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About The Artist
Claude King was a native son of Shreveport, Louisiana, so it may seem natural that he found his way as one of the stars of the KWKH Louisiana Hayride.
Claude shared his memories of his early childhood in a 1971 interview. He said he grew up "...about as poor as you can be." His dad was a farmer and back then, it was using a plow and mule. But the farm land did not treat them well for it was red land dirt and did not seem to favor any type of good crop. When things started to happen for Claude in the music business, it made him all the more grateful and thankful for the early life experiences he had.
Perhaps a story often told of a singer growing up - Claude came to love music at an early age and when he had saved up 50 cents, he bought his first guitar from a neighbor farmer.
What's interesting is to note that Claude attended the University of Idaho for a time and then went to business college in Shreveport. But no mention was made of what made him decide to go to Idaho.
Claude served his country as many did in World War II, joining the U. S. Navy in 1942. His service duties took him to Gilbert, Marshall, Marianna and the Philippines. He was wounded twice during his tenure.
Claude was also quite the athlete. At one time, he was offered a contract with a Chicago Cubs farm team. But after his military service, he decided that music was the path in life he wanted to try.
We find mentions of Claude King going back as far as 1953, a tune he co-wrote with Tillman Franks called "A Wedding Ring Ago". But it was not until about the early 1960s that Columbia records signed him to their roster. A 1962 article that was written of Claude, but based in part on a meeting with Tillman Franks noted that a tape of songs that Claude had just done was very much in the styling of his friend, Johnny Horton, who had passed away after an automobile accident. So much so, that Tillman thought at first it was a tape left behind by Johnny.
At the end of 1953, Claude was doing some holiday personal appearances. He did a show on Christmas eve with Johnny Horton and Floyd Cramer at the Municipal Auditorium. Then on New Year's eve, they did a show that started at 8:30pm and presumably lasted until the New Year. That show featured Claude, Tibby Edwards and Floyd Cramer. What's interesting is that the ad shows the admission price as just $1.25. Imagine what the artists of today would charge?
Some of the older publications included regional round-up type of columns where local disc jockeys or promoters would let the fans know what was going on with country music in their area. This gives us a sense of the type of shows that were staged back then. Red Jones wrote of the Southwest in April 1953 that the KWKH Louisiana Hayride was one of the hottest shows around the southwest back then. The stars included many who turn out to be legendary in country music history such as Slim Whitman, Hank Williams, Billy Walker, Johnny Horton, Red Sovine, Jimmy Lee, Tommy Trent, Tommy and Goldie Hill, the Maddox Brothers and Rose as well as Claude King.
John Roddie wrote in an early 1954 bit on news in the southern area that he had just worked a show that had standing room only in Hot Springs, Arkansas. On that show that was held at the Boy's Club Building in Hot Springs were Several acts from the Louisiana Hayride including Paul Howard (The Arkansas Cotton Picker), Claude King, Carolyn Bradshow and Jim Reeves.
Claude apparently had left the music business behind for a while but he kept in touch with his friend Johnny Horton and occasionally worked on a song with him. Tillman urged Claude to make another try at it if only to honor the faith his friend Johnny had in his talents.
Claude notes that his wife was one of his biggest boosters as he made his way up the music industry ladder - it was her encouragement that gave him the energy to keep plugging away. She was a good sounding board on songs and records; Claude notes she had a good ear for what the listening public would like.
Perhaps one song that many fans will instantly recall that is associated with Claude King is the classic tune he and Merle Kilgore wrote together, "Wolverton Mountain". It was actually about an uncle of Merle's that lived on Wolverton Mountain back in Arkansas. It sold well over 3,000,000 copies back then and even a gold record in Canada - a rare feat for the Columbia label. Only Johnny Horton's "North To Alaska" and Johnnie Ray's "Crying" had earned a gold record in Canada prior to that.
In a short 1962 article, we learn that his fan club members had given him the nickname, "The Song Builder". One might thing that arose from being the co-writer of his big hit, "Wolverton Mountain" but it was also the effort he put behind the record to make it the best it could be, working at it until he got it right. Country music fans know he got it right and the song went on to be a big pop hit as well.
Red Wilcox wrote about the latest package shows in the Washington, DC area in late 1964. One show was a bit interesting considering today's mania with a show like "American Idol". On August 22, 1964, radio staion WBMD in Baltimore, Maryland hosted "Maryland's Talent Roundup" at the Baltimore Civic Center. The station asked each station in the area to send two acts to the show along with one of their disc jockeys to do the introductions. Red went along as a representative from WEEL and escorted Janie Scott and Jimmy Thompson, who had a record out on the Gambler label. The first place winners from that contest were the Compton Brothers, representing radio station WDON out of Wheaton, Maryland. They won $500 and a Columbia records recording contract. Finishing in second place was Patsy Peer and third place went to Sally Jane Brown. Like today's American Idol, the contest included two celebrity judges who also performed for the audience - Marion Worth and Claude King. Columbia's Don Law was also on the panel of judges. Radio stations that participated in this contest included WNOW, WCBG, WSHP, WILM, WLBR, WKCW, WARD as well as those previously mentioned.
In a 1965 article in Country Music Review, Merle Haggard was asking for DJs to play his records, thinking he had been forgotten. He reminded them of the earlier tunes he had did, including one called "Sam Hill" that Claude had a hit with.
