We all know country music has its roots in America, mainly in the backwoods of the South.
But you may not know that at least three nationally-known country music performers have their roots right here in the Treasure Valley!
In the 1960s, when country music had a certain distinctive “twang” to it and many performers wore sparkly Nudie suits, Boise native Judy Lynn … the former Miss Idaho of 1955 … became a staple at the Grand Ole Opry, even subbing at one time for country music legend Jean Shepard, who had become ill and couldn’t sing.
Lynn performed in a number of concerts across the country … released a slew of singles from 1952-77 … and is perhaps best remembered for entertaining Las Vegas audiences for over twenty years.
Lynn retired in 1980 and later became a Christian minister.
She died on May 26, 2010 from heart failure. She was 74.
Also during the sixties, KGEM radio on Cassia Street in Boise was southwest Idaho’s powerhouse country music station.
One of the disc jockeys everyone listened to back then was a man named Marty Martin.
When Martin left broadcasting, he began a career in show business; taking on the persona of a stubbled, disheveled railroad hobo and becoming known by his stage name “Boxcar Willie”, based on a character from a ballad he had composed.
It wasn’t long before he acquired a large national and international following. In 1980, he released his most popular album “King of the Road,” a cover of fellow country music singer Roger Miller’s hit. The following year, he was inducted into the famous Grand Ole Opry.
Martin also made a variety of television appearances as his trademark character, on series as diverse as Chuck Barris’ “The Gong Show” and the granddaddy country music/hayseed comedy series “Hee Haw.”
Martin died on April 12, 1999 of leukemia. He was 67.
Speaking of “Hee Haw,” Julliard-trained champion fiddle player Jana Jae got her start in Weiser … of course, home of the annual National Old-Time Fiddlers’ Contest.
In the seventies, she became a regular on the show -- as the only female member of Buck Owens’ band, the Buckaroos.
In fact, the two were married for more than eighteen months; a relationship that ended amicably. “We ended up good friends. He called me every Sunday afternoon the last couple years of his life. (Owens died in March, 2006). We were definitely in love,” she said. “We admired one another. He loved my talent and he treated me well -- always. He was a master showman. I was lucky to learn from being on his shows how to relate to the audience, etc. We had fun! “Hee Haw” and Buck made my career -- and many others’ careers -- possible. I'm grateful!”
Over the years, Jana Jae has headlined in a number of international concerts –- touring in Japan, the Philippines, Australia, Africa, and Brazil, according to her website -- and performed on stage alongside such well-known recording stars as Roy Clark, Ray Stevens, Mel Tillis, Ricky Skaggs and The Oakridge Boys.
And she has never forgotten her roots. “My ears are Idaho-made and my family and musical roots are for sure in Idaho,” she told us. “My dad and mom were trained at Julliard in classical music and my grandfather was a champion fiddle player in both Idaho and Colorado. So when I was on stage, I’d play some of Mozart’s concertos that I had learned from my parents and then some ‘hoedown’ that I had learned from my granddaddy -– and I would get standing ovations!”
Today, Jana Jae is still very active in the music industry … playing her trademark blue fiddle wherever she goes (always mixing in a blend of classical and country music in her performances) … and conducting “fiddle camps” all across the country. She also currently tours with a few of her fellow “Hee Haw” castmates under the name “Kornfield Friends.”
“Who knows? Maybe one of these days I’ll make it back to Idaho!” she said.
(Jana Jae photo courtesy: Jana Jae Enterprises)