Tommy Wiggins was born in Roodhouse, Illinois, the son of a railroad man.
His father was a devoted Jimmie Rodgers fan. Needless to say,
when Tommy's father wasn't working, he would spend most of his time
playing his guitar and singing one of the songs that the legendary Blue
Yodeler had recorded. One such tune he recalls was "The Wreck of Old Number Nine,".
Occasionally Tommy's dad would sing a western song. One of the favorites at
that time was, "When the Works All Done This Fall"; it's a song that
Tommy still remembers to this day and can still sing most of the lyrics, too.
Tommy started singing a song called, "Pink Elephants" whenever there
were people around to hear him. That started when he was about three, according
to his sister, Edna. His parents separated when Tommy was about five years old. When
that event occurred, the depression was at it's peak; so his mother took him and his sister to Lexington,
Missouri where they lived with his grandparents.
His grandmother took him under her wings and encouraged him to continue
his singing. It was the middle of the depression back then, so buying
a musical instrument was just about out of the question, but young
Tommy learned that his voice could be an instrument just as well and
he kept practicing.
When he was about six years old, his mother entered him into a local talent
contest, where Tommy sang his first song in public, "A Shanty in Old
Shanty Town". He didn't win that time.
When he was about fourteen years old, his mother remarried and they had moved
to a farm outside Kingsville, Missouri. He won first place at a Fall Festival
Behind the grocery store near where he lived in Kingsville, there was a horseshoe
pit. When there was time, he would stand in one pit and rope the stake at
the other end of the layout. He was developing a talent and skill that would prove
to be a help years later when he started to work the rodeo circuit.
Tommy was seventeen when he enlisted in the U. S. Navy. He continued singing
aboard his ship and as well as venues on shore. A 1958 article told readers
that when he was on night watch on the ship, he would entertain the other folks
on the graveyard shift with his guitar playing and singing. After he was discharged from the Navy,
he moved to Tucson, Arizona. His family had moved there for his mother's health.
Around this time, he found that music wasn't bringing in enough money, so to
help support his family, he took on a job as a mechanic to earn enough money.
In 1949, Tommy enrolled at the University of Arizona; he majored in theatre arts
with a minor in music. During those university years, he worked as a disc jockey
at radio station KWBW radio in Hutchinson, Kansas. It was during that time, he
formed his first band, the Tommy Wiggins Trio. The group
did a live thirty minute show every morning before the farm report.
The trio also played at a club in Hutchinson on the weekends. During summer
vacations, Tommy found work with a 'stock company in northern Illinois as
a technician and actor.
During those years, Tommy would make the rounds and ride in local rodeos in his spare time;
something he had started to do in Arizona. He worked with a California stock
company, who made Tucson it's winter home one winter and one summer at Shady Lane
Theatre, in Marengo, Illinois.
Along about 1950, his friends talked him into entering a talent contest
the Arizona Hayride was putting on. Tommy won first prize in that
contest, which earned him a regular spot on the radio show as well as the chance
to work personal appearances with Bob McKeehan. He started gaining favor
with the teen-age crowd with his music, and kept up his school work.
He appeared as an actor with the company and also did work as a scene designer.
When he returned to Arizona, he formed his second band, "The Arizona Rhythm Riders".
The group did personal appearances in Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona.
He made solo appearances with Nashville acts that passed thru Tucson.
He appeared as a guest on "The Bob McKeehan, Arizona Hayride" show as well.
Tommy was a regular performer on the Al Rogers television show every Saturday
afternoon in Tucson, over KVOA-TV.
Tommy recorded "My Gift Was My Heart", The Race For Your Heart",
(which he wrote), "I'm Beginning To Believe" and "The End of The Line."
Those two records got considerable air play over radio station KMOP in Tucson
and the surrounding areas.
After fronting the Rhythm Riders for seven years, Tommy decided to spread
his wings. He loaded his bass and his guitar decided to head north to
Montana, working as a solo artist in the three largest clubs in West
He shared the stage with quite a few well-known acts such as Slim Whitman,
Webb Pierce and Johnny Horton when they headlined at the Tucson Gardens.
After he finished those stints, he began to find his way back to
Arizona. On the journey back, he got himself an engagement at the Wort Hotel
in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on the same bill with a group known
as "Sons of the Golden West".
