About The Artist
Tommy Wiggins was born in Roodhouse, Illinois, the son of a railroad man. His father was a devoted Jimmie Rodgers fan. Needless to say, when Tommy's father wasn't working, he would spend most of his time playing his guitar and singing one of the songs that the legendary Blue Yodeler had recorded. One such tune he recalls was "The Wreck of Old Number Nine,". Occasionally Tommy's dad would sing a western song. One of the favorites at that time was, "When the Works All Done This Fall"; it's a song that Tommy still remembers to this day and can still sing most of the lyrics, too.
Tommy started singing a song called, "Pink Elephants" whenever there were people around to hear him. That started when he was about three, according to his sister, Edna. His parents separated when Tommy was about five years old. When that event occurred, the depression was at it's peak; so his mother took him and his sister to Lexington, Missouri where they lived with his grandparents.
His grandmother took him under her wings and encouraged him to continue his singing. It was the middle of the depression back then, so buying a musical instrument was just about out of the question, but young Tommy learned that his voice could be an instrument just as well and he kept practicing. When he was about six years old, his mother entered him into a local talent contest, where Tommy sang his first song in public, "A Shanty in Old Shanty Town". He didn't win that time.
When he was about fourteen years old, his mother remarried and they had moved to a farm outside Kingsville, Missouri. He won first place at a Fall Festival contest.
Behind the grocery store near where he lived in Kingsville, there was a horseshoe pit. When there was time, he would stand in one pit and rope the stake at the other end of the layout. He was developing a talent and skill that would prove to be a help years later when he started to work the rodeo circuit.
Tommy was seventeen when he enlisted in the U. S. Navy. He continued singing aboard his ship and as well as venues on shore. A 1958 article told readers that when he was on night watch on the ship, he would entertain the other folks on the graveyard shift with his guitar playing and singing. After he was discharged from the Navy, he moved to Tucson, Arizona. His family had moved there for his mother's health.
Around this time, he found that music wasn't bringing in enough money, so to help support his family, he took on a job as a mechanic to earn enough money.
In 1949, Tommy enrolled at the University of Arizona; he majored in theatre arts with a minor in music. During those university years, he worked as a disc jockey at radio station KWBW radio in Hutchinson, Kansas. It was during that time, he formed his first band, the Tommy Wiggins Trio. The group did a live thirty minute show every morning before the farm report. The trio also played at a club in Hutchinson on the weekends. During summer vacations, Tommy found work with a 'stock company in northern Illinois as a technician and actor.
During those years, Tommy would make the rounds and ride in local rodeos in his spare time; something he had started to do in Arizona. He worked with a California stock company, who made Tucson it's winter home one winter and one summer at Shady Lane Theatre, in Marengo, Illinois.
Along about 1950, his friends talked him into entering a talent contest the Arizona Hayride was putting on. Tommy won first prize in that contest, which earned him a regular spot on the radio show as well as the chance to work personal appearances with Bob McKeehan. He started gaining favor with the teen-age crowd with his music, and kept up his school work.
He appeared as an actor with the company and also did work as a scene designer. When he returned to Arizona, he formed his second band, "The Arizona Rhythm Riders". The group did personal appearances in Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona. He made solo appearances with Nashville acts that passed thru Tucson. He appeared as a guest on "The Bob McKeehan, Arizona Hayride" show as well.
Tommy was a regular performer on the Al Rogers television show every Saturday afternoon in Tucson, over KVOA-TV.
Tommy recorded "My Gift Was My Heart", The Race For Your Heart", (which he wrote), "I'm Beginning To Believe" and "The End of The Line." Those two records got considerable air play over radio station KMOP in Tucson and the surrounding areas.
After fronting the Rhythm Riders for seven years, Tommy decided to spread his wings. He loaded his bass and his guitar decided to head north to Montana, working as a solo artist in the three largest clubs in West Yellowstone.
He shared the stage with quite a few well-known acts such as Slim Whitman, Webb Pierce and Johnny Horton when they headlined at the Tucson Gardens.
After he finished those stints, he began to find his way back to Arizona. On the journey back, he got himself an engagement at the Wort Hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on the same bill with a group known as "Sons of the Golden West".
That enabled him to renew his acquaintance with Paul Schilling, who was then a guitarist with the Sons of the Golden West. Paul and Tommy had first met in Tucson in 1953.
It was a friendship that spanned over fifty years until Paul's death. While in Yellowstone, Tommy got to work with renowned steel guitarist, Bud Issac, who he had first met in Hutchinson, Kansas while a DJ at radio station KWBW. Bud at that time was the steel guitarist for Red Foley.
After his return to Tucson in 1958, Tommy decided to head to Nashville, where he was signed to a recording contract with Kapp Records. You might wonder how he got that recording contract with Kapp. When he got to Nashville, Tommy met a disc jockey by the name of Bob Jennings. Bob asked Tommy during their conversation if he had ever recorded, for he thought Tommy had a voice that would stand out on a recording. It wasn't too long that Bob Morris and Tommy Allsup were helping Tommy do his first recording session that was then heard by Paul Cohen of Kapp Records.
In 1960 Tommy headed west to California to pursue his music career. But until his music career took hold, he also became a Golf professional at the Griffith Park Golf course in Los Angeles. That wasn't the only big event in his life that year - he also married a California girl.
He had a strong desire to be in the music industry and as luck would have it and usually does, he had a chance meeting with Lee Ross (he wrote "My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You".) who was running talent shows at the Red Barrel, in Hawaiian Gardens, California and also at George's Roundup in Long Beach, California.
Tommy found himself once again on the band stands in Southern California, doing personal appearances at furniture store Grand Openings and at car Dealerships. He made a number of personal appearances around the Los Angeles area. He made many friends in the music, television and motion picture industry through his appearances on Country Music Time and the Sunday show Cal's Corral.
During this time Tommy was recording for the Stadium Records label. The success of two sides "Under the Noonday Sun,"and "Guess I Drove My Mule too Hard," he cut for them led to another session with Country Capers (a subsidiary of London Records). Country Capers released two sides, "Calling All Lovers" and "Fiddlin' Joe".
During this period Tommy took another direction in his career and launched a promotional publication called, "D.J.'s Digest", which had a subscriber's list of over 4,000 D.J.'s in the United States and as far away as Europe.
In a conversation with Eddie Miller, Glen Campbell, Bob Morris after a golf game thoughts and discussion turned to the lack of promotion and recognition of California talent came up, the opinion of all was that California talent was as capable as the Nashville crowd.
With the help of Eddie Miller, the owners of the Red Darrel, Chris and Mickey Christianson, Tommy and his wife Shirley decided to underwrite the first Country Music Awards, held in California. The Digest presented Awards to a broad spectrum of Country singers and musicians, in 1963.
In 1964 the Awards were presented by VIP magazine.
But he still found time to attend to the festivities in Nashville at the 1963 39th Birthday Celebration of the Grand Ole Opry. In fact, he wrote a poem about that particular year for Country Music Review magazine.
That late 1964 issue also covered a recent tragedy that had struck the country music community - the death of Jim Reeves. Country Music Review had several artists and writers offer a few words of the effect Gentleman Jim had on country music. Tommy was one of them. And below is what he wrote.
Academy of Country and Western Music
A new organization was found its roots in discussions Tommy had with fellow country music enthusiasts, Eddie Miller, Mickey Christiansen and Chris Christiansen. The group that country music in the Western United States wasn't getting the attention and recognition it deserved. They began to invite industry executive and performers to informal meetings. It wasn't too long before the group of four had grown to twelve people and then to twenty-four. The idea had taken roots.
The group also had a goal of finding some way to recognize the talents on the west coast. The idea took hold and in late 1963, the first Academy of Country and Western Music Awards show was held at the Red Barrel nightclub, one of the big country and western venues in the Los Angeles area back then.
Tommy was publishing a journal called "D.J.'s Digest" at the time and it underwrote the evening. Tex Williams was the Master of Ceremonies. In 1964, another awards show was held, this time sponsored by V.I.P. Magazine and again was held at the Red Barrel.
The organization continued to grow. It led to a membership model where the dues would enable the organization to sponsor the awards shows.
In 1966 with the help of the many top personalities, Gene Autry, Nudie [the Rodeo Tailor], Tex Williams, Rex Allen, Eddie Dean and leading executives in the television, radio and recording industry, a plan was formed for taking the idea to Hollywood, the Academy of Country and Western Music was formed and the first official awards show was held at the Hollywood Palladium in February 1966 in Hollywood California.
When the second "official" awards dinner was held at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California, an election was held for the organization's first officers. Tex Williams was elected president; Eddie Dean was vice-president; Bettie Azevedo, secretary and Herb Eiseman as treasurer.
