Sunday, December 9, 2018

Hee Haw episode from September 1990...

Howdy there...some later episodes of Hee Haw have become available, for the moment, on YouTube. The debut episode of the 1990-1991 season (it's final rural season) is available on YouTube. This episode marked the first time that Roy Clark was the sole host of the series. Upon the departure of Buck Owens following the 1985-1986 season the series introduced a guest co-host policy over the next four seasons and it was popular; and fans of the artists loved seeing their favorite bantering with Roy Clark but the guest co-host policy ended after the 1989-1990 season. The premiere episode of the 1990-1991 season featured special guests Garth Brooks, Suzy Bogguss, and tuba player Stan Freese. Also, given the recent passing of Roy Clark, this is a timely upload in that, as mentioned, this is the season in which he became the sole host of the program.

As you can see from the photo this is one of the episodes that aired on CMT in the mid 1990s. They aired reruns of most of the later episodes. TNN, prior to that, had aired a lot of the 1970s and early 1980s episodes. RFD has aired Hee Haw ever since 2008 in chronological order from Season One onward and they're currently up to the year, 1980. The series aired new episodes every year from 1969 until 1992. In this 1990 episode I was delighted to see some sketches that I hadn't seen in years...particularly Kornfield Kops featuring Gordie Tapp and Phil Campbell (screen cap below). Also a highlight is Gailard Sartain's oily lawyer character appearing in a sketch called Biggs, Shy, and Stir.

I had forgotten about the cold opening of the series in this era of it's history. The show opens with a brief exchange by Gordie Tapp and Roni Stoneman as Laverne and Ida Lee and after the comic zinger the opening of the show begins.

To save on air-time, perhaps, the cast was introduced in pairs of two instead of one after the other. By this time Mike Snider had become cast in most roles that would have gone to the late Junior Samples while Dub Taylor had taken over the Judge character previously played by Archie Campbell (whose son, Phil, had become a cast-member by this time). The gospel quartet segment is seen midway through the episode rather than at the end. A sketch I'd forgotten about is The Unlikely Brothers, a spoof of The Odd Couple. The sketch features Jeff Smith (the neat one) and Phil Campbell (the messy one)...the difference being these two are portraying siblings while Felix and Oscar of The Odd Couple were mismatched room-mates. There are a couple of other later episodes of Hee Haw on YouTube that I hadn't been able to see yet but rest assured I'll watch them once I publish this blog entry!!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Roy Clark: 1933-2018

A couple of days ago the legendary entertainer, Roy Clark, passed away at the age of 85. Born in Meherrin, Virginia on April 15, 1933 he grew up in a musically inclined family. His mastery of the guitar, banjo, harmonica, and fiddle (just to name the more notable) was astounding...and he spent most of his life in the music business in some form or first competing in and often winning music/instrumental talent shows. His talents on the banjo, for example, helped give him several titles as Top Banjo Player in those local talent shows. He played the instruments I made mention of during his teen years in the mid to late 1940s. The family had moved from Virginia to New York City during the Depression but at age 11, according to on-line biographies, the family moved to the Washington, D.C. area. It was in this area where Roy would eventually established himself in those local talent shows and even appeared on television for the first time at the age of 16 (!) in 1949 on local station WTTG which was affiliated with the DuMont Network. Roy continued on his musical journey throughout the first half of the 1950s touring with the likes of Stringbean (a future co-star of Roy's in a certain television program I'll mention later). Roy had even appeared as a guest on the Grand Ole Opry at age 17 on the strength of his second win in a National banjo competition!

In 1954 Roy became associated with the incomparable Jimmy Dean. Hired as the lead guitarist in the band it afforded him the opportunity to appear on the local radio and, later, television program in the Washington, D.C. area that Jimmy hosted. The series Jimmy hosted was called "Town and Country Time" and episodes aired on WARL-AM radio and then, when it moved to television, WMAL. Although the association with Jimmy Dean was brief it became retroactively famous due to the circumstances surrounding the break-up and the consistent recollections of it in the years and decades that followed. As most of you reading this should already know he was let go by Jimmy Dean due to punctuality or lack thereof. It's long been reported that Jimmy valued punctuality from members of his band and after several years of tardiness Roy was let go. The firing never interfered with their professional careers nor do I think it had any impact personally...given the fact that during the decades to come each of them joked about it and Jimmy often remarked how Roy was the greatest talent and musician he ever had to fire. In fact, Roy would appear on Jimmy's television programs of the 1960s, long after being let go from the band in the mid 1950s...but let's back up a few years.

