Hillbilly Jim's "Brave New World"
What do WWE legend Hillbilly Jim, Sopranos consigliere Silvio Dante, Howard Stern and Martha Stewart have in common? They all have a presence on SIRIUS Satellite Radio.
For the past five weeks, Hillbilly Jim has been playing "Outlaw Country" music and telling stories from his illustrious WWE career during Hillbilly Jim's Moonshine Matinee, available every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (ET) on SIRIUS channel 36.
Producer "Little Steven" Van Zandt, guitarist from Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band (who also plays the HBO mobster), stated in a press release that "we are honored and elated to have WWE legend Hillbilly Jim join our posse of renegades, misfits and outcasts in Outlaw Country."
Now that Hillbilly Jim has been a SIRIUS voice in radio for a few weeks, WWE.com caught up with him by phone to find out how the show's going and to get his take on the Hulk Hogan vs. Shawn Michaels match at SummerSlam:
WWE.com: Tell us about Hillbilly Jim's Moonshine Matinee.
Hillbilly Jim: It's a satellite radio show that is on in the entire country. It's a real cool thing for me. I get to go on there and talk about whatever I want to talk about and play records. SIRIUS has four or five different country channels you can get — new country, roadhouse country — this one's called "Outlaw Country." So, that pretty much covers any kind of music that's got an edge to it … even some rock stuff. I can play anything I want to. I talk about the artists, and I also talk about WWE. Every week, I answer one or two e-mails on the air relating to my WWE career, which is always fun.
WWE.com: Which artists do you like to play on your show?
Hillbilly Jim: I go back to the original guys. I play Hank Williams Sr., as well as Hank Williams Jr., and Hank Williams III. I play Southern rock stuff like Lynyrd Skynyrd. I play the Allman Brothers. I play some of the traditional country guys like Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, and I play the newer guys like Dwight Yoakam and Big & Rich.
I also have musical guests in-studio with me. On Aug. 6, I've got Richard Young from the Kentucky HeadHunters, which is a pretty pivotal type of country band. They took Outlaw Country and stepped it up a level. So I'll have him on throughout the entire show — talking through the breaks and playing their tunes — so, it's starting to gain popularity because I'm starting to get a lot of requests for songs. And I'm getting a lot of e-mails about WWE.
I create my own thing, and they pretty much give me free rein to do anything. Now, SIRIUS has like 65 channels of commercial-free music, so you can listen to my whole show with no commercials and there's another 60 channels of talk and weather and news and sports. So, I'm really enjoying it and I'm getting a really good response. I just go down to Nashville and do my shows there.
WWE.com: So, it sounds like you're having fun with it.
Hillbilly Jim: Oh, yeah. It's great. You know, from WWE, I was used to working on TV, and to be honest with you, it's so much easier to do radio because it's just talking, and you can create whatever type of show you want to with your words, and I like that. You don't have to do on-cameras.
WWE.com: You were one of the most distinctive and recognizable faces in WWE, so is this different since you aren't seen during your show?
Hillbilly Jim: I have to create the atmosphere with the listening audience. I'll open my show by saying something like, "Welcome in friends. Once again, you're in Hillbilly Jim's Moonshine Matinee in Outlaw Country. And I'm coming to you here today high atop a ridge in Mudlick, Kentucky," I just create a little scene for the listeners. I'll create characters for me to "talk to" so that I can keep the Hillbilly image going. That part was easier on TV, when someone can see me there with my overalls on and you've got your hillbilly look, and people put it together right away. But I've been amazed at how many e-mails I'm getting at my Web site.
I'm getting great support for the show; I've got some ID tags done to promote the show. Hulk Hogan does one where he says something like, "Hey, brother! You're listening to Hillbilly Jim's Moonshine Matinee." I've got some of the old timers, like Terry Funk saying, "Hello. This is Terry Funk from Amarillo, Texas, the meanest man that ever walked. And you're listening to my friend Hillbilly Jim's Moonshine Matinee." And we're got a lot of celebrities promoting the show the same way for me. You know, it's a full-hour show, so you've got a lot of time. So, I don't have to talk between every song. We do blocks of songs, which is better for me.
I really try to make it one big family and say, "Anybody who's riding across this great country listening to Hillbilly Jim, how you doing? I want to give a big shout-out today to all the truckers out there. All you truckers who make this whole thing happen for us here in this great country of America, here's a song for you." Over the Fourth of July holiday, I did the same for the military. I said, "I want to tell everybody out there just how lucky we are to be in this country, and how much we appreciate all our military men and women all across this country and the world. So, this week Hillbilly Jim's going to play tunes just for you guys."
It's a lot of fun, and I'm starting to wrap my head around it. And it's a great format and a great situation for me.
WWE.com: Do you get the sense after your first five weeks that your audience is more fans who know you from WWE, or listeners who just found you on satellite and like the music?
