Onie Wheeler died on-stage at the Grand Ole Opry in 1984, a poetic end for a man who spent his life toiling in relative obscurity for country music. He barely even qualifies as a one-hit wonder, having charted only one minor country hit in 1973. He was, however, a unique performer and a talented songwriter whose first OKeh single, "Run 'Em Off," became a hit via Lefty Frizzell's cover version. A few years later his song "No, I Don't Guess I Will," with minor revisions to the lyric, gave Carl Smith a hit. Onie's Bop is a compilation of Wheeler's 1950s recordings for OKeh, Columbia, and Sun, including his original recording of "Run 'Em Off," a copycat follow-up titled "Tell 'Em Off," and 29 other cuts from the distinctive hard country of his early years to the rockabilly and hillbilly bop he later waxed at Sun. Colin Escott's liner notes correctly point out that Wheeler's idiosyncratic early recordings -- such as the oddly metered "My Home Is Not a Home at All" and his religious "mother" songs -- are the apex of his artistic achievement and tower above his rockabilly efforts, even though the latter may hold more appeal for collectors. The gospel-styled vocal trio sound Wheeler applied even to his honky tonk material is stirring, and the slow songs allow the strange flavor of his voice to seep through more than the uptempo material. It is almost always a mistake when Bear Family forgoes chronological sequencing, and the same is true of Onie's Bop; the 31 tracks are arranged mostly in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1959 and ending up in 1953, which makes no sense. Quibbles aside, some excellent music awaits those who want to dig a little deeper into country music's past.
AllMusic Review by Greg Adams