He was called “the funniest,” by Johnny Cash and introduced to U.S President Gerald Ford, as “the greatest story teller in the world,” by the late comedian Foster Brooks.
Yes, Canadian country music legend Gordie Tapp’s six-decade run in entertainment has produced great songs, plenty of laughs and a whole lot of stories.
And the show goes on.
On May 31, the 92-year-old London native returns to the Commercial Tavern in Maryhill to share the moments, anecdotes and music that have made his life extraordinary.
“I call it ‘What’s on Tapp?’ and it’s a program about my life,” Tapp said, on the line from his home in Burlington. “I start at the beginning, when I first got on stage at five years of age with a harmonica band. I talk about how my sister and I got doing garden parties and bar mitzvahs and the like with our guitars and harmonicas, through when I joined the army and won the Canadian Army’s amateur show out in Nova Scotia.”
The win earned Tapp a tour of Canadian military bases, where he performed for the troops.
His passion for show business was renewed.
“When I got home, I knew I didn’t want to go back and work in the shoe factory, I wanted to entertain,” he recalled.
So he set his sights on Lorne Greene’s Radio and Arts Academy in Toronto.
“They turned me down at first because I didn’t have any education,” Tapp said. “I hadn’t even gone to Grade 9; we were born in the Depression.”
But he persevered, with a little help from his wife, Helen.
“She was stationed with me out in Halifax and she collected all of the newspaper clippings from all of the shows that I had done in the area.,” he said. “She put them all together and I got another appointment with Lorne Greene. He read them and said he’d accept me if I’d go back and write my senior equivalency, so I did.”
After graduation in 1947, he helped launch radio stations in Niagara Falls and Guelph. From that experience he became a founding member of the Main Street Jamboree on both radio and television, broadcast from Hamilton. Tapp later joined Country Hoedown – the precursor to The Tommy Hunter Show – bringing with him the character of Cousin Clem. Both Tapp and his alter-ego would go on to international fame in the long-running Hee Haw, which aired from 1969 to 1993.
It’s been a heck of a ride, he says, highlighted by numerous awards and distinctions including the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario, and induction into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
And he still gets a thrill from the spotlight, where the quick wit that made him famous continues to delight audiences.
“I enjoy talking about it because we had such a wonderful time and I learned a lot,” he says. “Getting to meet people and to continue working as an entertainer, it’s a really special thing for me. I’ve presented this show in several places now and it’s just amazing … every place is different and every audience is different, but it has all been very, very favourable.”
There’s sure to be copies of his autobiography, “What’s on Tapp?” on offer, along with albums and DVDs highlighting his illustrious career.
As a special treat, Tapp will be joined next Sunday afternoon by The Weber Family and Jim and Pam Yorfiddo (a Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash tribute band). Tickets are $25, available at the door or by calling the Commercial Tavern at 519-648-2644. Doors open at 1:30 p.m. and the show runs from 2-6 p.m.