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Al Rawley
and his Wild Azaleas
Born:  June 4, 1918
Died:  April 16, 1999
Massachusetts CMA Hall of Fame (1989)
WCOP Boston, MA
WEEI Boston, MA
WHDH Boston, MA
WMEX Lawrence, MA
WORL Boston, MA

About The Artist

Elton (Al) Rawley Jr. was born in Boston in 1918 to parents Elton and Bertha Rawley. He started strumming a ukulele and singing on WORL, Boston when he was just thirteen. Later that year he switched to a 4-string banjo and moved to WCOP, Boston.

By 1932 his family had moved to Dedham, Massachusetts where he found Chis Maloof and the Red River Rustlers performing. Chris got Al's mom and dad's permission for him to help arrange some furniture on stage one night and they agreed but, when the curtain opened that night they announced that Al was going to sing. The 14-year-old had not rehearsed anything and it came as a complete surprise but he came out and sang Red River Valley, yodeling when he could not remember the words. This may have been around June 15, 1931 as an old National Hillbily News article on the group indicated that Al had been singing on small stations and doing rodeos as well around that time.

They made Al a member of the group that night.

They used him to MC shows and he got some great experience for a few years with this group…experience that would eventually lead to a more than 50 year career entertaining.

From WCOP he moved to WMEX where the "Rustlers" disbanded. Al then teamed up with Frank Taylor who played accordion and they were joined by Paul "Shorty" Cyr and Ray "Snuffy" Polo.

In the late 30's, they moved to WHDH and then to WEEI, expanding the group to include Milan "Kokomo" Harford, Johnny Bright, Ernie Anderson and Ken McRae and named the group The Wild Azaleas.

When World War II came along, many of the group went into the service, leaving Snuffy, Shorty and Al to carry on and renamed them, The Azalea Trio. Al would remain on the station for some 20 years.

Al wrote the Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder magazine back in 1944 of the group's efforts. While on WEEI, they were also on the Columbia Broadcasting System network. They were being sponsored by the E. B. Badger Co. of Cambridge Massachusetts back then. They were on in the 7:00am time frame each day. They were only a trio then as they were awaiting former members to return from military service.

Around 1946, Richard Keeler wrote in his monthly column, "News From Old New England" that most of Al's group had returned from the war and they were on the air at WEEI at 5:45am and also doing personal appearances at the local service hospitals doing "Purple Heart" shows.

The group was also a part of the radio show "Beantown Varieties" over WEEI that aired Monday through Saturday at 8:30am with

The trio was one of the first to appear on experimental TV on Channel 4, WBZ in Boston and always featured western and hillbilly music as it was called on those days.

A young lady named Aileen MacPhee, who was born in Truro, Nova Scotia, came to WEEI in the early 1950's by way Massachusetts stations, WORC and WAAB and WJAR radio and TV in Providence, Rhode Island. Her family had moved to Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. near Worcester when she was about a year and half old. She and Al worked together on the Bean Town Variety Show on WEEI. The announcer was Carleton Dickerman while the master of ceremonies task was handled by Carl Moore.

In the mid-1950's, Al moved to CKCW-TV in Moncton, New Brunswick in Canada and played a tape of Aileen singing and playing piano for staton's general manager. He liked what he heard and had Al bring Aileen to Canada. Here they worked together as Al and Aileen and on June 2, 1956 they were married in Maine as they wanted to be married in the United States.

They did return to Canada but later moved to WABI in Bangor, ME, and then on to the tiny WTWO-TV operation, which later changed to WLBZ-TV.

Aileen retired in 1957 but Al continued to entertain for about ten more years and worked a couple of years as a DJ on WDEA in Elsworth, Maine. He was forced to retire in 1982 after suffering a stroke. Aileen died in March of 1997 at age 74. Al died from missing her about six months later.

His theme song while the bands were together was "When the Wild Azaleas Start Blooming". His biggest hit was "(A) Dear John Letter" on MGM with Pat O'Day. Record lists the artists as Pat O'Day and The Four Horsemen.

After being awarded the Maine Pioneer Award from the Down East Country Music Association, Al Rawley was inducted into the Massachusetts Country Music Awards Association Hall of Fame in 1989.

The group used variou names over the years due to changes in personnel, especially during World War II. The list of band members below reflects those identified as having been a part of Al Rawley's troupe over the years. During World War II, Al, Shorty and Snuffy were known as "The Wild Azaleas".

Timeline & Trivia Notes

Group Members:

  • Al Rawley, emcee, guitar, vocals
  • Snuffy Polo, violin and vocals
  • Shorty Cyr, guitar, vocals
  • Johnny Bright, accordion
  • Mac McRae, bass
  • Ernie Anderson, banjo and hot guitar
  • Steve Panosian, vibraphonist and trumpet
  • Mo Hartford, Hawaiian guitar, saxophone and clarinet

Credits and Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank Gordy Brown, former president of New England Country Music Association for providing biographical information and pictures.
  • The Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; December 1944; Mountain Broacast Pub. Co., Inc.; New York, NY
  • The Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; March 1946; Mountain Broacast Pub. Co., Inc.; New York, NY
  • National Hillbilly News; April 1946; Orville and Jenny Via; Huntington, WV
  • Song and Picture Barn Dance Magazine; Issue No. 3; 1947; Chicago, IL

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