Country singer and songwriter who boasted Elvis as his support act in the 1950s
Published 12/06/2011 | 05:00
Ferlin Husky, who has died aged 85, was a country singer and songwriter whose telegenic good looks and energetic showmanship helped him sell more than 20 million albums in a career spanning seven decades; he also developed a slapstick alter ego called Simon Crum, through whom he deployed a gift for mimicry to impersonate other artists.
Husky's work influenced two musical styles. His early 1950s' session work as a guitarist in California, for example, helped shape the trebly, aggressive style later known as the "Bakersfield sound". In contrast, his huge 1957 hit Gone became the blueprint for the lushly orchestrated style of mainstream country, dubbed "The Nashville Sound".
For much of the 1960s, the latter became the default mix for producers anxious to sweeten the "twang" of country music as rock 'n' roll began to eclipse it. This success was largely down to Elvis Presley, who had performed as Husky's support act in the mid-1950s tours, when Husky was the bigger star. "How many people can say Elvis Presley opened shows for them?" he reflected half a century later.
Ferlin Eugene Husky was born on December 3, 1925, in Cantwell, Missouri. As a child he learned guitar from an uncle and then joined the Merchant Marines in his teens, transporting troops across the Channel for D-Day. After being discharged in 1946, he married Irma Jean Hollinger -- the first of four wives.
They lived briefly in St Louis, where he began playing for tips in local bars (adopting the stage name "Tex Terry" because neither of his parents approved of his going into showbusiness), before relocating to Bakersfield, California, which then had a fertile music scene.
There he met Gene Autry ("the Singing Cowboy") and began working as an extra in movies and performing on the country music radio show Hometown Jamboree. In 1949, he signed his first recording contract as "Terry Preston", having been persuaded that his real name sounded too fake. Switching to Capitol in 1952, he recorded an early version of Gone, which flopped, but in 1953 had his first hit, A Dear John Letter. The following year he made what some considered the first anti drink-drive message song -- The Drunken Driver. But the song also won less welcome accolades, and some critics named it one of the worst records ever made.
In 1955, Husky moved to Nashville, joining the Grand Ole Opry, which was broadcast on NBC. He was expelled, however, after his second version of Gone crossed over into the American pop charts, and he joined the rival CBS network's show, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. The move did launch a brief film career, though, which began with Husky playing himself alongside Little Richard and Chuck Berry in the 1957 film Mr Rock and Roll.
Husky scored another major success in 1960 with the country gospel hit Wings Of A Dove, and although no subsequent releases topped this he had frequent chart hits until the mid-1970s, after which he largely ceased recording.
In 1977, he underwent open-heart surgery, which limited his subsequent career, although he continued to tour with his band, the Hush Puppies.
He gave up drinking in 1988, and began to focus more on religious material. Despite several more heart operations, he kept performing until recently.
In 2005, he recorded his final album, The Way It Was (Is The Way It Is), which includes two duets with his partner, Leona Williams.
Ferlin Husky, who died on March 17, was married four times and had nine children. His youngest son, Danny, was killed in a car accident in 1970. His partner and eight children survive him.