He talked of the changes the "Nashville sound" was undergoing around 1971. He thought that there had been more changes in the prior two years leading up to 1971 than ever before. He liked the new sounds being recorded, even for old classic tunes. He thought that the material and sound Charley Pride had at the time beared a strong resemblance to what Hank Williams had done and Claude thought that Hank had one of most modern sounds.
Claude enjoyed doing his recording exclusively in Nashville. He noted that while he had been to New York City and the West Coast, he just felt that Nashville had it over all the other places. Where else could you get stuio musicians like Floyd Cramer, Jerry Kennedy, Billy Sanford and Fred Carter - many people he started in the business with when he was starting out on the Hayride in Shreveport.
His career also includes two movies, one was "Swamp Girl" that he did with Ferlin Husky in 1971, set in the Okefenokee Swamp in Waycross, Georgia (another setting for a famous country song, Miller's Cave). The other movie was "Year of the Yahoo!" in 1972 where he played the part of a country music singer that was recruited to run for the U. S. Senate.
Claude can also be heard in another movie. He sang the theme song for the movie, Comancheros, that starred the legendary John Wayne. If you do some research on that movie, you'll find some interesting bits of trivia.
During an interview in 1971, Claude touched upon the advantages country music artists had based in Nashville, Tennessee rather than say Shreveport and working the Hayride. Personal engagements meant a lot more travel for such stars as Claude. He pointed out that one show was up in Louisville, Kentucky for the Nashville Farmers Association and shared the spotlight with Stonewall Jackson, Letser Flatt and Dottie West. If he was working out of Nashville, it would have been only about a 200 mile trip. But working from Shreveport made it about an 800 mile trip. Most of his travels took him in a northerly direction, so it meant he was an incurring an additional travel expense compared to some of the other stars.
Over the years, Claude appeared on many of the reknowned television shows of the era. The Dick Clark show, presumably this was American Bandstand, the Lloyd Thaxton Show; American Swingaround that was on the ABC network; the Ozark Jubilee that aired out of Springfield, Missouri. He also guested on syndicated shows such as the Bill Anderson show and the Bobby Lord show.
Shreveport did not forget its native son, for on February 11, 2007, the city proclaimed a day to honor Claude. Following is the official proclomation by the Mayor and City Council in the February 27 council procedings:
A good friend of Claude's and former Hayride star herself, Nita Lynn told us a few details of the day honoring Claude in Shreveport.
All of the media turned out for Claude's day - televsion, radio and newspapers - and followed him around as he had his hands and bootprints put in a block of cement for Shreveport's "Walk Of The Stars".
He received plaques, trophies, awards and plaudits in a ceremony at The Municipal Auditorium, where he spent many years on The Louisiana Hayride entertaining audiences. Radio Station KWKH carried the program "live", with Disc Jockey Barney Cannon doing the emcee honors. One plaque of appreciation was from, and signed by, the many musicians who had revered him through the years.
It was a very touching ceremony, not a dry eye in the building, including Claude's.
Musicians who cut their teeth on the road with Claude came from all over the United States to honor and play again with him. It was also Claude's 84th birthday, and the week he and his wife, Barbara Jean, celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary. After the ceremony and a few opening performers, 84 year old Claude and the musicians of yore, some a bit gray-haired now, took the stage to perform a concert that you would have thought Claude did 50 years ago. Keep in mind he had not done a concert in over 20 years.
His voice was in rare shape, his stage personality, humbleness, and gracious ways during the set were just typical Claude King. He was greeted with a standing ovation from a near capacity crowd at the famed auditorium. Many a tearful eye could be seen as he opened the show with his big hit "Tiger Woman", and "Laura (Tell Me What He's Got That I Ain't Got)".
After performing a few more of his hit recordings, such as "All For The Love Of a Girl", "Big River, Big Man", "The Grapes in Mary's Vineyard", "Catch A Little Raindrop", and numerous others, he brought his wife of 61 years, Barbara Jean, onto the stage. He presented her with a bouquet roses and proceeded to sing a love song to her. Of course, you know this another sea of emotion not only to the audience, but to the musicians that were backing him. It was if he had gone back to the first days they were married; she was just 15 and he was 26 when they were married.
Finally, it came time to do the the introduction to the last song of the concert. It was to be of course, his monstrous hit "Wolverton Mountain". The screaming, delighted crowd came once again to their feet, they moved closer to the front of the stage, with their flash and video cameras lighting up and taking in the scene. Everyone knew they were witnessing an historical event.
Claude left the stage to thunderous applause and later came back on to greet his fans and closed the show, as he said he always did on The Louisiana Hayride, with the old Hank Williams standard, "I Saw The Light", and asking everyone to join in.
After the concert, perhaps just resting a short bit before moving to the vestibule, where tables were set up with CD's and pictures. Long lines of fans waited happily and patiently for autographs and pictures with one their favorite sons, Claude King. He stayed and graciously obliged each one.
Claude's wife Barbara thought this event was more exciting than even being a part of the Grammy awards - to have your hometown salute you - it doesn't get much better than that.
Claude has always been very unassuming, never one for the big city life. He made his home on a lovely ranch just outside of Shreveport with his lovely wife Barbara Jean where they raised three sons, Bradley, Jay, and Duane.
In 2007, Claude was celebrating his 61st wedding anniversary with his wife Barbara Jean. When you consider today's celebrity scene and all of the goings on rehabs, tabloids, and the like, to read of someone like Claude, that's the reality we should be hearing about.
Credits & Sources