Retro Crossroads 0102
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- This time on "Retro Tennessee Crossroads," you'll meet a Memphis barber who cuts hair with fire instead of scissors. Then travel to a town known for its white squirrels. We'll see a slew of "Howdy Doody," memorabilia and finally, 10-year-old Cody Kilby shows us his impressive banjo skills. That's the lineup for this edition of "Retro Tennessee Crossroads." I'm Joe Elmore. Sure glad to have you. Well here we are again with more "Tennessee Crossroads," travel time. Once again, I'm traveling back in time with my companion, Becky Magura NPT President and CEO. - Oh, I'm so happy to be here and excited to take a look back at the past with you, Joe. We're going to watch and share our reactions with all of you. So where are we going next, Joe? - Well, let's head to 1993, Becky, that's when we paid a visit to a North Memphis shop owned by a fellow named Warren Lewis. Now Mr. Lewis was a well respected community leader, but maybe more famous for his incredible use of fire. For most of his 40 years as a barber, Warren Lewis has worked here in this North Memphis neighborhood. We've come here to get a close up visit with the king of the fire cut. - I'm from a family of 17, so I'm the only one that's in the barber field, not only in the barber field, I'm the only one in business. It took a short while for me to develop this, and I got it down pat now. - [Joe] And people come from near and far to have Warren Lewis punch up his theme song on the jukebox, light a couple of candles and enjoy a hair blazing experience called the fire cut. - I've seen 'em, but I've never had one. - [Joe] What do you think it's gonna be like? - A little warm, probably. - See how all those ends will fall off. - [Joe] Amazing? Yes. A hot new styling method? No. It's actually a technique that Warren's used for decades, and while it's quite a sight to see, he quickly addresses the burning issue of why do it. - It's actually proven fact that it'll make your hair stay even longer. It's true. - [Joe] Got problems with split ends? A few gray hairs? Don't hate 'em, just burn 'em. - Gray hair stands up more than any of the rest of it, and we're gonna melt that. - [Joe] Now you can get plenty of $200 haircuts in LA, but you gotta come to North Memphis for a genuine $10 fire cut. - And none of the things that I'm doing is new, but nobody else has seen nobody else do it, not on a large scale like I've been doing it. - Now. I've gotta ask you, have you ever had any accidents at all? - No, major ones. Well, I had one fella catch on fire, didn't burn him too bad. But I had one fella, he had some flammable stuff, oil sheen, like the stuff that Michael Jackson had in his hair. So what I did when I went to his head, like you saw me doing, to burn it, it just blazed up. So I just grabbed and smothered him out. But I never did any major damage to anyone's head. Regardless of what you have on your head now, I can handle it. Use a bit myself. - [Joe] Warren not only runs a busy salon, he's also well known and respected for his community service work. The walls of this room are filled with symbols of his many contributions. - If you can help somebody, then your living won't be in vain, and those are facts. But see, I could be one that's receiving the help cause I know what it's like to not have anything at all, and it makes a difference. - You can't say Warren's got money to burn, but he does pretty well. And by the way, he does do more traditional cuts, but it's the fire cut that sparked national attention and made Warren one of the hottest attractions at hair shows. Warren would like to pass on his fire cutting technique to a younger generation of barbers, but so far, no one seems to have the knack or the burning ambition to pick it up. - Nobody. For the last 40 years, I've had many barbers with me and no one been able to do it yet. I show him 'em to do it. Like I say, it's even fascinating to me, to be able to do this. - [Joe] So until he passes the torch, or candles in this case, Warren Lewis reigns as the king of the fire cuts. With jukebox blaring and candles glowing, he'll go down in history as Tennessee's hottest barber. - The next time I do one, I'm gonna put "Shaft," and "Great Balls of Fire." ♪ Come on baby you're driving me crazy ♪ ♪ Goodness gracious great balls of fire ♪ - Okay, that's probably the most unique segment I think I've ever seen and it may be my favorite "Tennessee Crossroads." - It's probably one of the most unique ones I've ever been involved with, Becky. - Does he still work? - I looked him up on the internet and yeah, the shop is still open and he's still cutting hair with fire. - Okay. Did it smell bad in there? Cause when you singe your hair, it's not good. - I didn't get that close. - And let me ask you one other question, Joe, do you write your own scripts Cause you had some "burning questions." - Oh yeah, I was fired up to write my own script. I always am. Kenton is a little town in Northwest Tennessee with a population of around 1,300, but it's not the people