It’s hard to know why Dick Stacey’s Country Jamboreea late-night country music revue broadcast from Bangor, Maine in the 1970s and early 1980s, became such a hit with Atlantic Canadians.
In fact, his success even surprised Stacey himself, according to Saint John’s Don Mabee, who called Dick Stacey a friend.
“I remember him saying to me, ‘Don, I never really thought this thing would take off as big as it did,'” Mabee said in a phone interview. “And it really took off.
“But he understood exactly why it took off. He realized that people, number 1, wanted to be on TV, whether they could sing or not.”
Dick Stacey died on October 10 in Bangor at the age of 85.
A businessman from Brewer, just across the street from Bangor, Stacey operated a few gas stations and a motel.
In several interviews, Stacey has stated that his association with the Jamboree began in 1973 when he received a call from a WVII-TV salesman in Bangor asking if he would like to purchase advertising time on the country music revue. from the resort.
“I’d rather buy the whole show,” Stacey replied, and was surprised when the station accepted it.
So the show became Stacey’s Country Jamboreeand was filmed weekly in the living room of Stacey’s Brewer Motel.
There was almost no budget for the show, the performers were amateurs, and Stacey had two standard rules – no auditions and no rehearsals.
Audiences never knew what they might see every Saturday night. Nervous singers froze on air, forgot lyrics or sang the wrong words, and it was not uncommon to see singers lose the melody completely, as backup musicians desperately tried to put them back on. on the right track.
Mabee said Stacey was under no illusions as to why the public was listening.
“That’s what makes it so special. He understood that people were laughing at this show,” he said.
“They would log on every Saturday night to laugh because they saw people there… [who] had never sung on a TV show before in their lives. And they sing Dick Stacey’s Jamboree.”
Nelson Hanson, of Saint John, was a teenager who discovered cable television and watched it while waiting Saturday Night Live start on NBC.
“This window on America was, first of all, this very subversive comedy at the time in Saturday Night Live and then just before that you watch this kind of weird stuff twin peaks country music review on ABC station,” Hanson said.
“And it was just like, ‘Wow, things are really different there.'”
Hanson, like most people familiar with the show, fondly remembers Jennie Shontell, an elderly woman who performed regularly On the wings of a dove.
With a high, nasal voice and rarely in pitch, Shontell happily skimmed through the song, jumping from verse to verse without waiting for the musicians to catch up.
“My dad’s cousin claims he saw her false teeth fall out and she grabbed them without wasting time,” Hanson said.
And then there were the commercials, done live by Dick Stacey himself.
“Yeah, everyone remembers those ads, ‘See those hands? Those hands are pumping gas. And damn it, they stink. And we’ll pump your gas. No chAAAHge,'” Hanson exaggerated. Stacey’s Maine accent at the end.
“And when he was having a tire sale, someone was rolling a Uniroyal tire and he was stopping it at his feet at the right time while he was delivering his ad to the camera. It was definitely something to watch.”
“We were saying to our friends at school on Monday, like, ‘You have to see this. This is really weird. This is a really weird sight,'” Hanson said.
But, if Stacey’s show was a little crazy, it’s safe to say that the man himself was crazy as a fox.
“Well, what’s amazing is that a lot of people thought that, you know, Dick had this big country show on Saturday night and everyone was tuning in and making fun of everyone that was on it,” Mabee said. , “But Dick was a very shrewd businessman.”
Atlantic Canadians traveled to Bangor to see the show live. Mabee said the lounge was packed on the day of the show and the bar was busy.
Many of these people booked rooms at Stacey’s motel, and they probably got gas from her gas bar.
After the show
But, in 1983, Mabee said Stacey had had enough of the company. He quit performing, sold his businesses, and retired to West Palm Beach, Florida.
But, the Country Jamboree still lived on in people’s memories, and in 2006 Stacey realized there was an appetite for more.
He began selling “best of” DVDs and held reunion tours, with a focus on fans in Atlantic Canada.
Mabee said Stacey’s death came as a shock.
“I had just spoken to him about, I would say, three or four weeks ago.”
Already inducted into the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame, Mabee said Stacey had a simple heritage.
“He basically allowed people to be on TV whether they deserved it or not, whether they could sing or not.
“He gave them that opportunity for a few – just a few free moments, just a few moments, that they could be their own star, that they could be on television.
“That’s what people wanted to do and he gave them that opportunity.”