The Richmond Register

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December 29, 2012

‘Put the jam on the lower shelf’

FRANKFORT — FRANKFORT — This is the week for looking back at the passing year or ahead to the new one. But because of a delightful Christmas gift, I’m in mind of something as old as I am.

If you Google “Put the Jam on the Lower Shelf,” you’ll find it is sometimes attributed to Texas Democrat Ralph Yarborough who won a U.S. Senate race in 1957 using the slogan: “Put the jam on the lower shelf so the little man can reach it.”

But Bobby Richardson, former Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives and a walking encyclopedia of Kentucky political history, says the phrase was first used in 1951 by Barren County lawyer Marion Vance in a race for the state House against incumbent Leonard Preston.

Richardson said Vance gave his dad a copy of his campaign song recorded by Barren County’s Pat Kingery and His Kentuckians: “Put the Jam on the Lower Shelf.”

“Now listen you men on Capitol Hill/You have your jam and you always will/If you knew just how we felt/You’d put the jam on the lower shelf.

“We work and slave the whole year through/And here is what I’m a-tellin’ you/When the jam’s on the shelf in the fall/The big man is who gets it all.”

A lot of folks probably feel the same way today as a dysfunctional Washington plays chicken with our economy and the fiscal cliff.

Vance won the 1951 race. Richardson said Vance frequently used a highly questionable tactic, accusing Preston of voting for fictitious bills.

For example Vance accused Preston of voting for a bill which would prohibit a blind man from appearing in public without a white cane. Preston would have to deny those “votes,” but thereby gave credence to the accusation.

(Richardson later won the same legislative seat and eventually became Speaker of the House. He’s adept at whoppers, too, but they are of the hilarious story-telling variety.)

Vance later wrote “Communism in Kentucky: An unprecedented story.” A subtitle reads: “How Communists strike from within on State and Local levels . . . In The BACKYARDS OF LIBERTY, U.S.A.”

Vance ran against Lt. Gov. Wilson Wyatt in the 1962 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate implying Wyatt, who helped found Americans for Democratic Action, was a communist sympathizer. Wyatt won but lost to Republican incumbent Thruston Morton in the fall. Morton’s campaign manager was another Barren County lawyer — Louie B. Nunn who five years later became governor.

There was a second version of the song, recorded in 1957. I don’t know for sure, but Vance presumably used it in the 1962 race.

“In the race for the Senate, Vance is the man/Followers can’t afford to let him down/He’ll change politics all around/Marion Vance is the man, yes sir, he’s the man.

“Now look good people, you can see for yourself/Vance’ll put the jam on the lower shelf/Put the old age pension in the old folks’ hands/I tell you he’s the man, yes sir, he’s the man.”

I recall Vance from my youth, with long flowing hair, walking the square in Glasgow in once stylish but well-worn suits. It was rumored he liked a drink. My Pop would point to him and say he was perhaps the smartest man in town but tragically less than stable.

Thanks to my Mother for the wonderful gift and to Terri Lou and Henry Royse of WCLU Radio in Glasgow for making her a copy of the song.

A correction of last week’s column and an apology: I incorrectly listed the first name of the Republican Chairman of the Senate Education Committee. He is Mike Wilson.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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