Introduction to Claude King
Louisiana-born country singer/songwriter/occasional actor Claude King (1923-2013) would never probably think he’d take music as a calling, for his earlier interests were sports. In fact, he was geared for a baseball career and was even offered a baseball scholarship, although he played on radio shows before (along with Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, to name a few). But he became more earnest in pursuing a music career when he was signed to Columbia Records’ Tennessee division in 1961. His first country hit was “Big River, Big Man” also in that year. But his subsequent single “Wolverton Mountain” would become King’s multimillion seller during the early 60s music era. After that, he recorded other country hits such as “The Burning of Atlanta” (which is the American Civil War song), “Sam Hill,” “I’ve Got the World by the Tail,” “Tiger Woman” and “All For The Love Of The Girl” before his last charting single “Cotton Dan” in 1977. His fame inspired Arkansas governor Frank D. White to declare August 7 as “Wolverton Mountain Day” in 1981.
Early years of Claude King
Remembered by music fans mainly for his smash hit “Wolverton Mountain” in 1962, Claude King was born on February 5, 1923 in Keithville, Caddo Parish, south of Shreveport in northwestern Louisiana. When he was 12, he started learn in playing the guitar as soon as he acquired it. However, most of King’s interest during his younger years was occupied by sports. Spending most of his time in athletics, it even earned him a baseball scholarship from the University of Idaho at Moscow, Idaho. He was drafted to the Navy during the Second World War.
Leaving the Navy in 1945, King gathered his friends Buddy Attaway and Tillman Franks to form their own act the Rainbow Boys. Since the band was individually employed, they only got play during their spare time, performing at clubs around Shreveport. Around that time he also appeared on the Louisiana Hayride which was both a radio and television program where he got to perform in the same billing with other big stars such as Elvis Presley, Kitty Wells, and Johnny Cash and among others.
Claude King’s recording career with “Wolverton Mountain” and other singles
King was first signed to Gotham Records where most of his releases flopped. Getting more serious with his music career, King experienced his first hit single when he moved to Columbia Records, releasing the “Big River, Big Man.” It peaked at #7 on the country music chart while it registered modestly on the pop chart at #82. Later that year, it was followed by another country music hit “The Comancheros.” Just like the previous single, it also made to the top 10 of the country chart, and also became a minor pop hit.
Releasing the single “Wolverton Mountain” in 1962, it gave King his biggest hit, registering on both pop and country music charts at #6 and #1 respectively. Written by veteran singer and songwriter Merle Kilgore, the song sold more than a one million copies and was given a gold disc. Later that year it was followed by his second biggest hit “The Burning of Atlanta” which ranked at #10 on the country music chart and #20 on the Billboard Hot 100.
From 1963 to 1964, none of King’s singles made to the national chart; however, he scored country hits with “Sheepskin Valley” (#12), “Building a Bridge” (#12), “Hey Lucille” (#13), “Sam Hill” (#11). In the mid to late 1960’s, he made to the Top 10 of the country chart twice with “Tiger Woman” (#6, 1965) and “All for the Love of a Girl” (#9, 1969) which was also King’s last entry on the said chart. “Tiger Woman” was written by King and Kilgore. After 11 years with Columbia Records, King left the label in 1973.
King’s later years
In 1981, the date August 7 was declared as “Wolverton Mountain Day,” being headed by Governor Frank D. White of Arkansas.
On June 3, 2003, King released a CD on Sun Records called Cowboy in the White House, featuring Elvis Presley’s guitarist James Bunton. Along with other celebrities, King was inducted into the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce Walk of Stars. In 2011, King was considered by KWKH radio’s Danny Fox as one of the “Five Living Legends of Shreveport.” Included in the list were Bob Griffin, James Burton, Hank Williams Jr. and Frank Page who later died in 2013, same like King.
At the age of 90, King died on March 7, 2013 at his home in Shreveport, Louisiana.