By Dave Woods
Digital market development manager
BRANSON, Mo. —
Jim Stafford has no plans of retiring any time soon.
"I really enjoy what I do, and that helps," said the 69-year-old entertainer. "I have never really thought about not doing it. I don't really know too many entertainers who say 'That's it,' and just stop."
Stafford cites comedian and pianist Victor Borge as a role model and source of inspiration.
"I thought he was the best example of music and comedy that I've ever seen," Stafford said. "I've heard that when he passed away at 92, his family had to cancel 100 concert dates. Some people say, 'Who on earth would still be out there working at that age?' Here's why: Try to find something to do a couple of hours a day when you are retired. It's not that easy. People want something to do."
In his 24th season headlining his own show at The Jim Stafford Theatre, the guitarist, comedian and storyteller said he is still going strong. Stafford said he doesn't consider performing on stage work.
During his career Stafford has enjoyed great successes. Stafford said he enjoyed working on his summer series and "Those Amazing Animals." He also spent three years with "Nashville on the Road" and was a writing supervisor of the "New Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour."
"All of these things just meant the world to me," he said. "It's got to be hard to think of things to do when you are retired. With me, it's like that. If I want to take a full day off I can. I go in at night, do the show in a couple of hours and come on home and catch the TV I missed. What I do is the type of thing people don't quit a lot."
Mickey Gilley is another friend and entertainer Stafford admires.
"He's up in his mid-70s, and he's looking forward to his shows and tour dates," Stafford said of the country crooner. "He still has a ball. He has a blast. You know they don't call it work. They actually call it play. 'Where did you play last night?' they say. As long as people are willing to come see me, I'm willing to do a show for them."
While much of Stafford's show consists of his comedic take on current events, he also interacts with his family and audiences. But playing guitar is his first love.
"I had a great passion for guitar," he said. "I started playing when I was 12, and by the time I was 16 I was paying my own way. I was a teenager when I made my mind up."
Stafford's first entry into comedy came by accident. As a young guitarist he would occasionally be asked to take the microphone, make announcements and work the crowds watching him play. Soon Stafford realized he needed to come up with some material to mix into his developing musical act.
"I realized it was important for me to do, so I tried to learn how to do it," he said. "The same was true with my singing. I spent so much time playing music on my guitar. I realized that it would help if I had a few little songs to break up all of the guitar playing."
Stafford said he always knew his voice wasn't a "real singer's voice." That didn't stop him from writing songs that meshed with his vocal abilities. It didn't take long for his talk songs to take off.
"I started writing little talking songs like 'Cow Patti.' My song 'Wildwood Weed' was a top 10 record on the pop charts. It sold more than 800,000 copies and there is absolutely, positively no singing in it. It's just a guy telling a story with a guitar playing."
Those "little songs" led to national success.
"I'm grateful for that," he said. "I was always more of a storyteller-type singer."
The real secret
Stafford laces his variety show together with deadpan comedy, audience interaction, and his son and daughter lend their musical talents, too. Son Shaffer, 20, and daughter, Gege, 16, play piano and bring variety to the performance.
Stafford said he is a proud father for the musical skills his children display.
"This is not like a little recital," he said. "These kids are playing big boy stuff and playing it very well. We spend lots of time on their arrangements. We set goals and then do everything we can to pull together the best arrangement of that piece we can get."
His son's high-speed rendition of "This Little Light of Mine," a gospel favorite, demonstrates how hard his kids work, he said.
"It took six different piano players to pull together a really hot complete arrangement. They all had a verse here and a lick there, but it took six of them to get all the licks together to make one red-hot solo. Then my boy had to figure out how to play it."
Practice, Stafford stressed, is key to his children's musical success and prowess. He said he gives them room to learn from others.
"I learned a long time ago that a daddy doesn't teach," he said. "The kids will argue more with me than they would with a teacher, so I stay out of the way. I work with teachers, and I supervise every note. Then the teacher does what they know best. The real secret to playing as fast as my kids can play and that secret is practice slow. That's about it. People who try to play fast try to do it immediately and it makes them play real sloppy. They are playing so fast now I'm just bowled over. They are serious about this stuff."
Stafford stressed the pride he feels in his family and in his own career.
"I'm proud to know that I picked something that I liked to do," he said. "I can tell you that I'm very pleased that somewhere along the way something kicked in and the rest of the country agreed with me on these little songs I do."
Want to go?
The Jim Stafford Theatre is located at 3440 West Highway 76 in Branson. For show and ticket information call 417-335-8080 or go to www.jimstaffford.com.