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Kenneth (The Yodeling Drifter) Houchins
Born:  November 24, 1912
Died:  December 5, 1990
Hoffman Hayloft (WBAP-TV)
WBAP Fort Worth, TX
WBOW Terre Haute, IN
WDZ Tuscola, IL
WHO Des Moines, IA
WJBL Decatur, IL
WLS Chicago, IL
WOC Davenport, IA
WWAE Hammond, IN
WXYZ Detroit, MI

About The Artist

Illinois native Kenneth Louis Houchins had a two decade career as a country musician that extended from radio stations in the Midwest to a Hollywood B-Western. He grew up in Champaign. By the end of 1930 Ken began on radio at WDZ in Tuscola, a station where Smiley Burnette, later a close associate of Gene Autry, also started. Over the next few years, he appeared on several stations in the region including WWAE in Hammond and WIND in Gary, both in Indiana.

Radio Log - WDZ - Kenneth Houchins - June 1931
Radio Log - WIND - Kenneth Houchins - February 1934

Houchins also launched his recording career in the Hoosier state in the Gennett studios in Richmond. With the Great Depression near a low point, the company had discontinued using the Gennett label and issued most of their discs on their budget firm Champion. As a result, Ken's recordings did not sell many copies and although he cut more than forty masters, most are quite scarce today. Most show influences of Jimmie Rodgers and Gene Autry. By then end of 1934, his solo recording efforts had terminated.

Radio work continued and probably peaked in 1936 when Ken joined the well known Prairie Ramblers at WLS as a temporary replacement for Floyd "Salty" Holmes. When Holmes returned after a couple of months, he seems to have remained for a time participating in record sessions in 1936 and 1937 which included backing cowgirl vocalist Patsy Montana in addition to Ramblers' recordings. After leaving Chicago, he worked for several months at WXYZ in Detroit.

From late 1938 into much of the 1940's, Ken was a regular on the Iowa Barn Dance Frolic in Des Moines. For a time, he was a part of a five man band called "Buddy Webster and His Borderland Buckaroos." In the fall of 1940 and going into 1943, he had his own show on WHO radio.

Buddy Webster and his Borderland Buckaroos; BOb Wilkins; Boris Radoff; Slim Hayes; Buddy Webster; Ken Houchins; WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic Booklet - 1942-1943

Promo Movie Ad - Lightning Guns - Charles Starrett; Smiley Burnette; Ken Houchins - 1950

In 1950, he journeyed to Hollywood and appeared in the Durango Kid motion picture Lightning Guns, where he again worked with Smiley Burnette, then working as comic sidekick for lead star Charles Starrett.

Smiley never forgot the time that Ken told Gene Autry that a young, unknown talent by the name of Smiley Burnette was "...just what Gene needed for his touring act." Gene took the advice and hired Smiley. Ken went on his way to perform at various radio stations but Smiley remembered his friend. He arranged to have him come to Hollywood and was cast in a movie starring Charles Starrett — Lightning Guns.

Promo Ad - Hoffman Hayloft - WBAP-TV - Ken Houchins - October 1949

Promo Ad - Hoffman Hayloft - WBAP-TV - Ken Houchins - August 1949
Promo Ad - Hoffman Roundup - WBAP-TV - Ken Houchins - January 1950

In 1949 found work on WBAP-TV in Fort Worth, Texas and was part of an effort by the Hoffman Electronics Corporation to introduce television to that market. The idea came from its president, H. Leslie Hoffman. The company would find a local country artist to headline a show usually called the Hoffman Hayride. The concept started in San Francisco with Dude Martin hosting the show. Ken was the star of the show and there were square dancers and guest stars such as Bill Ring. The show was initially at the WBAP-TV studios at 3900 Barnett Street in Fort Worth. The audience was able to get free tickets to the show at various outlets around town, usually stores that were selling the Hoffman television sets.

The show in Fort Worth began in early 1950. Columnist Elston Brooks told readers that WBAP-TV expected an audience of about 2,000 persons to see the "Hoffman Roundup" at the Paschal High School Auditorium. It was deemed the largest remote broadcast in the southwest at the time. Tickets were free. A special hook up would be setup at the school so people could see themselves on television. On that show was Cowboy Ken Houchins, Bob Crawford, Roscoe Pierce, Bill Ring, The Westernaire Trio, Peggy Wilder, Calvin Moore and his square dancers, Dixie Harper and a ventriloquist by the name of Fred Stroud.

