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Hell Bent for Music
The Life of Pee Wee King
By Wade Hall
University Press of Kentucky
253 Pages
ISBN:  0-8131-1959-6

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Pee Wee King’s birth on February 18, 1914, into a Milwaukee working–class Polish family named Kuczynski was hardly an indicator that he would grow up to become a pioneer and superstar of country and western music. Certainly no one in the Polish German community of his youth could have foreseen his influence on the direction of American popular music or his enduring fame on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. Even Pee Wee King himself in incredulous at the unlikely twists and turns of his life and career.

King is probably best remembered as the co-writer of the most popular country music song of all time, “The Tennessee Waltz.” He is just as important, however, for his role in expanding the horizons, and the market potential, of country and western music. He made country music respectable and brought it into the mainstream of American culture. He took the polka and waltz rhythms of his youth, mixed them with the sounds of the big bands of the thirties and forties, and flavored it all with the balladry and modes of the Western cowboy.

He combined this new sound with folk and country traditions rooted in places like Louisville, Knoxville, and Nashville. The result was a smooth, listenable, danceable, up-to-date sound that has become the most popular form of music in the United States.

Recipient of numerous awards, including induction into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame, Pee Wee King has been one of the most important figures in country music for over sixty years. Told in Kings’ own voice and words, this biography, based on many hours of taped conversations, is the first account of King’s incredible life and career. Featuring a star-studded cast of characters form the history of music—Gene Autry, Eddy Arnold, Minnie Pearl, Roy Acuff, Hank Williams, Patti Page, and many others—this memorable book is a must read for any country music fan.

  • Wade Hall is professor emeritus of English and the author of numerous books, including "The Rest of the Dream: The Black Odyssey of Lyman Johnson", "Greetings from Kentucky: A Post Card Tour", and "Passing for Black: The Careers of Mae Street Kid".