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Louisiana Hayride

 

BEGINNING THE LOUISIANA HAYRIDE

     The name “Louisiana Hayride” was not original; it was a borrowed term, as Harnett T. Kane had written a book on Governor Huey P. Long with the same title, and a Broadway production also carried the name. It was early 1948 when the show by that same name aired.1  KWKH, a local radio station, broadcast it, and it was held in the Municipal Memorial Auditorium at 705 Grand Avenue in Shreveport.2

     The Municipal Memorial Auditorium was constructed from the designs of architect Sam G. Wiener and completed in 1929 for a total cost of about $750,000.3 In 1975 the structure, which was dedicated to World War I veterans, was one of the fifty-four chosen for a photographic exhibit in New York City that honored the Art Deco style.4 When it opened it had a seating capacity of nearly 4,000, and nearly all of these seats were filled on Saturday nights.5

     The first Hayride broadcast, held on April 3, 1948, included performers Johnny and Jack and the Tennessee Mountain Boys, the Mercer Brothers, Kitty Wells, the Bailes Brothers, the Four Deacons, Harmie Smith and the Ozark Mountaineers, Curley Kinsey and the Tennessee Ridge Runners, Tex Grimsley and his Texas Playboys, and Pappy Covington.6

 

HANK WILLIAMS, SR.      

     Hank Williams, Sr. had both a strong desire to be on the show and a drinking problem, so he made a deal with Horace Logan, the show’s producer and emcee. If Williams remained sober for the following six months, he’d have a spot on the show.7 Six months later, on August 7, 1948, Hank Williams, Sr. made his debut on the Hayride. The first song he played was an original song he’d previously recorded for MGM, “Move It on Over.”  A few days later he signed a one-year contract with KWKH and became a regular name on the cast list for the Hayride.8

     At the Hayride in the fall of 1948, Williams first sang “Lovesick Blues.” The audience loved it, gave Williams so many encores that there was little time for anything else, and barely let him leave the stage. He performed a number of times on the Hayride over the next year, but on June 3, 1949 crowds packed themselves into the Municipal Memorial Auditorium to bid farewell to Williams, who was heading to the Grand Ole Opry. Tickets at that time were sixty cents for adults and thirty for children, and the auditorium was filled with people, while hundreds of others were turned away for lack of seating.9

     Williams would later return to the Hayride on September 20, 1952, playing “Jambalaya” and “Settin’ the Woods on Fire.” He signed a contract with the Hayride on September 24, 1952, guaranteeing that he would perform there for three years.10 Unfortunately, Williams was unable to keep this contract: he died on New Year’s Day, 1953.11

 

SLIM WHITMAN, WEBB PIERCE, and FARON YOUNG

     After Hank Williams left in 1949, the bigwigs in charge of the Hayride feared the show would decline. The crowd lessened, but not as much as they had expected. The Hayride saw Slim Whitman debut on April 7, 1950.12 He recorded “Indian Love Call,” “Rose-Marie,” and “Love Song of the Waterfall” first in the KWKH studios. Whitman was later invited to perform on the Grand Ole Opry, but refused and stayed on the Hayride.13

     Webb Pierce made his debut a week after Whitman on April 14.14  Pierce was a talent scout of sorts. Originally from West Monroe, Pierce worked at Sears in Shreveport after high school, working his way up the ladder to becoming the men’s department manager.15 But in the evenings, he played at churches, meetings, and schools. Late in 1949, after working some time on a gospel music program on KTBS radio in Shreveport, Pierce approached Logan about appearing on the Hayride. At first Logan turned him down because there was a rule that anyone working for a competing radio station was not allowed to perform. Pierce was adamant and insisted that his job at KTBS meant little compared to having a regular spot on the Hayride.16 Pierce’s first big song was “Drifting Texas Sand.” Some of his others include “Slowly,” “There Stands the Glass,” “That Heart Belongs to Me,” “In the Jailhouse Now,” and “It’s Been So Long.” He was responsible for introducing Floyd Cramer to the Hayride as his piano player. Jimmy Day, a master steel guitarist, also worked as a sideman. When Pierce went off to the Grand Ole Opry, Cramer and Day stayed behind on the staff band.17

     Pierce also discovered Faron Young, a native of Shreveport who became part of the cast in October of 1950. Shortly after his first few appearances, Young went off to Nashville on the wings of the songs “Hello, Walls” and “I Miss Her Already.” He was also known for his song “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young.”18 It was these three men who gave the Hayride a solid cast that supported the show.19

 

 