That enabled him to renew his acquaintance with Paul Schilling, who was
then a guitarist with the Sons of the Golden West. Paul and Tommy
had first met in Tucson in 1953.
It was a friendship that spanned over fifty years until Paul's death.
While in Yellowstone, Tommy got to work with renowned steel guitarist, Bud
Issac, who he had first met in Hutchinson, Kansas while a DJ at radio station KWBW.
Bud at that time was the steel guitarist for Red Foley.
After his return to Tucson in 1958, Tommy decided to head to Nashville, where
he was signed to a recording contract with Kapp Records. You might wonder
how he got that recording contract with Kapp. When he got to Nashville,
Tommy met a disc jockey by the name of Bob Jennings. Bob asked Tommy during
their conversation if he had ever recorded, for he thought Tommy had a
voice that would stand out on a recording. It wasn't too long that Bob Morris
and Tommy Allsup were helping Tommy do his first recording session
that was then heard by Paul Cohen of Kapp Records.
In 1960 Tommy headed west to California to pursue his music career. But
until his music career took hold, he also became a Golf professional at
the Griffith Park Golf course in Los Angeles. That wasn't the only
big event in his life that year - he also married a California girl.
He had a strong desire to be in the music industry and as luck would have it
and usually does, he had a chance meeting with Lee Ross (he wrote "My Shoes
Keep Walking Back to You".) who was running talent shows at the
Red Barrel, in Hawaiian Gardens, California and also at George's Roundup
in Long Beach, California.
Tommy found himself once again on the band stands in Southern California,
doing personal appearances at furniture store Grand Openings and at car
Dealerships. He made a number of personal appearances around the Los Angeles
area. He made many friends in the music, television and motion picture industry through his appearances on Country Music Time and the Sunday show Cal's Corral.
During this time Tommy was recording for the Stadium Records label.
The success of two sides "Under the Noonday Sun,"and "Guess I Drove My Mule too Hard,"
he cut for them led to another session with Country Capers (a subsidiary of
London Records). Country Capers released two sides, "Calling All Lovers"
and "Fiddlin' Joe".
During this period Tommy took another direction in his career and launched
a promotional publication called, "D.J.'s Digest", which had
a subscriber's list of over 4,000 D.J.'s in the United States and as far away as
In a conversation with Eddie Miller, Glen Campbell, Bob Morris after
a golf game thoughts and discussion turned to the lack of promotion and
recognition of California talent came up, the opinion of all was that
California talent was as capable as the Nashville crowd.
With the help of Eddie Miller, the owners of the Red Darrel, Chris and Mickey
Christianson, Tommy and his wife Shirley decided to underwrite the first
Country Music Awards, held in California.
The Digest presented Awards to a broad spectrum of Country singers and
musicians, in 1963.
In 1964 the Awards were presented by VIP magazine.
But he still found time to attend to the festivities in Nashville at
the 1963 39th Birthday Celebration of the Grand Ole Opry. In fact, he
wrote a poem about that particular year for Country Music Review magazine.
The Night Before Convention|
By Tommy Wiggins, 1964
T'Was the Night Before Convention and All through the town
Not a bed I could find my head to lay down
The signs were all hung in the Jackson with care
In hopes that next day the DJs would be there
The songwriters and artists were all snug in their beds
While visions of hit songs dashed through their heads
Confident the Opry would go off just fine
At home sits the headman Ott Devine
Tex Ritter, President of the CMA
Will rise at dawn to start his day
Trudy Stamper of station WSM
Will be on hand when registrations begin
Tomorrow the lobbies will be chatter
By A&R men 'bout their latest platter
The record companies will host while we play
To celebrate the Opry's birthday
We'll dance and we'll play from darkness 'til dawn
Then wish the next day we'd slept all night long
For three days and nights we'll all have a ball
Then go home and dream of another next fall
That late 1964 issue also covered a recent tragedy that had struck
the country music community - the death of Jim Reeves. Country Music
Review had several artists and writers offer a few words of the
effect Gentleman Jim had on country music. Tommy was one of them. And below
is what he wrote.
