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Tommy Hunter brings TV memories to life

The Travellin' Man makes his only stop in the Peace on his farewell cross-Canada tour performing at Unchagah Hall Tuesday night. Tommy Hunter will hit the stage, bringing old memories of the Tommy Hunter Show to life.

The Travellin' Man makes his only stop in the Peace on his farewell cross-Canada tour performing at Unchagah Hall Tuesday night.

Tommy Hunter will hit the stage, bringing old memories of the Tommy Hunter Show to life.

"It's basically a trip down memory lane," he said in a phone interview while he was preparing for the tour in Florida. "It's like you're watching the television show, and we do a thing at the end where it'll bring back a lot of memories for you."

Hunter's last tour has been an emotional one so far. The legendary country singer said he never really realized how poignant it would be.

"It's going to be emotional each time we play a particular town because I've been going there for so many years, and travelling and visiting people," he said. "Over that time I've met friends so when you finish your last song and turn and walk out that door and say goodbye to everybody knowing that's probably the last time that you're going to be back there. At least in the capacity as a picker and grinner," he chuckled.

With a lifetime of musical memories, it was difficult for Hunter to choose just one that stood out for him. Receiving the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario and being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame are just a few of gratifying moments, but it was the people Hunter got to meet along the way that he beamed about most.

"All the guests on the show really, many of them were my boyhood heroes when I was growing up so I had a chance to work with all of them," said Hunter.

Having the opportunity to introduce new artists such as Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Trish Yearwood, Reba McEntire, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash, to name a few, was also a rewarding experience.

"It was great to work with all those people," he said. "Out of that, a lot of friendships were formed and we really had a good long run and it was very gratifying."

When asked if he had a favourite song among his vast repertoire, Hunter, without hesitation, said his show's theme song remains No. 1.

"I like my theme song still - Travelin' Man. I've done that for so many years," he said. "I never get tired of singing that."

Hunter began performing as a young boy working his way up from church sets to small time variety shows, but his career really took off in 1956 when Hunter became a regular entertainer on the television show Country Hoedown.

The show was Hunter's home away from home for nine years, until producers started changing the show's concept and not to Hunter's liking.

"Country Hoedown was a good show. It was well thought out, well planned and if the producers had left it alone, the show would have gone on for much longer period of time," said Hunter.

"What I saw was slowly happening to the show really bothered me. They were changing little things, they forgot who the audience was, they started getting cute moving it to a group of people that were not watching. I guess they were trying to apologize for doing country music."

When Hunter got the opportunity to have his own show, he took what he learned from Country Hoedown and used it to create a successful country variety show without the barns and chickens.

The Tommy Hunter Show debuted in 1965 and reigned Canadian television for 27 years becoming the longest running weekly show of its kind.

"When I got my own show, I tried to stay away from barnyards and cows and chickens and straw and cattle lowing in the background, and take away that barn image," he said.

Hunter wanted his show to focus on the star, not the distracting, hokey background.

"You take all of that away and now you have a chance to look at that guy, and that guy is coming into your living room," explained Hunter. "So it gave the viewer an insight into the individual. They'd say, 'Gee he looks good,' or 'Boy, he's singing great.' "

Hunter's approach obviously worked, but he doesn't take all the credit for the show's success.

"It's like a wheel with all these spokes in it, and really I was just one spoke in that wheel," he said. "All these other people writers, costume designers. I had lighting people, I had sound people, I had all of these good people working for me, and they were great, and that's what made me look good."

Although Hunter was soaking up the sun at the time of the interview, he said he was looking forward to visiting B.C. again.

"You can't go to British Columbia and not be absolutely blown away by the scenery," he said. "It's absolutely gorgeous, and to have the opportunity to travel all through it, up and down highways, it's always very enjoyable. It's great to get up north."

Hunter performs Tuesday, Apr. 12 at Unchagah Hall at 7 p.m.

"I hope they come and enjoy the show," said Hunter to his Dawson Creek fans. "This is the last one, so it'll be emotional believe me. [But] it's going to be a lot of fun."