I hear Little Rock calling
Homesick tears are falling
I’ve been away from Little Rock way too long
Gonna have a troubled mind
Til I reach that Arkansas line
I hear Little Rock calling me back home
From “I Hear Little Rock Calling” — music and lyrics by Dallas Frazier
In a career in which he was a humorist, a singer, a dramatic actor on Kraft TV Theater, a movie star and talent scout, it seems only appropriate that Ferlin Husky was one of the first to record and take a Dallas Frazier lyric up the country charts. Moreover, Husky is one of the few country stars to have three career songs in “A Dear John Letter”, his 1953 duet with Jean Shepard that spent 6 weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Chart (and reached #4 on the pop charts); “Gone”, a 1957 hit that spent 10 weeks at #1 on Billboard (and also reached #4 on the pop chart); and finally, in 1960, “The Wings Of A Dove”, a massive hit that Cashbox lists as the biggest country song of the period 1958-1984 with 19 weeks at #1 (Billboard had it at #1 for 10 weeks).
Ferlin Husky (December 3, 1925 – March 17, 2011) was born on a farm midway between the Missouri towns of Flat River, Hickory Grove and Cantwell. As a youngster, Ferlin obtained a guitar and, aided by his uncle Clyde Wilson, he learned to play it. Upon graduation from high school, Ferlin moved to the region’s biggest city, St. Louis, where he briefly worked odd jobs to survive before joining the US Merchant Marines in 1943. Ferlin would spend five years in the Merchant Marines, where in his off hours he would entertain shipmates with his vocals and musicianship. In 1948 Ferlin left the Merchant Marines to return to St. Louis where he worked for over a year with Gene Autry’s sidekick Smiley Burnett at radio station KXLW.
Moving to California in 1949, Husky landed some bit parts in western movies before moving to Bakersfield, where he sang at local clubs and worked as a disc jockey. By 1950 he was recording for Four Star Records under the name ‘Terry Preston,’ a name Ferlin felt less contrived than his given name. While none of the Terry Preston recordings became hits, they favorably impressed Cliffie Stone, a Southern California disc jockey whose television show Hometown Jamboree was quite popular. Stone played the Terry Preston records on his morning show on KXLA and eventually got Ferlin signed to Capitol Records, still under the name Terry Preston. Recording for legendary Capitol producer Ken Nelson, several fine singles resulted, including a cover of an old Roy Acuff hit “Tennessee Central #9,” none of which charted.
Nelson urged Ferlin to use his real name and the first single released under that name (“Huskey”–with an E–being the spelling used on records until 1957) hit the jackpot as the 1953 recording of “A Dear John Letter,” sung by Jean Shepard with recitation by Ferlin, resonated with returning Korean War veterans and launched both careers.
A follow up record with Ms. Shepard, “Forgive Me John”, also went Top 10 in late 1953, but it took another year for the solo hits to start. Finally, in 1955, Ferlin hit with four songs, two Top 10 records in “I Feel Better All Over” and “Little Tom”, a Top 20 record in “I’ll Baby Sit With You,” and a #5 hit recorded under the name of his comic alter-ego Simon Crum, “Cuzz Yore So Sweet”.
Growing up in the Great Depression and coming of age during World War II gave Ferlin a sense of the importance of helping others. As one of the first artists to reach Bakersfield, Ferlin was an influence and mentor to such struggling entertainers as Tommy Collins, Billy Mize, Dallas Frazier, Buck Owens and Roy Drusky. In fact, it was Ferlin who renamed Leonard Sipes as Tommy Collins.
During his years with Capitol, Ferlin Husky would push the boundaries of country music, whether by the sophisticated balladry of “Gone”, or the gentle ribbing of his #2 hit “Country Music Is Here To Stay” (as recorded by Crum).
Ferlin would stay with Capitol Records until 1972 charting forty-one records along the way, although after “The Wings of A Dove” in 1960 Top Ten hits would be scarce for the singer, with only “Once” (1967) and “Just For You” (1968), both which reached #4, scaling the heights. (“Heavenly Sunshine” reached #10 on Cashbox in 1970, stalling out at #11 on Billboard.)
After 1972, Ferlin would sign with ABC where he would chart nine times with hits including “Rosie Cries A Lot” (#17). A very nice record called “A Room for A Boy … Never Used” got lost in the shuffle; it peaked at #60 but is well worth hunting down.
