My longtime friend Gregg Geller, former VP of A&R (Artists & Repertoire) at four record companies: (Warner Brothers, RCA, Columbia and Epic) recently asked his Facebook friends to name the first singles and LPs they ever bought. I can tell you the first LP easily enough: Beatles '65, the US release of the UK LP Beatles For Sale, with fewer tracks than the British version but some of the early Fab Four tunes I still revere today ("No Reply," "I'm A Loser," "Baby's In Black," "She's A Woman" "I Feel Fine" and "I'll Be Back," the first Lennon-McCartney original to grab me. The album also had Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins covers.
With Nashville trio Rascal Flatts opening a restaurant at Station Square and Toby Keith almost opening one on the North Shore, it may not be clear that country stars lending their names to restaurant franchises is a tradition stretching back a good half-century. It kicked into high gear in the late 60's when several stars of that era got the franchise bug, mostly involving fried chicken. We'll explore some of these. It's not a comprehensive list. Buck Owens, Little Jimmy Dickens and others jumped on the bandwagon for a while.
Note: Johnny Cash, riding high in the late 60's with his top-selling Folsom Prison and San Quentin albums, was asked if he would jump into the fried chicken business. In typical renegade fashion, Cash responded, "You ain't gonna find my name on no greasy sack of s***!"
Beloved Grand Ole Opry comic Minnie Pearl (1912-1996), a college graduate from an affluent, educated Tennessee family, became the public image of a chain inspired by Kentucky Fried Chicken's success and attracted national attention. Minnie Pearl's Fried Chicken opened in 1967, spurred by Tennessee businessmen with no food experience. They sold franchises like crazy, even started a chain fronted by black gospel great Mahalia Jackson ("Glori-Fried Chicken"), but through bad business practices (selling franchises became the profit center), and the executives' ignorance of the fast food industry, the venture collapsed in the early 1970s. Miss Minnie did well, but was deeply embarrassed about the failure
Arnold jumped in soon after Pearl did. Considered one of the smarter businessmen of the country singers in his time, he too opened Eddy Arnold's Chicken Shops in the late 60's. Locations in Nashville and elsewhere opened, but didn't last long.
HANK WILLIAMS JR.:
Hank Williams Jr. was still "Little Hank" to many of his daddy's fans (note the clean-shaven image in the ad) when in 1969, he opened the Hank Williams Jr. barbecue pits. This one didn't last either.
But his passion for food did. Today, his name appears on the Hank Williams Jr. Family Tradition Barbecue Sauces.
Opened by the Marriott Corporation in 1968, Roy Rogers (1911-1998) restaurants, with the Western legend's name and face prominently featured, became institutions around the country/ Eventually the chain went independent and thrived, but was laer sold and hit harder times in the 1990's. Today they're attempting a resurgence. The chain has six locations on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and 49 other locations.
This late 1970 ad demonstrates Roy's early involvement.
TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD:
The man who put the song "Sixteen Tons" on the map, the first country star with a weekly network TV show and took the first country music show to the Soviet Union, Tennessee Ernie Ford (1919-1991) was one of the best-known country entertainers of his day. Around the time of the Nashville fried chicken boom, Ford, who lived in California, announced this short-lived chain. The image of Ernie in the ad was drawn by the renowned caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.
"Whispering Bill" Anderson, one of the top singers of the 60's (the nickname comes from his low-volume vocal style) was one of the great country songwriters of any "Po' Folks" became his third Top Ten single in 1961. Anderson is seen here performing the song soon after his 1961 Opry induction. Host T. Tommy Cutrer mistakenly introduces "Johnny" McCoy on harmonica, actually future Country Hall of Famer and Nashville A-Team session player Charlie McCoy. Anderson also named his touring band "The Po' Folks."
The founders of the Po' Folks restaurant chain, which opened in 1975, initially appropriated the name without Anderson's permission. The singer intended to sue but in the end, it turned out amicably. Anderson sold them the rights to use the song and became their longtime spokesman.
While the chain survived a 1988 bankruptcy, according to the restaurant's website , only eight Po' Folks locations remain. Anderson's relationship with them ended long ago.
Kenny Rogers co-founded Kenny Rogers Roasters with ex-Kentucky Governor and veteran KFC investor John Y. Brown. Like Bill Anderson and other stars, Rogers was prominent in the chain's TV ads like this one from 1995.
A year later, the chain was sold to a Malaysian corporation. Over time, its US profile gradually faded. The owners focus their efforts on the Asian market.
Despite a lot of hype, Toby Keith lent his name to Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill, named for his hit single "I Love This Bar." Unfortunately, despite all the hype, the growth didn't last long. Judging from their website, it appears only three are still open.
The Pittsburgh location, located on North Shore Drive in the same building as the Post-Gazette, never even opened. The Tequila Cowboy Bar & Grill occupies the site. This coverage of the closing of the Folsom, CA location, comes from KCRA in Sacramento.
On a personal note, I wish Rascal Flatts all the best with their Pittsburgh location. I also hope the food is better than the Nashville Pop sludge they call "country music."
PG Columnist Brian O'Neill is asking readers to record their own "catfish" songs on YouTube . To offer a bit of context, recorded songs in all genres and era have mentioned catfish over the decades within the lyrics (though not relating to hockey or the Pens). A few select examples invoke the term in the title, including these:
Today, the 75th Anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor commemorates an event infamous and immortal in world history. After World War II ended, it accounted for two immortal moments in the arts. One was literary: James Jones's 1951 sordid best-selling novel From Here To Eternity, inspired by the author's real life prewar Army experiences in Hawaii. The other was cinematic: the 1953 movie adaptation, cleaned up considerably for viewing audiences. It remains a landmark American film for both story and the virtuoso performances by stars Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed, Deborah Kerr and Ernest Borgnine.
It proved a pivotal moment for Sinatra. His performance as doomed private Angelo Maggio restored a career long in freefall, earning him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Which brings us to the above photo, of Clift, Lancaster and another cast member: country music star, singer-songwriter and guitarist Merle Travis (1917-1983), now a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The New York Times obituary for Kay Starr, the 94 year old jazz and pop chanteuse who died November 3rd in Los Angeles of Alzheimer's, began with an absurd headline describing her as a "hillbilly singer with crossover appeal. " True, it was based on her description of herself, buth the obit had other glitches. This is, after all, the same Kay Starr once described by Billie Holiday as “the only white woman who could sing the blues. She had country connections, but was first and foremost a pop and jazz singer. She recorded a song whose title included the term "rock and roll," but it was no rocker, nor was she.
Washington PA native Bud Yorkin, who died Tuesday at age 89, is a major figure in the history of network TV for his work with Norman Lear (still active at 93) on iconic 1970's sitcoms like All In the Family, Sanford And Son (and its ill-fated spinoff, The Sanford Arms, The Jeffersons and What's Happening!. This is the PG's news obituary.
In an earlier era, the late Mahalia Jackson and the Clara Ward Singers, the Jordanaires and Tennessee Ernie Ford became ambassadors for gospel music, taking it to places and audiences far beyond the music's base. Andrae Crouch, who died yesterday at 72, did much the same for later generations as an innovator in Contemporary Christian music.