’s “Unwound.” In 2012, he was spotlighted by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum as a “Nashville Cat” and was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2014, along with fellow honorees Randy Bachman and Peter Frampton. Capps was also a 2018 inductee into his home state of North Carolina’s Music Hall of Fame.
“The heavenly choir has gained one of the finest players to ever play,” the Oak Ridge Boys’ Joe Bonsall wrote on Twitter in remembrance of Capps, who played guitar on the Oaks’ 1981 smash “Elvira.” “And quite frankly one of the finest men to ever live.”