In a city where pawnshops overflow with abandoned instruments, J.G. "Goober" Buchanan has managed to build a life around music.
"I've survived for a long time," he says, in between greeting old friends behind a booth at Fan Fair.
He began as a DJ at WLS-AM in Chicago in 1936, moved to WDZ-AM in Tuscola, Ill., a hillbilly station that started out as a grain-market report, and on to radio stations throughout the Midwest and South. He traveled for five years with Grand Ole Opry star Porter Wagner. Most recently, he performed in Kentucky's Renfro Valley Show and on Broadway.
Best known for his "old man" comedy act, he plays the mandolin, guitar, bass, drums, and banjo. On an amateur video of one of his last engagements in Renfro Valley, he plays lively tunes on an insecticide-spray gun. Performers on the stage with him include the town schoolteacher, deputy sheriff, and other locals.
He describes his material as "all original ... which means I don't know where I've stolen it."
Country music as he has known it is "going to the dogs," he says. "What we call country music is no more. All this hopping up and down when you're doing it, we never did any of that. If you go around the country now, you'll find a lot of people set on bringing back hillbilly."
People love country music, he says, because "It was something everybody could do. They'll say, `That's something my granddaddy used to do'.... It brings back memories."