In Memory of Jim and Jon Hager
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.
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)
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