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There are the names we all know, and then there are the valued members of the country music community who made a significant mark on the genre’s history, yet largely managed to stay away from the spotlight and never became household names.

Despite making a priceless contribution to the format as we know it, Leon Rhodes belonged to the latter group.

Best known as a member of the staff bands of both the Grand Ole Opry and the “Hee Haw” television show, Leon was also the lead guitarist in Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours in the 1960s. He passed away on Dec. 9 at his Tennessee home, according to “The Tennessean.”

Leon was 85 years old.

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“In my opinion, Leon was one of the greatest country guitarists of all time, and one of the finest jazz men to ever take the stage in a cowboy suit,” wrote Chris Scruggs, one of Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives, on his Instagram page on Dec. 9. “Leon added a level of sophistication to the established style and elevated it into something that was elegant, refined and well spoken … but always with the down-home country twang of his Epiphone Sheraton’s treble pickup. He always played with an enormous amount of humility and dignity, and his decades of service to the Grand Ole Opry staff band made radio listeners smile all over the world on Saturday nights.”

There is a great Texas Troubadour reunion taking place right now, as Leon Rhodes passed today into the wild blue yonder today. That means one less country guitar legend who walks among us, and it is certainly our loss. In my opinion, Leon was one of the greatest country guitarists of all time, and one of the finest jazz men to ever take the stage in a cowboy suit. Yes, the Short Brothers and Tommy "Butterball" Paige who wrote the book on how to play lead guitar for Ernest Tubb, and it was Billy Byrd who made the guitar just as much a starring feature as ET's voice. However, Leon added a level of sophistication to the established style and elevated it into something that was elegant, refined and well spoken… but always with the down-home country twang of his Epiphone Sheraton's treble pickup. He always played with an enormous amount of humility and dignity, and his decades of service to the Grand Ole Opry staff band made radio listeners smile all over the world on Saturday nights. Sending love from me to his closest friends and family, and Leon, if you can still hear us from the other side, we'd just like to say: "Thanks, thanks a lot."

A post shared by Chris Scruggs (@scruggs82) on

Indeed, Leon’s contributions to the country music industry can’t be understated. The Dallas-born musician’s speedy playing style got the attention of many, with Vince Gill telling “The Tennessean,” “Leon could play circles around most guitar players.”

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At the height of his career, Leon was on the road with the Texas Troubadours up to 300 days a year. After leaving the Troubadours, he went to play in the Opry staff band until 1999, along with working as a session musician for artists such as Loretta Lynn, George Strait and Reba McEntire. He retired in 2014.

Many members of the country music community headed to their social media pages to remark about the his passing.

“The Tennessean” reports that visitation for Leon will be held at the Hermitage Funeral Home and Memorial Gardens in Old Hickory, Tennessee on Dec. 11 from 4-8 p.m. and Dec. 12 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with a service to follow.

Everyone here at Rare Country sends their condolences to Leon’s family, friends and fans.

Tricia Despres is a senior correspondent for Rare Country, based out of Chicago. Join the conversation on Twitter at @RareCountry. We would love to see y’all there.
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