Remembering Knoxville's Musical Legacy—Correctly

The release of local "author" Ed Hooper's Knoxville's WNOX is his fifth such book in as many years. Once again Hooper shows that one can get by with throwing together a large group of photographs, spend a few weeks hastily researching a subject, add some captions, then call the results a book.

Although a significant improvement over the last few Hooper works, Knoxville's WNOX contains several inaccuracies that we would like to correct here if only for the sake of history.

Just a few examples:

Hooper states that 90-year-old Harley "Sunshine Slim" Sweet is one of only two remaining members of the WNOX programs (Mid Day Merry Go Round and Tennessee Barn Dance). As much as good ol' Slim would like us to believe this true (and he knows better—we've discussed it), this statement is a disservice to those surviving members of WNOX's golden era of the 1930s and 1940s, all of whom have had long-running and successful careers in the music business.

Lest we forget:

Bonnie Lou Moore (of Bonnie Lou and Buster fame)

Lloyd Bell (Carl Story Band)

Tony Cianciola (played with Chet Atkins and Eddie Hill, to name a few)

Troy Hatcher (Don Gibson's drummer)

Luke Brandon (played with almost everyone)

Jack Cate (Don Gibson)

Ernest Ferguson (Chet Atkins, Eddie Hill, Johnnie and Jack)

Wade Manier (now 102 years of age and still performing)

Johnnie Wright

Kitty Wells

Willie Johnson (The Johnson brothers)

George "Speedy" Krise (Archie Campbell and others)

Sonny James

All are still among the living, several residing in and around Knoxville.

On page 126, Hooper states that the recently demolished Treble Clef monument once located on the lower end of Gay Street was located in "Crutch" Park, and placed there by Knox Heritage. Hooper must not get downtown too often, otherwise he would have known that Krutch Park is located off Union Avenue, adjacent to Market Square. The monument itself was originally sponsored by the Knoxville News Sentinel in 1986.

Hooper writes that his book is meant to be an overview of WNOX history, (with "no cherry-picking"). But missing from the book are the early, formative years of the station's (and country music's) history during the 1920s and early 1930s. Where are the photos of radio pioneer and WNOX/WROL founder Stuart Adcock? Also missing in action are the hugely popular Maynard Baird and Skeet Tallent jazz orchestras, seminal old-time duo Mac and Bob, Oliver Springs balladeer Hugh Cross, the Tennessee Ramblers, and others. And no mention at all of the incredibly prolific St. James Hotel recording sessions held at the WNOX studios during 1929 and 1930. Knoxville's rich musical heritage and legacy deserves much more.

The most redeeming feature of this book is the amazing collection of photographs compiled from various sources. But here again, Hooper sometimes makes mistakes. There are instances of captions featuring misspelled names, misidentified and unidentified musicians, and errors in dates and locations. Incidentally, Hooper fails to credit the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound for use of photographs from its collection.

It is troublesome that Hooper can continue to put out these regional Arcadia Press history books on an assembly line basis, and even win awards for them. Sloppy work hurriedly researched, with little or no fact checking, will inevitably lead to irresponsible revisions of our local history. On the other hand, Hooper shows promise as an author and is hopefully capable of much better work than this. If only he would just take the time for research, and immerse himself in one particular subject for more than a few weeks.

Bradley Reeves

Tennessee Archive of Moving image and Sound


Ed. Note: Ed Hooper was the recipient of the Golden Press Card Award, the highest honor awarded by the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists, for his 2008 book, Knoxville in the Vietnam Era.