ESCO HANKINS (1924-1990):
(Jukka Joutsi - 2008 October ~ latest additions: 13th August, 2010)

A) 'The ESCO HANKINS Story' by Dick Grant (12th August, 2010):

When Esco Hankins walked into the WROL radio studios in Knoxville in 1938, he was, perhaps, unwittingly, foreshadowing the path his subsequent career would take. Roy Acuff had recently left the station for WSM in Nashville and he soon rose to nationwide stardom via the Grand Ole Opry. Hankins, who was clearly inspired musically by Acuff, did his best to fill the departed man’s shoes in East Tennessee (and Kentucky), something he would do for much of the remainder of his music career.
If he was never able to quite fill those considerable shoes, nor move significantly beyond Acuff as a stylistic role model, Hankins nevertheless quickly became popular in the Knoxville area, remaining a local attraction until called into service during World War Two.

THE EARLY DAYS

William Esco Hankins was born on Tuesday 1st January 1924 in Union County, Tennessee. He formed his own band during the 1930s and by 1937 was performing on WROL along with Charlie Acuff on fiddle and his brother Gayle Acuff. He served almost two years in the Army Air Corps during World War Two, then resumed his music career on discharge. By this time he was calling his band the Crazy Tennesseans, the name Roy Acuff had used for his original group back in the 1930s.

THE CRAZY TENNESSEANS

Clyde Varner - better known as Uncle Josh, the comic persona he adopted while with Hankins - played string bass for Hankins for half a dozen years after the war.
Originally Hankins group was called Esco Hankins and The Smoky Mountain Boys during the time that Roy Acuff called his group Roy Acuff and The Crazy Tennesseans. But Roy was from up near Knoxville and the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. His musical career was really talking off and he wanted to usethe name ‘The Smoky Mountain Boys’. So he talked Esco into trading band names with him. Esco agreed to it. Roy started going by Roy Acuff and The Smoky Mountain Boys and Esco started going by Esco Hankins and The Crazy Tennesseans”.

KING RECORDS

Hankins signed for King Records in the spring of 1947. He cut sixteen sides over two days. From these sessions came Hankins’ stark reading of THE RISING SUN (650) which was released on the 23rd August 1947. The song is better known, as THE HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN and other great performances such as ALL THE WORLD IS LONELY NOW (654) and NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW (651) all released on the 23rd August. In addition to Hankins himself, the band on these sessions includes Varner on string bass and probably Curly Farmer on fiddle plus Monroe Queener (tenor vocal and dobro) and possibly Burkett Graves on guitar.
Burkett Howard “Josh” Graves was a member of Esco Hankins and The Smoky Mountains Boys between 1943 and 1947 and also a member of Esco Hankins and His Crazy Tennesseans who were based at radio station WKLX in Lexington, Kentucky between 1949 and 1951.
A second session was held during December 1947and among the songs from this second session was Hankins’ cover of fellow King artist Moon Mullican’s hit SWEETER THAN THE FLOWERS (673). Moon’s original charted on the 15th May 1948, peaking at #3 (Most Played Juke Box Folk Records/Best Selling Retail Folk Records). It remained charted for a total of twenty six weeks. Moon’s version had been recorded in August 1947 and originally released on the 13th September 1947 and the re-released on the 15th April 1948. Hankins’ version was released on (730) on the 16th October 1948 reviewed in Billboard on the 30th October.
Although Hankins’ final King release, pressed on the label’s subsidiary Federal, WHAT ELSE CAN I DO/I’LL LOVE YOU AS LONG AS I CAN LIVE(10029) was issued circa October 1951.
MONROE QUEENER & JOSH GRAVES

