Friday, July 30, 2004

I DO like "Spiders and Snakes!"

The title of this post is only factually true when you include the quotation marks. In reality, I like spiders, snakes and other creepy crawly stuff about as much as Michael Moore likes President Bush. No, I'm not a big fan of spiders or snakes but I can now say I do like Jim Stafford best known for the 1974 hit "Spiders and Snakes" (Peak Position on the Billboard Charts---#3).

I really didn't know a lot about Jim until earlier this month when I caught his variety show at The Jim Stafford theatre in Branson, Missouri. The guy is a real showman, something desperately missing from many performers today, and his act was full of entertaining sight gags that one might of found on, say, The Muppet Show---and yes we were treated to some Hensonesqe spiders and snakes singing along. Quite impressive for a guy who many think of as just a one-hit wonder (for the record he scored six Top-40 hits from 1973-75).

Well, it turns out Jim's career is significantly more multi-faceted than I had previously realized. As an actor, he starred in Clint Eastwood's "Any Which Way You Can." He hosted his own variety show on ABC in 1975 and in the early-80's he co-hosted the popular prime-time show "Those Amazing Animals" with Burgess Meredith and Priscilla Presley. And, as all we know, during Johnny Carson's hey-day the size of your stardom was measured by the number of appearances you made on The Tonight Show. Jim Stafford's tally: 26!

One of the few things I did know about Jim was the he was buddies with another 70's hit singer/songwriter whom I had previously met: Lobo. In the future, I hope to write an article or series of articles of the many singers and bands that I saw perform at the WTC summer concerts (the terrorists will never take away my memories) and I'll detail my conversation with Lobo then. Anyway, as Jim's show broke for intermission they announced that his wife Ann, who manages the theatre, would be manning the concession stand during the break. I decided it was worth springing the $17.99 or thereabouts for a T-shirt in order to have the opportunity to meet Mrs. Stafford, especially since I'd actually be able to name drop with her (Yeah, I know....Jim's first wife was Bobbie Gentry who's own hit "Ode to Billy Joe" topped the charts back in 1967).

I changed lines to insure that Ann Stafford would handle my order. I told her that I had covered music for The New York Post, had met Lobo and wanted to know if he and Jim still spoke. Ann talked about how Jim and "Kent" (Lobo's real name is Roland Kent Lavoie) had just performed a reunion show together back in their native town of Winter Haven, Florida. During their High School days the two of them were in a band call The Rumours along with the late Gram Parsons (Z"L--1973). Gram is considered by many to have been the father of country/rock and is best known for 1)being hand-selected to replace David Crosby in The Byrds; 2)being the vocalist that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had in mind when they wrote "Wild Horses." I also complemented Ann on her two talented kids who now join their dad on stage: Sheaffer (either 11 or 12)and GG (somewhere around 8 or 9). She said that when the kids get a little older, they may bring the show on the road. Good! They're bound to be the only travelling family act incorporating 3-D glasses, trick microphones, and soaking wet frisbees into a hi-tech musical variety show.

With all of Jim's accomplishments, he's not all that well known in 2004 and many of those that did know him would probably be surprised to learn that he's alive and well and still drawing in excess of 1,000 people a show; 350 shows a year. I don't feel bad for Jim that he's not as recognized as he should be. I do feel bad for the people who will never realize how many great performances they've missed out on and the many great hits of the past that they will never hear. Jim was not a fringe performer, he was at one time a bona-fide superstar! Someday, maybe he'll be recognized as such again. For now, I'll do my part and wear the T-shirt I bought at the show. It says: "I Don't Like Spiders and Snakes, But I Do Like Jim Stafford."


P.S.---True story! As I was walking down Sullivan Street on a coffee break a few weeks back a lady asked me if I knew what time it was. I glanced at my watch and it was 3:34 PM. "Yeah," I responded "It's 25.." Then it hit me and with a smile I continued, "It's 25...or 6, to 4." I looked into her eyes for the slightest bit of recognition, but nothing. Now, maybe if she had asked me if I "REALLY knew what time it was."