Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Porter Wagoner/Robert Goulet

#314 Porter Wagoner/Robert Goulet

No one seemed to see the irony in this. In Nashville, they were busy inducting the latest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Guys like Vince Gil and Mel Tillis and Shotgun Red.

Down the road apiece, as they are thought to say down there, another member of the Hall, Porter Wagoner was taking his last breath. Cancered lungs’ll do that after 80 years.

You’ve never heard of him, right? Chances are you haven’t because he never got into the pop music scene. And he hadn’t had a hit in more than 20 years, although that didn’t stop him from touring and playing before pretty good crowds. (The country audience’ll do that.)

There are a lot of reasons to remember this guy fondly. First was his music. Second was his pioneering use of television. The videotaped shows from the 1960s were in black and white (more about which in a moment,) and they were not exactly lessons in how to present or edit music on television. They were radio shows in which the pictures didn’t really matter.

But his was the first of the syndicated, videotaped country music shows, and it ran for 20 years or so before they killed it.

Third was Dolly Parton, who may or may not have gotten where she is on her own, but who got a big boost from Wagoner, who was a mega star back then, made her his partner and expanded her repertoire (no Dolly jokes, please.)

Some of today’s country music types are called “hat acts.” That’s because they wear hats.

Wagoner was a “suit act.” He came from an era where performers wore those Liberace-like rhinestone jackets and pants. This is where black and white TV was useless. Those costumes were elaborate and expensive and colorful. Turquoise. Purple. Yellow. Stuff you could see from the back row, lest you not recognize the pompadour at the microphone.

Hank Snow, Webb Pierce, Hank Thompson, Hank Garland (almost everyone was named “Hank” in those days.) Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash (before the man-in-black thing started.) Elvis. They were all suit acts. Kept the crummy rhinestone makers in business practically single handedly.

Today’s guys don’t know what to do with a rhinestone.

Porter was, late in his career, a nostalgia act. He could have stayed on top. But he didn’t know how to sing through his nose.

That was his professional downfall.

His personal downfall probably was cigarettes.

Today, 80 isn’t old.

Neither is 73, which is how far Robert Goulet got before cashing it in a few days later. Goulet rocketed to stardom around the same time as Wagoner, the late 1950s, after he was cast opposite Hepburn in “Camelot.”

What a voice. What an actor. And commercial comic, in just these last few months.

Goulet had pulmonary fibrosis. Two stars. Two lung deaths. Too bad for the rest of us.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

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