About The Artist
Inspiration for the biographies of artists come in many ways. In this particular case, it was a desire to determine who was "Phantom and the Mystery Riders" who had recorded a tune called "I'm Spending Time Counting Roses" for the Sunset Trail Record Company. It took a few years, but the mystery and other details were uncovered.
Charles Edward Secrest was born in Barnesville, Ohio (just a few miles west of Belmont) on July 25, 1913 to parents William and Eula (Davis) Secrest. The 1920 census records show he was the oldest of three children. The other two siblings being Hurles Earle and Woodrow Wilson. However, the 1940 census shows several other siblings - Wayne, Clyde, Carlos, Olive, John, Violet and Leo. Charles and Hurles were no longer with their family.
In 1940, Charles was living with his wife in Canton, Ohio. He had married Freda E. Linkswiller in West Virginia sometime in 1937. They were living with her parents in Canton.
World War II loomed on the horizon. The military enlistment form shows that he enlisted on October 16, 1940. It also showed he was working at the Timken Roller Bearing Company which would later be an early sponsor for him on the radio.
The first mention of his musical journey is in May 1947 in an ad for the "Timken Variety Hour With Music America Loves Featuring All Timken Talent" over WHBC in Canton and WHKC in Columbus. He was "Act I" and the ad indicated he had a 'hillbilly band' but the band did not have a name. However, other research shows that the band may have been named the "Sunset Rhythm Boys", one of the band names associated with Charles from an ad found in June 1947.
By 1948, mentions of the band were seen in National Hillbilly News touting their radio show over WAND in Canton on Saturday evenings from 4:30pm to 5:30pm. They were playing nightly at the Bar 30.
By June of 1948, research begins to see a link to Arlie Kinkade, a writer for the National Hillbilly News and other publications of the era. He was also a songwriter and appears to have had his own publishing company. He noted that the Sunset Rhythm Boys were featuring a song called "Down In Lilac Blossom Land" written by Chaw Mank, Arlie Kinkade and L. Knowlton.
In early 1949, Mary Jean Shurtz told readers who Mr. Secrest had in his Sunset Rhythm Boys band at the time. Charles was the leader of the band. Jim (Smiley) Gilliam played guitar and bass; he had played in and around Canton for years. Jim had also played over radio station WHBC in Canton. Verle (Two Gun) Clapper played all instruments but played mostly fiddle and guitar in the band. Verle had appeared over WWVA and WHBC. Al (Oakie) Oaks played the accordion and chromatic harmonica. Al had played popular music before joining the band. Charles had been known as "Yodeling Chuck" at times. He had also wrote some tunes and played a few for Ms. Shurtz.
In that same 1949 issue, Arlie Kinkade wrote that a song written by Chaw Mank, Arlie Kinkade and L. Knowlton - "Down In Lilac Blossom Land" seemed to be getting good air play over some radio stations. Arlie indicated that the Sunset Rhythm Boys had that on their list to record.
Ms. Shurtz indicated that a tune Charles had written, "Answer To Bouquet of Roses" was 'going over good' and told her of several artists using it. He was reportedly writing other tunes and was hoping to have them published.
In October 1949, Chuck and the Sunset Rhythm Boys were mentioned in Billboard as being heard over WAND. During that fall of 1949, 'Charley' took a trip down to Arkansas and Texas and worked with Jack Hunt's Rhythm Ranch Hands on KTHS in Hot Springs.
'Charlie' continued his songwriting. In January 1950, it was reported he teamed up with Mary Jean Shurtz to compose the tune "The Ohio Waltz." In an April 1950 article, she told readers she had met up with the group again when she was going through Canton. Their show was 4:30pm to 5:30pm on WAND each day. She indicated they were playing at the Golden Arrow Club three nights a week and two nights at the Canton Grill. The group also entertained at the Vets hospitals and did personal appearances when they had the time. She noted that Chuck could really do some good yodeling. Chuck, Oakie and Two-Gun also did trio numbers.
