The Chuck Wagon Gang Story – Past to Present
Seventy-two years in any business is a long time, particularly in a musical group of any genre. Today, the Chuck Wagon Gang holds the distinction of being the oldest recording mixed gospel group still performing with ties to the original founding. By trade, the Carters were farmers, who migrated from place to place to pick cotton. The singing group came from humble beginnings in 1935, as the Carters found themselves in Lubbock, Texas, without enough money to buy medicine for a sick child, Effie. Dave Carter and two of his children, Lola and Ernest of his Carter Quartet (no relation to the Carter Family of Bristol, VA) arrived at radio station KFYO in Lubbock seeking live singing employment on radio in order to buy medicine for Effie. They landed the job, Effie soon re-joined them, and the Carter Quartet remained at the station for about a year.
The radio response had been so over-whelming that Mr. Carter decided to move his family to Fort Worth, Texas. They auditioned for several stations, and finally hit the big one, 50,000-watt station, WBAP. Already on the station was a western band known as the Chuck Wagon Gang, sponsored by Bewley Mills. The flour company sent this group out on location advertising the flour, and hot biscuits were served on the spot. The Carter Quartet was hired by the station, and instantly became Bewley’s Chuck Wagon Gang. In addition to the group name change, came individual name changes as well for simplicity: D. P. “Dad” Carter (Dave), Anna (Effie), Rose (Lola), and Jim (Ernest). Their repertoire consisted of ballads, folk, western, and popular songs of the day, and one hymn or gospel song each day.
The group became very popular at WBAP, and at one time Bewley Mills offered a picture for coupons from flour sacks. Over 100,000 requests came in to the station. Two British record producers, Don Law and Art Satherly, heard them early on and quickly signed them to an exclusive recording contract with American Record Corporation. Their first recording sessions occurred at a makeshift recording studio at the Gunter Hotel, in San Antonio, Texas on November 25 and 26th, 1936, where they recorded twenty-two titles of both gospel and western songs. “The Son Hath Made Me Free” was their first recording. In short time, their gospel recordings became so popular that after three western sessions, the decision was made to only record gospel music. In short time, the Chuck Wagon Gang’s contract and master recordings were purchased by Columbia Records, now Sony Music. Their association with Columbia Records lasted thirty-nine years, during which time they recorded 408 known masters. At one time, the Chuck Wagon Gang was the second highest selling artist on the label.
The group was quite content with their popular radio program, and on occasion did a few personal appearances in Texas and neighboring states. Their records were being heard nationwide as well as in several foreign countries. Promotor, the late Wally Fowler heard them on radio, and decided they were a must for his “All-Nite Singings” which were becoming very popular in the South. Traveling to Texas, his mission was to convince the Chuck Wagon Gang that folks outside Texas were ready for live concerts at his programs. The group was very reluctant for these far travels, but finally booked two dates with him, Augusta and Atlanta, GA. Even as they traveled for these dates, they called Wally, ready to turn around and go home, but after much persuasion, the group agreed to come to the concerts.
Much to the Gang’s surprise, thousands of very enthusiastic folks were on hand to greet them at both cities. The Gang did not know the “norm” for Wally’s programs. As a radio group, they sang from songbooks, and sung western and gospel songs. They did not even know they were to sing all gospel music at Wally’s programs, and have the lyrics memorized like other gospel groups. Much to the surprise to other groups on the program, they did sing from their songbooks at these two engagements. In short, the Gang did not like all the traveling associated with concert appearances, as most of Wally’s programs were in the Eastern United States, but they granted him many 10-day sporadic tours during the early years. Except for brief interruptions during World War II, their radio shows lasted 15 years, but their career was mounting for full concert work, where their travels would eventually take them to the famed Carnegie Hall in New York City, Hollywood Bowl, Gator Bowl, Daytona International Speedway, numerous appearances on The Grand Ole Opry, and international travels to Canada, and Nassau and Spanish Wells in The Bahamas.
