In a five-DVD boxed set, Time Life presents a television institution, the classic country and western variety show, which first hit the airwaves in 1969 on CBS. It contains eight episodes from the show’s early years: two from ’69, four episodes from ‘70, and one apiece from ‘73 and ’74, both after the show had moved to syndication. Packed with more corny jokes than you can shake a stick at and anchored by good performances by top country artists of the day, this set is a true treat.
The settings for the Hee Haw skits include a barbershop, a hayloft, front porches, basically anywhere that country humor can be found. Some jokes are told in story form and take a little longer in the telling while others are simple, quick hit jokes, seemingly influenced by Laugh-In, which premiered a year earlier. There are also prerecorded scenes of country folks running around chasing each other or the very pretty females in the cast; I guess it was their attempt at being Benny Hill-Billy.
Led by co-hosts Buck Owens and Roy Clark, the cast is what holds it all together and makes the cornball jokes and gags come off so well. Junior Samples is the best example of this. With no professional stage training, he is outstanding; his simple, thick country delivery and lack of fancy “citified” ways makes him believable and lovable. It’s awesome to see Junior goof on the “big” words whose meaning he admittedly doesn’t know. Watching him during the cornfield jokes is just hilarious; the poor man tries his best at words like “geometry” and other polysyllables and simply sits back down after his fumbled attempts. These bloopers are left in the show and make it that much more fun to watch. After a season or two he even got his own segment, “Samples Sales,” as a used car salesman looking to make you a deal, even if it meant dressing up like a clown. All you had to do was call “BR-549.” For those of you familiar with the band of the same name, Junior’s number is precisely where they got it from.
The rest of the cast does a fine job as well. Two standouts were Canadian actors. Don Harron delivers news segments as Charlie Farquharson and Gordie Tapp as a Southern gentleman, who always has odd advice on life and is constantly getting blown up or whacked by a rubber chicken. “Pickin’ and Grinnin’” is probably the most fun to watch because it’s cool to see Buck and Roy play together and ad-lib some of their jokes, seeing them truly having fun is entertainment all its own.
The writing staff has to be given credit for being able to come up with material for so long, seeing as how the show ran for over twenty years. From show to show, the writers in these years varied slightly including performers Archie Campbell and Tapp. On the early shows legendary cowboy sidekick Pat Buttrum gets some credit as well.
The musical performances stand above everything else. In every show, Buck and Roy do a couple of tunes. Roy has some fine numbers such as “Yesterday When I Was Young” and “Do You Believe This Town,” the latter looking at the hypocrisy of small-town life, which is very interesting and perhaps at odds with the show’s target audience. The Hager Twins did fine covers of solid country hits including Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road.” Grandpa Jones shows how hard he can rock with some of his numbers, done with such speed and enthusiasm that you would think he was a rock ‘n’ roll star, not to mention his dancing and playing of the cowbells.
Some country legends show up to make appearances early in their careers, such as Hank Williams, Jr. and Tanya Tucker. Even future outlaws Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings turn up to say hey and contribute very solid tunes; although Merle and Hank do look a might uncomfortable during their second songs. Yet with acts like these and surprises like Ray Charles, who apparently insisted on getting in on the comedy routines, it’s no wonder that week after week folks would tune in to see who would turn up.
Disk five is a very interesting and entertaining, providing an hour and twenty minutes worth of interviews with surviving cast members. Roy Clark, George Yanok, Lulu Roman, George “Goober” Lindsey, and The Hager Twins are the most insightful as to the shows beginnings and the good times had on set.
A Salute to Hee Haw is a fine set for any one with a major interest in the show and is a great look at what was probably the last of the true “family variety shows,” where everyone would gather around to see who would appear that week and laugh the week’s worries away. I myself can remember sitting around during my youth with my folks on a Saturday catching “Hee Haw” while we’d have a light dinner and a corny, hillbilly-inspired laugh.
Written by Fantasma el Rey