Wednesday, January 26, 2011

DJ Slim Willet

Slim Willet is not a name you hear every day. Often played as Slim Willet and the Brush Cutters. You probably have never heard of that particular western swing band. But you have heard some of his songs. He wrote Dont' Let the Stars get In Your Eyes, a single that became a standard.  He was born Winston Lee Moore on December 1st, 1919 in Dublin, Texas as you read above he was a musician, a songwriter and most importantly for Arcane Radio Trivia... he was a DJ.

That single was written in 1951. Slim once recounted that he learned the meter in 1937 at a CCC camp from some Mexican guitarists who played ranchero music. The lyrics were inspired by a letter from a GI in Korea. He liked letters from soldiers, he served in WWII himself. After the war he went to entered Hardin–Simmons University in Abilene. Many histories claim he headed their student radio station KHSU.  I have found contemporary records that indicate KHSU existed from newspapers. It launched in 1949, and I have found in their school newspaper that it still existed until at least 1961. according to those papers, It only regularly broadcast from 5:00 - 9:00 PM Monday through Saturday. Billboard magazine lists them under campus Attractions in 1964. Then nothing. Strangely they never appear in any radio log. I have assumed they were some kind of unlicensed closed cable system.

In 1949 there were 2 real AM radio stations in Abilene: 1470 KRBC-AM and 1340 KWKC-AM. Neither license was owned by Hardin-Simmons University. It could have been a closed cable station... but I doubt it. He got a journalism degree and began DJing and selling ads on local station KRBC. At this time he was already writing songs including Pinball Millionaire which was recorded by Gene O'Quin. He started doing promotional work. He started hosting the KRBC Big State Jamboree around 1954.  He booked Elvis's first appearance in Abilene in 1955. He was a friend of Bill Mack the famous WBAP-AM disc Jockey and sometimes brought him talent back when he was just a DJ at KWFT in Wichita Falls, TX. More here

His own recording career began in 1950 with the 78 rpm disc I'm Going Strong  / I'm a Tool Pusher from Snyder that came out on Star-Talent, a Dallas-based label. Hillbilly researcher has a great discography here.
Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes came out on  in 1952 and was re-recorded and released nationally on 4-Star. It went to #1 on the Country & western Billboard chart. Perry Como took it to #1 on the pop chart.  The song exploded. It was even covered by pop artists in Japan. It was a once in a lifetime hit and Bill McCall at 4-Star stole most of the royalties. Apocryphal accounts say that Willet threatened to kill McCall and that got him a partial payment. More here.  The song's popularity won him guest appearances on the Big D jamboree on KRLD-AM, WFAA-AM in Dallas, the Louisana Hayride on KWKH-AM, The Grand Ol' Opry on WSM and even as far away as KFI in Compton, CA.

In 1957 he started  Winston Records, his own record label. He used it in part to releases some forays into rockabilly which he recorded as Telli W. Mils... Slim Willit spelled backwards.  That same year he quit KRBC and joined radio station 1280 KNIT-AM.The station was a brand new Key City Broadcasters station. He started a booking agency, an ice cream parlor, and bought a gas station. He became diversified.
He never had another single as big as that #1 hit, not even close. In 1964 he became general manager of KCAD.  At the time it was one of the only all-country music stations in all of Texas.  He died two years later and was finally inducted into the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame in 1994.