Thanks to the contributor of YouTube’s only audio clip of “Ode to Big Joe,” I now know which country singers are being affectionately parodied by The Willis Brothers in this song. Question: Can you close your eyes and identify the four country legends being spoofed?
Answer: Hank Snow (the song’s narrator), Johnny Cash (the hummer), Ernest Tubb (Texan who sings a little flat) & Tex Ritter (the goofy one who falls asleep by line’s end).
Written by Jack Clement (with truck driving classic, “Drivin’s in My Blood” on the flip side), “Ode to Big Joe” was released as a 45 at the top of 1968, a banner year – as noted earlier – for the musical trucking genre.
“Ode to Big Joe” is a tongue-in-cheek tip of the hat to steel guitarist, Big Joe Talbot, who we last encountered at a 1955 overdubbing session for a 1930 Jimmie Rodgers flip-side.
Key Question: Did Big Joe really – as The Willis Brothers sing – put the soap suds in the fountain at the Country Music Association in Music City USA?
Hank Snow Music Center, Once Managed by Talbot – closest thing to a photo of Joe
This piece by Robert K. Oermann – “Country Music Advocate Dies” – was posted on Steel Guitar Forum March 25, 2000, the day after Joe Talbot’s passing:
Joe Talbot, one of the Nashville entertainment industry’s last remaining champions of traditional country music, died yesterday at age 72.
As a record manufacturer, song publisher, SESAC performance-rights executive and musician, Mr. Talbot contributed to the development of Music Row for more than 50 years. He was lifetime director, past board chairman and past president of the Country Music Association. He was also a past Board Chairman of the Country Music Foundation, which operates the Country Music Hall of Fame. Joe Talbot would have turned 73 today.
Mr. Talbot also served on the boards of the Recording Academy, the Gospel Music Association, the Nashville Better Business Bureau and SunTrust Bank. “You won’t find anybody who doesn’t love Joe Talbot,” said legendary session guitarist Ray Edenton yesterday. His forthright opinions were invariably delivered in his booming country baritone, rich with humor and warmth. He was particularly outspoken about the roots of country music and his dislike of Music City’s pop-crossover record making. “Country music is like a religion to me,” he elaborated during a 1995 interview. “I get very emotional about it, to the point of tears; it stirs me that deeply.”
Born in 1927, the Nashville native served in the Army in 1945-46. In 1950 he realized his youthful ambition by becoming the steel guitarist in the band of future Country Music Hall of Fame member Hank Snow. He performed on the Grand Ole Opry with Snow in 1951-52 and continued to tour and record with the superstar until 1954.
“Back then — the ’40s and the ’50s — there was no money. Those of us who were in the business were in it because we loved it, and because we had to do it. It was an obsession. As I recall, to go on the road and play was $10 a day and out of that we had to buy our food and clothes. Lordy, record sessions paid $41.45, and I’ll have to say this: There never has been a pill that would give anybody a high like I used to get playing on those record sessions. I would actually get chill bumps. It didn’t make any difference about the money. I was getting to do what I wanted to do and best of all, I could turn the radio on and hear myself played back.”
During this same time, Mr. Talbot attended Vanderbilt University Law School, from which he graduated in 1952. He floundered in business for a number of years before establishing United Record Pressing in 1967. The company boomed as the manufacturer of vinyl discs for Elvis Presley and the million-selling Motown Records acts. In 1967 Mr. Talbot also became the manager of SESAC’s Nashville operations. SESAC is a performance rights organization similar to BMI and ASCAP. He remained there until 1971.
Mr. Talbot’s other ventures have included Harbot Music in 1965-67. This company published the songs of Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Ted Harris. He also owned a prominent Music Row office building. In 1991, Joe Talbot was recognized by the Nashville Entertainment Association with its Master Award. The honor represented the deep affection that the music community had for him, as well as his contributions to the creation of the Nashville show-business industry. Joe Talbot is the second of the CMA Lifetime Board members who has died, after Wesley Rose — the original five were Mr. Talbot, Mr. Rose, Bill Denny, Frances Preston and Ralph Peer Jr.