SUPPLYING THE GRAND OLE OPRY

     In its heyday, the Louisiana Hayride rivaled the Grand Ole Opry.20 But when Hank Williams left the Hayride for the Grand Ole Opry, he set a pattern for later Hayride stars. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the Hayride supplied Nashville, Tennessee with a number of stars.21 Some of the performers went from playing the Hayride to being well-known performers nationwide. The Wilburn Brothers were among the first of the show’s regulars, starting to play in 1948. After the Korean War, two of the brothers signed a contract with Decca Records and produced hit after hit. Another group, The Browns, was a sibling act, who first appeared on the show in May of 1954. Their song, “I Was Looking Back to See,” was recorded in the KWKH studios with Jim Reeves on rhythm guitar and the staff band. The song became a national hit, followed later by “The Three Bells.”22

 

RADIO

     By 1950 twenty-seven radio stations in four states were carrying the Hayride as part of their programming.23 In December of 1952 the CBS Radio Network picked up the Hayride, and in January of 1953 CBS began their weekly series Saturday Night – Country Style, which included six country music shows throughout the nation. The Hayride had thirty minutes every third Saturday of the month. In early 1953 the Little Rock, Arkansas station KTHS broadcasted the Hayride in its entirety.  With this newfound national publicity, the Hayride earned the nickname “Cradle of the Stars.” It also gave some of the later Hayride stars a reason to stay in Shreveport longer than previous performers had.24

 

KITTY WELLS

 

     Women performers weren’t seen often on the Hayride until Kitty Wells became the first female country music star. She was a background vocalist for the group, Johnny and Jack, which became part of the Hayride, performing on the first show and again as regulars for several later shows. When Johnny and Jack had success with their RCA labeled record “Poison Love,” they packed up for Nashville, but left Wells behind. Since she wanted to stay on with the Hayride, Logan, being interested in diversity, hired her. Before the song was released on a record, the audiences of the Hayride heard “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels.” When she recorded it, Johnny and Jack were her musicians, and from then on, they worked for her. It wasn’t long before she left the Hayride for Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry.25

 

JIM REEVES

     Jim Reeves’s first appearance on the Hayride came when he was a stand-in for Hank Williams when Williams was unable to perform. He then performed as a stand-in several more times over the next couple of months, and although his performances went over well, they weren’t enough to catapult him into instant success. Reeves developed his sound as he worked as an announcer on the show, and eventually he found a song called, “Mexican Joe,” which he first recorded in the KWKH studio with the Hayride staff band. Some of his later hits include "Four Walls," "Touch of Velvet," "Guilty," "I Could Cry," "I'll Follow You," and "He'll Have to Go."26

 

JOHNNY CASH

     It was December 10, 1955 when Johnny Cash and his Tennessee Two appeared on the Louisiana Hayride. When he left the stage after his performance that night, Logan immediately offered him a spot on the cast as a regular, and he accepted. He signed his contract in January of 1956. The nation kept its eyes on the Hayride as Johnny Cash’s career took off. In April of 1956 he recorded “I Walk the Line,” and the success of that single, which was still holding the number three position at the end of 1956, pulled Cash away from Shreveport. By late 1958 Cash had moved on to the Opry.27

 

JOHNNY HORTON

     Johnny Horton made his first appearance on the Hayride in May of 1952, and soon became a favorite with the audience. From that point on, he lived in Shreveport until his death. 28 (As a side note, Horton loved to fish, and often he and Logan went fishing together on Cross Lake or Caddo Lake. Sometimes Johnny Cash would tag along.29

     In January of 1956 he recorded “I’m a One-Woman Man” and “Honky Tonk Man” for Columbia records and by May of that year “Honky Tonk Man” put him on the charts. In 1959 Horton had a song that spent ten weeks on top of the country and pop music charts, sold about 2.5 million copies, and had practically everyone in the nation humming it. “The Battle of New Orleans” got him an appearance on the Dick Clark and the Ed Sullivan Shows, and he bought a home in the Shreve Island area of Shreveport.30  
Johnny Horton got invitations to the Opry, but declined. He continued on with the Hayride.31 Horton was killed in a car accident and is buried at Hillcrest Memorial Park on US Highway 80 East near Louisiana Downs. 32

 

ELVIS PRESLEY

     Elvis Presley had been shunned by the Grand Ole Opry early on in his career for his style of music, and if the audience at the Hayride had treated him in the same way, he may have given up his performing career. Elvis performed on October 16 and 23, 1954 and a couple of weeks after his debut, Elvis and his parents signed a contract for him to become a regular on the Hayride for eighteen months. A younger generation, his main audience, learned that he would be performing and began to arrive at the Municipal Auditorium from different states.33

 

 

 

END OF AN ERA

     Elvis had revitalized the Hayride when he took the stage, but when he left Shreveport, he took most of the new-found fans with him.34 When the Louisiana Hayride ended in November of 1958, it had aired for over 550 consecutive Saturday nights.35

 


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