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Delbert Barker
Born:  December 3, 1932

About The Artist

Delbert Barker was an East Kentucky Appalachian (born in Frenchburg, KY) who migrated to Southwest Ohio. While both regions are known as cradles of bluegrass music, there were also quite a number of country musicians who followed this same pathway, young Barker among them. He learned some musical fundamentals in his native Menifee County. His family migrated to Ohio in 1944 in search of a better life, so Delbert took his cultural skills to the Buckeye State, continuing his guitar picking in his adopted home.

As a teenager, he won several local talent shows in the Cincinnati-Hamilton-Middletown area. One of those wins led to a performance on the Harris Rosedale televition program in Cincinnati. This led to a job on local radio and then at age 17 to a Saturday television program. When WCPO-TV started a daytime country music program in 1951, Delbert became a regular cast member. That same year Carl Burkhardt owned a custom record pressing plant and had labels of his own, several which he sold through radio stations, the latest country hits at bargain prices recorded as "covers" by little known artist. Barker signed with him and within the industry became known as "King of the Covers."

He recorded over one hundred tracks of ten, sounding nearly like those whose songs he sang. He later reflected that I had five different voices. I did Carl Smith, Hank Williams, Hank Thompson, Faron Young and some Lefty Frizzell. These appeared on such labels as Kentucky, Gateway, Big Four, and Parade of Hits.

Marriage took him away from music for a time. He married the former Alma Jean Pence on January 23, 1953. By 1956 he returned to picking and singing.

Veteran artist Louis Innis who was working for King at the time signed him to that label where he recorded eight sides. Innis viewed him as King's answer to Carl Perkins. His best known titles for King were the rockabilly numbers "No Good Robin Hood" and "Jug Band Jump" (previously unreleased).

In 1957, Delbert went to Philadelphia for a time and then to New Jersey where he worked for a year with Shorty and Smokey Warren. A short promo article for an appearance for Shorty Warren and his Western Rangers indicated that along with Del, Shorty's band included Whitey Murphy, Nick Nastos and Tex Cast.

Some of his releases were given reviews in the trade publication, The Cash Box. At times the reviewers seemed to make up their own words not commonly found in a dictionary.

Delbert Barker — Record Reviews From The Cash Box
Date Label Rec No. Review
03/13/1954 Garnett 500 Building Castles — Delbert Barker's distinctive vocal styling comes over well on a fetching middle beat sentimental item with tender lyrics. An appealing disk that should garner spin. (Rating: B)

Yearning In My Heart — Under lid is a middle tempo, feelingful piece smoothly handled by Barker. Strings warmly assist. (Rating: C+)
8/11/1956 King 4951 That's A Sin — The King label adds another bright new name to its roster as newcomer Delbert Barker comes through with a terrific vocal effort on his initial release. It's a slow paced, rhythmic blues item that the artist spins in enchanting style. Strong side. Could Happen. (Rating: B+)

No Good — Robin Hood — On the reverse etching, Barker flavorfully socks out a tantalizing, country-rock 'n roll novelty. He's an artist to watch. (Rating: B)
1/26/1957 King 5008 Wild Heart — New additions to the King roster, Delbert Barker and the Roberson Brothers, blend their vocal talents in impressive manner as they neatly wax a tearful, up-tempo romantic opus. Could make some noice with exposure. (Rating: B)

There Must Be A Way — On this end the boys put a great deal of feeling into their delivery of a moderate paced lover's lament. (Rating: C+)
3/30/1957 King 5031 How About A Hand Out — Here's a clever little romantic ditty on which Delbert Barker plays the part of a beggar starving for his baby's love. Catch, up-tempo item that should latch onto a heap of airplay. (Rating: B)

Broken Heart — Here Barker teams up with the Robertson Brothers on a persuasive middle beat weeper with a soft, subdued string backgrop. (Rating: C+)

In 1959, he came back to Middletown where he soon joined the police department. Eventually he rose to become Chief of Detectives by the time he retired in 1985. During that time his musical activity became quite limited.