What might be considered a watershed moment in Roy's career occurred when he joined Wanda Jackson's band which also meant he played on some of her recording sessions and it led to his recording contract with Capitol Records. By 1960 Roy had re-located to Las Vegas. It's through his association with Wanda Jackson that led to his life long association with the Jim Halsey Agency. Perhaps not entirely coincidental is the fact that when Roy began making recurring appearances on "The Beverly Hillbillies" in the late 1960s he appeared as a character named Cousin Roy Halsey (in a duel role Roy appeared in drag as Myrtle Halsey). Roy became a national recording artist through Capitol Records and he recorded a series of albums and released numerous singles for the label in a four year stretch. He had previously released a series of regional singles, though, in the late '50s and early '60s. In 1966 he was part of the cast of the NBC series, "Swinging Country", which ran for two seasons. Roy signed with Dot Records in the mid '60s and it's this label upon which the bulk of his widely known recordings are associated. The lone exception being his 1963 recording of "Tips of My Fingers" for Capitol Records. Roy's version became a Top-10 hit on the country music was his first appearance on the national music charts...and while several single releases made the charts in the aftermath he wouldn't have another major Top-10 hit until six years later in 1969...

"Yesterday, When I Was Young" was not a new song when Roy recorded it but his rendition became the definitive recording. The song, according to on-line sources, was recorded by Roy in January of 1969 but released several months later in May. This is rather ironic in the career time-line of Roy Clark because a month later his career was changed forever while "Yesterday, When I Was Young" was climbing the charts.

Conceived as a rural version of "Laugh-In", ironically, by two Canadians by the names of John Aylesworth and Frank Peppiatt, they created a program titled "Hee Haw". It's producer, Sam Lovullo, was in charge of casting and he assembled an ensemble for a series of programs initially meant to air on the summer schedule for CBS. The debut episode of "Hee Haw" aired on June 15, 1969 with Roy Clark as one of it's co-hosts. The other co-host happened to be Buck Owens. It's long been said that the teaming of those two, in particular, stemmed from their individual experiences working on television in the years prior to "Hee Haw" and the fact that each artist complimented the other. Buck had a string of huge country music hits dating back to the late '50s and he had connections within the country music industry and could perhaps help get a lot of major recording artists in country music to appear. Roy, on the other hand, didn't have the sort of track record with hit recordings but he come off as a natural comedian/entertainer, had lengthy experience on both local and national television appearances, and could play a multitude of instruments. The other component to the nucleus of the show was a trio of cast-members by the names of Archie Campbell, Don Harron, and Gordie Tapp who doubled as writers for the program but rounding out the nucleus was Junior Samples, Grandpa Jones, and Stringbean...all three (in addition to Archie Campbell) were famous for their country/rural comedy routines with Grandpa, Stringbean, and Archie having been fixtures on the Grand Ole Opry for more than a decade prior to the launch of "Hee Haw" in 1969. Practically everyone associated with the show during the summer 1969 season didn't feel it had any chance of success. After the summer season wrapped up CBS, to the surprise and shock of perhaps all involved, later ordered more episodes due to an opening up on the was needed to fill the gap left by the cancellation of "The Leslie Uggams Show". Minnie Pearl, the legendary country comic, joined the cast of "Hee Haw" as a regular in 1970.

Roy and Buck were billed equally as co-hosts...but according to Sam Lovullo's 1996 memoir, Life in the Kornfield, the managers of each artist argued over which co-host would receive top billing in the introduction at the start of each episode. This is why some of the episodes that aired early on featured cast introductions by the announcer stating "starring Roy Clark and Buck Owens" and other episodes having a "starring Buck Owens and Roy Clark" introduction. I don't know the specifics off the top of my head but eventually the opening "starring Buck Owens and Roy Clark" became the one heard at the start of every episode...with the announcer stretching out Roy's name for comic effect...which also gave it a more lasting impact, it came out as "starring Buck Owens and Roy-y-y-y-y-y-y Clark!!" to which Roy would react "...and the whole Hee Haw gang!!!".