A few days ago I was asked how did Jim Reeves' tragic death effect the music
business. Immediately my mind recoiled at the enormity of the task of trying
to answer this question. I every quickly realized that this question has no
answer. Because you cannot turn the loss of an outstanding individual or a great
talent into a statistic. His accomplishments reached fantastic heights
in music, his talent was immeasurable. He could be compared to no one.
Because he was Jim Reeves.
This far reaching tragedy has touched everyone of us in the music business in
some manner. Even those who did not know JIm personally cannot help but feel deeply touched
by the loss of his great talent.
There are not enough words to describe this loss to his loved ones, his friends, to the music business
or to the world.
Jim set new standards to be looked up to as long as our business continues.
He created an image that will never again be equaled.
Jim was so greatly loved as an individual and for his talent that his loss
becomes a personal thing to everyone who heard his voice, saw him on stage
or had the pleasure of meeting him.
As love is an emotion that has no definition the loss of Jim Reeves to the music
business and to the world has no explanation.
Academy of Country and Western Music
A new organization was found its roots in discussions Tommy had with
fellow country music enthusiasts, Eddie Miller, Mickey Christiansen
and Chris Christiansen. The group that country music in the Western
United States wasn't getting the attention and recognition it deserved.
They began to invite industry executive and performers to informal meetings.
It wasn't too long before the group of four had grown to twelve people
and then to twenty-four. The idea had taken roots.
The group also had a goal of finding some way to recognize the talents
on the west coast. The idea took hold and in late 1963, the first Academy
of Country and Western Music Awards show was held at the Red Barrel
nightclub, one of the big country and western venues in the Los Angeles
area back then.
Tommy was publishing a journal called "D.J.'s Digest" at the time and it
underwrote the evening. Tex Williams was the Master of Ceremonies.
In 1964, another awards show was held, this time sponsored by V.I.P. Magazine and
again was held at the Red Barrel.
The organization continued to grow. It led to a membership model where
the dues would enable the organization to sponsor the awards shows.
In 1966 with the help of the many top personalities, Gene Autry,
Nudie [the Rodeo Tailor], Tex Williams, Rex Allen, Eddie Dean and
leading executives in the television, radio and recording industry, a plan
was formed for taking the idea to Hollywood, the Academy of Country
and Western Music was formed and the first official awards show was
held at the Hollywood Palladium in February 1966 in Hollywood California.
When the second "official" awards dinner was held at the Beverly Hilton
in Beverly Hills, California, an election was held for the organization's
first officers. Tex Williams was elected president; Eddie Dean was vice-president;
Bettie Azevedo, secretary and Herb Eiseman as treasurer.
There was a bit of rivalry involved with the ACM and the CMA back then. The
CMA was content in 1964 or so to mainly issue press releases touting its space
in Nashville and the "...countrypolitan sound...". One person, Johnny Whiteside,
noted that the CMA back then was "...an insiders' club, made up of song
publishers and record executives". But the ACM welcomed more people - it reached
out not only to the performers, but also to the fans. They also sold the music
to advertisers as a way to connect with their target audiences by using the performers
Gerald W. Haslam's book, "Workin' Man Blues" points out an interesting tidbit - the ACM
was the first organization to hold an awards show. The CMA did not launch its own
awards show until a couple years later. But even then, only one west coast group or
artist was recognized - the Buckaroos. During the period of 1963 through 1967,
Mr. Haslam notes that Buck Owens had fifteen consecutive number one hits. But
that appeared to have rubbed the Nashville establishment the wrong way and maybe
it explains why Buck was not elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame until 1996.
The rivalry between the two organizations continued through the years and in one
sense, country music fans benefit as it highlights that there is more than one
locale and style that are a part of country music. But as much as one might think
the organizations were 'different', when one looks at the demographics of the male
and female award winners over the years, the organizations are very similar.
Tommy made appearances on television at KERO-TV in Bakersfield,
as well as personal appearances at various clubs dates in Bakersfield,
Oxnard and Los Angeles.
One highlight was a road trip, performing as the opening act for Buck Owens
and the Buckaroos in the northwest.
For a time, he put his singing career to the back burner while
he worked in promotion for Dobro Guitars and as a designer for Mosrite of
California and Fender Musical Instruments in Fullerton, California,
where he was the manager of Quality Control.
He left Fender in 1973, but found another outlet in the music business.