In 1975, Irene Wright wrote of his performance at the Lebanon Correctional Institution (LCI) in the Cincinnati Enquirer. At the time, Delbert had a gospel singing troup and was to perform at a service for the inmates.

He told Ms. Wright that the "Delbert Barker Trio" was organized at the Tytus Avenue Church of God in 1974, about three months after he joined the church. They provided music for Sunday morning church services as well as broadcast. The group consisted of Delbert Barker as the lead singer, playing guitar. Donna Kemplin, was tenor singer. Caol Wallace sang alto. Terrell Scribner played steel guitar and Harold Montgomery played the bass.

Delbert stated no money was involved in their performances. "This is for the people."

He spoke of a question he was often asked - "...whether he experiences conflict in being both "a Christian and a policeman." He told Ms. Wright,

"The answer is simple. Being a Christian is having love for your fellow man and being a policeman is to uphold the law to protect your fellowman and his property. As I see it, they go hand in hand."

In late 1980, Charley Pride found one of his older songs he had written, You Almost Slipped My Mind. Billboard listed it as "Hits - Out of the Box" on September 20, 1980. It was co-written by Troy Seals, Don Goodman, Tilden Back along with Delbert Barker.

The song was first recorded and released as "For A Moment You Almost Slipped My Mind" by Don Cherry (Monument 8542) in May of 1972. The Cash Box listed it as a "Best Bet" and described the effort as: "This slow and emotional ballad receives full orchestration and chorus as a backdrop for Don Cherry's polished voice. Could take off if given proper exposure. The flip side was "Is It Any Wonder That I Love You" written by Jerry Foster and Bill Rice.

That same year, Kenny Price recorded the tune (RCA 0686) and the Cash Box selected it as one of its "Picks of the Week". They wrote: "Kenny Price tries his hand at a slow and determined ballad that should command a large audience from Kenny's devoted listenership. The flip side was "Destination Anywhere", written by Kenny.

Charley Pride's version reached Number One in The Cash Box on December 13, 1980. The writers were also honored by BMI in October of 1981.

After retirement he became more active again. In recent years, he usually played twice a month at a Senior Center and sometimes elsewhere. In 2011, a compact disc of his varied work appeared in Great Britain on Stomper Time. Another came out on BACM. Some of his Hank Williams covers have also been released on various artist compact discs.

Promo Ad - Billboard - You Almost Slipped My Mind - Charley Pride - 1980
RCA Victor 74-0686 - Kenny Price - You Almost Slipped My Mind - Circa 1972

Monument 8542 - Don Cherry - For A Moment You Almost Slipped My Mind - Circa 1972
RCA PB-12100 - Charley Pride - You Almost Slipped My Mind - Circa 1980

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.
  • Undercover Assignment at LCI No Con Job; Irene Wright; October 23, 1975; Cincinnati Enquirer; Cincinnati, OH
  • Best Bets; June 17, 1972; The Cash Box; New York, NY
  • Picks of the Week; April 8, 1972; The Cash Box, New York, NY
  • Star Attraction; November 13, 1958; Matawan Journal; Matawan, NJ
  • BMI Issues Citations Of Achievement To Honor Writer, Publisher Efforts; October 24, 1981; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

