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About The Artist
Mervin Shiner was a native of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, born to Algier and Jennie Newton Shiner in 1921. He wrote in a 1955 article that he was just thirteen years old when his mom began teaching her son the art of showmanship, performing in front of audiences, the fundamentals of singing in close harmony. She was an accomplished singer in her own right. And she also taught him another lesson - to always smile and be humble.
It was April of 1936, the Calvary Evangelical and Reformed Church of Bethlehem, PA held a reception to welcome 38 new members, 22 by confirmation, and 16 by letter and reprofession. Over 100 people attended the event. It was reported that Mervin did a vocal solo with banjo accompaniment along with his mother. He was also heard on two duets, presumably with his mother.
We happened to have the good fortune to speak with Mr. Shiner in June of 2006 to learn a bit more about his career. We'll share some of that conversation along with what we've learned from articles in the past.
Mervin mentioned that they were successful in singing duets together and for a time, one of the few such acts was around a son / mother act. It was known as "Mervin Shiner and his Mother".
In 1949, Merv and his mother made their first television appearance together on a talent show and compete against three other acts on "Hometown Frolic" over WATV channel 13 in Newark, New Jersey. They were doing to do a cowboy ballad, "Madonna Of The Trail," with Merv providing the guitar accompaniment.
We should interject here a bit of Merv's career as he told the readers in 1955 when he was with the RCA Victor label. He attributes his first big performance break to his mom when they auditioned at a country-style music show on a Sunday night for radio station WEST out of Easton, Pennsylvania. Merv tells the readers he couldn't forget how nervous he was that night. But mom always knows how to calm those nerves and told Merv that things would go alright for the two of them.
They must have did okay and soon became favorites and regulars on that show.
In 1942, he moved out west to Los Angeles, California where he worked in a defense plant and managed to do various spots as a single act, too.
Merv maybe felt His career was in rut, so he went back to Pennsylvania and his career began to happen a bit. He made a number of radio appearances over radio station WFIL in Philadelphia and WCBA out of Allentown, Pennsylvania. He was able to also appear on several television shows out of New York City and that landed a recording contract with Decca records.
During his time at Newark, he was given a business card and told to call a song writer in New York who was working with the Southern Publishing Company. A fellow by the name of Vaughn Horton. (Mr. Horton is in the Songwriter's Hall of Fame.) Vaughn helped the young singer out and was instrumental in Merv getting a recording contract with Decca Records.
Another opportunity came Merv's way in early 1951. He had completed a three month stint over radio station WSAN in Allentown, PA. He was going to start touring with the Camel Caravan on January 6, 1951, touring military camps across the country and overseas.
Ozark Ed Burton wrote in his disc jockey round-up column back in 1950 that Decca considered Merv one their highest rated artists based on that record and were expecting big things from him.
Cowboy Songs wrote a review of Merv's recording with Grady Martin for Decca. They described the tune, "Let's Take A Trip To The Moon" as a "...hustling bouncy tune with a cute set of lyrics; and it's taken for a merry spin around the wax by Mervin." The other side of that disc was a tune called "Almost" which the column duly noted that Merv "...delivers warmly and with plenty of feeling."
Merv wrote in 1955 that he got word that Dave Miller over at WAAT-TV in Newark, New Jersey was looking for talent to appear on his television show. Merv and his mother auditioned and earned themselves a spot on the show. Merv proudly notes that at that time, his mother was already 61 years old. He told the readers that she had a beautiful contralto voice and as some things do, her voice got better as she grew older. Merv writes that his mom passed away in 1953, just about the time he had signed a recording contract with RCA Victor. It was common in that era for hit songs to be 'covered' by other artists. "Peter Cottontail" was recorded by such artists as Guy Lombardo, Frank Luther, Johnny Lee Wills, Gene Autry, Two Ton Baker, Roy Rogers, and Jimmy Wakely to name a few. For several weeks in April, it was listed as one of the Top 10 selling sheet music songs.
One day, his producer at Decca, Paul Cohen, gave him a tune to listen to. It was just a guy and his piano. At first Merv didn't want to do the song, he thought of himself as a country singer, not a singer of kids' tunes. But his producer told him, you cut this and we'll have a hit. The tune was the timeless tune, "Peter Cottontail."
In its February 25, 1950 issue, Merv's recording of this famed tune was one of four "The Billboard Picks". That is, the magazines's music staff felt the records they listed there were most likely to achieve popularity. The wrote of his version, "Engaging bit of kids' fare with the market set on Easter is much in the vein of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer." Shiner does it spiritedly and is supported immeasurable by a catch orking. The only problem is, Billboard spelled his name "Mervin Shriner." By the March 11, 1950 issue, they got the spelling right when they reviewed Merv's recording. They gave it an overall rating of 88. They wrote, "Easter-time follow-up to "Rudolph, The R. N. Reindeer, could score in pop, folk and kidsk field, with this sound rendition leading the way. The flip side of the recording was "Floppy." By March 25, 1950, the song was appearing in the Top 10 picks by Disc Jockeys, Retailers, Operators, and Country & Western Disc Jockeys
As a result of that hit, Merv appeared on the Grand Ole Opry on April 8, 1950.
In a November 1953 article, Mervin is shown on the move to radio station WWVA in Wheeling and becoming a member of the famed World's Original Jamboree show. At that time, he had also switched from the Decca records label to the Coral label.
In 1954, the Cleveland, Ohio area had a popular show for the fans in that area known as the Hillbilly Jamboree that was held at the Circle Theatre. Two of the local artists, Glen Campbell (not the latter day entertainer) and Tex Clark often wrote of this show. In 1954, they wrote that each week the show would bring in an out of town performer as part of the regular program. It seems that quite a few of the WWVA Jamboree stars made their way to Cleveland as they mentioned Merv and others such as Big Slim and Roy Scott and his Country Harmony Boys, Hal Lone Pine, Betty Cody and Hawkshaw Hawkins.
Pee Wee King noted in 1954 in his Country Song Roundup column that his regular television show over WEWS-TV in Cleveland included an appearance by Merv as well among other guests that included stars from the WLS National Barn Dance and the Grand Ole Opry.
Another tidbit about Merv shows up in Max Henderson's 1954 column when he mentioned that he had just heard that Merv was going to record one of Max's tunes for Coral Records, "Heartbreaking Waltz".
In early June of 1954, a the local Club Elena in Allentown was reporting that Merv was to begin appearing at the club. It was reported that he had just finished a 21 week engagement at Shorty Warren's Copa Club in New Jersey.
In the summer of 1955, Merv was going to be one of the first headliners at a new Country and Western music park known as the A-Bar-C Ranch in Lakewood, New Jersey that was owned by a former entertainer, Al Coombs. Smokey Warren, famed New Jersey artist, was to be the mainstay every Sunday along with Rusty Starr and his Western Ramblers. In fact, Bobby Gregory wrote in his regular "Your Favorites and Mine" column in Cowboy Songs that Merv was going to be the opening act. Bobby also mentions that Smokey was handling the booking of the acts at the venue.
Smokey Warren and Merv must have kept in touch during this era. Smokey made mention of Merv and his doings several times in his columns. Smokey tells his readers in 1955 that Merv completed an eight-week engagement at the Bermuda Tavern in Toronto, Ontario in Canada and had also appeared at the Brass Rail for four weeks in London, Ontario.
Smokey again wrote in 1956 that Merv was again in Toronto starting December 17, 1956 and was to entertain the folks at the Le Coq Dor until Smokey's group was to start on January 14, 1957.
Merv continued to perform and tour the country. Max Henderson told his readers in a September 1957 column for Rustic Rhythm that he had worked with "...that personable, friendly showman, Merv Shiner" at the Sunshine Club in Flint during Merv's swing through the area and later Merv went on to entertain the folks up in Saginaw as well.
