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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Episode 11 - All mobbed up





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[Frank gets the key]

[Intro]

["A word from our sponsor," from the Cars episode of "Theme Time"]

[Frank - Ol' MacDonald goes to Pete Epsteen's Pontiac]

Episode 11 - All Mobbed Up

So why was Ol' Blue Eyes doing a radio commercial for a Skokie, Illinois car dealership?

Why do you think? Three little letters. M.O.B.

Most of the references on the Web claim that Sinatra did the gig for Sam Giancana, boss of bosses in Chicago from the late `50s to the mid-60s, a friend - if friend is the right word - of Sinatra's since 1958, and the person who Sinatra acted as the front for in his buy into a piece of the action of the Cal/Neva Casino in Lake Tahoe.

However, it's more likely that the favor was asked by one of the Fischetti brothers, Rocco, Charlie, and Joe. Charlie Fischetti was the Mob's political fixer in Chicago, and a friend of Sinatra's since the early `40s. Sinatra, nice guy that he was, used to go along with Charlie when he visited his mother in Brooklyn. Charlie died in 1951, but Sinatra and Joe Fischetti were also close friends. He took a trip to Cuba with the brothers in 1946, the so-called "Havana Summit" held by Lucky Luciano, a trip that would haunt Sinatra for the rest of his career.

But Frank still did a lot of favors for the Fischetti brothers. He once rode along on a plane ride from Palm Springs to Vegas so the Fischettis could impress a star struck automobile tycoon from Detroit who they were romancing for an agency franchise. In fact, Sinatra helped the Fischettis set up a string of auto dealerships - including Pete Epsteen Pontiac - by lending his name to the enterprise and doing commercials free of charge, at least from a cash aspect. Sinatra reportedly received at least two Thunderbirds that became the property of Sinatra Enterprises.

Interestingly, Lee Iacocca notes in his autobiography that Sinatra offered to do commercials for the failing Chrysler for the nominal fee of a buck… plus stock options. Frank had apparently learned that some things were better than money, and should have made a bundle from those options, according to Iacocca.

In any case, a helpful guy to his friends, Sinatra was. And hey, your other friends should help out your friends too, right? So Sinatra wasn't the only crooner to warble for Ol' Pete. He called in the Rat Pack.

[Sammy segment]

When the Chairman called for a favor, Sammy was always there, recording not one, not two, but three separate commercials for Pete Epsteen Pontiac.

Like his explanation for freebie gigs at the Villa Venice Supper Club - which indeed were done as favors for Sam Giancana, Sammy probably would have responded if asked, "I have to say it's for my man Francis." And if pressed might have answered, "Baby, let me say this. I got one eye, and that one eye sees a lot of things that my brain tells me I shouldn't talk about. Because my brain says that, if I do, my one eye might not be seeing anything after a while."

[Dino segment]

Like Sammy, Dino probably did the shtick as a favor for Frank without a second thought. Unlike Sammy, Martin probably gave less than a flying chiavare about whether the boys were involved. While Martin knew mobsters - as Jerry Lewis says in his memoir about Dean, "Dean and Me," it was impossible to work the nightclub circuit from the `40s to the `60s without becoming involved with the mob - he mostly ignored them, and in turn they mostly left him alone.

Unlike Frank, who had this thing about impressing mobsters and liked hanging with them, and unlike Sammy, who was a black guy in a white guy's world and trying to keep his other eye, Dino was known as an "okay guy" who the arm wasn't to be put on… at least not much.

So, Pete Epsteen. What do we know about him? The Sacramento Bee newspaper once published a story entitled, "Palm Springs - Where Stars, Pols - and Mobsters - Live in Style." Although not mentioned in the article, Pete Epsteen was referred to in a photo caption as "an automobile dealer financed by the Mafia."

Represented by Sinatra's attorney, Mickey Rudin, Epsteen filed a $6 million libel suit against the newspaper. He denied any affiliation with the Mafia and demanded a retraction. The Sacramento Bee published a story reporting Epsteen's denial but did not retract the charge.

Lawyers representing the newspaper hired a former FBI agent to investigate. He later told Kitty Kelly, author of "His Way," "I flew to Chicago and met with a lower-level Mob boss and told him we were going to subpoena all the top Chicago Mafia chieftains as hostile witnesses to prove their connections with Epsteen. He told me he'd pass the word up and a few weeks later Epsteen dropped his lawsuit."

