Lights, Camera, Action! 7 Iconic Moments From the 1960s’ Country Music Variety Shows
Building off the momentum of the musical variety shows of the 1950s, the 1960s ushered in a new wave of country music-themed television, starring some of Nashville's biggest legends and featuring a number of then-new voices that would go on to make country music history. The '60s were the heyday of TV variety shows, and the country stars who helmed them helped capture rural audiences across America as the television became standard equipment in every home.
Successful radio shows such as the Grand Ole Opry transferred onto television during the 1960s, opening new doors for audiences to experience performers as close to live as they might ever get. Before the British Invasion and rock 'n' roll edged country music and rural themes out of prime time, shows such as Hee Haw and The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour reigned supreme in American homes.
Below, take a look back at a few of the iconic moments in '60s country music TV.
Ricky Skaggs on 'The Flatt and Scruggs Grand Ole Opry Show'(1961)
In 1961, 7-year-old Ricky Skaggs performed with bluegrass legends Flatt & Scruggs on their syndicated TV show. It was one year before the duo would record "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," which found popularity due to both Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs' iconic musicianship and the popularity of the hit TV show The Beverly Hillbiilles. And, of course, Skaggs would go on to make bluegrass history as well.
A nod to the power of country music television: Five-year-old Béla Fleck heard "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" on TV. He says his future was decided in that moment.
Loretta Lynn Appears on 'The Wilburn Brothers Show'(1963-1974)
The Wilburn Brothers Show ran from 1963 to 1974 and has been credited with helping to launch the careers of many Nashville greats, including Loretta Lynn. Lynn met the Wilburns (Teddy and Doyle) shortly after moving to Nashville to promote her first song, "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl," and entered into a contract with the brothers, giving them publishing rights to her music for 30 years after her professional relationship with them ended. While the relationship -- including appearances during most of The Wilburn Brothers Show's episodes -- set Lynn on the track to country stardom, she wound up fighting for, and being denied, those publishing rights.
Although Lynn's appearance on The Wilburn Brothers Show kicked off her career, she had previously won a televised singing competition hosted by Buck Owens in Tacoma, Wash. Her prize was ... a wrist watch that broke 24 hours later.
Dolly Parton Debuts on 'The Porter Wagoner Show'(1967)
Dolly Parton's most iconic television performance is arguably her farewell to Porter Wagoner: In 1974, she sang "I Will Always Love You," a moving goodbye penned for her long-time professional partner as Parton decided to strike out on her own. Years before that moment, however, Parton appeared for the first time on Wagoner's television show, shortly after the release of her debut album Hello, I'm Dolly, and became a fixture on The Porter Wagoner Show.
'The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour' Showcases the Beatles(1969)
Campbell's Goodtime Hour only ran for four years, but in its short duration, the artist featured some of the biggest names in not only country music, but all types of entertainment, including Lucille Ball and, in one memorable episode, Hollywood icon John Wayne. But perhaps the biggest moment in the history of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour was when Campbell featured the Beatles in 1969.
'Hee Haw' Introduces the World to Charley Pride(1969)
When the hit series Hee Haw, hosted by Buck Owens and Roy Clark, launched in 1969, Charley Pride made his worldwide television debut during the inaugural episode. At that time, it had been only two years since Pride made history as the first Black singer to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.
Hee Haw would go on to introduce television audiences to many future country stars during its time on CBS. The show ran in prime time until 1971, followed by two decades in syndication.
'The Johnny Cash Show' Features Roy Orbison(1969)
Johnny Cash hosted some of the biggest names in country and pop music during the short duration of his show, which ran from 1969 until 1971. One of the highlights of the live variety show was a duet that Cash performed with Roy Orbison, on the latter's hit "Pretty Woman."
'Country Hoedown' and 'The Tommy Hunter Show' Spotlight Country Music in Canada
Country Hoedown captivated Canadian audiences on Friday nights from 1956 until 1965. The bluegrass and country music variety show was hosted by Gordie Tripp and featured guests from all over Canada and the U.S. The show's regular band was led by fiddler King Ganam and featured musician Tommy Hunter, who would, in 1965, launch his own TV variety show that replaced Hoedown.
The Tommy Hunter Show stayed on TV until the early 1990s. It featured up-and-coming country artists including Garth Brooks and Shania Twain before they were big news.