James Edward “Spider” Wilson, a longtime staff guitarist at the Grand Ole Opry, died on Thursday (Feb. 26) in Nashville, due to complications from cancer. He was 79.

Wilson was a Nashville native, and his love for country music was reportedly inspired by Hank Williams. CMT reports that Wilson would stand outside an open window at the Ryman Auditorium and listen to Williams' performances at the Opry. Little did he know that someday, he would play on that stage.

Wilson began recording with Little Jimmy Dickens (who passed away in January) and his band in 1947 and toured with iconic baritone Ray Price before joining the Opry's staff band in 1953 as the house guitarist, when he was just 18 years old.

"We would work with anybody who came in and didn't have a band. Or we would work individually different assignments or just part of [an artist’s] band," he once noted. "You always had to be there and ready to go, you know — a very complex job, really.”

Although it was complex, Wilson thrived at it.

"I always called Spider an ‘elephant man’ because if some artist asked me to work, I’d have to go ask him to hum the intro to it because he’d remember it no matter how far it went back in time," says fellow Opry guitarist Jimmy Capps.

Wilson's friend Robert Kramer lauded Wilson's "archival memory," explaining that "Spider would learn the intros, solos and backup parts on all the current records and be ready to back any artist."

Over the years, Wilson had the opportunity to back almost every performer at the Grand Old Opry. After a 53-year run, the talented artist quit the band in November of 2006, alleging that he was consistently excluded from playing on the televised portion of the show.

I feel it was the right thing," said Wilson at the time. "I'll miss it because it's been the biggest part of my life for a lot of years. My work at the Opry over the years has been the next thing to a religion to me."

In addition to his Opry work, Wilson was a popular studio musician. His name is on the recordings of acts like Price, Marty Robbins, Bill Anderson, Faron Young and Dolly Parton.

Wilson's death notice notes that a visitation will be held on March 1, from 2PM to 8PM at Nashville's Woodbine Hickory Chapel. The Boot extends our condolences to Wilson's family, friends and other loved ones.

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