Cliffie Stone, the eclectic producer, performer and Pygmalion who gave the world such stars as Tennessee Ernie Ford and earned the nickname "Mr. Country Music," has died. He was 80.
Stone, who hosted "Hometown Jamboree" on radio and television for some two decades, died Saturday at his Canyon Country home after suffering a heart attack, said his wife, Joan.
His "Jamboree" country variety program, broadcast from the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, introduced or widely promoted the careers of such country legends as Ford, Johnny Cash, Tex Ritter, Eddie Arnold and Merle Travis.
Stone produced more than 14,000 television and radio shows, including NBC's "The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show." But he wore many other country hats as well--bass player, singer, bandleader, comedian, radio disc jockey, songwriter, music publisher, manager for Ford and others, recording artist and executive, even author.
"I love life! I just love life!" Stone often told his wife.
Stone earned the Pioneer Award of the Academy of Country Music in 1972, was inducted into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in 1979, and 10 years later, into the Country Music Assn. Hall of Fame. In 1989, he got a star at Sunset and Vine on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He served as vice president of the Country Music Assn. and president and a director of the Academy of Country Music.
"I happen to have been lucky," Stone told The Times in 1993 during a benefit appearance with his band in Santa Ana. "I think luck and persistence--the more persistent you are the luckier you get--is the answer to the entertainment world. It's not talent. That sounds weird, but I know a lot of talented people that are starving."
Born Clifford Gilpin Snyder in Burbank, Stone started playing bass on a radio show on Los Angeles station KELW when he was 14, billed as "Cliffie Stonehead." Years later, when he took over the host's duties, he said, "I lost my 'head' and became Stone."
He worked as a bassist in the big bands of Anson Weeks and Freddie Slack, worked at the Pasadena Community Playhouse and did comedy sketches for Ken Murray's Hollywood Blackouts.
Gravitating to radio, he worked as a deejay, emcee and performer on KFUD's "Covered Wagon Jubilee" and KFWB's "Lucky Stars." He also had his own band and was a comedian for 18 years on the CBS radio show "Hollywood Barn Dance."
In the mid-1940s, Stone hosted 28 radio shows a week. He and his band also gave several performances a day entertaining country fans who had moved to California to work in the defense plants during World War II.
Stone is largely credited with popularizing country music in California after World War II, primarily through his show. It began on radio station KXLA in Pasadena as "Dinner Bell Roundup" and changed its name to "Hometown Jamboree" in 1944. The show was on KTLA Channel 5 television from 1949 to 1960.
"For a long time it was almost like racial discrimination when you said you were country," Stone said in 1993, pleased to have lived to see today's acceptance of the music. "It used to be if you were listening to country music on your radio at a boulevard stop, you'd turn your radio down so nobody would know you were listening to it. It was looked down on by the musicians union, everybody. We were like second-class citizens, which is OK because we did nothing but make money."
Stone first won major prominence in 1946 when three songs he co-wrote reached the top five on country and western charts--"No Vacancy" with Travis, "New Steel Guitar Rag" with Bill Boyd and the Cowboy Ramblers, and three versions of "Divorce Me C.O.D." with Travis, the King Sisters and Johnny Bond.
In 1948, Stone heard Ford broadcasting daily news on a San Bernardino radio station, suggested he move to KXLA in Pasadena and then booked him frequently on "Hometown Jamboree." After Ford signed a record contract with Capitol and grew increasingly popular, he asked Stone to be his manager--confirming their "contract" with a handshake when the two were in a pickup truck on a hunting trip.
Stone had his own hit recordings over the years, fronting his band, playing bass and singing on songs such as "Silver Stars," "Purple Sage," "Peepin' Through the Keyhole," "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again," "Little Pink Mack."
He operated his music publishing company Central Songs in the 1960s and later headed Granite Records for several years.
Stone, whose first wife Dorothy died in 1989, is survived by his wife, Joan, and four children, Curtis, who plays with the band Highway 101, Linda, Steven and Jonathan.
Funeral services are scheduled today at noon at the Valencia Village Church, 24802 Elderbrook Drive, Newhall, Calif.
The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Oralingua, a school for the deaf, at 7056 S. Washington Ave., Whittier, Calif. 90602.