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About The Artist
He was born Burless Franklin Wooddell to Howard and Ola Wooddell in Green Bank, West Virginia, a town about 52 miles south of Elkin, near the foot of Cheat Mountain. Woody Wooddell would eventually lead a group of entertainers called the Ridin' Rangers. He first learned to play the guitar when he was just seven years old. His parents were apparently musically inclined as well. His dad was a banjo picker and could "take off" on the old time tunes he noted in his old song folio.
Prior to World War II, Woody traveled around the country with various country and western bands. He was based in places such as Key West and Miami, Florida as well as in New York and the midwest.
Woody and his band, the Ridin' Rangers played for a time at various radio station such as WKBN in Youngstown, Ohio, WJW in Cleveland, WSPD in Toledo. In fact, he worked for seven months with "The Montana Kid" in Toledo.
He worked for a time with the White Horse Show that was from Naper, Nebraska. That got him an appearance at New York's famed Madison Square Garden along with Gene Autry's Flying A Ranch.
On September 15, 1942, Woody married his wife the former Shirley McCahan, daughter of Nevin and Loraine Townsend McCahan. The certificate of marriage filed in the Commonwealth of Virginia indicates that Woody was divorced. For Shirley, it was her first marriage. The certificate indicated Woody was working as a painter at the time, his wife as an assembler.
He joined the U. S. Army in 1943, but was discharged within six months due to a physical disability.
Texas Frank reported in his Cowboy Music World column in early 1945 that Woody and his band were part of a large package show that played in Youngstown, Ohio on February 11, 1945. The attendance was over 6,000 people and reportedly they had to turn away 2,500 more. Slim Carter and his band were the headliners. Others on the show were Slim Bryant, Pie Plant Pete and Bashful Harmonica Joe, Natchee, the Indian Fiddler, Marty Licklider and his Missouri Fox Hunters and Jack Osborne.
In 1946, Woody and his Ridin' Rangers made a move with Jimmy Wakely called "Moon Over Montana" for the Monogram Pictures studio. Woody and his band sang "Ramble On" in the movie.
Also in 1946, the band was doing a Monday through Saturday one hour show at 5:30pm over WPIC in Sharon, Pennsylvania. In the summer of 1946, Buddy Starcher had his own outdoor park known as "Traveler's Rest". It was located on Route 40, 17 miles east of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Woody's band was one of the featured acts that summer. Others were well known stars of the area in that era, Gay Schwing, Ed Moose, Doc Williams with his Border Riders, Budge and Fudge, Lee Moore, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Curly Miller, Al Hendershot, Blaine Smith with his brother Cal, Slim Bryant and on the list goes.
Mary Jean Shurtz wrote in her 1948 column that she had seen Woody and his band the Ridin' Rangers at Hillside Park in Newcomerstown. She mentioned she had seen Woody's show a year earlier and told folks it was a memorable experience. She wrote fondly of having her picture taken with the band and Woody noting the picture might be in their next songbook.
Ms. Shurtz reported that on March 28, 1948, Woody was one of the acts that appeared on one of the biggest shows staged in Akron, Ohio at the Armory. The show included other acts such as Slim Bryant and his Georgia Wildcats; Lulu Belle and Scotty of WLS; George Morgan along with Harry Smith and his Rubber City Trio. Cliff Rodgers of local station WHKK was the emcee for the show.
In 1948, Matt Pelkonen reported that Woody Wooddell and his Ridin' Rangers released their first recording on the Dome Records label.
When he left the Army, he came back to Sharon, Pennsylvania and began working at radio station WPIC. He had a daily show back then and it was said to have consisted entirely of listener requests. Part of that show included a "mail call" where he would read their letters or entertain their requests.
Along about 1952 or so, he had a bit of a hit record on the Dome Records label with a tune called "Elfie the Elf" that he recorded with the Bailey Sisters. That song evidently stayed around a while as Billboard was reporting in 1966 that Jack Swanson was promoting that record by mailing out small t-shirts with a picture of an elf on them. Later, he did another holiday novelty type of tune called "Pinky Hopalong" for the label. The daughter of Bert Gilmore (who was one of the original band members) wrote us and said that they used her toy piano in the recording of that tune.
While the articles we have found do not mention many names of the band members, we did have Bert's daughter write us and tell us about her dad. He played the comedic role of "Cabbage Head" for the group as well as doing vocals, and playing guitar and bass. Another member was a 17-year old accordion player named John Burnat who was hired to join the group and do vocals as well.
Woody looks to have been more than just a recording act for the Dome label. We learn in a later article that Russ Hull of Country Music Enterprises incorporated the label in 1952. Russ had two other associates with him at that time on the label - Woody Wooddell and Lorraine Yuhasz. The label's roster included such folks as Eddy Wayne, Marty Roberts, Blaine Smith and others from the Pine Hollow Jamboree including Walt Dayton, Johnny Bernat, Bill Clarke and the Bailey Sisters. The label had ten distributors back then. Mr. Hull was said to be the A&R Head, with Mr. Wooddell being the musical director and recording supervisor. The label's first release was the tune mentioned above, "Elfie the Elf".
In 1952, he organized the Pine Hollow Jamboree show. The show was sponsored by Schuster Coal and Ice back in 1953. That show grew in popularity. The radio audience was invited to attend the show in person. The crowds filled the radio studio each Saturday night and began to spill out into the station's library and lobby as well. The show then moved to the Elk's Auditorium in Farrell, PA and began to charge an admission fee. That did not deter the audience and eventually it moved to the Reynolds Auditorium on Sharon-Greenville Road, where 1,200 to 1,300 people would attend each weekend. The Jamboree had a bit of a network back then - ten stations carried it in Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania.
A 1953 Billboard magazine listing indicated Woody and his band were doing about 14 personal appearances a month.
In 1956, a fan wrote into Country & Western Jamboree indicating that Woody had a was doing an afternoon stint as a disc jockey over WPIC on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Woody and his wife also ran other businesses on the side in addition to the regular Pine Hollow Jamboree shows. His wife managed the roller rink that had events on Friday nights. Woody was ran an auction business as well. Later after leaving the music business, he appears to have went into trailer sales.
Woody passed away in February of 1989 in Florida. His wife, born on June 12, 1923, died on June 2, 2015 in Concord, North Carolina. They are both buried in Hillsboro Memorial Cemetery in Hillsborough County Florida. They had one son, Gary.
Timeline and Trivia Notes
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Credits & Sources