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Big Slim (The Lone Cowboy)
Born:  May 9, 1899
Died:  October 13, 1966
WWVA Original Jamboree
KDKA Pittsburgh, PA
KQV Pittsburgh, PA
WNAR Norristown, PA
WWSW Pittsburgh, PA
WWVA Wheeling, WV
XEPN Piedras Negras,

About The Artist

Harry C. McAuliffe (some records indicate his name may actually be Hamilton Christopher Aliff), best known on stage as Big Slim, the Lone Cowboy, gained his greatest fame from his nearly three decade membership on the World's Original Jamboree at WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia. Slim was a native of Bluefield in the southern end of the state. Slim was already a veteran entertainer when he came to the Jamboree although many of the details remain somewhat sketchy. Furthermore, his own comments about his life tend to be contradictory.

Slim's parents were John and Minnie McAuliffe. Although he claimed to have been orphaned at age eight (it seems to have been only his mother who died then) as he described his father as "a horse and cattle dealer who owned a 750 acre farm at the foot of East River Mountain." The same song book from 1939 also contained a picture of his father identified as having "worked circus and cowboy shows over the U. S. A." and been "raised and schooled with Tom Mix, our best friend." While some of this may be true, the fact that elder McAuliffe was eleven years older than Mix makes some of this highly unlikely.

According to one story he was a mule driver in World War I and started in radio at KDKA in 1920 (which if true must have been shortly after the station took the air). He also claimed to have started in radio in 1929 which seems more likely. At some point he married Mary Louise Dolby and fathered three children: H. C. Jr. nicknamed Billy (1925), Phyllis (1927), and the youngest Roy. Through a later marriage he had another son Kenneth.

At other times Slim worked as a cattle driver in Wyoming, as a railroader in the west, and as rodeo performer. He also worked as a horse trainer, a profession he continued even after becoming a full-time radio artist. He aspired to get into motion pictures, but was doomed to disappointment.

On April 1, 1931 at 9:00pm, Big Slim and His Lone Star Rangers made their debut over radio station KQV in Pittsburgh, PA. A news brief indicated they would do a half hour of mountaineer and barn dance songs. Jack Deane, a locak caller, was to be the emcee of the show. A couple of weeks later, the Radio Log for KQV was showing "Big Slim and His Lone Star Rangers" in that time slot. By December of 1931, he was also appearing on WWSW as well.

Promo Ad - Mary Lou Turner - Lancaster PA - 1967
Promo Ad - Mary Lou Turner - Idlewild Park - 1966

In December 1936 he recorded four songs for Decca, released under the name "Big Slim Aliff", but soon cut up a fellow in a knife fight in some altercation involving his wife. News stories indicate that Slim had his suspicions and when he came home and found man who was a boarder at his home with his wife Martha, he got mad; stabbed him and hit him over the head. He was an auto mechanic during the times he was not performing. This resulted in being sentenced to the Allegheny County Workhouse starting March 19, 1937, perhaps for six months.

Released, he joined Doc Williams' Border Riders at WWVA Wheeling as a temporary replacement for the injured Rawhide Fincher. After the latter's recovery, Slim became a Jamboree and WWVA regular, remaining there for the rest of his life with a few interruptions.

Promo Ad - Mary Lou Turner - Lancaster PA - 1967

Hazel Hawley - circa 1939 During absences, he took extensive tours through the USA and Canada, and continued as a horse and dog trainer. He also became known for assisting younger aspiring musical figures including Hank Snow, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Toby Stroud who began his career as a fiddler for Big Slim.

Somewhere in the early 1940s Slim's marriage to Mary Louise terminated and he remarried a blonde-haired singer and equestrian known as "Blue-Eyed Hazel." Based on an old booklet from Big Slim, this appears to be Hazel Hawley who Slim says was their trick and fancy rider, and secretary. Doc Williams' oldest daughter Barbara recalls her as being quite attractive and equally good with horses. However in the midst of a Canadian tour with Hank Snow, this marriage also came to a sudden end and so did the tour.