Arlie Kinkade indicated that the Sunset Rhythm Boys were featuring songs out of new song book he had just released - Log Cabin Folio (No. 6). He also indicated that a recording company was looking to possibly sign them for some recording but no date had been set to cut the masters.
Perhaps the 'record label' was actually the one that Chuck had started himself - Sunset Trail Record Co. Billboard reviewed the release in their July 14, 1951 issue. The tune, "Love, Laughter and Tears" was "Okay waltz is warmly sung by Secrest with the string group supplying a good terp beat." It gave that side an overall rating of 70. The flip side, "Love'n Blues", Billboard said "Both Secrest and the ork are less effective on this blues chant."
Another release on the Sunset Trail Record label was the one that started all of this research several years ago. It was time to put all the pieces together to compile a story. The record was by The Phantom and accompaniment was by the Mystery Riders. The tunes that were released were "Don't Be Blue My Darlin'" b/w "I'm Spending My Time Countin' Roses." In the June 9, 1951 issue of Billboard, they reviewed the tunes and were not impressed. They rated "Don't Be Blue, My Darlin'" a 50 overall. They wrote, "NOthing mysterious about this wax. It's just ordinary western material sung by an innocuous-voiced chanter." For the flip side, they simply wrote "Same comment."
In 1953, the group consisting of Smilie, Verle, Okey and Chuck signed with the Tin Pan Alley Recording Company in New York City. Verle Clapper and the Sunset Rhythm Boys recorded two tunes and it was the first record released by the label. The tunes Verle sang were "What's It Gonna Get You?" b/w "I Never Knew." That information came from a Cowboy Songs page called "Five Favorites" featuring the group. It told readers that Chuck owned the Sunset Trail Recording Company. The tunes mentioned he recorded those credited to the Phantom and the Mystery Riders.
Around 1954, either Chuck disbanded the Sunset Rhythm Boys or had formed a new group called the Western Spotlighters. The Hoedown on the Lowdown column written by Bud Ballard told readers that Chuck had cut a new tune called "An Old Fashioned Girl." During that same year, the local Akron paper told readers that the Western Spotlighters were in New York City on August 27, 1954 for auditions for the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. The members that went were James Linn, Rusty Stanley, Freddy Calhoun and Chuck Secrest.
Chuck continued to mix things up a bit with his name. In 1955, he became Abe Link and recorded a couple of tunes on the Canton (of Ohio) label that were reviewed in Billboard. On Canton 106, side a, "Town and Country Polka", Billboard gave it a 58 rating stating "The stronger of two sides, both of which suffer from bad recording. For side b "Skeleton Boogie" (Note: The actual record label itself says "Skeleton Bookie"), Billboard rated it a 55 stating "This all-Canton, O., product has some interesting effects, but it's very badly recorded. Both sides were co-written by Arlie Kinkade and Chuck Secrest.
In mid 1955, he appears to have gone back to using the Sunset Rhythm Boys band, at least locally. Personal appearance ads would show the group, including being on the program for a Grand Ole Opry show in Canton that featured Hank Snow.
Arlie Kinkade died in January of 1962. In Billboard's issue of August 1, 1964, there is mention that Chuck Secrest mentions that Arlie and Chuck were partners and that he now owned all of Arlie's music holdings. He wanted to contact all the writers who collaborated with Arlie on songs in the psst.
Research also showed the Sunset Rhythm Boys had a television show over Channel 33 (WYTV).
Chuck Secrest passed away on May 9, 1987 while living in Miami, Florida. The Miami Herald newspaper of May 11, 1987 told readers that services were to be held in Canton, Ohio. His wife, Freda, born in April 1919 in Alliance, Ohio died at the age of 92 in February of 2012 in Canton, Ohio. Both Chuck and Freda are buried in the Sunset Hills Burial Park in Canton, Ohio.
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