According to a Google Search, Epsteen divorced his wife in the `70s, moved to California, and opened a Honda dealership. In 1995 he was prosecuted for his role in a kickback scheme in which dealers in 30 states gave executives of American Honda up to $15 million in cash and gifts in exchange for hot-selling cars and franchises. He was also convicted of perjury in the case, fined $200,000, and sentenced to six months in prison. He died in 1997, in Palm Springs, California.

They're all gone. Giancana. The Fischettis. Sammy took his bows in 1990. Dino would follow in 1995. And Sinatra walked off stage in 1998.

All that's left is the music… and the stories.

This has been Fred Bals with the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show. Dreamtime is not associated with XM Radio or Bob Dylan, and takes the Fifth about any association with known gangsters.

We'll be on vacation for a few weeks, so until next month, sweet dreams.

["Birth of the Blues" segment, Frank, Dean, and Sammy]

Sources: His Way: An Unauthorized Biography Of Frank Sinatra by Kitty Kelley; New York Times article, September 9, 1995 - "Two Sentenced in Honda Case"; Appeal from the
Circuit Court of Cook County
IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF: MARILYN D. EPSTEEN, Plaintiff,and MARY B. EPSTEEN, as Executrix of the Estate of PETER EPSTEEN, Defendant. Searches on variations of "Peter" and "Pete Epsteen."

There are various articles/accounts of Sinatra's involvement with the Fischettis and other mob figures, most notably Sam Giancana, available on the Web. My primary sources were CrimeLibrary.com and AmericanMafia.com. Shirley Maclaine's remembrance of an encounter with Sam Giancana while in her role as Rat Pack mascot was also instructive.

The "Theme Time" research team appear to have used the same source as I did for Sinatra's Pete Epsteen Pontiac commercial. I sampled it from a widely-circulated bootleg, "Dean Martin at the Sands," which is regularly available on eBay. The Martin and Davis commercials I use were also taken from the same CD, which includes as "bonus tracks" those commercials, as well as Davis also doing Pete Epsteen commercials using "Come Fly with Me," and "Rubber Tree Plant" (aka "High Hopes") as the music.

The closing music was taken from another Rat Pack bootleg, "Live at Villa Venice - 1962," a two-CD set of the Rat Pack in all their political incorrectness doing two free shows for Sam Giancana's night club; one story has it as payback for Giancana delivering West Virginia to JFK in the presidential primaries.

It's a tangled web.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Episode 10 – Too religious for the country crowd, too country for gospel fans





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[The Louvin Brothers - "When I Stop Dreaming" excerpt]

Gram Parsons paid friends to search for Louvin Brothers records. Elvis had advance copies of their records sent to him so he could give them to his mother. A young Johnny Cash waited by the side of the road to catch a glimpse of Ira and Charlie Louvin when they came through town.

The Louvin Brothers. "[They were] without limits," says Tom Wilmeth, author of Heaven's Own Harmony, a 1999 book on the Louvins. "They could perform songs that would send you to church, then break your heart with a tale of lost love."

Lonnie Ira Loudermilk and Charlie Loudermilk were born and raised in the Alabama Appalachian mountains. Ira, born in 1924, was three years older than Charlie. They started their careers singing gospel songs in church, and listening to close harmony country brother acts - the Blue Sky Boys, the Delmore Brothers, the Callahan Brothers, the Monroe Brothers - on the radio. Ira began playing mandolin, while Charlie learned the guitar, and the two began harmonizing like their favorite radio acts. The duo began performing publicly in 1940, earning three dollars for singing all day at a 4th of July hootenanny.

They began performing on an early-morning show at a radio station in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but then Charlie enlisted in the Army in the early '40s, and Ira played with Charlie Monroe while his brother was gone. After Charlie's Army stint, the brothers moved their career to Knoxville, TN, where they played the radio circuit. It was in Knoxville that the two changed their Loudermilk last name to the more memorable stage name of Louvin.

In 1949, the Louvins recorded a single for Decca that disappeared without a trace. Two years later they signed with MGM, recorded 12 songs, again without much commercial success. In the early `50s the brothers were reduced to working as postal clerks in Memphis, TN during the day while doing concerts and radio gigs at night. Finally, they'd get a break with Capitol, and record a single that would become a minor hit in 1952, the gospel song, "The Family That Prays Together."

