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Obituaries

Horace Logan, 86; Created Radio's 'Louisiana Hayride' Country and Western Show

October 16, 2002|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Horace Lee "Hoss" Logan, founder of the influential "Louisiana Hayride" that created country singing stars in the 1950s and originator of the catch-phrase "Elvis has left the building," has died. He was 86.

Logan, who had pancreatitis and acute respiratory distress syndrome, died Sunday in Victoria, Texas.

The radio impresario landed on KWKH-AM in Shreveport, La., in 1932 when he was only 16 but already had a voice so deep and impressive that he won a contest to become an announcer. Logan hit his stride in 1948 when he launched the station's "Louisiana Hayride," which he staged before a live audience in Shreveport's Municipal Auditorium.

The innovative three-hour Saturday night show, broadcast over CBS to 191 stations across 13 states in the South, was considered an upstart rival to the staid Grand Ole Opry of Nashville. Unlike the Opry, which required a hit record before a performer could be on the show, Logan encouraged newcomers, requiring only production of a record. He also encouraged experimentation and permitted amplified guitars and other newfangled instruments banned by the traditional Opry.

When the Opry fired troubled Hank Williams for drinking, Logan hired him. When the Opry told a teenage Elvis Presley to stick to truck-driving, Logan gave him a break. The experiences with the two stars provided Logan's title for his 1998 memoir, "Elvis, Hank and Me: Making Musical History on the 'Louisiana Hayride.' "

Others may have referred to the "Hayride" as the "Junior Grand Ole Opry." Logan preferred to call the Opry "the Tennessee branch of the 'Hayride.' "

The "Hayride," which lasted only a year or so after Logan left for other radio jobs in late 1957, also gave early breaks to such country singing legends as Kitty Wells, George Jones, Faron Young, Webb Pierce, Johnny Cash, Slim Whitman, Willie Nelson and Jim Reeves.

"When he [Logan] gave you an introduction, you thought the president of the United States was coming on," Merle Kilgore, who had appeared on "Hayride" and now manages Hank Williams Jr., told Associated Press from his home in Paris, Tenn. "He was the greatest. Being on the 'Hayride' ... that was as big as it got in the country music industry."

Logan's 1998 book of fond reminiscences about the stars he helped launch earned generally good reviews. Kirkus Reviews praised "Elvis, Hank and Me" as "a real foot-stompin' treat" and predicted that "serious country-music fans will love it."

Some historians, however, questioned Logan's accuracy on a few points. Logan recalled, for example, that he introduced Presley when the youth made his first "Hayride" appearance on Oct. 16, 1954. Other students of Presley lore claim that the announcer Hank Page made the actual introduction, although Logan and Page were on stage.

In Logan's version, he grabbed the microphone and said: "Ladies and gentlemen, you've never heard of this young man before, but one day you'll be able to tell your children and grandchildren you heard musical history made tonight."

Logan signed the 19-year-old to a year's contract, paying him $18 for each Saturday night appearance.

About halfway through the year, Presley's popularity had soared so much that he paid $400 a week not to appear on "Hayride."

Regardless of who first introduced Presley to the "Hayride" audience, everyone seems to agree that it was Logan, with his stentorian, authoritative voice, who first uttered the words, "Elvis has left the building."

In buying out his contract, Presley had agreed to make one final appearance for the "Hayride" on Dec. 12, 1956. Because he had become such a box-office draw, the performance was moved to Shreveport's Coliseum, which held 13,000 people.

After Presley performed and left, Logan told the Chicago Sun-Times in 1998, "the little girls were screaming and screaming and screaming. It was almost an act of desperation. I had to make the announcement, 'Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.' "

Kilgore, who attended that night, said Sunday that with Logan's "voice of authority, all of those kids shut up and believed him. Of course, Elvis really had left the building."

Years after Presley's death, the phrase is still in common usage to signal that some event, program or person's tenure has come to an end.

After Logan left the Shreveport station and the "Hayride," he worked in California and Florida and spent a decade in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, producing the "Big D Jamboree," where he showcased Willie Nelson in the 1960s.

Logan, who is survived by his wife, Linda, retired to Seadrift, Texas, in 1995.

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