At age 88, country legend Leroy Van Dyke inevitably hears the same couple of questions: Will he slow down his busy traveling schedule? Has he ever thought of retirement? With a good-natured laugh, Van Dyke will answer with a quip that came from his wife Gladys. “She once said that my idea of retirement was when I’d keel over on stage,” he chuckles. “She might be right.”
The point is that the singer of such classics as “Walk on By,” which topped the charts for 19 weeks in 1961, and “Auctioneer” shows no signs of slowing down nor even hints at retirement. And why should he? He notes that his health and energy level are both in tip-top shape. In fact, we should all look this good at 88.
Van Dyke still travels the country on his popular Country Gold Tour and is set to play the upcoming Opry Country Classics show at the Grand Ole Opry House on October 19. “Playing the Grand Ole Opry is always like coming home,” says Van Dyke, who joined the Opry cast 55 years ago but was subsequently released a few years later because he could not fulfill the required number of performances.
“I was playing over 300 days a year,” Van Dyke explains. “At that time, I just couldn’t make that many shows on the Opry. So, I asked them to let me out.” The picture gets a little muddled at this juncture as far as his Opry cast membership. His name appears on the gold plates of Opry members backstage at the Grand Ole Opry House. However, he is not listed as a member on the Opry website. In light of that confusing issue, though, Van Dyke still relishes playing on the Opry stage. “I think the Opry Country Classics show is great,” he raves. “We’ll do a couple songs on the show, but I’m not sure which ones we’ll pick yet.”
Van Dyke is a sure-fire staple of state fairs and performing arts centers, but perhaps his greatest passion is hosting the Country Gold Tour, which he and his wife devised years ago. The name lives up to the billing, with an evening of beloved country hits by the artists who made them famous. “For our next one coming up, we’ve got David Frizzell, Lacy J. Dalton, and Bobby Bare,” Van Dyke notes. “All of our performers are well-known country acts who have had big hits and major media exposure. I am the host and emcee and I do a few songs before the guests come out.” On various nights, artists like Jimmy Fortune, Bill Anderson, Paulette Carlson and many others will take the Country Gold stage.
Not surprisingly, the Country Gold Tour is a proven success with traditional-minded audiences. “The people have become accustomed to the Country Gold quality,” Van Dyke says. “They like classic country and they like our artists. We don’t come out wearing old t-shirts and jeans. We have our hair combed. And,” he laughs, “we even shave. After the show, we sign autographs and take pictures. We stay as long as there are people in line.”
Van Dyke’s last chart hits came in the late 1970’s, but one particular tune is enjoying a career resurgence. His rapid-fire 1957 debut hit “Auctioneer” is being played on a series of TV ads for the Subway restaurant chain. “I actually haven’t heard it,” he says, “but people tell me that it’s on. I’m sure the company got all the proper licensing from the publishing company and all that. It’s nice to know that it’s still out there.”
Much like Van Dyke himself. He’ll continue to entertain as long as the crowds keep coming. “I am not going to slow down or retire,” he declares. “I just love doing this so much.”