In the early 1970's...East Tennesseans gathered to watch a young Lenoir City native named Jimmy Hartsook. The fresh faced kid, barely even a teenager at the time, hosted his very own television program.
Bradley Reeves with Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound says he's heard plenty of stories over the years about the young Hartsook and his program.
"It was a variety show," said Reeves. "Jimmy would introduce country music singers as they passing through Knoxville.
Reeves says he's lucky to even have clips of The Little Jimmy Hartsook Show among his collection at the East Tennessee History Center.
"They were miraculously saved from destruction and what we found was quite amazing to see little Jimmy Hartsook, 10 years old, his own television show hanging out with Barbara Mandrell and Jack Greene from Maryville, Freddie Hart, all these country music legends going head to head with them. The personality just really shines through," said Reeves.
In addition to his own television program, 10 year old Jimmy also had his own recording contract and was even proclaimed "the Donny Osmond of Country Music". But, at the height of it all, Hartsook walked away from television and making music.. Reeves says he's often asked about Hartsook and his show.
"People still are like 'hey, little Jimmy Hartsook. Wasn't he wonderful?' and 'where did he go?' 'Where is he now?' that kind of thing,"
It turns out Little Jimmy Hartsook has been in East Tennessee the entire time since leaving his television show in the early 1970's. He's traded in his microphone for a whistle and moved from singing songs to auctioning cars.
"I am what you would call a ring man or floor man for auto auctions here in the southeast," said Hartsook. "I have been for 22 years."
Today Jim Hartsook travels around the southeast working car auctions.
"I love my job!" said Hartsook. "It reminds me a lot of entertaining. It reminds me a lot of entertaining because you take an auctioneer who has been getting ready all week. Bringing cars in and getting ready for production."
Hartsook grew up in Lenoir City, his father and grandfather were both car dealers. Jimmy's love for cars is matched only by his love for music.
"When I was a child I started singing," recalled Hartsook. "It started out innocently singing around my home and around the record shop on Saturdays and singing to the guys in the pool room next tdoor."
A concert by the legendary "Whispering" Bill Anderson would forever change his life.
"I happened to go to a Bill Anderson concert at the Civic Coliseum with my sister-in-law and they had 2 shows that night, we went to the early show, I was only 10 years old. As we were leaving Bill was out back signing autographs and I went down to get him to sign an autograph and I noticed he was writing left handed and so it was my turn so I said 'I'm left-handed too and I play guitar left handed and upside down," remembers Hartsook. And he said 'you do?' and I said 'yes sir, I do' and he said 'why don't you go in the back door I'll be in in a minute and I want to see this'. So I went in the back door and waited, he came in and picked out his guitar and he said 'play me a song' and I played him a song and he said 'do you want to be on the next show with me tonight?' and said 'why, of course."
The crowd went wild for the 10 year old child with a baby face and plenty of charm to spare.
"I did get some standing ovations from the crowd. Bill asked me to be on his syndicated TV show that night and the opening band that night was The Kountry Kings, the band for Jim Clayton's Startime TV show," said Hartsook. "They asked me to come and be on the local Clayton Startime show with the Clayton bunch. After doing that a couple of times they asked me to be a regular and I started traveling with them and then I got offered my own TV show."
The Little Jimmy Hartsook show featured a Who's who of country celebrities at the time: Jack Greene, Jeannie Seely, Jamey Ryan, Freddie Hart, Billy "Crash" Craddock, Barbara Mandrell
We brought talent in from Nashville," said Hartsook. "I would do the introductions and talk to them and let them do their songs and stuff and they would go on their way."
In addition to his television program, Hartsook even recorded his own music, went on tour and even played the Grand ole Opry. He spent nearly 4 years recording his television show at WBIR Channel 10.
"I had a couple of singles that did get on the charts and my first record with RCA was called Anything to Prove My Love to You', and it did break the top 100 country charts.
Hartsook says he was a big fan of all of his guests.
"I kept an autograph book with me. I've got more great autographs and pictures of me with people like Bill Monroe, Roy Acuff, "Tex" Ritter. Just greats from way back."
Hartsook had fans of his own, especially young girls and grandmothers.
"I couldn't go to the mall without being mobbed. It was hard to go out to eat without signing autographs to adults, not kids. It was really funny. It was kind of surreal," said Hartsook with a laugh. "I got a lot of fan mail. My mother, bless her heart, she signed pictures and we answered every letter. We made sure everything was sent to who it needed to be sent to."
So why would Jimmy Hartsook walk away from fame at the height of it all? The answer is simple: to be a teenager.
""When I got to be around 14 and going to start high school, I had a private teacher for the last 2 years and had kind of lost contact with all my friends. I wanted to have a car. I wanted to have a girl. I wanted to do the normal things that all teenagers do," said Hartook. "I had a contract with RCA and recorded a few singles for them and at the time they didn't want to renew the contract and also my sponsor of my TV show split up their business partnership so that left me without a sponsor of my TV show. So, it was like perfect timing. I could walk away from obligations and so I chose to walk away."
Jim Hartsook says he has no regrets of leaving the music business. Now a grandfather, he says he occasionally gets recognized from his show but has remained out of the spotlight.
"The majority of the people I work with have no idea. I've known plenty of them for 20 plus years. They're just now finding this kind of thing out. I've took a little ribbing about it at the auctions but it's all in good fun."
Jim Hartsook credits his experience with teaching him valuable lessons that have helped him in his current career.
"One of the greatest things that I received out of what I did was learning to accept responsibility to live up to your obligations. My mother would come to me and say 'Jimmy, now there's somebody wanting you to do a show on this date and I have to let them know today and if we say yes, there's no backing out '," said Hartsook. "I learned that you have to back up what you say what you're gonna do and meet your obligations."
Music remains a big part of Hartsook's life. He still performs at church and keeps a collection of music of many different genres. l. He remains a humble man who is grateful for the one-of-a-kind experience of growing up a celebrity.
"I really appreciate that people do remember. My legacy is I want to be remembered as a good man, not as a singer not as a ring man, not as anything but a good man."
A big thanks to Bradley Reeves over at Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound for his help in this story. Follow them on Facebook for more pictures, videos and artifacts from television and radio's early days in East Tennessee.