Country singer-songwriter Claude King, an original member of the
Louisiana Hayride who was best known for the
1962 hit “Wolverton Mountain,” died Thursday, age 90.
King had just celebrated his birthday and 67th wedding anniversary to his
wife, Barbara, last month. The couple’s eldest son, Duane King, said his father was
found unresponsive in his bed early Thursday morning at his home in Shreveport.
King was an alumnus of the Louisiana Hayride, the Saturday night show
where Elvis Presley got his start. The show transformed country
and western music from 1948 to the 1980s with music genres including hillbilly,
western swing, jazz, blues, gospel and rockabilly.
King, born Feb. 5, 1923, in Keithville, staged a revival about five years ago.
“Last year was great,” King told The Times in an 85th birthday story. “This time
it will be even better. It’s getting to be fun again. I’m enjoying it.”
In his younger years, King served in the Navy, almost went into a career in professional
baseball, and worked in construction and other fields.
Returning from World War II, he got involved in the bubbling country music scene in Shreveport,
appearing on shows on KWKH Radio, then owned by The Shreveport Times, and was among performers on stage for the first incarnation of the Louisiana Hayride in April 1948.
King’s breaks came in the 1960s, when he signed with Columbia Records and
released “Big River, Big Man,” which hit the country Top 10 and achieved
modest pop success.
But his career song came in early 1962, when he wrote “Wolverton Mountain” with friend
and fellow Shreveporter Merle Kilgore. The song was a country and pop hit,
topping the charts more than two months and lingering on the Billboard sales
and airplay charts half the year.
Other hits ranged through the 1960s: “The Burning of Atlanta,” “I’ve Got the World by the Tail,”
“Sheepskin Valley,” “Building a Bridge,” “Hey Lucille!,” “Sam Hill,” “Tiger Woman,” “Little Buddy,”
“Catch a Little Raindrop,” “Laura (What’s He Got That I Ain’t Got?)”
and “All for the Love of a Girl.”
King had 29 hits before his career began to slide in the 1970s as he focused more on touring
and dabbled in acting. Late last decade, he settled down in Shreveport, received a star
on the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce’s Walk of Stars and focused on the future.
“Claude was a legend in the Louisiana music industry, one of the greatest songwriters, and
a wonderful friend,” said Maggie Warwick, owner of the Louisiana Hayride trademark and
the production company, Louisiana Hayride Co. “Claude and Tillman Franks were
on the Hayride from the very beginning.”
Warwick, who also serves as chairwoman of the Louisiana Music Commission, said King was
known for his guitar-playing skills and knack for writing songs.
“He had a gift for melody and lyrics that was very definable,” Warwick said. “The range and
melody and the feeling that goes with his songs, when you hear it, it’s very unique
and identifiable with Claude King. He had a personal style that was all his own.”
As he turned 85, King made it clear he still had goals to reach, including
recording and releasing a gospel CD with fellow Hayride alumnus guitarist James Burton.
“I’ve never done a gospel album, and James wants to do one, too,” King told The Times.
“So we’re going after it.”
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