population that attracted Al Vex there in the late eighties, rather it was the curious community of white squirrels. This is, Kenton Tennessee. Now Kenton is like any other small, West Tennessee town. As you drive in on Highway 45, the terrain is typically West Tennessee, but there are two distinct differences about Kenton. Now number one, the Gibson, Obion county line runs right through the middle of town. Right now we are one block inside Obion County. The other thing is that there are two distinctively white things in Kenton. Now number one is cotton. Cotton of course is grown nearby, but the other half of the white distinction is that Kenton is the Tennessee home of the white squirrel. Damon Cross is one of the many who daily provides food for the squirrels. He is also the mayor of Kenton. Through the years, they have driven off their gray, red and fox type relatives. They are protected by city ordinance and they seem to know they have a pretty good thing going, but why do they stay in Kenton? - [Damon] Well, because of abundance of food. They have lots of Oak trees and some of 'em are white Oaks with great big acorns. And then there are lots of walnuts and pecans and hazelnuts. - [Al] But there is food in other places in Tennessee. Why do they stay in Kenton? You don't see them anywhere else. - [Damon] This is their locale, evidently where they started from. And you'll see 'em in the outer perimeter, two or three miles out in the woods sometimes, you'll see 'em, but normally this is home to 'em. - [Al] Do the people out here take to 'em? - [Damon] A majority of people, I'd say 99% of the people like 'em. - [Al] One who really likes them is Mrs. Birdie Freeman. But she's a little different from the other residents who enjoy the squirrels in the wild. For the past couple of years, Birdie and her husband Aubrey have kept Sam as a pet, and a visit to their home shows that Sam has the Freemans pretty well trained. - Mr. Damon Cross called me and asked me if I'd take him. And I said, "No," at first. I didn't want him cause I have a lot to do, and I go away a lot. And so he said, well, he couldn't survive if I didn't take him. I said, "Well, just bring him on and I'll take him." So that's how we got Sam. - [Al] He's your pet, isn't he? - [Birdie] Yes he is. He's our pride and joy. - [Al] Squirrels are notorious as far as tearing things up. He's got sharp claws. He's got sharp teeth. - [Birdie] Yes. - [Al] I see you've got things covered in your house. Does he do any damage? - [Birdie] Oh, yes. Very much so. He'll chew a little on this and chew a little on that. But like I said, he means something to us. I have no family here except my husband. And sometimes I get real lonesome and when I do, why Sam loves to play and I let Sam out and watch him play. That's the way he likes to play all over me. I sit down and he'll run and jump on me and play and play and play. - [Al] Are you the only person in Kenton who keeps a pet? - [Birdie] As far as I know, the only one that's ever been like Sam. I mothered him and took care of him day and night till I got him big enough and he's on his own, and so of course he's the boss around here. And if I make him mad he fusses at me. Oh Lord, he'll fuss at me. And if Aubrey makes him mad, he'll fuss at him too, but still and all, he's a lot of joy to me. There ain't a farm in Texas could buy him. - [Al] Well, not every white squirrel in the area gets its belly scratched like Sam, but the rest of the squirrels do enjoy a pretty good life. You have to go a fair distance to see the white cliffs of Dover. You don't need to go nearly as far to see the white squirrels of Kenton. - Only town with white squirrels in Tennessee. - Didn't know that either Joe. See, I'm learning so much on "Retro Tennessee Crossroads." And what do you think? Did Sam leave a few gifts? - I would imagine there's a lot of clean up to do in Sam's house. I'm not gonna go there though. - I'm telling you that was such a fun story. And tell me about your host. Do you often use those onsite hosts like Al Voecks? - Oh, yeah. Al, Jerry and I were charter members of the "Crossroads," team. - [Becky] What's he doing now? - Al's retired happily. He was a great correspondent though. He found a lot of great stories on his own. He was one of those people who wouldn't go and do a story on a restaurant unless he tried it himself with his wife, and he always did a good job. - I'm glad you stayed with us, Joe. Oh, they couldn't get rid of me. They tried I'm sure. But no, I'm here to stay I guess. And maybe I'll introduce the next story. - Okay.I'm ready. - If you're old enough to remember watching "Howdy Doody," on television, you're no doubt old enough for Medicare. Some fans not only collect memories, they collect memorabilia. In 1991, Jana Stanfield went to Ashland City to meet a collector of everything about "Howdy Doody." - Say kids, what time is it? - [Children] Howdy Doody time! - It was "Howdy Doody," time in America for 13 great years. When kids got this first look at what would soon be the number one children's show in the