In 1951, WOC radio and WOC-TV announced that they had hired "guitarist and American folk singer" Ken Houchins. Their release stated he had been on the Iowa Barn Dance Frolics for some nine years. Initially, he was going to be on the air each morning, Monday through Saturday at 6:00 am on WOC.

After 1951, almost nothing is known of Houchins until he died in Columbus, Ohio at the age of 78 in 1990.

Hand Me Down My Walkin' Cane - Ken Houchins - WGN - 1935
Little Old Sod Shanty On The Claim - Ken Houchins - WHO - 1935

The Dying Cowboy - Ken Houchins - WIND - 1935

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its thanks to Ivan M. Tribe, author of Mountaineer Jamboree — Country Music in West Virginia and other books that can be found on Amazon.com and numerous articles in other publications for providing us with information about this artist.
  • Harvey in Hollywood; July 7, 1950; Council Grove Republican; Council Grove, KS
  • Bright New Star; January 13, 1951; The Daily Times; Davenport, IA
  • Lantern Entertainer; July 17, 1951; Rock Island Argus; Rock Island, IL
  • Radio Log; January 2, 1943; The Des Moines Register; Des Moines, IA
  • Smiley Remembers Old Pal Even After 20 Years; July 2, 1950; The Pittsburgh Press; Pittsburgh, PA
  • Just For Fun; Elston Brooks; January 27, 1950; Fort Worth Star-Telegram; Fort Worth, TX

Get The Music

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

Rec. No. Side Song Title
  16473 A Fancy Nancy
  16473 B Good Gal In The Mountains
  16476 A Putting On The Style
  16476 B This Side By Harry Hillard
  16484 A Do Right Daddy Blues
  16484 B Low Down Woman Blues
  16501 A That Yodeling Gal Of Mine
  16501 B Tennessee Blues
  16553 A Why Should I Feel So Lonely
  16553 B Wanderer's Warning
  16584 A Git Along Little Doggie
  16584 B Yodeling Drifter
  16603 A Mean Old Ball And Chain
  16603 B The Prisoner's Child
  16619 A Old Hitch Hiking Blues
  16619 B Bay Rum Blues
  16636 A I'm Just A Yodeling Rambler
  16636 B The Wandering Hobo Song
  16637 A Old Missouri Moon
  16637 B This Side By Buddy DeWitte
  16650 A When The Golden Rods Are Waving
  16650 B Back To The Old Smoky Mountains
  16669 A Behind These Grey Walls
  16669 B Cowboy's Meditation
  16679 A Homesick For Heaven
  16679 B Little Farm House On Hill
  16695 A Our Old Family Album
  16695 B Little Sweetheart Pal Of Mine
  16755 A Down In The Old Ohio River Valley
  16755 B Louisiana Moon
  16775 A My Little Ozark Mountain Home
  16775 B My Silver Haired Mom
  16783 A My Old Ramshackle Shack On The Hill
  16783 B Blue Ridge Lullaby
  16793 A Good Luck Old Pal
  16793 B When Jimmie Rodgers Said Goodbye
  16807 A The End Of Memory Lane
  16807 B Gangster's Brother
  45028 A Cowboy's Meditation
  45028 B Behind These Grey Walls
  45030 A Blue Ridge Lullaby
  45030 B My Old Ramshackle Shack On The Hill
  45049 A Down In The Old Ohio River Valley
  45049 B Louisiana Moon
  45054 A Gangster's Brother
  45054 B End Of Memory Lane
  45062 A When Jimmie Rodgers Said Goodbye
  45062 B Good Luck Old Pal
  45078 A Little Sweetheart, Little Pal
  45078 B Back To The Old Smoky Mountains
  45088 A My Silver Haired Mom
  45088 B My Little Ozark Mountain Home
Montgomery Ward
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  4926 A When Jimmie Rodgers Said Goodbye
  4926 B The End Of Memory Lane
  4946 A Prisoner's Child
  4946 B Yodeling Drifter
  4971 A That Yodeling Gal Of Mine
  4971 B When The Golden Rods Are Waving
  4972 A Behind These Grey Walls
  4972 B Cowboy's Meditation

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