To say "Hee Haw" was a surprise hit is putting it mildly. In spite of it being a Top-20 hit show CBS canceled it in 1971 as a result of the Rural Purge taking place on nearly all of the networks. Rural programming and shows appealing to non-Urban areas and older audiences were removed and replaced by so-called hipper programming with a youth driven social-commentating bent. However, in spite of CBS canceling the program, new episodes continued to be produced for the possibility of local television syndication. "Hee Haw" returned to the airwaves in the fall of 1971 on many local affiliates of CBS (the network that canceled it) and in many markets it aired at the same time as it did while on the network (Saturday nights at 7pm Eastern). In conjunction with the Rural Purge and everything going on in network television Roy recorded a timely, satirical song with the eye-catching title: "The Lawrence Welk Hee Haw Counter-Revolution Polka". Roy performed the song on the first episode of the 1972-1973 season...

Roy's career flourished as a result of his involvement in the series. He was nominated and won several awards at the annual ACM and CMA festivities throughout the 1970s. The CMA named him 'Comedian of the Year' in 1970. In 1972 the ACM awarded Roy the top prize, 'Entertainer of the Year', and then, in 1973, both the ACM and CMA awarded Roy as 'Entertainer of the Year'. For those curious ACM stands for Academy of Country Music while CMA stands for Country Music Association.

By the mid '70s "Hee Haw" was established as a major non-network hit program syndicated all over the country. In it's peak it was carried by more than 200 television stations. Roy's career, as mentioned, skyrocketed. His albums and single releases for Dot Records were consistently in the Top-40 of the country charts. In fact, his highest charting album came along in 1973...the LP Roy Clark's Family Album reached the runner-up position on the Country Album chart. The same year another LP from Roy, Come Live With Me, hit number four. The title track of that album was the only single of his career to hit #1. Roy and fellow musician, Buck Trent, became a notable performing duo. It helped that Buck Trent was also a "Hee Haw" cast member and regularly appeared in instrumental performances. As a result of their performances the CMA named them 'Instrumental Group of the Year' in both 1975 and 1976. Also in 1976 Roy had made international headlines when he decided to tour the Soviet Union...the first country music performer to do so.

The label he'd been recording for since 1968, Dot, was merged with ABC Records in 1974 and that label, renamed ABC/Dot, was taken over by MCA in 1979...resulting in Roy's recordings now being on the MCA label. This take over proved unsuccessful for Roy's recording career, though. The four studio albums MCA released on Roy never charted...rather peculiar considering all of his studio albums for Dot and later, ABC/Dot, all made the sales charts in a 10 year period...several of his single releases for MCA did make the charts, it wasn't as if the label never promoted his music at all. In 1977, 1978, and 1980 the CMA awarded Roy 'Instrumentalist of the Year'.

My Top-10 Roy Clark recordings are as follows:

10. "I'm a Booger" (a funky bluesy song from 1982 you can hear HERE )

9. "Come Live With Me"

8. "I Never Picked Cotton"

7. "Tips of My Fingers"

6. "Alabama Jubilee" 

5. "Yesterday, When I Was Young"

4. "If I Had To Do It All Over Again"

3. "Thank God and Greyhound"

2. "Honeymoon Feeling"

1. "The Lawrence Welk Hee Haw Counter-Revolution Polka"

Anyway, Roy's career had become so successful on the concert trail and through his weekly exposure on "Hee Haw" and other high profile endeavors that the need for commercial hit recordings seemed irrelevant, actually. The show began it's 10th season in 1978 and a 2 hour special was taped to celebrate the event. Earlier I mentioned that Roy's career flourished as a result of co-hosting the show but unfortunately for Buck Owens the opposite effect happened. Buck had built up a long list of hit recordings and spearheaded a movement in recording music referred to as The Bakersfield Sound which operated outside of the Nashville system. Buck's image of being a hardcore honky-tonk singer with his outlaw/maverick tendencies when it came to making music was in sharp contrast to the lovable, happy go lucky, sing-a-long 'Cousin Buck' characterization that came across on "Hee Haw". Even though Buck remained a co-host of "Hee Haw" for many years he ultimately stepped away from the program following the 1985-1986 season (it's 17th). Roy opened up a theater in Branson, Missouri in the early 1980s...he may have been the first or one of the first to do so...and he appeared there regularly until closing it. In 1986 Roy and Mel Tillis starred in a comedy western movie, 'Uphill All The Way', that I personally like even though it was critically panned nationwide. He became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1987 which, in a way, was kind of odd considering the membership happened several decades after he had already established himself in the music industry...but hey, having 'Opry member' attached to your career isn't anything to shrug off...and he no doubt loved being a member.