country, it was 1947. The program was created by a man known as Buffalo Bob Smith, but the star of the show was "Howdy Doody." Although "Howdy," went off the air over 30 years ago, he continues to touch the lives of some of the grown up children who loved him. Hey kids, it's the official "Howdy Doody," magic piano, and xyladoodle and let me tell you, it really is magic. In the 1950s, when this was created, it sold for maybe $10, this magic piano and xyladoodle is now worth over 200 times that amount. Yes, that's over $2,000. Now who would save a "Howdy Doody," magic piano and xyladoodle? Probably the same kind of person who would save a "Howdy Doody," fudge bar wrapper. Well, it says right here, "Save these bags." Now the reason you'd save these bags is because with this bag, plus 35 cents, you could send in and get an official "Howdy Doody," sailor cap such as this. This is Steven Stratton at his fifties diner in Ashland City. Steven is the kind of guy who'd save an ice cream wrapper, a sailor cap or anything else that said "Howdy Doody," on it. Slowly, he built one of the largest "Howdy Doody," collections in the country, although that's not what he set out to do. - Really it was more or less just by accident. I just had done so many different flea markets and traveled around that I just from time to time, would collect a piece or two. And then all of a sudden I realized, hey, this is starting to dominate my basement, so I better make this a collection. - [Jana] Steven looks for pieces that are in mint condition, preferably things stored in their original boxes. Sometimes the unique boxes and displays are more valuable to collectors now than the toys they held. - What makes this particular piece so unique, in my opinion, is that the back part of this... Which as a collector, I don't like to remove, tear or touch anything in particular is that this has the original battery and the original tape that actually held the battery in there that has some characters like Rootie Kazootie, and different little characters on there. - Gala Poochie Pup and Polka Dottie. - Right. - [Jana] Howdy Doody, was a very busy character during the fifties, endorsing dozens of products. As you can see with this tiny desk set, "Howdy," endorsements often carried the theme of a television screen. This promoted the purchase of television sets, which gave the show more viewers and in turn, sold more "Howdy Doody," endorsed products. - [Steve] Obviously it was the number one show and Bob Smith was obviously a great marketer for the items. And he liked shoe endorsements, food endorsements. I mean, I could go on, it was unlimited and unbelievable what he did at such an early infant stage for television. - Sometimes collectors find a treasure within a treasure. We found one today when I asked if this billfold had any money in it, Steven said, "I don't think so, but I never looked inside it." As I unzipped it, I found that inside, it had a note that said, "Open and read." As I opened the note, it says inside, "This is a souvenir from the Howdy Doody Wing Ding, held at Jordan Marsh's on September 24th, 1949. Nana gave me $1, so I bought this billfold. Mother bought me a cowboy neck tie. Today's date is September 28th, 1950." 10 years after that note was left, the era of the "Howdy Doody Show," was coming to an end. As millions of children watch the final episode, Clarabell, the clown who hadn't uttered a word in 13 years finally spoke. - Now, Clarabell, if you can talk, prove it. Let's hear you say something. - Goodbye, kids. - [Jana] Do you remember the last "Howdy Doody Show," you watched? - I certainly do. My friends and I all congregated, generally at my house, because we lived in a large house. And it was in 1960 and we were watching it. And after we got through watching the last show, we all gathered out in the yard near the street. And I remember us all saying, well, did it bother you that "Howdy," went off? And of course, little macho man myself, I said, "Nah, that didn't bother me any." And all my friends, we all said, no, it didn't bother us. And about 15 minutes later, we disbanded, and I went out in the woods and cried like a baby. - Steven Stratton admits that watching a "Howdy Doody," episode now gets a little boring. Maybe his collection is a way to hang onto the time in his life when "Howdy Doody," was hilarious. What would you say that you and other "Howdy Doody," collectors have in common? - A little bit of insanity, just that love of collecting something from your childhood. - Okay, I've never seen that much "Howdy Doody," memorabilia. And seeing "Antiques Roadshow," it made me think that wouldn't they love to get a hold of that? - Well, that'd be a treasure for them. Wouldn't it? - Right, right. - I imagine they could raise some money too. I have to admit, I watched "Howdy Doody," when I was a kid. I think it went away because a lot of kids like me got older and didn't really wanna watch Clarabelle and Mr. Flub-a-dub and all those other characters. - But it brings back such great memories. And I love seeing these stories that people