Western Film, Country, Bluegrass And Gospel Music Pioneer And Early Grand Ole Opry Star Dies

Saturday, October 5, 2013 - by Randall Franks
“Doc” Tommy Scott at an appearance at the Scopes Trial Festival in 2007.
“Doc” Tommy Scott at an appearance at the Scopes Trial Festival in 2007.
- photo by Butch Lanham

Ramblin’ “Doc” Tommy Scott, 96, entertainment business entrepreneur, singer, ventriloquist, actor, comedian and recreational vehicle innovator was laid to rest Oct. 4 in Toccoa, Ga. He died Monday, Sept. 30, of complications following injuries sustained in an automobile accident on Aug. 10.

Mr. Scott stepped into the entertainment field as he crawled up on the back of a “Doc” M.F. Mr. Chamberlain’s Medicine Show wagon in Toccoa, Ga. in 1936. While he began playing at church socials, dances and on local radio as early as 1933 with his sister Cleo, it was Mr. Chamberlain that gave him his first opportunity to leave his parent’s farm in Eastanollee, Ga. and become a traveling showman.

Mr. Chamberlain toured the South for roughly two more years retiring from the show he began in 1890 and turning it over to Scott lock, stock and medicine formulas including the laxative Herb-O-Lac, also called Man-O-Ree and Katona and a liniment that Mr. Scott sold as Snake Oil. During the waning days of the Great Depression, through innovative partnerships, Mr. Scott transformed the company pitching it through radio moving up to 10,000 bottles of the medicine weekly. He also served as a musical pitchman for Vim Herb. 

Smithsonian Institute folklife historian Stephen Zeitlin stated in 1981 that Mr. Scott “is indeed the sole active bearer of a once thriving and vital American tradition.”

Mr. Scott moved to North Carolina in 1938 gaining a position on WPTF radio in Raleigh, N.C. performing as part of the Pete and Minervy dramatic troupe.

He then moved to WWVA, Wheeling, WV where he agreed to front Charlie Monroe’s new band the Kentucky Partners appearing as Rambling Scotty. Monroe had just split with his brother Bill Monroe, later known as the Father of Bluegrass Music.

He married his late wife Mary Frank “Frankie” Thomas in 1940 shortly before he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry alongside contemporaries Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl and Ernest Tubb performing music on WSM and doing comedy with his hand made wooden sidekick Luke McLuke on the Opry. He led his Grand Ole Opry touring show both in auditoriums and under canvas with Opry stars such as Uncle Dave Macon, Curley Williams, Danny Bailey, and Jimmy Selph at his side. 

Mr. Scott penned his most popular song of the late 1940’s “Rosebuds and You” in honor of his longtime stage and film and TV co-star Frankie. The song became a regional hit in the South and west for Ramblin’ Tommy Scott in 1950; it was later covered by dozens of artists including Country Music Hall of Famer George Morgan, the Willis Brothers, and Red Sovine. The late fiddler Benny Martin took his version of “Rosebuds” to Billboard’s top 20 in 1963.

Mr. Scott also wrote the bluegrass standard "You Are The Rainbow of My Dreams," and contributed to the multi-million selling pop song "Mule Train," to which he sold his rights. "You Took My Sunshine," “You Can’t Stop Time,” “Gonna Paint the Town Red,” “Tennessee,” “Rockin’ and Rollin’,” “Elly Mae,” and “Pollution” were among the more than 500 songs he penned and recorded for a numerous record labels from Rich-R-Tone to King, Four-Star to his own Katona label founded in the 1940s.

Mr. Scott became a fixture in early radio, theaters, circuses, and western and hillbilly films appearing coast to coast. He starred in the 1949 release of "Trail of the Hawk," directed by Oscar nominee Edward Dymytrk, as well as numerous other 1940s and 50s films such as "Mountain Capers," "Hillbilly Harmony," "Southern Hayride.”

When the “Ramblin’ Tommy Scott Show” produced in conjunction with Sack Amusements came to nationwide television in 1948, Scott became the first country music star with his own television series, the cast of the show included Frankie, their daughter Sandra, Sally Ann Forrester, Ray Aldridge, and Jimmy and Jenny Vance and featured singing, dancing and classic country comedy. 