After his stint with ABC, Ferlin would record sporadically for minor labels, often remaking earlier hits but sometimes coming up with new material. In 2005, at the age of eighty, Ferlin issued an excellent new CD, The Way It Was (Is The Way It Is), on the Heart of Texas label. This CD featured both old and new material, with Leona Williams on two tracks, and backed by a cast of fine Texas swing musicians.
Ferlin Husky was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010. Many years before that, he became one of the first country artists to get his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Capitol released a minimum of twenty-nine Ferlin Husky albums during his twenty year tenure with the label. This total includes two hits packages, a Christmas album, and an album released under the name of is comic alter-ego Simon Crum. All of these are out of print but most of them can be located in used record stores or online. Ferlin was quite comfortable with the classic pop of the pre-rock ‘n roll era, so while his albums conform to the general formula of a hit or two, some covers of recent country hits and some filler, sometimes the filler is classic pop from the 1920s-1950s such as “Sioux City Sue” on the 1959 album Ferlin’s Favorites, or 1920s classic “When My Sugar Walks Down The Street” from the 1958 album Sittin’ On A Rainbow (actually this entire album is comprised of classic pop – Ferlin was twenty years ahead of Willie Nelson in tapping into this material!)
ABC released five albums of which I think The Foster and Rice Songbook is the most interesting as it covers some of the less well known material of this very successful songwriting duo
King Records released two albums on Ferlin Husky during the 1959-1961 period of material that Ferlin recorded before signing with Capitol Records. I’ve never seen either of them but I suspect they may be the material recorded for Four Star.
After the ABC years Ferlin recorded one album for Pete Drake’s First Generation records, and a few albums for other minor labels.
The Ernest Tubb Record Shop current lists eight CDs of Ferlin Husky material available; however, only one of these CDs feature material from Ferlin’s peak years on Capitol. Covering the Capitol years is the two CD set Love Is The Sweetest Thing, released by Jasmine in 2012. This release is actually four early Ferlin Husky albums on Capitol released intact. It’s a good collection, but it is not heavy on his hits.
Jasmine also issued Feelin’ Better All Over, a collection of live recordings from the 1950s and 1960s including some of the Simon Crum comedy routines – again, not the place to get his hits. Another live collection is Live At The Louisiana Hayride, which does feature live recordings of some of Ferlin’s biggest hits.
Unfortunately, there don’t appear to be any CDs in print covering Ferlin’s Capitol hits, although several good collections were issued in the past, which may still be found through Amazon or other online vendors. Be on the lookout for Ferlin Husky: The Capitol Collector’s Series (20 songs), Ferlin Husky : Vintage Collections (20 songs including a few recorded as Terry Preston), Greatest Hits (on Curb but with arguably his eleven biggest hits on Capitol) and Absolutely The Best (on Fuel – 15 songs including his two biggest hits as Simon Crum). There is considerable overlap with these discs, so I’d buy the first two, if possible, and then move on to Country Music Is Here To Stay, which was released on Collectors Choice Music and features the complete Simon Crum on Capitol Records including the two big hits “Country Music Is Here To Stay” (#2 for 3 weeks in 1959) and “Cuzz Yore So Sweet” (#5 in 1955).
During the middle 1970s may of the major stars of the 1950s and 1960s were dumped by the major labels. Like so many of the others, Ferlin Husky wound up on Pete Drake’s First General Records label for Stars of The Grand Ole Opry. Since reissued on CD, the album consists of some remakes of Ferlin’s earlier hits, plus a few other songs that were hits for others. The label head was a noted steel guitar player, so the album has a solid country feel and is worth acquiring.
None of Ferlin’s ABC albums have been released on CD, although some of the songs have been re-recorded for various minor labels.
I noted earlier Ferlin’s last album of new recordings, The Way It Was, recorded for Heart of Texas and released when Ferlin was only a few months short of 80 years old. The album finds Ferlin in good voice with a band of hard-core country musicians and harmony vocalists. The highlights on this album for me are “You’d Better Not Do That” (as Simon Crum) and a pair of duets with the magnificent Leona Williams on “A Dear John Letter” and “As Long As I Live”. Every artist’s last album should be this good.
For more information on Ferlin Husky check www.ferlinhusky.com. Ferlin’s family has done a nice job of maintaining it as a memorial site; however, no merchandise is sold on the site.