James O'Gwynn
U. S. Marines
Dates of Service: 08/1945 - 08/1949
Truck Driver, 11th Marine Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Marine Div

James was born in Winchester, Mississippi, a community ten miles south of Waynesboro, to Louie Wilburn O'Gwynn and Minnie Ethel Busby O'Gwynn. The eldest of four children, James was eight when the family moved to Hattiesburg. There his father worked as an automobile mechanic "and everything else he could do in the Depression," he recalls. James supplemented the family income by selling newspapers and working odd jobs. Meanwhile, his mother taught him to play the guitar. "She picked like Mother Maybelle," he recalls. "She picked it with her fingers." James played in church at the East Pine Assembly of God, and sang as a trio with two of his sisters. He recalls listening to Grand Ole Opry on a car battery-operated radio. James left high school and began work as a mechanic at Farror Motor Company. In World War II his father was drafted, but released after about a year because of his age (38). "You couldn't walk down the streets," James says of the crowded conditions. James married Mary Suggs on March 22, 1945. (He would have four children, ten grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren.) At 17 in August of 1945 he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and completed boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. In December of 1945 he was sent to Tientsin, China as a truck driver in the field artillery of the 11th Field Artillery, 1st Marine Division. The division returned to the U.S. in February of 1947. Meanwhile, his first son was born. "I didn't see him until he was fourteen months old," he says. Upon completing service, he was discharged in Pensacola, Florida in August of 1949. James returned to his mechanic job at Farror Motor Company, then in 1953 moved to Houston. While working as a mechanic he began "dabbling into the music business." In 1955 at Quinn Studios he recorded Bottle Talk, his first of 128 recordings. Three years later he wrote and recorded at Quinn his first top-ten record on Billboard, Talk to Me Lonesome Heart. His song Sixty One was part of the track of a movie by the same name, and sung by George Jones. "I wrote several songs and I wrote part of several songs," he recalls. James met Jones while performing on Houston Jamboree. "I liked him," James said. "He and I are real good friends. We've been friends since 1954." He also met a young Elvis Presley who played in Houston at Cook's Hoedown and Magnolia Gardens. "I was the only one that would have anything to do with him," he says of the future rock 'n roll star. "He became my good friend. I liked him. I knew he was different and all that stuff but he was just doing what he thought he could do." In 1956 James was invited onto Louisiana Hayride where he was given the nickname, "The Smiling Irishman". He signed a four-year contract to appear on the show. "Elvis and I, as far as I know, were the only ones that ever had a contract", he remarks. While appearing on the show and working in Shreveport at a Buick dealership, James recorded Talk To Me Lonesome Heart, his first top-ten record on Billboard. Leaving his mechanics job he soon began performing on the road, always returning to the Hayride. There he renewed his friendship with Jones and met stars such as Faron Young, Webb Pierce, Jim Reeves, and Kitty Wells. In 1957 James toured with Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins in "thirty days of one-nighters", he recalls. When his contract with Louisiana Hayride expired, he went onto Grand Ole Opry, performing first on December 10, 1960. He played 26 weeks each year at the Opry, meanwhile doing appearances in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, and other states. James appeared on Grand Ole Opry for two years. He would later live in Dardanelle, Arkansas, then move back to Nashville for eight years where he worked for Plantation Records before returning to Arkansas. After his wife passed away, he came home to Hattiesburg, where he married Janet Townsend. In 2003 James performed for the last time in Shreveport at a reunion concert of Louisiana Hayride artists and was named to the Louisiana Hayride Hall of Fame. James' eldest son, Robert, inherited his talent and has recorded several gospel CDs. His youngest son, Jamie, plays guitar and sings, but not professionally.