Rec. No. Side Song Title
  32 A They Locked God Outside The Iron Curtain
  32 A Amazing Grace
  32 B He'll Understand And Say Well Done
  32 B Gethsemane
Big 4 Hits
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  170 A Most Of All
  170 A Yonder Comes A Sucker
  170 B Love - Love - Love
  177 A Why Baby Why
  177 A It's A Great Life
  177 B You're Free To Go
  187 A Glad Rags
  187 B Heartbreak Hotel
  187 B Blue Suede Shoes
  4-16 A That Heart Belongs To Me
  4-16 A Two Faced Clock
  4-17 A Blackberry Boogie
  4-17 A I Went To Your Wedding
  4-19 A Setting The Woods On Fire
  4-19 A Our Honeymoon
  4-19 B The Death Of Hank Williams
  4-19 B I'm An Old Man
  4-21 B I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive
  4-21 B I Could Never Be Ashamed Of You
  4-33 A Kaw-Liga
  4-33 A My Lone Heart's Running Wild
  4-33 B Your Cheating Heart
  4-33 B That's The Kind Of Love I'm Looking For
  4-41 A Trade Mark
  4-41 B Hey Joe
Big 6
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  522 A The Old Rugged Cross
  522 A I Saw The Light
  522 A When The Saints Go Marching In
  522 B What Would The Profit Be
  522 B Whispering Hope
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  9017 A Your Cheating Heart
  9017 A Kaw-Liga
  9017 B Weary Blues From Waiting
  9017 B Mansion On The Hill
  9018 A I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry
  9018 A A House Without Love
  9018 B I Could Never Be Ashamed Of You
  9018 B I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  604 A Dreamland
  604 B Courtin? Under the Moon (as Rondell Barker & the Rainbow Drifters)
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  500 A Building Castles
  500 B Yearning In My Heart
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  9016 A You Wing Again (w/His Country All-Stars)
  9016 A My Heart Would Know (w/His Country All-Stars)
  9016 B Honky Tonk Blues (w/His Country All-Stars)
  9016 B You Better Keep It On Your Mind (w/His Country All-Stars)
  9017 A Kaw-Liga
  9017 A Your Cheating Heart
  9017 B Mansion On The Hill
  9017 B Weary Blues From Waiting
  9018 A A House Without Love (w/His Country All-Stars)
  9018 A I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry (w/His Country All-Stars)
  9018 B I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (w/His Country All-Stars)
  9018 B I Could Never Be Ashamed Of You (w/His Country All-Stars)
  9019 A Jambalaya (w/His Country All Stars)
  9019 A Window Shopping (w/His Country All Stars)
  9019 B Baby We're Really In Love (w/His Country All Stars)
  9019 B I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You) (w/His Country All Stars)
Gateway Top Tune
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  1108 A It's A Great Life (w/The Gateway All Stars
  1108 B Why Baby Why (w/The Gateway All Stars)
  1122 A
  1122 B
  1150 A
  1150 B
  1161 A So Doggone Lonesome
  1161 B Yes, I Know Why
  1162 A Blue Suede Shoes
  1162 B Heartbreak Hotel
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  4-534 A I Overlooked An Orchid
  4-534 B Lovesick Blues
  4-535 A I'll Sail My Ship Alone
  4-535 B Someday
  4-539 A Cold, Cold Heart
  4-539 B Rye Whiskey
  4-544 A I Saw The Light
  4-544 B The Old Rugged Cross
  4-553 A I Just Don't Like This Kind Of Living
  4-553 B Long Gone Lonesome Blues
  4-554 A Lost Highway
  4-554 B There'll Be No Tear Drops Tonight
  4-555 A Why Don't You Love Me
  4-555 B I Can't Get You Off My Mind
  4-556 A You're Gonna Change (Or I'm Gonna Leave)
  4-556 B Mansion On The Hill
  4-557 A I Don't Care
  4-557 B My Son Calls Another Man Daddy
  4-558 A The Blues Come Around
  4-558 B Nobody's Lonesome For Me
  4-560 A Wedding Bells
  4-560 B Tennessee Border
  4-571 A Steel Guitar Rag
  4-571 B From Now On
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  4951 A No Good - Robin Hood
  4951 B That's A Sin
  5008 A Wild Heart
  5008 B There Must Be A Way
  5031 A Broken Heart
  5031 A How About A Handout
  5031 B Broken Heart
  5031 B How About A Handout
  6042 A It Can't Last Long
  6042 B Color Me gone

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