Hillbilly-Music.com—The People. The Music. The History.
Bun Wilson
Born:  December 5, 1926
Died:  July 19, 2014
Hayloft Frolic
Renfro Valley Barn Dance
WLW Cincinnati, OH
WNBS Murray, KY
WNGO Mayfield, KY
WTPR Paris, TN

About The Artist

Billy Bun Wilson was an all-around country music figure, but probably best remembered as a comedian. Career highlights included three years on the syndicated Ernest Tubb syndicated television show and several more at Renfro Valley also as a singer where he excelled in his portrayal as a drunk. He also did comedy with other artists and was a singer and drummer at various times.

Born near the community of Puryear in Henry County, Tennessee, Wilson's father was called Bun as a nickname, but he liked it so well they gave it to their son as a real middle name. Wilson initially played in the Paris, Tennessee — Mayfield, Kentucky area with an older man, Tennessee Slim (born Roe Hollingsworth), who had earlier played country music in Cleveland, Ohio before returning to his his hometown of Paris.

In the early fifties Slim cut six sides for Speed Records while Wilson did four credited to "Little Bun Wilson." Bun also worked as a deejay at a station in Mayfield. Of his childhood, Wilson said that as one of twelve kids, we lived so far back in the sticks that we had to get closer to town before we could go hunting.

A 1959 article touched upon his early interest in music. It started when he was in first grade. He asked his teacher if he could sing his lessons. He was also a bit of an inventor as a youngster. Of course, it was music related. He made his first instrument from rubber bands cut from an old inner tub that he fastened to the back of a chair.

While he played the role of emcee in many of the shows he was part of, he was also a musician that could play the drums, guitar and fiddle. He also sang and dance as well as being a comedian.

About March 1956, Wilson moved to Nashville and took various jobs as a sideman and comedian. As he put it, "I played fiddle with [Cowboy] Copas, rhythm guitar for Webb Pierce, played drums and did comedy with Red Sovine, Carl Smith [and] Ernest Tubb." He also toured periodically with Jimmy Dickens, George Morgan, Bobby Lord, and Gordon Terry. Of these, the most significant was probably his work with Sovine which took place on the Philip Morris Caravan tour. A 1959 article mentions that when he came to Nashville, he teamed up with Red Sovine.

The Caravan tour did not always play to large crowds. The show played to a small crowd on its third night in a row at the Municipal Auditorium in Norfolk, VA in June 1957. On that night, about 280 people were in attendance, but the reviewer wrote of a 'spirited show' that was put on by the artists. Proceeds went to the International Naval Review. Mention was made of the patter drummer / comedian Bun Wilson made during the show. He claimed he kissed every woman in the house on the way in. His comedy partner scoffed at his bragging, but the reviewer noted there were fewer than 100 women in the audience. The artists played to 'fair-sized crowds' the previous two nights and the newly installed air conditioning was working in perfect condition.

Screen shot from Ernest Tubb TV Show - Bun Wilson - Circa 1960's
Screen shot from Ernest Tubb TV Show - Bun Wilson and Ernest Tubb - Circa 1960's

Promo Ad - Craterville Amusemenht Park - Hobart OK - Red Sovine - Bun Wilson and the Gadabouts - July 1959
Promo Ad - Rosa's Western Club - Fort Worth, TX - Red Sovine - Bun Wilson and the Gadabouts - Bill Johnson - June 1959

Promo Ad - Ryman Auditorium - Nashville, TN - Philip Morris Country Music Show - Carl Smith - Red Sovine - Goldie Hill - Ronnie Self - Mimi Roman - Biff Collie - Bun Wilson - April 1957
Promo Ad - Klamath Auditorium - Klamath Falls, OR - George Morgan - Annie Lou and Danny - Stringbean - Bun Wilson - Carter Sisters - September 1961
Promo Ad - The Keg - Dayton, OH - Bun Wilson and his Western Gadabouts - November 1955
Promo Ad - Municipal Auditorium - Birmingham, AL - Webb Pierce - Mel Tillis - Red Sovine - Donna Darline - Bun Wilson - The Gadabouts - April 1959

His work with Ernest Tubb had two phases. The first came in 1960 when he became the first person to play drums with the Texas Troubadours, both on the road and in his Decca sessions. The second came in the 1965-1969 years when he did the comedy part on the Ernest Tubb syndicated television Show. In it, there was a sequence which took place in "Bun's Café." Looking back at his drumming days Bun said he was getting quite a bit of session work until real drummers began to show up in the studios.

In later years, Wilson's main musical activity took place at Renfro Valley. He initially played there now and then during the era when Hal Smith was in charge (1966-68) and again after John Lair took it back. He was offered a full-time job there in 1986; he rejected it initially as he was running a camper sales business in Clarksville, Tennessee. Later in 1989 as business had picked up in Renfro Valley, he went to work there as they were having mid-week shows and a weekly comedy show with himself and Pete Stamper as the main attractions. His camper operation was phased out by 1991.

During his Renfro Valley years, Wilson recorded the cassette, Bun Wilson: Up Close and Personal. His comedy work in later years was dominated by his drunken routines but he could suddenly sober up and sing beautiful hymns in what Loyal Jones described as a "melodious bass voice" which often closed the Barn Dance. In addition to the cassette, Bun's comedy and singing appeared on at least two live CDs with other cast members of the Renfro Valley Barn Dance. He was still appearing regularly at Renfro Valley when Jones' book Country Music Humorists and Comedians (2008) went to press, but retired sometime between then and his death in 2014 at age 87.

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.
  • Morris Show Attacts Few - Spirited Performance Presented For Small Coterie of Faithful; June 12, 1957; The Virginian Pilot; Norfolk, VA
  • Folk Music Shot Plays Here Tonight; April 23, 1959; The Columbia Record, Columbia, SC

Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

 
Antenna Records
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  6440 A I Didn't Have But One Hull
  6440 B The Good Ole School Days
 
Stop
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  ST-1585 A Outcome Of My Income
  ST-1585 B The Man That's Been Stealing From You