Red Sovine Biography

Woodrow Wilson Sovine, 17 July 1918, Charleston, West Virginia, USA, d. 4 April 1980, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Sovine was taught the guitar by his mother and was working professionally by the time he was 17 on WCHS Charleston with Johnny Bailes (Bailes Brothers), and then as part of Jim Pike’s Carolina Tarheels. In 1948 Sovine formed his own band, The Echo Valley Boys, and became a regular on The Louisiana Hayride. Sovine acquired the nickname of ‘The Old Syrup Sopper’ following the sponsorship by Johnny Fair Syrup of some radio shows, and the title is apt for such narrations as ‘Daddy’s Girl’. Sovine recorded for US Decca Records and first made the country charts with ‘Are You Mine?’, a duet with Goldie Hill. Later that year, a further duet, this time with Webb Pierce, ‘Why Baby Why’, made number 1 on the US country charts. They followed this with the tear-jerking narration ‘Little Rosa’, which became a mainstay of Sovine’s act. From 1954 Sovine was a regular at the Grand Ole Opry and, in all, he had 31 US country chart entries. He was particularly successful with maudlin narrations about truck-drivers and his hits include ‘Giddyup Go’ (a US country number 1 about a truck-driver being reunited with his son), ‘Phantom 309’ (a truck-driving ghost story!) and his million-selling saga of a crippled boy and his CB radio, ‘Teddy Bear’ (1976). Sequels and parodies of ‘Teddy Bear’ abound; Sovine refused to record ‘Teddy Bear’s Last Ride’, which became a US country hit for Diana Williams. He retaliated with ‘Little Joe’ to indicate that Teddy Bear was not dead after all.

Among his own compositions are ‘I Didn’t Jump The Fence’ and ‘Missing You’, which was a UK hit for Jim Reeves. Sovine recorded ‘The Hero’ as a tribute to John Wayne, and his son, Roger Wayne Sovine, was named in his honour. The young Sovine was briefly a country singer, making the lower end of the US country charts with ‘Culman, Alabam’ and ‘Little Bitty Nitty Gritty Dirt Town’. Red Sovine’s country music owed nothing to contemporary trends but his sentimentality was popular in UK clubs. He had no big-time image and, while touring the UK, he made a point of visiting specialist country music shops. In 1980 Sovine died of a heart attack at the wheel of his car in Nashville. The following year, as CB radio finally hit the UK, a reissue of ‘Teddy Bear’ reached number 5, his first UK chart entry.

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

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