Sunday, September 25, 2011

Jimmie Wilson's Catfish String Band

The Rotary Club is known as the world's first service club.  Formed in 1905 by an attorney who wished to capture the same friendly spirit he had felt in the small towns of his youth, by 1921 Rotary clubs had been formed on six continents and as it grew, their mission expanded.  Members began pooling their resources and contributing their talents to serve  communities in need.  

A group of Sapulpa Rotarians formed a band, adopting their backwoods profiles for fun.  The group was led by a man named Jimmie Wilson.  Jimmie was a humorist with the same style as Will Rogers, and named his band "Jimmie Wilson's Catfish String Band."  They recorded a session for Okeh Records in 1925 which produced 4 songs, 2 records. 

  The band debuted on radio station KRFU in Bristow in 1926.


In 1928 new station owner W.G. Skelly  moved the renamed station to Tulsa and  Jimmie's band came with it.  He was a popular figure in Tulsa and for a time they had a weekly one-hour show.  Jimmie opened each broadcast with, "This is Jimmie Wilson broadcasting from Andrew Jackson Johnson's farm down on the banks of Polecat Creek."  He would then sprinkle water on a hot skillet to simulate the sound of fish frying.   

As told in a book by Don Cusic:  Band member Bob Dennis remembered that "the band practiced at the Potter brother's music store where a young fellow would come by and sit in on some of the rehearsals.  He just sat there and  watched and learned to play the guitar.  He would then go down to the Harvey House and play for the waitresses."     Jimmie and the Band began giving time on their broadcasts to this young man who was billed as "Oklahoma's Yodeling Cowboy" even though he was really a Texan.  His name was Gene Autry.

An example of the Rotary Club's mission is highlighted in this story:  In 1929 an explosion in a coal mine near McAlaster killed sixty one miners.  It also created forty-six widows and orphaned 178 children. Jimmie Wilson's Catfish String Band took to the airwaves, broadcasting for 12 hours and raising $40,000 for the widows and children. 

Gene Autry: his life and career by Don Cusic