Thursday, April 07, 2011

Doc Williams on WWVA

I had some real difficulty researching Doc Williams, despite his career longevity.  Early this year he died. The plethora of obituaries filled in some long standing blanks. Doc was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1914, and grew up in Tarrtown, PA about 35 miles North east of Pittsburgh.  His real name was Andrew John Smick, his family were Slovak immigrants.  He dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to start his first band with his brother Cy and a neighbor, Joe Stoetzer. He'd already been working in the coal mines with his father and had different long-term plans. He began his radio career in Cleveland in 1932 on "The Barn Busters" at WJAY-AM in Cleveland, OH. More here.  The barn Busters was a bit of an amateur show, but his charisma there led to a gig with a bigger band, Doc McCaulley and his Kansas Clod-Hoppers.

They had a 15 minute show each morning at 8:10 AM. McCaulleywas a West Virginia native, and pretty well set the young Mr. Smick on the path so to speak. He then formed his own country band, the Alleghney Ramblers still with his brother Cy, and Curley Sims on mandolin. In 1935 they left Cleveland tor a gig on KQV-AM in Pittsburgh with a new name as well, the Cherokee Hillbillies. Just a few months later they picked up Miss Billie Walker as a singer and became the Texas Longhorns and traveled to WWL-AM in New Orleans.Sometime between 1936 and 1937 Andy Smick became Cowboy Doc, then eventually Doc Williams. The book Mountaineer Jamboree by Ivan M. Tribe covers this in fantastic detail.

By 1937 they were back up north on WJAS-AM in Pittsburgh, simulcasting on KQV-AM and WHJB-AM in Greensburg, PA with a 8:30 AM program. This was when Doc Williams band became the Border Riders. Some biographies claim they were already the border riders while in Louisiana, this remains in contention. Later that year they auditioned at WWVA-AM and got the 2:45 afternoon slot. they also started performing on World’s Original WWVA Jamboree.  the program was later re-named Jamboree USA. It was the second-longest-running live country music show. He signed off every show with the words "Keep your chin up and keep smiling."

According to legend in 1940 he even turned down a job at WSM-AM in Nashville on the Grand Ole Opry.Doc has spent most of his long country music career at WWVA-AM, except for brief periods at WREC-AM, Memphis, Tennessee, and WFMD-AM, Frederick, Maryland also around 1940. That year  WVA-AM increased its power from 5,000 watts to 50,000 watts in 1941. Despite all that success, he only began touring in 1949.

Williams outlasted everyone, he was on the Jamboree for 61 years. In 1984 he was inducted in the Wheeling Hall of Fame. Williams officially retired in 2005 the WWVA-AM Jamboree ended. He published his autobiography, Looking Back, in 2006. [Link]. Today 1170 WWVA-AM is a news talker. The most  amazing thing about his career is that he never had a national single, and never recorded for a major label. That 78 above on Wheeling records, his own label founded in 1947. In Canada they released a dozen or more sides on Quality Records. If you want any of it today you have to buy it on his website He died just this winter, on January 31st 2011. He was 96 years old.