Grandpa Jones, Roy Clark, and Minnie Pearl.
The photo above shows Grandpa Jones, Roy Clark, and Minnie Pearl and a cake that celebrates the the show's 21st season (1988-1989). A season earlier the show celebrated it's 20th (1987-1988) with a 2-hour television special just as it had a decade earlier when it hit the 10 year mark during the 1977-1978 season. The 1988 celebration saw the return of Buck Owens, but as a special guest, since he had left as co-host at the end of the 1985-1986 season. Coincidentally that same season marked the final for several other long serving cast-members as well (Don Harron, Jackie Phelps, Lisa Todd, The Hager Twins, and numerous others). After the cast shake-up Roy was joined each week by a special guest co-host and he/she or they (if it was a group) appeared along side Roy in the sketches previously occupied by Buck. Roy became sole host at the start of the 1990-1991 season. However, behind the scenes more changes were on the horizon. The series survived what Sam Lovullo described as "the great cast shake-up of 1986" but more pressure was being added to comply with the changing trends and tastes of syndicated television and the cost was rising (advertising rates). Following the conclusion of the 1990-1991 season and a prolonged repeat cycle that took up the rest of the calendar year the series returned for it's belated 1991-1992 season in January of 1992. The series removed it's long standing backwoods decoration (gone was the haystack, hay-bales, cornfield, and other sets) and these were replaced with Urban decorations. The title of the program had changed to "The Hee Haw Show". There were only a few hold-over cast-members while 90 percent of the cast was all-new.

The episodes that aired from January until May of 1992 were billed as the show's 24th season (1991-1992). After production had officially ended on first-run episodes in 1992 the series returned later in 1992 as "Hee Haw Silver". Unlike the previous pattern of 26 first run episodes followed by 26 repeats, "Hee Haw Silver" episodes weren't repeated...52 first-run episodes were assembled from clips of past episodes. To give the season some exclusive material it featured Roy providing introductions/commentary and wrap-ups for every installment as well as Cathy Baker closing each episode saying "That's All!!" as she had during the run of the regular series. This clip-filled season (1992-1993) officially celebrated the series 25th season on the air. Roy released his autobiography in 1994 titled My Life in Spite of Myself. The Nashville Network began airing reruns of "Hee Haw" in the fall of 1993 and the reruns enjoyed high ratings for several seasons. CMT would later air reruns of the program albeit briefly. Roy also appeared in a television commercial advertising his own signature guitar which also come with a How-To guitar course. He had appeared on commercials in the past for several products during the peak years of his "Hee Haw" popularity.

In 2009 Roy Clark received the country music industry's highest honor when he was elected a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was elected the same year as Barbara Mandrell and session musician, Charlie McCoy. The irony is Charlie happened to be the long-time music director of "Hee Haw" and regularly appeared playing harmonica as part of the Hee Haw Band.

In his later years Roy was more or less retired and his health began to decline. A long time resident of Oklahoma he was often honored by the local civic organizations and a school was named after him in 1978. After a battle with pneumonia Roy Clark passed away at the age of 85 on November 15, 2018.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Flintstones: September 30, 1960...

Hello one and all...on this date in 1960 the first-ever animated series to air in prime-time made it's debut on ABC-TV. "The Flintstones" hit the airwaves as a satirical mix of contemporary life set in the prehistoric stone-age. The series is from the legendary duo, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, and it's based on Jackie Gleason's immortal sitcom, "The Honeymooners". The vocal cast of the original series consisted of Alan Reed as Fred Flintstone, Jean Vander Pyl as Wilma Flintstone; Mel Blanc as Dino and Barney Rubble; and Bea Benaderet as Betty Rubble. The extended voice cast consisted usually of Don Messick, Howard Morris, Hal Smith, Doug Young, and in numerous authority figure roles [including Fred's boss, Mr. Slate], John Stephenson.