Things were beginning to look up for the Louvins, but then Charlie was called back into the Army because of the Korean War. When Charlie was discharged this time around, the Louvins relocated to Birmingham AL, where they planned to restart their careers. But they had problems getting back on the radio, as another duo had already carved out a close-harmony niche on the Alabama airwaves, ironically using several songs of the Louvins' own. Things weren't looking good, until Capitol Records was able to get the Louvins a gig on the Grand Ole Opry.

Here's where the story get a little flakey. Some reports have it the Louvins began singing secular material as soon as they landed a slot on the show, primarily because a tobacco company sponsoring its broadcast told the Opry and the Louvins "you can' sell tobacco with gospel music." But Charlie Louvin, who should know, says that Capitol had the boys straight-jacketed into a contract that allowed them to only record sacred songs, with the same restrictions carried over to their Grand Ole Opry performances. "The record company had no idea what to do with us," says Charlie. "They thought our songs were too religious for the country crowd, and too country for the gospel fans."

The powers at Capitol finally told Ira and Charlie that they could release one secular single, but if it didn't become a hit, then Capitol would cancel their contract. They chose one of Ira's originals, "When I Stop Dreaming." And the song would chart to #8 on the Billboard charts in 1955.

And the Louvin Brothers' career was off. That first chart-topper was followed shortly afterward by "I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby," which spent two weeks at number one early in 1956. Three of the duo's other singles -- "Hoping That You're Hoping," "You're Running Wild," and "Cash on the Barrel Head" -- reached the Top Ten that year, particularly impressive when you consider that rock & roll was starting to take over the airwaves by the mid-50s, as Dylan mentions as an aside in the "Dogs" episode of "Theme Time."

[Satan is Real excerpt]

Part 2 - Satan is Real

And what about that album, "Satan is Real"?

[Dylan excerpt]

Ira Louvin designed the cover of what may be the Louvin Brothers' most famous album in 1958. If you took Dylan's advice and did a search through Yahoo or Google, you'd find a photograph of him and Charlie in matching white suits, pink shirts, and blue ties arms outstretched, before what looks like the pits of Hell. Behind their backs, standing in the flames is a gigantic red devil, complete with fangs, horns, and pitchfork.

"Ira built that set," said Charlie. "The devil was twelve feet tall, built out of plywood. We went to this rock quarry and then took old tires and soaked them in kerosene, got them to burn good. It had just started to sprinkle rain when we got that picture taken. Those rocks, when they get hot, they blow up. Pieces of rock up were going up into the air."

The brothers look pretty calm in the photo, considering they were being bombarded by burning rocks and almost burnt alive when the tire fire began to rage out-of-control.

The title track of "Satan Is Real" features a sermon by Ira, considering the proposition that if God exists, so must Satan.

[Ira preaching excerpt]

David Gates, who's written several articles about Dylan at various points in his career, reportedly was correcting a quote he was using from "Satan is Real," in the galleys of his novel, "Preston Falls," when Dylan called. During the course of the interview, Dylan started talking about religious songs, and remarked how frightening he felt the "Satan is Real" song was. "That's weird," Gates told him. "I'm looking at the lyrics right now." "It's a small world, Dave," Dylan said.

Part 3 - Out Past Where the Buses Run

"I think religion tortured Ira," Charlie once said. Ira had his demons, for sure, more dangerous than any plywood Satan. Ira was an alcoholic.

"Today they call it an illness," Charlie says. "In those days it was bein' mean." And Ira was about as mean as drunk as you would want to encounter. When Ira drank, he fought, as Dylan notes in this story he tells about Ira's encounter with Red Foley.

["An interesting story" - from "Dogs"]

And when Ira drank, he cheated on each of his four wives. Ira had three bullets near his spine-the work of his third wife, who had shot him five times in 1963, after Ira had tried to strangle her with a telephone cord.

And when Ira drank he was stupid-mean. He once succeeded in killing an opportunity to tour with a young Elvis Presley, already better known at the start of his career than Ira would ever be. Elvis was a devoted Louvins fan, until [Ira]* called him a "white nigger" and his rock 'n roll "trash."

As Dylan notes, Ira had finally "gone out past where the buses run."

Between declining sales and Ira's erratic temper, the Louvins decided to split up the act in 1963. Charlie went on to a long solo career, and remains a fixture at the Grand Ole Opry to this very day. In fact, you can email Charlie at his official web site

Ira, as you could guess, didn't make it. He was with his fourth wife, Anne Young. performing a week of concerts in Kansas City in June of 19 and 65 when they were both killed in Williamsburg, MO, by a drunk driver.