Tommy bought the Nashville Country Records store that was operating out
of Paramount, Cailfornia. He opened two more stores but the shortage
of virgin plastic and the opening of the larger chain record stores such as Tower Records
and The Wherehouse Record stores, saw his stores' record sales plummet. In 1976,
he closed the stores and disposed of their inventory.
In 1977 Tommy packed up his guitar and headed for Texas, landing in Houston.
He began working in small clubs and coffee houses.
In 1978 Tommy's friend Hank Penny called him back to California to design the
sets for and be the stage manager of a Vegas Variety show called
"Bullshot". Needless to say, he was on the move again to Las Vegas, where
he stayed through the run of the show.
By the time we turn to 1979 Tommy has moved back to Southern California where
he went into the maintenance business, opening his own company
until his daughter graduated from San Diego State University.
He returned to Tucson in 1992; he had decided to retire and played golf for
two years. But boredom got to him a bit and in 1994 when his old friend
Paul Schilling called and asked him to front a rebirth of the western group,
"The Sons of the Golden West", Tommy moved again, this time to
Camp Verde, Arizona where the group went into a series of
into intense rehearsals, practicing harmonies and comedy routines.
In the latter part of 1994, the group began entertaining audiences
all over the state. Their popularity was such that in 1995 the "Sons of the Golden West"
signed a contract with the Mormon Lake Lodge to headline the entertainment
at the dinner theatre for the entire summer.
The fall of 1995 led to appearances in Scottsdale at the Chrysler-Kruse Classic
Car auctions, an appearances on Good Morning Arizona,
and at the Festival of the West. The next 4 years saw the
"Sons" appearing at functions throughout the state, and even hopping over
to Las Vegas to appear in a Wild West Show as well as opening the
Star Casino in Mesquite, Nevada.
The Sons of the Golden West took a little time off from their personal appearances
to do some work in the recording studio and issued an album (on CD), "Wanted".
But when Tommy's long time friend, Paul Schilling, passed away the group disbanded.
But the music never seemed to far from the surface for Tommy. Boredom set in
again long about 2002 and Tommy started booking jobs as master of ceremonies
and also doing humor, poetry and amusing stories, working at venues in Arizona,
Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
Tommy was the master of ceremonies at the Rex Allen Days
in Wilcox for five years.
While he's now 80 and perhaps realizing age will sometimes limit his
desire to entertain audiences, he still does a couple of shows a year.
Un the past two years he has appeared at the Gene Autry Museum
in Oklahoma. In addition, he has been the master of ceremonies at the
Cedar Depot Festival for the past ten years in Cedar, Kansas and
at Smith Center, Kansas.
Tommy is a lifetime member of the Academy of Country Music and
the Academy of Western Artists. He's a member of the
Western Music Association and a lifetime member of the
Arizona Cowboy Symposium .
He still keeps in touch with a couple of good California friends,
Janet McBride and D.J. Hall of Famer Johnny Western.
Tommy now resides in Tucson, Arizona where he has a home. His daughter and
his son-in-law live in Davidson, North Carolina, where when he visits, he
gets to spend a lot of time with his grand children.
He has a son and daughter-in-law who make their home in Anchorage, Alaska,
where his son practices medicine. They have two children,
a son, Toby, and a daughter, Tori Ray.
Credits & Sources
- Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank Tommy Wiggins himself
for contacting us and graciously providing us with information, recordings and
pictures related to his career.
- Country Song Roundup; No. 57; November 1958; American
Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
- Country Music Review; Vol. 1 No. 10; November - December 1964;
Cal-Western Publications, Inc.; Anaheim, California
- Country Music Review; April 1965;
Cal-Western Publications, Inc.; Anaheim, California
- Western Music Association; Summer 2006; Copy courtesy
of Tommy Wiggins
- Workin' Man Blues; Gerald W. Haslam; 1999; University
of California Press; Berkeley, California
- How It Started; Reprint from Second Official Academy of Country and
Western Music Awards Show program; 1967; Copy courtesy of Tommy Wiggins
- Cedar Depot Memorial Celebration; The Legend Of An Entertainer;
Hank Sheffer; May 23-24-25, 2008; Cedar, Kansas (copy courtesy of Tommy Wiggins)