The series aired for 6's last prime-time episode airing April 1, 1966...with a grand total of 166 episodes. The topic of pregnancy surfaced in the third season with Wilma giving birth to a baby, Pebbles. Pregnancy was certainly an unusual topic for animated cartoons of the era...and to give it an even more real life, human drama there was a story written in the 4th season about how Barney and Betty were unable to have children and so the two ultimately adopt a baby left on their door-step. The baby is super-strong and was named Bamm-Bamm (voiced by Don Messick).

There were cast changes/additions in later seasons...particularly in the role of Betty Rubble. Gerry Johnson took over the role for the final two seasons on ABC. In January 1961 on Sunset Blvd. Mel Blanc was involved in a near fatal car accident. He was in a coma for several days but eventually came out of it but spent months in a full body cast. Once the doctors felt he was able to leave the hospital he remained somewhat bed ridden in his house for several more months. His son, Noel Blanc, got the idea of having a make-shift recording studio installed in Mel's bedroom so he could continue working during his recovery. In a famed photograph from the time period Mel can be seen lying in bed with a microphone hovering above while the other three vocal performers are standing on either side of the bed with script in hand.

In five episodes from season two another vocal legend, Daws Butler, performed the role of Barney Rubble in a voice similar to Art Carney's Ed Norton. Mel had been performing the character with a much different vocalization more along the lines of the sarcastic best friend forever needling Fred's ego. Once Mel returned to the series he adopted some of the inflections that Daws installed but Mel added a much more dopier voice to it...without it being an exact replica of Ed Norton...and Mel also gave the character a distinctive laugh. The sponsor of the series in it's earliest years was Winston Cigarettes. It's been reported that when the producers and the network realized that the series was becoming increasingly popular with children the decision was made to switch advertisers from Winston to Welch's. In so doing the integrated commercials were much more family-oriented and kid friendly. You can see Winston commercials with Fred and Barney on various video sites from the early 1960s and you will also see the ignorant comments made by people completely unaware that the series original target audience were adults.

After the series ended it's original prime-time run in 1966 it eventually became a long running franchise in local syndication and on cable television. A lot of incarnations of the series popped up on Saturday morning television throughout the 1970s and 1980s in addition to the reruns of the 1960s episodes. Alan Reed, the original voice of Fred, passed away in 1977 and so the role was taken over by Henry Corden and he ended up being the voice of the character for almost 30 years thereafter in animated programming for both network and cable television as well as direct-to-video projects and dozens of television commercials for both Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles cereal. He passed away in 2005. In some of the 1980s incarnations Mel Blanc provided the voice of Captain Caveman as he previously had done in a late 1970s animated series. In these 1980's episodes Captain Caveman is without the Teen Angels from the 1970's series and it's meant to be a look at Captain Caveman's life in the stone-age before he was frozen in a block of ice and discovered by the Teen Angels millions of years later in the late 1970's. A youth-driven incarnation called "The Flintstone Kids" (1986-1988) features Captain Caveman and his son as a pair of super-heroes starring in a show that Fred, Wilma, Barney, and Betty gather around their stone-age TV to watch. Mel returned to voice the Captain while also providing the voice of Barney's father. Jean Vander Pyl remained the voice of Wilma in all the incarnations (except "The Flintstone Kids" series) until her death in 1999.

The pilot of the series was an animated short subject called The Flagstones. Interestingly all of the voices were done by Daws Butler and June Foray. When the series was picked up by ABC there were obviously major changes in store not only in vocal cast but series title. In the later years of the series stone-age caricatures of contemporary television programs and celebrities began to grace Bedrock, the fictional town where the series took place. Harvey Korman became the voice of The Great Gazoo, a tiny green alien that can only be seen by Fred, Barney, and the children. This character became the focal point of much anger and resentment but in all honesty I find the character I've never been on the anti-Gazoo bandwagon that exists. One of the most celebrated episodes of it's later years is when Samantha and Darrin of "Bewitched" have guest appearances. While reading this you may be wondering about "The Simpsons". That particular series has long since took over the history books when it comes to prime-time animated programs. "The Flintstones" were basically doing the same kind of things, as far as concept and satire, decades before "The Simpsons" came along, though, but it doesn't often get credit for it because the passage of time has presented "The Flintstones" more and more as a series aimed at children rather than teenagers and adults.