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Wagon Wheel Orchestra
WSM Grand Ole Opry
WLAC Nashville, TN
WSM Nashville, TN

About the Group

About The Group

Note: This is one of a series of biographies on the site that came about from doing research on Appendix A - The Opry Roster 1925 - 1935 from Charles K. Wolfe's "A Good Natured Riot." Our research was done to identify the people / performers he did not. For the Wagon Wheels Orchestra entry, Wolfe wrote:

"Apparently a western group modeled on the Sons of the Pioneers. No other information. 1936: 4/11."

Redwood City Rodeo Ad - July 1954 California Hayride Ad - January 1956

The name of this group may bring to mind a western, cowboy vision. While scanning articles of the history of this venue, it is interesting to see what may have prompted this orchestra to be included in the Grand Ole Opry broadcast at 12:00 midnight on April 11, 1936. Readers may find it interesting and revealing as to who may have been on that broadcast.

But, research shows this was a dance orchestra that was associated with a restaurant, dance floor and bowling alley hall called the "Wagon Wheel" on 101 Harding Road. It was said to be the "largest and most popular night club in the South."

The night club opened on May 19, 1934. A newspaper ad indicates that Jimmy Gallagher's orchestra was the first entertainment at the venue. It advertised itself as the "largest and coolest dance floor in Nashville". It could accommodate 500 people. Cover charge on opening night was 55 cents.

In 1934, the Wagon Wheel Orchestra was being heard over radio station WLAC at 11:00pm, perhaps by a remote broadcast from the dance floor.

Ads found in May of 1934 show that the Wagon Wheel Orchestra was under the direction of Gene French. One ad shows that Al Calvin and Marguerite, a professional vaudeville dance team were a special attraction.

Later ads show Reita Smith was a featured act. A few days later, Aaron Campbell's Mountaineers was sharing the stage with Reita.

The promotions cited in the ads might give the reader an idea of what this place was like.

  • Dine and dance on the Largest and Coolest Dance Floor in Nashville.
  • Come Out and Get In A Stall
  • It's New-It's Different-It's Smart
  • Nashville's Largest and Coolest Dance Floor

An article in the Banner in November 1935 spoke to the popularity of the venue. H. Gordon Nichol was the manager and his nickname was "Gawky". He arranged for some of the top bands in the country to appear at the venue. In the spring of 1935, it was said he acquired a half interest in the venue.

The venue was also a place where many organizations such as fraternities, sororities, political parties, social clubs would hold events and dances.

Dianne Leigh - Studio Portrait November 1935 saw the club bring in Ina Ray Hutton (an ad touted her as "The Blond Bombshell of Beauty"), then a 19 year-old singer who had her own orchestra of 15 girls. The group had played around the country in such venues as the Shez Paree night club in Chicago and the Palais Royal in New York. Her orchestra was known as the Melodears which could play popular music from the "slow and dreamy type to real hot jazz." For that two night engagement, the cover charge was $1.25 on Friday and $1.65 on Saturday.

In another instance that tends to show the 'unbroken circle' of country music's history and how paths cross, Ina Ray Hutton would a couple of decades later help a young singer as part of her Las Vegas show. That young singer's name was Marilyn Orlando who was part of the Hoffman Hayride show as a teen-ager. Click on Marilyn's name above to read more about her,

In January of 1936, the Nashville Banner was reporting the appointment of John Bomar as the manager of the night club, succeeding Gordon Nichol. The article noted that Mr. Gordon had resigned to take on the managerial role of the Seventh Avenue Garage. The club was owned by J. C. Eakle. Mr. Bomar had been with the club almost since its beginning and played a role in the club's growth.

Mr. Bomar stated that plans for improvements to the dance floor and bowling alleys. Jimmy Gallagher and his orchestra were to provide the music and entertainment starting Tuesday, January 7, 1936. Mr. Bomar planned to bring in popular orchestras for one night engagements during the winter months.

The club brought in a variety of acts, but none seemed to be "country" oriented, but more towards bands that played dance music. One act was Martini the Great, a magician who had worked in vaudeville and night clubs. February saw the club bring in Jose Sanders and his Nighthawks, Ted Jennings and his orchestra, and Dave Burnside and his Columbia Broadcasting orchestra.

Redwood City Rodeo Ad - July 1954 California Hayride Ad - January 1956

The Sunday Nashville Banner on March 22, 1936 told readers that Carl (Deacon) Moore and his band would open on March 24 for "an indefinite period". Country music fans may recognize the name - he later became known as the "Squeakin' Deacon" when he moved to California and became part of the scene there including the Town Hall Party show and doing radio broadcasts. Even at that time as a band leader, he was also known for his comedy. On Mach 29, it was announced that the club had extended Moore and his band for another two weeks due to "many requests." It was stated that a featured female vocalist was Marge Hudson, Radio's Bluebird (she later married Carl), along with Munson Compton.

Joe Venuti The Nashville Banner's Sunday radio logs published on Sunday April 5, listing broadcast highlights for the upcoming week list Carl Moore and His Orchestra broadcasting over WSM on Tuesday, April 7 at 10:30pm.

