Get your fifteen minutes right here.

By Anita Garner

As soon as our family landed in a town, top of Daddy’s list of things to do was to find a radio station for our show. He preferred a Saturday morning program.  That way he could promote any nearby Singings or tent revivals or concerts where we’d be performing through the weekend.

When we stopped in Louisiana to pastor a church, the station Daddy chose was playing only country music records. No Southern Gospel. But a live show could be had if you’d bring in enough fans and if you came in fully sponsored. Those were the rules.

Since we traveled constantly, The Joneses had built up a good fan base.  It was a surprise though, when our first sponsor at WHXY turned out to be “The Beautiful Pine Tree Inn,” the very building where the radio station was housed.  Mr. and Mrs. Pine Tree Inn weren’t even members of our denomination, but they were fans of Southern Gospel.

Then came our fifteen minutes. Each show opened with a theme song with Daddy on guitar and Mother on piano or accordion. The four of us sang that one then a few more songs from all of us and sometimes a guest, like Brother Gene Thompson, an Arkansas evangelist who came to visit and heated up the airwaves with his guitar solos.  A brief devotion from Daddy, short and sweet and gentle, like the blessing before a meal, then out with the theme, which Karl faded as he resumed regular programming.

We packed up instruments while Karl reminded listeners they could send in their cards and letters with requests and he’d make sure The Joneses got them before next week’s show.  Daddy stopped by the station during the week to pick up fan mail and true to Karl’s promise, we always performed at least one request each week.  In the 1950’s, songs were so short we packed in lots of music in our fifteen minutes.

Karl entertained my brother and me with his dramatic readings of Hadacol’s outrageous cure-all commercials that aired shortly before we went on the air – way too close according to Daddy.  Daddy knew the magic liquid in the bottle was  mostly hootch.  Karl messed around with different versions of the commercials, changing them every time, performing them with and without his Louisiana accent, sometimes with a deep voice, then next time a high squeaky, anxious delivery, as if nothing would help cure that voice except this product.  He’d pretend to take a swig, and magically his voice returned to normal.

Karl’s career took off.  As we were leaving Louisiana, he was becoming a successful concert promoter and a scout for record labels. He continued encouraging  Mother to get the songs she wrote to people who could record them. And onstage, when he had occasion to introduce “Sister Fern” his build-up to her performance was so flowery, we were surprised Daddy wasn’t jealous. Karl helped make Sister Fern’s fifteen minutes last a good deal longer.

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Just before Hadacol went out of business (false advertising, owner was a swindler, numerous other charges) it was huge.  Hadacol was said to be one of the biggest advertisers in the Deep South with a budget second only to Coca Cola. Here’s a sample of the kind of commercials Kousin Karl had to read.  Click the bottle to listen.

 

 

The Glory Road – From Louisiana to HBO’s The Leftovers

Mother believed her music would travel and it did, long after she was gone.  Her song, Let Tomorrow Be, recorded in Nashville in the 1950’s. traveled to HBO’s The Leftovers.  The show made poignant use of it with Fern singing over the credits. From my book, The Glory Road, here’s an excerpt about the song’s beginnings.

The setting:  Bogalusa, Louisiana, 1956. Junior is helping build a new house for the preacher and his wife. He and his wife, Marge, Brother Ray and Sister Fern are close friends during a time when white people and black people live on different sides of town.  Junior comes over every day to work on the house and on this day, he’s trying to persuade Fern to make up her mind.

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“Miz Jones, You got to pick a color today for the outside.  I brought some more samples.”

She glanced at them.

“Not any of these.”

“The painter’s needin’ to get started.  Once he gets here, we got to pay him for the whole time every day. Can’t bring him all the way over here and…”

‘I know, but these aren’t right.  I want the house to be this color.”

She patted the new chaise.

“Pink?  Miz Jones, I mean the outside.”

“Yes, the outside.  Pink outside, and a sparkly white roof, you know the kind?”

“I’ve seen them.”

“So pink outside and a white roof, okay?”

“Okaaaay. That’s a whole lotta pink.”

“Pink’s the most important color today, Junior. Everybody’s wearing pink and black.  Elvis Presley had his picture made in a pink shirt and black jacket that looks exactly like an outfit I made to sing in. Junior can I tell you a secret?”

“You like pink?”

“Yes I do but this is something else. I just finished writing a new song. I’m gonna tape it and send it around to people and see if somebody famous will record it.”

“Miz Jones, you oughta be recording your songs your own self.  Nobody sings like you do.  I oughta tell you what my Margie sez.  No I better not.”

“Oh yes, you better.”

“She heard you sing on the radio Saturday morning over at WHXY and she sez, Margie sez to me…”

“What?”

“She sez, Junior, that’s Rev’s wife on the radio.  I sez yes I believe it is and Margie sez, Miz Jones sings like a man.  And then she sez…she sings like a colored man.”

“No!  She did not!”

Mother put her hand over her heart.

“Junior, please tell her I am honored. Do you want to hear my new song?”

“Course I do.”

“I got the idea from my mother.”

She picked up her guitar, strummed and sang,

Don’t try to cross that river that you cannot see
Don’t try to tunnel through that mountain that may not be.

She stopped to explain the arrangement she heard in her head.

“And then backup singers come in behind me and then,”

For by tomorrow all your fears
May up and slip away
All the clouds of darkness
May turn to day
For all the trouble you have feared
You’ll find there’s grace to borrow
So let tomorrow be until tomorrow

Junior, always an active listener, said,

“Uh huh.  You tell it.”

“What do you think?”

“It’s a good one. You sure do turn a song into a lesson.”

“It’s the way my songs come to me. Back when we were gettin’ our last baby
and I was so sick, I called up my mother and she was upset that I was
expecting again but then when I told her I was scared about it she said, ‘Don’t borrow trouble.  Let tomorrow be.'”

“I don’t know how you do that.  Write a new song good as any on the radio.”

“It’s my gift from the Lord, Junior.  All my songs will be on the radio.  I know they will.”

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Here’s Fern’s recording of Let Tomorrow Be from the 1958 album
Fern Jones/The Glory Road
Featured in
The Leftovers HBO Season 2, Episode 1, “Axis Mundi”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzNRpKeEfPI