I was happy to travel the lonely distance from Hendersonville to Spindale, NC, home of college radio station WNCW, to see a live taping of the King Pup Radio Show this November. This show was only available on the internet until WNCW took to broadcasting it on their Sunday morning lineup.
King Pup is the brainchild of the genial Carolinians Phil and Gaye Johnson who produce the show to mimic the "opry" style of entertainment programming. They themselves refer to the show as "small-time opry" and sitting in the library auditorium the night of the taping demonstrated to me just how small. The crowd assembled on the first of the two scheduled nights was more akin to a "friends and family" sized gathering. But the show must go on and Phil Johnson advised the handful of scattered attendees to applaud and cheer with greater gusto than usual to hopefully compensate for the poor showing. After all, the taping is audio only and stretching the bounds of enthusiasm is all part of the show.
Long a staple of the Western North Carolina old-time music circuit, the Johnson’s were in fine position to fill the bill with local talent for two nights of taping. Some raw and unknown, others familiar and masterful, and the rest filling in the middle.
Phil and Gaye would start things off with a big King Pup intro (“It’s a new day now.”) followed by a musical set of their own. Then each of four bands would perform a set. Phil and Gaye would return to their stage-right microphones after each band for a few delicate and divine duets while the next band set up, giving them a total of four mini-sets.
Normally the sight of unkempt sound engineers and scrambling pickers would be a distraction but in this case we were all in on the illusion and I was pleased to see the production proceeding apace with nary a hitch. Spotlit downstage, Gaye sweetly warbled standards such as “Angeline,” “Frankie and Johnnie” (“he was doin’ her wrong.”), and that spelling song where the end of each line is spelled out (“they had the brass to say they’re S-A-V-E-D.”).
When it came time to let the other bands to take center stage, Phil introduced each with a “big King Pup welcome” soliciting riotous applause and then retreating to the sound board or some darkened corner of the auditorium. Gaye cheerfully took a seat somewhere near the front to watch the King Pup Radio Show unfold in real time.
The performances were generally good and some were indeed quite excellent. The lineup was as follows: The Donna Hughes Band, The DesChamps Band, Campus Tradition, The Kilocycle Cowboys, The Cockman Family Band, County Farm, Alternate Roots, and Tommy Edwards & Friends.
A few bands had CD’s for sale while others had none. There was also the occasional website mentioned. I especially enjoyed mingling with the performers during the hushed intermissions.
Best of all, the bands played their hearts out for two great nights of informal music making all brought together a warm and sincere couple in the context of a great performance concept: King Pup.
[Submitted to the NCMAMA newsletter "Mama Says."]