Hillbilly Jim: I'm getting a mixture of both of them. At first, I think it was more WWE fans tuning in. But now, I'm getting e-mails from people who were just flipping through the satellite channels and heard the music and were enjoying all the stories I was telling between songs. It's a wonderful mixture.
I'm in a unique situation because I'm really the only who's not from the music field doing a show like this. They've got a real cool, edgy D.J. called Mojo Nixon. Then, there is a real famous music producer from down in Memphis who comes on after my show called Cowboy Jack Clement. After him on the same Saturday slot, we've got Shooter Jennings, an up-and-coming young country star. So, this is a natural fit for me in Outlaw Country.
And, of course, "Little Steven" Van Zandt is the one who hired me, you know, Bruce Springsteen's guitar player, and he's also in the Sopranos. He heads up a production company in New York City called Renegade Nation, and he's responsible for several of the channels on SIRIUS. So, I met with Steve, and it took us a while to get this thing together, but finally, once it got rolling, it's been great.
WWE.com: Satellite radio is still a very new entity. As someone on the inside, do you think it's something that can catch on and have a long-term future?
Hillbilly Jim: I can see how (satellite radio) can be amazing. Once you start listening to this stuff, you don't want to turn it off. You've got such a wide range of choices and you don't have to listen to commercials. That's the true beauty of satellite radio. Plus, it's clear as a bell, and if you're driving down the road and you want to hear the weather report, well then you just switch to the weather channel. It's great.
I also think SIRIUS can succeed because it has Howard Stern. They have a complete channel with Eminem the rapper. They have a channel with Jimmy Buffett, "Radio Margaritaville," and they have one devoted to Martha Stewart Living. So, I can see how it could catch on and how it can be great because there's so much to choose from once you get into it, once you get the feel of it. It's like the saying, "Once they've seen the city, it's hard to go back on the farm." Once you experience this kind of commercial-free radio, you don't want to go back. So, I feel like I'm involved in something that's groundbreaking, and that's really exciting for me.
WWE.com: We all know about your ties to Hulk Hogan. How do you feel seeing him back on WWE programming?
Hillbilly Jim: Well, first, I'm really enjoying his reality show, Hogan Knows Best, since I've known his kids since they were very little, so it's really something to watch them now. To see Hulk Hogan on RAW, you can tell that he's still got that desire. And the fans still like and accept Hogan so much. In my day, there was nothing on earth in the entertainment business any hotter than Hulk Hogan. In my day, there was nothing better than to be on a show with Hulk because you knew that the building would sell out, and you knew that the people were going to dig it and it was going to be one fire. So, to see him come back and still be able to do the deal, it's fun to watch.
WWE.com: What are your thoughts on Hulk Hogan vs. Shawn Michaels at SummerSlam on Aug. 21?
Hillbilly Jim: Now, I'm really looking forward to this match because I think Shawn Michaels is one of the best there's ever been. His match between him and Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 21 was just amazing. The greatest one I saw before that was at WrestleMania III, with Ricky Steamboat facing "Macho Man" Randy Savage. So, I think it will be great match with him and Hulk because they're both two legendary Superstars in there. I think it's really going to be a treat.
WWE.com: Who will win the match?
Hillbilly Jim: You know, I would almost have to say Shawn Michaels. But here's the thing about that: it'll be an amazing match no matter what, so I think the fans will love it regardless of who wins. But I do think there will be a lot of mixed emotions for the fans because there are a lot of people who have loved Shawn Michaels throughout the years, and there still a lot of Hulkamaniacs out there.
WWE.com: You've talked about WWE 24/7 on your satellite radio show. What do you think of 24/7?
Hillbilly Jim: I absolutely love it. I've already had people here in Kentucky telling me that they've been seeing it — that they've been seeing me in vintage matches, so they're already checking it out. I think it's a wonderful thing because over my career, I've had hundreds of people come up to me and say, "I wish I could see some of those classic matches again. Is there any wrestling footage, any tapes that you have?"
Before, I didn't know what to tell them. Now, I can just point them right to WWE 24/7 and they'll find just the kind of stuff they were looking for. We have literally so many thousands and thousands of hours of vintage matches from the 80s, the 90s, and maybe even some from the late 70s, and from all over the country and from all different promotions, not just WWE matches.
WWE.com: Your SIRIUS Satellite Radio press release says that you're currently working on a solo album. Can you tell us about that?
Hillbilly Jim: I've played guitars all my life. I've been in bands and liked to go out and do gigs. So, I was enjoying working on a blues album. But now that I'm doing Outlaw Country on satellite radio, I'm going to do me a little Outlaw Country music, too. I actually have a blues album just about together, but I think I'm going to do something with a little bit more Outlaw Country edge.
But the main thing I'm trying to do is just listen to my radio program every week right after I do it. I've learned so much from the first day I did it to just five weeks later. It's such a difference. So, it's been a big learning experience, but it's been cool. It's a brave new world for Hillbilly, and I'm liking it.