February 1, 2008
Road still home to Hillbilly Jim
By GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
Hillbilly Jim's theme song was Don't Go Messing With A Country Boy when he was wrestling; these days, perhaps Ramblin' Man would be far more appropriate. As the leader of the WWE Fan Axxess Tour for the fifth year, he's on the road for three months straight.
This weekend, Fan Axxess and Hillbilly Jim are just north of Toronto at the Vaughan Mills shopping centre, with scheduled signings by Santino Marella on Saturday and Maria on Sunday.
Taking a few minutes from his busy set-up and promotional schedule, Hillbilly Jim chatted with SLAM! Wrestling about life on the road ... again.
"It works out really fine. To be honest with you, I enjoy coming out and seeing folks the three months that I'm out for this tour," he said. "Then we wind up at WrestleMania, so I get to see the guys and have a lot of fun. We get to go to a lot of different cities and re-visit some of the old folks that I've seen over the years -- and the cities too. When you wrestle as long as I did in the old days, we were in all these cities, all across America, all across Canada. A lot of times, I haven't had the chance for years, for some of these places, to go back to. So that's why it's fun to me."
It's the fifth year for the tour, and each year it's gotten better, said Jim.
"I was there when we began it. It was a concept. I've been the guy that's been the host of it. For now, this is the fifth WrestleMania. We just kind of started up as an experimental thing to see how it went. It turned out real good," he said. "People started following it, and people kept getting to it. And every year, the WWE, to their credit, expanded it and grew it. It's gotten bigger and better, and I've just been happy to get out and do this."
As more sponsors got on board, the workload for Hillbilly Jim eased off. "They do it so much slicker -- so it's so much easier on me," Jim explained. "The first year or two was really hard because I had to do all these shows pretty much by myself. The WWE would always send out guys to do autographs and things, but it was pretty tough, because we were doing so many cities, we were in a lot of small markets, and there was a lot of traveling. But now it's gotten to where it easier. I really look forward to it. I'm looking forward to the Vaughan Mills experience over here, this Vaughan Mills Shopping Centre. It's going to be so much fun. It's just going to be a good two days, it really is."
"I pretty much stay on call, because I don't really like to settle myself into doing one thing in particular if I don't have to," he said. "The only other thing that I have is I have my international radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio. I've been doing that for about three years now. I enjoy doing that. That's a weekly show I do that comes on twice on the weekend, on Saturday and Sunday. I have to usually go to Nashville, Tennessee and record and tape it there. That's a lot of fun. The rest of the time, I'm pretty well open for other things that come up."
The ability to do what he wants the rest of the year is a well-earned treat for Hillbilly Jim, who is not a full-time employee of WWE any longer.
"I'm not a straight-up employee of WWE anymore. I went through that whole route after my wrestling days, being a part of WWE Home Video, and doing that. I had an office there for a brief time, doing video sales, during those days when there still were videos; now it's all DVD," he said. "I'm pretty much an independent contractor when I come out and do this."
EDITOR'S NOTE: We'll have more from Hillbilly Jim, including talk of his brief stint in Stampede Wrestling, in an upcoming interview.
Greg Oliver founded SLAM! Wrestling with John Powell way back in 1996, and has been writing about pro wrestling since 1985. His fourth book, Benoit: Wrestling with the Horror That Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport (with Steven Johnson, Heath McCoy and Irv Muchnick) has just hit shelves. Previous books include The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels (with Steven Johnson), The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams (also with Johnson) and The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Canadians. Order them all from the SLAM! Wrestling Store. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.