have collections, right? So I'm glad you caught it. - Well, thank you. I'm glad we did too. All right, moving on. In 1991, Al Voecks had the honor of spotlighting a music star in the making. Little did he know then that 10-year-old Cody Kilby would go on to play banjo and guitar in Ricky Skaggs' band, to record with countless other artists and receive four Grammys. - For the people who operate today's supermarkets, they will tell you that the competition is extremely keen. The object of course, is to get people in this store and not in that store. That is why they will keep theirs as clean as possible. The produce will always be fresh and the prices, well, they will be the lowest possible. But Ronnie and Sharon Kilby, who run Kilby's Buy Right in Cowan, throw a little extra ingredient in every once in a while. They provide some good old toe tapping entertainment, and the good part is it doesn't cost them anything. You see their son, Cody, is a 10-year-old banjo player who will wander down to the store every so often for a little old picking and grinning. About three years ago, Cody picked up the banjo. And while most of us couldn't achieve this level by practicing 10 years or more, well, Ronnie and Sharon said, it just came natural to Cody. - [Ronnie] My granddaddy played banjo, ukulele, piano. He was musically inclined, but I think a lot of it's on his own. He's just a natural. - He was barely eight and showed an interest right off in learning a song, "Oh, Susanna." I guess Ronnie picked it up by ear and showed him. And he played the song just by picking by ear and remembered it. And then after that, he started learning some songs that his dad had learned. And I remember when the fingers started moving faster. - [Al] How does he handle it? - [Ronnie] Like he really hasn't accomplished anything. He's just an everyday kid. He doesn't really get excited over it. He doesn't really think he's doing anything special when he does it. He knows school comes first and banjo second. He doesn't see it that way sometimes. - He had a lot of teasing, probably in third grade when he was eight, from playing this bluegrass and country music, cause most of the kids like rock and roll, but that didn't seem to bother him. We told him to, do what you like to do. And if that's what you like to do, then don't worry about what someone else says. - [Al] Are you his manager? - Manager. Chauffeur. - [Al] Is this a future meal ticket you're looking at? Well, it is his right now. It is for him. I haven't made any money off of him. Spent a lot of time, but of course we're tickled to death to do it. - [Al] How long have you been playing this? - About two and a half years. - [Al] Is that all? - Yes, sir. - [Al] You're good. - Thanks. - [Al] You've won a lot of awards. Which one means the most to you? - [Cody] The Smithfield Jamboree. It's the world champion banjo and guitar and Dobro and fiddle and mandolin contest. - [Sharon] When he was eight, he told me one day... I was asking both children what they'd like to do, which I'm sure most parents have done. "What would you like to do when you get big?" And he said, "Well, I'm either gonna run the store or I'm gonna be on the Grand Ole Opry." This was eight. And I think really that's been a dream of his. Even at that early stage, when he first started playing, I think he really knew, that that was maybe his calling. I don't know. A lot of people said it's been a special gift that has been given to him, a lot of local people, and a lot of people that we have met in the state of Tennessee and at different festivals, that it was just a special gift for him to be able to play like he does. - [Al] Even if you're not the most avid fan of bluegrass banjo, it is nearly impossible to walk up and down the aisle of the store and not tap your toes or snap your fingers when Cody is playing. - [Cody] I wanna make banjo music my career. - [Al] You wanna join the Opry? - [Cody] Yes, sir. - [Al] Have they asked you to already? - [Cody] Well, Roy Acuff said when I'm 12 to come back, he'd put me on. - [Al] You're good. - Thanks. - Wow, Joe. You know what? I saw Cody Kilby at the Smithfield Fiddler's Jamboree. In fact, I watched him grow up there in Smithfield and what a treat to get to see that show and to know now that he still has this amazing career. - Yeah, I think that's the first time we've got a star in the making in one of our segments, but yeah, he went on to the big time. - And I think now we're about out of time on "Retro Tennessee Crossroads." - Well, time really flew by, but we will be revisiting the past again the first Sunday of next month at 6:30 PM. I'm looking forward to it and we'll see you then, right?
Retro Tennessee Crossroads
August 07, 2022
Season 01 | Episode 02
We continue time traveling on Retro Tennessee Crossroads. On our journey, you’ll meet a Memphis barber who cuts hair with fire instead of scissors. Then we'll travel to a town known for its white squirrels. We’ll see a slew of Howdy Doody memorabilia. And finally, then-10-year-old Cody Kilby will show us his impressive banjo skills.