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Ferlin Husky Biography

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Ferlin Husky Biography

 Ferlin Eugene Husky was born in Cantwell, Missouri, on December 3, 1925, and grew up the son of a sharecropper on a small Missouri farm. He was named Ferland after one of his father's friends, but his birth certificate nevertheless read "Ferlin," and the spelling stuck.
 An uncle taught him guitar before age ten; tuning the family radio to KMOX-St. Louis, he heard smooth-singing favorites like Red Foley and Bing Crosby.

 Husky met a veteran of the Merchant Marines while working in St. Louis in the early 1940s, and after Pearl Harbor, he rushed to enlist. On D-Day he served as a volunteer gunner on a troop ship off the beach at Cherbourg, France.

After the war Husky sang in St. Louis honky-tonks, then headed for California in the late 1940s and started performing with other musicians. Former Gene Autry sidekick, Smiley Burnette, recruited him for a multi-state tour and persuaded Husky to adopt the name Terry Preston.

Subsequently, Husky returned to California and hooked up with Ole Rasmussen, Smokey Rogers, and others prominent on the club circuit. Through regular performances on Cliffie Stone's Hometown Jamboree radio and TV series, Husky won audiences with his singing, comedy, and impersonations.

Next, Husky became a disc jockey on Bakersfield radio station, KBIS. Here he developed his comic alter-ego, Simon Crum, based on the popular radio characters, Lum & Abner, and on Simon Crump, a friend and neighbor from his youth. Hilarious dialog between Husky and "Simon" boosted sponsors' sales and helped prove country music's selling power.

Ferlin & Dallas Frazier 1964                                 Bakersfield Inn, Bakersfield, CA, 1950

At Bakersfield's Rainbow Gardens club, Husky headlined family-friendly shows and hosted children's talent contests. At one such event he met twelve-year-old Dallas Frazier, and soon steered him to Capitol Records. Husky also mentored Tommy Collins (born Leonard Sipes), recommending him to the label as well. Husky played guitar on Collins's early recordings and renamed him when someone ordered a Tom Collins drink during a session.

By 1950, Husky was recording for independent, Four Star Records, and writing songs for Four Star Music. With help from Cliffie Stone (a Capitol producer), Husky moved up to Capitol in early 1953, using his Terry Preston moniker until producer, Ken Nelson, advised him to record under his real name.

     Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky, 1953               Marvis Thompson (Husky) and Orlo Thompson 
Husky's first Capitol success was the smash hit, "A Dear John Letter," on which featured artist, Jean Shepard, sang choruses punctuating Husky's recitation as a soldier whose sweetheart has decided to marry his brother. With the Korean War still underway, the recording entered Billboard's country chart in July of 1953, shot to #1, and crossed over to #16 pop. Capitalizing on their success, the duo toured widely-after Husky was officially named guardian for Shepard, not yet twenty-one.

             Marvis, Ferlin & Orlo listening intently to play-back recordings in the studio 1965
Back-up brother and sister vocalists, Orlo & Marvis Thompson, were with
Ferlin in the 50's and 60's.  Marvis was Ferlin's wife for over 30 years.

  Later in 1953, Ferlin and Jean Shepard notched a #4 country hit with the answer song "Forgive Me John." Nineteen fifty-five brought Husky three solo Top Tens: "I Feel Better All Over (More than Anywhere's Else)," "Little Tom," and "Cuzz Yore So Sweet," his first hit as Simon Crum.

In 1956, Husky re-recorded a song he had earlier released on Capitol as Terry Preston (Smokey Rogers's "Gone.") Preparing for the session, held at Nashville's Bradley Studio, Ken Nelson asked Jordanaires leader, Gordon Stoker, to recruit a soprano vocalist; Stoker asked Millie Kirkham to assist.

Jordanaires' Hoyt Hawkins, Ferlin, Gordon Stoker, Marvis, Neal Matthews & Ray Walker during a session in 1965

Combined with echo and sparse instrumental support, the background singers heightened the drama of Husky's distinctive vocal on a recording widely regarded as the first example of the Nashville Sound production approach. "He didn't sound like anything or anybody else," legendary producer, Billy Sherrill, affirmed. A #1 country hit, "Gone" peaked at #4 pop.

Ferlin, Patsy Cline, Faron Young & Jerry Reed                       Ferlin & Patsy Cline 1963
Husky had worked the televised version of Springfield, Missouri's, Ozark Jubilee in 1955 and then moved to the Grand Ole Opry. "Gone" propelled him to network television appearances on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts--including spots as guest host-Kraft Television Theater, The Ed Sullivan Show, and eventually talk shows hosted by Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, and Merv Griffin. Husky had to give up his Opry slot, but TV exposure introduced him to millions of viewers.

  He struck pay dirt again with "Wings of a Dove," a gospel classic penned by RCA Nashville producer, Bob Ferguson. During 1960-61, this upbeat recording became a huge crossover hit, reaching #1 country and #12 pop. Through 1972, Husky charted regularly on Capitol and broke the Top Ten with "Once" (1966-67) and "Just for You" (1967-68). He switched to ABC in 1973 and had his last chart-making single in 1975. His fifty-one charting country sides include his Simon Crum hit, "Country Music Is Here to Stay" (#2, 1958-59).

