Terry Gilkyson is not a name that is well remembered today but his influence on pop music and folk music is significant. Terry and the members of his group, the Easy Riders, made contributions as songwriters and performers. And along the way they left us with one song that is very familiar to anyone who listened to music in the 50's.
He was born Hamilton Henry Gilkyson in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania in 1916. Like many people growing up in a small town in the 20's and 30's, he and his family spent a lot of time listening to music on the radio. Known as "Terry," he attended the University of Pennsylvania for a time, majoring in music, before moving to Tucson, Arizona in his early 20's. Terry worked on a ranch and then joined the military during World War II. He returned to Pennsylvania and worked in his family's insurance business, all the while composing folk songs that he enjoyed playing and singing.
In 1947 Terry got married and headed to California, intent on launching a career as a folk singer. He hosted a weekly radio program of folk music for the Armed Forces Radio Service, The Solitary Singer. In 1949 he recorded Cry Of The Wild Goose. Eventually singer Frankie Laine recorded the song and had a number one hit with it, in 1950. Terry Gilkyson was beginning to draw some notice. He performed with the well known folk group the Weavers in the early 50's.
Unlike many folk singers, Gilkyson avoided political controversy and concentrated more on writing songs with commercial appeal. One evening he found himself on a radio show with Rich Dehr and Frank Miller. Dehr and Miller had been performing folk songs in clubs and took the name Easy Riders from one of their songs, C.C. Rider. Gilkyson's talents as a singer and songwriter complemented those of Dehr and Miller very well. They became a group, with Dehr performing most of the lead vocals.
The three wrote a song titled Memories Are Made Of This. It was recorded by Dean Martin with the Easy Riders providing background on the recording, and went to #1 on the pop charts early in 1956. Then it was time for their own success as recording stars. They wrote and recorded a song about the most famous sand-sifter in pop music history, and it was difficult for anyone to go anywhere in 1957 without hearing their version of their toe-tapping top ten hit Marianne:
All night, all day, Marianne,
Down by the seaside sifting sand.
Even little children love Marianne,
Down by the seaside sifting sand.
Based on a Bahamian folk tune, Marianne became a million seller, and was the group's only top forty pop hit as performers. The song was recorded by a variety of other performers, with the Hilltoppers also taking it to the top ten.
Terry Gilkyson and the Easy Riders wrote and recorded a number of songs, including Everybody Loves Saturday Night, The Girl In The Wood, and Remember The Alamo. One such song was recorded by a group of fraternity brothers from Phi Gamma Delta at the University of Washington; calling themselves the Brothers Four, they had a top ten hit with Greenfields in 1960. Songs written by Terry Gilkyson and the Easy Riders were recorded by the Kingston Trio, Gale Storm, Harry Belafonte, Doris Day, Burl Ives, the New Christy Minstrels, and many other performers. The Easy Riders put a West Indies folk song from 1927 called Tell The Captain on vinyl and it was later turned into a top ten song in the 60's by the Beach Boys under the title Sloop John B.
In the 60's Terry Gilkyson left the group and began working on movies for Walt Disney Studios. He wrote music for movies such as Swiss Family Robinson and The Aristocats, along with the television program The Wonderful World Of Disney. In 1968 he received an Academy Award nomination for writing The Bear Necessities for the motion picture The Jungle Book.
Terry Gilkyson retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Three of his children, Nancy, Eliza, and Tony, have been active in the music business. While visiting his daughter Eliza in Austin, Texas, in 1999, Terry died from natural causes.
The contributions to American popular music made by Terry Gilkyson and the Easy Riders are significant. Their best remembered song is without a doubt the 1950's standard Marianne.
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