Today is the birthday of the great Louis Marshall “Grandpa” Jones (1913-1998).
Most of us know Grandpa Jones as one of the anchors of the tv variety series Hee Haw from 1969 through 1992, where he would play clawhammer style banjo, sing old time gospel, and had a recurring segment: “Hey Grandpa! What’s for supper?”
But if you’re like me, that’s just not good enough! Where’s a guy like that come from? What did he do before that?
Louis Jones started out singing on the radio as a teenager in the area aroudn Akron, Ohio, where he grew up. One of the groups he sang with in the early 30s were the Pine Ridge String Band, the musical act on the Lum and Abner show. Throughout the 30s and 40s he sang (and played guitar and banjo) on radio stations throughout the east, from Boston, to West Virginia to Cincinnati. he began having hit records in the mid 40s. (His most famous song that I know is “Mountain Dew”.) Starting in 1946 he made Nashville his home base, and the Grand Ole Opry became his platform, which is what led naturally to Hee Haw years later.
Here he is with his buddy String Bean tearin’ it up on the traditional “Little Liza Jane”. Kind of a weird instinct on the the part of the producers to stick in a laugh-track and a cartoon pig when String Bean dances. One of many reasons I am glad the seventies are over. When String Bean was senselessly murdered in 1973, it was Grandpa Jones who found the body. He delivered a moving tribute on Hee Haw not long thereafter – – I remember the event very well. For more on String Bean, and to see that eulogy go here.
To learn about the history of variety entertainment, including tv variety, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.