b. 9 December 1932, Whitesville, West Virginia, USA. Wheeler grew up in coalmining camps and his song ‘Coal Tattoo’, which was recorded by Judy Collins, is based on what he saw around him. He collected folk songs himself and elements of both folk and country music can be heard in his songwriting. He performed with his guitar at school and college events, was in the US navy from 1957-58 and then became a schoolteacher. In 1958 his rock ‘n’ roll version of ‘The Boll Weevil Song’, which he called ‘Rock Boll Weevil’, was recorded by Pat Boone. He performed folk songs with the Lexington Symphony Orchestra in 1961, and then became a full-time professional performer. ‘Rev. Mr Black’, a narrative song about a travelling preacher, made the US Top 10 for the Kingston Trio in 1963, and they followed it with the story of ‘Desert Pete’. Wheeler himself had a solo US hit with a song about an outside toilet, ‘Ode To The Little Brown Shack Out Back’. His 1967 composition, ‘Jackson’, was successful for the duos Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, and Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. Other compositions include ‘Blistered’ (Johnny Cash), ‘Blue Roses’ and ‘The Man Who Robbed The Bank At Santa Fe’ (both Hank Snow). His Nashville Zodiac album was made with Doug Kershaw and includes three Kershaw compositions. Wheeler continues to perform and says, ‘I can’t bear to think how empty my life would have been without my guitar.’ His biggest success has proved to be co-writing Kenny Rogers 1980 hit single ‘Coward Of The County’. Wheeler was inducted into the Nashville Songwriting Hall of Fame in 2000. He is also an acclaimed poet and playwright.
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