Ira died with a warrant out for his arrest on his own DUI charges.

Drunk driving is the second-leading cause of death in the Louvin Brothers body of work, a fate exceeded only by murder.

Maybe Ira saw the writing on the wall.

["You're Running Wild" excerpt]

This has been Fred Bals with the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show. Dreamtime is not associated with XM Radio, Bob Dylan, or much of anything else. Until next week, don't stop dreaming.

*I misread the brother's name as "Charlie" in the podcast. It should be "Ira," of course - fhb

Sources: Satan is Real; Google Groups thread; CMT.com; Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Tom Wilmeth's liner notes from "Livin', Lovin' Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers. "Theme Time" excerpts from episodes 14 "Devil," and Episode 16 "Dogs."

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Friday, August 18, 2006

A brief message from your station manager

Another Dreamtime podcast is in the works, but in the interim, I've been experimenting with an idea, using Pandora to come up with variant Theme Time "radio stations," if you will. Pandora is a so-called "music discovery service," where you tell it what you like in terms of music and artists and it plays back music similar to what you've selected (eventually it will even play exactly what you've selected).

So, I've been plugging in various Theme Time play lists, thanks to the good efforts of the people at "Not Dark Yet," and the results to date can be heard by clicking any of the links over in the left-hand column. Some of the music on the stations is pretty good, if not quite as good as what Our Host might pick. And some of the music is exceedingly strange, such as on the "Mama Don't Allow," station as one might expect from a play list that includes stuff from LL Cool J, the Rolling Stones, Merle Haggard, and Ruth Brown. The "Wine, Wine, Wine" one is pretty weird too.

I've also tossed in the ubquitious Dylan station, and a personal favorite I created long ago, "The Rose & the Briar," music from the book and CD of the same name.

Pandora is free, I don't get anything from your clicking on the link. Like Dreamtime, the work involved, such as it is, is a labor of love. Enjoy, and if you create your own station, let me know. Oh, and for my non-U.S. listeners without a ZIP, any of these should work.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Episode 9 - The Outro

A podcast in three parts: Part 1 - Coco has a hot rod. Part 2: The Dharma and Greg connection. Part 3: The indisputable leader of the gang.



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"Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination when awake?"
Leonardo da Vinci - Def Inventor

This is the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show.

Episode 9 - The Outro


My last podcast was on Theme Time's intro, specifically "the Voice," who does the "Night time in the Big City," lead-in. I'll be coming back to that, ah, "theme," if you will in another podcast, but this week we're looking at the closing credits - the outro of "Theme Time" as read by your announcer, Pierre Mancini.


[Theme Time outro]

Part 1 - Coco has a hot rod

[From Theme Time - "Cars"]

Coco Shinomiya gets a special thanks each week on Theme Time, I suspect because Coco probably had a hand in the design of the Theme Time logo. A Los-Angeles based freelance art director and graphic designer, Coco is also sometimes known as Monster X, usually when she's pulling double duty on the same project.

Barnes & Noble, which is much better at listing full product information than Amazon, has over 100 titles associated with Coco's name; including, in no particular order, albums by Allen Ginsberg, Warren Zevon, Julie London, Connie Francis, and Buck Owens. She's been nominated twice for Grammies for album packaging.

As part of Dylan's posse, Coco did the cover design for Chronicles… and she has a book herself. Coco edited Hot Rods & Custom Cars: a book on hot rod customizing from one of my favorite publishers, Taschen Books.

She shares her home with a guinea pig named Roscoe and two hot rods -- a 32 Ford Tudor Sedan and a 27 T Roadster project… and she enjoys going fast.*

*Photos of Coco with friends and of her car courtesy of Tricia J.





[Dharma & Greg theme]

Part 2: The Dharma and Greg Connection

Eddie Gorodetsky, Debbie Sweeney and Diane Lapson are also named each week on Theme Time's credits. Like Coco, both Sweeney and Lapson are regular members of Dylan's crew: Sweeney and Lapson helped secure music clearances and were named as production managers on No Direction Home. Sweeney also gets a "special thanks" in the credits of the documentary about the making of Masked and Anonymous
, Masked and Anonymous Exposed.

