Doc Williams was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1914, the son of parents who immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s. Andrew Sr. and Susie would have five children--Doc the oldest. When Doc was two years old, the family moved to a farm in Cowansville, Pennsylvania (near Kittanning, which is located about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh). Six years later, the family moved to the little village of Tarrtown, on the Allegheny River, a few miles north of Kittanning. Mud roads, coal oil lamps, pot-bellied stoves, swimming and fishing in the river, and country music on the radio were all part of his growing-up years.
Doc's father taught him most everything he knew about music; and there was always an old fiddle, a cornet, and other instruments around their home. By age 12, Doc had learned to play the cornet by note, and could play many songs from the family hymnbook. He also played the trumpet, accordion, and guitar and had a natural love for music. His father bought him a guitar for $3.00 at a pawnshop, and brother Cy, who was six years younger than Doc, got a fiddle.
Doc's early country music heroes were Jack and Jerry Foy, of KDKA, Pittsburgh. Around 1927, he listened to them every day on a crystal set he had built himself. Another early hero was Montana Slim (Wilf Carter), whom Doc heard over KQV, Pittsburgh, on the CBS Network. Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Tarr, Doc's neighbors, liked to play Jimmy Rodgers' records on their wind-up gramophone, and in the summertime, Doc could hear the music coming through their open windows across the railroad tracks to his home. The neighbors would sometimes invite Doc over to listen to their 78 rpm collection of records.
In 1929, as he was about to enter the 10th grade, Doc had to quit school so that he could help support his family. He would work alongside his father for a couple years in the coal mines. However, during those years, Doc still pursued his love for music by organizing an amateur band. He played guitar and sang vocals, brother Cy played fiddle and helped out on vocal harmonies, and neighbor, Dale Kuhn, played the tenor banjo. The band worked week-end dances for free.
Doc left the mines to follow his dream of becoming a country music entertainer. He returned to Cleveland, Ohio, to live with his maternal grandmother, Suzanna, and landed a couple of seasonal jobs as a maintenance worker. When Suzanna saw that her grandson was serious about music, she gave him with a small professional guitar, which she had purchased for $45. Doc began rehearsing songs with neighbor, Joe Stoetzer, and they called their duo the Mississippi Clowns. Doc played guitar and harmonica, and Joe played the musical spoons and the kazoo with a horn attached.
Through an audition, Doc and Joe started broadcasting on an amateur program, the Barn Busters, over WJAY in Cleveland. The emcee of the program was Morey Amsterdam, who would become a famous comedian. The Mississippi Clowns worked beer gardens for $1.00 a night, and appeared on the weekly Barn Busters program. They were soon offered a job with Doc McCaulley and his Kansas Clod-Hoppers, broadcasting daily over WJAY from 8:10 to 8:25 in the morning. Doc McCaulley, a native West Virginian, taught Doc traditional songs, such as "Down Yonder" and "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down."
When Joe left the act, Doc and Curley Sims (on mandolin) formed the Allegheny Ramblers, along with brother, Cy Williams on fiddle and vocal harmonies. In 1935, the group moved to KQV in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where they renamed the group, the Cherokee Hillbillies, borrowing from the fact that Curley was part Cherokee Indian. In 1936, they were offered a contract with Miss Billie Walker and her Texas Longhorns, who were also broadcasting over KQV. Big Slim, the Lone Cowboy, was a member of that group. When Miss Billie moved to WLS in New Orleans, Louisiana, Doc formed his own group, the Border Riders. The group moved to WJAS in Pittsburgh, on a three-station hook-up with KQV and WHJB in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, for a daily 8:30 a.m. broadcast, sponsored by the ABC Washing Machine Company. This marked the first time the name, Doc Williams and the Border Riders, was used over the airwaves.
In 1937, Doc and the Border Riders auditioned for a spot over WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia, located about 57 miles west of Pittsburgh. The group was immediately given a 2:45 p.m. daily show over WWVA. Their first broadcast was on May 1, 1937. By October, Doc Williams and the Border Riders was sponsored by Little Crow Milling Company and their CoCo Wheats breakfast cereal, which the group had as sponsor for several years.
