You may not have seen “The Beverly Hillbilies,” but you definitely heard its theme song. “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” is iconic in its own right. Featuring an excellent arrangement of banjo and guitar, the tune captured the themes of its inspiration well. And it proved to be a hit when released as a single.
On this day in 1963, the song shot straight to No. 1 on the charts, proving you can’t keep a good hillbilly soundtrack down.
Bluegrass musicians Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs combined forces to produce the hit. The show’s creator Paul Henning wrote the tune, which followed the central premise of Jed Clampett. The rural farmer discovers oil on his property, and soon he and the rest of the family are overnight millionaires on their way to California.
“He called and wanted Earl and Lester to do the theme music,” Earl’s wife and manager Louise Scruggs told NPR. “And I turned it down at first because of the word ‘Beverly Hillbillies.’ I didn’t know what connotation that was going to take with country people and didn’t want to offend them. So he said, ‘Well, the premise of this show is that the Beverly Hillbillies are going to always be outsmarting the city slickers.'”
“The Ballad of Jed Clampett” Becomes a Single
But all it took was a single taping of the show for the musicians to change their minds. They watched the pilot episode and decided they would perform the theme song. While they were recording the tune, Louise had the idea of also turning the song into a single.
“While they were doing the theme music, I said to Perry Botkin, who was the music director at the time, ‘I think that would make a great single,'” she recalled. “And so I called Mr. Henning, and I said, ‘What do you think if they, about them recording that for a single for Columbia Records?'”
That idea proved to be fortunate for the musicians. Soon after, the TV show was a smash hit, and audiences couldn’t get enough of the catchy theme. The musicians soon sold out a year’s worth of concerts on “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” alone. The duo also made several guest appearances on the show as themselves, which further helped the single’s popularity.
“What it did, actually, insofar as spreading country music, it helped country music,” Louise said. “And it helped, well, the banjo in particular, because Earl gets mail from people all over the world.”
In addition to landing No. 1 on the country chart, the single also peaked at No. 44 on the pop charts as well.