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Huell Howser is a beloved television personality who explores the natural wonders and people of our fine state as the host of “California’s Gold”. He dedicated his Guest DJ set to 5 country women he loves – Dolly, Tammy, Loretta, Brenda and June. As always, his gregarious personality shines through as he explores these songs close to his heart. California’s Gold can be seen locally on KCET.
For more: http://www.calgold.com/
1. Loretta Lynn - One's on the way
2. Dolly Parton - Coat of many colors
3. Tammy Wynette - D.I.V.O.R.C.E
4. Brenda Lee - Sweet Nothin's
5. The Carter Family - Wildwood Flower
Eric J. Lawrence: Hi, I’m Eric J. Lawrence and I am here with legendary TV personality Huell Howser, who hosts the public television show “California’s Gold”. Today we’re going to play some excerpts of songs he selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Huell, thank you so much for coming down.
Huell Howser: Well, yah…legendary, that’s kind of heavy duty. To call somebody legendary…I’m still alive you know.
EL: I’m a rookie, man. I consider you one of my heroes.
HH: Well, thank you very much.
EL: So, what’s the first song you’ve got for us?
HH: Well, all of these songs are country songs and they’re all performed by country women singers. And the basis of that selection is that during the 1970’s, which of course is before many of your listeners were even born, I was a reporter for WSM television in Nashville which was not only the NBC affiliate but had the claim to fame that is was the home, the mother church of country music, the Grand Ole Opry, the world famous Grand Ole Opry. And one of my beats as a television reporter, was country music. So, over that 10 year period at WSM, I got to know and travel and spend a lot of time with a lot of truly legendary country singers, especially, legendary women country singers. So my first choice is Loretta Lynn.
HH: Doesn’t get anymore country than Loretta Lynn. Boy, when you get Loretta Lynn, your getting’ exactly the real thing…there’s no pretense, no put-on… hasn’t really changed very much. I went to the White House with Loretta Lynn as she performed for President Carter in the East Room. The real story there, is that while she was performing on stage for the president, Mooney Lynn and I, her husband and I were in the back of the room drinking Jack Daniels whiskey out of a flask that he produced out of his back pocket. That’s kind of the side story, the understory, of Loretta Lynn.
And I picked the song, “One’s on the Way” because it kind of typifies that whole country theme of the women having babies all the time and not really being able to pursue their careers and all of that sort of thing. Loretta had her share of babies It’s just a great county story with a great country theme to it. This song… is a good song.
EL: That was little bit of Loretta Lynn with “One’s On The Way”. What’s the next song you got for us?
HH: Well, Dolly Parton. Dolly Parton, boy, she’s another original. For 10 years, when we were doing our newscast, our local newscast here at WSM, the “Porter Wagoner Dolly Parton” show was being taped in the studio right next door… adjoining the news studio. And they would take a break at 5:30 and open up a big door and roll the cameras in our news studio to do the local news.
So I got to know Dolly, her parents, her sisters. When I went to New York to work for CBS, the first program I did in New York, was with Dolly Parton who invited me to her 5th Avenue, high falutin’ apartment, to cook me up a mess of Polk salad, which is kinda like turnip greens. You know, she hasn’t changed much either over the years, she stayed true to herself. I think that’s a real part of her success. Everybody knows that not only that she’s a great singer but of course she’s a great songwriter. And this is one of the songs that she wrote, called “Coat of Many Colors” which really talks a lot about her growing up in poverty in very adverse conditions, but very loving conditions in the mountains of east Tennessee.
EL: That was Dolly Parton with “Coat of Many Colors” as selected by our guest, Huell Howser. Huell, what’s the next song you got for us?
HH: Tammy Wynette. “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”. Tammy was another good friend of mine. In fact, I was invited to be a part her wedding… her 2nd or maybe it was her 3rd wedding, to Guy Ritchey in Florida. I flew down with her on a private plane and we filmed it for WSM, aired it on the news a couple of nights later. Tammy was a wonderful person who suffered a lot over the years from a lot of physical ailments. She’s another one of those country women - and it’s true of that whole generation of country singers - who grew up poor. Who grew up literally picking cotton and went from that to being one of the most famous and one of the wealthiest country women singers in the world. And of course everybody knows her song “Stand by Your Man, but I thought this “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” was a good one because she certainly had her share of marital problems over the years. She was a lovely, lovely lady.
EL: Obviously it must have been fascinating, a treat really, to interact with these people on your beat there. Were you a country music fan before?
HH: Not really. I was kind of snobby about country music beforehand. But because I worked for WSM and WSM owned the Grand Ole Opry, I quickly learned that I better get excited about country music and of course, these were the old days back in the 70’s when Country was really Country. There was nothin’ Hollywood or big time about it. And these people all came from very humble backgrounds and were real people. There was no pretense or put-on or any of that sort of thing and I related to them immediately and loved my associations with ‘em. In fact these are some of the fondest memories of my life… having the opportunity to meet and spend time with these people.
EL: That was Tammy Wynette with “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”. Well, the next selection is something from Brenda Lee from a slightly earlier vintage. What’s the story here?
HH: Yeah Brenda Lee, boy, she’s one of those…I read her bio just to get up to speed cause I didn’t realize she’d been born and raised in Atlanta, GA and then moved to Nashville early on in her life. She was a cheerleader at Stratford High School. She started her career, Wikipedia says, at five. But I think she had her first hits when she was like 13 and 14 and 15 years old and she’s still going strong. Wikipedia also says she has sold more records than any other living woman -- than any female in the history of recording. And, you know, she’s had a lot of wonderful hits. She’s one of those, well they call her dynamite cause she’s short, very short, and always has this energy and this upbeat approach to life. She’s a warm, loving person and has been married to the same guy for years and years and years now. She hasn’t changed a bit over the years and I love hearing her songs. This one is called “Sweet Nothin’s” which is one of my favorites…and she’s one of my favorites as well.
EL: That was Brenda Lee with “Sweet Nothin’s”. What’s the next track you got for us?
HH: Well, June Carter Cash. Married to Johnny Cash and I’ll drop a little bit ..drop a name here. You know I’m from Gallatin, Tennessee which is located about 30 miles out of Nashville and the next town over was Hendersonville which is where June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash lived. So I knew them very well. In fact, went to Jamaica one time and spent a couple of weeks with them at their home in Jamaica. I mean, hope I’m not soundin’ like… I’m not braggin’ too much. This was exciting for me when it happened and it’s still exciting to think back on it now.
Johnny was very aloof. I was always a little nervous around Johnny Cash. June Carter Cash on the other hand, was one of the kindest most loving, natural-type, women, I’ve ever met in my life. Very religious. I think she was the main influence in bringin’ Johnny around cause I think he was kind of a rascal in his early days. And, of course, June Carter got her start years before she met Johnny, singin’ with the Carter family. Mama Maybelle and June’s sisters.
Song: The Carter Family - Wildwood Flower
In fact, when I first went to the Grand Ole Opry I remember the Carter family was still..Mama Maybelle was still alive and they were still performing. So I had the opportunity to meet her, but when I think of June Carter Cash, who of course is gone today, as well as her husband, I have nothing but wonderful memories of a very kind, sweet lady and this is a very early, early recording from the Carter family.
EL: Huell, I want to thank you so much for joining us and sharing your music memories with us.
HH: This has been fun.
EL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to KCRW.com/guest DJ Project.