The group also became members of the Saturday night "World's Original WWVA Jamboree" (later called Jamboree USA)--which was the second oldest surviving live country music "barn dance" at the time of its closure at the end of 2005. (The oldest is the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, which we are happy to write is still going strong.) Although Doc Williams and his Border Riders were newcomers to WWVA, they won the Silver Trophy as the most popular act during the radio station"s on-air popularity contest from March 14-19, 1938, with 15,877 votes. The group, at that time, was composed of Doc, as leader of the band, Brother Cy, Big Slim, Sunflower (female vocalist), and Rawhide (comedian).
Doc met his future wife and singing partner, Chickie Williams, at the Reawood Dance Hall in Hickory, Pennsylvania, when Chickie wrote to him requesting a personal appearance there. It was love at first sight for Doc. They married in 1939, made their home in Wheeling, and had three daughters, Barbara, Madeline, and Karen. The girls were known over the radio and on stage as Peeper, Pooch, and Punkin, and made their debut on the Jamboree at ages, 7, 5, and 4. They also traveled with their parents' show during school vacations.
Doc has spent most of his long country music career at WWVA, except for brief periods at WREC, Memphis, Tennessee, and WFMD, Frederick, Maryland in the 1940's. On the Border Riders' return to Wheeling after their short tenure at WREC in 1940, Doc stopped off to see Harry Stone at WSM in Nashville. Mr. Stone offered Doc a job at the Grand Ole Opry, but Doc had to take a "rain check," as his wife, Chickie, was expecting their first child and she wanted to return home to Wheeling. Doc never picked up the rain check, as WWVA increased its power from 5,000 watts to 50,000 watts in 1941, and Doc and Chickie Williams would continue on as two of Jamboree's most popular and enduring entertainers.
"Doc Williams and the Border Riders" became a household name in the heavily populated Northeastern United States and Canada, due to their broadcasts over power-station WWVA. Marion Martin, "Famous Blind Accordionist," joined Doc's show after World War Two, and played harmony to Cy Williams' "silver voiced" fiddle. Thus the "Doc Williams Sound" was born. The radio listeners loved this traditional country music sound.
In 1949, Doc started his pioneering road tours. His was the first WWVA act to tour long-distance out of Wheeling. Their first tour took the group 1000 miles to Aroostook County in northern Maine with no guarantee that even expenses would be met. However, Doc had not anticipated the popularity of his radio shows as heard over the Wheeling Jamboree in those days. The crowds were huge throughout the 10-day tour, and two shows had to be scheduled each night. When Doc returned home, he bought a new car. (The trip to Maine was in a borrowed car with its driver.)
Later tours took the Doc Williams Show to the Maritime Provinces in Canada, then to Ontario, to Quebec, and to New England. In 1952, the show toured the island of Newfoundland for three weeks (the people there were avid listeners of the Wheeling Jamboree). This was before the Trans-Canada Highway was complete, so Doc had to load his car onto flatcars and travel around the island by train to get to his show dates. After their appearance in St. John's, a group of about 100 fans gathered to say good-bye at the train station, and many were in tears. Some school children sang Doc's popular song "Roses are Blooming" by heart, as a farewell gesture.
Our beloved Doc Williams passed on at the wonderful old age of 96 in January of 2011. His was a life filled with devotion to his family, his fans and friends, and to his life's work as a country music entertainer and business person. He credited a great deal of the success he enjoyed over the years to the lady who had been at his side all those years, his wife and singing partner, Chickie Williams, "The Girl with the Lullaby Voice." Doc and Chickie have given us much joy through their recordings and the memories of their concerts on stage and their broadcasts over radio and television.
Chickie was born in the little town of Bethany, West Virginia, in 1919; and, as a child, she enjoyed listening to her father, Fred, and her Uncle Cal singing and playing country music. While growing up, she loved to sing for family gatherings and at school functions. Chickie began her professional career (after her three girls were a little older) singing with her husband's show, and she would later play back up for the group on the upright bass fiddle. Her first appearance with the Doc Williams Show was in August of 1946 at the Tyler County Fair in West Virginia, and she won the audience over with her sweet, soft voice and traditional country songs.