In 1942, research discovered a review of Big Slim's late night show over WWVA ... "can be caught by the late-hour listener in New York. The review is written perhaps with a disdain towards the type of music, a bit of city slicker snobbery. "The program is conducted by a gentleman styling himself Big Slim, the Lonesome Cowboy, but if he's lonesome it's probably his own fault." The reviewer, Eugene Burr, goes on, "Some of his folksy chatter is so pointlessly and synthetically homespun that even an addict of American folk music (this addict, to be specific) is hard put to it to wait for the next song." Then he gets to what he thought of his singing. "As for the singing, Slim does okay with the aid of his guee-tar, sticking chiefly to the synthetic and new numbers, at least on the program caught." The reviewer did note that one of the staples of the program was handling requests from listeners. He summed up the review, "It sounds a lot better, tho, to a listener who happens to be allergic to most dance bands."

Big Slim stepped away from radio programs for a couple years, doing rodeos throughout the states and Canada. He returned to WWVA in the summer 1944. He had been there two months and managed to win the loving cup that was given in July as the most popular cowboy singer and mail draw. At the same time, Hazel Hawley was said to have given up rodeos for the time being.

This tour may have occurred in the summer of 1946. Billboard reported that Slim had plans on opening a big tent show in Canada in June, July and August of 1946; it would have all of his horses and mules along. Mention is made that after closing the show with Hank SNow, Slim would go back to Ottawa and Montreal for recording and movies.

Promo Ad - Jess Young Champion Fiddler - Chattanooga - June 1927
Promo Ad - Old Time Fiddler's Contest - Alton Park City Hall - Jess Young - July 1927
Promo Ad - Old Time Fiddler's Contest - Alton Park City Hall - Jess Young - July 1927
Promo Ad - Jess Young Champion Fiddler - Chattanooga - June 1927
Promo Ad - Old Time Fiddler's Contest - Alton Park City Hall - Jess Young - July 1927
Promo Ad - Old Time Fiddler's Contest - Alton Park City Hall - Jess Young - July 1927

Promo Ad - Jess Young Champion Fiddler - Chattanooga - June 1927
Promo Ad - Old Time Fiddler's Contest - Alton Park City Hall - Jess Young - July 1927

Big Slim the Lone Cowboy; WWVA; 1946

Promo Ad - Jess Young Champion Fiddler - Chattanooga - June 1927
Promo Ad - Old Time Fiddler's Contest - Alton Park City Hall - Jess Young - July 1927

Promo Ad - Jess Young Champion Fiddler - Chattanooga - June 1927
Promo Ad - Old Time Fiddler's Contest - Alton Park City Hall - Jess Young - July 1927<

Promo Ad - Jess Young Champion Fiddler - Chattanooga - June 1927
Promo Ad - Old Time Fiddler's Contest - Alton Park City Hall - Jess Young - July 1927

Promo Ad - Jess Young Champion Fiddler - Chattanooga - June 1927
Promo Ad - Old Time Fiddler's Contest - Alton Park City Hall - Jess Young - July 1927

During research some articles in local newspapers promoting an upcoming appearance by Big Slim and others would offer some hints as to the type of entertainment folks would see. A 1939 article told readers that Big Slim was "...a cowboy who will sing and do tricks with a bull whip such as snapping a cigarette out of a person's mouth." In 1940, we learn that "...all sorts of feats will be performed and Big Slim's trained horses and mules will cavort over the high school stage in special tricks."

In 1945, Billboard reported that Big Slim and Hazel Hawley had been featured for a couple years with their high school horses and mules on the Hollywood Thrill Show. They spent the winter of 1945 at WWVA and as the article went on "...pouring out their cowboy and hillbilly corn, which is drawing a big fan mail."

In 1946, Billboard told readers that Big Slim was handling chores on WWVA's The General Store program and apparently was quite popular. He had a book of his songs that he would give away with one of his sponsor's products. The article went on to state, "...his songs seem to have that 'old-time' touch to them. It mentions his breeding and training horses and pointed out that his favorite was Golden Flash, who had appeared in technicolor films with him.

Big Slim left WWVA in November of 1946. He was going to operate the Circle K Ranch, located near Norristown, PA. He was to have a radio program over the new station there as well as over WDAS in Philadelphia. That 1946 article mentions he had done two movies in Canada. The first one was "The Last Of The Mustangs." The next one, "The Calgary Stampede" featured his horse, Golden Flash.