Monroe Queener (dobro) was born in rural Campbell County, Tennessee in 1926. Queener came of the age right along with the radio medium. As a child on his family’s tobacco farm, Queener listened in each morning, at noontime, and on Saturday nights, to the country music broadcasts out of Knoxville and Nashville. For him, the music of Roy Acuff was best of all. More than Acuff’s singing and fiddling, though, it was the dobro playing of his longtime sidekick “Bashful Brother Oswald,” that produced the greatest impression. By his mid-teens, Queener began playing an Oswald-inspired dobro technique in a variety of local country bands.
His earliest success came in the band of Esco Hankins, who enjoyed a following in East Tennessee and Southeastern Kentucky radio. With Hankins, Queener played principally, while still in his teens, on Knoxville’s Cas Walker program in the early 1940s.
A young guitar player also in the band named Burkett Howard “Josh” Graves, likely learned certain dobro stylings from Queener, and eventually went on to tremendous success and influence with bluegrass pioneers Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
For Queener, the next stop after the Hankins band was a stint in the U.S.Army during World War Two. After returning from overseas, he played for a period on Atlanta, Georgia, radio stations. He was also a regular (house band member) on the popular TV and radio show “Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round” in the late 1950s and early 1960s in the Knoxville area.
Back in Campbell County after a trip North for employment, Queener joined several popular bluegrass and country bands, including Pap and the Youngins, the Pinnacle Mountain Boys and the Blue Valley Boys. As an original member of the latter group, Queener helped start the earliest version of the “Tennessee Jamboree” (radio station WLAF, LaFollette) in 1953, making him a pioneer of barn dance radio in his home community. He remained with the Jamboree regularly until around 1970, and then a frequent guest until the program’s end in 1978.
His distictive dobro playing made him one of the most popular musicians on the program. It also created a great demand for his playing, and he was able to circulate among several bands in East Tennessee. For most of these years he was able to play music with some assemblage, either on other small-town radio broadcasts, at dances, in local jams, or for tourists, somewhere in East Tennessee every single night, all the while working days on road construction for the State. Queener was involved with the LaFollette, Campbell County’s lone radio station WLAF (a live radio show) every Saturday night during 1990 and 1991. He died in 1998.

J.D. CROWE

J.D. Crowe was born James Dee Crowe in Lexington, Kentucky on Friday 27th August 1937 and he picked up the banjo when he was thirteen years old, inspired by one of Flatt & Scruggs’ performances on the Kentucky Barn Dance. Soon, he was playing with various groups in Kentucky (Esco Hankins and The Crazy Tennesseans) plus in 1954 Red Allen and he frequently played on local radio prior to getting his first major break with Jimmy Martin and The Sunny Mountain Boys in 1956.

KENTUCKY SLIM

Charles Elza was born on Wednesday 4th December 1912 in Harlan County, Kentucky and he was a blackface and rube comedian known as Kentucky Slim or Little Darlin’, famous for his Pork Chop dance, was a comedian at the “Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round,” the Renfro Valley Dance,” and the “Grand Ole Opry,” playing with Roy Acuff, Carl Story, Esco Hankins, Hylo Brown, Flatt & Scruggs (1955) (WSM-TV - Martha White Flour Mills Show), the Stanley Brothers and others. He was nearly seven feet tall and weighing 275 pounds and he had worked earlier in the coal mines with his fellow Harlan Countian Cas Walker, and they decided there must be a better way to making a living.
They went to Knoxville, where Walker established a chain of grocery stores, using country music to promote his products. Slim went into entertainment and later worked on Walker’s shows on WROL and WIVK for several years. He joined Doc Hauer’s medicine show, where Roy Acuff also worked, and he learned minstrelsy routines, skits, and jokes from Jake Tindall, a blackface comedian who had long been with Hauer. He and Tindall later with with Acuff, but when the latter moved to Nashville, Slim decided to stay in Knoxville.
Slim did more medicine-show work and then went to WNOX’s “Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round” and travelled with Esco Hankins and the Cope Brothers. After which he went to WOPI and WJHL in Bristol and played with Manuel “Speedy” Clark and his band. “Pop” Eckler hired Clark and Elza for his show at Atlanta’s WSB Barn Dance,” but Slim soon returned to Knoxville to work again for Cas Walker. During World War Two he became a partner with Clark at John Lair’s “Renfro Valley Barn Dance,” until Clark was drafted. He and Clark also did Renfro Valley tent shows after the wark.
In the 1950s Slim did comedy with Carl Story and his Rambling Mountaineers and then went to work for Flatt & Scruggs and he was part of Hylo Brown’s travelling band.
When his wife Mary died of cancer in 1957, he left the entertainment business and went to work in a factory, before travelling with the Stanley Brothers in Florida. He retired from travelling shows in 1963 and worked for the next decade or so as a house painter in the Knoxville area.
Although Slim was primarily known as a comedian and dancer, he was also a singer, especially at the “Renfro Valley Barn Dance,” where John Lair hired him primarily to sing sentimental songs such as THE BLIND CHILD, THE CONVICT AND THE ROSE, GIRL IN THE BLUE VELVET BAND, I’LL REMEMBER YOU LOVE IN MY PRAYERS, and THE TRAGIC ROMANCE. He died at the age eighty three on the Friday 23rd February 1996.

