About The Artist
Slim Lehart is a stage name for Richard Edmond Hartley (he adopted his new surname by reversing the syllables of the original). A native of the hamlet of Calis in Marshall County (just south of Wheeling's Ohio County), he grew up in a rural environment.
After a variety of work and musical experiences, made his first appearance on the Jamboree at the Rex Theater in 1965 where bluegrass pickers Charlie Moore and Bill Napier backed him.
He recalls the legendary Big Slim, then in poor and declining health, as also being on the program that night. Mac Wiseman soon took over the management of the venerable show and secured a movement to the Wheeling Island Exhibition Hall and Slim's guest spots slowed to a trickle as the two had personality clashes.
However, with Wiseman's departure and the movement to the Capitol Theater and the name change to "Jamboree, U. S. A." in 1970, Slim became the first new entertainer signed to a contract. Taking a nickname from his signature song, "The Wheeling Cat," Lehart soon became one of their most popular regulars. He had a stage presence and a style that made him seem like a West Virginia version of Elvis Presley and audiences loved him.
Although Slim's talking blues approach on his biggest number ranked as the audience favorite, he did other songs that had near equal appeal. He took the Merle Haggard song "Sidewalks of Chicago" and adapted it to his style, personalizing with mentions of Marshal County and Cameron High School. Other popular songs of Slim's were "Love Loses Power" and "Gotta Put a Little Sunshine." The guitar was his principal instrument—which he held in a unique manner—but he added a bit of zest by taking up the fiddle at times. After a time the Jamboree dispensed with contracts and just called their regulars as they made up schedules.
Over the course of his career, Slim recorded three long play albums with "The Wheeling Cat" on the B-W label (B-W for Basic Wheeling), probably being most notable.
Over the years, he made personal appearances as far south as Alabama and Florida, and north to Sault St. Marie, Ontario.
However, his main territory (like most Jamboree artists) extended from eastern Ohio, north and east through Pennsylvania and New York, into New England and the Canadian Maritimes. He also served a term as Marshall County Commissioner. For a time, he also operated the Slim Lehart Lounge in Wheeling.
In 1970 Slim was part of a group of Jambore U-S-A performers that helped set an attendance record at the Capitol Music Hall when Merle Haggard made an appearance there for the first time in four years. The hall had a capacity of 2,500 seats, but by adding seats in the orchestra pit, the wings and other open spaces, they managed to seat 7,800 people for three shows. The lines were long and it was raining that day. It was the second time in nine months a third show had to be scheduled - that last time was for Buck Owens. In addition to Slim, other performers were Bob Gallion, Patti Powell, Skinny Clark and George Adams, Junior Norman, and, Jo Ann and Gus Thomas.
In 1971, Billboard reported that he was elected to the Board of Directors of the Eastern States Country Music, Inc.
Lehart continued with the Jamboree as long as it lasted through 2005 and made an appearance now and then on the successor show, no longer connected with WWVA. "The Wheeling Cat" played now and then at a local venue. After his wife died in 2017, he stopped playing altogether.
In a February 10, 2021, phone conversation, Slim reports that old age is catching up with him but he still has pleasant memories of when the crowds applauded and cheered for "The Wheeling Cat"
Credits & Sources
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