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

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