In Memory of Jim and Jon Hager

Paul W. Dennis | January 15th, 2009

The recent death of Jon Hager (January 9, 2009) reminds me of just how unfair the fickle finger of fate can be. Hager and his twin brother, Jim (August 30, 1941–May 8, 2008), were two of the greatest showmen to ever grace a country music stage. While they never had any really big hits, and only charted a total of five singles, the Hagers had a long, successful career entertaining audiences for a period of nearly forty years.

Born in Chicago, the brothers were adopted by Jack and Frances Hager. Jack Hager was a Methodist minister; Frances was a schoolteacher. Raised in the Chicago area, Jim and Jon attended Maine Township High School in Park Ridge (Class of 1959), graduating one year ahead of Harrison Ford. Hillary Rodham Clinton also graduated from Maine Township High School, albeit a half dozen years later.

As might be expected, Jim and Jon first sang in their father’s church choir. Later, as teenagers, they sang on a Saturday morning television show on WGN-TV. Both brothers served in the United States Army and while in the military performed at Officers’ Clubs and NCO Clubs in the United States and Europe.

After leaving the military, the Hager brothers moved to California and performed at Ledbetter’s Night Club in Los Angeles. They also worked at Disneyland, where their unique act caught the attention of Alvis Edgar “Buck” Owens, the biggest name in Country music at the time. Owens signed them to contracts with his organization, and the Hagers served as an opening act for Buck for several years and occasionally opened for other Capitol acts such as Tex Ritter (father of the late John Ritter), Billie Jo Spears, Lefty Frizzell and Wynn Stewart.

In 1969, the Hager Twins became regular cast members on Buck Owens’ biggest ever vehicle Hee Haw. The Hagers appeared on the first episode and stayed with the show for 19 years. They also signed with Buck’s label, Capitol Records, landing a few hits starting with “Gotta Get To Oklahoma (‘Cause California’s Gettin’ To Me)” which reached #41 and became their biggest single.

Interestingly enough, the Hagers had the only charted version of Merle Haggard’s song “Silver Wings” (Haggard’s recording was on the B-side of “Working Man Blues”).

While the hit records never materialized for Jim and Jon Hager, various other opportunities presented themselves; the duo found work in Hollywood and on television, including appearances on an episode of the Bionic Woman, the television-movie Twin Detectives, and spots in many TV commercials. In 1987 they co-hosted Country Kitchen with Florence Henderson on The Nashville Network.

I had the pleasure of seeing the Hager Twins perform live twice since 2000. Prior to that, I saw them with Buck Owens on two of his appearances in London in 1969 and 1970. Whether appearing as a supporting act or as headliners, Jim and Jon Hager were two of the most effective entertainers ever to grace a stage. Equally adept at music or comedy, anyone who ever saw them will concur that they could have received numerous CMA “Entertainer of the Year Awards.” They were that good.

Jim Hager died in May 2008 as a result of a heart attack. This proved to be a crushing loss from which his brother Jon never recovered. Jon’s health went into a spiral, until he was found dead in his Nashville apartment earlier this month. He is survived by a daughter.

Discography

There is nothing available by the Hager Twins on CD except for two songs (“I’m Jesse James” and “Six Days On The Road” on the Sundazed release Buck Owens Live In Scandinavia. At their live shows the Hagers sold a CD issued on the Southern Star Records label that contained none of their hits. This may have been a self-issued disc as it came with neither cover nor insert.

On vinyl, there apparently are six Hagers albums; however, I’ve only seen (and purchased) three albums

The Hagers, Capitol ST-438 (1969)
Two Hagers Are Better Than One, Capitol ST-553 (1970)
The Hagers, Elektra 7E-1021 (1974)

  1. C. Eric Banister
    January 15, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Great tribute, thanks for posting it. And no one incorporated a kazoo solo as well as the Hagers!

  2. peggy kiesel
    January 25, 2009 at 11:48 am

    were can i fine more of jim and jon hagers music.

  3. Jon
    January 25, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    There was a song in 2008 about a soldier and his friend going off to war. I was wondering if anyone knew the name of it or the artist.

  4. P Coppa
    March 7, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Hee Haw is being televised again on RFDTV. We get this, via Dish, in NJ on Sunday night at 8:00 pm. Look for RFD TV on cable, dish, etc. listings. RFD carries country style shows including music, Crook & Chase, bluegrass, gospel, as well as agricultural shows, etc., etc. Check out the Marty Stuart show (great) on Saturday at 8:00 pm.

  5. wil
    March 18, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    I’m sorry to hear of jim/jon death, I really liked their style of music, can any one tell me were I might get a copy of them singing a single, called
    ( I want to Love my life away )? It was on country radio probabely in the middle to late 70,s thanks for any help

  6. Jim
    August 27, 2010 at 10:21 am

    I was in boy scouts in the 1950’s with Jim and John…they were two years older. They were always cut-ups and just about the whackiest guys around in those days….also went to their father’s church in the Chicago suburbs.

  7. Lisa
    October 10, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    It was late 1980’s..Maggie Valley N.C. They played at Ghost Town earlier in the day.. Then later at the Stomp’n Ground Barn they sang a few more songs…we were all pretty blitzed, but had a great time that I will never forget. I have a cassette that they both signed,and my best friend has a dollar bill they signed..They were just down to earth guys who loved a good time.

  8. Lesley
    February 6, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Jim and Jon were the first celebrities I ever met, in Branson when I was about 10. Both really nice guys. We always enjoyed them on Hee Haw, and they were really good musicians as well.

