Pee Wee King - By Jean Metcalfe
"Tennesse Waltz," the state song of Tennessee, has been recorded at least 500 times by different artists. Singer Patti Page made it a No. 1 Pop hit and took it to the No. 2 Country spot in 1951. Pee Wee King and his Golden West Cowboys, which included Redd Stewart, kept it on the Country charts for 35 weeks, where it peaked at No. 3 in 1948.
"Tennessee Waltz" was written by Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart in 1947. Although neither of the writers was born in Louisville, they both make their homes in this city, and have lived here for many years.
Pee Wee King's proudest moment was his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame
On January 24 I spoke with Pee Wee King at his home in the Brownsboro Road area, and, in a period of about three hours, he told me about his family and his musical career.
"Did you ever think of doing anything else besides playing music?"
I asked Pee Wee King that question as he showed me photographs that documented his long and illustrious career in the music business.
"Never," Pee Wee shot back.
Pee Wee King was born Julius Frank Kuczynski on February 18, 1914, in Abrams, Wisconsin, the son of a musician.
The elder Kuczynski had a polka band called The Goodnight Four Plus One. He also had a lot of charisma.
Young Frankie, who joined his father's group when he was in his teens, liked the way his father could hold the attention of an audience of 500-600 people. So, while still in high school, he started his own band, doing "Spike Jones kind of stuff." He called his group Frankie King and the King's Jesters.
Young Frankie followed the Big Bands of the day -- Jan Garber, Tommy Dorsey, Sammy Kay, Kay Kayser and others -- and would always go backstage to mingle with the musicians.
When Wayne King came to play a local ballroom, young Frankie King met "The Waltz King," who asked what his real name was. Kuczynski, he said.
Wayne King told Frankie that he had changed his own last name. It was Frankie's turn to ask what the older musician's real name was: Kolokowski. (I hope that's close!) The elder King suggested that the young musician "take a name that is short enough, and (one) they can't misspell. . . ."
Pee Wee spelled it out for me: "K-I-N-G, there's no way they can misspell (the name), so I took a lesson from a man who knew."
Pee Wee King had already made the name change when he met Mr. J.L. "Joe" Frank, who would become his manager, and whose daughter he would one day marry. The meeting came about, quite literally, by accident.
Frankie King and the King's Jesters were playing the Polish-American hour (they'd play a song in English then a song in Polish) on a radio show on a little station in Milwaukee.
Gene Autry and Mr. Frank, his manager, were involved in a minor auto accident in Autry's car, and the fender was rubbing on the tire. They pulled into a service station for a temporary repair, and occupied themselves by listening to the car radio.
The band they heard would play a song with English words, then one with Polish words. Mr. Frank thought they were pretty good and wanted to know the name of the group. The service station attendant said that the group was called Frankie King and the King's Jesters and that they were pretty popular around there. He said they played the local ballroom, as well as those in Waukesha and Milwaukee. Mr. Frank, who was looking for three musicians, called the radio station just after Pee Wee's group had finished playing, and asked to speak to the leader of the group.
"You got him," Frankie King replied.
"How many men you got?"
"Who plays the fiddle.
"I do," the leader said.
(By this time, Pee Wee King's account of the event was starting to sound like a George Burns routine.)
"Who plays the accordion?"
"Have you got a bass fiddle?"
"No, but we've got the tuba."
"What the h--- is a tuba? . . . Have you got a guitar player?"
"Yes. He sings."
"Well, we don't want a guitar player that sings because this is for Mr. Gene Autry."
"I said, 'Who the h--- is Mr. Gene Autry?'" (We both enjoyed the story tremendously.)
That was in 1932, and Frankie King and the King's Jesters were working every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They indeed had not heard of Gene Autry.
The association with Mr. Frank was a long and successful one.
Pee Wee told me that "Joe Frank was one of the all-time greats of the business." He mentioned that Frank had managed Fibber McGee and Molly and Ernest Tubb, as well as Gene Autry. "They loved him in Nashville. He had a little cubbyhole at WSM Radio in Nashville."
Mr. Frank was a savvy businessman and Pee Wee eagerly learned about the business from him. Joe Frank died in 1952.
In the mid-Thirties Pee Wee played for a year or two with a group in Louisville called the Log Cabin Boys.
Later, in 1937, Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys went to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry. When Pee Wee first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry stage, the program originated from a tabernacle, and it was presided over by George D. Hay, who was known as the Solemn Old Judge. Hay apparently had earned his nickname.
