Little Jimmy Dickens is the master of the country novelty song, as well as a renowned ballad singer. He also known for his diminutive stature -- he's less than five feet tall -- and his affection for flamboyant, rhinestone-studded outfits and country humor. Although he never had a consistent presence on the charts, he managed to have hits in every decade between the 1940s and the 1970s, and he became one of the Grand Ole Opry's most popular performers.
Dickens was the 13th child of a West Virginian farmer. During his childhood, he fell in love with music and had a dream of performing on the Grand Ole Opry. He began performing professionally while he was a student at the University of West Virginia in the late '30s, singing on a local radio station. Dickens left school shortly after he received his regular radio job. He began traveling around the country, singing on radio shows in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan under the name Jimmy the Kid. Roy Acuff heard Dickens sing on a radio show in Saginaw, MI, and invited him to sing on the Grand Ole Opry.
In 1949, Dickens -- who was now using the name Little Jimmy Dickens -- became a permanent member of the Grand Ole Opry. That year, he also signed a record contract with Columbia Records, releasing his first single, "Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait," in the spring of 1949. The song became a Top Ten hit and launched a string of hit novelty, ballad, and honky tonk singles that lasted for a year, including "Country Boy," "A-Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed," "Hillbilly Fever," and "My Heart's Bouquet." Early in the '50s, he formed a band called the Country Boys, which featured a steel guitar, two lead guitars, and drums. With their spirited traditional country approach and vague rockabilly inflections, the band didn't sound like their Nashville contemporaries. Perhaps that's why Dickens only had one hit between 1950 and 1962: 1954's "Out Behind the Barn."
Dickens bounced back to the Top Ten with the ballad "The Violet and the Rose" in 1962. Three years later, he had his biggest hit, "May the Bird of Paradise Fly up Your Nose." The single topped the country charts and crossed over to number 15 on the pop charts. Although his next single, "When the Ship Hit the Sand," was moderately successful, Dickens wasn't able to replicate the success of "May the Bird of Paradise Fly up Your Nose." In 1968, he stopped recording for Columbia, signing with Decca Records, where he had three minor hits in the late '60s and early '70s. In 1971, he moved to United Artists, which resulted in two more small hits, but by that time he had begun to concentrate on performing as his main creative outlet. Dickens continued to tour and perform at the Grand Ole Opry into the '90s, becoming one of the most beloved characters in country music. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine