Claude King dies
King had just celebrated his birthday and 67th wedding anniversary last month. The couple's eldest son, Duane King, said his father was found unresponsive in his bed early Thursday morning at his home in Shreveport.
King was one of the original members of the Louisiana Hayride, the Saturday night show where Elvis Presley got his start and Hank Williams Sr. frequently performed. The show transformed country and western music from 1948 to 1960 — the Hayride's heyday — with music genres including hillbilly, western swing, jazz, blues and gospel. Duane King recalls meeting Presley and Hank Williams Sr. backstage with his dad at the Hayride.
King's hit, "Wolverton Mountain," co-written with Merle Kilgore, was about an Arkansas mountain man, Clifton Clowers, who guarded his daughter from suitors.
"It was a story song, with a sense of humor, and it was an instant hit," said Maggie Warwick, owner of the Louisiana Hayride trademark and the production company, Louisiana Hayride Co. Warwick recalled King as "a legend in the Louisiana music industry, one of the greatest songwriters, and a wonderful friend."
Warwick, who also chairs the Louisiana Music Commission, said King and Tillman Franks were on the Hayride from the very beginning. She said King was known for his guitar-playing skills and knack for writing songs.
"He had a gift for melody and lyrics that was very definable," Warwick said. "The range and melody and the feeling that goes with his songs, when you hear it, it's very unique and identifiable with Claude King. He had a personal style that was all his own."
King's other hits included "Sheepskin Valley," ''Building a Bridge," ''Hey Lucille!," ''Big River, Big Man," ''I've Got The World By The Tail," ''Catch a Little Raindrop," ''All For The Love Of A Girl" and "The Comancheros," which was inspired by the John Wayne movie of the same name.
King circulated with stars like Johnny Cash, Slim Whitman, Johnny Horton and Presley, who sent country music rocking from the Hayride stage. But Duane King says his father was never interested in being a big star.
"He could have been as big as anybody, but that's not what he was about," said Duane King, who is now 65.
He said his father loved performing in his home state and was a celebrity in Shreveport, where he was given a "Key to the City." A star-shaped plaque with his name and hand- and boot-prints were placed on a downtown sidewalk as part of the city's "Walk of Stars."
King was a devoted family man who enjoyed fishing and gardening, his son said.
Duane King said he and his father had planned to go fishing on Friday. Although his father had some health issues, he had recently been feeling well, even asked for an exercise bike for his birthday.
"It caught us by surprise, and we're going to miss him. He was such an easygoing, unpretentious person who didn't have anything bad to say about anybody. He was my best friend, and I wish I could be half the person he was."
Claude King served in the U.S. Navy, including in the Philippines during World War II, between 1942 and 1946.
He is survived by his wife Barbara, three sons and six grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending.