Slim WhitmanSlim Whitman’s America
Soho Weekly News
January 21, 1981
Dear Mr. Whitman,
I call you Mr. Whitman from total respect for you. Sir, I met you in Canton, the nurse at the record store with the big smile and a warm hand shake. I enquired about your aunt in the hospital? I bought four albums—so we thank you!
Mr. Whitman youre music, youre God Given Voice is
2—Something to those who are sick—such a comfort
3—Makes death more exceptible
4—Such a sentimentalist! You are—youre what music is all about
5—When riding in a car youre music is so meaningful and we are so greatful
6—Gets our day off to a good start!
Please come out with a Christmas Album. “Christmas with Slim.” Sitting at a fireplace with Christmas tree and fire in the fireplace—Beautiful!
2—Oh! Holy Night
“ect.” If you read all this—you would make an excellent patient Ha
Fondly and Bless You!
Helen M. Gednetz, R. N.
Slim Whitman, as if in response to requests such as this one, has recently issued what may become the definitive Yuletide Platter, Christmas With Slim Whitman. Granted, Slim’s new album—which must not be confused with that old evergreen, The Slim Whitman Christmas Record—shamelessly omits the compulsory “Drummer Boy,” but its “Away in a Manger” should make even the greediest grandmothers halt their steady assault on the wrapping paper in contemplation of Christ, life, love and materialism. And how many modern recording artists can do that? Indeed, not since Hendrix has there been a left-handed guitarist with the sort of religious intensity, moral passion, and worldwide popularity that Whitman possesses. But who is this King of Corn who’s recorded 70 albums, sold over 50 million, and hung 19 gold ones on the walls of Peckerwood Paradise, his Middleberg, Florida estate?
Born Otis Dewey Whitman in Tampa on Jan. 24, 1924, young Otis had a childhood marked only by fishing and yodeling (“it just came natural”) and an adolescence interrupted by marriage. He was a 17-year-old meatpacker, she was a 16-year-old meatpacker: it was inevitable. He joined the Navy in ’43, logging time on the U.S.S. Chilton where he first performed for a crowd during the ship’s “happy hours.” Back home after the way, Otis quickly began and ended a baseball career in the Orange Belt League. Not that young Whitman was anybody’s weak sister: his fast ball earned him an 11-1 record and his sweet swing a .360 average for the Plant City Berries in 1947. But it was at the Tampa shipyards where his true talents were first detected. A fellow shipfitter heard Otis yodeling on the job and, overwhelmed by the dulcet tones above the roar of welding and pounding, lined up a band to accompany him.
At this point in 1948, enter Colonel Tom Parker, just a few years shy of discovering Elvis. Parker heard Otis singing the band’s theme song, “I’m Castin’ My Lasso Toward the Sky,” over Tamp’s WHBO, and promptly got him a recording contract with RCA. RCA gave him one penny a record, for which he was grateful, and the nickname of Slim, for which he wasn’t, never having been particularly thin. Steady gigs in Nashville, with the Light Crust Dough Boys in Texas and at the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport followed, but times turned tough and Slim found himself carrying mail to make ends meet. Finallly in ’52, the snapping dogs around Slim’s ankles were banished for good with “Love Song of the Waterfall,” which became his first Top Ten hit. The rest, as they say, was history; though until December 26th, it was largely foreign history.
I would like to meet Slim Whitman on behalf of my one-and-a-half year old son to see for myself why he is so starstruck by this awesome figure that yodels from my T.V.
If my son is in the middle of pulling all the plugs out of their sockets or screaming because the dog took his cookie, he will stop everything, run to the T.V. and stand motionless until Slim is finished singing.
I’d like to meet Slim and suggest that he start a children’s show because anyone who can command the respect of kids as he does ought to be in there with Mr. Rogers and Captain Kangaroo.
Enclosed is a picture of my son Brian, who loves Slim.
(And entry in the “Swing with Slim” contest held by a Cleveland radio station.)
Last December 26th something absurd happened to Slim Whitman on his way to a quiet Peckerwood retirement: a late-night television commercial aired in which he was the star. Produced by a New York mail-order firm, Suffolk Marketing, to promote its leased smorgasbord of Whitman standards called All My Best, the ad was so off the wall—so ingratiatingly hokey and half-consciously funny—that it became an underground hit. Here was a mutton-chopped, mustachioed, middle-aged cowboy character warbling “Una Paloma Blanca” while strolling rather awkwardly by a cattle fence in a black-rhinestone-studded suit, complete with white tie, boots and guitar. A warmly enthusiastic announcer breaks in with a recitation of seemingly fictitious accolades: Slim Whitman, England’s No. 1 International Artist… Slim Whitman’s “Rose Marie,” No. 1 on the English charts longer than any song by the Beatles, Stones or Elvis… the all-time best seller in Australia… Slim Whitman, the world’s leading this and that. For all we knew, here was another Rula Lenska.
We were wrong. Not only is Slim idolized abroad—in such pseudo-country and movie-western strongholds as Amsterdam, Johannesburg, Melbourne, Buenos Aires and Liverpool—but there were a lot of folks right here in the U.S. of A. who apparently recalled with affection Slim’s earlier days of “Red River Valley,” “Indian Love Call” and “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain.” So if the ad was worth a chuckle to some, it was the chance of a night time for others, and they weren’t going to miss out. They bought and bought and bought, and soon All My Best had surpassed The Fabulous Fingers of Irving Fields in Suffolk’s catalogue, and then it sprinted right by their best seller, Guy Lombardo’s 50 Years! 50 Hits!, at 850,000 units. It’s since gone over the two million mark. All My Best, the kind of “not available in any store at any price!!” disc that usually announces that an artist is being sent to the glue factory, turned the self-proclaimed “most dormant guy in America” into a revivified techno-pop star.