According to Pee Wee, the old gentleman didn't want any electric instruments on the Grand Ole Opry Barn Dance, and the show consisted mainly of string bands -- acts with names such as the Gulley Jumpers, the Cloggers, and the Fruit Jar Drinkers. And vocalists were little in evidence.
After Pee Wee and his band had been on the Opry a couple of weeks, Mr. Frank decided they would "spruce it up a bit." He invited the Kentucky National Champion Square Dancers to come down from Louisville as guests. That didn't go over very well with the pastor at the tabernacle. Pee Wee referred the pastor to Mr. Frank, and "Mr. Frank told him off," citing terms of the contract, but nevertheless they never had square dancers in the tabernacle after that one time.
Pee Wee was at odds with the Solemn Old Judge on a number of occasions -- because he wore fancy cowboy clothes, and for numerous other reasons. Pee Wee has been credited with introducing the drum and the trumpet to the Opry, to Hay's dismay. It has been said that the Solemn Old Judge told Pee Wee that he was at least ten years ahead of his time.
During the time they were regulars on the Grand Ole Opry, Pee Wee King and his band would travel to other cities to do performances. While in St. Louis for a performance at the Kiel Auditorium, Pee Wee heard Eddy Arnold on a local radio station. He was looking for a singer and he liked Arnold's voice, so he invited him to sing with them on the Grand Ole Opry. Arnold accepted the invitation.
"Would you want to work the stage show tonight?," Pee Wee asked.
"Sure, I've got my guitar in the car," Arnold replied.
"What song you wanna sing?"
"I'd like to do the song that you guys made the movie of, 'Gold Mine in the Sky.' I sing it in the same key that Gene (Autry) sings it." (King chuckles.)
Arnold agreed to sing the song on the Grand Ole Opry the following Saturday, and Pee Wee told him to "come by the house on Friday" to rehearse the song with the band.
"So Tuesday afternoon, a knock on the door, and I look and it's Eddie Arnold with his little old Plymouth and he said, 'Here I am.'"
King told Arnold that the band would get together the next day, and recommended a boarding house where musicians stayed. After a couple of days in the boarding house, Arnold moved in with Mr. and Mrs. Frank, the parents of Pee Wee's wife Lydia. Arnold later married Lydia's best girl friend, Sally, who was from LaGrange, Ky. The match was made by Pee Wee and Lydia who invited Sally and Eddie to dinner. "They hit if off right there," Pee Wee said proudly.
After Eddie and Sally were married, Arnold asked for a $10 raise.
"I said, 'Eddie, I can't afford it.' and I couldn't. No way," Pee Wee said emphatically.
Pee Wee said he might be able to go $5, but not $10. Arnold was at that time getting $5 for each day that they worked.
With the raise out of the question, Arnold reluctantly gave Pee Wee six month's notice that he would be leaving the Golden West Cowboys.
Pee Wee could hardly believe it had been six months when the time rolled around, but indeed it had. Arnold left to and started his own group, taking Pee Wee's steel guitar player Roy Williams and fiddle player Speedy McNatt with him. Pee Wee had extra men, and the parting did not leave him in the lurch. Arnold did well right away.
"It was like something was planned in his mind and he wanted to go out and this was the right time. From there he got a job on WSM with his group and then he signed up with RCA Victor Records, and he had ... one hit after another in the country music field. And then he got the big Purina show on television, so everything worked out fine for him. ... And we're still the best of friends," Pee Wee said.
(Pee Wee King, third from left, and the Golden West Cowboys at the Grand Ole Opry in about 1945. Eddy Arnold is second from right. From a souvenir folio.)
In 1938, Gene Autry, who had by then left Mr. Frank to go to California to try his hand in the movies, cast Pee Wee King and his original Golden West Cowboys as his band in the movie, "Gold Mine in the Sky." They provided back-up music and vocals and played for a square dance scene in the movie.
The song "Gold Mine in the Sky" was written by two brothers in New York, and Autry used it as the title for his movie.
Autry would hire bands from different parts of the United States to make pictures with him. "He always had 50,000-watters at that time." Pee Wee said that the savvy Autry would have the bands plug the movies months in advance on their radio shows.
"I was thinking about that the other day," Pee Wee told me, "how smart he was that he always took a big record hit and made a movie out of it."
Redd Stewart was living in Louisville and joined Pee Wee King as a member of the Golden West Cowboys in about 1941. His career with King was interrupted while he served in World War II, but he rejoined King upon his return. Over the years, the the Golden West Cowboys included, besides Stewart, Stewart's brother Gene, Cowboy Copas and Ernest Tubb.
J.L. Frank was also responsible for bringing Roy Acuff to the Grand Ole Opry. Acuff had been turned down by the Solemn Old Judge in a prior attempt to become a part of the Opry, because at that time he called his band The Crazy Tennesseeans. (Mr. Hay was "a very stern man," Pee Wee said, and Acuff was worried that he wouldn't be accepted this time. Nevertheless, he was scheduled for part of Pee Wee's segment of the show. They did two shows that one Saturday. Later on, at around Christmas time, Acuff did another Opry show and got a standing ovation. When asked if Acuff would be back, the Solemn Old Judge said, "Sure, why not."
During their Grand Ole Opry days, a funny thing happened to the group on the way to a performance at the high school in Mt. Vernon, Ind. As they passed by the high school in the afternoon, several hours before the show was scheduled to start, they noticed a huge crowd gathered. They were puzzled why such a large crowd was gathered so early for their appearance. Upon inquiring at a local filling station, and after working their way through a funny exchange of questions and answers and a telephone call to Mr. Frank, they eventually discovered that they were in the right town in the wrong state -- the performance was to be in Mt. Vernon, Ind., but they were in Mt. Vernon, Ill. The large crowd at the high school was gathered for the funeral of the local postmaster, which had been moved from the funeral home to the high school to accommodate the many friends and relatives of the deceased.
Fortunately, they were were only 40 miles or so from the other Mt. Vernon, and they made it in plenty of time.
(Pee Wee King told the story in "Who's On First" style, and I enjoyed his delivery.)
He told of another incident with a different band when he and three members of the group were in Virginia (the right place) and the other band members were in West Virginia. This one necessitated lining up several local musicians, including a marching-band drummer with only a snare drum. He explained the situation to his audience and told them if they wanted their money back they would have to go to the front door to get it, but promised them a good show. No one asked for a refund, he said. "We learned something," he said. "We learned to take the band background, like everybody else is doing now. I did that way back. And we never used it, either," he added.
Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart wrote "Tennessee Waltz" in 1947.
Here is how Pee Wee tells the story:
Del Roy polishes Pee Wee King's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
"We had played Texarkana, Texas, and coming back by way of Little Rock and Memphis, somewhere in the interim we -- at that time there were little roamer radios on the steering wheels -- and Redd (Stewart) was driving the luggage truck with Chuck, and the luggage truck had a dome light in it -- we were in the Cadillac at that time -- I always bought a Cadillac limousine -- and I said, 'Flash the lights and stop Redd. We're gonna switch.' "I liked to go in the truck with the dome light to make a routine for next week's work. We've got all these theaters and the hotels we're gonna stay in and what wardrobe we're gonna wear. So while I was in there with Redd -- he smoked black cigars, Cuban cigars, ohhh. "But anyway, to make a long story short, while I was doin' that he (Redd) said, 'Hey, King, how about you drivin' a while?' I said, 'Okay.'
"So we were listening to the WSM Radio disc jockey night show after midnight. I don't remember who the disc jockey was -- Red Murphy, or something like that -- and I've tried many times and he (Redd) has tried, but we couldn't figure out who it was. He always played country music records, naturally, to plug the Opry.
"And Redd said, 'By God, you know what, we're a couple of fools in our own way. We make a living at the Grand Ole Opry and ('That's a lie,' Pee Wee interjected mid-story, 'because we didn't get paid. What they did was plug our dates, and we'd have to give them commission of our grosses, report the grosses and everything.'). But anyhow, be that as it may, he (Redd) said 'They ain't a Tennessee Waltz ever.'
"We were listening to Bill Monroe introduce his new record of 'The Kentucky Waltz,' and I said, 'Well, whatta you think?' He said, 'I don't know, maybe.' So he looked around and didn't have any paper there, but he did reach in there to light a cigar and we saw a match box, and he just emptied all the matches in the glove compartment and took the ... match box and we used a little melody we used to have during the ASCAP-BMI war.
"You couldn't do ASCAP songs on the radio so we put together a melody and called it 'No Name Waltz' and cleared it as that. So we took the melody of the 'No Name Waltz' and put the words 'Tennessee Waltz' on there and they fit perfect."
The entire lyrics to "Tennessee Waltz" were written that night, and only one of those original lines was changed. In the bridge they had used the words, "Oh, the Tennessee waltz, the Tennessee waltz." That was later changed to the present-day "I remember the night and the Tennessee waltz." And, as the old cliche goes, the rest is history.
Things had gotten rough in Nashville in about 1946, and in October of 1947 Pee Wee reluctantly departed the Grand Old Opry.
When he told Hay that he had decided to take a chance on television, the Solemn Old Judge warned him that television was "a passing fancy."
Pee Wee told Hay, "I made a Western movie, and I know darn well that television is gonna be like a movie, and you're a bigger star ... and I'm not making it here."
Hay then said to Pee Wee, "I'm gonna tell you something, son. If you go there for a year and you don't make it, you can come back because everybody loves you down here."
"When I walked out of that office ... I grew ten feet," Pee Wee told me, "because nobody ever comes back to the Grand Ole Opry once you leave."
During one period, Mr. Frank had rented a tent from two black-face comedians, and they tried their hand at the tent-show circuit. After a couple of weeks, they realized that the Georgia-Alabama-Arkansas circuit had been "played to death," so they decided to take a chance and try the New England area.
"Boy, we died the death of a rag doll out there." The Grand Ole Opry was popular there, "but you had to go to the big cities where the radio stations were."
In the meantime Mr. and Mrs. Frank had a wreck in Shelbyville, Ky., and were hospitalized. Frank had been talking with Jimmy Cox, sales manager at WAVE Radio. Cox had talked with Frank and inquired if Pee Wee might like to come to Louisville to work. Frank told Cox that Pee Wee was restless at the time, an inquired what Cox could offer.
"We're going to go on TV starting in the Fall. He would be the first thing we would put on," Cox promised.
Cox also had plans for Pee Wee to do two radio shows, one in the front window of Bensinger's furniture store, and another sponsored by Oertel's beer. One was at noon and one was at 5:30 p.m. The radio shows would be a quick build-up for the new television show.
"I took my hat off and said 'You are watching WAVE Channel 5, the first television station in the state of Kentucky. Take it away boys.'"
"So you really helped them usher in television here in Louisville, didn't you?" I asked.
"Thanks to Jimmy Cox and Bob Kay. He (Kay) was my television announcer, and radio announcer," Pee Wee said.
At one point they were doing four television shows a week -- in Louisville, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Chicago. They traveled from city to city in their own bus.
During the Fifties, Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys, "the Nation's No. 1 Country-Western Band," traveled to personal appearances in their own airplane, a Lockheed Lodestar, with the words "Pee Wee King and His Boys, RCA Victor" painted on the side.
The shows were the group's main source of income, and when the shows came to an end, King broke the news to the band members. He wouldn't blame them if they left the band, he said, but they wanted to stick it out. So at his suggestion they agreed to take two weeks off to mull things over.
During that period King received a phone call from a gentleman in New York who had booked them a couple of times. He asked how they'd like to do a television show for Wiedemann's in Cincinnati.
"I says, 'Take it'"
They show was the Midwest Hayride, but they wanted "just a regular group" and would provide name personalities to appear with them.
They auditioned for the show at WLW in Cincinnati, and were snapped up on the spot. Their first guest was ... Patti Page!
Although Pee Wee has no regrets about choosing a career in the music business, he admits there were some hard times. There were times when they would travel a long distance to do a show, the weather would be bad, and the turn-out would be so small that they didn't even make expenses, since their payment was a percentage of the door.
But there were many good times.
Pee Wee was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in California in 1952.
Pee Wee said that one night Johnny Carson mentioned to his announcer Ed McMahan that his (Carson's) star wasn't being taken care of; people were stepping all over it and it was starting to wear. Shortly after that Pee Wee received a note from Del Roy, his former public relations man in Hollywood, which said: "As you can see, we do try to keep your Hollywood Star cleaned up!" Enclosed with the note was a photograph showing Roy polishing Pee Wee's star.
"He (Roy) did it of his own accord. He said, 'If McMahon can do that for Johnny, I can do that for you.'"
Pee Wee goes to Nashville about once every two months to attend Country Music Foundation meetings, where he serves as a vice president. Pee Wee is a past president of the Foundation.
He is also a past member of the Board of Directors of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, and he and Redd Stewart are members of NSAI's Hall of Fame.
At 5' 7" tall, Pee Wee King has earned his nickname. His wax likeness, made in California, for the Wax Museum in Nashville, was inadvertently made several inches too tall. The solution? "They took the boots off, sawed six inches off the legs, and stuck the boots back on!"
