About The Artist
Gerard Joseph (Jerry) Behrens was born in Madisonville, Louisiana, a small town that was north of New Orleans on the other side of Lake Ponchartrain. His parents were Morris and Mamie Behrens. He was born into a musical family. Dad was a left-handed fiddle player and mom played the piano. He had one brother, Edward and two sisters, Lillian and Inez.
Jerry took a liking to music at an early age and taught himself to play the guitar. Back then, kids of his generation were trying to play like the legendary blue yodeler, Jimmie Rodgers.
He won an amateur talent contest that got him a gig on radio station WWL in New Orleans. Henry Dupree took him under his wings to help the youngster out.
A 1939 article in Song Exchnage News indicated that Jerry had spent time at WLW in Cincinnati and KWK in St. Louis as well.
Around 1940 or so, Jerry was part of a group called The Range Riders who were entertaining radio audiences in St. Louis, Missouri over KMOX. But they decided to set out for the Renfro Valley area in Kentucky and join John Lair's troupe. The Range Riders then consisted of Guy Blakeman on fiddle, Roland Gaines doing vocals and playing guitar and Jerry also doing vocals and playing guitar.
Jerry would stay in Renfro Valley for some twenty years, appearing on the weekly barn dance show as well as other programs such as the Sunday Mornin' Gatherin'. He remained at Renfro Valley until 1972.
Author Wayne W. Daniel notes that the Range Riders were performing in the Cincinnati, Ohio area in the early 1930s. The group included Blakeman, Gaines and Jerry and also included Arnold Staley and Dick Slack. For about eight years the group moved back and forth between WCKY in CIncinnati and KMOX in St. Louis. John Lair convinced them to settle down in Renfro Valley.
After they got to Renfro Valley, Mr. Lair renamed the group the Mountain Rangers as he would do to project the entertainment in a rural type of image.
Mr. Daniel notes that the group was performing other chores in the Renfro Valley operations besides their regular entertainment duties.
During his stint at Renfro Valley, Jerry also performed as a solo vocalist. He also was part of the Rusty Gate Quartet which consisted of Troy Gibbs, Wade Baker and Glenn Pennington and Jerry. Another group he was a part of was the Rail Fence Symphony which included Troy Gibbs, Bob Simmons, Tommy Covington, Lloyd Davidson, Roy Davidson and Randall Parker along wiht Jerry. The late 1940s saw Jerry doing other chores such as musical arrangements, leading rehearsals and clearing the numbers for broadcasts.
He left Renfro Valley in 1940 to return to KMOX and work with Pappy Cheshire's entertainment troupe. But as we noted previously, he returned to Renfro Valley. During that spell he must have wrote a tune called "Git Along, Old Paint" that also lists Pappy Cheshire as co-writer.
In the 1940s, hillbilly music and other publications seemed to have some articles that focused on announcing new songs that had been written and who was performing those tunes on their radio shows. In some cases, the authors of the column might be seen as doing a bit of self-promoting. In a Billboard 1946 article, Jerry was said to have a new tune or sheet music that would be in stores that included his picture on the cover. The tune was Land, Sky and Water, written by a fellow Renfro Valley alumni, Al Staas. The tune was published by the Adams, Vee and Abbott publishing company. Jerry introduced that tune to the audiences on March 1, 1946.
Around 1947, he teamed up with Elsie Cartwright and they became a popular duo. She had started her career working with a friend by the name of Jamie and they were known as the Randolph Sisters. Jerry and Elsie were married for a time, but were divorced in 1952. They hdd one daughter, Leilani. She eventually moved to California with her daughter.
He left Renfro Valley again in 1949 and went to WLEX in Lexington, Kentucky. But something about Renfro Valley saw him return again.
Jerry later married someone he met at Renfro Valley, Helen Elizabeth Jackson who was from Danville, Kentucky. They had six children, Pam, Jerry,Carol, Lee Ann, Kathy and Timmy. All were born in Renfro Valley.
Mr. Daniel notes that in his correspondence with Jerry, he did not get the name of his first wife, who apparently had died. They did have a daughter, Morlene.
In 1949, Jerry had left Renfro Valley yet again. This time he teamed up with Gerry CArr, a Girl of the Golden West and her husband, Al Stewart, a fiddler and vocalist to form a group called Jerry Behrens and the Wanderers. They were doing personal appearances in the south.
Jerry recorded several sides for the Okeh label, billing himself as the Louisiana Blue Yodeler.
Finally he moved his family to the New Orleans area. He found work in the New Orleans shipyards. His obituary indicated he worked at the Jahncke Shipyard and Avondale Shipyard.
He piad a last visit to Renfro Valley in August of 1991. Mr. Daniel notes that Jerry was happy to see that much of his happy memories were still in place there, even though John Lair had passed away by that time. Renfro Valley was known as "The valley where time stands still", an image that Mr. Lair had cultivated for many years.
In November 1960, a Billboard column that reviewed radio shows provided a blurb that indicated Jerry was still performing on a show called Boots and Fiddles. The show ran for about 45 minutes and was airing over WGRC in Louisville, Kentucky. It was produced by Doc Cassidy. The article noted that Jerry did a nice duet number with Gerry Carr.
Jerry passed away in Madisonville, Louisiana in 1993.
Credits & Sources
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