Jimmy Hart on Going to Elvis’ funeral, his Career in Music, Making it to the WWE, and More

Nov 22, 2020 - by Steve Gerweck

WWE Hall of Fame performer Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart was a recent keynote speaker at a business function emceed by former Philadelphia Radio personality and VOC Nation founder Bruce Wirt. Jimmy spoke to the group about his music career, his start in wrestling, making it to the WWE, working Wrestlemania 3, and more. Here are some highlights:

On his upbringing and entry into music: “I was born in Jackson, Mississippi. My mother and I moved to Memphis, TN when I was about 12 years old; she raised me basically, and we had a good little run down there. I started my music career down there, I was part of a group called the Gentrys. You can look it up on YouTube, we have a million seller record…it was called ‘Keep on Dancing’; we did all the tours with the Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, and Steppenwolf and so many of those groups back in the 60s. We did Hullabaloo, Shindig, American Bandstand, we did all the Dick Clark stuff with him.”

On getting into wrestling and working with Andy Kaufman: “One day when I got off one of our tours – after about a six year tour with the Gentrys – a guy by the name of Jerry ‘the King’ Lawler (reached out to me). Jerry Lawler was a famous wrestler back in Memphis, TN back in the day, and of course later on he went to be with the WWE and did commentating with JR. We kind of hooked up together and I helped him on a wrestling album, and we became really, really good friends back then. We had a great run, we did all the stuff with the late, great Andy Kaufman – I managed Andy Kaufman for a couple of years when he was in Memphis…it was such a great thrill for me to be with Andy back in the day because who knew where this was going to take any of us back in the day. But finally Jerry Lawler and Andy wind up on David Letterman’s show, and that’s where you had the slap heard around the world back then. It hit breaking news all over the world.”

On making it to the WWE: “I was (in Memphis) for about six years and all of the sudden I got a phone call from New York City. A guy named Howard Finkel, who was a great wrestling emcee up there, commentator, (and) ring announcer. (He was) looking at some tapes one day and he saw these tapes of a guy named Jimmy Hart down in Memphis, TN. So he it to Vince (McMahon); Vince saw the tapes and he brought me into New York. When I went to New York I was on the very first Wrestlemania… Wrestlemania 3 was great, but Wrestlemania 1 was the most important one because if that had not been successful I would not be sitting here talking to you guys now.”

On working with David Wolff on the early wrestling albums: “It’s so funny about the wrestling business and the music business. It seemed like everybody in wrestling wanted to be in music (and) everybody in music wanted to be in wrestling. When I first went to New York to appear on the first Wrestlemania, I got a chance to meet a guy named Dave Wolff. Dave Wolff was the manager of Cyndi Lauper back then. So Dave Wolff was going to cut a wrestling album…we wrote a few songs for our first wrestling album, and that led to a second wrestling album, and we kind of got into the clique of the rock and wrestling situation that was happening in New York back at that time. It’s kind of funny how (my) career started in music, went to wrestling, and wound up back in music and wrestling again.”

On working with Rick Derringer: “Rick Derringer played guitar on all the stuff that we did (on the first album) that I think we cut at the hit factory in New York. Then on our second album, Rick was really a major part. I had written three songs for that: One for the Demolition that Rick sang and played on, one called crank it up, and then the Honky Tonk Man’s (theme) – he played on that one for me. We had a good run with the music…Dave Wolff opened a lot of doors for us with that album.”

On attending the funeral of Elvis Presley: “George Klein, since they were best buddies, got me up to the front of the line – maybe the 25th or 26th person to go see Elvis – and I remember seeing him in the casket. I remember his hands were folded (and) he had a beautiful ring on that said TCB – Taking Care of Business – and I tried to keep that thought in my head the whole time I walked around the whole thing.”

On helping to break up a tense incident with Jerry Lee Lewis and a gun: “We were at Phillips studio. Sam Phillips was the man who owned Sun (Studio), but sold that studio to Elvis; he bought another studio the next street over called Phillips. We were there one night recording and Jerry Lee Lewis came in and he had (his wife Jaren with him). (A newspaper writer) said ‘Jaren that sure is a big purse you’ve got on your arm there’ and for some reason Jerry Lee got offended by that and he pulled a gun out… I ran upstairs and got Sam Phillips; Sam Phillips took the gun away and said ‘Jerry don’t you dare shoot that gun off in here; they’ll close my studio down.’ That’s how much they loved Sam Phillips, because he was their producer (with) Jery Lee on Great Balls of Fire and all those records, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins and all those guys.”

On Vince McMahon: “If it wasn’t for Vince and his dreams, and him making all this come true, there’d be a lot of wrestlers that wouldn’t be wrestling anymore and a lot of guys wouldn’t have their homes, their cars, their kids being able to go to college and everything. Kudos to him, he’s been unbelievable.”

On Wrestlemania 3: “I was really thrilled about it because I had three matches on that card. I had the match with the Honky Tonk Man against Jake Roberts, and in Jake’s corner there was Alice Cooper… then we had the Hart Foundation with Danny Davis the referee against the British Bulldogs and Tito Santana, and then last but not least we had Adrian Adonis against Rowdy Roddy Piper in a hair versus career match. And so I had three big matches on that. I was a nervous wreck just trying to remember everything I was going to do…I changed jackets on every match too and two of them were back to back, so I was kind of like Houdini on that. But to have 93,000 plus people outdoors (with) no social media back then…it was an undertaking that Vince had a dream for and it came through.”

Link to the episode here:

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