Chuck Bowers was a tall, wavy haired hillbilly singer from Wichita, Kansas.
He had two sisters and two brothers and was the youngest in the family. His
father died when he was about 12, in 1933. His mother was living in California
Chuck was called into military service in 1942, serving in the 33rd
Infantry and served overseas in the Pacific arena until July 1943. He
was discharged from the service in 1945. He took a break for a while, then
started working in a department store in Pacific Grove where his mother
He later got a guitar and decided he wanted to move back to Wichita. There,
he started working with the Highway Department, but he kept thinking he
would get into radio and let music be his career.
In March 1948, he moved to Springfield, Missouri and got himself a job
on radio station KWTO. He achieved a great deal of popularity with the local
folks there with his singing style.
He appeared regularly on the famed "Ozark Jubilee" television show that aired
out of Springfield. He also did daily programs over KWTO and television
station KYTV. He did personal appearances with the Ozark Jubilee group. At one
time he was recording on the Decca record label.
In browsing through some of the old "The KWTO Dial" magazines, we find glimpses
of what Chuck was like and the shows he did. The program listings for KWTO
shows Chuck had a 9:00am radio show on Saturdays. By June, he had
moved to a daily slot at 8:00am. August saw his popularity still rising
as he was also doing a stint at 2:30pm, too.
In February 1949, the
weather was a big topic among folks at the station and they had a few notes
from Chuck who reported they didn't lose their electricity during the bad
bout of weather. His top coat got ripped and they finally found out how it
happened. It seems he was racing his then girlfriend, Jean Wickersham,
to the car, but she pulled on it to hold him back and that's when it got ripped.
They mentioned that Chuck didn't miss a night of the Golden Gloves Boxing
Tournament. It seems he did some boxing of his own when he was in the Army
and had a couple friends in the fight business. One of those friends fought
in Madison Square Garden, but they didn't mention a name. The other was
an old Wichita friend named Kurt Kennedy who he saw up in Chicago over
Christmas 1948 it appears and who had an exhibition match once with the legendary
boxer, Joe Louis.
Along the way, that girlfriend of his we saw mentioned became his wife, Jean
Wickersham. The got married on September 10, 1949. They were married
by Faust "Matt" Mathews at the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. A. Z. Matthews.
Jean's dad, John Wickersham was from Springfield. They wrote about their wedding
fashions and the reception they had at Jean's sister and brother-in-laws home,
Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Shaw. They were going to spend their honeymoon in
New Orleans, Louisiana, but on the way, Chuck experienced some paralysis
on the right side of his face that was caused by some kind of infection.
It became more acute by the time they had reached Little Rock, Arkansas,
so they had to return to Springfield. It took him a bit of time to get his
normal voice back as the infection subsided. They ended up in a three troom apartment
at the corner of Elm and National that they furnished with their wedding gifts.
By 1959, they had two daughters, Cindy Sue and Vicky Lynn. His fan club publication,
the "Jayhawk Songster" was to have the wedding picture in their October 1949 issue.
In another issue we find one of his sponsors was the Staley Milling Company. It seems
they had a gimmick whereby they were putting an actual wishbone in every
stack of their pultry feed and Chuck got into it so much, he wrote and asked
for one himself. But he got disappointed when he found out he couldn't enter
their contest - "Why I Like Chicken Every Sunday" - because he worked for them.
He grumbled a bit over not being able to win the $1,000 prize or a trip to
Chuck was a familiar face around town and the neighbors as he lived just
a short distance away from the station. Often those getting their coffee
in the afternoon at Bracken's would see him 'dawdling' down the street to the
station as they put it. In fact, the said if he "...were more easy-going than
he (was), he'd walk backwards."
Around mid-1949, Chuck was hopeful of getting a song he apparently wrote
recorded, as it had been accepted by the reknown publishing company,
Hill and Range Music Publishers. The song was "The Noise You Hear
On A Dark, Dreary Night". They said when he sang it on the air, Chuck
was the one making the ghostly shrieks, Dale Martin would make the
"...mournful, horror sounds" on his guitar, Bob White would do the 'low moan'
on the bass and Zed Tennis would do a squeaking door on the fiddle while
Doc Martin would do a reverberating howl on the steel guitar. Sounds like
a perfect tune for Halloween.
Credits & Sources
- Cowboy Songs No. 62 (July 1959); American Folk Publications, Inc.;
- The KWTO Dial; various issues, 1949; Springfield, Missouri.