Great tunes are always those that tell stories. One that has not lost its appeal is Flatt and Scruggs’s “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the famed theme song for the TV show, The Beverly Hillbillies, which ran in 1962.
Both the song and the show were loved by the public. The song, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” topped the country and western charts in 1962 and remained an iconic song despite CBS’ cancellation of its sitcom counterpart. America’s heightened interest on bluegrass and banjo tunes were also credited to “The Ballad of Jed Clampett.”
Its success would not have been realized without the slapstick brilliance of songwriter Paul Henning and the combined geniuses of Bluegrass Hall of Fame inductees, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
The Ballad of Jed Clampett
It’s the typical rags-to-riches story where a mountaineer named Jed had a stroke of luck when he discovered oil in one of his hunting sprees. Now a rich man, his kinfolk urged him to move to Beverly Hills,California where the rich and famous reside, thus, them being branded as the Beverly Hillbillies. On the day they bid goodbye to embark on their next adventure, their kin’s parting words were an open invitation for Jed’s family to return whenever they want to.
Though a short and quick story, this Ballad of Jed Clampett captured the beauty of Southern culture. The tune was on the total positive as there was no mention of envy from their neighbors over the protagonist’s fortune. They were sent away in good faith and with the assurance of being welcomed again anytime Jed and his family fancy a visit. Hat tip to the Southern hospitality!
Henning, Flatt, and Scruggs: Partners to Stardom
Paul Henning was a huge fan of the Flatt and Scruggs duo. Though he initially penned The Ballad of Jed Clampett out of sheer necessity, the results were very rewarding. He’s able to deliver a hit song for Flatt and Scruggs and procured a TV show that showcased the adventures of Jed and his hillbilly family.
Henning felt that Lester Flatt and Earl Scrugg’s music is the kind that must be given more exposure. He wanted them to do a recording of The Ballad of Jed Clampett so he called the duo’s manager, Louise Scruggs. Mrs. Scruggs, however, declined because she thought the phrase “Beverly Hillbillies” sounds offensive for those living in the countryside. Henning promptly eased her worries by explaining that it will be the opposite. He said that Jed’s family will be shown outsmarting the city slickers by just being themselves, hillbillies to the core.
Mrs. Scruggs saw great potential in Paul Henning’s proposal. She asked if they could make The Ballad of Jed Clampet as a single for the duo. Henning agreed. Louise Scruggs then called Columbia Records and made arrangements.
On October 10, 1962, The Ballad of Jed Clampett was released as Flatt and Scruggs’s new single. The Beverly Hillbillies was on its third week at that time. Both hit it big on-screen and on the Billboard chart. Both were no. 1 on the list. By the end of the year, The Beverly Hillbillies became the highest rating show while The Ballad of Jed Clampett became the first Bluegrass song to top Billboard and to crossover to Pop Music’s Hot 100 list at 44.
Due to the duos extensive tours, Jerry Scoggins became the stand-in singer for commercial remakes of the Ballad of Jed Clampett. He was a former backup singer to Gene Autry and Bring Crosby turned stockbroker. The arrangement was a luxury for Henning as Flatt and Scruggs had the year packed with concerts, all thanks to Henning’s offer.
Flatt and Scruggs Cameo in The Beverly Hillbillies
Again it was Paul Henning’s idea to feature his favorite bluegrass duo on the show. They were cast as old friends of Jed and his family back home. Like Jed, they also found success through their music.
Though their lines were kept to the minimum, their appearances in the show were a treat to the audience as they got to hear more of Flatt and Scruggs music.
Twelve years after the duos TV show debut on February 6, 1963, Earl Scruggs was called again to be part of the Legend of the Beverly Hillbillies in 1993. He re-recorded The Ballad of Jed Clampett with Jerry Scoggins and Roy Clark. Flatt went home in 1979.
How the Phenomenal Hillbilly Jed Clampett Helped Country Music
Everyone who was part of the production of the show and the song benefited from Jed’s tale. Shown in more than seventy countries, Flatt and Scruggs became a commercial success and their music was spread abroad, thus, introducing bluegrass and country music to a wider audience.
Louise Scruggs said that her husband gets mails from around the world in praise of Earl Scrugg’s banjo playing.