Gordie Tapp, the veteran comic storyteller who was born in London, has died at 94

By Joe Belanger, The London Free Press

Gordie Tapp is shown in a 1972 file photo. Canadian entertainer Tapp, a comedian, musician and script writer who found success in radio and TV, has died at the age of 94. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Files

Gordie Tapp is shown in a 1972 file photo. Canadian entertainer Tapp, a comedian, musician and script writer who found success in radio and TV, has died at the age of 94. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Files

Canadian entertainment legend and London native Gordie Tapp is being remembered as a consummate performer, storyteller and collector of jokes.

The 94-year-old singer, comedian and writer, died in Burlington Sunday.

Tapp starred as a cast member and writer on the hit television series, Hee Haw, the country music and rural culture show that ran from 1969 until 1992.

He last performed in London in 2015 at Purple Hill Country Opry in Thorndale, a music venue featuring country, bluegrass and roots music.

“The people here absolutely loved him,” said Purple Hill owner George Taylor.

“When he got here, he said ‘I’ll just do 15 minutes’ and get out of the way,” recalled Taylor of Tapp’s last visit in 2015.

“I told him he could keep the stage as long as he wanted and 45 minutes later he was still telling jokes. The people just loved him and his stories.

“He was such a professional, a real showman. He was a pretty special guy who performed with just about every country star. He was just a good all-round for country music.”

On Hee Haw, Tapp would have worked with or met almost every country music star in North America.

Over the years, he worked with Canadian country music legend Tommy Hunter (a fellow Londoner, host of the Tommy Hunter Show and Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame member) with whom he became close friends.

Hunter, 79, who lives in London, was 16 when he first met Tapp.

They became friends, performing together dozens of times on television, radio and live. He pointed to Tapp’s passion for performing and professionalism.

“We were all new to television (in the 1950s) and Gordie was older and a professional, the elder statesman,” said Hunter.

“We had a lot of great experiences together. We had a close relationship, but we were always very respectful of each other’s talent. I’m going to miss Gordie. I don’t think Canada ever fully realized how talented Gordie was.”

Another Canadian country music legend, Carroll Baker, winner of multiple Junos and whose songs topped the country charts throughout the 1970s and early ’80s, was devastated by news of Tapp’s death.

Baker said she’ll remember Tapp as a friend, great performer but also as “a great writer.”

“His ability to create characters, either for himself or others, was just incredible,” said Baker.

“I think his talent had no boundaries. And he was a big supporter of me and helped get me on Hee Haw (1983). I’m just shocked and very sorry to hear he’s gone.

“But he lived a wonderful life and lived life to the fullest, every day.”

Tapp was born in London in 1922 and raised on Chester Street.

At the time of his death, Tapp was living in a retirement home in Burlington, where he’d lived for much of his career, and had performed up until a few weeks ago, according to news reports.

Tapp hosted the Main Street Jamboree, a Hamilton radio program in the 1950s and later hosted the CBC show, Country Hoedown, for its 10 seasons.

Although an American show, Hee Haw was created by Canadian comedy writers, Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth and was produced by Yongestreet Productions, named after Toronto’s Yonge Street.

It was hosted by country artists Buck Owens and Roy Clark and drew country music’s biggest names through the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s.

Tapp and Canadian comedy icon, the late Don Harron, were writers and cast members of the show.

Among the characters Tapp was best-known for were Cousin Clem, Samuel B. Sternwheeler, Mr. Gordon the storekeeper and Lavern Nagger.

He is survived by his wife Helen, and his three children, Jeoff, Kate and Joan.

Tapp was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1990 and was awarded the Order of Canada in 1998 for his work with charities, including the Canadian Muscular Dystrophy campaign and Easter Seals.

Free Press columnist James Stewart Reaney met with Tapp in September and wrote about Tapp’s meeting with The King, Elvis Presley, on an airplane.

Reaney wrote: “He sat across from me. He kept looking. Finally, he said, ‘Why do I know you?’ ” Tapp recalled.

“You’re on a show,” Presley told Tapp.

Yes, the former Londoner admitted. The show is Hee Haw.

“You hear that. They’re from Hee Haw,” the King told his entourage. “We stop our show everyday until Hee Haw’s over, then we proceed.”

“It was quite a compliment,” Tapp said.

Among other stars Tapp met over his career with Hee Haw, he described Perry Como and Nat King Cole as two of the nicest.

Other stars he worked with or met included Foster Brooks, Henny Youngman, Minnie Pearl, Alabama Gov. George Wallace, Robert Goulet, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash and Lorne Greene, whose Academy of Radio Arts where Tapp studied helped hone Tapp’s vocal talents.

Tapp’s memoir, What’s On Tapp? The Gordie Tapp Story Alias Cousin Clem, written with John Farrington, was published in 2006.