b. Harry C. McAuliffe, 9 May, possibly near Bluefield, Mercer County, West Virginia, USA, d. 13 October 1966, New York, USA. The year of his birth remains obscure, due to what has been politely described as ‘his own capacity for contradictory statements’. (He gave it at differing times as 1899, 1903, 1904 and 1905.) He also claimed that he was born on a 750-acre farm but on other occasions said it was Bluefield, and there have even been claims that he was born in Pennsylvania. He may well have, as he always claimed, worked both as a cowboy and on the railroad, before gaining radio work in Pittsburgh in 1929. He certainly had considerable skill with horses, which he later used to great effect in his stage act. It has also been alleged that he worked on the border radio station at Eagle Pass, Texas. On 17 December 1936, in New York, as Big Slim Aliff and with only his own guitar, he recorded four sides for Decca Records, including the first recording of ‘Footprints In The Snow’, a song that is now a country standard. In 1937, he joined WWVA, first as a member of Doc Williams’ band but he soon became one of the Wheeling Jamboree’s most loved stars. Although, on occasions, he made some appearances on other stations, he spent almost all of his career at WWVA. He possessed a strong deep voice and his renditions of western songs, such as ‘Strawberry Roan’ and ‘Patanio, The Pride Of The Plains’, endeared him to radio listeners and live audiences alike. Along with his horse, Golden Flash, Slim’s skill with a bullwhip was part of his stage act. He copyrighted some songs including ‘On The Sunny Side Of The Mountain’, although some of his claims for authorship have been disputed. In the late 40s, he made recordings for Dixie and Page and some years later, he had three albums released by the Canadian Arc label. Surrounded by what was no doubt his own carefully spun mixture of fact and fiction, he was an important contributor to country music, not only through his personal input but certainly for the fact that both Hank Snow and Hawkshaw Hawkins owed a great deal to Big Slim for his help in the early stages of their careers. Snow relates a considerable amount of information about their association in his autobiography. Big Slim died in 1966 and is buried at Wheeling, West Virginia.
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