Now there was song

By Doug Davis

This week in 1936: 100,000 people hailed Hitler at the Olympic Opening Ceremony, the A.F.L. voted to suspend ten unions unless they quit the C.I.O., the United States proclaimed non-intervention in Spain, and a singer from Maynardville, Tennessee recorded a song that would become a musical standard.

Roy Acuff says he learned “The Wabash Cannonball” when he was just a kid living in East Tennessee near Knoxville.

During a 1960’s interview Roy commented, “I sing that song just exactly the way I learned it. I never changed the song at all. There’s a reference to a Daddy Claxton in the last verse of the song, which also happens to be my middle name, but that is just a coincidence. My name had nothing at all to do with the song. My father named me after Dr. P.T. Claxton, who was a teacher and a lecturer at Austin Peay College in Clarksville, Tennessee. On the day I was born he had given a lecture in our town. My father was so impressed, that he named me after Dr. Claxton.”

According to the history books, the first published version of “Wabash Cannon Ball” was written in 1905 by William Kindt. It is believed that he based his text on an earlier song titled, “The Great Rock Island Route,” which was published in 1882, words and music by J. A. Roff. The earliest recordings on disc were in 1929 by “The Carter Family,” but they were not released until 1932. However, the recordings that were most responsible for the widespread popularity of the song were those by Roy Acuff in 1936 and 1947. The Acuff version reportedly sold over ten million copies worldwide.

Acuff joined The Grand Ole Opry in 1938 and was inducted into The Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1962.

He died in 1992 at age 89.

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