Happy Birthday, Wolverton Mountain!
One of my favorite country songs is creative, catchy and classic and based on a real life person (but not a true story) – “Wolverton Mountain.” I first discovered the song on one of those television commercials for a classic country compilation, and I’ve loved it ever since. It’s difficult to believe that it’s been 50 years since “Wolverton Mountain” peaked on the country charts and became a crossover hit. Claude King co-wrote the song with Merle Kilgore, who’s uncle, Clifton Clowers, was born in 1891 and lived to be 103 years old. Clowers resided on Woolverton Mountain in rural Arkansas. We don’t know if he had any kids. But “Wolverton Mountain” is the fictional story of a prospective boyfriend who loves a girl on “Wolverton Mountain” but fears Mr. Clowers, and the animals who occupy the Mountain. Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby each recorded the song in the 1960s. There’s an excellent version of the song as a duet with Hank Williams Jr. and Connie Francis singing together. iTunes features a Reggae version of the song by Richie Stephens.
There was even an answer song – whatever happened to answer songs? – by JoAnne Campbell, “I’m the Girl from Wolverton Mountain,” told from the daughter’s perspective. Sadly, Kilgore and Clowers have passed on. King is 89 years young and still performing the song. It’s legendary, and I encourage you to listen to as many versions of it as possible. If it gets stuck in your head, that’s a good thing, in my opinion.
Mike Sudhalter | April 27, 2012
Biography as though you did not already know…..
Claude King (born 5 February 1923, Keithville, Louisiana, near the city of Shreveport) is an American country music singer and songwriter. At a young age, he was interested in music but his primary interest was athletics. He purchased a guitar at the age of 12 and although he learned to play it, most of his time was devoted to sport. This eventually resulted in being offered a baseball scholarship to the University of Idaho at Moscow.
King later returned to Shreveport and joined the Louisiana Hayride, a popular TV and radio show broadcast in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, produced in Shreveport, Louisiana. The Louisiana Hayride ranked second only to the Grand Ole Opry in terms of television and radio importance in the early 1950s to the 1960s and King was frequently billed on the same shows with other famous legends such as Elvis Presley, John Ritter’s father, Tex Ritter, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Kitty Wells, Jimmie Davis, Slim Whitman, Faron Young, Johnny Horton, Jim Reeves, George Jones and Lefty Frizzell, among many others who became big music stars in the 1960s.
King recorded a few songs for Gotham Records, although none were successful. In 1961, he became more serious about a musical career and signed with the Nashville, Tennessee division of Columbia Records. He struck immediately, cutting “Big River, Big Man”, a country Top 10 and even a small pop crossover success. He soon followed with “The Comancheros” inspired by the movie of the same title, starring John Wayne. It was a Top 10 country hit in late 1961, also crossing over to the pop charts.
King made his “career” recording in the spring of 1962. “Wolverton Mountain”, written with Nashville veteran Merle Kilgore, was based on a real character, Clifton Clowers, who lived on Wolverton Mountain in Arkansas. The song became an immediate hit, going to No.1 for nine weeks during its 26-week run on the Billboard Country charts. It was also a pop Top 10.
King followed up that year with an American Civil War song, “The Burning Of Atlanta” which also went Top 10 on the country charts and again generated a lot of interest on the pop lists. In late 1962, he recorded “I’ve Got The World By The Tail” which narrowly missed the country Top 10.
He had another good year in 1963, scoring three solid country hits with “Sheepskin Valley”, “Building a Bridge” and “Hey Lucille!”. The hits continued in 1964 with “Sam Hill” and in 1965 he was back in the Top 10 with “Tiger Woman”, co-written by Merle Kilgore. King also did well that year with “Little Buddy”. His smooth country style continued to find a flavor throughout the decade, especially songs like “Catch a Little Raindrop” and the Top 10 “All For The Love Of A Girl” in 1969. His singles continued to hit the country charts through 1972. He left the label in 1973 after having accomplished 29 hits.
Besides a successful career recording and touring, King also performed as an actor in several movies, and like his nephew, Chris Aable, King is also among a minority of actors who are members in both the Screen Actors Guild and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. He appeared in the 1982 television miniseries The Blue and the Gray and appeared in several feature films. King is no relation to another actor by the same name, born in 1875 in England.
In 1981, Arkansas Governor Frank D. White paid tribute to King and his big 1962 hit by declaring August 7 “Wolverton Mountain Day”. By that time, King had almost retired from recording.
After being absent from recording for over 20 years, King recently released a new CD called Cowboy in the White House. Most of the songs were written or co-written by him. Elvis Presley’s guitarist, James Burton performed guitar for the release.