Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b 8 Aug. '26, West Monroe LA; d 24 Feb. '91, Nashville) Flamboyant country singer, one of the biggest stars of the '50s--60s. Sold shoes at Sears and Roebuck, joined US Army '44, worked on local radio and clubs late '40s, joined Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport and soon became a star. Contract with Four Star Records led to Decca label, country chart hits every year '52--72, incl. 'Wondering', 'That Heart Belongs To Me', 'Back Street Affair', all '52; 'It's Been So Long' and 'There Stands The Glass' '53; 'Slowly', 'Even Tho' and 'More And More' '54 (latter crossing over to pop chart according to Pop Memories); two-sided no. ones '55: 'In The Jailhouse Now' (by Jimmie Rodgers)/'I'm Gonna Fall Out Of Love With You', 'I Don't Care'/'Your Good For Nothing Heart', 'Love Love Love'/'If You Were Me'; many more. His band the Wandering Boys was the start of many careers, incl. those of Faron Young, the Wilburn Bros and Floyd Cramer. Left Hayride and moved to Nashville '54, with Red Sovine joined the Grand Ole Opry; they had duet hits incl. 'Why Baby Why?', 'Little Rosa' '55--6. He was more than a star, also profoundly influential: 'Back Street Affair' and 'There Stands The Glass' treated adultery and alcoholism as serious subjects rather than comedy; he established the honky tonk genre permanently, following the trail blazed by Hank Williams, and was one of the first to use electric guitar and steel guitar in big mainstream country hits. Writing or co-writing many of his hits, he helped other writers like Mel Tillis; with Jim Denny he formed giant Cedarwood Publishing. Dabbled with rock'n'roll and rockabilly ('Teenage Boogie', 'Bye Bye Love' '56--7, both top ten). He had 45 top ten hits, eight at no. 1, other notable successes incl. 'Honky Tonk Song' '57, 'Tupelo County Jail' '58, 'I Ain't Never' '59, 'Walking The Streets' '61, 'Cow Town' '62, 'Memory No. 1' '64, 'Fool, Fool, Fool' '67. Became a larger-than-life personality, with custom-built cars and a guitar-shaped swimming pool at his home in Curtiswood Lane, Nashville, now a tourist attraction. One of the first to be offered a lifetime contract by US Decca, with change to MCA '72 and falling sales he was dropped after all; moved to Plantation and scored minor hits with 'The Good Lord Giveth', 'I've Got Leaving On My Mind' '75--6; teamed with Willie Nelson '82 for duet album in the old style, incl. hit remake of 'Jailhouse'. Compilations incl. four-CD set The Wandering Boy 1951--58 on Bear Family, King Of The Honky Tonk '95 on CMF/MCA.