On Saturday, April 3, 1948, the “Louisiana Hayride,” America’s newest live country radio show, debuted over KWKH in Shreveport. Staged at the city’s Municipal Auditorium, it became a launching pad for artists who would become worldwide icons – the reason the show was soon nicknamed the “Cradle of the Stars.”
The “Hayride” elite speak for themselves: Hank Williams (its first big star), Webb Pierce, Johnny Horton, Faron Young, Jim Reeves, Bob Luman, Slim Whitman, Johnny Cash, George Jones, and the show’s most illustrious graduate, Elvis Presley. The show also featured top guest stars, among them Eddy Arnold, Roy Acuff, Jimmy Martin, June Carter, Grandpa Jones, Loretta Lynn, Roger Miller, Ray Price, and Ferlin Husky. All offered strong and relaxed performances, accompanied by their regular bands.
This lavishly packaged 20-disc boxed set starts at the beginning. Disc one offers rare KWKH airchecks, plus singles by recorded at the station’s studios by “Hayride” stars.
The remaining discs offer selected shows from 1948-65, with mostly good to excellent audio. Two historic moments: Elvis’ 1954 debut and Hank Williams’s dramatic November ’52 return after the Grand Ole Opry fired him over his drinking. His earlier vigor gone, with barely two months to live, Hank struggles to sing “Jambalaya.” Horton, who never left the “Hayride,” is heard often, including a dazzling 1956 performance of his then-current hit “Honky Tonk Man.”
Talented instrumentalists were part of the cast. Among the alumni: future guitar legends James Burton, Jerry Kennedy, and Reggie Young. Kennedy, then in high school, was already recording rockabilly and playing juicy electric guitar. From there, he’d become an A-list Nashville session guitarist and producer.
Steel guitarist Jimmy Day and pianist Floyd Cramer of the “Hayride” staff band, later found fame in Nashville. At a ’55 show, they uncorked a driving, bebop-flavored boogie instrumental.
Among the obscure pickers: Hoot Rains, who added distinctive steel guitar dimensions to Slim Whitman’s unique vocals and Horton’s straightforward guitarist Tommy Tomlinson. Jimmy Summey performed a blazing 1948 “Georgia Steel Guitar” as a sideman with Curley Williams and his western swing band the Georgia Pea Pickers. Little known guitarist Lucky Bob Davis performed a high-velocity “Water Baby Blues” and Jimmy Lee (Fautheree), later half the rockabilly duo of Jimmy & Johnny, tore things up in ’52 with “Jimmy’s Boogie.”
By the time the weekly “Hayride” folded in 1960 (it sporadically resurfaced until ’71), live country radio’s glory days were over. These discs, and the massive, lavishly illustrated hardcover book that accompanies them, exhaustively chronicles its existence, leaving no questions of its substantial and lasting legacy.
This article originally appeared in VG April 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.