RFD-TV, “Rural America’s Most Important Network,” has made the newswires a bit over the last few days for picking up the simulcast of Don Imus’ return to radio. But left unexamined was how the addition would affect the array of music programming on the channel. Likely buried at the end of the your cable lineup, between livestock auctions and agribusiness updates, RFD has some of the best musical offerings on television (not a terribly difficult status to attain, I realize).
Even if you don’t count the truly delightful Jimmy Sturr Show and the hot polka action it provides, the polyester-era country music programming on RFD is highly watchable, and probably for a good reason: It’s from Willie Nelson’s video archives.
A few decades ago Nashville began a love affair with the exciting new medium of television. During the 1960′s and 70′s it seems like every country music star either had a television show or wanted one. Unfortunately many of the shows were seen in only a limited area of the country, yet they contain unforgettable moments in country music. Moments which in many instances symbolize new directions or reflections in the roots of today’s country music? They are an important slice of American country music history which should not be forgotten.
One day Willie Nelson was in Nashville on the bus with his sidekick, Frank Oakley, who with his wife Jeanie, is the storekeeper for Willie Nelson’s General Store and Museum which was founded on July 4, 1979. The sidekick was bringing Willie up to date about what was happening in Nashville since his last visit. One of the bits of news was that Norman Lear ( creator of the “All in the Family” TV sitcom) had bought a satellite TV station in Nashville, and along with the station the old Show Biz, Inc. video tape library was part of the assets.
Norman wasn’t interested in owning a bunch of old hillbilly shows and wanted to sell them because it was costing him money to rent space to store them. A local TV station and a TV production company were interested in buying them. But, after hearing this news, Willie Said, “Hell, why don’t we buy them?”
The archives include twenty years of The Porter Wagoner Show, with such guests as George Jones and Flatt and Scruggs, and seven years of Dolly Parton as Porter’s sidekick. My personal favorite is the Ralph Emery-hosted Pop Goes The Country which captures the sound of late ’70s Nashville in style, borrowing the asthetic of Match Game. The interviews are generally interesting, but the performances are the highlight. For my money whenever you can catch Emmylou Harris singing a medley of Tom T. Hall covers on cable somewhere, it seems a better viewing option than the Parental Control marathon running concurrently on MTV and MTV2.
For your enjoyment, the Statler Brothers from an episode of Pop Goes The Country: