From possum trot to fame
Everyday it seems I discover something that meant a lot to me that Ike and its surge took away. I’d been a longtime collector, although most of my stuff wasn’t serious, expensive collecting. A great deal of the things I treasured had to do with the people whose paths crossed mine. Gone are all the Elvis stuff and other artists who I had known. Just yesterday I thought maybe my “Gone With the Wind” movie and “Lonesome Dove” series might have been spared or the hundreds of albums, many signed, and a load of great books but they are all gone. Boxes of newspapers recording historical events from World War II, JFK, the landing on the moon and the controversial election of president George W. Bush over Al Gore are all gone.
Our son Mark was able to dry out and save a few items. Interviews with some of the famous, some of the not to famous, valuable because they recorded a time long ago.
Those folks are gone, never to be recorded again. Don Jacobs had written and recorded a song about me, “The Legend of Roy Dunn,” along with every song recorded by Benny Barnes, who I knew as an upstart, along with George Jones. They were in Beaumont shortly after Phyl and I married in 1954. Lost them all.
I lost an entire collection of a fellow I had first met as a boy on the Hadacol Caravan that featured the biggest movie stars and entertainers of that day. This special person came back into my life in July of 1974. The upcoming Sheriff’s Posse Rodeo brought him to mind. That year Sheriff Allen “Buck” Patillo and the Posse sponsored him, the Stamps and a group of gospel singers. His talent was much deeper than just being a gospel singer though. He and I sat around my old office on Sixth Street several hours each week for nearly a month. I was spell bound by his many stories about his life and those he had known and helped, his travels and the lives of entertainers he’d known.
To tell the entire Wally Fowler story in one column is impossible. The boy, from possum trot to fame, did write his life’s story, “The Gospel Truth.” My copy is gone but I hope to find another. An excerpt from the book goes like this; “As the sun was peeping over Turkey Knob Mountain, on a cold winter morning, Feb. 15, 1917, in Barton County Ga., the youngest of sixteen children Wally was born. He had said of farm life, “Poor red land, new ground, share crop farmin’, plowin’ with the number 12 Oliver and two ole stubborn, wore out mules. The plantin’, choppin’, laying by and pickin’ cotton, takin’ it to the gin, got it baled to pay last year’s charges and our credit started all over”
Wally walked two miles to the Mineral Springs, one teacher school through rain, sleet and snow. At age 14 he and his parents moved to Rome, Georgia. No more chopping wood, no shucking corn and living in an ole house with holes in the wall big enough to throw a hound dog through. No more studying by the glow of burring pine knots in the old iron grate fire place.”
Our young lives paralleled a lot even though he was several years my senior. Mom and I had gone through much of the same. That’s probably why I enjoyed his storytelling so much. I have always admired people who didn’t come from old money, who bucked the odds and made something of their lives.
From his meager beginning, Wally went on to become a Grand Ole’ Opry star and formed the Oak Ridge Quartet, which included Chet Atkins, and later became the Oak Ridge Boys. He also was the first to bring Hank Williams to the Opry. He started “Coast to Coast” on NBC with Red Foley, Rod Brasfiek and Minnie Pearl. Wally formed the first phonograph record distributing company. He wrote Eddy Arnold’s first recorded song, “Mommy, Please Stay Home With Me. He also composed Eddy’s first million seller, “That’s How Much I Love You Baby.” Wally discovered the late, great Patsy Cline.
He composed almost 1,000 musical compositions, formed four publishing companies and had five record labels. He produced more than 3,000 “Nite” shows, emceed and performed in most while traveling over three million miles to bring his gospel message to the fans in song, from the smallest churches, auditoriums and stadiums to Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden. He sold millions of records. His compositions have been recorded by 52 various groups and personalities, including Gov. Jimmie Davis and Willie Nelson, who in 1974 recorded, “I couldn’t Believe It Was True.” In 1993, Michael English was awarded the Dove award for Wally’s song, “I Bowed On My Knees and Cried Holy.g
Wally got his start in 1935, at age 18, with the John Daniel Quartet, the first Gospel quartet to join the Grand Ole’ Opry. In 1967, the Library of Congress accepted him as the man who had majored in both the Gospel and Country fields of music. Wally came alive in me in a special way when he sang his hand-clapping songs, “This Ole House”, “How Great Thou Art,” “Wings of a Dove,” “Just a Closer Walk with Thee, “Green Grass of Home” and “Wasted Years,” to name a few. On June 3, 1994, Wally died in a freak drowning accident.
Few people will know or recall this good, down-to-earth country boy of which I’ve written. Like me, he was country at heart and loved old time gospel music. Many of his songs were sung by the late J.D. Sumner and the Stamps and also by Elvis. Like so many of the greats I’ve been fortunate even to cross paths with down this great and good life’s highway I’ve traveled, Wally Fowler was one of the most talented. He came from the soil and spread his message around the globe that God is good. I’ve been truly blessed in so many ways but the unique, talented people I’ve known, past and present, makes life so interesting. Ike stole my material possessions but he didn’t steal my great memories of a life well lived.