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Frank Welling
Born:  February 16, 1898
Died:  January 23, 1957
WCHS Old Farm Hour
WBLK Clarksburg, WV
WCHS Charleston, WV
WPAR Parkersburg, WV
WSAZ Huntington, WV

About The Artist

Benjamin Franklin Welling was born in Rome Township, Lawrence County, Ohio, the son of Harvey Welling an old time fiddler. The family had moved a few miles across the Ohio River when Frank was in early childhood. He developed an interest in a wide variety of music, but especially liked the Hawaiian guitar although he also learned to play standard guitar, ukulele, and perhaps other instruments. At some point in late adolescence he is said to have toured in vaudeville with a Hawaiian group called Domingo's Filipino [sic] Serenaders.

From about 1917, he became acquainted with an older man, John McGhee, and they often worked together for the next twenty years in both amateur and professional musical endeavors.

Frank courted and married Imogene Rippetoe (B: January 9, 1905 — D: March 5, 1923) (Marriage: January 10, 1921 — Huntington, WV). However, his young bride died at an early age. Imogene had a younger sister named Thelma (B: January 3, 1907 — D: June 16, 1994) (married September 1, 1923 — Huntington, WV) and Frank subsequently repeated the process. This marriage resulted in three daughters, would last for life, and Thelma would outlive her husband by at least a quarter century. In fact, she even recorded a few numbers with him in 1929 and 1930.

Frank Welling worked with John McGhee and others in various musical forms in and around Huntington, These included minstrel shows, barbershop quartets, gospel quartets, operettas, and whatever the situation called for. Musical cohorts included Tom Cogar, William Shannon, Jack Teter, Miller Wikel. For a time about 1928, he and Thomas House operated The Frank Welling Hawaiian Studio and gave lessons. Welling, McGhee, Cogar, and Shannon all worked in a gospel quartet around Huntington. In one instance Welling took Shannon as a duet partner to a Paramount session while McGhee took Cogar to a Gennett session (an instance where they divided their forces as the sessions were held only a few days apart).

However, the musical high point of Welling's work took place at recording studios in Richmond, Indiana, Grafton, Wisconsin, Chicago, and New York City, as well as a makeshift studio in Ashland, Kentucky. While most of these were with John McGhee, he did some on his own although sometimes McGhee helped back him up. In addition to being one of the first practitioners of the steel guitar in country music, Welling was probably the first to do recitations within a song beginning with "Too Many Parties and Too Many Pals" in 1928 (Hank Williams as Luke the Drifter would later record the tune).

In mid-August 1932 the long-time partners did their last session together. The Depression was deep by then. Frank Welling did a session in April 1933 with WSAZ pianist Harry Sayre backing him. Back in the previous July he had another solo session in which some of the recordings were released as by "Frank Welling, the Evans Old Timer," which suggests that the Evans Grocery Store chain may have been sponsoring him on a WSAZ radio program. However, with the economy in the tank, it would be safe to say that neither the stores nor Frank benefitted much from the combination.

By 1937 Welling had relocated to WCHS Charleston, where he retained his old solo identity, but also created a new one, becoming an elderly bearded old-timer known as "Uncle Si." Not even forty at the time, he also had a weekday broadcast over the four stations WCHS Charleston, WPAR Parkersburg, WSAZ Huntington, and WBLK Charksburg as the "Pow-A-Tan" Old Timer." Together with Buddy Starcher, they created a Friday night jamboree type program known as the Old Farm Hour which included all the WSAZ country entertainers. It ran until 1942 when wartime restrictions shut it down. A post war revival effort failed to revive it. Welling also apparently hosted a children's program sponsored by a store (or stores) called Charmco. Daughter Jean was apparently on it, recalling in 1981 that people sometimes still recognized her as "Charmco Jean."

A publication called "Song Exchange News" featured Frank on its cover in 1939 and included a letter he wrote to the publication regarding a performance by Arlie Kinkade at WCHS.

To Whom It May Concern:
I was certainly surprised, but pleased at the performance of Arlie Kinkade, the Champion One Hand Fiddler of Graysville, Ohio, whom we got to appear on the WCHS (Charleston W. Va.) Old Farm Hour, Friday night, July 14, 1939, a program which we put on every Friday night before an audience in the WCHS auditorium.

Arlie pleased the audience very much with his novelty trick fiddling, for he can do more tricks with a fiddle than a monkey can do with a peanut, and I'm not kidding.

I will explain to the readers who don't know him personally, that he was afflicted with infantile paralysis when very young, thus causing his right hand to be paralyzed and useless.

