The musical career of singer / pianist Wiley Barkdull is virtually inseparable from that of the brothers Rusty and Doug Kershaw.
Barkdull’s main instrument was the piano, but he may have played rhythm guitar as well, possibly at his live performances. A deep voiced Lefty Frizzell soundalike, he performed over Crowley’s KSIG alongside Jimmy Newman, Jim Toth and the Kershaws. Rusty, Doug and Wiley all started recording for legendary Crowley producer Jay (or J.D., if you prefer) Miller’s Feature label in 1953 or 1954. Very few of these recordings were issued at the time, but most of them (plus some KSIG radio transcriptions) finally appeared on the UK Flyright label in 1991. Barkdull’s record for Feature was “I’ll Give My Heart to You” (soon to be rerecorded for Hickory)/”Living a Life of Memories” (Feature 2006), which appeared in early 1955. It was the last release on the label, crediting the backing to Rusty & Doug and the Music Makers.
After Feature was wound down, Rusty and Doug were signed by Hickory Records in Nashville and Barkdull was also signed as an artist in his own right. Wiley’s deep bass voice contributes to many of Rusty and Doug’s recordings and so much so that his name was credited on almost all of the Rusty & Doug sides on which he appeared as a vocalist. In some cases, these harmonies are downright spectacular (“Kaw-Liga“, for instance). These fine Hickory recordings benefited in no small measure from a first-class accompaniment by the Nashville A-team, sometimes enhanced by the fiddle of Rufus Thibodeaux.
Barkdull’s solo recordings for Hickory (8 singles altogether) are a mixture of country in the Lefty Frizzell style, western swing and rockabilly. Songs in the latter category include the great two-sider “Hey Honey“/”I Ain’t Gonna Waste My Time” (Hickory 1074) and “Too Many“, which was covered by Ocie Smith (whose version got a UK release on London, while the original went unissued in the UK). “Too Many” (written by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant) was my first Barkdull experience, in the mid-80s [via the U.K. Magnum Force album « Hillbilly Rock – 20 Rare Tracks From The Hickory Vaults »].
It features a great guitar groove by Hank Garland and Ray Edenton, fine percussive sounds by Buddy Harman and Lightnin’ Chance (on bass) and a piano solo by Floyd Cramer. Most of Wiley’s Hickory material was written by J.D. Miller, with just one Barkdull co-writer’s credit. Rusty and Doug scored five country hits between 1955 and 1961, but for Barkdull’s solo recordings there was no chart success, in spite of their quality. His final Hickory release was a nice up-tempo treatment of Melvin Endsley‘s “Keep A-Lovin’ Me Baby“. After this last Hickory session Barkdull moved to Houston, and started to record for the All Star label in 1961, gaining seven releases by the time the label closed in 1964. The last anyone heard of him was that he was residing in Nederland, Texas, still playing the beer joints.
– Rusty and Doug Kershaw with Wiley Barkdull, Louisiana Men: The Complete Hickory Recordings. Ace CDCH2 992 (2 CD-set, 56 tracks). Released June 2004. Informative liner notes by Dave Sax.
– Rusty & Doug with Wiley Barkdull, The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions. Flyright FLY CD 35. Issued in 1991. 21 tracks.
Story by Dik De Heer, www.rockabillyeurope.com (Blackcat Rockabilly)