About The Artist
Benjamin Franklin Welling was born in Rome Township, Lawrence County, Ohio, the son of Harvey Welling an old time fiddler. The family had moved a few miles across the Ohio River when Frank was in early childhood. He developed an interest in a wide variety of music, but especially liked the Hawaiian guitar although he also learned to play standard guitar, ukulele, and perhaps other instruments. At some point in late adolescence he is said to have toured in vaudeville with a Hawaiian group called Domingo's Filipino [sic] Serenaders.
From about 1917, he became acquainted with an older man, John McGhee, and they often worked together for the next twenty years in both amateur and professional musical endeavors.
Frank courted and married Imogene Rippetoe (B: January 9, 1905 — D: March 5, 1923) (Marriage: January 10, 1921 — Huntington, WV). However, his young bride died at an early age. Imogene had a younger sister named Thelma (B: January 3, 1907 — D: June 16, 1994) (married September 1, 1923 — Huntington, WV) and Frank subsequently repeated the process. This marriage resulted in three daughters, would last for life, and Thelma would outlive her husband by at least a quarter century. In fact, she even recorded a few numbers with him in 1929 and 1930.
Frank Welling worked with John McGhee and others in various musical forms in and around Huntington, These included minstrel shows, barbershop quartets, gospel quartets, operettas, and whatever the situation called for. Musical cohorts included Tom Cogar, William Shannon, Jack Teter, Miller Wikel. For a time about 1928, he and Thomas House operated The Frank Welling Hawaiian Studio and gave lessons. Welling, McGhee, Cogar, and Shannon all worked in a gospel quartet around Huntington. In one instance Welling took Shannon as a duet partner to a Paramount session while McGhee took Cogar to a Gennett session (an instance where they divided their forces as the sessions were held only a few days apart).
However, the musical high point of Welling's work took place at recording studios in Richmond, Indiana, Grafton, Wisconsin, Chicago, and New York City, as well as a makeshift studio in Ashland, Kentucky. While most of these were with John McGhee, he did some on his own although sometimes McGhee helped back him up. In addition to being one of the first practitioners of the steel guitar in country music, Welling was probably the first to do recitations within a song beginning with "Too Many Parties and Too Many Pals" in 1928 (Hank Williams as Luke the Drifter would later record the tune).
In mid-August 1932 the long-time partners did their last session together. The Depression was deep by then. Frank Welling did a session in April 1933 with WSAZ pianist Harry Sayre backing him. Back in the previous July he had another solo session in which some of the recordings were released as by "Frank Welling, the Evans Old Timer," which suggests that the Evans Grocery Store chain may have been sponsoring him on a WSAZ radio program. However, with the economy in the tank, it would be safe to say that neither the stores nor Frank benefitted much from the combination.
By 1937 Welling had relocated to WCHS Charleston, where he retained his old solo identity, but also created a new one, becoming an elderly bearded old-timer known as "Uncle Si." Not even forty at the time, he also had a weekday broadcast over the four stations WCHS Charleston, WPAR Parkersburg, WSAZ Huntington, and WBLK Charksburg as the "Pow-A-Tan" Old Timer." Together with Buddy Starcher, they created a Friday night jamboree type program known as the Old Farm Hour which included all the WSAZ country entertainers. It ran until 1942 when wartime restrictions shut it down. A post war revival effort failed to revive it. Welling also apparently hosted a children's program sponsored by a store (or stores) called Charmco. Daughter Jean was apparently on it, recalling in 1981 that people sometimes still recognized her as "Charmco Jean."
A publication called "Song Exchange News" featured Frank on its cover in 1939 and included a letter he wrote to the publication regarding a performance by Arlie Kinkade at WCHS.
To Whom It May Concern:
Welling remained at WCHS until 1955.
Columnis John S. Phillips wrote of a memory he had of Frank Welling. He recalls that when Frank was on WCHS and doing his Uncle Si character, he drew upon a stock of old jokes and gags. He always re-used them and had a knack for making them sound 'fresh.' He would usually approach someone unexpectedly and say, "It's a great day for the race!" Of course, the unsuspecting person would ask him, "What race?" Frank would then reply, "The Human Race!"
Welling's final recording was done about 1952 on the Red Robin label, one side being a cover of a Little Jimmie Dickens song (who he probably introduced at the Old Farm Hour). He moved to radio work at Chattanooga for a time, but returned to Charleston after a few months, ill with peritonitis, from which he expired nearly four weeks from his 59th birthday.
Credits & Sources
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