Sunday, August 16, 2020

An Interview with Jack Blanchard - Part Four

Jack Blanchard: We worked with a lot of comedians over the years. I have always been a comedy fan. When I had my group the Dawn Breakers we worked a lot of places that had comedian-emcees. I learned a lot from those guys.

Kliph Nesteroff: Blanchard and Morgan became firmly identified with country music. How about some of the country comedians that were around? You played a gig in Atlanta with Roy Clark and the Geezinslaw Brothers.

Jack Blanchard: Yeah, we did. I liked their humor. Roy Clark was a wonderful guitar player. He sang "Yesterday When I Was Young" and all those beautiful songs. He and Misty were buddies and we worked a lot of shows with him. We worked that show with him in Atlanta.

We went to a big party that Buck Owens put on. It was put together by the guy who managed Chet Atkins. Jerry Reed was there. There was a great, big, long banquet table full of great food and everybody was having drinks. And then an ambulance showed up. The ambulance guys came in with a stretcher and Roy Clark laid down on it and said goodbye. They put him in the ambulance and raced him to the airport because he had to catch a plane.

Kliph Nesteroff: You guys appeared on a TV show called Upbeat.

Jack Blanchard: Oh yeah, that was up in Chicago or Pittsburgh or one of those midwestern cities. It may have been in Cleveland. It was a couple who ran that show and they were very, very hip. We did that show several times. 

Another one of the local programs that we did was The Robert W. Morgan Show in Los Angeles. He was a funny guy and a nice guy. He had some weird acts on there. I had never seen anything like it. We were the only "normal" act other than Tina Turner. She was on the same show. Misty and I got lost backstage and walked into Tina's dressing room - and when she saw us she started singing "Tennessee Bird Walk."

Kliph Nesteroff: When you guys came to Los Angeles to appear on American Bandstand you stayed right at the Hollywood Plaza Hotel. It's still there today, but it's a rooming house for senior citizens and low-income pensioners. 

Jack Blanchard: Yeah, when I was a kid I listened to the radio a lot because I liked the comedians. I listened to Jack Benny. I listened to Fred Allen. I remember when Frankie Fontaine had his own radio show and then this guy named Henry Morgan came along. The radio comedians would always talk about the Hollywood Plaza Hotel like it was the place to go. I knew that a lot of people had hung around there. I also knew that it was now a dump, but I wanted to be able to say that I had stayed there.

So I told Misty, "It isn't a classy place anymore, but let's try it." We went in there and it was old and dusty and everything, but not too bad. It had become an old actors hotel. There were a bunch of guys sitting around in there and they were all cowboy stuntmen and character actors. They smiled when I walked in there with my weird glasses and my boots and all that.

I took it in good humor because I understood the difference between their time and our time. Misty and I got a room upstairs. All the rooms had window airs in them. Ours didn't work. So I called downstairs and told them our air conditioner wasn't working. Well, who was the guy they sent up to fix our air conditioner? It was Slapsy Maxie Rosenbloom! 

Kliph Nesteroff: Amazing. And you guys were staying there because you were in town to do American Bandstand...

Jack Blanchard: Yeah, we did American Bandstand and The Robert W. Morgan Show on that trip. And actually, we were also booked on The Lawrence Welk Show. I didn't think that was going to work - and it didn't. They had an office above the Brown Derby, which was directly across the street from where we were staying. We walked across the street and went upstairs to the Welk show office. The guy looked at me, looked at Misty, and thought we were hippies. We weren't hippies, we were just mod, y'know. But they canceled us as soon as the guy saw my haircut.

They didn't tell us we were fired right then, but they called our agent and then he filled us in. So that's when our agent went and got us The Robert W. Morgan Show instead. But yeah, Slapsy Maxie fixed the air conditioner. That was great because I've been a fan of all the comics, all those comedians, all my life.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Ray Stevens? He was probably the best known novelty artist in Nashville.

Jack Blanchard: Yeah, I have a love-hate relationship with Ray Stevens. The first time I went up to Nashville, I had just produced a record for Hank Malcolm and it was good. We were pitching it around town. I went to Monument Records and Ray Stevens was part-owner, I guess.

