A ‘recitation’ song that first rose to popularity in the period following World War II, the deceptively titled “Deck Of Cards” actually carried a religious theme. It told the story of a young soldier trying to explain why he’s playing cards during a church service. The song has reappeared from time to time in the years since, and — depending on your point of view — is either inspirational or shamelessly manipulative.
Country singer T. Texas Tyler wrote the piece, although the idea behind it was nothing new. The song’s lyrics are similar to entries in an 1865 British publication, The Soldier’s Almanack, Bible And Prayer Book, and card games and other forms of gambling have always been a part of a soldier’s life.
T. Texas Tyler — who was born David Luke Myrick — came out of Arkansas in the Thirties, determined to make a career in country music. In fact, his stage moniker was a combination of the names of two established stars, Tex Ritter and Tom Tyler.
It was slow going in the early years, but after serving in the Army during the war he resumed his career and eventually began to sell some records. However, it was his 1948 recording of “Deck Of Cards” that made him a star, even though a few other singers — including his hero Tex Ritter — quickly jumped in with competing versions. (Ironically, the biggest hit of all was a version recited by future game-show host Wink Martindale in 1959 — see video below.)
Tyler was on top of the world for a while, following up with a big hit on another sentimental recitation song, “Dad Gave My Dog Away,” and even appearing in a Carnegie Hall concert. He also had his own TV show for a while and continued to do well in record sales with other songs like “Courtin’ in the Rain,” before eventually turning to gospel music. He died in 1972.