MERCURY RECORDS

By 1950, Hankins had left Knoxville for Lexington, Kentucky, and he remained in the area for the rest of his life. He signed for the fast-rising Chicago-based Mercury label. His lone session which took place at the Castle Studio at the Tulane Hotel in Nashville circa May 1951 yielded to fine singles, the first being I’M PRAYIN’ FOR THE DAY WHEN PEACE WILL COME and AN ANGEL SMILES WHEN MOTHER SMILES AT ME (6337) which was reviewed in Billboard on the 14th July and PLEASE FORGIVE ME/WORLD OF SORROW (6356) released during the month of September were inexplicably issued as by “Roscoe Hankins”.

SIMS RECORDS

After leaving Mercury, Hankins did not record again until early 1961 when he waxed one single for Sims Records which owned by Russell and the two tracks were GOD THRE AWAY THE PATTERN and OH SO AFRAID (45-119) with his wife Jackie. Both recordings are in the gospel vein.

JEWEL RECORDS

Shortly afterwards he recorded another three gospel songs with his wife Jackie for Rusty York’s Jewel label and they were MOTHER SLEEPS IN A LONELY GRAVE, HEAVEN WILL SURELY BE WORTH IT ALL plus LOOKING THRU THE WINDOW OF HEAVEN all of which were released on (EP-403) which was originally issued on a dark green label and then re-released on a blue label with both copies being King custom pressings. The recording session took place at Rusty York’s Jewel Recording Studio in Mt. Healty, Ohio.

BRIAR RECORDS

In 1962, Hankins recorded a one off single for Briar Records of Nashville, Tennesse and the songs were SOMEONE WANTS HER which was backed by LITTLE RING OF GOLD (144). He was also a disc jockey at radio station WROL in Lexigton, Kentucky at this point in time.

REM RECORDS

The year 1963 saw Esco and his wife Jackie recording for Bob Mooney’s Rem Record label of Lexington, Kentucky. His initial release for the label was a 6 track EP album which contained the following recordings MOTHER LEFT ME HER BIBLE, MOTHER SLEEPS IN A LONELY GRAVE, JESUS PRAYED IN THE GARDEN FOR ME (these three recordings can also be found on (Rem RL-1006 “MOTHER LEFT ME HER BIBLE TO SHOW ME THE WAY”) released in 1963 and which was also re-released on (Old Homestead OHCS-309) with the same title and which was released in 1984. The other tracks on the EP are LIES AND ALIBIS, WITHOUT YOU and THAT’S IT (EP-504).
He also recorded I’M IN HIS CARE, HE’LL BE THERE IN TIME, SOMEWHERE ALONG THE WAY, UNWORTHY LORD, THE POWER OF GOD, I’D LIKE TO THANK JESUS, FALL ON YOUR KNEES, STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN and BY THE CRYSTAL SEA. He also joined the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree during the year.

COLUMBIA RECORDS

Hankins signed a recording contract with Columbia Records shortly after leaving Rem and at his initial session for the label which was held at the Columbia Recording Studio which was situated at 804 16th Avenue, South in Nashville on Friday 1st May 1963 and at this session he waxed TEN THOUSAND TIMES and ANOTHER BAND (4-42822) which was released in June and was followed by WHAT ABOUT YOU which was coupled with EMPTY TOMORROWS (4-43142) which was issued on 26th September 1964.
During 1964, Esco could be found working as a DJ at radio station WLAP in Lexington and he had daily shows at 5:00am-6:30am, then 3:00pm-5:00pm and finally 7:00pm-11.00pm.
The second Columbia session was held at the same location as the initial session on Tuesday 22nd April 1965 and this time he waxed JOHNNY OVERLOAD/BAD GIRL (4-43309) which was released in June and was then followed by IN SHACKLES AND CHAINS and I’M GONE AGAIN (4-43446) issued in November 1965.

