Eddie Kirk, California Cityzed Hillbilly (1947-52)

Like many country artists of bygone years, Eddie Kirk is hardly known to contemporary audiences – in this case particularly surprising as he was among the first of the country music artists on Capitol Records to enjoy chart successes and one of the busiest musicians on the West coast scene in the post-war years. Yet, in the majority of the country music reference books, he doesn’t even warrant a footnote.
He was born Edward Merle Kirk on 21th March 1919 and, as his birthplace was a ranch near Greeley , Colorado, it was almost natural that the cowboy songs of the ranch hands, along with riding and roping, should have been part of his childhood. Such songs were inspirational and, by the age of 9, he was singing and tap-dancing to the accompaniment of a small local band in Greeley. Then, knowing many of the tunes by heart and accompanying himself on guitar, he won himself a daily 15 minutes show on a local radio station, earning $ 2.50 per week.
In spite of spending two years in college, majoring in civil engineering, music won out in his future ambitions. He joined the Beverly Hillbillies, a group led by Glen Rice, and touring the western states finally led him to Hollywood where he continued his radio performances. Returning to Colorado, he mixed singing with a bref period as a flyweight amateur boxer before joning Larry Sunbrook’s band in 1935. There, in addition to his fine voice and impressive guitar work, he showed off his yodeling skills and, for two consecutive years (1935-36), won the title of National Yodeling Champion.
Eddie Kirk’s career was suspended when he joined the US Navy and, after the ceasing of hostilities in 1945, he returned to Hollywood and quickly built up his reputation performing on Gene Autry’s radio show, playing guitar in Johnny Bond’s band, touring with the Andrews Sisters and making several movies, four with cowboy hero Charles Starrett for Columbia pictures.

He began his recording career in 1947 on Capitol Records, the label that had already secured country success with other western singers like Tex Ritter, Tex Williams, Jack Guthrie and Jimmy Wakely. Kirk soon added to the company’s success story with The Gods Were Angry With Me in 1948 and, the following year, with a cover of George Morgan’s Candy Kisses.. He continued recording for Capitol for another three years and, although he never achieved another chart entry, he did met his wife Barbara while signed to the label. She was the secretary of Lee Gillette, Capitol’s A&R chief and his record producer, and the two were married n 1949. After almost two dozen singles on Capitol, his recording career continued on King, RCA Victor and Volt.
In 1951 one of radio’s foremost first country music shows, Town Hall Party, was launched and, besides attracting crowds of almost 3,000 twice weekly, the Friday night shows soon gained a massive audience, thanks to transmissions on Pasadena’s KXLA, and the NBC network broadcasting the Saturday shows. Eddie Kirk became one of its regular performers, joining an impressive « who’s who » of West Coast country music talent that included Tex Ritter, Eddie Dean, Rose Lee and Joe Maphis, Tex Williams, Wesley and Marilyn Tuttle, Freddie Hart, the Collins Kids and Johnny Bond, with the show making even greater impact when segments starting being seen on television via Los Angeles’ KKTV channel.

Keeping up an almost full time schedule, Kirk was also being heard daily on a KXLA morning disc jockey show, Harmony Hoedown as well as being a member of the Hometown Jamboree group, one of the offshots of Clffie Stone’s highly successful West Coast operations. The group, which ncluded Kirk playing rhythm guitar and singing, had over 300 members and guests during its ten years duration and was a serious rival to Spade Cooley’s Hoffman Hayride broadcasting at the same time until its station, KTLA, enticed Stone’s show into its weely schedules with a substantial financial offer. The Hometown band additionnally doubled as Capitol Record’s country studio band.
Eddie Kirk was also a proficient songwriter, his biggest success being So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed, a number one record for Merle Travis, and co-penned with Travis and Stone. The same partnership also created Blue Bonnet Blues. Bright Lights And Blonde Haired Women proved a popular title for Tennessee Ernie Ford, while Kirk’s other originals included Sugar Baby, Please Don’t Cry Over Me, How Do You Mend A Broken Heart and Remember That I Love You.
In his later years, he became less engaged with the entertainment industry, devoting time to his family and a new-found love of flying. He died on 27 June 1997, aged 78 years.
Biography written by Tony Byworth

Eddie Kirk’s best bopping sides

(according to bopping Editor)

« Saturday Night Time Blues » (Capitol 974) : a boogie lead-guitar (Jimmy Bryant?) on a shuffle rhythm, certainly given by Cliffie Stone’s bass, a good steel (probably Speedy West) and a someway forceful vocal make this a very nice bopper cut in March 1950.

Blue Bonnet Blues

« Blue Bonnet Blues » (Capitol 1287) from April 1950 is one of the very best Kirk’s songs. Speedy West shines on a discreet steel as soon as the first christal notes of the song. He’s joined by Billy Liebert on accordion. There’s even an harmonica player for good on this shuffle beat superlative bopper.

The third selection is another shuffler, well suited to Kirk’s voice, who yodels gently during « Drifting Texas Sand » (Capitol 1591, from May 1951) : the usual batch of guitars, bass and harmonica (solo) comes up. From the same session I chose « Freight Train Breakdown » (Capitol 1790), a very fast song with drums and a very agile lead guitar by Jimmy Bryant (train effects by Speedy West on steel).

Cash Box July 7, 1951

Freight Train Breakdown

Cash Box September 29, 1951

In 1952 Kirk signed with RCA-Victor and cut two sessions. The first one provided a super bopper (fiddle) « Country Way » (RCA 47-5247), while he supplied us with a strange banjo led country-bopper, « Wanderin’ Eyes » (RCA 47-5287). And that was it.

Below is a partial selection of Capitol tunes Eddie Kirk played rhythm-guitar on.

Merle Travis

Kentucky Means Paradise
Cincinnati Lou
Crazy Boogie

Gene O’Quin

The Pinball Millionaire
Bustane Blues
Boogie Woogie Fever
No Parking Here
Texas Boogie

Jess Willard

Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor
Boogie Woogie Preachin’ Man

Skeets McDonald

Scoot, Git And Begone
Big Family Trouble

Tennessee Ernie Ford

I’ve Got The Milk ’em In The Morning Blues
Smokey Mountain Boogie
Mule Train
I’ll Never Be Free

Ramblin’ Jimmie Dolan

Hot Rod Race
Juke Box Boogie
Hot Rod Mama

Speedy West/Jimmy Bryant

Railroadin’
Crackerjack

Images and soundfiles from various sources.