About The Artist
His real name may have been Harry Papaila, but country music fans came to know him as Hank King. His Russian immigrant parents, Alex and Anna, had eight children; three boys and five girls. The family wasn't necessarily a musical one, but Hank's dad did play the guitar for his own enjoyment.
Hank began to sing at a very early age. Hank and his brother Nick were the only ones in the family to pursue a career in music.
By the time he was 16 years old, Hank took his musical interest a bit more serious, teaching himself to play the guitar, mostly by ear and practicing his singing style. He started appearing at school events and concerts.
His early musical influences included such names as Hawkshaw Hawkins, Dusty Owens of the WWVA Jamboree, Eddy Arnold and also his own brother-in-law, Ed Weiser.
A Country Song Roundup article in 1954 tells us that Hank started his musical career around 1949, while still in high school.
The New Kensington native found himself appearing over the local radio station WKPA as early as 1954 (as far as we can tell at this point). He got the female fans swooning with his versions of "Just Out Of Reach", "You're Right", "Bow Thy Head", "Slowly", "Even Though", "Rattle-Snakin' Daddy" and "False Hearted Love". His appearances took him throughout the region - West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
His singing caught the interest of a band leader by the name of Rusty Herman of the Missouri Mountaineer's band and young Hank began to appear with Rusty over WKPA in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. He was appearing over WKPA every Saturday from 4:45 to 5:15 on the "Western Jamboree" show.
Hank had performed in other states and had long entertainment runs at places such as Crystal Cave in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
In 1955, he was recording for Blue Ribbon Records out of Staunton, Illinois and one of his releases during that time was "Your Atom Bomb Heart" and "I Want To Know Why You Don't Care For Me". Hank and his manager, Cowboy Howard Vokes wrote the first tune mentioned. It was while he was at WKPA that Hank came to the attention of Howard Vokes who then signed him with the Blue Ribbon Record Company and then released the aforementioned titles.
Then, Howard switched Hank to a new independent label, Blue Hen, that was based in Harrington, Delaware. "Your Atom Bomb Heart" was also released on the Blue Hen label. This proved to be a turning point for hank as the new single opened a few doors for Hank and his popularity continued to grow. It eventually led to beomcing a member of WWVA's Original Jamboree show in Wheeling, West Virginia.
It's interesting to note that in 1957, Country & Western Jamboree magazine felt "Your Atom Bomb Heart" wasn't to their standards in their review of record releases. A couple issues later, he appeared in their "Headin' Up" feature spotlighting up and coming talent. They noted as well that the Blue Hen record of "I Want To Know Why You Don't Care For Me" b/w "Your Atom Bomb Heart" was indeed getting a lot of attention. It's worthy to note that back in that era, it was not uncommon for radio stations to give both sides of a recording air-play - often owing to the requests they received from their listeners.
As was the case for many performers back then, the fans took to forming fan clubs for their favorites. In 1954, Hank's fan club, headed up by Shirley Bollinger over in Verona, Pennsylvania and another by Jean Johnson in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1957, his fan club was headed up by Ebby (or Ruby) Williams over in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Ms. Williams told one magazine in 1957 that "His smooth style of singing is certainly something to hear and something you will never forget."
His media write-ups back then give us a sense of the type of tunes he was singing to the audiences. They noted he was singing favorite tunes such as "If I Ever Get Rich, Mom", "Cry Like A Baby", "I Want To Know", and "Until I Met You".
He also appeared on Ernest Tubb's Midnight Jamboree show in Nashville, Tennessee. He was also part of the Early Bird Jamboree that was aired on WAVL in Apollo, Pennsylvania. His travels and tours also took him to an appearance on the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana. During this time, he was being written up in various country music magazines and newspapers as well as appearing with various top names in the business.
Hank had a new record that was issued on Blue Hen record label, entitled "Cry Like A Baby" along with "Believe in Me" and things began to happen.
Country & Western Jamboree reported in its July 1957 issue that Hank and his band, the Country Squires, were due to cut the tune, "Tears At The Grand Ole Opry".
A 1957 article tells us who was in his band at the time. The Country Squires included Johnny (Kit) Carson on violin; Don Love on steel guitar Skeets Martin, playing electric Spanish guitar (this may be the same Skeets Martin who went on to his own musical career as an artist), and Ray Uric on bass.
He met up with a writer for the old Pittsburgh Press publication, Casper Monahan at one point. The two of them wrote a tune called "Wheeling Down To Wheeling".
However, the success that one might expect for Hank wasn't to be because after the release of "Cry Like a Baby", a family illness and other circumstances meant he had to put aside his musical career. He worked at a glass factory near Arnold, Pennsylvania for many years and was active in the local church. He would still make appearances at special events. But later on, he took back to working with his friend, Howard Vokes and recording as well, including a tribute album to his favorites, Hawkshaw Hawkins.
Timeline & Trivia Notes
Credits & Sources
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