WUMB January Program Guide

Too Big to Cry, Too Little to Cuss

Wade Ray is an ever-present fixture on the Dixie Bee Line, Saturday nights from 9pm – Midnight. If you’re a regular listener, you already know this, but you probably don’t know too much about him! Let’s dig in a little, shall we?

So my first experience with Wade Ray was as a young teenager living on Long Island in New York. One of the great things about growing up in NY was the easy access to all sorts of obscure things. In my case my obsession was (and remains to this day) collecting cool vintage hillbilly music. And there were these kind of generic bluegrass albums I bought, and here’s one, a double LP set called Bluegrass Special… and there was Wade Ray!

Well, his fiddling just blew me away! These cuts weren’t like the Flatt and Scruggs sound, oh no. Just good solid country instrumentals. Unbeknownst to me at the time was that there was a whole lot more to Wade Ray than these kind of plush country instrumentals… he was a singer, swinger, and bandleader in his own right. He can definitely swing!! But it was decades later before I found that out. Here’s a picture of his band from 1957, just after his really incredible run of earlier-50’s recordings for RCA…

So a little history first! Wade was born in 1913 and started performing as early as age five! This was still in the era of vaudeville and prior to the existence of the recording industry, so a child act had as much potential as any other act on the stage. He learned tunes from listening to his father hum the old tunes… hey, no radio, no records, no You-Tube…
His father was a bona-fide muleskinner… he drove mule teams deep in the woods, and was a woodsman in the truest sense of the word. These were country folks! Anyway, not long thereafter the theaters started showing moving pictures… and the fate of the live Vaudeville acts was pretty much sealed. But there were lots of other outlets for an enterprising young fiddler, barn dances, tent shows, medicine shows, circuses, and carnivals. Then also there came to be recorded music, and our Wade Ray was himself blown away by the jazzy violin of Joe Venuti. For the record, I am too! Wade got into amateur boxing, but after a while he was too worried about hurting his hands to continue. However, the smashed nose he endured yielded his life-long moniker of “Old Pug-Nose”. Hey, political correctness didn’t exist much then, either. World War II called him up, but didn’t take him far beyond Pennsylvania in the Military Police, so that didn’t put much of a damper on his musical career.

He worked in radio, playing at KMOX with Sally Foster and others. You’ll occasionally hear some of Sally on the Dixie Bee Line, but I don’t have much material of hers!
He went on to the National Barn Dance on WLS in Chicago with the “Prairie Ramblers.” This is pretty good career material. That lasted till about 1949. Luck was with him when he then travelled to California with fellow WLS emcee Rex Allen, and almost immediately ran into the Hank Thompson and Merle Travis. Then Capitol Records A&R (Artist & Repertoire) man Lee Gillette got him on a session with Tennessee Ernie Ford… and well, things kept getting better!

So here are some other interesting pictures I thought you might enjoy…

Check out this cast photo! Look how diminutive Hank Snow was!

So there was some fame to be had from Wade’s association with Willie Nelson. I will rarely play these cuts on the Dixie Bee Line, though, because at that time Willie Nelson was being awfully “artistic”… he took great old tunes and really changed their essence… timing, phrasing, etc… in a kind of weird-to-me way. I guess you’re supposed to just say, “aw, that’s Willie for you”, but I tend to feature his other material on the show.

So all of this came to a head when the Bear Family, the German record label that has single-handedly restored, remastered, documented, and presented the very core of American country music (among other genres!) produced this album of Wade’s material that I consider to be his very best. I play this frequently, so you may know some of these cuts. If I had one piece of advice for you, dear listeners, it would be “BUY THIS ALBUM”. It’s a lot of fun. The Bear Family site is at https://www.bear-family.com/.  You might be able to find it domestically and save some money on shipping, but I assure you that you’re very likely to be amazed by what they’ve got on this web site. Especially considering that you’ve read all the way to the end of my little blog post 😀   Note: I also play much from the rest of this Gonna Shake this Shack Tonight series on the Dixie Bee Line.

That’s about it! Happy New Year, everyone, and please join me every Saturday night at 9PM Eastern time, right after Holly Harris “Spins the Blues”. Radio is good on Saturday nights! You can listen online at wumb.org if you’re out of the area.
Write to me!!


~ Jon Gersh

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