[7 November 2006]
If you recall TV’s Hee Haw program as being filled with a little music and lot of corny jokes, this new five-disc collection will not change that initial—and accurate—impression. The jokes are corny now, were corny when they were performed on the program, and may well have been equally corny at the time they were first uttered by ancient farmers and such—which must have been at least a million years ago. A few of these jokers are comedic pros, such as George “Goober” Lindsey and Minnie Pearl. Granted, many of the lines are funny and worth a chuckle or two. But unless you’re a country bumpkin who hasn’t heard a modern comedian in the past few decades or so, you will not find yourself hee-hawing much while this disc set plays.
However, if you are a fan of traditional country music, you will love four of these five DVDs—bad jokes and all. (The last disc is all participant interviews). Merle Haggard appears on disc one to sing “I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am” and “Today I Started Loving You Again”. This appearance took place in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, which meant that Haggard was still a relatively young-looking buck. Lovers of The Hag will especially be grateful for these few television clips that do not feature the singer/songwriter performing “Okie from Muskogee”. Although this familiar tune has become one of his signature songs, it is hardly representative of what the complicated California artist is all about. Its lyric captured Haggard playing the part of a reactionary conservative during a time when liberal hippies were getting most of the media attention. Anybody that follows Haggard closely realizes he is highly educated about politics, and rarely so strongly aligned with any particular group or party.
“Today I Started Loving You Again”, on the other hand, expresses the complex nature of romance, which—as we all know—is an oftentimes dynamic and unpredictable situation. “I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am” might be considered a more tactful, yet still honest, take on the sentiments detailed in “Okie from Muskogee”. I’ll take “I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am” over “Okie from Muskogee” any old day of the week.
Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn - Picking Wild Mountain Berrys
Songstress Loretta Lynn is featured both as a solo artist and in duets with Conway Twitty. One song, titled “Fist City”, tells the story of a feisty woman who is unafraid to cause physical harm to anyone who dares to touch her man. She later trades Southern love expressions with Twitty during “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man”. Other country stars include Dottie West, Hank Williams, Jr, Jerry Lee Lewis (doing a credible version of “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On”), Lynn Anderson, Ray Charles (with Buck Owens) performing “Crying Time”, Waylon Jennings, Roy Rogers, and Tanya Tucker. If, like me, you only care to see the music sections, this set offers a way to select only the songs for viewing.
Hee Haw was hosted by Roy Clark and the late Buck Owens, and these two country artists were given plenty of opportunity to do what they do best, which is sing and play—rather than merely kid around. Owens can be seen and heard playing “Together Again”, but for the most part, each of these men steered clear of their own hits. Oddly enough, although this show was only produced for a few years, many still primarily associate Owens with his Hee Haw duties, but little else. It was not until Dwight Yoakam began to give Owens public props a few years ago that Buck was once again rightfully recognized for his significant contributions to country music. Clark has never received such critical respect, however, but there is no denying his guitar playing skills, which are amply on display within this DVD package. There are also performers, such as the Hagers (twin brothers), who were almost exclusively known for their Hee Haw association, and received little acclaim outside the program.
One full DVD is dedicated solely to cast interviews, and includes talks with Roy Clark, Roni Stoneman, George Yanok, Charlie McCoy, Lulu Roman, George Lindsey, and Jim and John Hager. But it’s all a lot of nostalgia, for whatever that’s worth.
You may want to think of Hee Haw as the South’s version of Laugh In. Although this Southern-accented show had much in common with that wacky TV program, especially the way jokes came at you in a fast and furious pace, Hee Haw always stayed far away from making any political points, whether conservative or liberal. Laugh In, of course, wasn’t afraid to push the political envelope. Hee Haw will never go down as one of television’s great moments. Even so, this collector’s edition includes plenty of truly great moments—especially of the musical variety—and that factor alone makes it worth sitting through the corny jokes.