Country Heritage: Jim and Jon Hager
An expanded and updated version of an article originally published by The 9513 in 2009
Our culture today seems to create personalities famous mostly for being famous, persons with little discernible talent who nevertheless capture the public eye for a while. Paris Hilton and the Kardashians come to mind, but there are others. At first glance the Hager Twins might seem to fall into this category, particularly since they didn’t have the big hit records or have a television show of their own, but a second look reveals an act composed of two of the greatest showman ever to grace a country music stage.
Jon Hager (August 30, 1941 -January 9, 2009) and his twin brother, Jim (August 30, 1941–May 8, 2008), had a long, successful career entertaining audiences for a period of nearly forty years.
Born in Chicago, the brothers were adopted by Jack and Frances Hager. Jack Hager was a Methodist minister; Frances was a schoolteacher. Raised in the Chicago area, Jim and Jon attended Maine Township High School in Park Ridge (Class of 1959), graduating one year ahead of Harrison Ford. Hillary Rodham Clinton also graduated from Maine Township High School, albeit a half-dozen years later.
As might be expected, Jim and Jon first sang in their father’s church choir. Later, as teenagers, they sang on a Saturday morning television show on WGN-TV. Both brothers served in the United States Army and while in the military performed at Officers’ Clubs and NCO Clubs in the United States and Europe.
After leaving the military, the Hager brothers moved to California and performed at Ledbetter’s Night Club in Los Angeles. They also worked at Disneyland, where their unique act caught the attention of Alvis Edgar “Buck” Owens, the biggest name in country music at the time. Owens signed them to contracts with his organization, and the Hagers served as an opening act for Buck for several years and occasionally opened for other Capitol acts such as Tex Ritter (father of the late John Ritter), Billie Jo Spears, Lefty Frizzell and Wynn Stewart.
In 1969, the Hager Twins became regular cast members on Buck Owens’ biggest ever vehicle Hee Haw. The Hagers appeared on the first episode and stayed with the show for 19 years. They also signed with Buck’s label, Capitol Records, landing a few hits starting with “Gotta Get To Oklahoma (‘Cause California’s Gettin’ To Me)” which reached #41 and according to Billboard, became their biggest single. According to Cashbox, their third single “Goin’ Home To Your Mother” was their biggest hit, reaching #41 on Cashbox. I suspect that “Goin’ Home To Your Mother” is their best remembered song as that is the one I’ve heard most played in the years since it was released.
Interestingly enough, the Hagers had the only charted version of Merle Haggard’s song “Silver Wings” (Haggard’s recording was on the B-side of “Working Man Blues”). While the big hit records never materialized for Jim and Jon Hager, various other opportunities presented themselves; the duo found work in Hollywood and on television, including appearances on an episode of The Bionic Woman, the television-movie Twin Detectives, and spots in many TV commercials. In 1987 they co-hosted Country Kitchen with Florence Henderson on The Nashville Network.
I had the pleasure of seeing the Hager Twins perform live twice since 2000. Prior to that, I saw them with Buck Owens on two of his appearances in London in 1969 and 1970. Whether appearing as a supporting act or as headliners, Jim and Jon Hager were two of the most effective entertainers ever to grace a stage. Equally adept at music or comedy, anyone who ever saw them will concur that they could have received numerous CMA “Entertainer of the Year Awards.” They were that good.
Jim Hager died in May 2008 as a result of a heart attack. This proved to be a crushing loss from which his brother Jon never recovered. Jon’s health went into a spiral, until he was found dead in his Nashville apartment eight months later. Jon is survived by a daughter.
There is nothing available by the Hager Twins on CD except for two songs (“I’m Jesse James” and “Six Days On The Road” on the Sundazed release Buck Owens Live In Scandinavia. At their live shows the Hagers sold a CD issued on the Southern Star Records label that contained none of their hits. This may have been a self-issued disc as it came in a clam-shell cover with no printed insert.
On vinyl, there apparently are six Hagers albums; however, I’ve only seen (and purchased) three albums:
The Hagers, CTwoapitol ST-438 (1969)
Two Hagers Are Better Than One, Capitol ST-553 (1970)
The Hagers, Elektra 7E-1021 (1974)
Musicstack currently lists a bunch of 45s plus a few albums, including one issued on the Barnaby label titled Music From The Country Side (1972) that I’ve never seen.
Probably the best way to obtain music from the Hager Twins is by purchasing the various Time-Life DVDs of Hee Haw. While the Hagers are not the stars of the shows, they do appear with some frequency. These are available from various sources.