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Legacy of family patriarch lives on in musical memories
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Joel Price, left with electric bass, poses with the "Little" Jimmy Dickens band.

CLEVELAND — At Blue Creek BBQ in Cleveland, Tammie Holland serves up barbecue, half chickens and potato salad with a side of family heritage.

Holland's father, the late Joel Tyrus Price, played upright bass at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn., in the show's early years, and was the first musician to play electric bass there.

Holland said she opened the restaurant in 1998 to "carry on the heritage of my dad and bluegrass music."

Posters and photos of Price and other country and bluegrass performers cover the walls of Blue Creek. The memorabilia is Holland's way of keeping her father's legacy alive, and sharing it with anyone who comes in the door.

Restaurant patrons sometimes bring in items from the Opry for Holland to add to her collection.

"A guy gave me a curtain weight off of the old curtains at the Ryman (Auditorium)," Holland said. "I think about, well, hey, my dad was on the stage every time those curtains were pulled back and forth, so that weight, you know, it means something to me."

Price grew up in Gumlog, near Lavonia. Holland said he traveled with the Toccoa-based Tommy Scott Traveling Medicine Show as the show's bass player, comedian and ventriloquist, calling himself "Cousin Horsefly" before he began playing with Bill Monroe at the Opry.

"Somewhere in the late '30s, possibly 1940, Bill Monroe was playing in Clayton. My dad went to the show," Holland said. "Now, you don't even go anywhere near those stars, but at that point in time things were not like they are now. My dad went up to Bill Monroe, told him he wanted to go to the Opry.

"Mr. Monroe asked my dad, ‘What do you play?' And he said, ‘I can play everything, but I'm good at the stand-up bass,'" Holland said.

Monroe auditioned Price right then and there, and Holland said "he hired him that night and my dad ran home and got his clothes and left. And that's how it started. My dad was that good."

After that, Price was one of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, a group of legends according to many bluegrass fans, which also included banjo player Earl Scruggs, guitarist Lester Flatt and fiddler Chubby Wise.

Holland said her father shared countless stories of the Opry with her, including one about a young Elvis Presley.

"My dad was there when Elvis came in to try to even get a job," she said.

"He had nothing. He was real pitiful looking, with a guitar thrown across his back. My dad's told that story hundreds of times."

Holland said her dad performed at the Opry when it first became popular.

"I can remember my dad talking about people lined up down the sidewalks waiting to get in," she said.

Since her father left the Opry before she was born, Holland didn't get to see him on stage there. But she said she and her mother, Frances Price, traveled the country to see her dad as he performed with Monroe, "Little" Jimmy Dickens and George Morgan.

"My mom and I would get on Greyhound buses and travel for days to get to wherever he may be - out West, anywhere," Holland said. "We got on airplanes and flew, we got on trains and rode for six and eight days at a time to go cross country to see him."

She said her father's fame wasn't a big deal to her as a child.

"I just remember traveling and my dad being in the limelight," she said. "You know, to me it wasn't a big deal because he was my dad and I didn't think about it."

Price also played bass for eight years for "The Judy Lynn Show," a Las Vegas show at the Golden Nugget casino.

Holland was in second grade when her father retired in 1964.

After his retirement, Price came home and continued to play in a smaller venue - the country store he opened with Frances, called Price's Hillbilly Grocery.

Holland said the walls of her family's store were a lot like the ones now in her restaurant, covered with her dad's memories of performing.

It wasn't difficult for Price to hold on to those memories, since musicians often stopped by to pick with him.

"We'd have pickers from everywhere come," Holland said. "They'd call and say, ‘Can we come to your store Saturday night?' And he would say, ‘Bring whoever you want to bring,' and 50 people would show up."

Holland said she remembers receiving gifts as a child from Grand Ole Opry comedian Minnie Pearl, who would stop by the store to see Price.

"We had all kind of people," she said. "We're talking about people like Dolly Parton, Jimmy Dickens, Bill Anderson, all of those people that are popular. See, at that point in time, you just didn't think about it. It wasn't that big of a deal, so they would come by my dad's store all the time, when they were in the area."

Holland met her husband, Charles "Tony" Holland, when his father became the pastor of her church, Poplar Springs Baptist Church, where she played piano.

"I always enjoyed meeting him and hearing his ‘greet' when I came in the door," Tony Holland said of Price.

Tony Holland said he also loved to hear his father-in-law's stories from the road, like the one about the time it was so foggy he had to drive to a show with his head out the window of a station wagon, which had the band's instruments strapped to the top.

He said Price just loved to play bluegrass music.

"You knew that when he was playing, he played from the heart," Tony Holland said.

Holland said her dad also emceed at Shoal Creek Music Park in Lavonia, "every Saturday night for 25 years," so she and her mother took care of the store while he worked.

"I did it all the time. That was my responsibility," she said. "I'm talking about running the cash register, pumping gas. ... We had fish bait, we had a restaurant. I was 8 years old and started working, and have not stopped."

Holland passed her family's work ethic on to her children, who have worked at Blue Creek since the restaurant opened.

The Hollands' son, Tyrus Holland, 25, who was named after his grandfather, said Blue Creek's family atmosphere is a lot like how he remembers his grandpa's store.

"That's probably what I remember most," Tyrus Holland said. "The store, him being there and everybody coming to see him. It was a lot like people coming here."The Holland family learned a lot more about Price when they attended the Grand Ole Opry's 75th anniversary in 2000.

"I had never been to the Opry in my life," Holland said. "My dad had already passed at that time. When they found out who I was, it was amazing. I should have recorded it."

Tammie Holland said the performers at the Opry told her that her dad "was a great guy. Everybody loved working with him." She said Dickens told her she had her dad's personality.

The Hollands' youngest daughter, Trailly Holland, 23, said she thought it was cool when she heard country music stars talk about her grandfather.

"I remember Jimmy Dickens just saying that he thought so highly of him," Trailly Holland said. "I guess I haven't really thought so much that my grandpa was so famous. First of all, he was my grandpa first."

Trailly Holland said the family also got to see Price's section in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

"He's got his little section in the hall of fame in Nashville," she said. "That's pretty awesome."

The Hollands' oldest daughter, Tiffny Holland, 27, said her grandfather influenced her to become a musician.

"We were always surrounded by music and lots of musicians," she said. "His primary instrument was the bass guitar and, ironically, that is my best instrument."

Tiffny Holland said she sometimes makes trips with friends to Nashville and goes backstage when she's at the Opry.

She said she has befriended Dickens and Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs, and they tell her stories about her grandpa when she visits.

"It is an incredible heritage to have because very few people have that," Tiffny Holland said. "My grandfather was very instrumental in the beginnings of country music."

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