A fast-talker and a web-weaver

Published 7:44 am Friday, May 1, 2015

By Frank Roberts

The two nuttiest (and I mean that in a nice way) people I met in my 45-50 years of interviewing famous and semi-famous folk were Keefe Brasselle and Lynn Anderson.

KB: In 1946, “The Jolson Story” was a big hit and demanded a sequel. Said sequel was even more popular. “Jolson Sings Again” wowed folks in ’50. So, some semi-wise Hollywood big shots decided a story about Eddie Cantor would do well. It didn’t.

In showbiz parlance, the movie bombed.

Cantor himself, who appeared in the last scene, said he didn’t know his life was that boring. The star, Brasselle, was anything but.

He starred in a few other flicks, and then did some other movie work and went on the road with his own song and dance act, a trip that included a visit to Virginia Beach.

At that time, I was doing a show on WBOF Radio there and I met with him at a club. His accompanist turned out to be a childhood friend, the great jazz pianist, Hal Schaeffer.

Talking to Keefe was like listening to a one-man comedy show. The talk was incessant — jokes, anecdotes, crazy remarks, mostly without taking a breath. KB, who was married to Arlene DeMarco, lead singer of the DeMarco Sisters, carried on for about 30 minutes. The guy was downright hilarious.

The funniest gal was country singer Lynn Anderson, daughter of songwriter, Helen Anderson. Lynn was the token country singer for a few years on the Lawrence Welk shows, but she is best known for her giant-sized hit “(I Never Promised You) A Rose Garden.”

I met the lovely blonde singer while covering a large outdoor concert somewhere in Tennessee. I was talking to several performers who were there, and I was usually accompanied by a British writer covering the event for a supermarket tabloid.

We made a deal. He knew zilch about country music, and I could use him as an “in,” since his readership was on the huge side.

We marched into the Anderson trailer, greeted by a lovely smile. She started talking about her life.

About 90 percent of what she had to say cannot be re-told in this respectable family paper — nothing dirty, though.

My Brit friend was feverishly taking notes about “life’s wrong turns,” but after a few minutes I stopped writing. Lynn was offering fiction, not fact.

When we exited, I told him to tear up his notes, explaining that she was pulling his leg. No big story there, but it still lives in memory as one of my most fun interviews.

Speaking of country music — a bit of Oak Ridge Boys history: From 1942 to 1943, Oak Ridge, Tenn., a farm community, was becoming a medium-sized town of about 75,000 people. Many were women answering a government call for wartime work.

After that, it didn’t appear on any maps. The military called it “Site X.” It was so secret, most of the workers had no idea they were enriching uranium, until after that atom bomb dropped.

To provide some entertainment a gospel group came in to sing, naming themselves after the locale.

Eventually, they switched to country music. Ironically, their first non-gospel hit was “The Y’All Come Back Saloon.” I covered the guys for many years — a good group.

On the pop music side, Irving Berlin had this to say: “No singer knows his way around a song like Fred Astaire.” I can’t help but wonder what Bing and the many others who sang Berlin songs — singers, not hoofers — felt about that.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Western Tidewater and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at froberts73@embarqmail.com.