About The Artist
Delbert Barker was an East Kentucky Appalachian (born in Frenchburg, KY) who migrated to Southwest Ohio. While both regions are known as cradles of bluegrass music, there were also quite a number of country musicians who followed this same pathway, young Barker among them. He learned some musical fundamentals in his native Menifee County. His family migrated to Ohio in 1944 in search of a better life, so Delbert took his cultural skills to the Buckeye State, continuing his guitar picking in his adopted home.
As a teenager, he won several local talent shows in the Cincinnati-Hamilton-Middletown area. One of those wins led to a performance on the Harris Rosedale televition program in Cincinnati. This led to a job on local radio and then at age 17 to a Saturday television program. When WCPO-TV started a daytime country music program in 1951, Delbert became a regular cast member. That same year Carl Burkhardt owned a custom record pressing plant and had labels of his own, several which he sold through radio stations, the latest country hits at bargain prices recorded as "covers" by little known artist. Barker signed with him and within the industry became known as "King of the Covers."
He recorded over one hundred tracks of ten, sounding nearly like those whose songs he sang. He later reflected that I had five different voices. I did Carl Smith, Hank Williams, Hank Thompson, Faron Young and some Lefty Frizzell. These appeared on such labels as Kentucky, Gateway, Big Four, and Parade of Hits.
Marriage took him away from music for a time. He married the former Alma Jean Pence on January 23, 1953. By 1956 he returned to picking and singing.
Veteran artist Louis Innis who was working for King at the time signed him to that label where he recorded eight sides. Innis viewed him as King's answer to Carl Perkins. His best known titles for King were the rockabilly numbers "No Good Robin Hood" and "Jug Band Jump" (previously unreleased).
In 1957, Delbert went to Philadelphia for a time and then to New Jersey where he worked for a year with Shorty and Smokey Warren. A short promo article for an appearance for Shorty Warren and his Western Rangers indicated that along with Del, Shorty's band included Whitey Murphy, Nick Nastos and Tex Cast.
Some of his releases were given reviews in the trade publication, The Cash Box. At times the reviewers seemed to make up their own words not commonly found in a dictionary.
In 1959, he came back to Middletown where he soon joined the police department. Eventually he rose to become Chief of Detectives by the time he retired in 1985. During that time his musical activity became quite limited.
In 1975, Irene Wright wrote of his performance at the Lebanon Correctional Institution (LCI) in the Cincinnati Enquirer. At the time, Delbert had a gospel singing troup and was to perform at a service for the inmates.
He told Ms. Wright that the "Delbert Barker Trio" was organized at the Tytus Avenue Church of God in 1974, about three months after he joined the church. They provided music for Sunday morning church services as well as broadcast. The group consisted of Delbert Barker as the lead singer, playing guitar. Donna Kemplin, was tenor singer. Caol Wallace sang alto. Terrell Scribner played steel guitar and Harold Montgomery played the bass.
Delbert stated no money was involved in their performances. "This is for the people."
He spoke of a question he was often asked - "...whether he experiences conflict in being both "a Christian and a policeman." He told Ms. Wright,
"The answer is simple. Being a Christian is having love for your fellow man and being a policeman is to uphold the law to protect your fellowman and his property. As I see it, they go hand in hand."
In late 1980, Charley Pride found one of his older songs he had written, You Almost Slipped My Mind. Billboard listed it as "Hits - Out of the Box" on September 20, 1980. It was co-written by Troy Seals, Don Goodman, Tilden Back along with Delbert Barker.
The song was first recorded and released as "For A Moment You Almost Slipped My Mind" by Don Cherry (Monument 8542) in May of 1972. The Cash Box listed it as a "Best Bet" and described the effort as: "This slow and emotional ballad receives full orchestration and chorus as a backdrop for Don Cherry's polished voice. Could take off if given proper exposure. The flip side was "Is It Any Wonder That I Love You" written by Jerry Foster and Bill Rice.
That same year, Kenny Price recorded the tune (RCA 0686) and the Cash Box selected it as one of its "Picks of the Week". They wrote: "Kenny Price tries his hand at a slow and determined ballad that should command a large audience from Kenny's devoted listenership. The flip side was "Destination Anywhere", written by Kenny.
Charley Pride's version reached Number One in The Cash Box on December 13, 1980. The writers were also honored by BMI in October of 1981.
After retirement he became more active again. In recent years, he usually played twice a month at a Senior Center and sometimes elsewhere. In 2011, a compact disc of his varied work appeared in Great Britain on Stomper Time. Another came out on BACM. Some of his Hank Williams covers have also been released on various artist compact discs.
Credits & Sources
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