When you hear the picking of the banjo and the instantly recognizable baritone voice— there’s no denying it— you’re watching “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
Performed by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” became the opening and closing theme for the CBS sitcom that aired from 1962 to 1971. However, it was originally sung by another country music icon of the 1960s.
Jerry Scoggins, known for his work with Gene Autry and Bing Crosby, sang the tune while Flatt and Scruggs performed the instrumentals. However, the voice listeners heard on the single was that of Flatt.
Even if you’ve only seen one episode of the show, you can quickly understand the premise just by listening to the song. As the narrator sings, the patriarch of the Clampett family is out hunting when he discovers “bubbling crude” coming up from the ground (“Oil, that is,” the song intones. “Black gold, Texas tea”).
With pockets full of money, he packs up his family and heads to Beverly Hills, Calif. (“Swimming pools / Movie stars”), although he and the rest of his family never lose their sense of “Southern hospitality.”
Louise Scruggs, Earl Scruggs’ wife, told NPR that Paul Henning, who wrote the song and created the sitcom, approached the men to perform on “The Ballad of Jed Clampett.”
“He called and wanted Earl and Lester to do the theme music,” she says. “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 Impact Of ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ Theme Song
“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?'”
Flatt and Scruggs also made numerous guest appearances on the show playing themselves. However, according to Louise Scruggs, the show’s popularity didn’t just benefit the musicians.
“What it did, actually, insofar as spreading country music, it helped country music,” she said.” And it helped, well, the banjo in particular, because Earl gets mail from people all over the world.”
The song peaked at No. 44 on the pop charts on Feb. 9, 1963. In addition, it became a crossover success when it spent three weeks at No. 1 on the country charts.
Nearly 60 years later, the song is still instantly recognizable for fans of all generations. Not only is “The Beverly Hillbillies” in syndication, but artists such as Béla Fleck and “Weird Al” Yankovic have even covered the song.