Promo Ad - Jess Young Champion Fiddler - Chattanooga - June 1927
Promo Ad - Old Time Fiddler's Contest - Alton Park City Hall - Jess Young - July 1927

Slim continued with the Jamboree and about 1947 recorded some numbers for Buddy Starcher's short-lived Dixie label (not the later Starday affiliate). The Dixie label was formed in the summer of 1947. Herb Goddard was president, Buddy Starcher was VP and Isaac Hardesty was secretary-treasurer. The label also signed Dolph Hewitt, Arizona Rusty, Dick Hart, the Franklin Brothers, the Mayse Brothers, Mac and Bob. It was headquartered in Marietta, OH.

On August 30, 1947, the WWVA Jamboreee put on an open air 'rodeo jamboree' on Wheeling Island. A crowd of over 5,000 took in the entertainment. The show featured Big Slim and Golden Flash as well as his clown mule; Curly Miller and his trick horse; Hallie Miller's horse, Danny Boy along with Hawkshaw Hawkins' Palomino horse.

Billboard did a review of two of Slim's Dixie releases (Dixie 113 and 114):

"Big Slim on his first four sides for this new label, gets some first-class Western material and does a topnotch job with it. Currently heard over WWVA, Wheeling, WV, the rustic singer displays a versatile voice in handling a sad ditty, like 'Foggy River', the Fres Rose standard, and coming back on the flipover to do a good comedy job on 'Hannah', a hillbilly take-off on 'Open the Door Richard.' Slim does his best job on 'Billy Venera,' a melody epic, about a cowhand who stopped an Indian raid singlehanded. Tune is a cinch for good consumption, especially in the Southwest. 'What Is Life' is an up tempo and Slim doesn't seem to find this rhythm his best vehicle, with who performance shoddy.

Johnny Sippel in his Billboard "Folk Talent and Tunes" column told readers in late August 1948 that Big Slim had recently married Bebe Bernard, a trick and stunt rider. The mention seems to imply they were married before an audience of 5,800 at Gene Johnson's Golden Oaks Park.

In September of 1948, readers learn that Big Slim had bought another Palomino high school horse, which meant his stable then included three Palominos, a spotted horse and two trained mules.

In 1949, Big Slim also did recordings for the for the Johnstown, Pennsylvania-based Page Records label. These numbers included his best-known song "Sunny Side of the Mountain" that had already been cut by both Hank Snow and Hawkshaw Hawkins. The latter also did Slim's "Moonlight on My Cabin" and the topical "When they Found the Atomic Power." In the 1950's, Big Slim did four sides for the Audiosonic label and an EP of Jimmie Rodgers numbers.

Mary Jean Shurtz wrote of a visit with Big Slim and his group after a personal appearance in Carollton, OH. After the show, the group all went to Mary Jean's home and stayed the night. The next day, Big Slim went out with some coon hounds he was interesting in obtaining. Mary Jean and her husband raised coon hounds and had a reputation for them. Big Slim got one. Mary Jean also tells readers who Big Slim's band was - the Oklahoma Boys. Tony Rowe played the accordion, Dave Day on guitar and Jimmie Grey on fiddle and guitar. Big Slim's wife, Bebe, handled the emcee chores while Big Slim would do his horse riding and other animal tricks. Bebe's horse was named Trigger Gold.

The Liner notes of an album on the Arc Records label indicate the label signed him while he was on a visit to Toronto. An album entitled "Big Slim The Lone Cowboy (ARC 523) was recorded. The band accompanying him on the album was the Golden Valley Boys. The band members included Dick Bradimore on steel guitar; Claude Bradimore on rhythm guitar; Bill Gibbs on bass; and, Don Penny on electric Spanish guitar and fiddle.

Big Slim the Lone Cowboy; WWVA; 1946

In May of 1949, Billboard reported that Big Slim and his wife Bebe Bernard were going to Pittsburgh, PA. He was going to have a show over radio station WPIT and forming a new band that would be called The Oklahoma Boys. There was also mention of a plan to take his troupe on a tour of Canada that summer. Later in the year, readers learned that Salt and Peanuts had joined Big Slim at WPIT along with Jimmie Walker's Western Stars.

