Born Mary Jo Kath, 27 October 1924, Talawanda, Illinois
Country and rockabilly performer Bonnie Lou grew up listening to Prairie Ramblers recordings featuring the yodeling cowgirl vocals of Patsy Montana. Bonnie also learned to yodel, both through those old records and the influence of her Swiss grand- mother. She also studied violin and guitar as a child. By 1 6 , she was singing on a radio show in Bloomington, IL; two years later, she was performing as Sally Carson with the Brush Creek Follies radio variety show, airing each Saturday from KMBC in Kansas City. The Brush Creek Follies program was regularly broadcast nationwide through the Columbia radio network. This valuable exposure led Bonnie ( or Mary, as she was still called then) to WLW in Ohio, where station exec Bill McLuskey hired her as a singer and yodeler with his Midwestern Hayride country & western radio program. He was also the one who christened Mary with the Bonnie Lou moniker. While with the Hayride, Bonnie performed regularly with the Girls of the Golden West, a cowboy yodeling combo she used to hear on WLS as a child. While a few of her radio performances were cut to acetate and eventually released, it wasn' t until the 1950s that Bonnie had any real success as a recording artist. Signing with the local Cincinnati label King in 1953, Bonnie had country hits with "Seven Lonely Days" and " Tennessee Wig Walk", both of which made the Top 10 in that year.
Seven Lonely Days! How well I remember the song. It was played frequently on Dutch radio, not only in the year it came out, but for many years after that. I wouldn' t know if this was the Bonnie Lou version or the Georgia Gibbs cover, which went to #5 on the pop charts. Maybe both. There were one or two Dutch covers (" Zeven Dagen Lang") and my older sister bought the sheet music and played it on the piano.
"Tennessee Wig Walk" also did well in Europe, climbing to #4 in the UK in 1954, on Parlophone. When the rockabilly sound hit, Bonnie recorded "Daddy-O" for King; the single went to #14 on the Billboard charts in 1955-1956. The Rusty York duet " Lah Dee Dah" followed in 1958. After another uneventful duet with York, Bonnie left King for another Cincinnati local, Fraternity. There she released several singles, though none found the success her early work for King had. " Friction Heat" is a good rocker, available on the Ace CD "All- American Rock 'n' Roll: The Fraternity Story, Vol. 2 ( Ace 822). Bonnie also continued to work with the Midwestern Hayride, which by this point had spun off the television program Louisiana Hayride. She eventually retired from the business and settled in Cincinnati with her husband, Mort.
Bonnie' s choice to work and live in Cincinnati prevented her from finding the nationwide fame that a contract with a major label would have. However, she was a prime mover in the first days of rockabilly, and has seen many of her early recordings reissued.
CD: Doin' the Tennessee Wig Walk : Best of King ( Westside WESF 102). Released in 2000. 26 tracks. There' s also a Dutch bootleg, " Bonnie Lou Sings" ( Globe, 31 tracks), which mixes King and Fraternity recordings.
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