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About The Artist
Slim Carter, whose real name was James Conwell, was a notable country singer who spent most of his career in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, and recorded for MGM Records in 1949—1950.
Through most of his radio work, he was accompanied by his wife who was known on radio as "Brown Eyes." In the early 1950's, his popularity declined, his marriage failed, and he had serious legal difficulties including a term in prison which eventually led him to became a street preacher.
Based on the research of Conwell's grand-niece, Sarah Hootman Kearns, his story follows. (Additional information and material added by editor.)
James was born in Harrison County, near Clarksburg. Many West Virginians in the teens and twenties relocated to northeast Ohio, especially the rubber factories in and near Akron, but Ashland, Ohio seems to have been the locale where much of the family eventually settled. At any rate, Conwell seems to have been singing on radio in Akron and/or Cleveland by the time he was fifteen, at least on a part-time basis, and in 1934 and 1935 on the West Virginia stations of WMMN Fairmont and WWVA Wheeling.
When he began using the name Slim Carter is somewhat uncertain.
Meanwhile, in 1934, he married Marjorie Edeburn and they subsequently had two children, James and Betty. In 1940, they were living with the Conwell parents in Albion, Ohio. Shortly afterward, the marriage seems to have dissolved.
A Brownie and Slim Carter Photo Album shows a picture of Slim at the WCMI microphone in Ashland, KY and was dated 1937.
By late 1940 or early 1941, he was back at WWVA where Conwell now used the stage name, Slim Carter. He also met a recent addition to the cast, Mary Shevelnas (spelling per marriage certificate for son, Ron Conwell), who used the stage name "Brown Eyes." (Note: The 1940 census shows Mary living in York, PA as a boarder with about 4 to 5 other 'radio entertainers' - Charles Abern, Jean Johnson, Luther Dincher (Fincher - Shorty?), Sally Harper and Mary.)
They soon became a couple and married on February 14, 1942. A magazine feature article indicated they had won a popularity poll over WWVA in Wheeling which led them to going to radio station WKBN in Youngstown, Ohio until June of 1942.
After leaving Youngstown, they transferred their main base to New Castle, Pennsylvania and radio station WKST where they were quite popular for a few years and hosted a Saturday night barn dance The Home Folks Jamboree program on the Cathedral Stage at the Scottish Rite Auditorium in New Castle as well as playing numerous personal appearances in the region. In October, Movie and Radio Guide showed that Slim had a program at 11:00am with Jessie Porter. On Saturdays, he shared a slot with Brown Eyes. They stayed there until 1945. The 1945 article indicated that their group included Ralph Jones on steel guitar and Merle Queer playing the electric Spanish guitar. Brownie played bass and guitar, yodeled and sang harmony. Slim handled the emcee duties and would also play bass and guitar and did solos as well as harmony parts.
The article mentioned they had published seven song books and their Number One and Number Two DeLuxe Edition, priced at $1.00, were said to be looked upon favorably by other entertainers. Al Hendershot was doing their bookings at that point.
In August 1944, during an appearance at a fair in Franklin, PA, Grant Mitchell provided some insight as to what the audiences saw and heard of Slim's show. Here's what he wrote:
"Last night this writer stood outside the big show tent which was well packed and as the people left one girl made the remakr to the fireman in charge, "The next time I go in there I am going to take more than three hankies so I can really laugh. That Cortez had me rolling with laughing fits." Others made many similar remarks and with Slim Carter carrying on in his own inimical manner, with the added attraction of his beautiful wife to smooth out the rough spots — just like any good wife — the folks really had a time last night. There was Jimmie and his push and pull melody box carrying along so nicely and Happy Hooligan Haggerty just giving his all while Yackie the Yodeler hit high C without being in the Alps. Slim keeps his promises so when he says that tonight and tomorrow night are going to be really deluxe super colossal specials in melody and mirth, one cal lay it on the line that it will be. More talent and a changed show for each night. One should not miss this. "
In January of 1945, Nat Green of Billboard provided some insight as to the varied interests that Slim was involved with at the time. He tells readers that Brownie and Slim's All-Star Radio and Jamboree had toured Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio and in 1944, Slim had his own touring tent show. Slim had a music publishing house, hadnded radio and stage promotions, operated a farm, dabbled in real estate as a side line, raised dogs and collected guns and was also a speedboat fan. He owned three boats.
