Panhandle Opry

About US


.History of the Panhandle Opry

The Early Years

by Vera Strickland & Corinne Porter


In the mid 1970's, Jerry Collins worked at the Strickland Christmas tree farm for Ed and Vera Strickland. One day Ed was playing his guitar and they discovered a common interest. Jerry introduced Ed & Vera to his father, Woody Collins. At the time, Ed's brother Loy lived on Kidd Road in Defuniak Springs. They planned a jam session for one evening and Woody invited the Porter family to join them. That was the beginning of a lasting friendship.


Betty Jones, the mother of Former Walton County Administrator Larry Jones, was running what was at the time, The Road Runner Restaurant at the intersection of Highways 90 and 285. She approached Gordon about starting a Saturday night show in the back room of the restaurant as a way to increase business. Gordon got together with musician friends he had met over the years and opened for the first show on June 15th, 1979. At the time, there was Gordon, Slim Anderson, Jerry Murphy, Woody Collins, Gary Kennedy, and David Byers. Soon, Buddy Lawrence, Reid Porter (Gordon's brother), Ed Strickland, Loy Strickland, Dottie "O", GW Henderson, Carl & Ingrid Gilman, Theresa Gilman, Tony Voile, Wilford Carroll, Sam Dunaway, Judy Lawrence, Trisha and Michael (Gordon's children), Susie, Bo & Butch Porter (Reid's children), Marcus & Dale Willis (Gordon's nephews), Judy Jones, Noah Noaker, and DW Rollin joined the group. Buddy Foster played bass at the time and his wife Rhonda sang. He owned Holland Music store in DeFuniak Springs and sold us our first equipment at cost. There were others that came and went at the time as well.


Soon, we began to broadcast on WGTX radio in Defuniak Springs and Ed Earles was the MC. It was decided that we needed a name and Ed came up with the name "Panhandle Opry"


We moved from there to the Palm Plaza in Niceville in January of 1981 and at the time we were aired on WAAZ radio in Crestview. Donny Cadenhead was the MC. Justin Grant joined as drummer at that time. Dottie "O" and Dewey were married on stage in 1981 at the Opry in Niceville.


From there we moved to a storefront on Main Street in Crestview. Then back to Niceville to the high school auditorium. At this point it was decided we needed a permanent location.


We decided to build the music hall on our property where we could watch over it. Carl Gilman was not employed at the time and worked full time on the building along with Ed Strickland. Ed designed and laid out the building. Carl was the only one paid for his labor, and it was only a token payment to help him while he was unemployed. Buddy Lawrence took his vacation time and worked on the building. Every Saturday the group would get together and work all day on the barn. The ladies would prepare food and in the evening they would all come over to our house to pick and sing.


The lumber was cut in our sawmill. There were so many good folks who put in time to work on the building, I fear if I mention some, I may unintentionally leave others out. However, I will say the Gatewoods and the Lewis' followed us from the very beginning. They always showed up wherever we played, and when it came time to to build the music hall, Pete and Don didn't miss a beat. The building construction began in March and we had our first show in the new building on June 5th, 1982.


When we opened the new building in 1982, Gary Simerly joined as our steel guitar player, and Olean Casey played lead guitar with GW. Tommy McCurly began to play bass and sing. Donna Casey, Michelle and Cindy Locke (known as Silver Wings), Bonnie Barnhill, Jay Broom, Ken Sadler, Brenda McCurley, and Karen Reeves were regular singers at that time.


In 1985 the group was suffering from burnout and decided to take a break.


We reopened in 1992 when Ron Taylor and Lamar Morris (Hank Williams Jr's former guitar player) approached Gordon about opening up and working with them. After several months, Lamar left and we continued to keep the show going on our own. At that time, Hank Scroggins played the fiddle and his son Keith was a regular singer. Soon after that, Mimi Brooks joined the group as well.


Over the years there have been many, many great entertainers. This brief history could not possibly include them all.