There was a bit of rivalry involved with the ACM and the CMA back then. The CMA was content in 1964 or so to mainly issue press releases touting its space in Nashville and the "...countrypolitan sound...". One person, Johnny Whiteside, noted that the CMA back then was "...an insiders' club, made up of song publishers and record executives". But the ACM welcomed more people - it reached out not only to the performers, but also to the fans. They also sold the music to advertisers as a way to connect with their target audiences by using the performers as spokespersons.
Gerald W. Haslam's book, "Workin' Man Blues" points out an interesting tidbit - the ACM was the first organization to hold an awards show. The CMA did not launch its own awards show until a couple years later. But even then, only one west coast group or artist was recognized - the Buckaroos. During the period of 1963 through 1967, Mr. Haslam notes that Buck Owens had fifteen consecutive number one hits. But that appeared to have rubbed the Nashville establishment the wrong way and maybe it explains why Buck was not elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame until 1996.
Tommy made appearances on television at KERO-TV in Bakersfield, as well as personal appearances at various clubs dates in Bakersfield, Oxnard and Los Angeles.
One highlight was a road trip, performing as the opening act for Buck Owens and the Buckaroos in the northwest.
For a time, he put his singing career to the back burner while he worked in promotion for Dobro Guitars and as a designer for Mosrite of California and Fender Musical Instruments in Fullerton, California, where he was the manager of Quality Control.
He left Fender in 1973, but found another outlet in the music business. Tommy bought the Nashville Country Records store that was operating out of Paramount, Cailfornia. He opened two more stores but the shortage of virgin plastic and the opening of the larger chain record stores such as Tower Records and The Wherehouse Record stores, saw his stores' record sales plummet. In 1976, he closed the stores and disposed of their inventory.
In 1977 Tommy packed up his guitar and headed for Texas, landing in Houston. He began working in small clubs and coffee houses. In 1978 Tommy's friend Hank Penny called him back to California to design the sets for and be the stage manager of a Vegas Variety show called "Bullshot". Needless to say, he was on the move again to Las Vegas, where he stayed through the run of the show.
By the time we turn to 1979 Tommy has moved back to Southern California where he went into the maintenance business, opening his own company until his daughter graduated from San Diego State University.
He returned to Tucson in 1992; he had decided to retire and played golf for two years. But boredom got to him a bit and in 1994 when his old friend Paul Schilling called and asked him to front a rebirth of the western group, "The Sons of the Golden West", Tommy moved again, this time to Camp Verde, Arizona where the group went into a series of into intense rehearsals, practicing harmonies and comedy routines.
In the latter part of 1994, the group began entertaining audiences all over the state. Their popularity was such that in 1995 the "Sons of the Golden West" signed a contract with the Mormon Lake Lodge to headline the entertainment at the dinner theatre for the entire summer.
The fall of 1995 led to appearances in Scottsdale at the Chrysler-Kruse Classic Car auctions, an appearances on Good Morning Arizona, and at the Festival of the West. The next 4 years saw the "Sons" appearing at functions throughout the state, and even hopping over to Las Vegas to appear in a Wild West Show as well as opening the Star Casino in Mesquite, Nevada.
The Sons of the Golden West took a little time off from their personal appearances to do some work in the recording studio and issued an album (on CD), "Wanted". But when Tommy's long time friend, Paul Schilling, passed away the group disbanded.
But the music never seemed to far from the surface for Tommy. Boredom set in again long about 2002 and Tommy started booking jobs as master of ceremonies and also doing humor, poetry and amusing stories, working at venues in Arizona, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
Tommy was the master of ceremonies at the Rex Allen Days in Wilcox for five years.
While he's now 80 and perhaps realizing age will sometimes limit his desire to entertain audiences, he still does a couple of shows a year. Un the past two years he has appeared at the Gene Autry Museum in Oklahoma. In addition, he has been the master of ceremonies at the Cedar Depot Festival for the past ten years in Cedar, Kansas and at Smith Center, Kansas.
Tommy is a lifetime member of the Academy of Country Music and the Academy of Western Artists. He's a member of the Western Music Association and a lifetime member of the Arizona Cowboy Symposium .
He still keeps in touch with a couple of good California friends, Janet McBride and D.J. Hall of Famer Johnny Western.
Tommy now resides in Tucson, Arizona where he has a home. His daughter and his son-in-law live in Davidson, North Carolina, where when he visits, he gets to spend a lot of time with his grand children.
He has a son and daughter-in-law who make their home in Anchorage, Alaska, where his son practices medicine. They have two children, a son, Toby, and a daughter, Tori Ray.
Credits & Sources
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