Jerry Kerper's 15 minutes of fame begin this weekend.

In his five-decade career in music, the harmonica pro and vocalist has recorded a few albums and worked with several notable country musicians -- "Marty Robbins, Billy Walker, you name  'em," he said -- but Saturday marks Kerper's first appearance on national TV.

The 76-year-old Conewago Township man will share the stage with country western doyenne Connie Smith on "Midwest Country," a weekly show broadcast at 8:30 p.m. Saturdays on RFD-TV.

The channel is carried on the DISH Network, channel 231, and on DirecTV, channel 345.

"I'm looking forward to it, especially with Connie," Kerper said. "I never worked with her, strangely enough."

Pinch player: Now a retired long-haul trucker and regional car hauler, Kerper took up the harmonica at age 12 and began playing professionally at 16.

"I just liked the sound of the harmonica. The nice thing is, you can put it in your pocket," he said.

He got his first break as an 18-year-old in 1952, when the Harmonicats' frontman was hospitalized with appendicitis just before a show in Reading.

The band contacted the Musicians Union, which had recognized the harmonica as an instrument only a year before, to find an emergency replacement.

"Lo and behold, I was the only one in the book," Kerper said. "That was an honor. It really was."

But it was no twist of fate that landed him a spot on "Midwest Country" this weekend.


Kerper simply saw a phone number at the end of the program one Saturday night, dialed the hotline and conveyed his interest.

"I gave them a call and told them what I'd done and how long I'd been at it," he said. A few weeks after submitting a resume and demo tape, "they called me and asked if I'd be willing to come out and entertain them ... I said, 'Certainly, I'd be glad to play with Connie Smith anytime.'"

Just Plain Country: Since moving to the Dover area from Berks County about 20 years ago, Kerper and his band, Just Plain Country, have been active players at area carnivals, VFWs, American Legion posts, recreation centers and racetracks.

Kerper finished recording "Ole Country Harmonica," his latest album, a few weeks ago and plans to take a mastered copy to Midwest Country's Minnesota studio when he leaves Wednesday.

"It's nothing but harmonica," he said. "Nothing but country tunes."

And though Kerper doesn't plan to hog the spotlight on Saturday -- he made sure he could bring Baltimore guitarist Bob Anderson onto the show for exposure -- he does plan to make his big moment last as long as possible. Thanks to an endorsement deal with instrument manufacturer Hohner, he'll be travelling to Minnesota by complimentary rental car, rather than airplane.

"We're going to drive and take our good old time getting there," he said.

-- Reach Peter Mergenthaler at 505-5439 or