Then along came Hollywood...

          Lou Costello, Elvis, Ferlin & Jane Russell, mid 1950's.

                     Ferlin & Rosemary Clooney 1950's

Ferlin & Henry Fonda, 1970                               Rod Brassfield, June Carter-Cash & Ferlin in Country Music Holiday

                                   Zsa Zsa Gabor & Ferlin in Country Music Holiday, 1958            


                                                Joi Lansing, Don Bowman & Ferlin in Hilbillys in a Haunted House 


Recording success landed Husky featured roles in a number of movies. These included Mr. Rock & Roll (1957), Country Music Holiday (1958), 40 Acre Feud (1965), Hilbillys in a Haunted House (1967), Las Vegas Hillbillys (1966), and Swamp Girl (1971).

But Husky made his most lasting impression as a live performer. He toured widely in the United States and abroad. "There were a lot of years when nobody in the business could follow Ferlin Husky," Merle Haggard said, "He was the biggest live act of the day. A great entertainer."

Husky was one of the first country music entertainers
to be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Pictured here with Charlie Pride at the Medallion Ceremony,
Ferlin was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010.

-Special thanks to:  Don Roy and John Rumble - Adapted from the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum and Museum's Encyclopedia of Country Music, published by Oxford University Press.

In Memoriam

Ferlin Eugene Husky, December 3, 1925 - March 17, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Ferlin Husky, a pioneering country music entertainer in the 1950s and early '60s, known for hits like "Wings of a Dove" and "Gone," died Thursday, March 17, 2011. He was 85.

"The 2010 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee died at his daughter's home," said Country Music Hall of Fame spokeswoman, Tina Wright. He had a history of heart problems and related ailments.

With his resonant voice and good looks, Husky was one of the most versatile entertainers to emerge from country music. He was a singer, songwriter, guitarist, actor and even a comedian whose impersonations ranged from Bing Crosby to Johnny Cash.

He was one of the first country musicians to bring the genre to television and helped spread its popularity in booming post-World War II California, an important step in country's quest for a national audience.

He said in a 2010 interview with The Associated Press that he was astonished by his Hall of Fame induction because he worried he'd been forgotten as his health failed over the years.  "The main thing I'm proud of...this is for my family and for the many people who want to see me go in the Hall of Fame before I die," he said. "It's a great honor."

Husky, who was one of the first country artists to have his name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, sold more than 20 million records, mostly in the '50s and early '60s. He won many country music awards long before such gala shows were televised and meant so much to careers.

He was born in 1925 near Flat River, MO.  After five years in the Merchant Marines during World War II, he began his singing career in honky-tonks and nightclubs around St. Louis and later in the Bakersfield, Calif., area.

"I'd walk into a bar and if they didn't have any music there I'd ask the bartender if I could play. Then I'd pass the hat around," he told the Chicago Tribune in 1957.

He recalled he could count on netting 50 or 75 cents. He recorded some songs early in his career under the name Terry Preston, and in some early records he spelled his last name Huskey.

Signed to Capitol records in the early 1950s, he had his first big success when he teamed with 2011 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, Jean Shepard, on "Dear John Letter," which ranked No. 4 on Billboard's list of top country songs of 1953.

Ferlin, Elvis, Faron Young & Hawkshaw Hawkins 1950's                  Ferlin, looking like a "rock star" 1960's
He was also the headline act for a tour that included a young Elvis Presley.  "He was so eager to learn how to entertain an audience, he'd watch everything I did," Husky said.

In 1957, he had a No. 1 hit on the country chart with "Gone," a re-recording of a song he had done several years earlier. It also broke the top five on the pop charts.

"Wings of a Dove," a gospel song, became another No. 1 country hit in 1960 and was one of his signature songs. His other hits included "A Fallen Star," "My Reason for Living," "The Waltz You Saved for Me" and "Timber I'm Falling."

"I didn't say it was country, but it was a country boy doing it," he said in 2010.

While still recording under his real name, Husky created a character named Simon Crum as his comic alter ego, hitting the charts with such songs as "Cuzz You're So Sweet" and "Country Music Is Here to Stay."

He also was a regular on TV and appeared in a string of movies with co-stars
like Zsa Zsa Gabor ("Country Music Holiday" in 1958) and Jayne Mansfield ("Las Vegas Hillbillies" in 1966.) He once said that his selection for a short run as Arthur Godfrey's summer replacement at CBS in the late 1950s was a particular high point for him.

  Photo from the book, Country Music--The Masters, by Marty Stuart 2008

"It was a great achievement because there were so many actors and artists, but I got picked even though I didn't have a high school education," he told The Associated Press in 1981. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade.

He cut back on his entertaining in 1970 and performed part time, mostly concert dates. He was performing once a month in the mid-2000s with singer-songwriter, Leona Williams. But his imprint on country music remained.

   "In the mid-'50s, Ferlin would create the template for the famed Nashville Sound, a sound that gave rock 'n' roll a run for its money and forever put Music City on the map," Kyle Young, director of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said at Husky's induction in May 2010. "The multi-talented and musically versatile, Ferlin Husky, was always ahead of his time."            

Special thanks to the Associated Press, Nashville, TN  2011

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