He returned to television in the 1950’s with Tommy Scott’s “Smokey Mountain Jamboree” running in syndication around the country with appearances by Grand Ole Opry stars Curley Williams and the John Daniel Quartet. Scott’s TV show is the earliest historical film footage featuring a Southern gospel quartet.

Among his other early television appearances was one with young talk show host Johnny Carson and he later appeared with almost every major journalist, talk or variety show personality in the U.S. and Canada including Walter Conkrite, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Trudeau. Charles Kuralt, Jane Pauley, Ralph Emery and David Letterman. He made multiple appearances for Entertainment Tonight, The Tommy Hunter Show and the Today Show. 

Two documentaries for PBS were created about his unique career, "Still Ramblin'" in 2001, directed by Randall Franks, highlighting Mr. Scott's early years in film and country music, and an earlier one in 1980 focused on his performance career in the 1960s and 70s. Despite operating the medicine company throughout his career and pitching medicine on stage, radio, and television, it was not until the 1970s, that Mr. Scott put on the full mantle of the medicine show “Doc” that endeared him to millions of fans around the world including the trademark colorful clothes, red top hat and snake skinned shoes. Along with country contemporary Slim Whitman, “Doc” Tommy Scott also became the focus of a Suffolk TV marketed album of that era.

While innovating for the comfort of his family and show performers on the road, Mr. Scott designed and enhanced vehicles to provide their accommodations. A design originally sketched on a brown paper towel backstage on a piano in the 1950s became the model for what would become the prototype to the Dodge Motor Home. Mr. Scott joined forces with a like-minded entrepreneur Ray Frank to fund and build a plant to create the first motor homes through a music show and then sell them using his touring road show as the showroom. Elvis Presley was among the first entertainers to purchase one.

Mr. Scott was considered one of the originators of telephone show promotions raising monies for clubs and organizations while operating a company of 100 performers and show workers that produced shows and circus productions in a different town every day from the 1940s through the 1990s visiting nearly 300 towns each year across the United States and Canada. Mr. Scott often boasted that his show produced over 29,000 shows.

“Doc” Scott’s Last Real Old Time Medicine Show, which through its long history under various billings such as the Hollywood Hillbilamboree featured co-stars including Curly Seckler, Stringbean Akeman, western film stars Col. Tim McCoy, Carolina Cotton, Al “Fuzzy” St. John, Sunset Carson, Johnny Mack Brown, Ray Whitley and country entertainers Junior Samples, Jackie Phelps, Clyde Moody,Scotty Lee, Gaines Blevins and former CBS star “In the Heat of the Night” star Randall Franks. 

Mr. Scott was honored as an International Bluegrass Music Museum Legend in 2011, he is an inductee in the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame, Country Music Association Walkway of Stars in 1976, and was honored with a major exhibit at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame from 1996-2008.

He completed his 700-page autobiography "Snake Oil, Superstars, and Me" with co-authors Shirley Noe Swiesz and Randall Franks in 2007. 

In lieu of flowers, tax-deductible donations may be sent to Share America Foundation, Inc., P.O. Box 42, Tunnel Hill, Ga. 30755 or made via credit card at www.shareamericafoundation.org for a Ramblin' "Doc" Tommy and Frankie Scott Appalachian Music Scholarship.

He is survived by his daughter Sandra Scott Whitworth and son-in-law Charles Whitworth, his sister Cleo Scott Cheek, and nephew Benny Cheek, all of Eastanollee, Ga., a granddaughter Pam Lawson, and two great grandchildren Craig and Corey Lawson, all of Toccoa, Ga. and Irene Moore, personal assistant to Tommy and Frankie Scott for over 60 years. 

Acree-Davis Funeral Home in Toccoa, Ga. made the arrangements. A private graveside service  was held Friday, Oct. 4 at Stephens Memorial Gardens in Toccoa, Ga.. The Rev. Ricky McFarlin of Eastanollee Baptist Church officiated and Randall Franks with the Watkins Family provided music.

Obituary compiled by Scott biographer – Randall Franks, award-winning journalist, director and syndicated entertainment  columnist.



Ramblin’ Tommy Scott 1948 from "The Ramblin' Tommy Scott Show."
Ramblin’ Tommy Scott 1948 from "The Ramblin' Tommy Scott Show."
- photo by Katona Productions, Inc.)

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