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George Hamilton IV


 
I spoke to George at the Palace Theatre in Manchester (UK) in 1994, after a performance of  "Patsy Cline The Musical," which starred  Sandy Kelly in the leading role, with George as narrator. This is what he had to say.

Ray Grundy
George Hamilton IV

Sandy Kelly


  You're known as the international ambassador of country music, can you tell us who gave you that name?

  I was over in Russia in 1974, I did a lecture concert at the Moscow University, and when I came back through England on my way back to the states, a couple of friends of mine at the BBC, Bob Powell and David Allen were teasing me about going behind the iron curtain, they said it was the first time an American country singer had performed in eastern europe, and they  jokingly referred to me as some kind of Hillbilly Ambassador, and it kinda stuck I guess.

A lot of people began to refer to that trip as an ambassadorial role, because as I say it was the first time country music had been taken live behind the iron curtain. They had heard some of it on the radio as I found out, on the voice of America and from the BBC. But I was a kind of a guinea pig I guess, because a few months after I was there Tennessee Ernie Ford and a group from Opryland went over, and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were over as well for a concert tour. 

It was just a ground breaking exercise I guess. I enjoyed it though it was very exciting.

  You've been coming over to England on a regular basis since the late 60s, have you any special memories from all those years?

  Yeah, I would say the Wembley festival looms large in my memory. I did maybe 14 or 15 of those. I was at the first one in 1969 and there's a lot of warm memories. It was "The" country music gathering in Europe for many years, and it was a place where you could always count on seeing old friends from years past, and meeting up with entertainers, singers and musicians and having a good chat.

I met a lot of people from Ireland for the first time at Wembley, like Larry Cunningham, Brian Coll, Philomena Begley and folks like that you know. They used to come over every year for the Wembley festival, and the  year that Sandy Kelly, whose playing Patsy Cline at the moment was there -  she was there with Johnny Cash - I missed, so I didn't get to meet her till later.

  In 1971 you recorded an album with Liverpool band The Hillsiders! How did that come about?

  Well, there's a fella by the name of Ian Grant, who was producing records for RCA at the time, and I had met Ian when I first came to Britain in November 1967.  I did a radio show called country meets folk, with Wally Whyton, and Ian was the producer.

Ian later became a record producer, and he came up with this idea to pair The Hillsiders, who at the time where Britain's premier country band, with a friend of theirs from Nashville, which wasn't the first time they had done that though as they had previously recorded an album with Bobby Bare in Nashville. But this was to be the first album recorded in Britain by an American with a British band and all British musicians.

So it was a kind of historic venture, and the Hillsiders and I have remained real good friends through the years.

We did a tour of Europe, the Scandinavian country's, Germany, Austria and Holland in 1969, and we did a television series together for BBC2. The first one was the one we did at the Nashville rooms which was also the first ever country music television series.  So the Hillsiders and I have had historic moments together and a lot of good memories. 
Their great lads.

  I know you also have a love of Canada, and one of your best known albums contains all Canadian songs!

  Yes, I've recorded 5 studio albums of all Canadian material. I think I've probably done more Gordon Lightfoot songs than anybody except Gordon lightfoot, I'm a big fan of his. 

I love Canada very much. We did a television series there for 7 years in Hamilton, Ontario. That was the series that was screened over here in the UK.

I have a great love for Canada, it's a wonderful land and although it's a much bigger country than the U.S. or the British Isles, there's a smaller population, so there's lots of elbow room, lots of unspoiled territory out there. It's a real special land, and the people are - what is it they say- cold weather, warm hearts. That's the way it is over there.

  You're son George Hamilton IV is now carrying on the tradition by touring here himself. You must feel proud of that!

  Yes, I'm very proud of him. It's funny, I taught him 3 guitar chords when he was about 12 or 13, now he's teaching me chords. He knows more chords than I do, he writes all his own songs, he's got more hair than I do and the girls say he's a lot better looking. 

He's doing well, in fact he's in the midst of recording a new album at the moment and planning a tour of Britain with Colin Ford, formally of "Fever" and Argyle Bell, the steel player from Nashville. So tell him howdy for me if you see him before I do.

  I don't suppose you see very much of each other with you both touring so much. Are you hoping to meet up with him while he's over here?

  Well I hope I'll be over here when he comes. There's some talk of this play going into the West End this summer, so I could very well be here when he comes over. 

We often do the Grand O'l Opry together when we're in the states, but he has his own band and his own style, and he doesn't really want to be tied too much to his old man. He's trying to do his own thing and carve his own way in the business, which I think is good.

  You've been confused many times with George Hamilton the actor. Do you think Patsy Cline the musical, will add to that confusion?

  Well, I don't know, George Hamilton the actor has definitely got all the good looks. I often find it quite amusing when people confuse us, because obviously he's a real 8x10 movie star. ( Sandy Kelly in background - "So are you George")Well thank you Sandy (laughter).

I've met George the actor and we had a good laugh about it. I don't know whether he was just teasing or trying to make me feel good or what, but he said he often has the same problem at party's in Hollywood. People will ask him to sing Abilene. Well he play's guitar (he played Hank William's in a movie) so he say's he learned  Abilene in self defence, so that when people ask him to sing it, he can just get up and sing it and not have to start explaining. 
He's a nice fella, I enjoyed meeting him.

  Have you tried any acting yourself, before Patsy Cline The Musical?

  Well, I don't even know if I'm acting now you know, I'm just playing myself, it's a kind of a trip down memory lane for me. Sandy Kelly is a wonderful actress, she's portraying somebody other than herself, and doing it wonderfully, but in my case, I'm just being me, I'm sort of reminiscing about things that happened in the good ol' day's.

The only thing is you have to memorize lines, that was a big change. I'm used to learning songs, but that's a lot easier because you have the melody to lead you along. 
It's been quite an experience, I've enjoyed it.

  Are you in any way surprised by the success of the show?

  Yes I am as a matter of fact, we were originally asked to do it for 14 weeks and then they extended it, and extended it again, and here we are in our 31st week and going for 37, and now their talking of taking it to the West End. so it's almost like the eternal tour.

It's not that I didn't think the play was good enough, I just didn't think it would go on this long. I might have to emigrate if it carries on like that.

  Can I bring Sandy in now, and finish by asking both of you how far you yourselves would like to see the show go?

  I think probably the West End is the dream that we've both had, and if it goes there then I think that's far enough. I don't really see this going to Broadway or anywhere like that in this format, and anyway George Hamilton IV is George HamiltonIV and I'm Sandy Kelly, so I think probably we need to get back to our careers, because you can get totally caught up in this thing.

Obviously we'd be delighted if it was a success in the West End, and there'll probably be a Patsy Cline the 40th or 50th by the time they finish with it. I don't know what they'll do about George, I suppose they'll have to get in George Hamilton the actor to take over from him (laughter).

  I sort of think like Sandy said, the play may go on without us. I 'd just like to go to the West End with it, it would be nice to be there, and then let somebody else take over the role so that we can go back to doing what we normally do, and go back to being ourselves.

  George, I've very much enjoyed talking to you tonight. Thank you for giving me your time.

 

 

It's worth pointing out that I spoke to George after the show in the dressing room, where he was being pushed by the staff to leave so that they could lock up. George would have none of it, and told me to take my time and ask as much as I wanted. 

He certainly lived up to his reputation for being one of the nicest people in the business. It was a great personal pleasure to have met and spoke to him.


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