In September 1949, "Little Kenny", the then two-year old son of Big Slim and Bebe Bernard (promoted as the "Annie Oakley" of West Virginia) was to make his first appearance on stage at Hillbilly Park.

Big Slim also wrote quite a few songs. One song was one called "Hannah" that he had a hit with. As noted elsewhere, it was similar to the tune "Open the Door, Richard." During research, we found he wrote the lyrics for the Great Speckled Bird (No. 4), changing the words from the familiar tune that Roy Acuff sang. The lyrics were found in a Billie Walker booklet. The lyrics for those tunes are below:

By Big Slim McAuliffe
From Big Slim's Album of Favorite Songs

Still at the door, chilled to the core,
Hannah don't believe in takin' me back no more;
Out in the snow, I'm shiverin' so,
My bones are rattlin' in the breezes that blow.
Oh! Hannah be nice, I'm 'bout to die,
Let me in there child cause I'm cold as ice,
Hungry too, I smell the chicken stew,
Hannah, Hannah I love you.

Oh! Hannah, Hannah, Hannah, won't you open the door?
Hannah, Hannah, Hannah, won't you change your manner,
This is old Bill Johnson don't you love him no more.
I plead 'cause I need the place behind the door
That I used to have before.
Hannah, Hannah, Hannah . . . (Knock three times)
Why the dickens don't you open the door?

Let me in please, honest I'll freeze,
I'll catch the grip out here, I've started to sneeze
Hush up that rhyme, 'cause that is a crime
Singing that song about the old summer time.
Frost in my feet my nose is like a beet,
Let me in there Hannah cause I need some heat
I love yuou still and I always will,
Hannah, Hannah, this is Bill.
(Repeat Chorus)

Great Speckled Bird No. 4
By Big Slim McAuliffe
From Big Slim's Album of Favorite Songs
Billie Walker's Booklet No. 2

What a Beautiful Thought to be thinking,
Of that Heavenly Home bright and fair;
Where God waits in all of His glory,
To receive all His children up there.

God told me He'd take me to Heaven,
And I know that His promise is true;
That Great Speckled Bird He'll be sending,
And I know it will carry me through.

My mother is waiting to greet me,
In that Home where no sorrow can dwell;
To this old world of sin and its troubles,
Soon I'll be bidding farewell.

When my life with its troubles is ended,
And my burdens no longer I can bear;
God will send His White Angel in its Glory,
To take me with Him to dwell up there.

When I see that White Angel descending,
I will know that my troubles are o'er;
I'll be ready to go to my Savior,
Where He waits on that Beautiful Shore.

I can see the Great Bird now preparing,
To make her long expected flight;
I can hear sinners crying for mercy,
As she speeds through that dark fatal night.

Everyone has been warnedof His coming,
To be ready on that Glad Memorial day;
When the Great Speckled Bird comes descending
I'll be ready to go on my way.

Other songs that Big Slim is shown as song writer (usually under the name of Harry C. McAuliffe, Big Slim McAulife, Big Slim)

  • There Ain't Nobody Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone
  • Longing For Home
  • There'll Never Be A Sweeter Girl Than You (co-writer, Bobby Gregory)
  • Moonlight On The Cabin (co-writer, Bobby Gregory)
  • There's Another Mother Angel Up In Heaven
  • Never Say Goodbye (co-writer, Bobby Gregory)
  • You Go Your Way, I'll Go Mine (co-writer, Bobby Gregory)
  • Only A Rose (From My Mother's Grave) (co-writer, Bobby Gregory)
  • Patanio, The Pride Of The Plain (co-writer, Bobby Gregory)
  • After Yesterday (co-writer, Bobby Gregory)
  • Secrets Of My Heart (co-writer, Bobby Gregory)
  • Heart Weary and Blue (co-writer, Bobby Gregory)
  • Sunny Side Of The Mountain (co-writer, Bobby Gregory)
  • Lone Star Trail (co-writer, Bobby Gregory)
  • Hills of Roan County
  • Grave In The Pines
  • It's The End Of The Trail Old Pal
  • Just A Message To The One I Love
  • Answer To Little Blossom
  • Answer To The Last Letter
  • Answer To You Blotted My Happy School Days

Big Slim continued playing the Jamboree and touring into the middle-sixties although his health was declining as can be seen from the photograph on the cover of his first album on the Canadian label Arc. Nonetheless, he continued to make two more long play albums for that company. He died at the home of friends in Waterloo, New York in October 1966. According to his obituary in the Wheeling Intelligencer, he had been in ill-health for five years, but continued to play as long as conditions permitted. His funeral took place in Wheeling's First Nazarene Church with interment in Greenwood Cemetery.

Big Slim's father, John Washington Aliff, died on March 19, 1946; born on May 22, 1879. Census records from 1910 indicate the family name was Aliff. Hamilton Christopher Aliff was 8 years old on the census records; this is probably Big Slim.

Big Slim married to Martha Dolby. They had three children, Hamilton Aliff, Jr., Phyllis Aliff and Roy Aliff. He was married at one time to Bebe Bernard (The Annie Oakley of West Virginia); they had one son, Kenneth.

Big Slim the Lone Cowboy; WWVA; 1946

Big Slim the Lone Cowboy; WWVA; 1946

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its thanks to Ivan M. Tribe, author of Mountaineer Jamboree — Country Music in West Virginia and other books that can be found on Amazon.com and numerous articles in other publications for providing us with information about this artist.
  • Introduce New WJAS Program; April 1, 1931; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Pittsburgh, PA
  • Folk Talent and Tunes; May 7, 1949; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • Folk Talent and Tunes; October 15, 1949; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • Radio Hill-Billy Knifes Love Rival; December 21, 1936; The Pittsburgh Press; Pittsburgh, PA
  • WWVA Entertainers To Give Program Here Tonight; March 20, 1939; The Evening News; East Liverpool, OH
  • High School Show Features Big Slim; January 9, 1942; Daily Notes; Canonsburg, PA
  • American Folk Tunes: Corn Brings Big Fan Mail; Nat Green; March 17, 1945; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • American Folk Tunes; February 23, 1946; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • American Folk Tunes; March 9, 1946; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • 3 New Labels Make Midwest Bow; Aim At Gen., Rustic Biz; July 26, 1947; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • Record Review: BIg Slim; Dixie 113-114; August 9, 1947; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • Folk Talent and Tunes; May 7, 1949; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • Big Slim Troupe TO Appear At Hillbilly Park; September 19, 1957; The Times Recorder; Zanesville, OH
  • Comment; Eugene Burr; December 19, 1942; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • Folk Talent and Tunes; Johnny Sippel; August 28, 1948; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • Folk Talent and Tunes; Johnny Sippel; September 25, 1948; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • The Corral; September 2, 1944; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • American Folk Tunes; November 2, 1946; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • American Folk Tunes; September 27, 1947; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • One Hillbilly Fan To Another - Big Slim and the Oklahoma Boys; Mary Jean Shurtz; September/October 1949; The National Hillbilly News; Mr. and Mrs. Orville Via; Huntington, WV
  • Big Slim, The Lone Cowboy; Cowboy Songs No. 20; May 1952; American Folk Publications; Derby, CT

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

Rec. No. Side Song Title
  5316 A Footprints In The Snow
  5316 B New Birmingham Jail
  5329 A Little Rag Doll
  5329 B Put My Little Shoes Away
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  111 A Three Times Seven
  111 B Patanio, The Pride Of The PLains
  112 A Before You Break My Heart
  112 B Jole Blon
  113 A Foggy River
  113 A Foggy River
  113 B Hannah
  113 B Hannah
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  662 A Train Whistle Blues
  662 A Daddy and Home
  662 A Jimmie's Mean Mama Blues
  662 B The Drunkard's Son
  662 B Brakeman's Blues
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  45016 A Little Rag Doll (as Big Slim Aliff)
  45016 B Footprints In The Snow (as Big Slim Aliff)
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  P 503 A Wheeling Boogie (w/His Oklahoma Boys)
  P 503 B Broken Raveled Ends (w/His Oklahoma Boys)
  P 507 A I Had To Learn The Hard Way
  P 507 B Never Get Too High
Popularity Records
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  PY-693 A Falling Back In Your Arms
  PY-693 B You're Hurting Me, Mary
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  1605 A Don't Cry Baby
  1605 B I Got To Find My Baby
Starlite Records
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  S-2001 A World Without End
  S-2001 B I Am So In Love With You

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