Monday, February 22, 2016

The Powerhouse from Alabaster, Alabama (Part 2)

It was 1980, and Nashville on the Road's Wendy Holcombe was knockin' 'em dead...not only on that syndicated TV show, but also as a guest on other series (as well as that 1979 ABC special, "Merry Christmas from the Grand Ole Opry," cohosted by WKRP in Cincinnati's Loni Anderson and Vega$' Bob Urich).

And then there were the personal appearances the Alabaster Kid made, where audiences got a chance- up close and personal- to check out her infectious brand of banjo pickin', fiddlin', guitar playing, and vocalizing.

One thing was still missing: A recording contract with a major or not-so-major label.

All Wendy's NOTR partners were cutting sides. I mean, Jim Ed Brown was still recording for RCA (he was heading for 25 years with the label...going back to when Jim Ed and his sisters Maxine and Bonnie were a trio, the Browns). Helen Cornelius joined RCA in 1976 and immediately teamed up with Jim Ed; the next year (same one in which the label's biggest star passed away at age 42), Helen became a regular on Nashville on the Road. 

Jerry Clower's comedy albums (on MCA) were selling pretty well, too.

But you still couldn't go to your favorite record store and pick up Holcombe's latest LP/8-track cartridge/cassette.

There was no such thing (unless you were into bootlegging).

But you could still watch WLH on TV...not only on NOTR,

but also on shows like Hee Haw. 

About the time Wendy started doing guest shots on Roy Clark's and Buck Owens' biggest gig, she met a bass player named Thomas Yoshiro Blosser (he turned 29 in 1980). Not long after that initial Hee Haw taping, Tom started playing bass in Wendy's band. 

Tom already had a pedigree in country music, backing up some of the music's biggest names (such as Louise Mandrell).

TYB (born Yoshiro Sudo) came into the world 11-3-1951 in Muroran, Japan; in 1957, a Mennonite missionary couple named Eugene and Louella Blosser adopted him...and changed the little boy's name. 

In Muroran, Tom had a biological brother and a biological sister...and they were all raised by their grandmother once the children's parents passed out of the picture. 

Toward the end of '57, Louella and Eugene (whose biological children were Philip and Rachel), living and parenting- to say nothing of doing missionary work- in Japan at the time, got the chance to add another child to their family (a prospect that lighted little Philip's fire).

Enter Yoshiro/Tom.

And he and Phil hit it off immediately.

By 1959, the Blossers of Sapporo started making regular trips to the United States...and on one of those, Thomas became a naturalized American citizen. 

Back in Japan, Phil and Tom eventually attended middle school in Sapporo before going on to high school in Tokyo.

In Tokyo, they found out that Tom had chops- he could play a mean guitar. In fact, he and his older adopted brother finished off a talent show at the high school by singing "Mrs. Robinson."

The fundamentalists in the audience weren't looking for that.

Phil and Tom next went to in the US. Tom chose a two-year institution, Hesston College (in Hesston, KS). 

It didn't really work out.

TYB's heart was in music, and he spent most of the 1970s playing guitar and bass (mostly bass) in all sorts of bands- rock, R&B, and country. 

It all stood him in good stead by the time he and Wendy got together.

And it wasn't long before Blosser's and Holcombe's musical relationship became a marital one, too.

But first...Wendy had a chance to fulfill her dream of becoming a complete entertainer.

In 1981, NBC offered Cindy's and "Muley's" sister her own TV series: Wendy Hooper, US Army. It was all about an outgoing, banjo-playing girl who thought that joining the Army would advance her country-music career.

The pilot episode aired on Friday, 8-14-1981. (I had a chance to watch it...and I didn't think Wendy Hooper was too bad.)

The show's other viewers and I were badly outnumbered. After all, the WHUSA pilot came on four months and eight days after CBS turned Goldie Hawn's 1980 romp, "Private Benjamin," into a full-fledged series. 

With Lorna Patterson (you might remember her from another 1980 movie, "Airplane!") taking over from Hawn, most of America's TV viewers didn't feel like supporting two prime-time sitcoms about young women coming in from left field to join the branch that gave Dwight Eisenhower and Colin Powell their first tastes of fame. 

And besides, "Airplane!" showed that Patterson could sing and play the guitar, too. 

Peacock Network potentates weren't done trying to turn Wendy Lou Holcombe into an actor. Her next acting try, Lewis & Clark, made it into the 1981-82 NBC schedule.

Lewis & Clark (it debuted 10-29-1981) was Gabe Kaplan's followup to Welcome Back, Kotter and the series Guich Koock did after Carter Country. In addition, the show featured a pre-Mr. Belvedere Ilene Graff (as Kaplan's wife) and an Amy Linker who, as things turned out, was one season away from teaming up with Sarah Jessica Parker on the critically-acclaimed Square Pegs. 

And David Hollander (he, too, from "Airplane!") was along to play Linker's brother.

Anyway, Kaplan played a native New Yorker who wanted to open up a country-music nightclub...but not in the Big Apple.

The club was going to be in Luckenback, TX...away from Fun City's hustle and bustle.

Well, the nitery was called the Nassau County Cafe. And Koock played its manager, while Holcombe was its sole server (okay, waitress). 

Despite a shift from Thursday nights to Saturday nights (and then one to Friday nights), L&C never caught on...probably because viewers thought Gabe needed better "Sweathogs" than Wendy, Guich, Clifton James (the show's town drunk), and Michael McManus (the bartender).

To top it off, Julie Kotter (played by Marcia Strassman) never had kids!

So it was back to playing and singing country and bluegrass for Wendy Holcombe...with her new hubby, Thomas Blosser, by her side on bass.

When we come back, we'll look at how Wendy's last years turned out. 

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