He and the other guy listened to our stuff, but he wasn't friendly at all. Several years later, I won an ASCAP or BMI award. It was one of those awards that they gave us for "Tennessee Bird Walk." I got up to accept it and Ray was the one who stood up and started a standing ovation. So that was a step forward. And then I ran into him in Lake Arrowhead in California and we had breakfast together and it was cordial. But other than that, I didn't know him too well. But I liked his humor.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did he see you as a threat? You both were recording a lot of humorous country songs...

Jack Blanchard: It could be, but I don't think so. Because when he was ice cold at Monument Records, I was presenting three serious songs and only one funny one - and the funny one was the one that he liked. It was called "Lucky See, Lucky Do." It was a funny song and I thought it would be picked up by somebody big right away, but instead I walked Music Row for about six years before I got any action.

Kliph Nesteroff: You played the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles with Ray Price, Hank Williams Jr, and the Duke of Paducah. 

Jack Blanchard: I might have been introduced to the Duke of Paducah backstage. I remembered him from radio. 
Whenever I met any of these guys who were years ahead of me, I was always thrilled. I met Tex Williams when I was in L.A. and I was thrilled to meet him too. He was the guy who had done "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke (That Cigarette)." But I don't remember a lot of those shows because there were so many shows in so many towns and half the time we didn't even know what town we were in.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about your experience at the Grammy Awards? You were nominated as the best country duo next to some of the biggest names in country music. 

Jack Blanchard: Yeah, we lost to Johnny Cash and June Carter. I didn't feel too bad losing to them.

Kliph Nesteroff: Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens. George Jones and Tammy Wynette. All in the same category. Did you guys attend the ceremony?

Jack Blanchard: I don't remember if we went to that. I don't think we did. But we were up for a CMA Award. The Country Music Association. We were in the audience for that and we thought surely we were going to win because we had already won the Billboard award that year. But at the CMA - when we didn't win - I had that frozen smile on my face - and it stayed frozen on my face for about three weeks.

Kliph Nesteroff: You wrote the liner notes for an album by Tom T. Hall.

Jack Blanchard: Yeah, well, he was at Mercury with us. So we knew him and several other Mercury artists. Like Faron Young. He was a good a friend of ours. I usually talked to Tom T. at the various Mercury functions.

Kliph Nesteroff: Your song "A Handful of Dimes" has the exact same backing track as your song "Why Did I Sleep So Long." I was wondering why that is...

Jack Blanchard: Yeah, I wonder about that too. I think we came out with the first one and we were having trouble with the label. So we had to come up with something else. Our publisher, the guy who was working with us, was Bill Hall. 

He said, "Go in and cut something using the track we've already got, only make it different enough so that it's a completely different song." I don't remember the whole exchange exactly, but it was something like that.

Kliph Nesteroff: You guys started recording for Mega Records. You released several singles on that label in the early 1970s.

Jack Blanchard: They had some big hits right before we got there. One of them was "Help Me Make It Through The Night." We were doing really well with Mega. Our records were doing well and then we showed up at the office one day and everyone was looking sad. They said, "We're closing up. We're out of business." I never did figure out what went wrong. We went back on the road and I remember we pulled into a little gas station and the guy in the booth taking the money was the former Vice President of Mega Records. So things obviously weren't going too well. 

I must say - all the labels we were with gave us free reign in the studio. We left Mercury because they wanted to put us with a producer - Jerry Kennedy. I knew Jerry and he was a nice guy, but we had been producing ourselves and it was working. We just didn't want to take any chances, so we left Mercury and went with Mega.

Kliph Nesteroff: Mega Records was located in Nashville?

Jack Blanchard: Oh yeah, they had a big place next to Columbia. The big gospel music publisher was in that building. And our agent, Buddy Lee, was also in that building. The guy he had handling our account was actually one of the Ames Brothers, a real nice guy named Vic Ames.

Kliph Nesteroff: Where did you live when you were recording in Nashville? I had read you sometimes parked at the Music City Campground.

Jack Blanchard: Yes, we always did that. We liked that place. It was out on the edge of town. We had a Winnebago Chieftain that we'd park there. Our home base was Bill Hall's office. He helped us with everything. 

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Ralph Emery? You guys did his show several times. He was by far the most influential country music disc jockey. He was also a polarizing figure. A lot of people hated him and found him to be arrogant. 

