About The Artist
Leonard Harrsion Aleshire was born in Christian County, Missouri in the town of Aladyl. He spent most of his young life in Dade County. Lennie's grandmother was one-half cherokee Indian and his grandfather was an Englishman. He was proud of his heritage.
He developed his musical skills at an early age. A 1946 article mentions he was playing the violin when he was just six years old, then he learned the guitar and banjo. He would continue learning musical instruments, becoming quite a versatile entertainer. Even more interesting is that he played the instruments by ear - he was said to be able to hear a tune once and was able to play it without having to hear a repeat of the tune.
His gift of playing musical instruments was no small thing. It seems early on he was a part of a class in Dadeville, Missouri. Lennie had taken the class because he wanted to learn to read music as well. But after the instructor heard him play, watching him tuning the instruments for other students, the teacher took Lennie aside. He told him "Lennie, I can't teach you a thing, you had a gift given to you, I almost envy."
Lennie attended various elementary schools in the different towns his parents moved to. Even then, he was developing his entertainment talents, always creating some stunt to amuse his school mates.
This same 1946 article notes that Lennie was "...so busy with local entertaining making fair wages then at an early age he had no thoughts for more schooling as many at that time taught school on an eight grade certificate. Lennie's education has progressed by personal experiences. A good example of character rather than degree making a gentleman."
When he was 15 years old, he made his home with the Creek Indians near Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. The article we learn this from doesn't explain why he was living with the tribe then, perhaps already leaving his parents to make his way in the world. He became well versed in their ways and customs and could speak their language fluently. He even did lecutres back east about the customs and history of the Indians.
His travels took him back to DAde county, still a young man. In 1910, his father died. In 1914, he lost his mother. After that, his brother John and sister Lida shared a home together for a time. Their other brothers Robert and Noah had married and had their own homes.
Mable Tunnell wrote in a reprinted article in 1946 that the Aleshires lived just east of Dadeville and were known to be some of the best musicians around. Lennie and his brother John played the violin; their sister Lida joined in on the guitar. It was said that if you were having a party or get together and mentioned "...the Aleshires would be there.", you were certain to have a full house of guests.
During this early time of his career, L. T. Dunaway and Tom O'Connell had a silent movie at the Sky Dome in Dadeville. The Aleshire Trio put together their first show thre in vaudeville. Lennie was always the blackface boy.
In 1916, the three of them moved to west of Dadeville and while there, Uncle Sam called Lennie to serve in World War I. He passed his physical easily and while waiting for assignment, life dealt him a blow. It was in 1917. He was working with a circle saw and had an accident where three fingers off his left hand were cut off. That left his thumb and little finger. That led to a new nickname for him, the "One Finger Fiddler". After that accident, Uncle Sam gave him a reprieve from service.
After the accident, he thought he would not play the fiddle again. But over time, the hand healed and the shock of the experience began to wear off. One day, he picked up the violin again to pass away the time to see what he could still play. He couldn't play some of the tunes he used to, but could still master quite a few others.
He also made quite a few of his own instruments. He made an electric guitar from a dresser drawer (no mention is made of what year he may have done this), a fiddle from a cigar box, musical broom stick, soap box, cow bells, bottles and other things along that line.
He was also a bit of a songwriter. He had a daughter named Iva, who was living in Baxter, Kansas at the time (remember the article was written in 1946, so some time passed from that early 1917 time frame). He started playing a tune one day while relaxing and thinking of his daughter at the same time. Thus, the tune "Iva Waltz" came to be.
He wrote another tune, "My Old Saddle Pal" that was done in a movie by Gene Autry in 1936, "The Singing Cowboy". Lennie is also credited with writing other tunes such as "Sleepy Time Waltz", "Ozark Waltz", "Blackberry Jam", "Ukelele Melody".
He wrote another tune based on his experience as the chief engineer at the Nixa cheese factory in 1926 where he was part of a team that installed a 25 horse power boiler. He started whistling a line and later started playing it on one of his instruments. His friends called it the "Nixa Fling". Ms. Tunnell wrote that he got more fan mail for that number than any other one he played.
1926 was also the year he met his wife, Mae, who was described as a "...charming little brunette lady of 5 feet and 3 inches, weighing less than 100 pounds." Mae had a son Kenneith Chestnut from a previous marriage. Lennie proudly pointed out that Kenneth was a seamn 1st class in the U. S. Navy at the time (1946) and had fought in some major battles in the South Pacific theatre, where his ship at been torpedoed once and struck by kamikaze planes twice.
