Wolverton Mountain

Wolverton Mountain was a huge hit for Claude King in 1962, climbing to #1 on the country chart and crossing over to #6 on the pop chart in 1962. It is based on an actual person who lived on Woolverton Mountain (note the difference in spelling). To understand where the song Wolverton Mountain came from is to look into the lives of three men: Merle Kilgore, Clifton Clowers, and Claude King.

Wyatt Merle Kilgore was born in Chickasha, Oklahoma in 1934 and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, by his parents, Wyatt and Gladys Kilgore. Known as Merle, he spent time at the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, and one day at the age of 14 carried a guitar in for Hank Williams. It began a relationship between the two that lasted until Williams' death very early in 1953. Merle graduated from C. E. Byrd High School in Shreveport before going on to Louisiana Tech University, some 65 miles away in Ruston. Merle Kilgore was a successful country singer and especially, a songwriter. With June Carter, he composed the song Ring of Fire, first recorded by Carter's sister Anita and later a hit for her future husband, Johnny Cash. Kilgore toured with Cash and Carter in their road show and served as best man at their wedding. He maintained his relationship with Hank Williams' family for many years. He also was the songwriter or co-writer of other songs that had some success, including Webb Pierce's More and More, Johnny Horton's Johnny Reb and Tommy Roe's The Folk Singer.

Kilgore's mother, before her marriage to Wyatt Kilgore, was named Gladys B. Clowers. Her brother was Clifton Taylor Clowers, who had been born in Center Ridge, Arkansas in 1891. Clifton fought in World War I and after his time in the service, he married Esther Bell in 1919 and became a deacon at Mountain View Baptist Church. For most of his life, he lived on a farm at the north side of Woolverton Mountain, in Conway County, southwest of Clinton, Arkansas. Merle Kilgore had visited Woolverton Mountain as a child. Kilgore put some of his experiences and his knowledge of country music together and composed a song, Wolverton Mountain, in 1959. In reality, Clowers is not the ogre that is portrayed in the song. He was highly educated, could read Latin and Greek, loved to play dominoes and chess, and was quite adept at playing the mandolin. He was friendly to all whom he met, a solid citizen, and well-liked in his community. Clifton and Esther had two daughters, Burlene and Virginia.

Claude King was born in 1923 in Keithville, Louisiana, just outside of Shreveport. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and attended the University of Idaho on a baseball scholarship. He returned to Shreveport and played his guitar, doing odd jobs around town and performing at the Louisiana Hayride, where he worked on shows with many who would later become well known singers and musicians, including Johnny Cash, George Jones, Johnny Horton, Elvis Presley, Jim Reeves, Tex Ritter, Kitty Wells and Hank Williams.

Claude became acquainted with Merle Kilgore, who introduced his song Wolverton Mountain to Claude. Although he did not know Clifton Clowers at the time, King made a number of changes to the song, and the result was a spirited account of a man named Clifton Clowers who lived on Wolverton Mountain and who, according to the lyrics of the song, was very protective of his daughter there. But the narrator of the song was determined to woo her and marry her, regardless of what Clifton Clowers might think. Produced by Frank Jones and Don Law on Columbia Records #42352, and recorded by Claude King, the song was an immediate hit in 1962. Songwriting credits went to Merle Kilgore and Claude King, and it put the name Clifton Clowers in the minds of country and pop music fans everywhere. It was even a #3 hit on the easy listening chart, as well as the only top forty pop hit for Claude King.

Over the years Wolverton Mountain was recorded by a number of artists, including Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Dickey Lee, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. An answer song, (I'm The Girl On) Wolverton Mountain, was recorded by Jo Ann Campbell and just made it into the pop top forty in late summer, 1962.

On the occasion of his 100th birthday, Clifton Clowers was visited by his nephew Merle Kilgore and singer Claude King. Clowers died at his home in Clinton, Arkansas in 1994 at age 102, and is buried in the Woolverton Mountain Cemetery, at the very top of Woolverton Mountain. Merle Kilgore went on to a long career in country music, setting up an office in Nashville and managing a number of singers, among them Hank Williams, Jr. He moved to Nashville in 1962 and to Paris, Tennessee in 1986. Kilgore, long a force behind the scenes in the Nashville music industry, died in 2005 at age seventy in Mexico from congestive heart failure related to treatment for lung cancer. Claude King continued touring and recording and had more than two dozen country hits before his last hit on the country chart in 1972. He took up acting and appeared in several motion pictures and television shows. He was found unresponsive in his bed and died on March 7, 2013 at his home in Shreveport, at age ninety.

There are some interesting video clips on YouTube in regard to the song Wolverton Mountain. They include Merle Kilgore talking about writing the song (and he sings it), a 1992 birthday party for Merle's uncle, Clifton Clowers, when Clowers turned 101, and Claude King singing Wolverton Mountain live, as well as King's original recording on Columbia.

Claude King's Wolverton Mountain, based on an actual person and place, is a classic pop hit from the early 60's.

Most Recent Update: January 1, 2015

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