West Virginia Music Hall of Fame — 2009 Inductees
The third set of musicians/performers were inducted into to the WV Music Hall of Fame on November 21, 2009 in Charleston, West Virginia. They included: The Bailes Brothers, Frank DeVol, Larry Combs, Doc and Chickie Williams, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Don Redman and Nat Reese.
It was a night that West Virginians honored our own — from blues to country to classical to film and television scores to jazz and back again.
Previous inductees inductees include: George Crumb, composer; Billy Edd Wheeler, singer/songwriter; Hazel Dickens, singer; Johnnie Johnson, rock ‘roll pianist; Molly O’Day, country singer; Little Jimmy Dickens, singer/entertainer; Blind Alfred Reed, singer/songwriter; Leon “Chu” Berry, jazz saxophonist; Clark Kessinger , oldtime fiddler; Bill Withers,singer/songwriter; Ann Baker, jazz singer; Robert Drasnin, composer; Maceo Pinkard, songwriter; Charlie McCoy, musician; Red Sovine, singer; The Lilly Brothers & Don Stover, singers/musicians; Phyllis Curtin, opera singer; Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, bluegrass duo; Frankie Yankovic, polka king.
As demonstrated by the names above, there is an extremely rich and diverse musical tradition in West Virginia. A tradition that belies its small population and largely rural nature.
The festivities began with a reception at the Governor’s Mansion, then moved next door to the Culture Center Theatre when the awards were presented and music was performed, then an after-reception in the Great Hall of the Culture Center that ended at midnight and finally a private party at the Marriott that wound down at 4 AM.
The event was hosted by Charlie McCoy & Kathy Mattea, with a house band that included: Tim O’Brien (stringed instruments), Don Dixon (bass), Butch Miles (drums), Bob Thompson (piano) and Wayne Moss (everything else).
Other performers and presenters included the great Phil Wiggins (harp), Earl White (fiddle), Bill Withers (songwriter/performer extraordinaire) and the great country singer Jean Shepard.
My personal high point came when Phil Wiggins and Charlie McCoy did a duet on harp!
It was quite a night — and morning.
Kathy Mattea & Charlie McCoy
The Bailes Brothers:
Homer Bailes (“The Drunkard’s Grave”)
In 1944, they traveled to WSM after being recommended by Roy Acuff whose company Acuff-Rose would publish their many original songs. In 1945, Johnnie and Walter began recording for Columbia where they recorded songs including “Dust on the Bible,” “I Want to Be Loved (But Only By You),” “I’ve Got My One Way Ticket to the Sky” and “Give Mother My Crown” (also recorded by Flatt & Scruggs) as well as the World War II classics “Searching for a Soldier’s Grave” and “Down Where the River Bends.” Over the next few years the Bailes Brothers recorded additional numbers for Columbia and also the King label.
In 1946, they relocated to KWKH in Shreveport, LA, where, along with Hank Williams, they became charter performers on the legendary Louisiana Hayride in 1948. By the latter part of 1949, the act had broken up but various Bailes Brother combinations continued to play together well into the late 1980s. In 1977, they recorded an LP which featured all four brothers and an older half-sister Minnie. At one time or another Johnnie, Walter, and Homer all made solo recordings as well.
In June 8, 1983, the Bailes Brothers were inducted into The Walkway of Stars of the Country Music Hall Of Fame and Museum, in Nashville, TN. Johnnie, Walter and Kyle attended the installation ceremony and reception. In 2002, Bear Family Records in Germany reissued all of the group’s Columbia material. Some of Johnnie and Homer’s transcriptions from KWKH are available on compact disc as well.
Nat Reese (“Save a Seat For Me”)
Born 1924. Salem, VA.
One of WV’s few traditional blues artists, Nat is a nationally recognized blues singer and guitarist who has lived in Princeton for nearly all of his life. Born in Salem, VA, his family moved to Wyoming County four years later, settling in Princeton in 1935. There, Nat was exposed to a wide range of musical styles, from big band jazz and popular music, to blues, polkas, and country music. He began playing the guitar as a young man and performed in various string bands that played throughout the coalfields in the days before racial integration. For a time, he led a group called the Starlight Gospel Singers, based in Itmann, Wyoming County. Later, Nat concentrated on blues and swing music, often appearing with renowned fiddler Howard Armstrong. Howard and Nat traveled and performed extensively, including several European tours, where they appeared in Switzerland, Belgium, France, and East Germany. In addition to his many musical talents, Nat is also a gifted artist and a commercial sign painter. Nat Reese received the Vandalia Award in 1995 and the John Henry Award in 1988.
Larry Combs & Grant Cooper (conductor, WV Symphony Orchestra)
Born 1939. South Charleston, Kanawha County
One of the world’s leading orchestral clarinetists, Larry Combs has also been active in chamber music and in the Chicago jazz scene. He began to play clarinet in Charleston at the age of 10 and, by the time he was 13 had a strong enough technique and reputation that he was regularly asked by the Charleston Symphony to play with them when an additional clarinet was needed and, at age 16, he was the orchestra’s principal clarinetist. While in high school his clarinet quintet entered the nationally televised “Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour.” The group placed second on the show, after a one-legged tap dancer.
During the summer, he attended the National Music Camp at Interlochen, MI, where he worked with professional musicians and the most talented musicians from around the country in his age group. In 1957, he entered the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, where he was a pupil of Stanley Hasty, a leading clarinet teacher. After graduating from Eastman, Combs joined the New Orleans Philharmonic as third clarinet/bass clarinet player. This job was interrupted when he was drafted into the military. After basic training he was sent to West Point and assigned to be a member of the United States Military Academy Band. This enabled him to travel to New York City for continuing studies with clarinetist Leon Russianoff. The New Orleans Philharmonic welcomed him back after his enlistment, this time as the orchestra’s principal clarinetist.
In 1968, Combs became Principal of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and, in 1974, he joined the clarinet section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, one of the leading orchestra’s in the world. In 1978, the orchestra’s music director appointed him Principal Clarinet. As such, Combs can be heard playing on two decades worth of the CSO records in virtually every important solo clarinet passage. He has won two Grammy Awards for “Best Chamber Music Performance.”
Combs is also a founding member of the Chicago Chamber Musicians. He has performed the Brahms Trio in A minor with Daniel Barenboim and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and has appeared at the Ravinia Festival with its musical director, Christoph Eschenbach. Other appearances have been with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Smithsonian Chamber Players.
Also a jazz player, his Combs-Novak Sextet was one of the headliners at the 1999 Chicago Jazz Festival and Combs recorded an album with jazz clarinetist Eddie Daniels (“Crossing the Line”). Combs is a clinician for the G. Leblanc Company, which makes the Opus II clarinets he helped to design, and the Larry Combs models of clarinet mouthpieces.
Fred Willard (friend & “Fernwood 2nite” co-star) & Donna DeVol Copeland (daughter)
1911-1999. Moundsville, Marshall County.
While Frank DeVol was never a household name, during the 1960s, his theme music for TV series like “My Three Sons,” “The Brady Bunch” and “Family Affair” came into millions of American households every week. As a bandleader and arranger, he was one of the busiest working musicians of the 1950s and 1960s and, as a composer, he scored more than 50 movies. DeVol was born in Moundsville and raised in Canton, OH, where his father was bandleader for the local vaudeville theater. By the age of 14, had joined his father’s band at a local theater and was already a member of the musicians’ union, playing violin and piano.
After a variety of gigs, he was hired by Horace Heidt to play and arrange, but when guitarist Alvino Rey left that band, DeVol went with him. By the early 1940s, DeVol was leading his own band on Mutual Network station KHJ in Los Angeles. He soon became musical director for the network, working with Rudi Vallee, Dinah Shore, Jack Carson, and others, and was appearing himself in some of the on-air skits.
DeVol worked in radio until the early 1950s, when director Robert Aldrich hired him to score a low-budget movie, “World for Ransom.” The score earned DeVol the first of five Oscar nominations he would receive over the course of his career. Aldrich used him on several subsequent movies including “The Dirty Dozen,” “Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte,” “Flight of the Phoenix,” “The Longest Yard” and “All the Marbles.” His other movie scores included “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and the 50’s romantic comedy “Pillow Talk” – both nominated for an Oscar for music, as well as “Murder, Inc.,” “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo” and “The Happening” (he co-wrote the title track which was recorded by the Supremes). In his spare moments, he did occasional acting bits, appearing in movies such as “The Parent Trap.” Devol also recorded many albums of pop standards and salutes to American songwriters as a band leader in the 1950s.
In 1977, he played the bandleader Happy Kyne on Martin Mull’s talk-show parody sitcom, “Fernwood 2 Nite.” In the mid-1980s, after the death of his first wife, DeVol married the big band-era singer Helen O’Connell, and together the couple performed on cruise ships for several years until O’Connell’s death in 1997.
Doc and Chickie Williams:
Karen Williams McKenzie (daughter & singer) (“One Heart, One Life”)
Doc Williams. Born June 26, 1914. Cleveland, OH. Age 94.
Chickie Williams. Died 2007.
Doc Williams and his wife Chickie have been a fixture of the WWVA Jamboree since 1937. A singer, guitarist and bandleader, Doc is an institution in Wheeling and a living symbol of pure, basic country music. Thanks to the strength of the WWVA signal, Doc and Chickie were also popular in Canada and New England. The couple, along with their band the Border Riders recorded, performed live and appeared on the radio for more than five decades. Doc was born Andrew John Smik, Jr. in Cleveland, OH, and was raised in Kittaning, PA, and got his professional start playing with the Kansas Clodhoppers during the early ’30s. The Clodhoppers eventually became the Border Riders, and moved to WWVA in Wheeling in 1937. Soon, with the addition of comedian Froggie Cortez and cowboy crooner Big Slim the Lone Cowboy, they became one of the station’s most popular attractions.
