'Stacey's Country Jamboree' goes digital

Peter Walsh
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Old memories rekindled by new DVD

It could have been the novelty of watching Amercian-based cable TV. Maybe it was the love of folksy country music, or the cruel attraction of watching someone embarrass themselves. Whatever the reason - and decades before "Canadian Idol" - Newfoundlanders regularly watched "Stacey's Country Jamboree," where anyone could take Stacey's stage and sing. Or at least try. Producers held no auditions. There were no rehearsals.

The Bangor, Maine-based variety show was among the meagre program offerings when cable television first came to Newfoundland in 1975. With only about six channels to choose from, "Stacey's Country Jamboree" ranks high in the memories of Newfoundland's early cable viewers - along with others like the "Mickey Mouse Club" and the "Great Money Movie" presented by Eddie Driscoll. Almost 30 years after the show disappeared from Newfoundland cable TV - the result of local cable providers switching affiliates from Bangor to Detroit - memories of the "Jamboree" are strong among St. John's natives.

It could have been the novelty of watching Amercian-based cable TV. Maybe it was the love of folksy country music, or the cruel attraction of watching someone embarrass themselves. Whatever the reason - and decades before "Canadian Idol" - Newfoundlanders regularly watched "Stacey's Country Jamboree," where anyone could take Stacey's stage and sing. Or at least try. Producers held no auditions. There were no rehearsals.

The Bangor, Maine-based variety show was among the meagre program offerings when cable television first came to Newfoundland in 1975. With only about six channels to choose from, "Stacey's Country Jamboree" ranks high in the memories of Newfoundland's early cable viewers - along with others like the "Mickey Mouse Club" and the "Great Money Movie" presented by Eddie Driscoll. Almost 30 years after the show disappeared from Newfoundland cable TV - the result of local cable providers switching affiliates from Bangor to Detroit - memories of the "Jamboree" are strong among St. John's natives.

"I can remember Jenny Shontell singing 'On the Wings of a Snow White Dove.' She was awful," said John Tizzard.

"I can remember that it was on late at night when we first got cable from Bangor, Maine," said David Sullivan. "We would watch it to make fun of it. I remember they had regulars - the same ones every week - and that one of them was singing when his false teeth fell out."

For some, the sketchy talent and rough production values were too much.

"I remember not watching it," said Peter Adams.

Star power

But thousands in Newfoundland did, and so did thousands more across Atlantic Canada and Maine. "Stacey's County Jamboree" ran from 1972 to 1983 and helped sponsor Dick Stacey grow from one gas station to three. Its popularity attracted business and advertisers, and helped Stacey open three motels. Visitors from Atlantic Canada would travel to Bangor, fill up on Stacey's gas, stay in one of his motels and take in his show. It made Dick Stacey a millionaire, although he still describes himself as "pure country."

"People liked the singing and the lack of pretense," Stacey said from his retirement home in Boynton Beach, Fla. "And they liked Jenny, who sang 'On The Wings of a Dove.' Jenny was a star."

Stacey is under no illusion that the show he sponsored had great performers. A new DVD of past episodes includes many off-key singers, flat-note guitar players, and one woman who forgets most of her lines.

"She's real," said Stacey. "It testifies to the realism of it. The show was popular for one reason, the down-hominess. Compare it to 'American Idol.' Some of those people who lay eggs plan to lay eggs. We laid some pretty bad eggs over the years, but there wasn't anyone who ever got on there and did it on purpose."

Stacey - who turned 72 on Christmas Day - never performed on the show. He can't play an instrument or sing. He wasn't even the emcee of the show that bore his name. His appearances were brief and usually just to plug his gas station.

"See these hands, they pump gas, and they stink," became Stacey's catch phrase.

"I didn't know what I was going to say. I had a topic. I knew I was going to talk about my gas station, but I didn't know what I was going to say. About three seconds before we went on I took a step forward and said 'see these hands, they pump gas and, by golly, they stink.' It just happened."

History's happenstance

Stacey became involved in the show after a Bangor Channel 7 salesman visited the gas station.

"He came to me and said he'd like to sell me an ad on a midnight show called 'Country Jamboree.' I told him I wouldn't buy an ad, but I'd buy the whole program. I really wasn't serious and I forgot all about it. Then, he came back about a week later and said, 'You got it.' I was really reluctant but I bought it because I said I would. But I put a stipulation on it. I said 13 weeks, max."

