Slim Whitman Is Not Like the Others: Our First Cosmic Cowboy

Every generation has a handful of country singers that just don’t fit the mold. Jimmie Rodgers, the Father of the genre himself, didn’t exactly fit in to begin with, so why not those that would follow:  Bob Wills, Floyd Tillman, Elvis Presley, Wanda Jackson, Charlie Rich, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Charley Pride, Sammi Smith, Terry Allen, Lyle Lovett. That’s the shortlist of course, but freaks everyone of them. Some, like many listed above, became stars despite their weird voices, phrasing and songs. Others have been largely lost to history and collectors. Singers like Jenks “Tex” Carmen, Marvin Rainwater, Bonnie Guitar. There’s never been another quite like_____. All of them fill in the blank.

One of my favorites turned 88 years old today. Otis Whitman, a lanky stuttering kid from Tampa, Florida who might have made a pretty good big league pitcher, but instead turned to music. We know him, if we know him, as Slim.

Slim Whitman says it was the folks who attended church with him that first pointed out that particularly unique voice. It’s one of those atmospheric warbles that spin around the ozone somewhere between Project Mercury and Sputnik.

There’s a bit of a divide between authentic cowboy singers like Buck Ramsey and Tex Owens and the romanticized prairie ramblers like The Sons of the Pioneers, Gene Autry and Tex Ritter. Slim’s ethereal yodel, his falsetto, that melodramatic quaver firmly puts him out in front of the silver screened prairie ramblers. Perhaps even above them. The first cosmic cowboy.

Slim’s voice is matched perfectly to his style. Thick, wavy hair greased down with a can of pomade, a perfectly groomed pencil thin mustache, white western suits adorned with stars, two-toned wingtips, sometimes spats, a two-toned big bodied Gretsch guitar with S.W. engraved on the base and stars sparkling at the corners.

Slim Whitman, born January 20, 1924

The next essential piece that made Slim Whitman was provided by someone else. Hoot Rains, Don Helms, Jerry Byrd, Sam Hodge, Tinker Fry all provided the quintessential steel guitar backdrop to Slim’s haunted records. I can no more imagine a Slim Whitman record without a high and shimmering steel guitar then I can picture him clean faced and shaved.

We’re left with the songs: Tears Can Never Drown the Flame, I’m Casting My Lasso Towards the Sky, My Heart Is Broken In Three, There’s a Rainbow In Every Teardrop, I Leave the Milky Way, At the End of Nowhere, In the Valley of the Moon, A Pedal From a Faded Rose. Yes, this happened, these songs were recorded and they’re every bit as great as you’re imagining them to be right now in your cluttered head.

End of the World, Slim Whitman

I’m Casting My Lasso Towards the Sky, Slim Whitman

I don’t really know that there ever was a time Slim did or even could have fit it. He’s this strange singer off in the shadows from center, like Roy Orbison or Edith Piaf. We need them though, these oddballs, these Slim Whitmans.

There’s a Grateful Dead lyric from a very Slim Whitman titled song called Scarlet Begonias that goes:

Once in awhile you get shown the light,

In the strangest of places if you look at it right.

That’s Slim Whitman to me.

Danny Boy, Slim Whitman

Post Script ~Slim Whitman is still riding those ponies, still lassoing the moon. His latest record, Twilight On the Trail, came out in 2010 and it’s a wonderful nod back to those gone, gone, gone days.

Blue Shadows On the Trail, Slim Whitman

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About Iaan Hughes

Iaan Hughes is a deejay on 91.3 KBCS in Seattle. He plays country & western music.
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5 Responses to Slim Whitman Is Not Like the Others: Our First Cosmic Cowboy

  1. I am 70 years old & have loved Slim Whitman’s music since I was almost 11yrs & he was on the Louisiana Hayride the first time I heard that amazing voice. My daddy sang most all his songs when I was growing up, and played “Down in the Valley” on his harmonica. We’ve always been Slim Whitman fans. My daddy now has Alhzeimers & it’s taken most of his memory, but one day I mentioned Slim & he knew exactly who he was. Now we have a Slim Whitman Day & we play his music & talk about him. He’s 91 yrs. & when I left the other day, the caregiver called me & said he was singing Slim’s songs. I thank God of course, but I have to say that the man with this amazing,unique voice has so much to do with my daddy’s memory because of my daddy’s love for him.

  2. Huweda Collins says:

    Huweda Collins
    April 1, 2012, 2:38 a.m.

    I, too, first saw Slim Whitman when he was on the Lousiana Hayride. I was mesmerized by that wonderful, haunting voice. I was about 9 years old when I had the privilege of hearing that voice and seeing him in person. I am 71 years old now, and I have never forgotten what an impression the man and his voice made on me. There has never been another voice like his nor will there ever be…at least not during my lifetime. No words can ever adequately describe that beautiful, unique voice and what an effect it has on me. Thank you, Slim Whitman, for sharing your special gift with the rest of us!

  3. bob holmes says:

    I’m another old ,78, fan of slimwhitman,have most of his cd;s and still play them for great listening,his voice is one of a kind and probally won’t ever be heard again in our lifetime. thank you slim for for hours of beautiful music,wish I could send this dierectly to you and thank you, , what a great entertainer you have always been,I have most of your cd; s ,and will always be a fan.Im an old marine and pal of yours.bob holmes,camdenton mo. 65020

  4. fabdana says:

    Hi Iaan. I LOVE your blog – from one blogger to another. Fun to read, well written and full of interesting facts about all kind of people! I found it while searching for some info on Slim Whitman, who turns 89 today. My grandmother used to buy those K-Tel Slim Whitman collections. I was a big rocker as a young teen and used to scoff at that music, but I became a big fan of country when I finally grew up. Like you, I also posted an article on the Mayan apocalypse! Anyway, there’s a link below to my blog. No Depression has been very kind in featuring some of my articles on their site too, which got me some good publicity. I’m still trying to build a following – blogging for fun, not money (just ego enhancement). Anyway, you now have a new fan! Below is the link to my WordPress blog:
    http://www.scorpio-rising. net.
    Does your blog have a Facebook page?

    • Iaan Hughes says:

      Hey Dana, thanks for reading the blog and apologies for such a slow reply. I’m back in school after twenty years and while I’m kinda loving it, it’s also kinda kicking my ass. It has definitely taken a big bite out of how much time I spend on the blog. Your blog is great, I’ve been avoiding writing a paper by perusing it! Your grandmother had terrific taste, Slim is one the weirdest and greatest. All ex-rock ‘n’ rollers should be into him.

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