Imagine if Jimmy McNichol’s Roscoe Wilton from Smokey Bites the Dust was a musician in search of a recording contract. . . . Wait, even better. How about Burt Reynolds’s Bo “Bandit” Darville from Smokey and the Bandit having aspirations to make it as a singer on the stage of the Grand Ol’ Opry?
Yuuuuup! Yer now up to speed on this deep-hicksploitation obscurity that’s worth watching solely for Slim Pickens’s hilarious turn as the obligatory Sheriff Buford T. Justice-clone in this octane-fueled BBQ’d adventure. Somewhat reminiscent of Jerry Reed’s later written-produced-directed-acted country music comedy, What Comes Around (1985), ‘60s country singer Jesse Lee Turner serves as the executive producer and screenwriter, composer and star of this entry in the hicksploitation canons concerned with pitfalls and pratfalls of the country music industry—with a few car chases and crashes added for good measure.
Turner, who made it into the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with his 1959 debut single, “Little Space Girl b/w Shake, Baby Shake” (the B-Side is pure Elvis-rockabilly awesomeness), was unable to repeat that initial success with subsequent singles for various labels throughout the remainder of the ‘60s; he finalized his career with a 1975 singles-deal with MCA Records. Turner then incorporated a successful crop-dusting business (he was a long-time certified pilot) and came to own restaurants, a cattle ranch, a small community airport, and a few oil wells.
It was after Robert Altman released his comedic satire on the country music industry, Nashville (1975), that Turner decided to start a new business: a film production company, General Audience Films, to counter the negative light many in the country and gospel music communities felt Altman’s film cast on the industry. In addition to writing the script, Turner wrote four of the eight songs he performs in the film (the rest are written by respected country songsmiths Larry Hart and Ben Peters), including “Make It on My Own, “I’d Like to Be in Nashville,” “Road to Nashville,” and “Made It to Nashville.”
To direct his country-road comedy, Turner hired Alex Grasshoff (of the papier-mâché dinosaur romp—complete with Richard Boone manning a drilling mini-sub!—The Last Dinosaur). As a sidekick to his J.D character, Turner cast veteran television character actor and B-Movie stalwart Dennis Fimple (TV’s B.J and the Bear; the films The Bootleggers, The Creature from Black Lake, Stay Hungry, Truck Stop Women, White House Madness . . . yes, we love Dennis!) as the Salt Flat Kid (which proved to be Fimple’s only leading man role in a feature film). The musician-duo, who end up spending the night in jail after a gig, meet a flim-flamin’ impresario (country-comedian Archie Campbell of TV’s Hee Haw) who claims he can take them all the way to Nashville. Let’s go, boys!
You have to keep stokin’ that Bandit BBQ-smoky flavor, so we have another Sally “Frog” Field bailing out of a wedding to hook up with J.D’s “Bandit,” courtesy of Nashville singer Dianne Sherrill (who appeared in Nashville 99, a short-lived 1977 TV series starring Jerry Reed and Claude Atkins). And you know the rest of the story: Gailard Sartain (a southern-fried comedic actor best known as the put-a-upon police office in The Hollywood Knights and The Big Bopper in The Buddy Holly Story) is the jilted bridegroom who calls his Texas-hating uncle, Tennessee Sheriff Ledy (Slim Pickens), into action to bring back his lady love.
Hey, there’s Clara Edwards (Hope Summers) from The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D . . . and country music legend Mickey Gilley as a stock car racer . . . and Epic Recording Artist Johnny Paycheck . . . and Polydor’s Johnny Russell . . . and the legendary George Jones showing up for a few tunes. Hey, that’s music agent Eddie Gibbs (Sully Boyar) from The Jazz Singer (1978), and Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Car Wash (1978).
Yep, this good ol’ boy comedy is a BBQ treat brimming with all the B-Movie and exploitation character actors I love. It’s awesome to see Dennis “Grandpa Hugo” Fimple from Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses in a leading-man role.
You’ll notice the artwork on the VHS box (below) utilizes the film’s original title: J.D and the Salt Flat Kid. That artwork, as well as the theatrical one-sheets, went to great lengths to illustrate Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed-styled characters bearing zero resemblance to Jesse Lee Turner and Dennis Fimple.
The clever exploitation marketing featuring a pseudo-nude chick loading a gun under the Smokey and the Outlaw Women banner comes courtesy of producer-distributor J.N Houck, Jr., the Drive-In huckster-guru of Howco International Pictures. Howco was the driving force behind numerous exploiters from the ‘50s through ‘70s, including Night of Bloody Horror (reviewed as part of our October unpack of the Mill Creek Pure Terror 50-film box set) and the previously-linked Creature from Black Lake, starring Dennis Fimple alongside Jack Elam and Bill Thurman (‘Gator Bait).
In addition to becoming an ordained evangelist with a Christian-rock music ministry, Jesse Turner worked as a set designer and as a camera and electrical grip in film and television productions.
The in-depth Medium article “Jesse Lee Turner: A Life in Music and Film” offers more background on Jesse’s career, along with links to his music.
About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.