The rest is local TV legend.

An 11-year run. A profile on ABC's "Good Morning America." Phone calls of interest, but no offers, from producers of Johnny Carson's and David Letterman's shows. Ratings for the show don't exist, but at its peak, Stacey estimates his Country Jamboree was seen in 4,000 homes in Maine. The show was more popular in Atlantic Canada and he regularly took the gang on the road, taping episodes across the Maritimes.

"At times I had to draw a line and ask am I a promoter or a business person," Stacey said. "Toward the end, the cost of the program had gone from $100 a week to $60,000 a year. We supported that with advertisers from Atlantic Canada like Midas Muffler, Moosehead and Datsun."

The show never gained enough ratings to attract any national advertisers. "Stacey's Country Jamboree" performed only once in St. John's in 1978, but didn't tape a program because it was too expensive.

Stacey said he had no idea he was becoming part of TV folklore.

"The generation that you talk about, that's what I get the biggest kick out of today. Kids who never really saw the program remember the program," said Stacey. "We weren't aware of what was happening. When I realized (we were popular), it was after two years. For the first two years I had never even seen the program."

Stacey said he's planning another DVD release featuring only Atlantic Canadian performers.

pwalsh@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Bangor Channel 7, Good Morning

Geographic location: Country Jamboree, Newfoundland, Atlantic Canada Bangor, Maine Bangor Detroit St. John's Boynton Beach, Fla America

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  • sherry
    April 16, 2011 - 10:09

    I am the daughter of Sharon Robinson and Grandaughter of Vernon Robinson. I've heard so many stories of when my mom used to sing with my grandfather at stacey's jamboree. I would love to see some videos of that. My mom passed away in 2003. I have never seen the videos.

  • g-man
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    another one of staceys sayins was, i can smell the gas on my hands ,and of course another one of staceys greatest hits was throw me out that tire son ..it reminded me of the bass jamisons talent hunt..bass favorite was:and that entertainer HAILS from furryland..

  • aubrey
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    So glad to see an article on Stacey's country Jamboree ' after all those years.I couldn't even recall when it was on but I do remember how much of a kick my mother got watching it .It was so down home and folksy and very genuine, and a real riot, unintentionally of course .We travelled to Maine on summer and just had to see the venue where it was taped , the Stacey bar I suppose , which was down a narrow staircase and into a darkened non- descript bar .It was eerie and almost like visiting a gravesite years after the burial of the show .

  • j
    July 02, 2010 - 13:08

    wow...that brings back some cable memories...while i wasn't a regular viewer, i do remember seeing some episodes with these people doing ( or trying to do) their thing. as stacey said, the appeal, (aside from our first cable tv experience here) was its lack of pretentiousness. unlike today's reality shows, stacey's country jamboree was the real deal, with cheesie acts etc. good luck stacey with your retirement...it was fun!

  • Joe
    July 02, 2010 - 13:08

    I watched Stacey's Jamboree. It was fun to watch. While most of the stuff wasn't professional, I didn't make fun of it. It was refreshing to watch .
    Where can I get the DVD?

  • g-man
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    another one of staceys sayins was, i can smell the gas on my hands ,and of course another one of staceys greatest hits was throw me out that tire son ..it reminded me of the bass jamisons talent hunt..bass favorite was:and that entertainer HAILS from furryland..

  • aubrey
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    So glad to see an article on Stacey's country Jamboree ' after all those years.I couldn't even recall when it was on but I do remember how much of a kick my mother got watching it .It was so down home and folksy and very genuine, and a real riot, unintentionally of course .We travelled to Maine on summer and just had to see the venue where it was taped , the Stacey bar I suppose , which was down a narrow staircase and into a darkened non- descript bar .It was eerie and almost like visiting a gravesite years after the burial of the show .

  • j
    July 01, 2010 - 19:43

    wow...that brings back some cable memories...while i wasn't a regular viewer, i do remember seeing some episodes with these people doing ( or trying to do) their thing. as stacey said, the appeal, (aside from our first cable tv experience here) was its lack of pretentiousness. unlike today's reality shows, stacey's country jamboree was the real deal, with cheesie acts etc. good luck stacey with your retirement...it was fun!

  • Joe
    July 01, 2010 - 19:43

    I watched Stacey's Jamboree. It was fun to watch. While most of the stuff wasn't professional, I didn't make fun of it. It was refreshing to watch .
    Where can I get the DVD?