Pee Wee King Biography

Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynski, 18 February 1914, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, d. 7 March 2000, Louisville, Kentucky, USA. His parents, whose families had been Polish immigrants, relocated to Abrams when he was a child and he grew up in the Polish community there. His father, who played fiddle and concertina, ran a polka band and the boy was encouraged to play instruments from an early age. He first played concertina and then fiddle, but at the age of 14, he changed to accordion. He made appearances with his father’s band but while still at high school and calling himself Frankie King, he formed a five-piece band that played on radio at Racine, Wisconsin. After graduating in 1932, he fronted a band he called the King’s Jesters and played various radio stations and venues in Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois. In 1934, he was given the chance to tour with Gene Autry as the accordionist with his group. In 1935, he moved to WHAS Louisville, where Autry headed a band called the Log Cabin Boys. Here he found three members of the band called Frank, and, being a mere 5 feet 6 inches tall, he was given the nickname of Pee Wee, a name he later took legally. When Autry left for Hollywood in 1936, King took over the band and renamed it the Golden West Cowboys. In 1937, he moved to Nashville and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, where he remained until 1947. His band included, at different times, such noted country music performers as Ernest Tubb, Eddy Arnold, Cowboy Copas, Redd Stewart and Clell Summey. In 1941, he and his band, with other Opry acts including Minnie Pearl, toured extensively with the Grand Ole Opry Camel Caravan. In 1938, he made his film debut with Autry inGoldmine In The Sky and later appeared in other B-movie Westerns, not only with Autry, but other cowboy stars including Johnny Mack Brown and Charles Starrett. In 1947-57, he had his own radio and television series on WAVE, Louisville. He recorded for RCA - Victor Records and in 1948, he achieved his first US country and pop chart hit with ‘Tennessee Waltz’. Inspired by Bill Monroe’s ‘Kentucky Waltz’, King and Redd Stewart merely added lyrics to Monroe’s theme song, the ‘No Name Waltz’. King quickly followed with his other ‘state’ song hits, ‘Tennessee Tears’ and ‘Tennessee Polka’, as well as his co-written ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat’. In 1951, he had a US country and pop number 1 with his song ‘Slow Poke’, which topped the country charts for 15 weeks and went on to sell a million (it was also a Top 10 hit for Hawkshaw Hawkins). When released in Britain, it was for some reason called ‘Slow Coach’. Other King songs to become Top 10 country hits for him were ‘Silver And Gold’, ‘Busybody’, ‘Changing Partners’ (a UK hit for both Kay Starr and Bing Crosby) and ‘Bimbo’ (later recorded successfully by Jim Reeves). In all cases, the vocals were performed by Redd Stewart. In the late 50s and early 60s, King had four television shows in different venues but in 1962, work pressure forced him to abandon them. Between 1952 and 1956, he won every available award for western bands. Noted country authority Colin Escott once wrote that Bill Haley and rock ‘n’ roll owed a great debt to Pee Wee King, as far as instrumentation was concerned. By 1959, King found that this very genre badly affected his music and he broke up his band. For the next four years, he worked with Redd Stewart in Minnie Pearl’s Roadshow. In 1963, she gave up touring but King continued to run the show until, in 1968, he once again disbanded the group. He later relied on local musicians to back him on his appearances. In 1969, he retired from performing to concentrate on the business side of the music industry and through the 70s spent much time on promotional work. He was one of the first members elected to the Nashville Songwriters’ International Hall Of Fame when it was founded in 1970 and his many varied services to the country music industry also earned him the honour of election to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1974. He later became a director of the Country Music Foundation in Nashville. In 1986, he appeared on the Grand Ole Opry’s 60th Anniversary Show. He suffered two strokes in the 90s, and died of a heart attack in March 2000.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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