It’s no surprise that all of the Blair siblings are talented musicians. “My youngest sister was the first one of the kids to really start performing,” says Blair. “My brother has always been drawn to country music – early on he was playing bass and fiddle.”
At 16, Ramona Reed graduated high school. In the fall of 1947 she left home to attend the Colorado Women’s College in Denver. Reed recalls that she once received two demerits from her house mother for yodeling.
Also in 1947, the Ted Mac Amateur Radio Hour came to Denver (the American Idol of the day). Reed landed a spot in the semi-finals and then took third place. It was time for another road trip.
“She hops on a train to Nashville with her mom – no appointment,” says Blair. “They get off the train at Union Station and catch a cab to WSM. Back then, WSM was a 50,000 watt radio station and, at night, you could pick it up in eastern Oklahoma.”
Within minutes of getting off of the train, Reed ends up in the office of Jack Stapp, the manager of the Grand Ole Opry.
“I just walked into the office in my cowgirl clothes and got an audition,” says the confident Reed. Shortly after noon she was performing on Roy Acuff’s Noontime Neighbors radio show, and appeared on the Grand Ole Opry that night.
“A pretty incredible success story,” says Blair with pride. “She became the voice of Martha White. That was her job – to be Martha White and plug the flour.”
Jim went to high school in Clayton. He admits that he would have liked to forget college and just play music. However, this was not an option in the Blair household.
“‘You’re going to college’ was always engrained in me,” states Jim. So, Stillwater it was – his older sister was already there.
“He always had good study habits and he’s very smart. He sure didn’t get any of that from me,” says Reed. “I’m just proud of him. He graduated in the upper 10 percent at OSU But I don’t want to brag too much!”
“I did well in school but I felt a little lost. I needed to start playing music again,” says Blair. He went down to the local music store to put a drum kit in layaway – then he noticed a banjo hanging on the wall.
“I’d had this fixation with the banjo that went all the way back to Herman’s Hermits and “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” laughs Blair. “I was intrigued, and for $125 I could take a banjo home and start playing it, so that’s what I did.”
Before long he was a master of the strings, and he met fellow OSU Cowboy, Garth Brooks. Blair’s musician sister was actually responsible for their introduction.
“We became friends and, over the years played in some bluegrass bands together,” says Blair – a short summation of a long, interesting story. “Once Garth even performed with me and my mom [Reed] at the student union.”
[pullquote][“Hey, Good Lookin'”] was the first song that ever really spoke to me,” he says with a laugh. “There was an immediate connection.”[/pullquote]In 2009, Ramona Reed was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Jim and his brother had the privilege of accompanying their mother on stage. The rest of the band were Texas Playboys, thanks to long-time friend, Tommy Allsup.
“That was a big night,” remembers Blair. “She was thrilled to be honored.”
Blair mentions that his mom’s memory is extremely sharp.“A few years ago I’m at her house,” says Blair. “She pulls out this dress and says ‘This is the dress that I was wearing when me and Audrey had a falling out.’” Audrey was Hank William’s wife and the “spat” was over a particular song that Reed had performed at the Opry, resulting in Reed quitting her job and heading to Texas. Next on the slate was the Big D Jamboree – the Grand Ole Opry of Texas.
Hank Williams, Sr. was the first artist that really caught young Blair’s attention. He was riding in the back seat of his dad’s Jeep in 1964 when “Hey, Good Lookin,” started playing on the radio.
“That was the first song that ever really spoke to me,” he says with a laugh. “There was an immediate connection.”
Blair performed his first Hank Williams tribute show on New Year’s Eve 2002, the 50th anniversary of his death.
In 2009, Blair was cast as Hank Williams in Muskogee Little Theater’s production of “Lost Highway.” Today, Blair’s popular “Hankerin for Hank” tribute keeps the legend of Hank Williams, Sr. alive. He even dresses in a suit that was custom-made for him by Nashville’s Manuel who was Hank’s personal tailor in the day.
The theater life didn’t end there for Blair as he went on to portray Buddy Holly in MLT’s production of “The Buddy Holly Story” in 2013.
“Being friends with Tommy Allsup, I really wanted get the part,” says Jim. Allsup was Buddy Holly’s guitar player, best known for losing the coin toss to Ritchie Valens.
Holly was 22 at the time of his death and Blair was 52 at the time of the audition – but still landed the leading role.
Blair’s three daughters were also raised surrounded by music. “My middle daughter was really enthralled with it,” says Blair, adding that she graduated from the Belmont School of Music Business.
At 85, Ramona Reed is a spunky great-grandmother who still loves the stage. Blair lost his father in 2000 following a courageous, 23-year battle with cancer.
Reed continues to perform with the Texas Playboys and enjoys demonstrating her yodeling skill to school children. She is still an area favorite, performing her classic songs accompanied by Jim.
Jim Paul Blair’s life has come full circle, his love of music and that education that “wasn’t a choice” has combined to form a beautiful life song of sorts.
He and wife Tracy have made Muskogee their home and, as the executive director of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, he proudly showcases the state’s rich musical heritage that is so close to his heart.
Blair’s current project, the G-Fest Music Festival, is a dream of his that is quickly becoming a reality – with four stages and over 30 acts, it is scheduled for June. Will Ramona Reed will be performing?
“Nobody’s really asked me that,” he says with a laugh. “It’s not out of the realm of possibility.”
As for the next generation, Blair has 5-year-old twin grandsons – who already have guitars.