During his lengthy career, Ferlin Eugene Husky established a reputation as one of country music's finest entertainers.
December 3, 1925
March 17, 2011
He was born in Cantwell, Missouri, on December 3, 1925, and grew up on a farm. He was named Ferland after one of his father’s friends, but his birth certificate nevertheless read “Ferlin,” and the spelling stuck.
An uncle taught him guitar before age ten; tuning the family radio to KMOX-St. Louis, he heard smooth-singing favorites Red Foley, Gene Autry, and Bing Crosby. Husky met a veteran of the Merchant Marines while working in St. Louis in the early 1940s, and after Pearl Harbor, he rushed to enlist. On D-Day he served as a volunteer gunner on a troop ship off the beach at Cherbourg, France.
After the war Husky sang in St. Louis honky-tonks, then headed for California in the late 1940s and started performing with other musicians. Former Gene Autry sidekick Smiley Burnette recruited him for a multi-state tour and persuaded Husky to adopt the name Terry Preston. Subsequently, Husky returned to California and hooked up with Ole Rasmussen, Smokey Rogers, and others prominent on the club circuit. Through regular performances on Cliffie Stone’s Hometown Jamboree radio and TV series, Husky won audiences with his singing, comedy, and impersonations.
Next, Husky became a disc jockey on Bakersfield radio station KBIS. Here he developed his comic alter-ego Simon Crum, based on the popular radio characters Lum & Abner and on Simon Crump, a friend and neighbor from his youth. Hilarious dialog between Husky and “Simon” boosted sponsors’ sales and helped prove country music’s selling power.
At Bakersfield’s Rainbow Gardens club, Husky headlined family-friendly shows and hosted children’s talent contests. At one such event he met twelve-year-old Dallas Frazier, and soon steered him to Capitol Records. Husky also mentored Tommy Collins (born Leonard Sipes), recommending him to the label as well. Husky played guitar on Collins’s early recordings and renamed him when someone ordered a Tom Collins drink during a session.
By 1950, Husky was recording for independent 4 Star Records and writing songs for 4 Star Music. With help from Cliffie Stone (a Capitol producer), Husky moved up to Capitol in early 1953, using his Terry Preston moniker until producer Ken Nelson advised him to record under his real name.
Husky’s first Capitol success was the smash hit “A Dear John Letter,” on which featured artist Jean Shepard sang choruses punctuating Husky’s recitation as a soldier whose sweetheart has decided to marry his brother. With the Korean War still underway, the recording entered Billboard‘s country chart in July 1953, shot to #1, and crossed over to #16 pop. Capitalizing on their success, the duo toured widely-after Husky was officially named guardian for Shepard, not yet twenty-one. Later in 1953 they notched a #4 country hit with the answer song “Forgive Me John.” Nineteen fifty-five brought Husky three solo Top Tens: “I Feel Better All Over (More than Anywhere’s Else),” “Little Tom,” and “Cuzz Yore So Sweet,” his first hit as Simon Crum.
In 1956, Husky re-recorded a song he had earlier released on Capitol as Terry Preston—Smokey Rogers’s “Gone.” Preparing for the session, held at Nashville’s Bradley Studio, Ken Nelson asked Jordanaires leader Gordon Stoker to recruit a soprano vocalist; Stoker asked Millie Kirkham to assist. Combined with echo and sparse instrumental support, the background singers heightened the drama of Husky’s distinctive vocal on a recording widely regarded as the first example of the Nashville Sound production approach. “He didn’t sound like anything or anybody else,” legendary producer Billy Sherrill affirmed. A #1 country hit, “Gone” peaked at #4 on the pop charts.
Husky had worked the televised version of Springfield, Missouri’s Ozark Jubilee in 1955 and then moved to the Grand Ole Opry. “Gone” propelled him to network television appearances on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts—including spots as guest host—Kraft Television Theater, The Ed Sullivan Show, and eventually talk shows hosted by Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, and Merv Griffin. Husky had to give up his Opry slot, but TV exposure introduced him to millions of viewers.
He struck pay dirt again with “Wings of a Dove,” a gospel classic penned by RCA Nashville producer Bob Ferguson. During 1960-61, this upbeat recording became a huge crossover hit, reaching #1 country and #12 pop. Through 1972, Husky charted regularly on Capitol and broke the Top Ten with “Once” (1966-67) and “Just for You” (1967-68). He switched to ABC in 1973 and had his last chart-making single in 1975. His fifty-one charting country sides include his Simon Crum hit “Country Music Is Here to Stay” (#2, 1958-59). In 2005 he released the Heart of Texas album The Way It Was (Is the Way It Is).
Recording success landed Husky featured roles in a number of movies. These included Mr. Rock & Roll (1957), Country Music Holiday (1958), and The Las Vegas Hillbillys (1966).
But Husky made his most lasting impression as a live performer. He toured widely in the United States and abroad. “There were a lot of years when nobody in the business could follow Ferlin Husky,” Merle Haggard attested. “He was the big live act of the day. A great entertainer.”
Husky was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 and was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010. -Don Roy and John Rumble
-Adapted from the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s Encyclopedia of Country Music, published by Oxford University Press.