Tuesday, March 29, 2011

'Wunnerful! Wunnerful!'

OK, I'll admit it. I like Champagne Music.

And, by that, I mean that I like Lawrence Welk. And Ava Barber. And "Bubbles in the Wine." And all that cheese.

From time to time, I'll tune in to "Welk" re-runs on PBS. I'm not alone. As of 2004, "The Lawrence Welk Show" was the highest rated program on public television. Its three million viewers are higher than those watching MTV, VH-1 or BET at that hour, according to a great article in The New York Times.

I guess my favorite (not counting Ralna English) is Knoxville's own Ava Barber. She joined the Welk show in the early 1970s -- she chased him all over a golf course in Nashville to get a tryout, or so Welk used to tell it -- and stayed until production ceased in 1982.

Found a great clip of her singing "The Teddy Bear Song" better than Barbara Fairchild.

I sang with Ava once, up in Pigeon Forge, when she was appearing with Eddie Miles. She asked for volunteers. I jumped up and faked my way through "Y'all Come." It must have gone over well. People clapped. Somebody even stalked me into the bathroom to tell me I did a good job.

Ava runs the Powell location of Steamboat Sandwiches. Stop in and say howdy if you're out that way.

Welk's show was pure corn -- but a lot of fun. His band was solid, if stodgy. But that was by design and it worked. Welk's show ran nationally from 1955 to 1982.

Doc Severinsen hosted a clip show during PBS's recent pledge drive dedicated to Welk's tributes to the Big Band era. On and on it went -- Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, all the rest. In one clip, Doc even played his trumpet and Johnny Carson did the drums while the Welk band played "Johnny's Theme."

It's square and it's nerdy and, by god, I love it.

"Thank ya, thank ya, boys-a! Wunnerful! Wunnerful!"

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