I AM SURPRISED THAT NO-where in his piece on that brilliant DJ/musician/historian Eddie Stubbs (“Honky Tonk Man,” 3/1) did Eddie Dean reveal the ironic origin of the name of Nashville’s hot new traditional country group, BR5-49.
Dean’s article notes how the stereotype of “hillbilly” originated in the 1920s to scoff at Southern, mainly poor and rural whites. The hillbilly image was played to the hilt by the corny comedy-country music show Hee Haw.
In the late 1960s or early 1970s, a recurring gag on the show involved the character Junior Samples, a dull (some might say downright stupid) fat man bedecked in the show’s requisite denim overalls (in the days before overalls were cool). As the owner of the used car lot in Hee Haw land, moonfaced Junior would read an advertisement for his establishment in a monotone while staring uncomfortably at the camera, always ending by repeating the phone number of his business—BR5-49.
At the end of Junior’s pathetic pitch, he would hold up in front of his rotund chest a piece of white paper with BR5-49 printed on it. Often, the printing on it wound up upside down or sideways, an event always accompanied by gales of canned laughter.
As this gag aged (which, I fear, it did not do gracefully), sometimes the card was printed with a dyslexic switch of the letters or numbers or contained some silly word or phrase—always unbeknownst to hapless Junior.
Those who know me may shudder to discover I watched far too much Hee Haw in my youth in the Shenandoah Valley. My family’s set could pick up the snowy signals from Washington, D.C., stations only on the clearest nights. Most evenings we filled our requisite viewing time with fare from the Harrisonburg, Va., station, which included regular installments of Hee Haw.
I find it redemptive that the young musicians of BR5-49 are transforming this alpha-numeric code, which originated in Nash-ville’s desperate attempt to poke fun at hillbilly culture during a time when the first generation of classic country performing stars began to dim. Through the efforts of Eddie Stubbs, BR5-49, and others, may those stars again shine bright.