He impacted the work of Brenda Lee, Elvis Presley and Trisha Yearwood, among others
By Randall Franks and Bonnie Cawlishaw
Country, bluegrass, gospel performer and radio pioneer Charlie R. “Peanut” Faircloth, Sr., 82, of Chattanooga, Tenn., originally of Mitchell County, Ga. died Tuesday, March 16.
Faircloth earned a Gold Record for his songwriting after fellow Georgian Trisha Yearwood recorded his “Reindeer Boogie” on her MCA project “The Sweetest Gift.” He shared writer credits on the song with Cordia Vallmar, and Country Music Hall of Fame member Hank Snow, who recorded the song in the 1950s.
The 4 feet and 8 inch entertainer nicknamed both “Peanut” and “Charlie Choo Choo” said in a 2002 interview, that his song was really written for Red Foley but Snow ended up recording it and sharing the credit.
Before penning the song, Faircloth overcame childhood polio to become a radio star hosting his own weekly country music show “The Hoedown Party” on the Mutual Broadcasting System’s radio network airing with other now classic radio shows “The Lone Ranger,” “Lum and Abner,” “Amos & Andy” and “The Shadow” emanating through approximately 500 stations nationwide.
It was on that show Grand Ole Opry star Ernest Tubb heard him perform and invited him to Nashville, Faircloth said.
Tubb gave him the opportunity to sing with his band, and hooked him up with Decca Records, he said.
Faircloth recorded “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone” for Decca in 1950 and went toe to toe with Moon Mullican as the song climbed to the top of the Billboard country charts. “F-o-o-l-i-s-h M-e, Me” was the flip side. Also among his 1950 sides for Decca were “Mississippi River Blues” and “Coffee, Cigarettes and Tears.”
According to Billboard, Country Music Hall of Fame member Boudleaux Bryant joined the Peanut Faircloth Band during this year when Faircloth also performed on the Grand Ole Opry.
He said one of his prize memories was seeing a full-page Decca ad in Billboard with Al Jolson, Bing Crosby that introduced new artist – Charlie “Peanut” Faircloth.
Faircloth began his radio career at station WNEX in Macon in 1946 as a disc jockey, a newly coined term for a radio personality. Faircloth hosted several shows featuring country and pop music, sharing farm news, and hosted the “Hillbilly Hit Parade” on its 13-station network. He also played mandolin and shared comedy with Curly Wynn and the Georgia Ramblers.
Becoming a disc jockey at WRDV, he settled in Augusta, Ga. in 1951. He moved to Bibletone Records from Decca with former label mates the Sunshine Boys and the Carter Family in 1953, according to Billboard, where he recorded “Pass Me Not” and other gospel songs.
He became program director of WLAY in Muscle Shoals, Ala. for six months in 1954 where he recalled that a listener requested that he play the new record by a young guitar-picker named Elvis Presley. He would soon find himself introducing the young man on stage in Sheffield, Ala. When he returned to Augusta, he brought back Presley’s single “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
He said it was an honor to introduce him in Georgia, and he soon persuaded a promoter to bring him to Augusta’s Bell Auditorium on June 27, 1956, for what would be Presley’s only Augusta appearance.
“A friend of mine named V.E. King was a promoter in Macon who put together package shows for touring Georgia cities,” Faircloth said. “I told him about this boy Elvis, whom I had seen. He booked Elvis for some Georgia dates, including the one in Augusta.
Presley had recorded only two songs, and his name was hardly noticeable underneath the margin on the cards advertising the show, he said.
“I was the emcee for the show,” Faircloth said. “The stars were Webb Pierce, Red Sovine and Wanda Jackson. Elvis was listed at the bottom as ‘added attraction.’ He came out and stole the show. There was another young man on the show that night that wasn’t advertised but was nearly as popular with the crowd – Johnny Cash. They were on Sun Records together in Memphis.”
That same year, Faircloth hosted a live radio broadcast at an Augusta record store that Jay Rainwater opened and named for his 11-year-old stepdaughter – Brenda Lee, according to Lee’s Hall of Fame biography. Faircloth said the first song the young girl sang was “Jambalaya” and she soon she became so popular that police had to direct traffic on the street outside.
Lee, who is a member of the Rock and Roll, Country, Songwriter and Georgia hall of fames, credits Faircloth for opening the door for her to appear with Red Foley.
He recalled, while he was serving as emcee at a Red Foley appearance in Augusta, Brenda Lee and her stepfather came backstage and asked him if he could arrange for Brenda to sing a song. The promoter agreed after Faircloth described how the little girl stopped traffic when she performed on their weekly show, he said.
“So I brought her out to do one number just before Red came out, and she sang ‘Jambalaya,’” he said.
Red Foley came out from the wings, picked her up and hugged her, he said.
“She signed a contract later that night to appear on Red’s national ABC-TV show, ‘Ozark Jubilee,’ the next month, and I signed as witness for the contract,” he said.
Within months, Lee was signed to Decca Records and was on her way to selling more than 80 million records, he said.
Faircloth moved to Chattanooga, Tenn. later in 1956 to WAPO and became a mainstay on several Chattanooga radio stations before retiring in 1982. He performed throughout the period and among the musicians who worked in his band was Grammy award winning guitarist Norman Blake.
While Faircloth’s latter performance career often found him entertaining or serving as master of ceremonies at bluegrass festivals such as Armuchee and Boxcar Pinion Memorial, church shows and nursing homes, the harmonica player also worked for nearly two decades as the historical narrator on the Southern Belle, a popular Chattanooga tourist riverboat.
He often performed with the folk string band “Curtis Hicks and the Old Time Strings,” singing and playing a variety of musical instruments, including his own creation – the flushaphone – a toilet plunger with holes punched in it. Among his most requested original songs was the “Chew Tobacco Spittune.” In recent years he also shared gospel performances with Mike and Janet Slatton in Chattanooga area churches and retirement homes.
He returned to Macon in 1996 where he walked the red carpet at the grand opening of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and Museum along with other Georgia legends. Included in the country section of the museum was an exhibit highlighting his work. He was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002, received the Legends Award from the Atlanta Society of Entertainers, and was inducted into the North Georgia Musicians Wall of Fame and included on the Coke Ovens Bluegrass Musician’s Monument in 2009.
He is survived by his wife and sweetheart of 61 years, Frances; by four children, Bonnie Cawlishaw (Vernon), Raiford Faircloth (Sadie), Dolores Harvey, and Marcy Tuggle (Mike); by 11 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren; by a sister, Marie Witt (Ed), a brother, Larry Faircloth; and a sister-in-law, Ginny Eriksen.
The family will receive friends March 20 from 2 to 4 p.m. and March 21 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. and services are March 21 at 2:30 p.m. at the North Chapel Chattanooga Funeral Home, Crematory and Florist with Rev. David Kell officiating. Burial will follow in Hamilton Memorial Gardens.
Randall Franks is an award-winning journalist, musician, singer and actor. He is best known for his role as “Officer Randy Goode” on TV’s “In the Heat of the Night.” He is a syndicated columnist for http://randallfranks.com/ and can be reached at email@example.com. Bonnie Cawlishaw is Charlie “Peanut” Faircloth’s daughter.
Photos from top: Charlie “Peanut” Faircloth began his career as a national radio star in the 1940s./ Charlie “Peanut” Faircloth performs on stage with “In the Heat of the Night” co-star Randall Franks for Share America’s Concert of Celebration in Ringgold,Ga. in 2006. (Photo by Terry Pennington)