Lennie entertained quite a few different lines of employment through the years according to Ms. Tunnell. He worked at the Ascues Saddlery of Kansas City. He worked with a railroad for several years and could tune an engine as well as a violin. He would still go down to the rail yards and talk with the older engineers and firemen.
He played professional baseball for three seasons, even after losing those three fingers. But eventually, he turned to the entertainment field. He joined up with McMae Hill and became a member of the company of professor Sage, who was a master magician and ventriloquist.
He spent two years with the Cauble Brothers circus, traveling throughout the midwest. He worked with Dawes the Great - who was said to be Argentina's greatest wizard, and Lennie would say he was the best magician he ever saw. Lennie worked a lot in vaudeville, including as a tap dancer, even doing Indian dances as well. He traveled with Roy Wrightsman, who was a saxophonist from Springfield, Missouri, where they appeared in various Oklahoma theaters. Lennie was also hired on to work the Bert Levy circuit on the west coast.
Entertainer and Musician, Leonard Harrison "Lennie" Aleshire teamed up with Floyd Rutledge and joined the "Weaver Brothers and Elviry" vaudeville act in the 1920's as "Flash and Whistler". According to a 1946 article, he joined the Weaver Brothers show in 1928. It was this stint that led to him meeting Goo Goo Rutledge and creating the act they would become known for. The duo were better known as "Lennie and Goo Goo" and were admired by fans around the world. It was said that Lennie used that time to showcase many of his self-made musical instruments.
In 1937, Lennie found himself in Wheeling, West Virginia, working on WWVA for several months. He also later worked at WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio and WMMN. While he was at WWVA, he worked with Dale Parker, who was noted for his banjo recordings. He and Dale worked together as part of the Rhythm Rangers for about a year. Later, Dale and Lennie would join the KWTO staff in August of 1944(?). We question that year as the reprinted article wasn't dated and the 1946 reprint mentions that Lennie came back to KWTO in 1944.
Today it would be unheard of to mention where an artist lived, for fear of the paparazzi tailing them, but the 1946 article notes that Lennie and his wife found a nice home on West Kearney Street in Springfield.
Lennie and Goo Goo were personal friends with Louis Marshall "Grandpa" Jones and worked with him on a radio show in West Virginia before returning to Springfield, Missouri. Ivan Tribe wrote in his book on country music history in West Virginia that Grandpa Jones came to WMMN in Fairmont in 1939 and formed an act called Grandpa Jones and his Grandsons. The Grandsons consisted of Lennie Aleshire, Loren Bledsoe and Harold Rensler. According to Mr. Tribe, Grandpa Jones stayed on the WMMN staff for a couple of years before moving back to Wheeling.
Lennie and Goo Goo joined the "Korn's-A-Krackin" radio show on KWTO in Springfield and made regular appearances on the ABC-TV television show, "Ozark Jubilee" (1955-1961) which was hosted by Red Foley.
The Ozark Jubilee which later became "Country Music Jubilee" then "Jubilee USA" had a weekly viewing audience of 25 million people.
In a 1947 issue of KWTO's "The Dial", we read in "The Spotlight" column a bit of a humorous road story of Lennie and Goo Goo. It seemed during their summer tour one year, they were to drive from St. Joseph to Omaha one evening. Goo Goo fell asleep before he could give Lennie any directions. When Goo Goo woke up, the duo found they were two miles from the Minnesota state line and still just as far from Omaha as when they started the drive. The columnist wrote that it was similar experiences that led to the KWTO performers making sure Goo Goo woke up in time to make the broadcasts.
Lennie and Goo Goo were pioneers that set the stage for what's known as "hillbilly music". They were famous for their comedy and musical talent by playing cow bells and their crude homemade instruments. Today, those instruments are on display in the Ralph Foster Museum at the College of the Ozarks in Hollister, Missouri.
Due to the musical uniqueness of the cow bells, Grandpa Jones started using them in his act after he joined WSM's Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.
Porter Waggoner, Billy Walker, Leroy Van Dyke and Brenda Lee are among other Nashville country music recording artists that worked with Lennie and Goo Goo during the Ozark Jubilee era, credit Lennie as a great showman, dancer, musician, that taught them about stage presence.
When he was twelve years old, he lost three fingers on one hand in a sawmill accident. Despite his digitary loss, he was able to master the fiddle and any other instrument he could get his hands on.
Lennie told Mable Tunnell in an article she wrote for the Greenfield Vedette that he had a motto, "Smile and the world smiles with you" and tried to leave everyone with a smile.
Credits & Sources
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