Born: July 1, 1894
Livingston, KY, USA
Died: November 12, 1985
The Renfro Valley Barn Dance was first heard on WLW from the Cincinnati Music
Hall on October 9, 1937. Later they would move the show to Dayton Ohio, at the
In 1939 the Renfro Valley Barndance opened its doors in Renfro Valley, Kentucky.
Offering live entertainment from those who truly lived in the hills of Kentucky.
Such acts as Red Foley, Homer and Jethro, Coon Creek Girls, Slim Miller, Old Joe
Clark and many others started their careers on the old barn stage.
On the grounds he put in cabins, restaurant with southern home-style meals,
souvenir shop, candy kitchen and country store. Many skeptical locals said the
barn would have tobacco hanging from its rafters within a month.
The barn could comfortably hold about 800 people. Some weekends thousands would
flock to the small valley. The two scheduled shows on a Saturday night could not
accommodate all who came. John Lair was not the type of man to turn folks away;
sometimes the shows went all night. That was amazing when you consider there
were no interstates, and very few hotels. People came from all over. It was not
unusual to see more cars from Michigan than from Kentucky.
John Lair did not just want people coming to the valley; he also wanted to bring
the valley to the people. Radio always played an important part. In the early
days of Renfro, John Lair had his shows broadcast on national radio every day of
the week. The programs were the only shows to come directly from a real
community and presented mostly by actual residents of that community. There was
no regular broadcasting studios. All shows were performed at the barn, old log
schoolhouse and the Lodge (restaurant). On special occasions they would even
broadcast from deep inside the Saltpeter Cave located a few miles outside of the
In the mid-fifties, Pillsbury Flour sponsored a television show on CBS, "John
Lair's Renfro Valley Folks." That was followed in the sixties by the movie,
"John Lair's Renfro Valley Barndance." Today, over two hundred radio stations
broadcast the Renfro Valley Gatherin', recorded in the valley.
Even though his life centered on entertainment for over fifty years, John Lair
was also an historian, writer and collector. It is said that he may very well
have had the largest collection of old time country and pioneer music in the
world. He wrote some five hundred songs such as, "Take Me Back To Renfro
Valley", (his signature song), "Freight Train Blues" and "Keep Them Cold Icy
Fingers Offa Me", just to name a few.
John Lair also wrote four books on rural Kentucky life and its history; as well
as a book titled, "Songs Lincoln Loved", which was well received upon its
I believe we can put into film his extraordinary life in a very entertaining
way. The John Lair story is a story that should be told, for it is a true look
at a person who started off with nothing but a dream. He turned his dream into a
reality and lived a happy and fulfilled life. Married fifty plus years and
always a devoted husband and father he is someone that can easily be looked up
to. His love for rural life was second to only God and his country. He honestly
wanted to preserve country music. Some may find that corny, but after witnessing
his life and the way he lived it, most will find it refreshing.
This biography was provided by Matthew Teater, Lair's grandson. Thanks, Matthew.