Best known for his humorous country novelty songs of the mid-'70s, multi-instrumentalist Jim Stafford also enjoyed a lengthy career as a television personality and live entertainer. Stafford was born in 1944 in the Florida town of Eloise, near Winter Haven, and learned guitar from his father. He started playing in local bands as a teenager, including one, the Legends, that included future country-rock legend Gram Parsons, as well as Kent LaVoie, who would later become singer/songwriter Lobo. After high school, Stafford moved to Nashville and joined Jumpin' Bill Carlisle's backing band. He also worked on his songwriting and recorded some demos of his tunes, despite his distaste for his own singing voice. During one session, he developed the one-man band act that would later become part of his live performances, thanks to a drummer who abruptly walked out.
Stafford was performing in Clearwater, FL, when he ran into Lobo and asked if he would consider recording Stafford's original "The Swamp Witch." Lobo suggested that Stafford record it himself, and helped him land a contract with MGM; he would later produce many of Stafford's singles as well. "The Swamp Witch" scraped the bottom of the Top 40 in 1973, but it was the following year's "Spiders and Snakes" -- a song co-written with David Bellamy of the Bellamy Brothers -- that brought Stafford into the big time. The song peaked at number three on the pop charts, went gold, and helped make Stafford a household name. His sense of humor was also showcased on the follow-up hits "My Girl Bill" and "Wildwood Weed," the latter another Top Ten pop hit, and he charted in the Top 40 again in 1975 with "Your Bulldog Drinks Champagne" and "I Got Stoned and I Missed It."
By that time, Stafford was enough of a celebrity to get his own short-lived prime-time variety show, which ran during the summer of 1975. It was there that he met singer Bobbie Gentry, whom he married and later, in 1980, divorced. In 1981, Stafford appeared in the Clint Eastwood movie Any Which Way but Loose and contributed his last chart single, "Cow Patti," to the soundtrack. The following year, he wrote three songs for Disney's animated feature The Fox and the Hound. He hosted two television programs, Those Amazing Animals and Nashville on the Road, in the early '80s and later in the decade served as a writer for the Smothers Brothers' return to prime-time television. In the meantime, he continued to tour and recorded a few one-off singles for various labels. In 1990, he settled in Branson, MO, which has since become a mecca for country music and family entertainment; he currently owns his own theater there and plays over 350 shows a year. ~ Steve Huey