Jack Blanchard: I had both. I loved him and I hated him. When we were first starting out he was on WSM all night. It was coast to coast on a clear channel station. He had all the stars on his show and everything. He was kind of grouchy when he did an interview with us. In fact, he said to me, "No one likes a phony." And I didn't appreciate that too well. A lot of the guys I was producing didn't like him either. 

He and Misty were buddies. I think Ralph had a crush on her. One time we were on his show with Lorrie Morgan and Misty didn't get on with her at all. Lorrie took up the whole table in the dressing room and wouldn't get up until it was airtime. She just wasn't being friendly at all and I think it was maybe because there were two girls on the same show. I don't know. When we began doing TV with Ralph, that's when we started to get friendly. 

Ralph liked my humor. Buddy Rich had been making nasty comments about country music around that time and people were taking it seriously. I had said, "Well, the good thing about drum records - you can't tell when they get scratched up. I have a Buddy Rich record with a crack in it - and it holds the whole number together." Ralph thought that was funny and the audience laughed. So he started bringing me on his show to be the funny guy. But then I got to be too funny. I'd catch Ralph off guard and he just didn't know how to respond. 

One time before we went on Ralph said to me, "Don't say anything that's going to embarrass me out there." Well, I did. If I think of what I'm going to say onstage ahead of time, it never comes off. I'm an ad-libber. We got out there and he said, "What have you two been doing recently?" I said, "We've been in Central Park living in a cardboard box." I don't know if he was mad, it was hard to tell with him sometimes, but he said, "I think I'll talk to Misty." 

But I liked Ralph. I didn't have planned material like most people did. I just did things that made me laugh and I worked off the audience. Like Steve Allen. He was my hero. And he laughed at his own jokes because he hadn't heard them before. Steve Allen was one of the funniest guys. There was an episode where he was on the street and a guy came up to him and said, "I bet you've never had a dull moment." Steve Allen said, "I'm having one right now."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Blanchard: He was doing a signing and some woman got him to autograph her hand. She said, "I'm never going to wash my hand!" He said, "I'm going to go wash mine immediately." 

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Blanchard: I was looking at some Brother Theodore last night. Remember him? He used to be on those late night shows all the time. I saw him in a movie the other night so I was looking him up. He was one of those weird guys. So many good comedians like that got their start with Steve Allen.

Kliph Nesteroff: Final question. Whatever became of those big glasses you used to wear?

Jack Blanchard: I still have one pair. I had bad eyes. When I was a kid, the optometrist made a living off of our family. He told us that I needed new glasses every six months. Well, it'd take me months to adjust to new glasses. I'd be dizzy for a whole week and then in a few months I'd have to go through the whole thing again - and it destroyed my eyes. I eventually got surgery and my vision has been 20/20 now for the last twenty years. But those glasses - I started wearing those when we reinvented ourselves with our new mod look. 

I had one pair that had blue glass and another pair that had yellow glass. I had them especially made for me by a friend who was an optometrist in Orlando. Somebody called me up and told me about this old time country musician who had his own Country Music Hall of Fame so I donated a pair of glasses. But I still have one pair in the drawer - and they're really heavy. 

                          Return to Part One

Sunday, August 9, 2020

An Interview with Jack Blanchard - Part Three

Kliph Nesteroff: Who was Rusty Diamond?

Jack Blanchard: He was a guy from Salt Lake City. His real name was Jasper Leroy Barr. He had a mean talent for getting rich girls to back his records. We cut a country record in Miami that got some play. It was called the "Lonely Sentry" and it got picked up by Starday Records.

It was the lead song on a Starday compilation called "Country Music Goes to War." It was one of those war songs where the singer talks between phrases. We had good Miami musicians on that session including a guy named Henry Cook. He invented the electric pedal banjo and it was the most unusual sound. Rusty was good at lining up the money thanks to these rich girls. That is until their rich fathers came after him. We went to Nashville together. We checked into a hotel and he tipped everyone fifty bucks. He called the best men's store in town and had them deliver a bunch of sizes but the guy didn't have any money of his own. We flew back to Miami and at the airport there was a crowd of girls to meet him and cops directing traffic. I found out later he hired all of them. He hired the girls and he hired the cops!

Then he hired himself an expensive bodyguard. And then he went broke and had to run and hide from his own bodyguard! He was a real con artist. Later on I met up with him in California. He had a little trio playing a restaurant there. He begged us, got down on his knees in front of everyone, and asked if he could be our manager. It was embarrassing. Well, we did make him our manager - and the first thing he did was steal from us and then he turned the band against me.