MARION SUMNER-FIDDLE KING OF THE SOUTH

Marion Sumner ('Fiddle King of the South') joined Esco Hankins at both WROL and WLAP in Lexington between 1962 and 1964 before travelling to Dallas.

More information of fiddler Marion Sumner.

BACK TO JEWEL RECORDS

Hankins returned to recording for Rusty York’s Jewel label in 1965 with his wife Jackie and their initial recordings were ANGEL BAND, RIVER OF JORDAN plus ROSES WILL NOT FADE UP THERE which were released on (EP-603).
The next recording session for the label took place in 1972 and this time he recorded the album “WORKING GOD’S FIELDS” (LP-210) which contained recordings of the calibre of I’M NOT WORTHY, WORKING GOD’S FIELDS, HOLY HILLS OF HEAVEN, SPREAD THE GOSPEL, UNCLE DAN’S LAST REQUEST and TELEGRAM FROM VIETNAM.
The final session for the label was held in 1977 and along with Jackie they recorded MEMORIES OF MAMA and MAMA’S SPENDING CHRISTMAS IN HEAVEN (Jewel 7722).
After the above, he continued to perform, including regular appearances on Lexibgton’s weekly gospel music program the “Revival Tabernacle” and he also operated his own music shop, the Esco Hankins Record Center.
He died on Sunday 18th November 1990 at age seventy six.

Sources:
1: Esco Hankins - Rising Sun - Kevin Coffey - B.A.C.M CD D-058. 2004.
2: Friends of The Cumberland Trail - www.friendsofthecumberlandtrail.org
3: Southern Spaces - www.southernsaces.org Bradley Hanson 2008.
4: Josh Graves - www.bluegrass-museum.org Owensboro, Kentucky.
5: The Legendary Monroe Queener - http://groups.google.com
6: Kentucky Slim - Bluegrass Unlimited Vol.16, #5 - November 1981 - Ivan Tribe.
7: Kentucky Slim - Country Music Humorists And Comedians - Loyal Jones - University of Illinois 2008.
8: J.D. Crowe - www.jdcrowe.net
9: Marion Sumner - Fiddle King of The South - www.plankroad.org - Ron Pen - 5th August 2009.
10: Marion - www.wsgs.com

B) ESCO HANKINS: Rising Sun (British Archive Of Country Music CD D 058 ~ 22 songs):
A Daddy’s Lullaby/ All The World Is Lonely Now/ Rising Sun/ Waiting For My Call To Glory/ An Angel Smiles When Mother Smiles At Me/ Beneath That Lonely Mound Of Clay/ Fireball Mail/ I’m Building A Home/ Glory Bound Train/ Branded Wherever I Go/ I’m Praying For The Day When Peace Will Come/ Wreck On The Highway/ Low And Lonely/ No One Will Ever Know/ Please Forgive Me/ Streamlined Cannonball/ Sweeter Than The Flowers/ World Of Sorrow/ Things That Might Have Been/ Wait For The Light To Shine/ Precious Jewel/ What Good Will It Do

22 tracks recorded between 1947 and 1951 by this fine but obscure artists from Knoxville, Tennessee whose music shows the very strong influence of Roy Acuff - especially on the earlier tracks. He covers quite a few of Acuff's songs including I'm Building A Home/ Glory Bound Train/ Fireball Mail/ Streamlined Cannonball and others. The title song is a fine version of the traditional 'House Of The Rising Sun' and other songs include A Daddy's Lullaby/ No One Will Ever Know/ World Of Sorrow and others.

C) ESCO HANKINS Biography #1:

Born: 1 January 1924, Maynardville, Union County, Tennessee, USA, died: 18 November 1990.

Hankins is generally described as a Roy Acuff soundalike. Whether it was intentional or not, the similarity is irrefutable but may, in part, be explained by the fact that he came from the same area of Tennessee.
Hankins, like Acuff, became interested in music while recovering from an illness. He learned to play guitar and had a sponsored radio show on WROL Knoxville by the time he was 14.
He served in the US Army during World War II and on discharge, he returned to WROL. In 1947, at the label owner's request, he recorded an album of songs associated with Acuff for King Records. Acuff's biography states "The best Acuff imitator is Esco Hankins. His records even fooled Roy's mother".
Further King recordings included his own "Mother Left Me Her Bible". In the early 50s, Hankins relocated to Lexington, Kentucky, where he starred on various popular shows including the Kentucky Barn Dance and Happy Valley Barn Dance. He also became noted as a disc jockey. He recorded four sides for Mercury in Nashville, in 1951, but suffered when the label omitted his name on one single and named him Roscoe Hankins on the other.
In 1954, he married Jackie Tincher who began to sing harmony with him and together they opened a record shop in Lexington. In the early 60s, Hankins made further recordings for Columbia and a gospel album for Rem.
In 1964, they moved to the 'WWVA Wheeling Jamboree', where they were featured artists until the late 60s. By this time his singing was almost completely confined to gospel music and he recorded albums of the genre for Jewel.
In the 80s, he and Jackie sang at one or two special events, including a popular appearance at the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville. By the mid-80s, worsening health forced him to retire. He died following a stroke in 1990.

Discography ~ albums:
'Country Style' - 1960 (Audio Lab),
'Mother Left Me Her Bible' - 1964 (Rem),
'Working God's Fields' - 1970 (Jewel).

D) ESCO HANKINS Biography #2:

Biography: Esco Hankins became best known as a Roy Acuff sound-alike, although that characterization did not really do him justice. In many respects, the Hankins career was similar to, but yet both more and less than, that of the King of Country Music.
Like his idol, Hankins was a native of Union County, Tennessee, took up music while convalescing from illness, began his radio career in Knoxville, and led a band called the Crazy Tennesseans. Unlike Acuff, Esco Hankins had much more modest success.
In his early years, young Esco had a long bout with ill health and took up the guitar during a period of gradual recovery. When he was 14, he secured a radio program at WROL Knoxville sponsored by the Hub Department Store. Later, he worked under the sponsorship of Cas Walker, the supermarket owner and politician.
Roy Acuff’s Uncle Charlie worked in the Hankins band during that period. In the latter part of WWII, Esco entered the Army, subsequently contending that he spent 22 of his 23 months in the service on K.P.
After the war, Hankins returned to his radio programs at WROL and also signed a contract with King Records in 1946, doing sixteen numbers in the spring of 1947, all covers of Roy Acuff’s songs (as requested by King’s Syd Nathan), featuring Monroe Queener on dobro.
According to Acuff biographer Elizabeth Schlappi, these numbers were done so effectively that they "even fooled Roy’s mother."
How much they did for Esco’s career is difficult to assess.
That December, Hankins did another session for King, doing six songs, none of which were previously recorded by Roy Acuff. These cuts had young Burkett ("Josh") Graves playing Dobro and are memorable as the initial recordings of that most renowned master of that instrument.
Esco also recorded his own best-known composition,'Mother Left Me Her Bible'. Ironically, he also waxed 'Sweeter Than The Flowers' that day.
At that time, it was a hit for Moon Mullican and would later be covered by Roy Acuff. Two of the songs from that session were later released on Federal Records. By the end of the decade, Esco left Knoxville for Lexington, Kentucky, which would be his home for the rest of his life. He worked on the Kentucky Barn Dance and also WKLS radio.
Later, Hankins switched to WLAP radio and worked jamboree shows at Woodland Auditorium and at the Happy Valley Barn Dance in Brodhead, Kentucky.
In 1951, he went to Nashville and cut four sides for Mercury. This may have been his best material in terms of quality, but unluckiest for artist credit. Mercury released one disc under the name "Roscoe Hankins" and totally omitted the artist credit on the other.
The principal title was I’m Praying for the Day That Peace Will Come'. As the nature of live radio Country music began to change, Esco Hankins moved more and more into deejay work. Still he remained active as an artist and continued to record.
In 1954, he married Jackie Tincher who often sang harmony duets with him. Young banjo picker, J.D. Crowe, did some of his early professional work with Esco. In the mid-60’s, Esco signed with Columbia and cut several singles, the best-known title being a trucker song, 'Johnny Overload'.
Esco and Jackie also joined the WWVA Jamboree and sang there often. But by the end of the 60’s, he began playing Gospel music almost exclusively. He and Jackie also had a record shop in Lexington.
Esco recorded a sacred album for Rem in the early 60’s and beginning with the latter part of that decade, he recorded several Gospel albums and EPs, for Rusty York’s 'Jewel'-label.
His earliest efforts on Jewel carried a more traditional instrumentation. As time went by, they tended increasingly toward Gospel sound.
During the 1980’s, Esco’s health went into decline again. He worked the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, but his strength slowly ebbed. Finally, he suffered a stroke then passed away in 1990 at the age of 66. Jackie survived him.

CD-album's liner notes:
When Esco Hankins walked into the KROL radio studios in Knoxville in 1938, he was, perhaps unwittingly, foreshadowing the path his subsequent career would take, Roy Acuff had recently left the station for Nashville and soon rose to nationwide stardom via the Grand Ole Opry and Hankins, who clearly modelled himself musically on Roy, did his best to fill the departed Acuff's shoes - something he would do for much of the remainder of his music career.
If he was never able to quite fill those considerable shoes, nor move significantly beyond Acuff as a stylistic model, Hankins nevertheless quickly became popular in the Knoxville area, remaining a local attraction until called into service during World War 2. Upon discharge, Hankins began to re-establish himself on the East Tennessee music scene, and in 1947 he signed to King as Syd Nathan's fledgling label's answer to the superstar Acuff, who recorded for major label Columbia and was the height of his recording career.
Few would argue that there was anything particularly original about Esco Hankins' music. Acuff's influence was evident in every recording he made, particularly, ofcourse, when he covered songs associated with Acuff like 'Fireball Mail' or 'All The World Is Lonely Now'. But to say that Hankins' style was clearly modelled on Acuff's - and he even called his band 'The Crazy Tennesseans', as Acuff had back in his early days - is not to say that Hankins didn't possess a fine, starkly country voice, nor that his music was any less affecting. Hankins cut a slew of fine records, most of them for King in 1947-48, though he continued to record into the 1950's and beyond for labels such as Mercury and Sims.
Hankins may not have enjoyed much of musical identity of his own, nor did he have any hits to speak of, but he left a legacy of fine recordings nevertheless, which sound as good as - maybe aven better than - they sounded when they were recorded over a century ago.

William Esco Hankins was born in Knoxville on January 1, 1914 and began his professional career in the late 1930's on WROL. He served almost two years in the Army Air Corps during World War 2, and signed to King in the spring of 1947. He cut sixteen sides over two days at his first King sessions. `From these sessions came Hankins, stark reading of 'The Rising Sun' (better known as 'The House Of The Rising Sun') and other great performances such as 'All The World Is Lonely Now' and 'No One Will Ever Know'.
A second session was held - apparently well into 1948, and as such weas in defiance of the American Federation of Musicians' recording ban, which began on January 1, 1948.
Among the songs from this second session was Hankins' cover of fellow King artist Moon Mullican's hit 'Sweeter Than The Flowers'. Moon's original charted in the spring of that year, probably around the time Hankins' cover was made.
Although Hankins' final King release, pressed on the label's subsdiary 'Federal', was issued in 1951, those recordings date from the '48 session.
In 1951 Esco Hankins signed to the fast-rising, Chicago-based 'Mercury'-label. His lone session for the label yielded two fine singles, which were inexplicably issued as by 'Roscoe Hankins'. After that, Hankins did not record again until he signed to Sims in 1962. His later singles feature him in duet with his wife Jackie and are largely gospel.
By the early 50s, Hankins had left Knoxville for Lexington, Kentucky, and he remained in the Lexington area for the rest of his life. He became a deejay at various area stations and continued to perform, including regular appearances on Lexington's weekly gospel music program the Revival Tabernacle. He also operated his own music shop, the Esco Hankins Record Center. He died November 18, 1990 at age 76.

E) Sonja Davis, Lexington, Kentucky, USA:
My mother played in Esco Hankins' band in the 40's. Josh Graves was also a member at the time. My mother is from Tennessee and I love to hear her stories about her time in the band. Her name was Elizabeth Miles. She left the band in 1951 to marry my dad.

takaisin * back.