About The Artist
Bill Cox ranked as West Virginia's second most recorded artist in the pre-World War II era. Nicknamed the "Dixie Songbird," either singly or in duet with Cliff Hobbs (1916-1961), he had nearly 150 sides released and composed two widely recorded country standards. Yet, because of a reckless life style and bad decisions, he died in poverty.
The son of a railroad worker, Bill learned to sing and play guitar entertaining at local parties around Charleston by the 1920s. He worked alternately at the Kelly Axe Factory and as a stationary engineer at the Ruffner Hotel.
When radio station WOBU (WCHS after 1933) went on the air in 1928 with a studio in the hotel, Bill soon had a program on the station. Sometimes absent from his own show, owner Walter Fredericks got Cox a contract with Gennett Records (which also owned the Champion, Supertone and Superior labels), so that the records could be played whenever he failed to appear.
As a result, from 1929 through 1931, Bill had over forty sides released. Many of his numbers were covers of Jimmie Rodgers songs, but also originals in the Rodgers style, or humorous looks at his own troubled domestic life: "I Love the Jailor's Daughter," "Rollin' Pine Woman," or "Alimony Woman."
In 1933, he switched over to the American Records Corporation, continuing to turn out similar material under the direction of Art Satherley. With harmony duets increasingly in demand, "Uncle Art" suggested the Cox add a tenor singer to his recordings. Bill got Cliff Hobbs, a young man from Cedar Grove, West Virginia who recorded some sixty songs with him through 1940. The latter included his two best known numbers. Some of his later compositions were commentary on the Great Depression and New Deal. "Filipino Baby" was a re-composed version of a Spanish-American War number originally written by Charles K. Harris that became a major hit for Cowboy Copas, T. Texas Tyler (both of whom learned it from Cox), and Ernest Tubb during World War II.
The second song, "Sparkling Brown Eyes" was widely covered at the time by Wade Mainer, Bill Carlisle, and Cliff Bruner. It has been periodically revived by Webb Pierce, Jerry and Sky, Dickie Lee, and Joe Val.
Meanwhile the Dixie Songbird drifted into obscurity and by the mid-sixties was living in a converted chicken house in the slums of Charleston.
In an era when folklorists and old-time record collectors were searching for still living country recording artists from the 1925-1935 era, old fiddler Clark Kessinger told Ken Davidson about Bill. Cox recorded a new album for Kanawha Records and was visited by scholars (including myself), but died the following December prior to being able to mount a comeback.
Credits & Sources
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