Cleveland International Records knew a good thing, whoever odd, when it saw it. It signed Whitman in a hurry—giving it the splendid one-two punch of Slim and Meatloaf—and released two new records back-to-back, Songs I Love to Sing and the Christmas Slim session. Meanwhile, back at the mail-order ranch, Suffolk is licking its chops over its second compilation, Just for You, which is now being hyped with a wee-hours ad long the same lines as the first. So smashing has been the Whitman marketing story that Forbes and the Wall Street Journal have investigated the phenomenon.
Why I’d Like a Date With Slim
One Night Together
Could Satisfy Me
He’s Everything a
Man Should Be
His Sexy Voice
Every Inch of Him
I’ve only One Love
My Man SLIM!
Anita Meske (Swing With Slim Contest)
Not only has Slim becomes a sex symbol to pre-Tom Jones housewives and nostalgic granddads, but he’s become real life kitsch classic among, as he calls them, “the kids.” The kids in this case are mostly high-school and college students who happen to think Slim Whitman is the funniest thing that ever happened to 1980. Fan clubs such as the Pittsburgh-based SWAMP (Slim Whitman American Music Patrol) have sprung up to counter the officially sanctioned, self-serious Slim Whitman Appreciation Society of the United States (based in Tucson); “Whitmania” T-shirts and “Get Slim” buttons are icons of import and good taste in Cleveland high schools; University of South Carolina students disrupted a Reagan rally with chants of “We Want Slim” and banners promoting “Slim Whitman For President”; and about 5000 teenagers showed up at an August concert in Kansas City, with hundreds of girls milling around the stage crying in mock lust (or, perhaps, real love), “Oh Slim… Oh Slim.”
When rock stations across the country first began making light of Whitman and his polyester cowboy shtick, they were so flabbergasted by the amount of audience response that many made Slim a daily goofing item. In Tampa, his yodelin’ is featured—despite protests by his niece—on WQXM’s “Rude Awakening” morning show; WPJB in Providence offers yodeling lessons and Whitman trivia contests; a Pittsburgh station’s audience survey of favorite rock stars placed 56-year-old Slim fourth on the list; and one New England station offers Whitman make up kits “complete with receding hairline, furry eyebrows and a cream to make your upper lip quiver.” At a time when DEVO is the norm, Slim Whitman appears seriously out to lunch.
Here is a cult figure “the kids” can have fun with, a cult figure for Reagan’s America: friendly, easy-going, rich, a family man, a man of God and mobile homes, a man who sings about “cattle calls” without dirtying his fingernails, who mows his 20-acre lawn by himself and likes ABBA, who disparages songs concerned with violence, bars or the “the bedroom thing” and won’t play the Lone Star Café because it serves the Devil’s alcohol. The polltakers could’ve predicted last November’s election more successfully if they had spend less time analyzing computerized voting trends and more time looking at Slim Whitman’s record sales for the year, which by his count total over four million.
I enjoyed meeting you at Knotts Berry Farm, even tho I was almost topple backward for a picture, your concert was a real treat for all your fans. We are eagerly awaiting your next visit for So. Cal, and hope it will be very soon. We just hope there won’t be a bonfire to bother you next time. That was unfair to you and the audience.
I would like to know if it is possible to obtain any late photos of you. The ones offered by the fan club are so dated, also only in black and white.
There were no bonfires at Slim Whitman’s Homecoming Concert in Tampa last month, but there were four generations of Whitmans sitting in the roped-off front row. (The concert was billed “The One You Have Been Waiting For” though “waiting” fails to suggest the length of anticipation: he last played his hometown in 1955.) Whitman had a dandy time. “Love Song of the Waterfall” sounded presumably as fresh as it did 28 years ago; and Slim’s son Byron, who was born 23 years ago, performed alongside his dad—swinging his black-sequined, jumpsuited figure into “Only the Lonely” while Slim smiled from the wings. “Oh, it’s a good, good night,” Slim told the crowd.
It was Ma Whitman’s 77th birthday. At a break in the show, I think between “It’s a Small, Small World” and “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine,” a policeman wheeled out a gigantic birthday cake. Miss Tampa, a big-boned rather plump teenage queen, came on stage in a blue chiffon gown, sparkling crown and wraparound ribbon. She gave a speech formally welcoming Slim home. Slim bowed his head humbly, white guitar glistening in the spotlight. Then she gave him an orange Tampa Bay Buccaneers hat, with SLIM monogrammed across the bill. She seemed uneasy for a few moments but then, decisively, she leaned over a bit and gave Slim an authoritative smack on the cheek, somewhere above the pencil mustache and below the forest of an eyebrow.
Michael Jackson once declared that Whitman was one of his ten favorite singers, and in 1996, Tim Burton’s film Mars Attacks made use of Whitman’s “Indian Love Call” as a weapon against alien invaders. Slim Whitman’s last album, produced by his son Byron, Twilight on the Trail was released in 2010. He died on June 19, 2013.