“Howdy Riff Raffers.”
As a young kid growing up in the sixties Monday nights at 7pm was set aside to be seated in front of our four legged twenty one inch black and white Astor television. The program we were settling in for had an American compere, Bob Dyer and his capable assistant, Australian wife Dolly on BP’s Pick-A-Box.
The show was famous for introducing the same contestant each week – Barry Jones a teacher from Caulfield. His appearances on the quiz show lasted eight years. He won a staggering 208 episodes winning over $58,000 in money and prizes. The long term champion would often correct Bob Dyer on answers to questions and be right! Barry would later be the Science Minister in the Hawke government.
It is only recently that I found that Bob was a musician and played the Mississippi Saxophone (or should that be the Tennessee Triller) and that he recorded an album for Columbia Records under the moniker of Hillbilly Bob. Robert Dyer began life as a hillbilly in the backwoods of Tennessee. Although a musician with comedic tendencies, Bob had experience in minstrel shows; jazz bands, cabaret, radio, acrobatics, knife throwing, wrestling and illusionism. On stage he would wear large boots, short coat sleeves and trouser legs in the tradition of his people. With guitar and mouth organ he would entertain the troops with his quick, witty one liners.
I’ll let Bob outline what it is to be a hillbilly. “Since my arrival here in 1937 I have been an exponent of hillbilly songs and of the humour current amongst my own people, and have found Australians as enthusiastic as their American cousins. But Australians tend incorrectly to think of hillbillies as cowboys! The Ozark Mountain folk rarely ride horses. They live on small farms, using simple, crude tools, in much the same way as did the yeomen of England in Elizabethan times. Livestock is kept.. mostly pigs, and the favourite dish is pork and yams (sweet Potators). But a more common dish – is possum and yams.” for the American opossum is larger and fatter than the Australian opossum, which is akin to the American squirrel. Meats, the prize of the hunt, deer, ducks, ouail. opossum, and Pear are brought home by men whose duty it is to supply food for their families.” (The Sydney Morning Herald Saturday 10th February 1945)
Bob Dyer was born (Robert Neal Dies) on May 22, 1909, in Tennessee (Hartsville) and was raised in a family of poor, but hard working farmers. He left the life on the farm at the age of seventeen to head north to try his luck as a guitar-plucking, mouth organ blowing hill-billy. He quickly found himself on the air in Detroit and Chicago at a popular time in American radio. Things suddenly went south and so to did Bob joining small touring shows, known as “tab” shows.
With one these companies, the Kentucky Marcus Show he ventured even further south to Australia in 1937. On his second visit as part of the Tivoli circuit Bob (Pappy) Dyer not only captured the hearts of Australian audiences, but he also captured one of Australia’s loved young Tivoli dancers, Dolly Mack – literally running into each other backstage going for an ice cream. They dated for a mere nine days before marrying just another nine days later.
From then on Bob didn’t looked back. Going from success to success, reaching the pinnacle of Australian radio in his famous ‘Atlantic Show’. Other radio successes for Bob included; The Last of the Hillbillies’ (1940) where he composed and performed his songs, ‘Bob Dyer’s Variety Show’ (1944), ‘Can You Take It?’ (1946), ‘Pick-a-Box’ (1948), ‘Cop the Lot’ (1951) and ‘It Pays to Be Funny’ (1955). When television made its way Down Under, Bob found the transition to the box a piece of cake and would make his fame and fortune as the host of ‘Pick-a-Box’.
My knowledge and understanding of Hillbillies was acquired once more via the idiot box through the Clampetts of Beverly Hills. Cuisine hillbilly style was aptly demonstrated by Granny. Her vittles which included; grits, smoked crawdads, hog jowls, stewed squirrel and possum shanks. If my memory is correct Jed is seen playing the harmonica in an episode with Duke lazing nearby on the front porch.
“Tell them Shep sent you.”
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