Ferlin Husky was born in or near Cantwell, Missouri, about 50 miles south of St. Louis. His uncle, Clyde Wilson, taught a nine year old Ferlin how to play guitar and, years later, Husky would repay him by giving Wilson songwriting credits (most notably on the 1961 hit "Little Tom"). Husky dropped out of school in the eighth grade and moved to St. Louis, working in the steel mills and as a truck driver during the day and playing at the honky tonks at night. During World War II, Husky served in the Merchant Marine where he continued to hone his act entertaining the troops on the transport ships. It was at this point Ferlin developed the comedic character of Simon Crum, a country bumpkin-slash-philosopher with a nasal twang (sort of that era's version of Larry The Cable Guy).
Following the war, Ferlin became a disc jockey for a time, briefly in Missouri and then on to Bakersfield, California. He continued to develop the Crum character and began singing under the name Terry Preston. As Preston, Husky worked steadily but never really "took off". Indeed, when Capitol Records signed Ferlin Husky in 1953, they reportedly were at least as interested in recording the Crum character (for whom Husky signed a separate contract) as they were in Husky, himself. Husky also served as something of a scout for Capitol's western division, bringing Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and others to the label.
Husky quickly established himself as a singer of heart break songs--the prototypical tears-in-your-beer jukebox play--but, more importantly, he was one of the original pioneers at the forefront of what came to be known as The Nashville Sound. While still recording as Terry Preston, Husky had recorded the song "Gone" in 1952. Five years later, Husky took the song, added backing vocals from the Jordanaires and mezzo-soprano Millie Kirkham, added strings, even added a vibraphone, creating a slick, sophisticated, uptown country sound...the kind of sound that was ready-made to cross over to the pop charts. The reimagined "Gone" hit the top of the country charts and got as high as number 4 on Billboard's pop charts; it also got Husky an appearance on Arthur Godfrey's TV show and in the Alan Freed film "Mister Rock And Roll". Blessed with movie star good looks, Ferlin acted in several more films, but he truly found a comfortable home on television where he appeared regularly for the next two decades on such programs as The Tonight Show.
Ferlin Husky's 1967 Christmas album, "Christmas All Year Long", is a fine example of The Nashville Sound he helped pioneer and a generally underplayed country Christmas gem. Amazon MP3 has the digital version, but you can buy hard copy CDs (with different cover art, sadly) direct from Ferlin Husky's web site.
JOHNNY PRESTON (1939-2011)
Of Cajun ancestry, Johnny Preston was born in Port Arthur, Texas in August 1939, Preston's first charting record would also be his biggest hit. "Running Bear" was written for Preston by The Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson though it wasn't released until several months after the plane crash that took the lives of Richardson, Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly. "Running Bear" hit number one on both sides of the Atlantic. Christmas music fans are most familiar with Preston for his iconic 1960 Christmas single "I Want A Rock N Roll Guitar" (backed with "A New Baby For Christmas"), likely rescued from obscurity in the mid 80s by Rhino Records who issued the track on their "Cool Yule 2" compilation. Like "Running Bear", "I Want A Rock N Roll Guitar" was also written by The Big Bopper. Preston was still performing as recently as 2009, but died of heart failure, following a lifetime of heart-related illnesses, on March 4, 2011. He was 71.
Composer for stage and film, Hugh Martin will live on forever thanks to a song he wrote for Judy Garland for the 1944 MGM musical "Meet Me In St. Louis". "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" stands as one of the most perfect holiday songs ever written, eclipsing even "White Christmas" in my view. Having Judy Garland as your original vocalist never hurts, either. Born in 1914, Martin was actually a Broadway performer early in his career, as well as an arranger and vocal coach. For most of his career, Martin's writing partner was Ralph Blane. A Seventh-day Adventist, Martin reworked his holiday chestnut about ten years ago for gospel artist Del Delker, titling that more religious version "Have Yourself A Blessed Little Christmas". Martin died on March 11 at the age of 96.
Better known as Nate Dogg, rapper Nathaniel Hale, just 41 years old, died March 15, 2011 of congestive heart failure brought on, at least in part, as the result of strokes suffered in 2007 and 2008. Nate Dogg was born in Long Beach, California and came up in the rap business along with his lifelong friend Snoop Dogg. Nate debuted on the 1992 Dr. Dre album "The Chronic" and, ultimately, received 4 Grammy nominations. Nate's Christmas recordings are included on "Christmas On Death Row", the Death Row label's contribution to the season. Nate partners with Snoop Dogg for the album's lead track, "Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto", and takes a solo turn on the soulful "Be Thankful".