Entertainment Editor

Radio disc jockey Tom Perryman is something of a local treasure, and the Tyler Civic Theatre Center is providing the public an opportunity to see that for themselves with this weekend’s presentation of “Keepin’ It Country.”

In honor of Perryman’s 64th birthday, the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame inductee will spin records of country and rockabilly classics and regale the audience with stories from his heyday as a radio personality. Perryman has made radio DJ’ing his life’s work in East Texas and as such he’s done and seen it all and had the privilege of working with a few low-key musicians you may or may not have heard of: Ray Price, Jim Reeves and Hank Williams Sr. Oh, and some guy named Elvis.

Perryman is something of an institution when it comes to East Texas’ music history, a fact that John Anderson, the show’s co-producer, aims to emphasize with these two performances. Anderson said Perryman’s instantaneous recall of the musicians he’s worked with and the stories that come with each will provide for a unique night of entertainment.

“I said, ‘We need to put Tom’ on a stage and let him talk about some of this history,’” Anderson said. “What people don’t realize is that the Elivses and Prices and Williamses, they cut their teeth in East Texas. This was their training ground, so to speak, and then they went on to bigger and better things in the national limelight, but there is a tremendous history of (those sort of entertainers in East Texas). This area has just been very fertile.”

In addition to Perryman’s stories and records, he’ll be joined by Hank Williams tribute artist Jake Penrod, Elvis tribute artist James Wages and Tyler Civic Theatre veteran Allison Pharr will reprise her portrayal of Patsy Cline. Each will perform songs on-stage as the artists.

Radio has been Perryman’s life. He entered the business in March of 1947 and, save for a couple runs managing stations, broadcasting has been his sole focus.

“I’ve always been interested in radio because the farm I was raised on, radio was all we had,” he said.

He attended Tyler Commercial College’s radio courses to learn the basics of broadcasting and following the release of new stations post-World War II, Perryman found himself working at KEBE in Jacksonville, his first official job.

Radio still has on-air personalities, but the traditional role of a disc has all but disappeared thanks to corporate-mandated playlists. Perryman still selects the music that plays on his daily show on KKUS 104.1 The Ranch in Tyler, a rarity in today’s radio landscape. Perryman said disc jockeys used to be an integral part of shaping the sonic landscape of popular culture.

“A disc jockey played the records, something that’s unheard of today,” he said. “We could be a part of the success of a song or an artist. That was a big thing for us. We’d send in our popularity charts each week, 10 songs, to Billboard, and they’d publish them put your name on (the lists). That was something.”

Because disc jockeys got to choose what music they played, this led to Perryman eventually playing a role in Elvis’ first appearance in East Texas as he was one of the few disc jockeys to consistently play his single “That’s All Right, Mama.”

“One of the worst date (Elvis) worked was at a beer joint in Gladewater called The Mint Club. This promoter over there called me and said, ‘Tom, I know you’ve been doing a lot of stuff for us but you’ve got to help me. We’ve got three boys down here from Memphis to get some show dates and they didn’t come through and they’re broke. They can’t get home or out of the motel. They can’t get gas to get home on.’ He told me who it was, and it was Elvis and Scotty and Bill, his two musicians. I didn’t have but about three days to promote them by playing that song,” he said. “It was a small little place and the total money we took in for that night at a dollar a head was $90. That was a lot of money for back then, and they never forgot it.”

Elvis was only 19 when he played The Mint Club. Perryman said no one could have known back then what a phenomenon the man would become.

“He had the right thing at the right time,” he said. “Something like that happens once in a lifetime.”

Perryman will be on-stage at the Tyler Civic Theatre Center tonight at 7:30 and tomorrow at 2:30 p.m.


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