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


Kevin K. said...

Slapsie Maxie was the repairman? My God. I don't know if that's cool or sad.

2packs4sure said...

Tina Turner singing Tennessee Bird Walk,,,, now that I'd LOVE to hear !!

The Wonk said...

Love this Tennessee Bird Walk twosome!

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you didn't ask him about Legendary Chicken Fairy, one the greatest tunes ever cut. Still have it on 45, and play it (and sing it).

Got a signed card from Jack and Misty about 20 years ago when I ordered a CD directly from him. That was a thrill. Still have it.