How Radio's 'The Louisiana Hayride' Launched Legendary Country & Rock Music Careers

Steve Baker


By T.J. Meekins
Special To Prospector
 
(Editor's Note: Meekins and Thomas Greener will present "Ragged But Right:  The Louisiana Hayride Edition" this Saturday, Feb. 16 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on KVMR 89.5 FM, kvmr.org streaming.)
 
I'd been wanting to write a show about Hank Williams, and started re-researching his life, (because lately so much has been added to his story that couldn't be told in 1953). But the scene that grabbed my attention had been there all along: it was Hank, trembling on the brink of stardom, singing from the stage of - not the Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville, but the Louisiana Hayride, in Shreveport.  
 
I remembered Rose and Fred Maddox talking about performing alongside Williams, and when I found the interview, sure enough there was Fred, listing all the great entertainers they had worked with on the Hayride and bragging about how he and Elvis Presley tore up the town after the show one night. Elvis and Fred? It hadn't registered with me  just how it happened that those two paths had crossed. 
 
When Thomas Greener and I talked about the idea, his music collection yielded recordings of Elvis's historic first and last performances on the Louisiana Hayride in 1954 and '56 – so we knew we'd hit paydirt – the makings of an exciting show.
 
The Louisiana Hayride was the number two Country Music show in the USA in the 1950s, second only to, yes,  the Grand Ole Opry.
 
 

 
REACHED 28 STATES
 
The Hayride began as a radio show in 1948, broadcasting over KWKH, a 50,000 watt clear channel out of Shreveport, that covered 28 states – a mighty swath of the South and Southwest.
 
Transmitted live from the huge Shreveport Auditorium that could hold 3,800 fans, the Louisiana Hayride show was a home base on Saturday nights for a vast array of Country Music celebrities. And there were giants among them: Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, The Maddox Brothers and Rose, Webb Pierce, and Slim Whitman all lent their musical gifts to the show.
 
Favorite sons like Johnny Horton and Jimmy C. (the C. stands for Cajun) Newman were regulars. The biggest stars of Nashville also lined up to make guest appearances in Shreveport: Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff, Hank Snow, along with West Coast luminaries like Tex Ritter, Hank Thompson, T. Texas Tyler, and Tennessee Ernie Ford. 
 
Up-and-coming talents were tried out on the Hayride, George Jones, Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, Faron Young, and Wanda Jackson included. Buddy Holly and the Crickets honed their act on the show. 
 

 
SNATCHING STARS
 
The Hayride was called "The Cradle of the Stars" because as soon as a Hayride artist had a hit record, the Opry would snatch them away.  That's because The Opry had 'way more to offer a country artist in terms of booking services and talent agencies, and that financial advantage, plus the Opry's reputation as the pinnacle of success, added up. 
 
The Opry wouldn't take an artist without a hit record. The Hayride would take a new talent if they had any record at all. While The Opry's Roy Acuff aspired to a high moral tone and almost chivalric feel for the Opry – he wanted his show to reflect the innate nobility of the mountaineer –  Horace Logan, the Boss of the Hayride, knew his audiences were much grittier, oil-soaked, and rowdy, and he was ready to give them a reflection of themselves.  

The Hayride was willing to take a chance on "problematic" artists, too, while the Opry wouldn't risk its reputation. That's why Hank Williams served a sort of probationary term at the Louisiana Hayride before he could move to the Opry, and why Hank wound up back in Shreveport after the Opryfired him for drinking and missing shows.
 
I was floored to find out that Sam Phillips, of Sun Studios in Memphis, sent most all his fledgling rockabilly stars to the Hayride to get their sea legs: Not only Elvis, but Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison. 

 
The Louisiana Hayride became the esthetic home of dyed-in-the-wool hillbilly music fans, a haven for Cajun performers, and the cradle of rockabilly – you'd even have good reason to declare that after a period of gestation in Memphis, rock & roll was born on the stage of the Shreveport Auditorium.
 

 
OTHER SPECIALS
 
--Meri St. Mary and Warren D host the seasonal "New Orleans Funkbomb" Friday at noon, while Michael Young and Diane McIntire are picking their favorite love songs for a post-Valentines special Music Magazine at 4 p.m. Friday 89.5 FM, kvmr.org streaming).
 
--A special KVMR-only tour guided by Stan Padilla will be offered  to new and renewing  members during Larry Hillberg and Brian Terhorst's "Backroads" Saturday morning 7 to 10 a.m.
 
--"Diamonds and Rust" host Laura Miller offers recent specials about folk icons Joni Mitchell and Kate Wolf as thank you gifts, with an autographed Joan Baez album available in a drawing from all who call during the show. (6 p.m. Saturday, 89.5 FM, kvmr.org streaming
 
How To Get A Joni (Or The Doors):

We still have this 20 by 24-inch evocative, intimate limited-edition fine art print (from the original negative) of Joni Mitchell and her then-boyfriend Graham Nash available at a major discount price of only $1,000.

That is quite a discount, And only one is available. 

Valued at and selling for $2,000, one is currently on display at LeeAnn Brook Fine Art, 231 Broad Street, downtown Nevada City, Legendary rock music photographer Henry Diltz took this photo in 1969 in a limo on the way to Big Bear to photograph the inner spread of Crosby, Stills and Nash's debut album, with Joni sweetly kissing Nash's closed hand. 

"And she was writing a song at that time," Diltz said at the exhibit opening. "I saw her lyric 'Willy is my child, he is my father'...the song was about Graham."

If no one buys the photo beforehand, it will be available during Saturday's "Diamonds And Rust" membership drive show this Saturday (Feb. 16) 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. You may contact KVMR Development Director Cynthia Tweed via email <development@kvmr.org> or call 530/362-7005 for details, information or to purchase it before the show. 

Also available is a smaller 8 by 10 inch matted and signed by Diltz photograph of The Doors drinking at the Hard Rock Cafe, a Los Angeles dive bar long before the name became a celebrated music-themed drink and food chain.  Valued and regularly selling for $300, it can be yours with a $120 gift to KVMR.  Only one is available.

Both were donated to KVMR by Diltz and his Morrison Hotel Gallery partner Peter Blachley of Nevada County