Gorodetsky, who's credited as Theme Time's producer, has an interesting bio in the International Movie database. Among his other credits, he's listed as a writer for the "Dharma and Greg" TV series, as well as both producer and supervising producer. In fact, an AP story from 1999 credits Gorodetsky with engineering Dylan's appearance on "Dharma and Greg." Gorodetsky also appeared in Masked and Anonymous, as well as The Aristocrats.

Interestingly, Gorodetsky was also a writer on the Batman animated TV series, a neo-noirish cartoon that could have coined the tag-line of Night time in the Big City. It makes you wonder whether he's the writer behind Theme Time's opening frame.

Part 3: The indisputable leader of the gang

[Fred bomp-bomps]

Oh, excuse me. Forgot you were still there. I was just thinking about the music we hear in the background each week as Pierre recites the credits. As more than one person has noted, it bears a striking resemblance to the theme music from a 1960s cartoon…

[Top Cat theme]

Top Cat
The most effec-tu-al Top Cat
Who's intellectual close friends get to call him T. C.
Providing it's with dignity
Top Cat
The indisputable leader of the gang
He's the boss
He's the VIP
He's a championship
He's the most tip top - Top Cat

Yes he's the chief
He's the king, but above everything
He's the most tip top - Top Cat!

Premiering in 19 and 61, "Top Cat," like its predecessor, "The Flintstones," was based on an earlier sit-com. For "The Flintstones," that was "The Honeymooners," of course, and for "Top Cat," the Phil Silvers' vehicle, "You'll Never Get Rich," also known at various times as "Sgt. Bilko" and "The Phil Silvers' Show."

In fact, the actor who did Top Cat's voice modeled it on Silver's, and the late Maurice Gosfield, who played the sweet Private Duane Doberman on "The Phil Silvers Show" also provided the voice for Benny the Ball in "Top Cat." "Top Cat" was known as "Boss Cat" in the United Kingdom due to a trademark conflict, as there was a brand of cat food with the Top Cat name sold in Great Britain.

Hanna-Barbera's main musical director, Hoyt Curtin, composed the music for "Top Cat," as well as many other popular cartoon theme songs, including those from "The Flintstones," "The Jetsons," and "Jonny Quest."

"Hoyt was the king of jingle-making," says Jean MacCurdy, president of Warner Bros. Animation (now Hanna-Barbera's parent company). "His strong suit was coming up with the themes that almost anyone on the street could sing at the drop of a hat. He was really quite remarkable."

This has been Fred Bals with the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show.

Dreamtime is not associated with Studio B, the Abernathy Building, or Sampson's Diner, but I keep looking. Maybe in my dreams.

[Close]

Do you think Dylan's close friends get to call him B.D.?


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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Episode 8 - 14 Views of the Big City




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14 Views of the Big City

Night time in the big city

The moon goes behind a cloud
Rain is fallin', fog rolls in from the waterfront

A Styrofoam coffee cup rolls across the street

A truck drops off tomorrow's newspapers
Two sailors get out of a cab

Angry prostitutes fight over a street corner

It's night in the big city.

Somewhere, a car alarm goes off
An ambulance races through downtown
An off duty cop parks in front of his ex-wife's house

A woman walks barefoot, her high heels in her hand bag

Pizza parlor is locking up
It's night time in the big city

A drunken security guard drops his flashlight
A truck driver runs a red light
The strange, quiet man practices Tai Chi in the park

A night shift nurse smokes the last cigarette in her pack
A married couple has a late night snack A man buys a pack of gum, steals a nail clipper
Two pairs of sneakers are strung over a phone line

Night time in the big city

A woman watches her neighbor through binoculars
A cat knocks over a lamp

Night time in the big city

A man gets drunk, and shaves off his mustache

Night time in the big city

The wind picks up from over the bay

It's night time in the big city
It's night time in the big city

Outside, the dogs are barking.

This has been Episode 8 of the Dreamtime podcast: 14 Views of the Big City; a tone poem suggested by an idea from Karl Erik, at Expecting Rain. From the opening segments of Theme Time Radio Hour – Episodes 1 through 14. Author unknown, reader unknown… but there is much speculation.

Dreamtime is not associated with XM Radio, Theme Time, or Bob Dylan. Until next week, dream on…

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Episode 7 – The donkey that wouldn't die

Direct link to mp3.

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[Dylan Intro – "Mothers" episode]

[HEE HAW Theme]

"The critics are unanimous...but watch it anyway!"



This is the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show.