In the summer of 1965, Country Music Review reports in a news release that the Hawkins Country Memorial Hospital Auxiliary was going to avail itself of the talents of some Nashville entertainers to help raise funds as part of its annual benefit festivities. Scheduled to appear on July 3, 1965 in Rogersville, Tennessee were Archie Campbell, George Morgan and his band, the Candy Kids, Delores Smiley and 'extra attraction', Merv Shiner. The release cited some of Merv's big hits up to that time and his appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and the Jubilee USA show hosted by Red Foley. Merv also appeared in the movie, "Second Fiddle To A Steel Guitar".
Merv issued his share of singles over the years. The early music industry magazines usually contained reviews of those recordings. Here are a few of those reviews.
And while we're on the subject of songwriting, Merv did a fair share of that as well in his career. Perhaps one of his best known tunes is one he co-wrote with Jerry Monday, "We Had All The Good Things Going" that was a hit for Jan Howard back in 1969. He also co-wrote "Woman Of The World" that Loretta Lynn had a hit on. Another tune he co-wrote was "If You Had Only Taken The Time" with Kent Westberry that was recorded by Charley Pride on one of his early albums.
In reviewing some of the personal appearance ads of Merv's career, we have seen him advertised as 'folk song singer', 'western music star', 'rock and roller', 'comedian', 'disc jockey' (WXYZ), 'recording star', 'rock and roll guitar', 'great guitarist and recording star' and on it goes. This may indicate that Merv was quite versatile in entertaining audiences as his career evolved.
As we turn the pages of history, we find that Hank Williams, Jr. tells readers in a 1967 article that Merv was managing his own publishing company at the time, Ly-Rann.
In October of 1969, Aubrey Mayhew started changing his life - he bought a $50,000 house near Music Row, severed ties with another record company and was in the position of heading the music division of Certron Corporation in Nashville. Certron started as a bulk tape processor. Then expended to other areas, but over time started to focus on the tape and computer tape industry. It purchased the Vivid Sounds record label, then the House of Falcon, which specialized in Latin music. At the end of 1969, Certron divided into three divisions operating out of Chicago, Anaheim and Nashville. Mayhew headed up the music operations in Nashville, including recording, publishing and distribution. Merv Shiner was hired on to be the A&R director.
Merv told us of the fun he had recording an album of love songs that he did just for his wife back around 2004 or so. He went to Nashville for about a week back then and stayed with his friend Jack Clement. He told Jack what he wanted to do and Jack let him have the run at his studio. Merv told Jack on one tune he thought he needed a dobro sound and Jack himself picked up the dobro and added the background for Merv.
During that visit, Merv and Jack decided to record a conversation of the history they were a part of in the hey day of country music's history and how they were a part of it in one way or another. Merv tells us of his visit to the famed Studio B that RCA Victor had in Nashville and telling the folks there that he was actually a part of that history. They had the wise ability to make sure Merv didn't leave before they got him to tell them about his times in that studio.
We included several comments about how likable and friendly Merv was in this commentary and after talking with Merv, we can say in this instance, those weren't just some press release someone put together. Merv is a genuinely, friendly down-to-earth person that you would enjoy sitting around your kitchen table with and sharing a cup of coffee or tea and a few stories for a few hours. The biggest kick we got was getting a voice mail from him while we played phone tag before talking with him and hearing him do a line or two of "Peter Cottontail".
During our conversation with Merv, he notes that he's never done an interview without mentioning his mom, who taught her son well. Merv noted in that 1955 article he wrote as part of a big RCA Victor salute that he owed all his success and happiness to his mom and she was his favorite partner. And we would be willing to bet his wife would be not too far behind.
Merv turned 99 in February of 2020. The Nashville Musicians Union's January magazine published a photo of Merv and his wife, Marilyn, who still perform together.
His father was Algier Shiner (Born: November 11, 1889; Died: October 19, 1961)
His mother was Jennie Newton Shiner (Born: July 27, 1887; Died: May 28, 1953)
Merv had three brothers, William, Charles and Robert.
Merv Shiner at the Martin Guitar home with his Martin Guitar
On September 30, 2011, Merv Shiner appeared as a guest
On August 27, 2014, Merv Shiner returned to his home town of Bethlehem, PA
Credits & Sources