I only heard about RFD-TV Channel a couple months ago. My cable provider doesn't carry "Rural America's Most Important Network," and I'm almost tempted to switch to a satellite service to get it. But it's not the agricultural or equine content that intrigues me, it's the musical programming. Apparently, back in the late seventies, television producer Normal Lear bought a Nashville station and wanted to get rid of the station's huge library of regional programs from the 60s and 70s. This library included whole runs of classic shows by Porter Wagoner and the Wilburn Brothers. In stepped none other than Willie Nelson, who bought the whole lot of it. After languishing in safety for a few decades, the plums from this collection are finally creeping onto the air at RFD-TV.
Ever since I found out about all this, I've been haunting YouTube, keeping an eye out for anything from these programs. And recently, I found the motherlode. A user who calls himself "SleepyCreek" has been uploading steadily since last fall, contributing more than 300 from the Wagoner and Wilburn programs, as well as a healthy helping from the mid-60s Buck Owens Show. You'll find a staggering number of stars represented on SleepyCreek's "channel," including Porter's girl singer Dolly Parton and Teddy & Doyle's girl singer Loretta Lynn. Its amazing to see artists like Dave Dudley, Charlie Louvin and Bobby Bare in their prime, as well as my personal favorite, Jim Ed Brown. I had hoped to find more on Brown, especially since he actually hosted his own show, "Country Carnival," from 1968 to 1971. But though its a part of Willie's collection, this show does not appear currently on RFD-TV's schedule. Just the same, the two clips show Brown in fine form and in marked contrast to many of the other singers. Neither stiff, sheepish nor uncomfortable, Jim Ed smiles and mugs for the camera like a true pro.
Speaking of pros, George Jones is, perhaps not surprisingly, the standout here. Not merely "professional," not merely "comfortable" -- George is simply possessed. In what must have been a deliberate strategy, SleepyCreek presents three very different versions of "Walk Through This World With Me" from three different programs. George sports his classic flat-top haircut in the first version from the Porter Wagoner show. He plays it straight: the tempo is steady and sure; George is intense, but accessible. Next, we jump ahead to an episode of the Wilburn Brothers, where he appears with his new wife, Tammy Wynette (their duet from the same show, ""Milwaukee Here I Come," is also in the collection) Here, the performance is more playful; the tempo is up, but George is relaxed and confident. But a year later in an appearance on "Hee Haw, the demons are on full display. The song is almost a dirge, and Jones' voice is a mournful wail. Whatever's going on behind his haunted glazed eyes, it's clear this is a man out of step from the scripted, folksy patter of his hosts. Taken together, these four clips reveal a lot about why George Jones is such a treasure.
Hopefully it won't be too long before Willie and RFD-TV make these shows available on DVD. The way things are going over at YouTube, these clips are bound to vanish before all that long. So fire up your favorite video grabber and follow the links below. Or contact your local satellite television provider.
NOTE: These videos are no longer available due to a copyright claim by Gaylord Entertainment Company.
Here's just a small sample from the SleepyCreek Collection: