Tennessee Ernie Ford
Ernest Jennings Ford, better known as Tennessee Ernie Ford, was an American recording artist and television host who enjoyed success in the country and Western, pop, and gospel musical genres.
Born in Bristol, Tennessee, to Clarence Thomas Ford and Maud Long, Ford began his radio career as an announcer at WOPI-AM in Bristol, Tennessee. In 1939, he left the station to pursue classical music and voice at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in Ohio. First Lieutenant Ford served in World War II as the bombardier on a B-29 Superfortress flying missions over Japan. After the war, Ford worked at radio stations in San Bernardino and Pasadena, California. In San Bernardino, Ford was hired as a radio announcer. He was assigned to host an early morning country music disc jockey program titled Bar Nothin’ Ranch Time. To differentiate himself, he created the personality of “Tennessee Ernie,” a wild, madcap exaggerated hillbilly. He became popular in the area and was soon hired away by Pasadena’s KXLA radio.
Ford also did musical tours. The Mayfield Brothers of West Texas, including Smokey Mayfield, Thomas Edd Mayfield, and Herbert Mayfield, were among Ford’s warmup bands, having played for him in concerts in Amarillo and Lubbock, Texas, during the late 1940s. At KXLA, Ford continued doing the same show and also joined the cast of Cliffie Stone’s popular live KXLA country show Dinner Bell Roundup as a vocalist while still doing the early morning broadcast. Cliffie Stone, a part-time talent scout for Capitol Records, brought him to the attention of the label. In 1949, while still doing his morning show, he signed a contract with Capitol. He also became a local TV star as the star of Stone’s popular Southern California Hometown Jamboree show. RadiOzark produced 260 15-minute episodes of The Tennessee Ernie Show on transcription disks for national radio syndication.
He released almost 50 country singles through the early 1950s, several of which made the charts. Many of his early records, including “The Shotgun Boogie”, “Blackberry Boogie,” and so on were exciting, driving boogie-woogie records featuring accompaniment by the Hometown Jamboree band which included Jimmy Bryant on lead guitar and pioneer pedal steel guitarist Speedy West. “I’ll Never Be Free,” a duet pairing Ford with Capitol Records pop singer Kay Starr, became a huge country and pop crossover hit in 1950. A duet with Ella Mae Morse, False Hearted Girl was a top seller for the Capitol Country and Hillbilly division, and has been evaluated as an early tune.