I don't know whether I can explain to the readers the tricks with the violin he did while on the Old Farm Hour, but will try. The first selection he placed the violin bow in his right (useless) hand, holding the bow stationary and working the violin up and down over the bow with his left hand, also fingering with his left hand. He played a fast selection and the audience sat spellbound. The second selection he slowed the tempo to a waltz, "Over The Waves," and the third and last selection, he asked for a chair which was furnished him. He sat down, placing the bow between his knees, and played a fast tune, running the violin up and down over the bow. I believe the selection was "Whistling Rufus." The audience gave him a big hand as he disappeared into the wings, wondering how he did it. It is wonderful how he plays the violin, handicapped the way he is.

he "jammed" with all the fiddling troupes over the air, on this station (including Cliff Carlisle's troupe, Bill Carlisle and his Kentucky Home Boys, Natchee and his Mail Pouch Tribe, the Red River Rangers and the Delmore Bros. and their Tennessee Barn Dance Boys) on his two-day stay here and was liked by all.

If nothing prevents, we will have Arlie Kinkade and his Cherry Hill Boys on the WCHS Old Farm Hour this fall, where Arlie says he can show us more tricks.

Arlie, we wish the best of luck to you and yours, and are boosting for you.
Your old pard,
Frank Welling
Ass't Program Director — WCHS

Webmaster note: Arlie was the publisher and editor of Song Exchange News and was a regular contributor to the magazine, National Hillbilly News published by Jenny and Orville Via in Huntington, WV.

Welling remained at WCHS until 1955.

Columnis John S. Phillips wrote of a memory he had of Frank Welling. He recalls that when Frank was on WCHS and doing his Uncle Si character, he drew upon a stock of old jokes and gags. He always re-used them and had a knack for making them sound 'fresh.' He would usually approach someone unexpectedly and say, "It's a great day for the race!" Of course, the unsuspecting person would ask him, "What race?" Frank would then reply, "The Human Race!"

Welling's final recording was done about 1952 on the Red Robin label, one side being a cover of a Little Jimmie Dickens song (who he probably introduced at the Old Farm Hour). He moved to radio work at Chattanooga for a time, but returned to Charleston after a few months, ill with peritonitis, from which he expired nearly four weeks from his 59th birthday.

Song Exchange News - Cover Photo - Frank Welling - Fall Edition 1939

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its thanks to Ivan M. Tribe, author of Mountaineer Jamboree — Country Music in West Virginia and other books that can be found on Amazon.com and numerous articles in other publications for providing us with information about this artist.
  • Speaking of Neighbors; John S. Phillips; November 20, 1960; Post Herald and Register; Beckley, WV
  • A Letter From Frank Welling; Song Exchange News; Vol. 2 No. 1; Fall Edition 1939; Song Exchange Club; Graysville, Ohio

Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

 
Champion
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  16474 A The Voice in the Village Choir
  16474 B My Little Mountain Home
  16500 A Maybe Next Week Sometime (as Frank Welling The Evans Old Timer)
  16500 B My Mother in Law (as Frank Welling The Evans Old Timer)
  16512 A Sing Me a Song of the South (as Frank Welling The Evans Old Timer)
  16512 B Honeysuckle Time
  16588 A The Ill Fated Akron (with Harry Sayre, piano)
  16588 B The Old Man's Story (with Harry Sayre, piano)
  16594 A Back in the Old Sunday School (with Harry Sayre, piano)
  16594 B Little Old Crossroad Store (with Harry Sayre, piano)
  16609 A I Wouldn?t Trade the Silver in My Mother?s Hair (with Harry Sayre, piano)
  16609 B Shake Hands with Mother Again (with Harry Sayre, piano)
  16618 A Roll It Down Baby
  16618 B Willie After the Ball
  16633 A The Rock that?s Higher than I (as The Gospel Singers)
  16633 B Sunrise (as The Gospel Singers)
  16652 A Daddy?s Lullaby (with Harry Sayre, piano)
  16652 B Mother and Son (Welling, solo)
 
Gennett
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  6616 A Yodelin' Daddy Blues
  6616 B Roll On Silvery Moon (by Fred Wingate)
  6719 A Lonely Village Churchyard
  6719 B by Welling & McGhee
  7271 A I Am Coming Home (as Welling Trio)
  7271 B Just Inside the Eastern Gate (as Welling Trio)
  7291 A Wait Till the Sun Shines Nellie (as Welling Trio)
  7291 B Tie Me to Your Apron Strings Again (as Welling Trio)
 
Paramount
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  3127 A S. O. S. Vestris (as Welling and Shannon)
  3127 B Not Welling & Shannon bu the Ozark Warblers
  3134 A I?m a Child of the Sing (as Welling and Shannon)
  3134 B Brighten the Corner Where You Are (as Welling and Shannon
  3142 A Are You a Christian (as Welling and Shannon)
  3142 B Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone (as Welling and Shannon)
  3287 A Busted Bank Blues
  3287 B Picture On The Wall (By Frank Welling, John McGhee and Alma McGhee)
 
Red Robin
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  503 A Eleven More Months and Ten More Days (as Uncle Si)
  503 B Country Boy (as Uncle Si)