Claude King – Still Climbing That Mountain

In the early 1960’s I had a brief career as a small-town radio DJ, which might sound a little glamorous but I have to confess that I fell short of the ideal in several ways. Among my shortcomings was the fact that mine wasn’t the smoothest voice in broadcasting history, and I also sounded like a hick — not surprising, since that’s what I was. On top of that, my ability to ad-lib on the air — a very important skill — was about two steps below that of an industrial robot. But those were only a couple of my faults. I had others.

dj2For example, I was just plain stubborn about the music I played. Our small station didn’t have a program director so the supervision was a little lacking. The owner was pretty much the entire management team, and he was busy going out and trying to sell commercial time, so as long as I stuck to the station’s music library I could play just about anything.

The library consisted of a big shelf of LP record albums, a mix of easy listening, pop and country, and the idea was that we’d work our way from left to right, playing one song from each album. The problem was that I grew to have certain favorite songs, and that’s the song I’d play from each album every time through. The songs I liked were often the most popular from each particular artist anyway, so I suppose you could make the case that those tunes were also the favorites of our listeners (all six of them) but since I seldom played any of the other songs on the albums, they didn’t get a chance to find out for themselves.

An interesting side effect is that all these years later, whenever I hear one of those songs I’m immediately reminded of those days at the radio station. A good example is a piece that was one of my favorites, a story-song that was a huge hit for the singer and is still his most famous, even though he’s had over two dozen top-ten hits.claude2

Claude King came out of Louisiana in the post-war years, and although he had a lot of jobs in the early days, he was determined to make it in music. Working his way up through small clubs and radio appearances, he eventually earned a recording contract and began having some limited success. He continued to work hard at his craft through the 1950’s, and by 1961 had his first top-ten song, “Big River, Big Man,” followed that same year by “The Comancheros,” a song that sold well but was primarily recorded for the movie of the same name (and his version ended up not being used in the film).

It was the following year that Claude struck gold, with his mega-hit “Wolverton Mountain.” Written by Claude, teaming up with Merle Kilgore, the song was the story of the eccentric Clifton Clowers and his fight to keep his daughter safe from prospective husbands. It became a number one hit on the country charts and crossed over to the pop charts too. Along the way, it became Claude’s signature song.

Claude has had many other hits through the years, but has probably felt the weight of that one super-seller, judging from the name given to a huge compilation of his songs issued a decade or so ago — More Than Climbing That Mountain. In recent years, Claude has continued working and recording whenever possible.

(Later note: Claude King died in March 2013.)


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