  9. Lenni
    February 17, 2011 at 8:57 am

    I really loved to listen to The Hagers. Iam watching Hee Haw on RFD TV and re-newed my love for the duo. I would really like to get the name of a song they did on Hee Haww about being alone with lonely. I can’t find any reference to it. Also they did Mary will you marry me, my parents say that was better than Jim Reeves version. Which is really sqaying something.

  10. Marian
    March 6, 2011 at 1:12 am

    On a Sunday night at a Methodist Youth Fellowship meeting at Park Ridge Methodist Church, Jim and Jon came. My best friend at the time and I were two years older than they were, but they were so cute that we decided to give them a ride home as they were not yet old enough to drive. We all attended Maine Township High School in Park Ridge, and I enjoyed knowing of their subsequent career success since they were really nice boys.

  11. Michael
    March 6, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Sunday March sixth and flipping the channels around and there comes Hee Haw. It just reminded me of the good times with my family. The Hagers were on and I hadn’t heard what they were up to…so on to the internet and here I am not knowing both had passed,til now. I will always think great thoughts and how it was a better place for me when I was a child because of them and the Hee Haw gang.I am also listening to them sing right now.
    God Bless!
    MBB

  12. Joan Buckner
    May 8, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    I really enjoyed the Hagers on Hee Haw, I was really shocked to read on my computer information that that they had Died. They were to young.

  13. Doug Cutshall
    May 22, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    We are watching Hee Haw on the RFD Channel and were wondering what happened to the Hagers. We are saddened to hear of their passing. We still enjoy the Hee Haw show and all the singers and comedians.

  14. kim e carr
    September 3, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    I’ve been a really big fan of Jim and Jon Hager since I saw them on Hee Haw. I’m really sad that they’re gone and I will miss their music a lot but that was a really good tribute to them.

  15. Glenda
    October 4, 2011 at 6:36 am

    I was born in 1970, so I remember the hagers. I remember a comercial from sears from 74 they did about blue jeans and I remembered this, and I was only 3 can you imagine that? I am a later years fan. I remember seeing them on hee haw and recently bought a 20 disc set with hee haw shows on them and the hagers sang. I said “hey I know them” and like many I went online to see what had happened to them. I was shocked to hear that jim died the same year my mother did and jon followed him not long after. I am a return fan, I remember seeing them on hee haw a lot, I was so young then they were interesting but at my age I was interested in other things. I am 40 now and more a fan now than I ever was in my youth. I watch the hee haw re runs a lot just to see jim and jon. I found there memorials online and jon’s former wife posted a thank you. Jon and Jim left behind so many people they did and didnt know that loved them a lot, not for there tallent but simply becuase just looking at them wether it be photos or on a tv show, you could tell they were down to earth guys, just regular guys. That’s what set them apart from everyone else. This Hee Haw salute goes out im memory of two of the nicest guys, now in heaven singing and together for eternity…we love you jon and jim hager. saaaalute!!!!

  16. Jenny
    October 11, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    I still have 2 of their albums, one of which is “Motherhood, Apple Pie and the Flag.”

  17. Scott
    January 5, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Also looking for “With Lonely”, I have the lyrics but can’t find the clip–it was a wonderful song, increadible, I heard it 2 years ago and haven’t been able to find it yet, even the Buck Owens version. As I’m typing this, a pop-up window keeps asking “Searching for WITH LONELY The Hagers?” but it’s an ad for a Auto trader Paper website…………….

  18. Art
    January 9, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    Scott’s comments prompted me to look through my old collection of ‘promo’ 45 rpm records that I collected while working as a DJ around 1970. I do have a copy of “With Lonely”. Sure reminds me of the brevity of life. So many are already gone.

  19. Barbara M. Smith
    January 10, 2012 at 11:29 am

    I would like to make note that Jon and Jim Hager also attended Niles Township High School for their freshman and I think sophmore years before moving to Maine Township. Their father was a minister at a local Methodist church in Skokie, IL. God bless their memories.

  20. K.t.
    January 22, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    I am just an old woman now but,Watching the Brother’s makes me fell young again.Thank-you Alway Love,K.t.

  21. joe hendrickson
    March 26, 2012 at 8:06 am

    I just learned of this page on the HAGER twins–they were my best friends for about 15 years–i have some really neat stories about our friendship and lives!–I miss them a whole bunch.They gave me a DVD of the very first HEE HAW show ever put on TV–and they were on it! They even signed it and dated it! They signed my old road guitar also,and said–we don’t want to see this on e-bay next week either–ha ha! Jimmy got mad at me one night,because i thought i was talking to Jon–they were that identical!–CHEERS–JOE HENDRICKSON.

  22. Joyce Tobin
    August 26, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    Thank you so much for this tribute to the Hagers and for adding some of their songs. I sure wish I could get a copy of “Your Tender Loving Care.” It is just beautiful, as beautiful or more so than Connie Smith’s version. I have the album “Motherhood, Apple Pie, & the Flag”, which doesn’t have that song on it. We just saw Connie Smith and Marty Stuart a few months ago in Green Bay. They were wonderful. I sure miss old country. I don’t listen to country anymore, except for Alan Jackson, George Strait, Billy Currington, etc. Raul Malo is one of my new favorites. I’ve seen him two times in Wisconsin with his own band, but I’m so glad the Mavericks are getting back together, too. Wish the Dixie Chicks would sing again!!! Let me know if there is a way to transfer old albums to a CD.

  23. Mark
    September 26, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Its nice to read all the like-minded comments from people who were kids during the 70s and remember the Hager Brothers from Hee-Haw. Likeable, friendly, talented and relatable, they made a lasting impression on me. They will always be remembered… like big brothers.

  24. Pat
    December 4, 2012 at 10:22 am

    I watch you on hee haw every week on RFID tv ..i think tours both great love you both much

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