The Tennessee Jamboree, a country music radio variety show, aired between 1953 and 1978 on AM station WLAF in LaFollette, Tennessee. Across twenty-five years, the Blue Valley Boys and Girls, the show’s featured performers, picked, sang, and entertained each Saturday night for listeners in the Campbell County broadcast area.
Initially recorded in the station’s basement, and hosted by Denny Walker, the Tennessee Jamboree steadily gained popularity throughout the 1950s. The Jamboree eventually outgrew the small WLAF studio before moving to LaFollette’s High School auditorium, where for the first time it was broadcast in front of a live audience. By the late 1950s, the Blue Valley Boys included local LaFollette musicians Henry Horne, Billy Ray Burge, Robert Stevens, Carlos Henderson, Monroe Queener, and Charlie Collins. The show remained at LaFollette High into the early 1960s and became “the place to be” for local LaFollette musicians.
A changing assortment of talented pickers and singers joined the Blue Valley Boys on the Jamboree stage during this period, including bass player, guitarist, and singer Red Harrison, and fiddler Dean Huddleston – both of whom had played with a southeastern Kentucky band called Pap and the Youngins, an ensemble that also sometimes included Collins and Queener. The most significant addition to the Jamboree family during the early 1960s was another Campbell County musician: Elmer Longmire. Recruited by the Blue Valley Boys not only to take over the program, Longmire also began to manage the band.
Under Longmire’s guidance the Tennessee Jamboree entered its peak period in the mid-to-late 1960s. After several years at LaFollette High, the program moved to the American Legion building where it attracted enthusiastic Saturday night audiences. The mid-1960s version included Longmire as emcee and rhythm guitarist; Red Harrison, bass and guitar; Robert Stevens, as comedian and alternating with Harrison on bass and guitar; Curt Caldwell, also alternating on guitar and bass; Dean Huddleston, fiddle; newcomer Carl Stump from Harriman, Tennessee, on mandolin; Monroe Queener, dobro; and Carlos Henderson, banjo. After Henderson’s departure, L.C. Edwards of LaFollette joined on banjo. All the Blue Valley Boys took turns on lead and backing vocals, with Longmire, Huddleston, and Stump forming an oft-featured trio.
Over the years, the Jamboree regularly featured many talented local female vocalists, including Frances Boshears, Irene Lloyd and her daughter Sharon, Mary Madison, Janice Patty and “Little” Barbara Sanders. Regular guest stars also included Lois Johnson and Kirk Hansard, popular performers on Knoxville’s Tennessee Barn Dance; Jim Fagan, a songwriter from nearby Clinton, Tennessee; and former Blue Valley Boy Charlie Collins and his whiz kid banjo protégé Larry McNeely, both members of another popular east Tennessee band, the Pinnacle Mountain Boys, and subsequently of Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys on the Grand Ole Opry.
In the 1970s, with the departures of Stump and Huddleston, and the decreased involvement of Queener, Longmire recruited a new crop of musical talent. The 1970s version of the Tennessee Jamboree included regular performers Ray Blackwell on guitar and dobro; Arlis Jackson on fiddle; Fred Longmire on guitar and vocals; and John Hunley on electric and flattop guitar and vocals. Sara Miller, Elmer’s wife, also joined as a regular member of the Jamboree vocal trio. Various other local musicians-including the New River Boys and Don and Steve Gulley-also made frequent appearances. After moving up the valley to the East Tennessee Music Hall, the Tennessee Jamboree finally ended for good in 1978. For those who experienced it, though, the Jamboree continues on as the memory of top-notch music, downhome humor, and hometown cultural life.
Listen to a portion of a live Tennessee Jamboree broadcast from 1970: