The end of the medicine show era

Stars from Red Skelton to Roy Acuff got their starts performing on a show where a medicine show “Doc” gathered folks around to sell a sure cure.
It was this same circumstance under the watchful eye of “Doc” M.F. Chamberlain that a youthful Tommy Scott got his start as a professional touring musician in 1936. By that time the show was already 46 years old and the 19-year-old Scott tossed his guitar over his back and left the farm to sleep in a wagon and earn $6 a week.

After two years at the age of 21, he owned the show lock, stock and medicine formulas including the laxative Herb-O-Lac, also called Man-O-Ree and Katona and a liniment that Scott sold as Snake Oil. The adventure that was ahead would find him to come to know the two men mentioned above and so many others that the world looked to as stars and he would stand side by side with them.

He moved the medicine to radio to the powerhouse stations such as WWVA, WHAS, WSM and others as well as the powerful stations from Ole Mexico. During the waning days of the Great Depression, through innovative partnerships, Scott transformed the company pitching it through radio moving up to 10,000 bottles of the medicine weekly.

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, he continued innovating his live touring shows moving into auditoriums, theaters, and under circus tents appearing coast to coast.
His tenure at the helm of what the Smithsonian Institute folk life historians considered as last real old time medicine show, America’s second oldest show next to Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, came to an end Sept. 30, 2013 as Ramblin’ “Doc” Tommy Scott passed away at the age of 96.

Scopes Trial Festival in Dayton, Tenn. in 2007 – Photo by Butch Lanham

I was honored to meet him 20 years ago and come to know him probably as much or more than any person on earth other than his immediate family. I performed with him in his show and he performed with me on mine. I helped him pen his 700-page autobiography “Snake Oil, Superstars, and Me” with Shirley Noe Swiesz in 2007. I also wrote and directed “Still Ramblin’,” a PBS documentary on his early career in 2001.

I stood at the foot of his casket with his red top hat perched on top of it on Oct. 4, 2013. His family gathered round, and I sang his popular gospel song “Say a Little Prayer” with my friends Lorie and Todd of the Watkins Family. Though a long and well-lived life was remembered as he stepped into eternity in the costume that millions seen him wear, I also knew that the last link to an entire genre of entertainment is now gone. 


Stephens Memorial Gardens Oct. 4, 2013 – Official Media Photo: Regina Watkins

While there are some of us that were a part of his show that remain, it is unlikely that we will be out as he was from the 1940s to the present uplifting people’s spirits with an entertaining show with the purpose of selling them a bottle of snake oil to ease their aches and pains.

For those of you, who never sat in a theater, auditorium or circus tent and watched him, saw his movies or TV shows or listened to him on radio, I will give you a short synopsis.  He became a member of the Grand Ole Opry alongside contemporaries Acuff, Minnie Pearl and Ernest Tubb performing music on WSM and doing comedy with his hand made wooden sidekick Luke McLuke.

Tommy penned his most popular song of the late 1940’s “Rosebuds and You” in honor of his longtime stage and film and TV co-star and wife Frankie. The song became a regional hit in the South and west in 1950; it was later covered by dozens of artists including Country Music Hall of Famer George Morgan and Benny Martin.

He also wrote the hundreds of songs including bluegrass standards “You Are The Rainbow of My Dreams,” “You Took My Sunshine,” and “You Can’t Stop Time,” and contributed to the multi-million selling pop song “Mule Train,” to which he sold his rights.

He starred in the 1949 release of “Trail of the Hawk,” directed by Oscar nominee Edward Dymytrk, as well as numerous other 1940s and 50s films such as “Mountain Capers,” “Hillbilly Harmony,” “Southern Hayride.”
His “Ramblin’ Tommy Scott Show” produced in conjunction with Sack Amusements came to nationwide television in 1948 with a second show Tommy Scott’s “Smokey Mountain Jamboree” running in syndication during the 1950s.

Among his television appearances were with Johnny Carson, Walter Conkrite, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Trudeau. Charles Kuralt, Jane Pauley, Ralph Emery and David Letterman. He made multiple appearances for Entertainment Tonight, The Tommy Hunter Show and the Today Show.

“Doc” Tommy Scott and Oprah Winfrey – Photo Katona Productions, Inc.

In another one of his endeavors, a design originally sketched on a brown paper towel backstage on a piano in the 1950s became the model for what would become the prototype to the Dodge Motor Home.

“Doc” Scott’s Last Real Old Time Medicine Show, which through its long history under various billings such as the Hollywood Hillbilly Jamboree featured co-stars including Curly Seckler, Stringbean Akeman, western film stars Col. Tim McCoy, Carolina Cotton, Al “Fuzzy” St. John, Sunset Carson, Johnny Mack Brown, Ray Whitley and country entertainers Junior Samples, Jackie Phelps, Clyde Moody, Scotty Lee, Gaines Blevins and me. There were also hundreds of talented musicians, magicians, circus and carnival acts which also toured with the show.

Scott was honored as an International Bluegrass Music Museum Legend in 2011, he is an inductee in the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame, Country Music Association Walkway of Stars in 1976, and was honored with a major exhibit at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame from 1996-2008.

The family is welcoming memorials through tax-deductible donations to the Share America Foundation, Inc., P.O. Box 42, Tunnel Hill, Ga. 30755 or made via credit card at
for a Ramblin’ “Doc” Tommy and Frankie Scott Appalachian Music Scholarship.

If you have an interest in his autobiography visit our store page to order or DVD documentary, please look above or on our store page. Check out my video tribute below: