|His Corn Sells|
When Gordie Tapp worked at radio station CHML in Hamilton, Ontario, the station manager Tommy Darling, gave him an important piece of advice: "Com Sells".
At that time, Gordie was doing a jazz show called "What's on Tapp?” He loved jazz.
Tommy Darling was putting together a program called "Main Street Jamboree" with a very young country singer named Tommy Hunter, and one of Canada's very best honky-tonk piano players ever, Maurice Beaulieu. Tommy wanted Gordie to play the roles of a number of country characters. Despite the fact that Gordie could do almost any kind of accent from proper British to country bumpkin, he resisted.
"So Tommy Darling told me it was his way, or the highway”, Gordie recalls. So he did the com. And country com became the most important item in his entertainment career.
Several years later "Main Street Jamboree" with Gordie Tapp moved to CBC-TV and became "Country Hoedown". Years later it became "The Tommy Hunter Show". In 1969 Gordie was asked to join the cast of a new
U.S. television series being put together by two expatriot Canadian Achievers, Johnny Aylesworth and Frank Peppiatt.
"They wanted me as a writer and performer. I jumped at the chance."
Now, 22 years later, he's still writing and starring in it. "Hee Haw" is one
of the most successful, longest running, syndicated series ever, proving what Tommy Darling said 35 years earlier, "corn sells".
I asked Gordie if he ever thought that he would step from being a sort of bandmaster of jazz to cousin Clem.
"I never did. I'msure1hadillusions of grandeur-that I would become a star in radio (television hadn't begun at that time). But I never thought for a moment that I would end up as a country comedian. But, I guess the roots were there. The thought was there. I'm glad it happened."
In October, 1989, Gordie Tapp was accorded the highest accolade that a Canadian country performer can receive: installation to the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
"You know, you receive accolades from audiences, and that is very rewarding. But when you are saluted by your peers, I guess that's the ultimate. I was pretty thrilled, especially when they put my picture on the wall."
For anyone to stay on top for 30 years in the tough business of entertainment takes a certain amount of luck, courage, and more. What's Gordie's staying power?
"I don't know if there is a secret, but probably the whole thing just came to me naturally. I was sort of the class clown. I used to get in trouble for imitating the teachers in school, and our minister in church. Maybe the secret is that I am a student of people. Somehow I manage to do the kind of humor that people enjoy.
Although he maintains a home in Canada and one in Florida, Gordie earns the bulk of his income in the United States. However, he has never moved there entirely and continues to remain a Canadian citizen.
"You would be surprised at the number of Canadians who are successful in the States who are still Canadian citizens. I know lots of them. I am also flattered and proud that the Americans have accepted me. I pay taxes in
both countries so I feel I am keeping up my obligations.
"It's wonderful being a Canadian. Because of my work I spend nine months of the year in the U.S., but my family is here and many of my friends. I like to come home and visit them, and keep up on what's going on. A lot of famous Canadians in the u.s. still do come home."
For many Canadian performers attracted to the U.S., the goal is better money.
"I would say that is true. But it's only part of it. Probably more so it’s the challenge. The opportunity to show them that we are as good as they are or anybody is. That for me is the attraction. That's why so many talented Canadians go to the U.S. They have reached the pinnacle of success in this country and are anxious to prove they can do it there too. And that's exactly what it is: a bigger market."
Gordie has worked with other Canadians who are world-famous country
music entertainers. They seem to project a kind of good clean fun: Tommy Hunter, Ann Murray and Hank Snow.
"Tommy's a very disciplined performer. He always arrives on the set on time and knows his lines. He is a very private person and has a wonderful home life. I live just up the road from him. I kid him that I'm going to drop by some time to borrow a cup full of money.
"Ann Murray is very professional. A wonderful lady. I've watched her and her husband on the set. You don't have to visit people in their homes to know what they are like. Ann is loved not only in this country but also very much in the States.
"Hank Snow is also very professional." Gordie and I visited him backstage at the Grand Ole Opry several years ago. Hank was in his dressing room practising the songs he was going to sing, even though he must have performed them a thousand times before.
"I guess if I were to offer advice to anyone breaking into show business, it is to work hard. Very hard. Learn your craft. Study. Remember the old story about the hippie standing on the corner in New York when a guy comes by and asks how do you get to Carnegie Hall? The hippie replies: 'Practice, Man, Practise’."
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