The proudest moment of Pee Wee's career?
"When I was inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame back in 1974, and I was able to join the illustrious group of country music greats. And they were all friends of mine, too, 'cause I knew every one of 'em."
One of that illustrious group was J.L. "Joe" Frank, who was inducted, posthumously, in 1967. Pee Wee's induction seven years later made them the only father-in-law / son-in-law comination in the Hall of Fame.
King told of doing a stint as a disc jockey at Louisville's radio station WINN, and every week he would feature a Hall of Fame member, "and I didn't have to refer to the library 'cause I knew most of them personally."
He said that just a few days before our meeting he was one of ten Hall of Fame members who were in Nashville to tape a segment for the Grand Old Opry's 65th anniversary program. During the taping Minnie Pearl said, "I know most of you and your children, so don't anybody say anything bad about them or I'll kill you."
The two-hour show aired on Saturday, January 19. Pee Wee said that at church the next day and later at restaurants, people would come up to him and say that it was the best Grand Ole Opry show they had ever seen.
At the taping Pee Wee met Garth Brooks and Clint Black for the first time. (Black was welcomed as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry that night.)
"What I like about them, they were so genuine." They said they were nervous, and asked Pee Wee if he was nervous when he first went to the Grand Ole Opry to perform. Pee Wee told them he felt like they were probably feeling right then.
King said that one of the funniest things he had ever seen happened at the taping of the anniversary show. It "was so typical of old-timers, we're so sure of ourselves ... that when they were filming, Roy (Acuff) and Minnie (Pearl) had a script to follow. Minne said her lines, and Acuff, whose eyesight isn't very good, ad libbed his lines. The floor manager -- "He is as big as Perry 'Refrigerator' with the Bears' football team, 340 pounds," King laughingly said. -- stopped the taping and called Acuff's attention to the correct words.
"Can you read that?" he asked Acuff.
"H--- no, I can't even see it." (The audience roared.)
"Not only can't I see that, I can't even see you!"
(It was a wonderfully funny story as Pee Wee told it.)
Pee Wee spoke fondly of the genuine affection he had for Acuff and Minnie Pearl.
Pee Wee and his wife had lunch with Foster Brooks and his wife when they were in town recently to organize Brooks' golf tournament. He told Pee Wee that Gene Autry had asked him to say hello.
Pee Wee mentioned that his wife, Lydia, had grown up with Autry. Her father, J.L. Frank, had been Autry's (and Pee Wee's) manager. Pee Wee spoke with emotion as he recalled Mrs. J.L. Frank's death.
"He (Autry) sent a telegram to me and it said, 'Dear Pee Wee, I feel now like I lost my second mother.'"
Pee Wee King has one sister and two brothers. Brother Gene is the owner of King's Record shop in downtown Louisville. Prior to that and after he came out of the Army, he was Pee Wee's road manager and publicist.
Rosanne Cash has an album called King's Record Shop, which depicts the singer standing in front of Gene King's shop. That came about when a drummer for the Everly Brothers, who was doing session work with Ms. Cash, told her manager about the quaint, old-time record shop. He showed a photo of the shop to Ms. Cash's manager. With one look at the picture, he said, "Now we've got a title for your album."
Pee Wee, in a later conversation about famous people having museums for their memoribilia, said that he doesn't plan one. He had talked with Eddy Arnold once about the subject, and Arnold said he didn't want a museum while he was alive. Pee Wee agreed with that thinking, but said that if some of the younger Kings were to start a business, he would possibly have them display his collection of memoribilia as a drawing card to the business.
Pee Wee took a minute to reflect on one of the ventures he is proud of:
When Redd Stewart returned from the war, he and Pee Wee formed a publishing company, Ridgeway Music, and they wrote exclusively for their company. Gene Autry eventually bought the company, which had a catalogue of some 470 songs, including "You Belong to Me" and "Slowpoke," both of which were tremendously successful hit songs.
"Tennessee Waltz" was in the catalogue of Acuff-Rose Publishing, which was subsequently sold to Opryland Music.
Pee Wee said that he and Redd Stewart are "still together," (but not writing songs anymore) and are booked at the Executive Inn in Owensboro, Ky., on February 16. There is talk of a performance in Evansville, Ind.
Local businessman William H. King is their manager.
Redd's brother, Gene Stewart, who at one time was a part of Pee Wee's Golden West Cowboys, but left because of illness, is a solo performer in Louisville, and, according to Pee Wee, "holds the record for the longest single engagement in any club in Louisville. He was at the Rodeway Inn for seven or eight years, Pee Wee said.
