Come and listen to my story ’bout a man named Jed
Poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed
Then one day he was shootin’ at some food
And up through the ground came a bubbling crude
(Oil, that is, black gold, Texas tea)
Fifty-six years ago, on November 26, 1962, Columbia Records released “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” a bluegrass number performed by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs that would become the hallmark sound of The Beverly Hillbillies.
A preamble to the CBS sitcom that ran from 1962 to 1971, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” spent 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot Country chart—even landing at #44 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The single features a driving banjo melody made possible an upward, three-finger picking style popularized by Earl Scruggs, resulting in a sound that was both unmistakable and original.
Following its release, the recording helped bring bluegrass into the American mainstream, redefining the banjo’s appeal across genre while inspiring a new generation of musical artists.
The song is the title music for The Beverly Hillbillies, setting up the backstory of a mountaineer who becomes a millionaire. Jerry Scoggins sings the theme for the TV show, accompanied by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs’ instrumentation. However, Flatt sang the version that reached No. 1 when it was released as a single in 1962.
During the original run of The Beverly Hillbillies, special lyrics were written and inserted into the opening theme, advertising regular sponsors such as Kellogg’s cereals and Winston cigarettes.
“Weird Al” Yankovic merged the first two stanzas of the Ballad with the instrumentals to the song “Money for Nothing”.
Saturday Night Live did a spoof on the Beverly Hillbillies in the late 1970s. They did it in a sketch about a wealthy family from an oil-rich Mideastern country moving to Southern California. The theme song in the sketch was called “The Bel-Arabs.”
Saturday Night Live staged a spoof of the song. That was during the Bill Clinton presidential administration. They substituted Clinton’s name for Jed Clampett’s. Also changing the destination from Beverly Hills to the White House.
Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck often plays the ballad in concert. Fleck also accompanied Scruggs on a re-recording of the song for the 1993 film adaptation of The Beverly Hillbillies.
On August 13, 2009, national broadcaster Q&A featured a spoof version of the song lampooning the leader of the Australian Liberal Party Malcolm Turnbull by Stefan Sojka – Bellevue Hillbilly – making fun of his wealth, his unpopularity as a leader and his admission that he once tried cannabis.