Today, I’m not sure his name has much recognition. He’s barely noticed in the volumes of country music history proper and isn’t obscure enough for the “legends you’ve never heard of” compilations that fill bookstore shelves – or, well, to be fair, shelf. This Missouri born man though, in his time, had three number one hits with “A Dear John Letter,” The Wings of a Dove,” and “Gone.” He had an insanely popular alter ego in the comic rube ridiculousness of Simon Crum and recorded some early Bakersfield masterpieces under the name Terry Preston. His name though was Ferlin Husky. It’s a country name and one he at first thought to distance himself from, but eventually came back to as who he was and it was under this name, this hillbilly name, that he helped take the music he loved uptown.
He grew up listening to Gene Autry, Red Foley, and Bing Crosby and the music he would record clearly reflected the influence of those country and pop crooners. After WWII he moved to Bakersfield where he was a disc jockey. While there he mentored Tommy Collins and Dallas Frazier, dueted with Jean Shepard, and let a young Merle Haggard open shows for him.
In 1956 with rock ‘n’ roll giving body blows to county music and many old honkytonkers trying their hands at lame genre pieces Husky went a different way entirely. In a way he looked backwards to his love of pop stars and in doing so invented what would become known as the Nashville Sound. Gone were the steel guitars and fiddles. Strings and choruses filled the spaces. Gone were the stitched cactus themed suits. They were replaced by cardigans and tuxedos. The whiskey shots became Manhattans.
It doesn’t sound that cool today I suppose. It’s old fashioned and over the top and doesn’t quite have the worldliness that Ray Price, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich and George Jones would eventually bring to the new sound, but there’s some backwards truth to his Some Crum hit “Country Music’s Here To Stay,” in large part because Ferlin Husky decided to go uptown. He wasn’t afraid to change when change was needed. Maybe we’re still not exactly the jet-set, but what’s wrong with being the Chevrolet set?
Ferlin Husky died today of heart failure. He was 85.