NEW ORLEANS — Country singer-songwriter Claude King, an original member of the Louisiana Hayride who was best known for the 1962 hit “Wolverton Mountain,” has died. He was 90.
King had just celebrated his birthday and 67th wedding anniversary last month. The couple’s eldest son, Duane King, said his father was found unresponsive in his bed early Thursday morning at his home in Shreveport.
King was one of the original members of the Louisiana Hayride, the Saturday night show where Elvis Presley and Hank Williams Sr. got their start. The show transformed country and western music from 1948 to 1960 with music genres including hillbilly, western swing, jazz, blues and gospel. Duane King recalls meeting Presley and Hank Williams Sr. backstage with his dad at the Hayride.
His father’s hit, “Wolverton Mountain,” co-written with Merle Kilgore, was about an Arkansas mountain man, Clifton Clowers, who guarded his daughter from suitors.
“It was a story song, with a sense of humor, and it was an instant hit,” said Maggie Warwick, owner of the Louisiana Hayride trademark and the production company, Louisiana Hayride Co. Warwick recalled King as “a legend in the Louisiana music industry, one of the greatest songwriters, and a wonderful friend.”
Warwick, who also chairs the Louisiana Music Commission, said King and Tillman Franks were on the Hayride from the very beginning. She said King was known for his guitar-playing skills and knack for writing songs.
“He had a gift for melody and lyrics that was very definable,” Warwick said. “The range and melody and the feeling that goes with his songs, when you hear it, it’s very unique and identifiable with Claude King. He had a personal style that was all his own.”
King’s other hits included “Sheepskin Valley,” “Building a Bridge,” and “Hey Lucille!”
King circulated with stars like Johnny Cash, Slim Whitman, Johnny Horton and Presley, who sent country music rocking from the Hayride stage. But Duane King says his father was never interested in being a big star.
“He could have been as big as anybody, but that’s not what he was about,” said Duane King, who is now 65.
He said his father loved performing in his home state and was a celebrity in Shreveport, where he was given a “Key to the City.”
A star-shaped plaque with his name and hand- and boot-prints were placed on a downtown sidewalk as part of the city’s “Walk of Stars.”
King served in the U.S. Navy, including in the Philippines during World War II, between 1942 and 1946.
He is survived by his wife Barbara, three sons and six grandchildren.