Athol Daily News – A page in North Quabbin history: Yodeling Slim Clark put Athol on the country music map

When we think of country music, we often think of Nashville. However, Athol also made contributions to the genre, including those of Yodeling Slim Clark and the Red River Rangers. “He was the first famous local cowboy singer in this area of ​​Massachusetts,” said Clifford Murphy, author of Yankee Twang, Country and Western Music in New England.

In the 1930s, Clark began playing shows on what was called the kerosene circuit, according to Clark. “This circuit included concerts in barn rooms, town halls and churches where there was no electricity or public address system. Instead, kerosene lanterns were used and he would take the stage and sing his songs,” Murphy said. Clark was born in Springfield and eventually moved to Petersham where his mother, Mary Clark, brother and sister lived, said Clark’s daughter Jewel, who also yodels.

Among the yodellers who inspired Clark were Wilf Carter and Jimmie Rogers. “My dad always loved Jimmie Rogers and Wilf Carter, who both yodelled,” Clark said. She went on to read a book called “Yodeling-Ay-Ee-Oooo: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World”, by Bert Plentenga. In the book, Plentenga describes Clark as the “spiritual son-in-law of Jimmy Rogers and Wilf Carter. It would have honored him to be portrayed that way,” Clark said.

Clark formed the Athol-based band, the Red River Rangers, in the late 1930s. The band played on WARE in Ware and WKNE in Keene, New Hampshire. “They would play a set live on the radio, and then people would write letters asking them to play in their city, and then they would go and play in their city,” Murphy said.

Other well-known members of the Red River Rangers band included Kenny Roberts, another famous musician and yodeler who lived in Athol and attended Athol High School. Rogers dropped out of high school in his freshman year and joined the Red River Rangers singing and playing mandolin, Murphy said, adding that he interviewed Roberts for his book. “Kenny Roberts said his dad wasn’t happy he dropped out of high school to play music.” Roberts was eventually recruited by another group called the Down Homers, who in 1943 moved to Iowa. In 1944 Roberts was drafted into the Navy. Before Roberts left the band, he had to train his replacement, Bill Haley, later from Bill Haley and the Comets, Murphy said.

Red River Rangers live broadcasts were four hours long, according to Murphy. “The first part was a concert with people sitting around listening to cowboy and folk songs. Then the chairs would be moved out of the room and there would be two hours of dancing to traditional country and fiddle tunes,” he said. “Slim Clark was known for singing songs about cowboys, tramps and heartbreak. Stuff that makes you cry and wants to take you on a hike, on a freight train and on an adventure while incorporating yodeling in his music,” Murphy said. The Red River Rangers continued to perform until the early 1940s, Murphy said. Yodeling Slim in the late 1940s had formed another local band called the Trail Riders , he said.

Clark said she learned to yodel growing up surrounded by yodelling. “I didn’t consciously start yodeling until the mid to late 1990s. I realized how beautiful it is. I love performing in town halls and barn halls,” she said. His brother, Wilf Clark, also performed and founded Wilf Clark and the Misty Mountaineers.

More information about Yodeling Slim Clark can be found at www.yodelingslimclark.com

Carla Charter is a freelance writer from Phillipston. His writings are on history with a particular interest in the history of the North Quabbin region. Contact her at cjfreelancewriter@earthlink.net.

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