Pee Wee reminisced about an occasion when they held a reunion of old radio stars. Among those attending was Jethro of Homer and Jethro fame. (Homer had passed away.) The famous comedy duo had once worked with Pee Wee as his original comedy team.
"He (Jethro) told the funniest, morbid story I ever heard," Pee Wee told me, then told the story:
Homer and Jethro had a booking in Las Vegas, but Homer died before they could fulfill the contract. Jethro took along his brother-in-law Chet Atkins to take Homer's place. The Las Vegas rep asked, "Where's Homer?" (Jethro had been asked that question many times since his partner's death.)
Jethro: "I got tired of digging him up and standing him up in the corner."
Pee Wee King took me to his basement office where he showed me many interesting photographs and other memorabilia from his long music career. We passed by the exercise bicycle that he pedaled as part of his recovery from a stroke in July of 1978, and stopped to look at a swordfish mounted on the wall -- a Pee Wee King catch. ("Lydia caught one, too," he said.)
There were photographs of Pee Wee with Dolly Parton, with former Kentucky Governor Martha Layne Collins, and of Pee Wee riding in an open convertible as Grand Marshal of the Pegasus Parade. There was a photograph of the "Tennessee Waltz" ride at Opryland, and others truly too numerous to mention. There were old 78 rpm records, an unopened Hank Williams Sr. CD that someone had given him. ("I'm not interested in it," he said of CD technology. "My brother Gene will not put it in his record shop either, because the people that he deals with can't afford a machine to begin with.")
There was a cap from a friend in Gary, Ind. It was one that the steelworkers had made up for the old-timers, and the friend had wanted Pee Wee to have one.
On the basement wall there were likenesses of King family members drawn by a handicapped woman Pee Wee had met in his travels. There was an old Wurlitzer juke box from about 1948. It was covered up now, but it had once occupied a prominent spot on the basement floor that had held as many as a hundred dancers in days gone by.
"Was 'Tennessee Waltz' one of the selections on the Wurlitzer?" It was a rhetorical question.
On a rack hung a western costume, one of the few Pee Wee has been able to hold on to. He has given away boots, scarfs, costumes, etc. to the various barn dances and museums that have requested them.
"Do you or Redd still have that match box with the original words to 'Tennessee Waltz' on it? I'll bet everybody asks you that question," I suggested, then waited for an answer.
Pee Wee: "Even Redd says, 'Why the he-- didn't you make me keep it?'"
Pee Wee King has a daughter and three sons. He also has five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Until just a little over a year ago, there were no grandsons to carry on King's name. Then, after more than twenty years of marriage, a son -- their first child -- was born to one of King's three sons. Pee Wee calls him the miracle baby. At the hospital, Pee Wee said of the baby's birth, "The last time that happened, three wise men came from the East!"
The two sets of grandparents got together recently to celebrate the child's first birthday. They couldn't be with him, so they called the boy's parents and told them they were celebrating the birthday, even though he wasn't present.
There were many photographs of the various family members in the King home. Pee Wee dotes on his family and spoke fondly of them.
The most discouraging time in Pee Wee's career was in 1978 when he suffered a stroke.
"I laid in that hospital bed and said, 'Lord, why me?'"
But he had a lot of determination, he said, and worked hard for the day he would be able to drive again. That came on a Thanksgiving Day some four months later.
Without telling his wife, he drove his station wagon to the corner to have the tires aired up. Lydia was alarmed when she discovered he had driven the car. When he returned, the first question to him was, "How do you feel?"
"Just as good as ever."
Did he ever think of getting out of the music business?
"You can't get out of it, once you're in it."
Advice to struggling musicians?
"Never give up. Always look for means of advancement. Be at the right place at the right time with the right material -- Lady Luck."
To our readers, Pee Wee would like to say:
"Thank you for all your support and for being there ... and I'm able to enjoy all the friendship now. And I do. People I met 25-30 years ago are still my friends.
"What is the question that you get tired of being asked?" I wondered.
"I can answer for both Redd and I: 'How much money did "Tennessee Waltz" make?'"
"I wasn't going to ask that question," I quickly said.
Summing up his career in the music business, Pee Wee told me:
"If I could do it over, I'd do it the same way, because the bottom line is -- I'm still here."
Happy 77th Birthday, Pee Wee King! We wish you many, many more.