T.V. Talent Contest’s and other “Snake Oil” Schemes

Back in the middle of the last century, about spring of 1962 “The San Joaquin Valley Boys” band, fell victim to one of these phony T.V. “Talent Contests”. Here’s what triggered the memory of that phony “gig”.

One day this week, they played the song, My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mtn.’s, on the Bluegrass Junction show, that I recieve on my Disc. I was setting here at my desk checkin’ on my “electric mail” when the song started playing, and I sez to my self; SELF, that’s the song we played on that TV show that fateful day in 1962! Back in 1962, there was only TWO Bluegrass bands in the Central Valley of California. Those two being Vern and Ray, and The San Joaquin Valley Boys, and strangely we were both located in Stockton, Ca., so we knew each other quite well, but that’s anther story, fer another time. To continue, The S.J.V.B.’s consisted of Shelby Freeman [Honorary C.B.A. Life Member] on banjo,mando, fiddle, harmony vocals, Ken Freeman, on mando, guitar, and vocals, myself, J.D.Rhynes on fiddle, lead/ rhythm guitar, lead vocals, Dave Carroll, bass, and Gene Frier on dobro.

We always had band practice every friday nite, rain er shine. On this particular Friday evening, ‘ol Gene, who was always lookin’ fer a way to get the band some PAYING Gig’s, sez to us; Fella’s, the country music show on channel 3 is having a ‘talent contest”, and the winner gets a recording contract to do one single on “XYZ” label, er sumthin’ like that. He tells us that Wednesday of next week we can go to the huge car lot of the sponsor of the show to play a demo song er two, jes so they can see if we were good enough to “enter” the “talent contest”. HAH! As a Con man would say, we went fer “the okey doke”. Come Wednesday the band carpooled to Sacramento, to the sponsors used car business, where we were to play in front of about 30 to 40 folks, including the “contest” head, who jes coincidentally owned the car lot, and was the “host” of the country music show we were auditioning fer. Well, we kicked off with a fast instrumental that had ’em stomping, hollerin’ , and clapping fer more! We then played one of Flatt and Scruggs ballads, and to make a long story short, we played fer at least TWO hours for a most appreciative crowd! That ‘audition’ turned ino a full blown Bluegrass Show, and they LOVED US! Needless to say we were booked to be on the next week’s show.

Come Saturday, the band got to the TV studio well before the appointed time, so we could get warmed up real good. We had the TV station folks who weren’t busy , listening and loving the music. WELL, as they say every silver cloud has a dark side too. It seems like the “talent contest” was in about it’s 6th or 7th week and the weekly winners were forwarded to the next week till they got to the finish of the 8th week. It jes so happened that the winners fer the last 7 weeks were on the show that day too. A nice looking couple,whose name’s I cant remember, who sang pretty good. I’ll call them The California Sweethearts, fer this story. No big deal we thought, we’ll jes pick and sing the “far”out of one of our bestest numbers, and jes see if they can match it. HAH! Dumb idea! Ever hear of a stacked deck? Anyway, come our introduction, ol Shelby kicked off “My Home’s Across The Blue Ridge’ , I sang the verses, and Ken and I sang the chorus together in some real tight harmony, then I got to throw in a HOT lead on my Martin guitar, that fried the Mic, it was so HOT! Ha ha ha! The TV audience gave us a great round of applause, and we were done. Literally! Before the show started, I was standing next to a table full of TV stuff, props, etc. On that table was a large stack of envelopes that were blank on the front of ’em. I figgered that they were there fer the staff of the station to use. BOY, was I wrong. Right after the opening number by the house band, Cousin Ralph, the host of the show, grabbed that stack of envelopes and held ’em up in front of the camera, and said to the TV audience; Folks, I’d like to thank all of you out there fer takin’ time to vote in our “talent contest’. Thanks fer all yer letters.Once again you folks chose the “Sweethearts of California” as our weekly winner, and on the show today, we have a Bluegrass band to see if they can unseat our winner of the last 7 weeks. I felt the rope of ignorance get real tight around the band’s neck at that time. You talk about a set up deal!

Well, as Ron Thomason sez; Told ya that, to tell ya this. We had a great time as well as getting to play in front of about 2 to 3 hundred THOUSAND folks in California’s, Central Valley. Fer years after, I had a lot of folks tell me that they saw us on TV that day.

I guess the moral of the story would be this. Dont believe everything you read in the paper, and NUTHIN’ you see on a TV “Talent Contest’!

P.S. We never did get a PAYING Gig out of that TV appearence. Some things never change.