When I was a kid, back before the advent of VCRs and cable TV, all we had were 4–5 VHF channels and 1–2 UHF channels. You had little choice in what to watch, and no control over when you watched it. Sometimes tough decisions had to be made: either stay home to watch something, or go out and miss it. And that was a good thing.
Despite what, by today’s standards, seems like a severely limited set of viewing choices, tastes were less discriminating. Shows that, in 2016, are marketed to a narrowly defined target segment held mass appeal across all demographics back when I was a kid. As a result, people were exposed to all kinds of shows that they otherwise may never have watched.
One of these shows was Hee Haw. Set in the fictional Kornfield Kounty, Hee Haw was a weekly variety show featuring country music and comedy that aired from 1969–1992. It was hosted by Buck Williams and Roy Clark, both of whom are Country Music Hall of Fame inductees. Each week, they welcomed various singers and musicians who performed live on the show.
The comedy was as corny as you would expect in a place called Kornfield Kounty. In addition to recurring sketches such as “The Cornfield,” in which cast members and guests would pop up out of a cornfield to tell jokes, and “The Joke Wall,” upon which cast members would sit as they told one-liners followed by canned laughter, Hee Haw showcased lots of great music, including the “Pickin’ and Grinnin’” segment featuring Buck Owens and Roy Clark.
Here is the first few minutes of the very first episode of Hee Haw, which aired on June 15, 1969:
Anyone watching Hee Haw couldn’t help but be in awe of Roy Clark, who apparently was able to play just about any stringed instrument you put in his hands. And when I say play, I mean he absolutely OWNED it. Check out Roy on banjo with Bobby Thompson:
Roy also played the fiddle. Here he is performing Orange Blossom Special with a very young Jimmy Henley:
And of course, his interpretation of Malagueña is an inimitable example of his virtuosity:
As a boy, I was entertained by the corny jokes and glued to the screen thanks to the “Hee Haw Honeys,” a group of sweet and sexy country gals including Barbi Benton, Misty Rowe, Lisa Todd and the eternally ebullient Cathy Baker. But the music wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. It wasn’t until I was much older that I developed an appreciation for all the wonderful music on the show.
I grew up listening to Willie Nelson, Tom T. Hall, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and others while riding in my dad’s pickup truck. In my youth, we made two cross-country road trips, one East-West (North Carolina to California) and the other North-South (Arizona to Canada, and all the way back down the West Coast to San Diego). Despite the fact that I had to share my seat with a dog, I had a blast, and that music will always be a part of those fond memories.
Living in Japan back in the 1990s helped me understand and appreciate what it meant to be an American. Living abroad made me nostalgic for American things. It was during this time that I decided to add some Country to my music collection: Patsy Cline and Hank Williams. I really love older Country music, especially the pedal steel. I also like the clean sound of the guitar picking, the country fiddles and the melancholy nature of the lyrics.
Rediscovering Hee Haw after so many years has been quite eye-opening in terms of its stark contrast with modern pop culture. It celebrates country folk and their lifestyle rather than denigrating them as ignorant rednecks. It illustrates how disgusting, immoral and low-brow television content is today. More than anything, it demonstrates that what passes for music today cannot hold a candle to the talent and skill that was presented on that show each week. As one YouTube commenter put it, “What the fuck has happened to music today?”
Hee Haw featured genuinely talented musicians, singers and songwriters who sang and played from the heart. Today’s “artists” do little more than lip-sync to computer-generated beats and ear-splitting noise while robotically executing choreographed dance moves as scantily clad women twerk convulsively in the background. Today’s Grammy Award winners are by and large a who’s-who of talent-less hacks and corporate Frankenstein’s who exist solely to appeal to the lowest common denominator, push cultural Marxism, plug consumer products and generate obscene amounts of cash for their corporate handlers. Sadly, there are no Roy Clark’s active in today’s music scene, and more people know Beyonce and Bieber than Jerry Reed or Loretta Lynn.
An even more interesting thing I noticed about Hee Haw is that there are no “people of color” on the show. Hee Haw depicts an America that is all but gone today. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear an SJW claim that the show is “racist.”
While I am sure there are non-white and even non-American people who enjoyed Hee Haw and the music it featured, there is no reason to apologize for the show’s Whiteness. The zeitgeist has shifted, thus it would be unfair to judge the 1970–80s by 2016 standards (although the whiny bastards do it all the time). Consider that, Soul Train, a music and dance show targeting Black audiences, was on the air for 35 years, more than a decade longer than Hee Haw.
That being said, there is absolutely no way Hee Haw would be broadcast today, and that is a sad statement on our times. Admittedly, I am not a fan of contemporary Country music, and given the wretched state of The Music Business, I seriously doubt it could match the original in terms of musical quality. Besides, has any “reboot” or “re-imagination” ever lived up to the original?
Thankfully, we don’t need to reinvent Hee Haw, because it lives on forever in re-runs and DVD box sets. If you haven’t ever seen the show, or if it has been a while, I highly encourage you to pay a visit to Kornfield Kounty. You’ll be glad you did!