The Gang’s popularity was greatly enhanced by radio play. One could hardly move the radio dial without hearing them. Many locally sponsored 15-30 minute daily radio programs, playing only Chuck Wagon Gang music, sprouted across the nation. In the 1950’s, promoters Rev. and Mrs. J. Bazzel Mull of Knoxville, TN began playing their music exclusively weekly on large 50,000-watt stations in Nashville, Chicago, New Orleans, and other large cities. Millions of records and songbooks were sold across the nation as well as many foreign countries from the Mulls' radio shows. Around 1956, the group briefly moved headquarters from Texas to Knoxville, and Rev. Mull became their booking agent. Turning to television in the early 60’s, they made a number of black and white video clips for The Wally Fowler Show and The Mull’s Singing Convention. The Chuck Wagon Gang also co-hosted a TV Show with The Rangers Trio, The Gospel Roundup, a fifteen-minute Monday-Friday show, featuring two songs by each group. This program was aired and rerun for approximately five years. They made numerous guest appearances on several country music shows, including The Wilburn Brothers and Porter Wagoner.
As with any organization, and particularly with a music group, personnel changes are inevitable and the expected for various reasons. The Chuck Wagon Gang remained essentially a family group through the years. As family members retired or left the group, other family members as well as non-family members came in to the group. To date, forty-eight known individuals have played their respective roles in the Chuck Wagon Gang. This is not a lot of people, considering the longevity of the group. Each edition has remained a close-harmony quartet, and contributed to the onward success of the Chuck Wagon Gang.
Through the years many awards and accolades have been bestowed upon the group. The first commercially licensed recording of the now Albert E. Brumley classic “I’ll Fly Away” was the Chuck Wagon Gang’s recording of the title on December 16, 1948. In 1950, Billboard reported that disc jockeys of America voted the Chuck Wagon Gang eighteenth most popular of all small singing groups in the nation, considering all genres of music, and third most popular of all Columbia Recording artists. Anna Gordon was awarded “Miss Gospel Singer” in 1954. In 1955 Columbia Records awarded them their first gold record for “I’ll Shout and Shine,” commemorating 20 years on Columbia Records. Also in 1955, the National Disc Jockey Associated voted them “Number One Gospel Act in America.” They were named “Kentucky Colonels in the mid-sixties. In 1966, The Chuck Wagon Gang was chosen with several other artists to appear in a movie, Sing a Song for Heaven’s Sake. Columbia Records also presented a 30-year plaque in 1967. Dad Carter was posthumously inducted into the Gospel Music Association’s Hall Of Fame in Nashville on April 3, 1985. On November 28, 1986, performance rights organization SESAC presented the Gang’s second gold record “to commemorate 50 years of recorded music, an unparalleled milestone in Gospel Music.” “The Lifetime Achievement Award” was awarded in 1986 by SESAC. The 50th anniversary also included a letter from President Ronald Reagan. The States of Texas and Tennessee also bestowed special honors. In 1989 Rose Karnes was presented “The Living Legend Award” by The Grand Ole Gospel Reunion, followed by her sister, Anna, receiving the same award in 1990. In 1989, at the National Quartet Convention in Nashville, Roy Carter was presented the coveted “Marvin Norcross Award,” the highest honor given in the gospel music field. The Chuck Wagon Gang garnered “Gospel Group of The Year” by TNN/Music City News Awards for the years 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, and 1993. The group was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1992 for their album, “Still Rollin,” placing in the top five of their category. In 1998 all past and former members of the ‘Gang’ were inducted into the Gospel Music Association’s Hall of Fame in Nashville, TN. In 2006, Shaye Smith was made a “Kentucky Colonel.” On June 14, 2006, President Bush sent White House greetings in honor of the Chuck Wagon Gang’s 70th Anniversary. In October 2005, Anna Carter Gordon Davis was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Association’s Hall of Fame in Pigeon Forge, TN. Anna was followed by her sister, Rose Carter Karnes for the same induction in October 2006. Their recordings are among the historic recordings at both the White House and The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.
The Chuck Wagon Gang’s ‘70th Anniversary’ CD was a very special recording. Many artists of the country music community have roots to Chuck Wagon Gang music, and twelve artists were invited to appear as guests on this recording. The guests included George Jones, The Oak Ridge Boys, The Gatlin Brothers, Ricky Skaggs, the late Billy Walker, John Conlee, The Jordanaires, and others.
With the rich history and music now spanning into eight decades, and having sold over 40 million records, the current Chuck Wagon Gang is rolling right along today. Singing bass, and serving as manager and emcee for the group, is Dave Emery, who resides in Pigeon Forge, TN. Dave is a minister, and was a pastor for nine years, taught Bible College for 5 years, and has been active in the performing areas at Branson, MO and Pigeon Forge, TN, prior to joining the Chuck Wagon Gang. The tenor position of the group is now held by Stan Hill, of Knoxville TN. Stan has been singing many years with his wife, local groups, and at various theaters in Pigeon Forge. Audiences everywhere love his featured new rendition of the Squire Parsons’ classic, “Sweet Beulah Land.” Singing soprano for the Chuck Wagon Gang is Julie Hudson, from High Point, NC. Julie’s voice has already been termed a “young Rose,” as she does possess those high, clear, piercing tones as Rose had. She is a registered nurse, having served for 17 years as a surgical nurse prior to joining the Chuck Wagon Gang. Penny Greene, from Morristown, TN, is the newest member of the group. Penny sings alto, and her voice certainly adds to the groups ‘original’ sound as she has those wonderful ‘Anna’ tones and style that are so familiar and loved by so many.
The great Chuck Wagon Gang standards, classics, and most requested songs are still featured at today’s Chuck Wagon Gang concert, and their simple approach remains intact. There just can’t be a Chuck Wagon Gang concert without “The Church In The Wildwood”, “Higher”, Echoes From The Burning Bush”, “Heaven’s Really Gonna Shine”, “We Are Climbing,” “I’ll Meet You In The Morning”, “Looking For A City”, and others in this vein. But as with any singing group, new songs, new recordings, and freshness must prevail.
The latest Chuck Wagon Gang recording, “Reminiscing,” features some of the group’s all-time favorites. The Chuck Wagon Gang is committed to preserving the integrity of the it’s great legacy by continuing the simple style that Dad Carter established nearly 72 years ago. They will continue to do as Dad Carter instructed, “Sing the old songs, and sing them the way I taught you.”
Currently the Chuck Wagon Gang consists of: Dave Emery (Bass, Emcee, Manager), Julie Hudson (Soprano), Stan Hill (Tenor), and Penny Greene (Alto).
Dave Emery grew up in a musical family in central Indiana. It was there that he first heard the Chuck Wagon Gang, as a child, on the radio during the Mull Singing Convention broadcast. Singing was a big part of the family and his Dad and brothers formed a quartet with his Mom at the piano. The family travelled from church to church singing many of their songs right out of the Chuck Wagon Gang song book that the Mulls had published.
After college, Dave entered the ministry and enjoyed 20 years of pastoring, teaching Bible College, and singing across the country. In the late 90's he joined the Blackwood Family in Branson and followed them to Pigeon Forge, TN where they currently perform. He moved back to Branson to sing with the Branson Valley Quartet. It was there that Ronnie Page invited Dave to join the Gang.
According to Dave, "to join the Chuck Wagon Gang is a great honor and to sing their songs is a real thrill". Dave and his wife, Phyllis, make their home in Nashville, TN.
