Hugh X. Lewis: Singer, songwriter, actor, author, TV show host.... you name it!
Hugh X. Lewis is said to have been born in the town of Yeaddiss, Kentucky, the son of a Church of Christ minister. He grew up in southeast Kentucky in Cumberland. He has been writing and performing country music since his teenage years. He might tell you of his two loves, one being traditional country music, the other being his wife of over 50 years, Ann.
After high school, he went to work with the U.S. Steel Corporation's Mine Operations in Lynch, Kentucky and stayed there for about ten years. Though such work might leave one tired and sore, Hugh found the time to perform in weekend shows in the Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia areas. He just knew he would one day end up in Nashville.
He eventually worked his way up to the position of foreman at his job in Lynch. He also continued his musical career, performing on WSAZ's Saturday Night Jamboree show in Huntington, West Virginia.
Hugh recalls getting breaks early in his career from appearances on television in Johnson City, Tennessee. A radio station in Cincinnati, WLW, held a talent search contest and Hugh won out for two years in a row, which lead to other opportunities. His appearances on the famed Renfro Valley Barn Dance drew encouragement from the legendary John Lair. But what got the momentum going for him was when he won a Pet Milk contest that got him a guest spot on the Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round in Knoxville. He ended up doing frequent appearances on the Barn Dance and sometimes hitch-hiked from Lynch, Kentucky to do those shows.
One of the regulars on the noon-time show back then was another Hall of Fame songwriter by the name of Don Gibson. When Don started to get attention and eventually moved to Nashville, Lowell Blanchard started giving Hugh more time on the air as Don's replacement.
Still, music was not a steady source of income. Hugh continued working at the mines and pursued his songwriting dreams. One day, he finished a song called "B.J. the D.J." At that time, he only had one contact in Nashville, a boyhood friend by the name of Bud Beal. Bud got him a meeting with Jim Denny. When Mr. Denny heard the song, he told Hugh that it was a hit song, and to go on home, he'd get the song recorded and be in touch with him. The song did get recorded -- by Stonewall Jackson, who notes it was one of the largest selling records of his career. Jackson would go on to record about 11 songs written by Hugh X. Lewis.
The year was 1963 and Hugh decided it was time to move to Nashville and made the move by himself initially. He got himself a job selling advertising space for a magazine during the day and at night, continued to hone his songwriting skills. He spent about two months in a boarding house, which he calls the two most miserable months in his life, before he was able to bring his wife Ann and the kids to town in a Ryder truck.
His first year in Nashville brought him a fair amount of recognition for his number one tunes. There were BMI awards for "B.J. the D.J." (recorded by Stonewall Jackson) and "Take My Ring Off Your Finger" (recorded by Carl Smith). Through his songwriting career, he's had tunes recorded by folks such as Charley Pride, Del Reeves, Jim Ed Brown, Little Jimmy Dickens, Jimmy C. Newman, Bobby Goldsboro, Lynn Anderson and many others.
The year 1965 saw Hugh get a recording contract with Kapp Records and Paul Cohen, with the assistance of John Denny at Cedarwood Publishing. His very first record, "What I Need Most Is You", went to number 12 on the charts. He also enjoyed hits with other tunes such as "Out Where The Ocean Meets The Sky", "I'd Better Call The Law On Me", "You're So Cold, I'm Turning Blue" and "Wish Me A Rainbow", among others.
From 1968 to 1971, Hugh and his life-long friend, Bud Beal, co-produced a syndicated television show called the "Hugh X. Lewis Country Club". The show enjoys the distinction of being the longest running single-sponsor, multi-market country music show in history! That show was sponsored by the Whirlpool Corporation subsidiary, Heil-Quaker Corporation. It was the first time a major manufacturer had produced its own country music show. Two of the first guest stars were Del Reeves and Lynn Anderson. A group that later went on to become one of the Opry's favorite groups, the Four Guys. were regular performers. Other regulars on the show were announcer Bud Beal and the Country Clubbers Band. Fans might recall that one of the features of the show was a "Wall of Fame" in the background.
An April 1969 article sheds some insight on the show.
Hugh's career took him around the country and world. He retired in 1984, but as he notes, "once a ham, always a ham", he came out of retirement in 1998 as the "Country Ham, Colonel Hugh X. Lewis". He's done several CD's and videos, one of the latest being a Gospel album titled, "Stand Up And Be Counted". He does numerous television appearances and has had a feature role in a movie called "Summer of Courage".
Hugh offered up some opinions in a 1969 interview as to the differences between rock and roll, pop and country music:
"In rock and roll music, its nothing but vibrations and repetition and rhythm. Pop music as far as I have been able to determine, they sort of make everything seem good that isn't good. They make everything flowery and real pretty in pop music. The words are pretty. In country music, they tell it like it is, it's quiet, earthy and they get down to the nitty gritty in country music. And I think really, that's all I have to say about the three."
He also explained why he went into country music instead of other music.
"...I grew up in the country and I know country people. I haven't been able to determine for sure just what makes them tick or what makes them go out and buy a country record. But I figure I know these people better than I do pop people. That was one of the main reasons why I got in country music. Another reason was, of course, that I was playing country music all my life. I've been playing the guitar since I was a kid. And another reason being that it's a very lucrative business. It has engulfed the entire world. I play in Canada, England, Germany and people know me and it's a very lucrative business."e;
Hugh is enshrined in the "Walkway of Stars" at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, and in March of 2011 he was inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame now displays much of his career memorabilia on display at its Renfro Valley, Kentucky, location.
Music isn't all that Hugh has been a part of. He's been in three movies: "Gold Guitar", "Cotton Pickin' Chicken Pickers", and "Forty Acre Feud". He worked quite a bit with Del Reeves in this area. He notes in 1969 that he and Del were a bit like the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis of country music. He closed his interview in 1969 by stating what he wanted to be.
"...I want the kids to have a good education and I know everybody wants that, of course. I suppose every father wants his children to do better than what he did. I've got a lot of plans, I want a network television show, I want to be a star in the movies, I want to be a great writer some day, I want to be a great recording artist and I want to make a million bucks."
And he has come to the conclusion that he won't be retiring ever again.
Credits & Sources:
* Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank Darren Long, a Nashville-based songwriter for sending along a biographical story of Hugh X. Lewis to help us with this article.
* Country Song Roundup; No. 94; June 1966; Charlton Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
* Country Song Roundup; No. 117; April 1969; Charlton Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
* Country Song Roundup; No. 121; August 1969; Charlton Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
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