Howard “Cowboy” Vokes was one of 13 children born to
a coal mining family from Clearfield County but would go on to be known as
the King of Pennsylvania Country.
Vokes learned to play the harmonica at age six and was playing guitar by 11,
according to his son, Howard Vokes Jr., of New Kensington.
Raised with the sounds of the Grande Ole Opry coming from the family radio,
Vokes fell in love with traditional country music at a young age and, by the time he was 15, was playing live in front of bar room audiences in coal towns across western Pennsylvania.
“He just kept up with the traditional music his whole life,” Vokes Jr. said. “His music
was just what he did.”
Mr. Howard Vokes, 86, most recently of Masontown, Fayette County, died at home June 3.
Born in Clearfield on June 13, 1931, he was the son of the late
Benjamin George Vokes and the late Agnes Rose Vokes.
After falling in love with music, Vokes never graduated from high school, according to his son.
“He had an accident when he was 16,” Vokes Jr. said. “He was shot in
the ankle in a hunting accident. While he was recovering, he realized that music
was what he wanted to do with his life and he never went back to school.”
Over the next several decades Vokes Jr. said his father would travel
to all 50 states promoting the genre of music to which he dedicated his life.
“We traveled with him extensively when we were younger,” Vokes Jr. said. “He would
put me and my sister up on milk crates to reach the microphone so we could sing. That
carried on for a good 10 years.”
Vokes and his band, “Howard Vokes and the Country Boys,” recorded several songs over
the years and were heard on radio stations across the country, according
to Vokes Jr., who eventually learned to play bass guitar with his father’s band.
Vokes also owned record companies, Vokes Records and Country Boys Records, which he
used to promote new and upcoming artists working to keep traditional country music
alive, Vokes Jr. said.
Vokes’ song, “Tears At The Grand Ole Opry,” recorded by Wanda Jackson, known
as the “First Lady of Rockabilly,” in 1955, brought him wide acclaim,
Vokes Jr., said.
“He sold over 150,000 copies of that song,” Vokes Jr. said.
His first recording success came in 1959, with his version of
Doc Williams’ “Willie Roy, The Crippled Boy.” Over the course
of his nearly seven-decade career, Vokes wrote more than 500 songs.
From the moment he was injured in that hunting accident right up until the months
before his death, Vokes dedicated his life to music, his son said.
Vokes was preceded in death by his wife, Martha Quetot. In addition to his
son Howard Vokes Jr., Vokes is survived by seven other
children — Martha L. Bellin, Victoria Gregg-Hack, Benjamin J. Vokes,
Gladys E. Sublinsky, Agnes R. Polak, Sharon Nealer and William Vokes —
18 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren.
Family and friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday,
at the RJ Slater Funeral Home in New Kensington. Grave side services will be
private, according to funeral organizers.
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