I remember when my grandmother, Esther (the Great Stoneface from Kansas) came over to baby-sit, my little brother and I would cringe. It wasn't that she had a singular lack of any sense of humor. It wasn't that we were certain to be fed TV dinners - that actually turned out to be a plus for us. It was because we were almost certain to get a full dose of Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Music Makers. Even the brownie from a Swanson's Meat Loaf dinner didn't go down right with that on.
What could we do? For a few years we endured. Then we realized that there was a certain amount of wiggle room in grandma. It wasn't much, but we realized that we could get her to watch "Hee-Haw" as a substitute for the King of the Accordion. It was like a country-fried "Laugh-In." Would we have chosen "Hee-Haw" out of a string of six hundred digital cable alternatives, but this was the 1970's in Colorado. We had five choices: 2, 4, 6, 7, and 9. At that hour, our best bet was rural humor and country sounds of hosts Roy Clark and Buck Owens.
We had a favorite bit, my brother and I: "Where Oh Where Are You Tonight?", the nonsense duet with the chorus, "Where, oh where, are you tonight?/Why did you leave me here all alone?/I searched the world over, and thought I'd found true love;/You met another, and--pffft! you were gone!" The "pffft" would be done as a spitting "Bronx cheer."
I was never really fond of Roy Clark. It might have been that he had the look of Ron Howard's mutant brother Clint, or more likely it was the 70's and anybody playing banjo might end up killing you and your buddies on a canoe trip. Buck Owens was a much more sensible alternative. He wasn't nearly as goofy, and man could he play.
Buck left "Hee-Haw" in 1986, while Roy kept the good times rolling for another six years. Buck settled into his home base of Bakersfield, where he maintained a media empire that included his own TV station, a pair of radio stations, and Buck Owens' Crystal Palace ("We played rhumbas and tangos and sambas, and we played Bob Wills music, lots of Bob Wills music," he said, referring to the bandleader who was the king of Western swing. "And lots of rock 'n' roll.")
Buck has gone to the Crystal Palace in the sky, but I'll always be indebted to him for those Saturday nights with grandma. "Where, oh where, are you tonight?/Why did you leave me here all alone?/I searched the world over, and thought I'd found true love;/You met another, and--pffft! you were gone!"