Kliph Nesteroff: You guys became the house band at a place called the Everglades Lounge.

Jack Blanchard: Yeah, we went into business with the guy who owned it. He paid the bills and handled all the business and we did everything else. We did music and comedy there from 1967 right through when we had our biggest hit, "Tennessee Bird Walk."

Kliph Nesteroff: You guys have a song called "A Handful of Dimes" about a guy driving across the country to meet up with his lover. He stops at various pay phones to give her an update - using his handful of dimes. I have a love for songs about driving through the night or taking a bus to beat it out of town or getting stuck at a crummy roadside motel... 

Jack Blanchard: Yeah, I like those kinda songs too. That was the same session where we did "Bethlehem Steel." It was done at an independent studio in Nashville. The background singers were the Anita Kerr Singers. 

Kliph Nesteroff: One of the other gems from that recording session is the "Dum Song."

Jack Blanchard: Yeah, everybody likes that one. And I like it myself. It was like a fugue in country music.

Kliph Nesteroff: And the banjo player was someone notable.

Jack Blanchard: Oh yeah, Bobby Thompson. He was just great. He was on Hee-Haw, although they didn't shine much attention on him on that show.

It was Lloyd Green who told me, "He's the greatest banjo player in the world - give him a bunch of banjo solos." So I did. And we really liked it.

Kliph Nesteroff: It gives the "Dum Song" a unique vibe. It's got this great full-body sound.

Jack Blanchard: Yes, and we went on to use him again. We had him playing solos on several records.

Kliph Nesteroff: It's one of the best tracks in the Blanchard and Morgan songbook. On that same LP you do a cover of "You Got Your Troubles" by the Fortunes.

Jack Blanchard: Yes, they were from England. We changed the arrangement. We changed the bridge.

Kliph Nesteroff: And added some great steel guitar. How about Wayside Records? There's a great photo of you guys with a logo painted on the side of your car and it says Jack and Misty - Wayside Records.

Jack Blanchard: Yeah, that was a logo I drew. It was a circle that sort of looked like a 45 single and had birds flying. I wrote the name of the label at the bottom. We had owned two different Corvettes. The first one had a stick shift with a clutch that would cripple you. After a couple years we had to go to the doctor to see what was wrong with our left leg. So we went and got a different one and I put that insignia on the side again.

We bought that first Corvette when we were working at the Everglades Lounge. We were making good money and it was probably the happiest time of our life, those three years before we had our big hit. 

We were working the Everglades and we were local stars. People came from miles around to see us and the place was packed. We bought our new Corvette and we had a nice home. It was just fun all the time, no hassles. We have fond memories of those years.

Kliph Nesteroff: I read that at one point Jerry Lee Lewis was going to cover "Bethlehem Steel." 

Jack Blanchard: Jerry Lewis?

Kliph Nesteroff: No, Jerry Lee Lewis.

Jack Blanchard: Oh, Jerry Lee Lewis. No, I don't remember that. We had a lot of people cover the "Tennessee Bird Walk" and I can't keep track of them all. I don't remember anyone covering "Bethlehem Steel," but Jerry Lee Lewis would have done a good job on it.

We met Jerry Lee Lewis at some Mercury Records parties. "Bethlehem Steel" was originally on our own little label, Darn Records. We shopped it around to disc jockeys and radio stations to try and get it played. In fact, that's what we did with most of the records we made in Miami - and even Nashville.

A disc jockey named Hoss Moss had a connection. He knew Richie Johnson at Wayside Records and called him up. They listened to our records and they picked us up. We were hustlers. We were so broke at one point that Misty and I walked the streets homeless so we always had to hustle.

Kliph Nesteroff: Big Black Bird charted in December 1968 and you guys started appearing on television. There was a regional program called The Tom Halleck Show. 

Jack Blanchard: Yeah, he moved to Hollywood and became an actor. He was trying to be a Johnny Carson. He was a little conceited, but not a bad guy. It was a local show covering most of the counties around Orlando.

Kliph Nesteroff: After your novelty song "Tennessee Bird Walk" became a big hit, you started to appear on national programs like The Mike Douglas Show. You were on an episode with Jackie Gleason and Frank Fontaine.

