One of wrestling’s greatest managers, “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart, returns to WWE on Monday night.
“The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart is one of the greatest managers in WWE history.
Hart signed with the World Wrestling Federation in 1985, managing Intercontinental champion Greg “The Hammer” Valentine at the first WrestleMania. The list of wrestlers he managed includes the Hart Foundation, The Honky Tonk Man, The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, Dino Bravo, the Natural Disasters, The Nasty Boys, Money Inc., as well as The Giant and Hulk Hogan.
Hart is also the original rock and wrestling connection, having broken into the wrestling business after a successful run in the music industry. He was part of The Gentrys, whose 1965 hit “Keep on Dancing” was certified gold.
Hart returns this Monday for the Raw Reunion, and he spoke with Sports Illustrated about his career, memories of the WWE theme songs he wrote, and who he would like to manage on the main roster.
Justin Barrasso: What are you looking forward to most about the Raw Reunion this Monday?
Jimmy Hart: First of all, we’re going to be in Tampa, and that’s the home to next year’s WrestleMania. Can you imagine being on a show with Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Shawn Michaels? Plus, there will be 15-20 other legends there. It’s going to be great. I’m so excited that “The Mouth of the South” is going to be part of the Raw Reunion, too.
JB: You are a WWE Hall of Famer and one of the most memorable managers to ever be part of pro wrestling. Your career has spanned over four decades, and you also had a legitimate hit in music world with the 1965 recording of “Keep on Dancing” as part of The Gentrys. What’s been the key to your success and longevity?
JH: I pinch myself every day and ask, ‘Did I really get paid to do this?’ And there are two pieces of advice I’ve kept in the back of my mind throughout my entire career. The first is from Vince McMahon, who said he was always looking for his next attraction—somebody that could walk through any airport in the world and even a casual wrestling fan would recognize, someone to put on the Today Show, the Tonight Show, and host MTV award shows. Hulk had it, John Cena had it, Rock had it, Stone Cold had it. But it’s hard to find somebody with that special ingredient, and it’s always made me think of what Dick Clark told me back in the day.
Dick Clark told me, ‘When you’re on the stage performing, if you dress like the audience, someday you’re going to end up sitting in the audience.’ That’s why, to this day, I still carry the megaphone, wear the ‘Jimmy Hart jackets,’ and say, ‘Hey baby!’
JB: Wrestling fans know that you broke into the business working with Jerry “The King” Lawler in Memphis, but how did you get your first break in music?
JH: There used to be a show called Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour. That was done at the Jackie Gleason Theater. When we came out of high school, we won a talent contest in Memphis and we were sent to appear on Ted Mack’s show, which is kind of like what American Idol and The Voice are now. We won that three times, we got a record deal, and that’s how we met Dick Clark.
JB: You have been friends and worked with Hulk Hogan for over three decades. There is a great story from the early years of his career when you were sitting beside Jerry Lawler and discussing whether Hogan could reach stardom. What happened that night?
JH: I was still in my band then, playing the clubs in Memphis, Tennessee. I was doing two shows a night at the Ramada Inn, and Jerry Lawler used to come see us all the time. One night he said, ‘Look, come down to the Coliseum, I want you to see somebody and see what you think.’ So I did. When I got there, there was this big guy wrestling in the ring. It was Terry Bollea, who we now know as Hulk Hogan, but back then he was one of the Boulder Brothers. So Jerry goes to me, ‘What do you think?’ And I said, ‘Oh my god! He looks awesome!’
Jerry looks at me and says, ‘You know, he just asked me to manage him and I can make 10 percent off of him.’ And I said, ‘You’re going to do it, right?’ The King said, ‘Are you crazy? This guy will never make a dime in this business.’
To this day, Lawler still says he never said it, but he did. But I will say this about The King: if it weren’t for Jerry, I wouldn’t be in the wrestling business. He gave me my first break, and I’m still grateful for that.
JB: In your opinion, what was a more powerful sensation: Hulk in red and yellow or Hulk in NWO black and white?
JH: Red and yellow. It lasted longer and had more merchandise. The NWO was great, and it was very important to Hulk’s career and worked out perfectly with Hall and Nash. But the red and yellow has lasted decades.
JB: This most recent Hall of Fame class included inductions for the Honky Tonk Man and the Hart Foundation, both of whom you managed. Bret’s speech was a beautiful tribute to Jim Neidhart. Do you have any specific memories of working with Bret and Jim against the British Bulldogs?
JH: Being with the Bulldogs was always so great. There was one night in the dressing room when I was putting batteries in my megaphone, and once they were installed, the megaphone’s siren went off. Matilda started going crazy when she heard that, really going after the megaphone. That’s what gave me the idea at WrestleMania III for the Hart Foundation-Bulldogs six-man tag match. Once we got to the ring, I put the siren on, Matilda attacked the mega phone, and I took a bump. Those memories are so great, and I still love every chance I get to see Bret.
JB: What was the process like when you wrote the lyrics for a wrestler’s theme music?
JH: I loved that, and I’ll see Shawn Michaels and Ted DiBiase at the reunion, and we wrote both of their theme songs. [WWE composer] Jimmy Johnston did great work for Vince, but when Cyndi Lauper was there, her manager had me do a song for The Wrestling Album, which was “Eat Your Heart Out, Rick Springfield,” and Cyndi did backup on that. That led to me cutting songs for the Rougeaus, Shawn Michaels, Ted DiBiase, Demolition, the Road Warriors, and so many others.
Dusty Rhodes’ “Common Man” song, that’s one of my favorites, along with the wedding song that I wrote with Jim McGuire for Randy and Liz that was called “Together.” Another favorite is from WCW, when we wrote “The Wolfpac” song.
JB: Which wrestler would you like to manage in 2019?
JH: Elias, baby, Elias! I wish we could do something where I could say to him, ‘Elias, I love you, baby! You know I took the Honky Tonk Man to gold albums and gold records, and he’s in the Hall of Fame now. So let me take you to Sun Studio in Memphis, where Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins cut their big hits, and let’s cut your gold record. The only catch is I want 50 percent, just like Colonel Parker took from Elvis Presley!’
But no matter what happens, I’m so happy to be there, and it’s going to be a great reunion this Monday on Raw.