KED KILLEN & Western All Stars: Virginia/Kentucky late ’60s Hillbilly Bop

KED KILLEN was born on May 10, 1911 in Jenkins, Kentucky and raised there. From the time he was a teenager until 25 years of age, Killen sang and played the guitar only locally with other musicians at neighborhood meet-togethers and in Virginia.

He had compiled a group of musicians which he named Western All Stars. Early ‘50s he had a record on the Johnson City, TN, Rich-R’-Tone label. In 1957 he cut a disc for the microscopic Grundy, Va., Kyva label, a Starday custom. It was a gospel influenced very fine Hillbilly bop.

« Crying blues « (Rich-R’-Tone, 1954) download

kyva 707 ked killen


No more opportunity came Ked’s way to record until he had seen an ad and write-up on Western Ranch Music record label run by Norm Kelly, out of Thornton, Ca. It was in early 1966 when he contacted the company with an audition tape. The company liked his down-to-earth country sounds and signed him to a recording contract on August 1, 1966. Until retiring in late 1969 playing only for family and friends Killen cut 20 sides for the aforementioned label. They have been recently reissued by Western Ranch.

wrm 119A killen hey

wrm 119B killen lonesome

Ked’s records had some very good ratings in various areas. Not too much has been known about his personal life, except he was married and had two children. Through the studio where he recorded in Virginia, Binge records (who re-released all his Western Ranch Music output) found out that he was working on another tape when illness and death struck his wife June, leaving him very distraught and depressed, until he became quite ill himself and passed away in 1986.

His music on Western Ranch (1966-69) could well have been cut 15 years earlier. His voice would have been suitable for the early ‘50s country sounds. His backing usually consists of Killen himself on vocal and rhythm guitar, steel and/or fiddle, st-b, sometimes an electric lead-guitar:  very sparse accompaniment which fits well his sincere vocal.

The poor picture of Killen is all what’s left from the Western Ranch Music vaults.

killen LP3

(reprinted from (D) Binge LP 1010 “Ked Killen and his Western All Stars – Country Music is here to stay”, 1989)

discography is to be found here: Ked Killen (Praguesfrank)


Addition (September 10th, 2012). A recent acquisition in an auction, another Ked Killen 45 on KyVa 101 (Kentucky-Virginia), « Lonesome Blues« / »Let Another Love Move In« . Similar style as Western Ranch music, although it’s very hard to determine if these KyVa sides were contemporary or earlier to Western Ranch Considering the earlier Kyva issue discussed was from early 1958, this should also fit in the same period. Anyway still good Hillbilly bop music! Also first mention of a backing group.

wrm 106-A  EP Ked killen WRM 119-B Ked killen Lonesome blues

wrm 106-A  EP Ked killen

early May 2010 fortnight

Hi! Here are my new favorites, be it Hillbilly bop, Bluegrass, Honky Tonk, Country rock-a-ballad, or even a bit of Western swing. CARL BUTLER was on Capitol, and cut mainly unclassifiable Hillbilly/Bluegrass sides. I’ve chosen his great « No Trespassing » from 1951, complete with hiccups and banjo/fiddle. Then to early Honky tonk with WEBB PIERCE. One of his very early sides on Decca (1951): « California Blues » (78 rpm – I will be moving soon, so already packed all my precious shellacs and can’t have a label scan). Back to Hillbilly bop with a fairly obscure artist, JACK HUNT (Capitol, 1953) and lazy vocal on « All I Can Do Is Sit Ad Cry ». A short insight into MERLE LINDSAY’s career. He fronted the Oklahoma scene from the mid-forties, and had numerous sides on many labels; here we hear « Mop Rag Boogie » (MGM). A nice Country Rockaballad from 1958 on the Sandy label out of Alabama by JOHNNY  FOSTER « Locked Away From Your Heart » (# 1028). I love his sincere vocal. Finally a late 60s Hillbilly Bop by KED KILLEN (Western Ranch), « Hey Pretty Mama ». I don’t know an awful lot of him, except that his style dates from at least 15 years earlier. Couldn’t find his work except on a Cattle LP moons ago, or a Tom Sims Cassette. Enjoy the selections! Bye…