Wednesday, May 5, 2010


[See previous posting, TALLYHO! $100 MISSISSIPPI BLUES TRAIL REWARD (Belzoni) for information on the blues trail marker being dedicated at the site of the old Turner’s Drug Store in Belzoni, Mississippi, in honor of the 1940s Sonny Boy Williamson broadcasts sponsored by Tallyho (or Talaho), a tonic marketed by Turner’s and the Easy Pay Store.]


Thanks to Mother Teretha Lee of Midnight, Mississippi, we have words to the Tallyho theme song as she remembered Sonny Boy Williamson singing it on the radio:

Tallyho, it sure is good, you can buy it anywhere in the neighborhood.
Go on the corner of Hayden Street, Mr. Turner Drug Store.
You ask to buy one, buy two. It’s good for you, it’s good for the children too.
Tallyho, it sure is good.
Take it in the morning, take it at night, Tallyho’ll make you feel just right.

A very similar jingle was used by B.B. King on WDIA in Memphis for another tonic called Pep-Ti-Kon:

Pep-Ti-Kon sure is good, Pep-Ti-Kon sure is good, Pep-Ti-Kon sure is good.
You can get it anywhere in your neighborhood.

B.B. has always said that he came up with the jingle on the spot at the request of WDIA (whose owners, John R. Pepper and Bert Ferguson, owned the company that made Pep-Ti-Kon). We don’t have precise dates of when the Tally-Ho and Pep-Ti-Kon songs were first sung on the radio, but the Tallyho show apparently did predate B.B.’s debut on WDIA, which came in late 1948 or early 1949. Turner’s books showed expenses for radio advertising in 1947 and 1948 on Yazoo City station WAZF and also on a Greenville station, according to the account Gayle Dean Wardlow reported from Turner’s pharmacist W.G. Bush in 1971.

B.B. may or may not have heard the Tallyho song – we’re trying to get the question to him – but he has recalled appearing on a Sonny Boy Williamson program on KWEM in West Memphis, prior to his WDIA stint. Sonny Boy’s KWEM sponsor was none other than Hadacol, and perhaps Sonny Boy had just revamped the Tallyho song into a Hadacol jingle.

(A number of blues and country songs were recorded about Hadacol, but we haven’t heard any that use the “sure is good” line from the Tallyho/Pep-Ti-Kon themes.)

The Hadacol story in itself is a fascinating and well-documented one. Louisiana Senator Dudley J. LeBlanc turned Hadacol into a multi-million dollar enterprise, complete with a traveling variety show which at times featured such major celebrities as Mickey Rooney, George Burns, and Hank Williams. The Hadacol empire, constantly challenged by the medical profession and the U.S. government, had a sensational run but finally collapsed in 1951. (For more, see the “Medicine Show Impresario” chapter of James Harvey Young’s book The Medical Messiahs: A Social History of Health Quackery in Twentieth-Century America.)

An episode of the Hadacol saga not documented until now, however, was its connection to Tallyho. Hollywood producer Larry Gordon, son of Easy Pay owner George Gordon, and O.J. Turner III, who mixed Tallyho in washtubs in the back of his father’s drug store, provided these details: George Gordon met Dudley LeBlanc when both were patients at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans, and from that meeting, Gordon was inspired to market his own tonic, under a formula licensed from LeBlanc. Turner’s mixed and bottled Tallyho, while Gordon provided the marketing expertise as well as a space in his store where Sonny Boy would set up and perform. Larry Gordon still remembers the novelty of LeBlanc coming to the Gordon home in Belzoni driven by a chauffeur. At times LeBlanc produced other brands of patent medicines, including Happy Day, Dixie Dew, and Kary-On; we haven’t figured out who came up with the name Tallyho but it’s worth noting that Hadacol first took hold among the cajun population of LeBlanc’s area of Louisiana, including the community of Bayou Goula – home to a well-known plantation called Tally-Ho. Everyone we’ve talked to has pronounced the name “Tallyho,” including Gayle Dean Wardlow, who conveyed the spelling as Talaho; O.J. Jr.'s son Jack, who threw away the last box of labels after he took over the drug store, insists that it was spelled Tallyho, unhyphenated. We had hoped to find some advertisements for the tonic in Delta newspapers of the era to check the spelling, but we haven’t seen any ads for it – the publicity may have been limited to local radio, and in view of the way Hadacol was being monitored by authorities, Tallyho may have been kept a bit under the official radar. Sales of Tallyho were starting to spread, but interstate commerce could have led to federal charges, and that may have been the reason production was shut down after a few years, according to the Turners.

We don’t know whether Pep-Ti-Kon had a direct connection to LeBlanc and Hadacol, or whether it was just another of the many local elixirs that sprang up in the wake of Hadacol’s success (including a concoction called Retonga marketed by another Belzoni drug store). But the owners of Pep-Ti-Kon and WDIA were John R. Pepper and Bert Ferguson, who had earlier been principals at Greenville’s first station, WJPR, which may have later been the Greenville outlet for the Tally-Ho show. WJPR’s first competitor in Greenville, WGVM, did not begin operations until December of 1948, but it aired a number of blues programs in its early years. And WGVM was started by David Segal, who had previously managed WROX in Clarksdale. WROX served as a secondary base in the mid/late 1940s for Sonny Boy Williamson’s “King Biscuit Time” broadcasts, which usually originated from KFFA in Helena.

So somehow, primarily through Sonny Boy, many of these threads are connected. If anyone can help unravel more of these mysteries, please let us know!

Special thanks to Doug and Leslie Turner and to Helen Sims of the Mississippi Delta Blues Society in Belzoni for their assistance and for all the work they have put into this marker project.

Thanks also to the Gordons and Turners for all the information they have contributed, to the librarians in Belzoni who let us peruse the crumbling issues of the Banner newspaper, and to Brenda Haskins who has used so many of her vacation days to go through old newspapers, microfilm, and city directories with me.

POSTSCRIPT: The Mississippi Blues Trail marker at Turner's Drug Store was dedicated on May 22, 2010. No one has turned up a Tallyho bottle yet -- we're still offering $100 for a bottle or label!

Jim O’Neal

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