In 1939, Williams married Jessie Wanda Crupe, who Doc had nicknamed “Chickie.” The following year, they moved to Memphis where he appeared on WREC radio while touring the south. He was asked by founder Harry Stone to join the Grand Ole Opry but declined as Chickie was returning to Wheeling to have her first child. After a short stint in the Navy during World War II, he returned to WWVA and continued touring. He also started a cottage industry selling guitar courses on the air, eventually selling 200,000 of them – which paid for his children’s schooling. Williams also founded Wheeling Records in the late ’40s and through it released all of his and his wife’s albums. Occasionally, they sang together, and sometimes with their three daughters. Among his best-known songs were “Willie Roy the Crippled Boy,” “My Old Brown Coat and Me” and “Polka Dot and Polka Dreams.”
He and his wife Chickie have been made honorary citizens in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. In 1983, Doc was one of the entertainers enshrined in WWVA’s Walkway of the Stars. The oldest living member of Jamboree USA, he has been by gubernatorial proclamation hailed as “West Virginia’s Official Country Music Ambassador of Good Will.”
Doc was inducted into the Wheeling Hall of Fame in 1984.
Harold “Hawkshaw” Hawkins:
Jean Shepard (widow & great country singer)
1923-1963. Huntington, Cabell County.
Described as “the man with 11-and-a-half yards of personality,” with a deep voice and a towering 6’6″ frame, Hawkshaw Hawkins was an immensely popular performer in country music for many years without the benefit of big record success. His first foray into performing came at the age of 15, when he won a talent contest at local radio station WSAZ. He then began working at the station, eventually moving to WCHS in Charleston by the end of the ’30s where he frequently sang with Clarence “Sherlock” Jack.
During 1941, he traveled the United States with a revue. The following year, he joined the military, where he was stationed in the Phillippines and, in Manila, sang on the local army radio. Following his discharge from the Army, he signed with King Records and scored a minor hit with “The Sunny Side of the Mountain,” the song that would eventually become his signature tune. In addition to recording for King, he was a regular on WWVA’s Wheeling Jamboree from 1946-1954. In 1948, he had his first hit single with “Pan American,” which climbed into the country Top Ten.
Suellen Clay (second cousin)
1900-1964. Born in Piedmont, Mineral County. Died in NYC.
The first great arranger in jazz history, Don Redman’s innovations as a writer essentially invented the jazz-oriented big band with tight, innovative arrangements that also left room for solo improvisations. Redman is considered one of the major composers and arrangers in jazz history. Also a fine alto sax player, and expressive singer, he was a child prodigy who learned to play most orchestral instruments. Redman graduated from Storer College, a black college in Harpers Ferry, with a music degree in 1920 at the age of 20, and studied further at Boston and Detroit conservatories.
After graduating, Redman played for a year with Billy Paige’s Broadway Syncopators before meeting up with bandleader Fletcher Henderson. At the time, Henderson was developing a style that earned him the reputation as a founder of the big band swing tradition. For the next three years, Redman was Henderson’s chief arranger (although Fletcher was often credited for the innovative charts) in addition to playing clarinet, alto, and (on at least one occasion) oboe. For the next three pivotal years, Redman was the band’s main arranger. He also played sax on recording sessions by Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Ethel Waters and many others.
Redman, whose largely spoken vocals were charming, recorded the first ever scat vocal on “My Papa Doesn’t Two Time” in early 1924, predating Louis Armstrong. His arrangements further evolved after Armstrong joined Henderson’s orchestra and included: “Sugar Foot Stomp” and “The Stampede.” In 1928, Redman joined Armstrong’s “Savoy Ballroom Five” and played on a number of his classic recordings including the Armstong-Redman vocal duet “Tight Like This.”
Around 1927 he became the musical director of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. Redman turned the regional group into a competitor of Henderson’s, composing such future standards as “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You” and “Cherry.” Throughout the 1930s, Redman led his own big band. His theme song – “The Chant of the Weed” – was another Redman composition that entered the jazz repertoire. Meanwhile, he was writing for top white bands such as Paul Whiteman, Ben Pollack and Isham Jones.
During the 1940s, Redman freelanced as a composer-arranger for many radio shows and for Count Basie, Cab Calloway and Jimmy Dorsey. After that, he freelanced as an arranger for the remainder of the swing era, led an all-star orchestra in 1946 that became the first band to visit postwar Europe, and eventually became Pearl Bailey’s musical director.
(“Sunny Side of the Mountain” led by Jean Shepard)
Performance photographs by Amos Perrine