Tommy Sutton's career appears to be a bit of a long winding road. He started off
as an entertainer and then became a well known disc jockey.
Tommy Sutton came from a large family. The oldest sibling was Alvin Sutton. The youngest
of the group that included three sets of twins, was Tommy.
Millie Wayne wrote in a May 1946 issue of National Hillbilly News that Tommy
was a former lead of the Radio Rangers group that was on WWVA. She mentioned
he had gone back to working with Jack Dunigan's group and was at WKBN in
Youngstown, Ohio. And she also mentioned he had just gotten married to Mary Lou.
Mary Jean Shurtz wrote in March of 1945 that Tommy was working with Tommy back
then at WWVA. She wrote in later in March of 1946 that he was with Jack Dunigan
and Gertrude Miller at WKBN in Youngstown, Ohio after being discharged from the service.
Hillbilly Music fans in Ohio took a liking to Tommy it seems. In another of Ms. Shurtz's
columns, she mentions a fan by the name of Gladys Bridges noted that Tommy was being
heard over WKBN from 6:00am to 7:00am and again at 10:30am each day. Later on in 1947,
she writes that Blaine Smith was doing personal appearances with Tommy then.
In the summer of 1946, Elizabeth Stavana wrote in her "Echoes from the Hills" column
in National Hillbilly News that Tommy was a part of the one of the 'best trios' around
at that time. He was working with Jack Dunigan and his wife, Gertrude Miller and
their group the Trail Blazers. They were on the air being heard from 10:05am to 10:30am,
Mondays through Saturdays. While no mention is made by Ms. Stavana as to what station
they were heard on, we might presume it was WWVA out of Wheeling, West Virginia. For
we find a picture of the group that tells us the remainder of the group back then -
Fiddling Red, Chief Red Hawk, Bud DeCarlo were the Trail Blazers. Tommy was handing
the chores on the big bass fiddle back then.
Later in 1946, Rangerette Millie Wayne wrote again in National Hillbilly News
of the Trail Blazer trio. She notes that they had left Youngstown and were going
to KWK in St. Louis, Missouri and were going to be heard over the Mutual Network.
Arlie Kinkade wrote in National Hillbilly News in 1950 that Tommy had started work
as a disc jockey over radio station WONE in Dayton, Ohio. Another issue noted
his show was on at 1:30pm each day and on one occasion then, had Jimmie Skinner
on as his guest.
Norm Silver wrote in his "Silver on the Sage" Disc Jockey roundup column in October
of 1951 that Tommy Sutton had joined the staff of WING in Dayton. Norm mentions that
Tommy had been a former member of the Renfro Valley Barn Dance cast that broadcast
for a time over WLW. Tommy also worked about three years in St. Louis at KWK.
His show on WING back then was being heard at 1:45, 2:35 and 5:00pm, Monday through
Friday. It was also reported around this time that Tommy was named one of the Top 20
Country Music DJs in the country in a poll by Billboard magazine from a field of 400
entrants. A similar mention in a 1952 Cowboy Songs article notes that Tommy by 1952
was also being heard on WING at 8:45am and on Saturdays, he was doing a 10:00am
show - one very busy person!
(Note: the picture at the top of this article is seen in that article.)
Tommy Sutton had no problem talking about the music we cover on this site - Hillbilly
Music. Folks had a good understanding of what that was all about back then and
still do today as much as some in the industry might wish to sweep it under the rug
or keep it in the closet. Tommy got the opportunity to write a short column
in November 1953 and wrote a "...few good words for hillbilly music in general..."
In Tommy's opinion, after being in the business for many years, "I don't care what
you do, or whom you meet, you'd never convince me that there's a finer group
of people to work with than the people who make up the hillbilly and western music industry."
Back then perhaps a move was underway to try and change things or perhaps try
to make in-roads of another style of music. But in Tommy's words, it appears
that it was at the expense of belittling the efforts of those who were making
the music. Mr. Sutton noted:
"...they don't seem to realize that hillbilly music is an 'art'
and the artists who make this music are sincere, warm and friendly people
who believe in what they're singing and playing. Maybe that's the secret of hillbilly music's
popularity... People appreciate the sincerity of hillbilly music and find comfort in its down to
earth, homey appeal."
During the 28th Anniversary celebration of WSM's Grand Ole Opry in Nashville
back on November 21, 1953, another celebration took place as well. The
Country music Disc Jockey Association was formed. Thurston Moore, long-time
publisher of country music scrapbooks and other mementoes was a part of this
effort and encouraged it. One thing led to another and the over 100 disc
jockeys in town that fall came together to form the association.
The CMDJA had four officers at that time. The legendary Nelson King of WCKY
in Cincinnati, Ohio was elected president. Earl 'Grandpappy' Davis of WFHG
in Bristol, Virginal was its vice-president. Dal Stallard of KCMO in Kansas City,
Missouri was named treasurer. Finally, Tommy Sutton, then of WING in Dayton, Ohio
was their first Secretary. Hoedown magazine covered this event in detail
in its January 1954 issue. Country Song Roundup featured a picture of the four
officers in their Fifth Anniversary issue in July-August 1954.
In Country Song Roundup's Fifth Anniversary issue in 1954, they featured many of the
disc jockeys playing country music around the nation. Tommy Sutton was at WING
in Dayton at the time and wrote a little note about an experience he said occurred
when he was around 17 years old, which would be about 1927 or so, in the very early
days of hillbilly music on th radio. Tommy wrote:
"...I managed to land my first steady job on radio with a four-piece hillbilly
band at WKBF, Indianapolis, Indiana—long since changed to WIRE. On our
third week, we decided we would do our own personal promotion campaign, so each of the
band pooled all the money he had, and we bought postcards and ordinary writing paper and passed them out to every friend we
could muster to have them write the station.
Consequently, on Monday the station got at least 300 letters and cards saying how much they had enjoyed the
program Saturday night. Oh yes, I forgot to mention—Friday night there was a big
fire at the station and there hadn't been any broadcasting all week-end."
Later on in 1957, Tommy wrote a bit of news about what was going on in Dayton, Ohio
for the short-lived Rustic Rhythm magazine. At that time, he was at radio station
WHIO. He did tell of a concert that was held at the Cincinnati Gardens on New Year's
Eve that featured many stars from the Grand Ole Opry. That concert pulled in a near
capacity crowd of 13,000 he wrote. He was also plugging a new venue in Dayton,
where they had built a new auditorium.
In a letter to Tommy's niece in 1996, Doc Williams, legendary singer of the WWVA Original
Jamboree, mentions that Tommy owned a radio station in Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania at
one time as well as WONE in Dayton, Ohio.
Tommy is also listed as co-writer on tunes such as "Teardrops In My Eyes" (co-writer, Red Allen)
and "I Wish I Had a Nickel" (co-writer, S. Barnhart) the latter which was later discovered on a non-session
recording by the one and only Hank Williams and was released on MGM 12244.
Other songs that Tommy had a hand in writing include "Baby", "Della Mae", "Ho Honey Ho",
"It Hurts To Know", "Lord Will Make A Way Somehow", "Two Lonely Hearts" and "There's Just One Life To Live".
"Della Mae" was co-written with Dorothy & Earl Sloan and recorded by the Osborne Brothers.
The Osbornes also recorded "Ho Honey Ho", "Two Lonely Hearts" and "It Hurts To Know".
Credits & Sources
- Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to express its appreciation
to Wilma Sutton Ping, Tommy's niece, for providing us with several pictures from Tommy
Sutton's career as well as other details and information.
- Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; March 1945;
- Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; March 1946;
- Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; January 1947;
- Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; February-March 1947;
- National Hillbilly News; August 1946; Orville & Jenny Via;
- National Hillbilly News; October 1946; Orville & Jenny Via;
- National Hillbilly News; January-February 1950; Orville & Jenny Via;
- Country Song Roundup; No. 14; October 1951; Charlton Pub. Corp.; Derby, CT
- Cowboy Songs; No. 20; May 1952; American Folk Publications, Inc.;
- Hoedown; November 1953; Hoedown, Inc.; Cincinnati, Ohio
- Country Song Roundup; No. 33; July-August 1954; American
Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
- Hoedown; January 1954; Hoedown, Inc.; Cincinnati, Ohio