RAMBLIN' ROUND: Hello Dolly! For the first time

Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner

I accidentally caught an entire episode of a long-running TV show last Sunday, featuring the debut of one of the greatest female country singers and songwriters off all time.

Wow! Nothing in the program's synopsis on my satellite TV guide had referred to its musically-historic significance.

It reminded me of a time when I looked forward to watching a whole Saturday afternoon of country music programming from a couple of the local Tulsa TV stations.

They offered a smorgasbord of country music programming, with one show following another, usually commencing about 1 p.m. and extending to the early evening.

Shows such as "That Good Ole Nashville Music," "Pop! Goes the Country," "Nashville on the Road" and others came and went as their ratings fortunes waxed and waned. Some featured a permanent host while others had a revolving set of emcees.

One thing was virtually certain, though. Almost every program had at least one guest star who I wanted to see, sometimes two and occasionally the shows came fully-packed with my favorites.

Take "Pop! Goes the Country." Once Tom T. Hall took over hosting duties from Ralph Emery, even if none of the guests stars that week appealed to me — and I swung a pretty wide loop in that regard — I could always anticipate a couple of numbers from the songwriting master Tom T. himself.

 A handful of others came and went, but the first Saturday country music TV program I remember watching was "The Porter Wagoner Show."

Porter had plenty of hits — with probably his most well-known being the original hit version of songwriter Curly Putman's "Green, Grass of Home" — a bonafide country music classic with its "twist ending," even if it only reached no. 4 on the country music charts when Porter released it.

Welsh powerhouse singer Tom Jones recorded his own version of the song about a year after Porter, and Jones' recording  shot to no. 1 in the United Kingdom and no. 11 on the Billboard's  Hot 100 in the U.S.

I always thought it kind cool that Jones had heard Porter's down-home rendition and decided to record his own version — until I read Jones' autobiography, "Over the Top and Back." Jones said he had never heard Porter's version, but instead learned "Green Grass of Home" from the Jerry Lee Lewis album "Country Songs for City Folks."

OK, that makes more sense. I never really could visualize Tom Jones sitting around and listening to Porter Wagoner albums anyway. (Jones  also recorded at least two more songs included in the Jerry Lee Lewis album: Bobby Bare's "Detroit City" and pre-worldwide fame Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away."

Speaking of Bobby Bare, he was the guest star on the rerun of "The Porter Wagoner Show" telecast I caught last Sunday morning on RFD-TV.

I perked up when I saw Bare was a guest. Porter opened the show, wearing one of his typical flashy Nudie suits, and I was only halfway listening as he introduced a young-looking Dolly Parton — no surprise there, since Dolly appeared as the regular female artist on Porter's show every week from 1967 through 1974.

But wait! Did Porter say something about welcoming Dolly to his show? Why would he welcome her if she's on the show every week? Could it be this was very first appearance on the show as a regular?

Yes it was! Dolly was replacing the previous weekly female artist on the show, an Oklahoma singer Porter always introduced as "Pretty Miss Norma Jean."

With Norma Jean getting married and moving back to Oklahoma, Porter searched for another female artist to replace as the regular singer of his show. And now, there he was introducing Dolly to his fans.

At one point on the show, Porter used Norma Jean's tagline and introduced her as "Pretty Miss Dolly Parton." Ouch.

Dolly tore right into one of her first hits, "Dumb Blonde," (written not by Dolly, but by Curly Putman of "Green, Green Grass of Home" fame.)

I recently watched an interview with Dolly, who said it never bothered her to be called a dumb blonde. "I'm not dumb and I'm not a blonde," she quipped. 

The color reproduction on Dolly's debut show with Porter looked so magnificent, I wondered if it had been remastered. Dolly wore a brilliant red dress that blended — sort of— with Porter's flashy, sparkly, red Nudie suit.

Following some songs by Bare, a bit of tomfoolery from comedian Speck Rhodes and the weekly gospel song, Porter called Dolly back for another song. She started singing "Something Fishy" — but after about a minute, Porter suddenly walked over to her microphone, interrupted her and cut her off in mid-song.

"The time is all gone and there's something fishy going on if we don't get off," Porter said. "Come back next week. Sorry we ran out time."

So there it was: Dolly Parton's inauspicious debut to much of the country-music world. Suffice to say, that's probably the last time she was ever cut-off in the middle of a song.

Dolly, of course, went on to write numerous hit songs, sell millions of records and armloads of awards. She and Porter also recorded 13 albums of duets.

By 1974, Dolly felt ready to step out on her own, already staying with "The Porter Wagoner Show" for two years past her five-year contract.

When Porter resisted, Dolly wrote a song to express her feelings about their musical partnership. Dolly has told how the song brought Porter to tears. He finally he agreed to let her go gracefully, on the condition that he got to produce the record.

He did, and the song — a little number called "I Will Always Love You" — promptly shot to number one on the charts.

While the song in now strongly associated with Whitney Houston, Dolly would sing the song to Porter at least one more time.

She sang it to him from onstage in 2002 — when she inducted Porter into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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