Ken Davidson, born in Halifax, Nova Scotia on October 9, 1924 and as life went
on he became known as an extremely versatile and accomplished musician.
At sixteen, he began playing the Hawaiian guitar and went on to study at
Acadia University where he perfected his style with the Spanish guitar. He later
included classical and jazz in his repertoire and also became an accomplished
fiddle and banjo player.
In the 1940's and 1950s, Ken worked as an announcer for local radio stations
in the Maritimes and played with various bands.
These bands included Billy Reid and his Hawaiian Serenaders,
J. B. Ham and the Sons of the South (a band from North Carolina),
Frank's Radio Cowboys and The Pioneers.
The Ken Davidson Trio could also be heard on radio and stage.
During the war years, he entertained the troops stationed in the Halifax area.
The members of the trio included Ken Davidson, Joseph (Joe) Ardelli and Hugh Spinney.
Later, Russell Clarke replaced Hugh Spinney.
Around 1948 or so, Ken was working with Frank's Radio Cowboys. The members of the
band included Art DeYoung, Joe Brown, Joe's sister, Vivian(?), Ken Davidson and
Frank Brennan. Ken signed on with this group when J. B. Ham and his Sons of the South
group moved back to North Carolina.
While working as a radio announcer with CBG in Gander, Newfoundland Ken
met the CFRA Happy Wanderers on one of their Wilf Carter cross-Canada tours.
He was offered the lead guitarist position by Ken Reynolds, the band's manager,
and in 1956 Ken and his family moved to Ottawa, Ontario where the band was based.
This popular country band consisted of Joe Brown, Ward Allen, Bob King,
Vince Lebeau and Ron Sparling.
Ken's daughter noted in her email to us that The Happy Wanderers had had three
different steel guitar players in their group prior to Ken joining them.
Those steel players were Tony Leggio, Champ Johnson and Lynn Strauf. Bob King
left the group for a time and was replaced by Joe Pino. Graham Townsend
became a member of the Happy Wanderers in 1965, when Ward Allen passed away.
They entertained folks in the Ottawa Valley for over ten years and performed over
5,000 live broadcasts on radio. They opened for well-known entertainers such
as Ray Price, Buck Owens, George Jones, Ernest Tubbs, Eddy Arnold and
the Carter Family.
A 1959 magazine article provides a few more details on the popularity of the Happy
Wanderers. The late Earl Heywood wrote in his column about Canadian Country music
that the group, led by Ken Reynolds, played in front of 153,475 fans, at 108
different venues in Canada and drove over 35,400 miles. This was said to be in
addition to the many appearances they made in the Ottawa Valley. The group's show
over CFRA at the time was from 12:45pm to 1:00pm each day.
In the early 60s the Happy Wanderers became the host band for CJOH-TV's show
Shorgas Barn Dance. When they disbanded in the mid to late 1960s,
Ken joined the Family Brown on their weekly CJOH-TV show, The Country Way.
Ken's daugther mentions that Ken joined the Happy Wanderers in 1956.
Ken produced four LPs in the 60's entitled:
- Instrumentally Yours
- Guitar Serenade
- Spotlight on Guitar
- Speaking of Guitars, Here's Ken Davidson!
These albums are an amazing collection of musical styles on steel, Spanish and
classical guitar and many of the instrumentals are original compositions.
Several 45-rpm records were also released. One of Ken's songs,
My French Canadian Girl, was recorded by Wilf Carter
on his I'm Ragged but I'm Right album on the Decca label and
was written up in Country Music News magazine. It was also recorded
by Bob King along with Rockin' Juke Box; and If The Things They Say Are True.
Hank Lariviere recorded Ken's Hobo Bill song. A highlight of
Ken's career was performing his Scotch Boogie on the
Don Messer Show, seen nationally across Canada,
on August 29, 1960.
During the 1960s and 1970s, in Ottawa, Ken operated the
Ken Davidson Guitar Studios where he taught various guitar techniques,
including the 'Chet Atkins' style and inspired many to embark on their
own musical careers.
In the late 1970s he returned to Nova Scotia and continued playing, teaching
and writing music.
The Ken Davidson group entertained at the
Chateau Halifax in the 1980s.
Up to the age of seventy-six, Ken was still actively playing as a full-time musician
in numerous groups around Halifax including the Dixie Land Trio and
the Port City Concert Band.
It's a tribute to Ken's musical accomplishments that he was inducted into
three Halls of Fame. In 1991, he was inducted into the Ottawa
Valley Country Music Hall of Fame for his contributions to the heritage and
culture of country music.
In 1997, he was inducted into the Atlantic Steel Guitar Club Hall of Fame.
Ken's daughter, Evelyn A. Crete was kind enough to share a letter that Al Brisco,
a famed Canadian steel guitar player, wrote to her about the inspiration Al
got from Ken's steel guitar playing. Al wrote that he was in his teens and enjoyed
listening to the CFRA Happy Wanderers show in the early 1960s. Around that same
time he got interested in the pedal steel guitar.
With his new found interest,
he found inspiration from the CFRA Happy Wanderers shows as he got to listen
to Ken's steel guitar licks. He recalls that Ken would get to do an occasional
steel guitar instrumental and recalls one of them being a Pete Drake tune
called "Southern Sunday".
Al was in a band at the time called The Countrymen and once in a while, they
would cross paths with the Happy Wanderers and stop in to take in their shows
in the Ottawa Valley.
Then, in the spring of 1964, Mr. Brisco made a trip to the Ottawa Valley for the
purpose of buying a used Fender 400 pedal steel guitar from Ken for $350. Al
thought he was at the top of the world having that guitar. He enjoyed it so much
so that he still has it and is on display at the Canadian Steel Guitar Hall of Fame
at his store in Colborne, Ontario, near Lake Ontario.
Mr. Brisco gave testament to the effect Ken Davidson and his steel guitar had on
him to Evelyn:
"Ken's influence on me probably cannot be measured,
suffice it to say he was instrumental in my desire to learn the pedal
Then, in 2000, during the 10th Annual Hank Snow Tribute in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia,
he was honoured to be inducted in the Nova Scotia Country Music Hall of Fame.
Ken also served as vice-president of the Atlantic Steel Guitar Club in 1999-2000.
Many remember Ken for his "genuinely kind and humble" ways and say that
he was a "true gentleman".
He loved his life's work and has left behind a legacy of music comprising
hundreds of musical compositions and songs, many of which have been recorded
by different artists. He was always thankful for all the wonderful musicians
he met and performed with along the way.
Ken passed away in 2001. He is buried in Dartsmouth, Nova Scotia
by St. John's Anglican Church, which is also known as "The Little Church
With The Big Heart". Evelyn tell us, "Sure fits Dad, that's for sure."
Credits & Sources
- Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank Evelyn A. Crete,
the daughter of Ken Davidson, of Ottawa, Ontario in Canada
for providing us with details on Ken Davidson's career along with the photos
and album cover image.
- Country Song Roundup; Issue No. 62; September 1959;
American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT