Fifty-six years ago, on November 26, 1962, Columbia Records released “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” performed by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. This became the opening and closing theme for The Beverly Hillbillies, a CBS sitcom that aired from 1962 to 1971.
“The Ballad of Jed Clampett” was the first Bluegrass song to spend five months on the Billboard Hot Country chart and was also at number forty-four on the Billboard Hot 100.
The recording’s success brought highlights to bluegrass as a musical standard in American entertainment. The sound of a banjo has also gained a new level of appeal which attracted the interest of more upcoming musicians.
The song sums the backstory of The Beverly Hillbillies where a mountaineer named Jed became 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.
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)
For the first run of The Beverly Hillbillies, special words were added in the intro for Winston cigarettes and Kellogg’s cereals commercials.
“Weird Al” Yankovic tweaked the first two stanzas of the Ballad of Jed Clampett and used the instrumental from a British rock band, Dire Strait’s song “Money for Nothing” as accompaniment.
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 did a parody of the song during Bill Clinton’s time. They replaced Jed Clampett’s name with Clinton’s and staged White House as the setting instead of the Beverly Hills.
Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck was also fond of the Ballad of Jed Clampett and would often play it in his gigs. He was also a chaperon to Earl Scruggs when he did a re-recording of the ballad for the 1993 movie version of The Beverly Hillbillies.