Claude King

A composer and singer of country and pop songs and World War II veteran, Claude was born in Cedar Grove, Louisiana, now part of Shreveport. He was one of seven children of Jiles King and Naomi Simpson King. Growing up on a farm, he was plowing by age five. "It was kind of handling me more than I was handling it," he says of the plow. "But I had a good mule." They worked "from sunup to sundown" and even helped on neighbor farms--work for which he was paid a dollar a day. Early in life he developed a love of music by listening to Jimmie Rodgers records and the Grand Ole Opry. Other musical favorites included the Carter Family, The Chuck Wagon Gang, and The Sunshine Boys, a group that played on KWKH radio in Shreveport. He also greatly admired, Buddy Attaway, a local musician, and with him formed a band, with Attaway playing guitar and Claude the harmonica. Claude left Byrd High School before graduating and entered the U.S. Navy. After the war he married Barbara Coco on February 20, 1946. He formed another band with Attaway on guitar, Tillman Franks on bass fiddle, and Archie Jackson on fiddle. Jackie Ferguson played steel guitar and Ambrose Ogburn, mandolin. Calling themselves "The Rainbow Boys" the group played mainly around Shreveport, then ventured out to places such as Monroe and Houston, where they starred on a morning radio show on KLEE. "That's where I met Hank Williams," Claude says. "He'd come in to town and was listening to our thirty-minute radio show and he liked it. I really did like the man. Most people didn't understand him. He was the same age as me then. He was twenty-nine when he died but he was an old man at twenty-nine." After two years in Houston in 1947 and 1948, Claude returned to Shreveport, played music at night, and attended Meadows-Draughon Business College by day. After graduating he entered construction work while performing at night. Joining Louisiana Hayride he shared the stage with Hank Williams, Slim Whitman, Kitty Wells, Floyd Cramer, Red Sovine, and Johnny Horton, another Shreveport entertainer who became a good friend. Claude says he wasn't impressed with Elvis Presley, who also performed on Louisiana Hayride, although Horton thought the youngster would be bigger than Frank Sinatra. "He said, `I watched him when he was on stage. All those teenage girls out there just go nuts.'" he recalls Horton saying. Meanwhile, Claude was writing music and working for Southern Builders, where he eventually became foreman. Although saddened by the death of his friend, Horton, in a car wreck, Claude remained in the music business. For a movie starring John Wayne and Gary Cooper, he wrote the title song "Big River, Big Man," which became a crossover hit from the country to the pop charts. He composed another title song to Wayne's movie, The Comanchero, and also saw it soar on both country and pop charts. His biggest hit, "Wolverton Mountain," was released in 1962. Meanwhile he was appearing on the Grand Ole Opry. Although the show producers wanted him as a regular, he would not drive back and forth every weekend, nor did he wish move to Nashville, as did many stars on Louisiana Hayride. "I could have probably gotten a lot further in the business if I'd moved," he says. "Shreveport was home and I was going to stay here regardless." Claude acted in two movies--as a deputy sheriff in Swamp Girl, and as a politican in The Year of the Yahoo. He continued traveling the country playing his music, including three appearances on American Bandstand, but by the 1980s he had grown weary of the travel. "I wore out three Cadillacs pulling a trailer with our equipment before I got the bus," he recalls. After one, three-month booking, he decided not to return to the road. He remains active in music in Shreveport, and has produced a recent CD, "Cajun Cowboy Rides Again."