That time ‘Hee Haw’ came to Suffolk

Published 8:39 pm Tuesday, April 5, 2016

By Frank Roberts

If you, like me, are a cornball at heart, you forsake political discussions for “Hee Haw,” with its mix of good country music, and a passel of the best bad jokes. The rural version of “Laugh-In” began in 1970 and is still going strong on RFD-TV.

Cathy Baker was one of the “Hee Haw Honeys” on the show

Cathy Baker was one of the “Hee Haw Honeys” on the show

One liners, running gags and goofy folk are all stock-in-trade.

Email newsletter signup

The show’s creators and some cast members are Canadians. The humor and, certainly the music, have universal appeal but the aim was for the Southern audience.

Hosts of the show are easygoing, Roy Clark, and the very rich, very mean Buck Owens. From time to time, not surprisingly, the two clashed off-camera. One ongoing argument: They both wanted top billing. On that score, Clark eventually backed down.

In “Buck ‘Em,” Owens’ autobiography, he wrote, “I couldn’t justify turning down that big paycheck for just a few weeks work twice a year, so I kept whoring myself out to that cartoon donkey.”

I’m not sure about him needing the money. Owens was worth about $40 million, and that ain’t no bale of hay.

Remember how “Hee Haw” started? “I’m Buck, and I’m Roy — let’s go right now.” And, of course you remember, “Pfft, you was gone.” And there were “The Culhanes,” the KORN radio announcer, the animated sows, the Minnie monologues, and the scantily-clad “Hee Haw Honies,” alternating with the “Hee Haw Gospel Quartet.” Ah, yes, something for everyone.

A closer look at the lovelies: They were Gunilla Hutton, Jeanine Riley, Lisa Todd, Barbi Benton, Linda Thompson and Misty Rowe. Owens was romantically linked to three of them.

CBS dropped the show in 1971 after 543 episodes, and that turned out to be a big favor for “Hee Haw.” In syndication, it was on far more stations than were covered by that network.

The show’s theme song, by the way, was written by Sheb Wooley, who was also known as Ben Colder.

The show was a carefree joy — on screen, anyway. I mentioned one disagreement between Clark and Owens. There was more.

Owens was determined Clark should not get more time on camera. In Eileen Sisk’s Buck bio, she said the star had one of his cronies sit around with a stopwatch to time their camera time.

Another fuss: too many banjoists. Owens liked the number, Clark wanted fewer.

In his autobiography, “My Life-In Spite Of Myself,” Clark described his partner: “He wasn’t a laid back country boy I felt comfortable being around. He was — very opinionated, very set in his ways, very dollar conscious. Buck is just a strange guy.”

Many people in these areas remember my fiend Joe Hoppel, the WCMS-Norfolk country DJ. He was invited to do a guest spot on the show, appearing in the cornfield. To this date, he has yet to see the fruit of that effort.

Personal note: I met Cathy Baker, the cute gal who opened and closed the show. She was visiting Suffolk’s Louise Obici Memorial Hospital on a goodwill tour. In person, she is just as sweet as she appears. If memory serves, she lived in Virginia and was married to an attorney.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at