Hillbilly-Music.comThe People. The Music. The History.
About The Artist
Ken Mackenzie was a long time Maine country music star. His parents were from Canada, both born in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, but later moved to Concord, New Hampshire. It appears the family may have lived in Chicago for a while with a meat packing company, but later was transferred to Concord, where Ken went to school and graduated from Concord High School in 1936.
Ken started to "...plucking away..." on a cheap guitar his father bought him while he was still in high school. He continued to learn it, even joined a hillbilly band in 1935. But things didn't work out with the band, so he set out on his own. No details were provided about this first band he was a part of.
While still a youngster, he auditioned at radio station WFEA in Manchester, New Hampshire in October of 1936. He won himself a spot on the station, appearing at first, once a week, but grew in popularity to a point where he was appearing six days a week. He credited Chick Evans, a manager at WFEA as someone that helped him out in those early efforts. Ken stayed with WFEA until the end of 1938.
Ken mentions in a 1941 song folio that while there, he also worked with such folks as Alberta Sullivan, Eldon Shute, Jr. (who later moved to WCOU in Lewiston, Maine), Russ Offhouse (who went to WCOP in Boston, Massachusetts) and Arch Soutas.
And while he was at WFEA, He met his wife, Simone, and they were married on December 31, 1938. In October 1940, a son, Little Ken was born.
And just the Wednesday after their marriage, Ken started a new show at 7:00am in the morning over WGAN. The hillbilly radio stars of that era would often get fan mail, or have an offer to fans to send in something to get a picture or other item. In Ken's case, he mentioned they got over 2,600 coffee labels for a picture offer in just over a week for a spot that was sponsored by First National Stores!
While Ken was at WGAN, Creighton E. Gatchell was the manager and Richard E. Bates was the program director. Sam Henderson was doing the announcing chores.
If you visit Ken's site, you'll learn that he introduced the variety show to the Maine audiences. The 1941 song folio provides a glimpse into the makeup of those early shows. There's thee pairs of femaie singers we'd guess, dressed in matching western garb - Dot and Jean; Toodles and Jeannie; and Dot and Gloria. There was a trio called the Prairie Sodbusters, made up of Joe, Lou and Bill - no other details provided. Also listed were Dick Finney, Joe La Flip, providing the comedic touches and a high-stepping gal named Betty.
Like many hillbilly music radio stars of the era, Ken didn't do just radio shows. He also spent time doing personal appearances in the listening area and doing tours during other times. One mainstay for appearances was the various hillbilly music parks. In the 1941 song folio, we see a large gathering of fans at the "C Bar C Ranch" in North Windham, Maine, where Ken and his troupe was said to appear regularly each Sunday. Another photo shows Ken at the Rines Farm in Westbrook, Maine. Mention was made that a motion picture was made there - but no details as to the name of the movie or whether Ken was in it.
We find mention of Ken's time at WGAN in Portland, Maine in the older publications, too. The column, "News from Old New England" by Richard H. Keeler in the Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder magazine would let fans know where their favorite stars in the northeast were appearing or news of their appearances. In a few of those articles we learn a bit more about Ken's time in the service in 1945. In the June issue, he was in the Army and stationed with an AAF unit at Scott Field, Illinois. And later, he was still there in December, though scheduled to go overseas when the war ended there. While he was serving, his wife, Simone and Betty Gribbin continued the Jamboree shows back at WGAN and Portland to the fans pleasure.
In one of those roundup columns, we learn that Dot and Jean were actually Dot Blake and Jean Googins and were a dancing team. But their act broke up about the end of 1945, while appearing with Tony and Juanita's programs when Dot married "...an old school chum." Jean was still with Tony and Juanita at the time and had announced her engagement to Rusty Rodgers, the yodeler on Tony & Juanita's shows; he served in the military service overseas for nearly 16 months. Another act mentioned was Joe La Flip, who's real name was Teddy Gagnon, and known as the "French dialect comedian".
A 1949 magazine article indicates that Ken and his musical gang were touring during the summer in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and intended to stay in that area until the fall before returning to WGAN in Portland. With Ken's musical family at that time were Dick Monroe, accordion and Hawaiian guitar; Betty Gribben, vocalist. That same article mentions a female singer by the name of "Patsy" as once performing with Ken's group and she had just joined Jack Thurlow's WLAM Folk Song Review that was aired twice daily.
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