Julie Hudson was born and raised in Bedford, Indiana. She now resides in High Point, North Carolina with her husband John, of 18 yrs, and their 16 yr old daughter, Brittany. Julie graduated from Olivet Nazarene University in 1987 with a bachelors of science in nursing. She has been practicing nursing in the operating room for the last 18 yrs.
"Music has always been a large part of my life. I have been singing in the church since I was a little girl. Performing solo's and singing in a quartet with my family. In high school I was in the concert and accapella choirs and I played flute in the band. After moving to High Point, I was the music minister at the church I attend. I have always loved the "old songs" because many have such wonderful anointed messages. I feel so honored and blessed that God has led me to the Chuck Wagon Gang. My greatest desire is to serve my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and to bring glory to His Name. I love and thank Him for allowing me to share His hope of salvation to others."
Stan Hill was born and raised in Knoxville, TN. He has been married to his wife, Kathy, for 25 years. Together, they have three children: Chris, 22; Brad,16; Rebekah,15.
"Music has always been an important part of my life. Some of my earliest and best memories are of my family gathered around the piano singing a hymn while Mom played. I also remember lying in bed at night listening to the CWG records, and others, when I was supposed to be sleeping. Through the years, I have sung with my wife, local groups and theaters in Pigeon Forge, TN."
"By singing with the Chuck Wagon Gang, I not only get to enjoy these great songs of faith, I also get to share in preserving the history and tradition of this style of music along with that of the Gang's history and tradition. God has truly given me the desires of my heart."
Stan makes a great addition to the long standing list of excellent tenor singers who have been a part of the Gang's distinctive sound. His quality of voice and blend will continue the high standard established by Dad Carter, who made it clear to his kids ...'to sing the old songs and sing them the way I taught you.'
Penny Greene grew up in a musical family. "I can't remember a time when I wasn't singing. My parents say I was born singing."
Penny accepted Jesus Christ in December of 1980, which she says is the most wonderful, life-changing decision she has ever made. She sang at church with her Daddy, brother, and best friend, Nicole. After singing with numerous local groups, she started singing professionally with a female trio, Sacred Calling. After four years, the group disbanded, leaving Penny with an unfulfilled calling to sing for the Lord. That is when she was offered the opportunity to join the Chuck Wagon Gang.
Penny and her husband, Dustin, live in Morristown, TN with their two children, Blake-7 and Lauren-4. They serve as youth leaders at Morningside Baptist Church. "We had been praying for direction and for God to open another door for me to sing. I feel honored that He included me in the Chuck Wagon Gang, allowing me to help carry on the grand tradition of the good ole' songs I grew up singing. I pray God uses our voices as a way of telling others of God's everlasting love and faithfulness."
Penny's voice certainly adds to the groups 'original' sound as she has those wonderful 'Anna' tones and style that is so familiar and loved by so many. When Penny is home, she is not bored as she spends time with her husband, rears her children, enjoys a variety of sports, and of course...shopping!
Shaye Smith has loved music since she was old enough to remember. Little wonder since she is the granddaughter of the Gang's original alto, Mrs. Anna (Carter) Davis.
Shaye has two Bachelor's Degrees in Music (Bachelor of Arts in Vocal Performance and a Bachelor of Music in Choral Conducting) and currently teaches Chorus at Kings Mountain High School, close to her home in Shelby, NC. She joins the Chuck Wagon Gang on stage at every opportunity and is a welcomed addition to the concerts.
Shaye was involved in many musicals and operas in college as well as choral and theater projects, and so feels completely at home on stage. However, singing the Chuck Wagon Gang songs is most enjoyable for her, especially since she is able to be a part of the great legacy that her grandmother and family began nearly seventy years ago.
Shaye says the most important decision she ever made was on August 15, 1981, when she accepted Jesus Christ as her personal Savior. "Becoming a Christian gave my love for music a purpose. I devoted my life to Jesus and dedicated my voice to singing Gospel music. I can't imagine not being involved in music in some form or fashion. The Lord has truly blessed me." .