Sunday, January 16, 2011
Happy Birthday, Jim Stafford
Happy Birthday to Jim "Spiders and Snakes" Stafford, who turns 67 today. Stafford was inescapable for about an hour and a half in the mid-1970s, when he had several Top Forty hits, prominent roles in a couple of television shows, and even a short-lived marriage to the great Bobbie Gentry.
Growing up in Florida, Stafford was a multi-instrumentalist and singer who played in several country and rock bands, including one called the Legends that also featured the legendary Gram Parsons as well as a kid named Kent LaVoie, who would later become famous as Lobo. Too bad that band didn't last, eh? After high school, Stafford moved to Nashville and landed a slot in the band of Bill Carlisle, an old-line country star known for such racy hits as 1935's "Jumpin' and Jerkin' Blues," who had become a Grand Ol' Opry fixture by the late 1960s. Stafford's dream was to be a songwriter, and spent quite a bit of time in Nashville recording demos, although he disliked his own voice and didn't expect to sing any of his own songs.
(Incidentally, Wikipedia reports that Stafford spent some time in the late 1960s writing for the Smothers Brothers TV show, which is untrue. I can find no other references to Stafford doing anything but his music career during this period, and Dangerously Funny, a history of the Smothers Brothers, has only a single reference to Jim Stafford, described as the type of new talent the show supported. He probably just did a guest shot or two.)
Stafford saw his old friend Lobo, who had become the King of the Wimp Rockers, after a show in Florida, and offered him a song he had written called "The Swamp Witch." Lobo thought Stafford should cut it himself, and helped him get a contract with MGM. "The Swamp Witch" eked into the Top Forty for a single week, on July 14, 1973. It was enough to get Stafford a deal for an album, the first single of which, "Spiders and Snakes," was written with another Floridian, David Bellamy of the Bellamy Brothers, who would have their own huge hit with "Let Your Love Flow" in 1976. "Spiders" entered the Top Forty the last week of 1973, and went all the way to Number Three. Jim Stafford spawned two more Top Forty singles, "My Girl Bill" and "Wildwood Weed."
By the end of 1974, Jim Stafford was about as big a country-pop star as there was in the U.S. The following summer, he got his own variety show, which didn't last long enough for anyone to record somewhere on the Internet how long it lasted. In 1975, he released Not Just Another Pretty Foot, which produced the minor hits "Your Bulldog Drinks Champagne" (peaked at Number 24) and "I Got Stoned and I Missed It" (peaked at Number 37). All of Stafford's recorded output in this period was co-produced by the legendary Phil Gernhard, who had also produced Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs' "Stay" and Dion's "Abraham, Martin and John," and old friend Lobo.
Stafford's music career appeared pretty much dead at that point - he never released another album, although he continued to put out singles, like 1981's "Cow Patti," which went to Number 31 on the Canadian country chart. He had met Bobbie Gentry while doing his variety show, and married her in 1978; they had a son named Tyler. In 1980, he appeared as a cohost on the early reality show Those Amazing Animals, alongside Burgess Meredith and Priscilla Presley. It lasted just about a year, from August 1980 to August 1981. The Stafford-Gentry marriage didn't last much longer than that. He also worked on the Smothers Brothers' abortive TV comeback in the late 1980s, which is probably where that Wikipedia misinformation comes from.
But in 1990, Stafford settled in Branson, Missouri, which seems to have been dreamed up expressly for his brand of cornpone country-pop entertaining. He's been there, with his second wife Ann, doing 350 shows a year at his own Jim Stafford Theatre. But once upon a time, he was important enough to get Dolly Parton to come onto his show, and sort of rap her way through his biggest hit: