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Curley Williams
Born:  June 3, 1914
Died:  September 5, 1970
Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame (1999)
KWKH Louisiana Hayride
WSM Grand Ole Opry

Curley Williams was born Dock Williams near Cairo, Georgia. Born and raised on the family farm in Grady County Florida - he was the seventh son of a country fiddler who also was the son of a country fiddler. Their were eight children in the family. Back then, an old adage said that a seventh son's destiny was to be a doctor, so, his parents named him "Dock". But you'll see why he later had to change his name to Curley.

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, country artists had to be on the radio to be heard and hope to be successful. If a town was big enough, chances are they had a local radio station and that station featured some hillbilly music artists on the air. Dock Williams, as he was known then, had a group back then - called the Santa Fe Trail Riders and they made their debut on WPAX in Thomasville, Georgia around 1940. Searching for larger audiences, he also had jobs on two other South Georgia stations, WMGA in Moultrie and WALB in Albany.

Let's read what Wayne M. Daniels wrote about the first big break for Dock Williams:

"Curley's big break came in December 1942 when he was asked to take his band to Nashville to join the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. The band that performed on the Opry consisted of Curley, vocals and fiddle; Joseph Williams, rhythm guitar; Sanford Williams, bass and comedy; Clyde "Boots" Harris, steel guitar; Joe Pope, piano; and, Jimmy Selph, vocals and guitar. Boots Harris had joined Curley's group earlier in the year at Albany, Georgia. In his biography of Hank Williams, Colin Escott explains that, at the time, Harris was working with Hank Williams whose band was on tour backing Tex Ritter. The tour included Albany, where Ritter and Hank played a show date with Curley. It was then that Harris, who was 17 years old, decided to cast his lot with Curley.

"Upon the arrival of Curley and his group in Nashville a problem arose concerning Curley's name and the name of the band. Up to then he had been known by his real name, Dock. The name Doc Williams, however, was in use by Andrew Smik who adopted the appellation in 1936. He and his band, the Border Riders, achieved widespread recognition as a head liner on the WWVA Jamboree in Wheeling, West Virginia. To avoid confusion, as the story goes, WSM's George D. Hay, originator of the Grand Ole Opry, suggested that his new artist take the name Curley, because of his curly hair, and call his band the Georgia Peach Pickers, because most of them were from Georgia.

"Curley and the Georgia Peach Pickers were heard regularly on the Opry on the 9:00 to 9:30 segment sponsored by Royal Crown cola and on the 10:15 to 10:30 portion for such sponsors as Weatherhouse and Walrite. From time to time they also made appearances on the show's other time slots, including the NBC network show sponsored by Prince Albert Smoking Tobacco. Their musical offerings included songs like "There is No Love To Die", "Smoke On The Water", "Hang Your Head In Shame" and instrumentals such as "Blue Steel Blues", "South" and "Steel Guitar Twist". While on the Opry, Curley and his Georgia Peach Pickers worked with such artists as Curley Fox and Texas Ruby, The Cackle Sisters, (Carolyn and Mary Jane De Zurik), Paul Howard and His Arkansas Cotton Pickers, Zeke Clements, Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys, Bill Monroe, Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl, and Ernest Tubb."

Back in 1943, Curley Williams and the Georgia Peach Pickers got a one-year recording contract with Columbia Records, but due to the ban on recording due to the strike of the American Federation of Musicians, they didn't really get to cut their first record until 1945. That first session, documents Mr. Daniel, included some of their better known tunes, "Jealous Lady", "Georgia Steel Guitar", "Southern Belle (from Nashville Tennessee)". They recorded some more for Columbia in 1952. And could also be heard backing up such artists on their records as Zeke Clements, Johnny Bond, Clyde Moody and even Fred Rose, who recorded as the Rambling Rogue.

Curley and his band were out west around 1945 and Wayne found in a Minnie Pearl fan magazine called "The Grinders Switch Gazette" that they had become an eight piece band. Mr. Daniels notes that Billboard magazine mentions that Curley and his band had signed a contract to appear at the Venice Pier Ballroom in Venice, CA. While out west, they also appeared in a movie entitled "Riders Of the Lone Star" - a Durango Kid series western that starred Charles Starrett.

Later on, Curley's career took another turn, this time taking him back east, to the country music scene in Shreveport, Lousisiana. Along about 1948, Mr. Daniels notes that the Shreveport Times wrote that Curley and his band had joined the KWKH Louisiana Hayride for regular appearances and also was heard each morning at 5:30am, Monday through Saturday and again on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 6:30am.

Curley was no relation to Hank Williams, though sometimes it did cause some confusion, especially when Hank recorded a song called "Half As Much" and folks saw that the song writer on the label was "C. Williams" - some thought it a typo and it was Hank or others thought it was a relative. But it was Curley - Hank had a big hit with that song and later on Rosemary Clooney had a hit with it, too. But Curley was on the Hayride about the same time Hank Williams was appearing there and appeared on many shows with him and they became friends. Curley's daughter, Mrs. Morelle Henry, stated that Hank and Audrey often visited Curley's home and had dinner there. She said that Hank loved the home cooking there, especially the biscuits. They even collaborated together on a couple of tunes that they both recorded, "Honey, Do You Love Me, Huh?" and "No, Not Now" (with Mel Foree).

Along came 1949 and Curley and the band headed up to Memphis, Tennessee where they appeared on both WMC radio and WMC-TV. But at that time, Curley's brothers in the band, Joseph and Sanford, decided to go back to California. In March 1950, they moved on to Anniston, Alabama and worked regularly on radio station WHMA. Their show was heard on a mini-network of stations in three other Alabama cities - Birmingham, Montgomery and Dothan. It was here in Dothan that Curley wrote his most famous song - Half As Much. Let's read again what Mr. Daniel wrote of what Curley related to Anniston Star reporter Elise Sanguinetti, how that song came about..."a complete accident"...

Curley said "...he went down to WHMA - fooled a bit down there - thought up the words - put some melody to it, recorded it, and I was back home in one hour." Later, Curley's wife told author Doroty Horstman that when Curley played that song for his band, they all laughed at him. Mr. Daniel relates that Curley took a chance on the song being a hit when he refused Fred Rose's offer of a flat fee of $10,000 for the song and instead opted for the royalties. To this day, the family heirs are still collecting on the royalties.

After four-and-a-half years in Anniston, Curley made his last move in 1953 to radio station WSFA in Montgomery. He had a show for a couple of years on WCOV-TV. He bought a country night club there, called "The Spur" that he operated up til he died in 1970.

As for Curley the person, Wayne writes that "Doc" Rambling Tommy Scott said "Curley was one of the greatest human beings you'd ever meet. He was a gentleman in every way. He and all his brothers were just great people. They are a credit to country music."

Credits & Sources

  • Excerpts from an article entitled "Curley Williams: Country Fiddler, Western Swing Bandleader, Composer of Pop Music Hit" written by Wayne M. Daniel, as published in "The Devil's Box", a quarterly publication of the North American Fiddlers Association, PO Box 1096, Columbia, MO 65205. We thank the author for providing us with the article.

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Recordings
 
Columbia
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  20076 A Grandma Turned Over Again
  21039 A When You're Tired Of Breaking Other Hearts
  21096 B In The Okefenokee


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