Slim appears to have formed his own "Carter Enterprises" and was booking shows. One held in 1945 appears to have been similar to the Larry Sunbrock large gatherings of stars for band, fiddle and yodeling contests. It was held on the Cathedral Stage of WKST. Advertised stars appearing included Natchee, winner of several National Champion Fiddle Contests, Jackie Osborne, a yodeling champion. The show included 40 stars for one night on March 3, 1945. However, there were no news reports of who may have won the contests.
In 1945, Slim told Billboard that he had seven big jamborees in June of 1945 in Youngstown and Akron, Ohio and several spots in Pennsylvania. He also opened his tent show in Butler, PA in May and had seven people with him. That group included Jackie Osborne, yodeler, Ralph Jones, steel guitar; Merle Guerr, electric Spanish guitar; Benny Stuart, fiddler; Art Haggerty, ballad singer; Jimmie Lostlen, blind accordion singer. Al Hendershot was handling their bookings.
During mid-1946, National Hillbilly News reported that several acts were combining resources to book shows. Al Hendershot, Salt and Peanuts, Pie Plant Pete and Harmonica Joe. Slim was said to "...have a good radio voice."
At times they seem to have made outside forays to WCHS Charleston, WCMI Ashland, Kentucky, WKNB Youngstown, WMAN Mansfield, Ohio and perhaps even back to WWVA for a time. But New Castle remained their main base and was where their son Ronnie was born. Al Hendershot told readers that after he joined the staff of National Hillbilly News, one of his first stops was at WHIS in Bluefield, WV where he met up with some old friends including Slim Carter.
In January 1950, Bee Offineer reported in her "Audio and Video" column had been signed by radio station WAKR in Akron, Ohio. The article mentions his recording of "My Hungry Heart" had sold 100,000 copies. Their show, "Home Folks Jamboree," was to air at 3:00pm. About a week later, Ms. Offineer told readers that the audience reception of their new show was such that the station added another hour for listeners to enjoy. The additional hour was to be from 5:30am to 6:30am.
Their stint at the Akron station was relatively short. The next news report of their activity was when they appeared on the WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance in Richmond, VA on December 24, 1954.
In 1949 and 1950, Slim recorded eight numbers for MGM and they printed and sold songbooks. Cowboy Songs magazine reported that Eddie Kirk and Merle Travis led the bands that backed Slim on his MGM platters.
Research shows that Cash Box magazine provided reviews for several of those releases.
Other research indicates there may be more recordings. Billboard reported in October of 1948 that Dome Records, a subsidiary of Country Music in Chicago had acquired masters by several artists including Slim Carter and Brown Eyes.
Billboard told readers of Slim's signing with MGM in August 1949. Per the article, Slim was under the personal management of Tim Spencer. The report also indicated that Slim had signed a three year contract with the Hill and Range song publishers.
In October 1949, readers of Billboard magazine learned that Slim had installed remote equipment to enable him to do two disc jockey shifts daily from his Homefolks' Record Shop in Warren, Ohio. Broadcasts would be aired over WPIC in Sharon, PA and WHHH in Warren, OH.
Billboard reported in February 1950 that Slim had done another session with MGM records in Hollywood.
By the early fifties their music career began to decline. In 1954, the Louvin Brothers were touring the Shenandoah Valley doing appearances and were accompanied by Brown Eyes and Slim Carter and the WSVA Farm Hands; the Louvin Brothers returned again in 1955 with another tour. In early November, Jackie Osborne had finished a tour of New England and had decided to settle down with Slim and company at Harrisonburg. They worked at WSVA Harrisonburg, Virginia where they branched into the restaurant business. This, too, went sour and Slim, drowning his troubles in the bottle, shot Brown Eyes in a drunken rage. Luckily, she survived, but the marriage and neither of his careers did not.
It earned him a stretch in prison, during which time or shortly after, he found solace in religion and preaching. At one point, he allegedly hit Johnny Cash up for a donation.
By 1960, he married a third time to Edith Mincey and lived in Knoxville until his death.
Brown Eyes returned to Pennsylvania, remarried, and lived there until her death in 1985 at the age of sixty-four. Her maiden name appears to have different spellings. As noted, a marriage license shows her as Mary Shevelnas. But an obituary for one of her brothers, Michael, spells the family name Shvelnis. Her parents were natives of Lithuania. Her obituary published in the Pittsburgh Press on December 1, 1985 shows her maiden name as Shvelnis. When she passed away, her last name was "Rudzcki", but no information as to her husband was found. However, the only "Rudzcki" that shows up in a search of genealogy records is a "Stanley Rudzcki" who passed away in 1980.
Credits & Sources