In 1948, Chickie had a "hit" record, based on her original arrangement of the hymn "Beyond the Sunset," with the reading "Should You Go First and I Remain." Soon after its release on Wheeling Records, "Beyond the Sunset" was charted #3 in Billboard trade magazine's Top 100 Country Music Songs. Hank Williams and Red Foley, among many others, immediately came out with their own recordings of Chickie's arrangement. Chickie Williams is loved by her many fans for the purity of her vocal arrangements and her exquisite taste in choosing songs to record. Chickie Williams, beloved wife, mother, and grandmother, passed on in November of 2007, at age 88, after a lengthy illness. Doc and Chickie are greatly missed by family, friends and fans.
Here are some historical facts about Doc and Chickie:
- Doc and Chickie Williams were inducted into Jamboree USA's Walkway of Stars as two of Jamboree's most enduring and popular entertainers. In 1987, they celebrated Doc's 50th Anniversary on the Jamboree with a special videotaped concert at the Capitol Music Hall in Wheeling (the home of Jamboree USA). The couple also celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 1989 with a special videotaped concert, again at the Capitol Music Hall.
- Doc was a member of the World's Original WWVA Jamboree for 61 years. Chickie was a member for 52 years.
- Doc and Chickie were married on October 9, 1939, in Winchester, Virginia.
- The city of Wheeling honored Doc Williams by inducting him into the Wheeling Hall of Fame in 1984,
in the Music and Fine Arts category. The state of West Virginia, by gubernatorial proclamation, has hailed him as "West Virginia's Official Country Music Ambassador of Good Will." Doc and Chickie Williams were honored by the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame as 2009 Inductees. They were also honored by the West Virginia State Legislators by having a stretch of Interstate 70 named for them (near Wheeling Hospital): "The Doc and Chickie Williams Highway--Country Music's Royal Couple."
- At one time, Doc was a leading artist for Quality Records in Toronto, Canada, and his Quality record of "The Cat Came Back" became a Gold Record in Canada.
- An astute businessman as well as entertainer, Doc designed and published his own Doc Williams Simplified By-Ear Guitar Course in 1942, and sold over 200,000 copies over several 50,000 watt radio stations, such as KXEL (Waterloo, Iowa), WCKY (Cincinnati, Ohio), XEG (Mexico), and WWVA (plus many other stations). These guitar courses were promoted through Doc's self-produced 15-minute radio shows, featuring himself, Chickie, and members of the Border Riders, plus Doc's own acoustic guitar picking.
- Doc and Chickie were graduates of the University of Hard Knocks, the world's only honorary society for persons who are successful without benefit of a college degree. The annual commencement activities are held on the campus of Alderson-Broaddus College in Philippi, West Virginia. Among the graduates of UHK are U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, Sam Walton, and U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater.
- Doc was a "Kentucky Colonel" and a "Distinguished West Virginian." He and Chickie were made honorary citizens of the state of Maine; and they both have received various awards, throughout the years, from the states of Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire, plus several provinces in Canada. Doc was a lifetime member of the Country Music Association in Nashville.
- WWVU-TV (now WNPB-TV), Public Television for West Virginia, produced two half-hour programs titled Country Moods featuring Doc and Chickie Williams and the Border Riders. The programs were beamed out to the more than 200 TV stations in 1976-1977 over the PBS Network. WWVU-TV later videotaped four more thirty-minute TV programs.
- Two songs closely associated with Doc are the old English folk songs, "My Old Brown Coat and Me," and "Mary of the Wild Moor." Two songs closely associated with Chickie are "Beyond the Sunset" with the reading "Should You Go First and I Remain," and the old folk song, "In the Baggage Coach Ahead."
- Many of Doc and Chickie's recordings (CDs), Doc's book, "Doc Williams Looking Back," and his Doc Williams Simplified By-Ear Guitar Course, are available at our online store www.docwilliams.com or by writing Doc Williams Enterprises, PO Box 902, Wheeling WV 26003.