Jack Blanchard: Jackie Gleason was very friendly and Frank Fontaine was real nice. Everybody was. I was more nervous for that appearance than anything we had ever done. We had new arrangements by a famous arranger and I didn't feel comfortable with them. We got there early and had a rehearsal at four in the afternoon.

Gleason and Mike Douglas were up in the fifth row watching us and that made me a little nervous too. When we did the actual show, one of us walked to the wrong mark and the cameras had to find us. Everything seemed to go wrong, but everyone said they liked it. We got to go on the actual set of The Honeymooners that week.

Kliph Nesteroff: How did you end up on The Honeymooners set?

Jack Blanchard: They were just showing us around down there. Jackie Gleason was a very gentlemanly host. We did a ten minute segment on The Mike Douglas Show in which I debated spiritualism with Gleason. I've got a tape of it in the shed. I really should take it down to a place to have it transferred so I can play it, but I'm afraid to look at it. We were on The Mike Douglas Show maybe ten times. We did an episode with Carol Channing...

Carol Channing was so sweet. She would go out and get coffee for everybody. She was one of the nicest people we ever worked with. Gene Nelson, the dancer and actor, was also on that show. And we did another episode with Cass Elliot and another with Totie Fields. Totie Fields was a lot of fun, but Cass Elliot was very reserved around us, I don't know why. And we did another with Arthur Godfrey.

Most of the time we had to go to Philadelphia to do The Mike Douglas Show, but for the Jackie Gleason episode it was in Miami. We also did a Jack and Misty special for PBS. The main studio was in Pittsburgh and we went up there and did it, but I never got to see it. I have no idea if it was any good.

Kliph Nesteroff: You guys started touring with other country artists in a series of grandstand shows. You were playing Ames, Iowa with Carl Smith and Hugh X. Lewis...

Jack Blanchard: I don't remember that one, but our first big gig after "Tennessee Bird Walk" was with Jimmy Dean. It was a theater in the round in Salt Lake City. We went on to perform with Merle Haggard and then we did a couples tour with George Jones and Tammy Wynette and Jack Greene and Jeannie Seely.

I didn't get to see any of them perform because we were always backstage getting ready to go on. But we were traveling in a motor home at the time and George and Tammy came and knocked on the door of our motor home and had coffee with us and were awfully nice.

Kliph Nesteroff: You guys were doing these Grand Ole Opry tours and then you started to appear in Nashville on the actual Grand Ole Opry. This was a period when Nashville was at war with itself - the old school traditionalists versus the new long-haired pot smokers. I was wondering what kind of a reaction you guys got with your way-out look at the time - the glasses and the fashion and so on.

Jack Blanchard: Yeah, we actually got a great reaction. The audience was wonderful. We went out there and just sang and it went over big. It was the old Ryman Auditorium. It was hot in there with no air conditioning. They passed out these little fans to the audience, a stick with a big cardboard thing that said, "I'm a Jack and Misty Fan."

Kliph Nesteroff: It must have been amazing for you guys to be on that stage.

Jack Blanchard: Oh yeah, it was, sure.

Kliph Nesteroff: What about some of the comedians that were around like Grandpa Jones and Minnie Pearl...

Jack Blanchard: Oh, our best friends on the road were Grandpa Jones and Archie Campbell. Boy, those guys were great and we spent a lot of time with them. Lonzo and Oscar were also great to us. They were the ones who talked us into getting a motor home because they traveled in a real nice one. We got to know everybody. 

We worked with everybody except for Buck Owens. His manager asked us if we would open for him. We said sure and he said, "I'll call you," but he never did. I bumped into him at some show and he explained, "Buck doesn't want to have to follow you." We were booked on Hee Haw - or were supposed to be - with Archie Campbell and all those guys.

They set it up with the producer, Sam Lovullo, and we went down there on the date that they said. We got there and everyone had this look on their face and they wouldn't make eye contact. We knew something was wrong.

We went into Sam's office and he said, "I'm really sorry that I made you come all the way here. Everyone at the show wants you, but Buck Owens won't have it. He's singing with a girl now and he's a business man and this is business." 

He was doing duets with a woman named Susan Raye and he wouldn't have us on his show. So he went ahead and did our song with her on Hee Haw - and we never got to do the show ourselves.

                    Go to Part Four