Re­mem­ber­ing Porter Wag­ner

The Covington News - - OPINION -

Have you ever known peo­ple who just looked their part in life. I’ve known preach­ers, teach­ers, lawyers and un­der­tak­ers who wouldn’t have made it past Kitty Carlisle’s first ques­tion on “What’s My Line?”

Porter Wagoner was one of those peo­ple who looked the part of a coun­try mu­sic star.

He had a rack full of suits with more rhine­stones that Lib­er­ace. They were em­bla­zoned with big wagon wheels on the sides of the jacket.

But even with­out the suits, Porter had un­mis­tak­able coun­try mu­sic hair. He was a tall drink-of-wa­ter to be­gin with, but that hair gave him an ad­di­tional three inches of clear­ance to watch out for.

I in­ter­viewed Porter twice. Once was in deep South Ge­or­gia. The other was in Ma­con, where he was ap­pear­ing at the Grand Opera House, not to be con­fused with the Grand Ole Opry, where he per­formed for more than half a cen­tury.

The coun­try mu­sic world took a di­rec­tion in the 1970s that left old Porter be­hind. The masses were look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent than a tall lanky Mis­souri man in a span­gled suit.

When I in­ter­viewed him back­stage in Ma­con, he was tour­ing with an all-girl backup band called “The Right

“I’ve in­ter­viewed a lot of celebri­ties over the years, but Porter Wagoner was dif­fer­ent. De­spite years with­out a charted hit, he had the pizazz of a guy who was on top of

the world.”

Di­rec­tion.”

I think in re­al­ity it was a short-lived nov­elty that clearly was not the right di­rec­tion.

But even with­out a string of hits, Porter had star power. You knew you were talk­ing to a show­man. He asked me my name again be­fore the TV cam­era went on and made it a point to call me by name all dur­ing the in­ter­view. He’d wink and make a point­ing ges­ture while he talked. Folks at home would have thought we were dear old bud­dies.

I’ve in­ter­viewed a lot of celebri­ties over the years, but Porter Wagoner was dif­fer­ent. De­spite years with­out a charted hit, he had the pizazz of a guy who was on top of the world.

When I was a kid, late Satur­day af­ter­noon television was filled with syn­di­cated coun­try mu­sic shows. Per­form­ers like Jim and Jesse and the Vir­ginia Boys, the Wil­burn Brothers, and of course, Porter, lit up the screen.

They all had their var­i­ous spon­sors and did live com­mer­cials for prod­ucts like “Bull o’the Woods” chew­ing to­bacco.

Porter was spon­sored by the var­i­ous prod­ucts of the Chat­tanooga Medicine Co., mak­ers of prod­ucts like “Wine of Car­dui,” a tonic for ladies who were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing what mama re­ferred to only as “fe­male prob­lems.” It was 20 per­cent al­co­hol, which could make a wo­man for­get about any num­ber of prob­lems.

The other main prod­uct, was Black Draught, a lax­a­tive. Porter used to sing the jin­gle, “Black Draught, makes you feel fresh and clean inside.”

There was also Soltice, which was Chat­tanooga’s an­swer to Vick’s salve.

In the early days, Porter was joined by “Pretty Miss Norma Jean,” who re­port­edly caught the mar­ried Porter’s eye. The re­sult was a fe­male prob­lem that a case of Wine of Car­dui could not cure.

Norma Jean was re­placed by a new “gal singer” named Dolly Par­ton, who launched her ca­reer with Porter be­fore as­cend­ing to su­per­star­dom.

There were other reg­u­lars on the show, like Spec Rhodes, who played the string bass and had a seg­ment where he would chat on a crank tele­phone with his lady named Sadie.

They don’t make shows like that any­more, just like they don’t make stars like Porter Wagoner. May he find peace and com­fort on the rhine­stone streets of glory.

Har­ris Black­wood

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