It was announced that Joe Venuti and his NBC orchestra were to be a part of a special Easter Weekend which would feature a "battle of music" between Venuti and Moore and their bands.

An article pointed out that Venuti was known as an orchestral 'fiddler' and Moore an expert at comedy. Mary Ann and Tony Sacco were the featured vocalists in Venutiís band. Marge Hudson and Munson Compton were the features in the Deaconís band. Deacon may have had the upper hand due to his comedic instincts. The two bands would vie for the greatest applause which would lead to a determination of the 'winner'.

It is this author's contention that this 'contest' was broadcast on the Opry broadcast at midnight on April 11, 1936.

Carl (Deacon) Moore and his band ended their extended engagement on the weekend of April 19 and 20; the club had said there would be a special farewell party for Carl's group of entertainers.

In 1936, ads show a change in the venue. Adrian McDowell was now leading the Wagon Wheel Orchestra. In addition, famous popular acts were being booked. On July 4, 1936, Cab Calloway and his Cotton Club Orchestra were booked. Advance tickets were on sale for $1.50. On July 28, 1936, Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra were to make an appearance; advance tickets were being sold at the Florsheim Shoe Store. The cover/couvert charge had been raised from 55 cents to 75 cents.

But never shying away from curiosity, several more searches reveal that the club ran into some controversy in June of 1936. A subpoena service against one of two defendants in a $1,000 copyright infringement damage suit filed. This was due to two restricted musical pieces being played at the Wagon Wheel during the past year (1935-1936). The plaintiff was Gene Buck, then the president of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and Irving Berlin, Inc. It was stated that the club infringed upon copyrights of two songs - "Cheek to Cheek" and "I'm Putting All My Eggs In One Basket". The plaintiffs were seeking $250 for each song against each defendant. It is not clear who the other defendant was besides the club.

Something had changed in the club and its operations in the latter half of 1936. Ads were showing 'new managers'. In June, an ad stated Mrs. Fleming was manager. In July, an ad stated that Mrs. Charlie Price was manager.

The club made the news in early June of 1937 when Frank Merrill, the master of ceremonies for the "Zorine and Her Nudists" show was fined $25 and costs in the Court of General Sessions. He was charged with putting on a show "injurious to public morals" and open and notorious lewdness. He pled guilty to Judge S. Trigg Moore. Similar charges were put to Horace Sistare, the manager of the show which was put on at the Wagon Wheel on June 4, 1937. The Attorney General, J. Carlton Loser recommended the charges be dismissed for him. No disposition had been made to Marshall Daugherty, then manager of the Wagon Wheel. The Attorney General wared authorities at the Wagon Wheel in advance that a "lascivious exhibition would not be tolerated."

The very next day, an ad appeared in the Tennessean trying to regain customer faith in the entertainment they offered. The Zorne engagement was being changed and upon the end, the club would feature Jan Garber on June 10th with Clyde McCoy coming to the club on June 23rd.

Click on his name to read more about the long musical career of Carl (The Squeakin' Deacon) Moore.

Carl Moore and His Orchestra

Guiseppe (Joe) Venuti was born in Philadelphia, PA on September 16, 1903; he died on August 14, 1978 in Seattle, WA.

Credits & Sources

  • A Good-Natured Riot; Charles K. Wolfe, 1999, Country Music Foundation Press, Vanderbuilt University Press, ISBN: 0-8265-1331-X
  • Opens Tonight! (Ad); May 19, 1934; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Girl Orchestra Is Wagon Wheel Feature; November 3, 1935; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Wagon Wheel's Sudden Rise To Favor Is Unique; November 4, 1935; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Tonight Carl "Deacon" Moore and His Entertaining Band (Ad); November 4, 1935; The Tennessean; Nashville, TN
  • At Wagon Wheel: John Bomar; January 5, 1936; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Magician Featured At The Wagon Wheel; January 23, 1936; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • At Wagon Wheel: Joe Sanders; February 10, 1936; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Tonight - Wagon Wheel In Person - Joe Sanders (Ad); February 10, 1936; The Tennessean; Nashville, TN
  • At Wagon Wheel: Ted Jennings; February 16, 1936; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Burnside To Play At Wagon Wheel; March 15, 1936; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Orchestra Leader Deacon Moore; March 22, 1936; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Wagon Wheel Extends Engagement of Band; March 29, 1936; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Radio Bluebird - Marge Hudson; April 1, 1936; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Radio Highlights for Week; April 5, 1936; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Coming to Wagon Wheel - Joe Venuti; April 5, 1936; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Orchestras To 'Battle' For Musical Honors; April 10, 1936; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Plan Farewell Party For Moore's Orchestra; April 18, 1936; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Copyright Infringement Charged To Night Club; June 10, 1936; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Dance-Tonight Adrian McDowell (Ad); July 5, 1936; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Tonight! Special Every Night; Southern Cooked Three Course Dinner (Ad); October 22, 1936; The Tennessean; Nashville, TN
  • Moore To Play At Wagon Wheel; May 9, 1937; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Show Director Is Fined $25; June 5, 1937; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN
  • Announcement (Ad); June 6, 1937
  • Moore To Play At Wagon Wheel; July 25, 1937; The Nashville Banner; Nashville, TN