Episode 7 – The donkey that wouldn't die

Who knew Dylan loves corny old jokes? Who knew that he liked HEE HAW? Well, maybe the second is easier to understand than the first.

HEE HAW was launched in 1969 by two Canadian TV producers as a country music version of NBC’s popular Laugh-In. If you had seen Laugh-In, you immediately recognized the model: quick cuts; pretty girls wearing the minimum possible for network TV, catch phrases, stupid jokes. HEE HAW just substituted corn-pone for Laugh-In's pop references. But HEE HAW had one thing that Laugh In didn't… country music, often very good country music,

Buck Owens, with twenty Number 1 hits already under his belt, taped the pilot of HEE HAW in 1968. CBS picked it up as a summer replacement for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, canceled because of Tommy Smothers ongoing war with network censors over the shows pro-drug and anti-war humor. CBS picked up a 13 -show option for Hee Haw, and at Buck’s recommendation the producers hired singer Roy Clark as co-host. The show premiered Sunday, June 15, 1969.

Country music was enormously popular on the radio in the 60s, but had never cracked national television. Like the Smothers Brothers show, whose musical guests had included everyone from the Doors to the Beatles, HEE HAW's secret weapon, and what made it more than a hillbilly Laugh-In, was its music.

Its regulars included Buck Owens, Roy Clark, and Grandpa Jones of course, so it had Grand Ole Opry street cred right from the git-go, and it brought in a couple of big guest stars every week. Guests like Alabama, Roy Acuff, Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, Crystal Gayle, Merle Haggard, Janis Ian, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Lyle Lovett, Loretta Lynn, Barbara Mandrell, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Ray Price, Charley Pride, Charlie Rich, Linda Ronstadt, Kenny Rogers, Roy Rogers, George Strait, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, B.J. Thomas, Mel Tillis, Randy Travis, Travis Tritt, Ernest Tubb, Conway Twitty, Boxcar Willie, Tammy Wynette, Hank Williams Jr., and Faron Young, just to name a few.

HEE HAW was so successful during its initial summer run that CBS slotted it into the fall schedule, but it would only last on the network for two years, being killed off in the Great CBS Hillbilly Purge of 19 and 71, which also claimed The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres. CBS network suits had decided all three shows had the wrong viewer demographics – that is rural, older and with less disposable income than hipper, younger audiences.

However HEE HAW would really hit its stride in syndication, where niche programming thrives. From 1971 thorough 1997, HEE HAW was playing on some station in America every week.
A total of 585 one-hour HEE HAWs were taped in Nashville, Tennessee. The cast would tape an entire season in June and October each year, freeing them for other pursuits the other 10 months. But Buck Owens had little left to pursue after HEE HAW's success.

"Anybody that’s been on television… when you become a household name, when they can see you once a week, it reduces and diminishes your value." Owens noted in an interview on his web site. "In 1969 I was still havin’'#1 records. As I went along it degenerated into more comedy and a lot less singin’, or doin' those silly little cast songs.

"I enjoyed the Hee Haw people, but from 1980 on I didn’t enjoy it and thought about leavin’, and thought, hell, it’s an easy job and pays wonderful. I kinda just prostituted myself for their money. My music, which I loved, had suffered badly and I knew what it was from: too much ‘Phifft! You Were Gone.' I thought: ‘One more year, I’ll do one more year...'"

Owens finally left HEE HAW in 1986, stating in several other interviews before his death in 2006 that the show had effectively ruined his musical career.

In 1991, HEE HAW tried a new format with a more urban feel and pop-oriented country sound, which succeeded only in alienating its core audience. In its final 1992 season, and renamed Hee Haw Silver, the show featured Roy Clark, who remained with HEE HAW till the bitter end, hosting a mixture of classic clips and new footage.

After the show's syndication run ended, reruns aired on The Nashville Network until 1997. Its 22 years in TV syndication was the record for a U.S. program, until "Wheel of Fortune" surpassed it in 2005.

And the donkey still refuses to die. On July 17, Country Music Television, a cable channel announced that it will begin rerunning the series, starting July 29. In fact, I taped the HEE HAW segments from a CMT HEE HAW marathon last weekend. The show was just as corny as I remember… and the music just as good.

This has been Fred Bals with the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour.

The only association Dreamtime has is free association. Keep pickin' and a-grinnin' and keep dreaming.

Sources: "A Country Music Laugh-in"; Twangs of nostalgia; The official HEE HAW site

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