Frank Welling

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Frank Welling was a historic early country & western performer who in many ways helped dig the well for what would sometimes seem like a steady gushing of sentiment. The later country singer Red Sovine…
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Frank Welling was a historic early country & western performer who in many ways helped dig the well for what would sometimes seem like a steady gushing of sentiment. The later country singer Red Sovine would often pick out the prolific recordings of Welling and his harmony bass singer, harmonica player, and guitarist John McGhee as being incredibly influential in the development of his own career, which at least commercially would peak with the release of some of the most tear-jerking material in the history of phonograph records, such as the weeper based on his own daughter's "Teddy Bear." To say such material would not be possible without Welling might not be saying enough as his songs about home, fireside, and mother are the type of material the really classy country music disc jockeys dig out for special holidays. It also represents country music at its most old-timey, practically soggy with the pathos of Irish and Scottish music, as if it had been soaked in whiskey. Needless to say, it was also a style untouched by pop and rock influences that some listeners feel corrupted "pure" country music forever. Welling and McGhee cut something like 250 sides of this country and gospel purity for labels such as Paramount, Vocalion, and Conqueror in the late '20s. Welling's father was a farmer and old-time fiddler who spent a few nights each week playing for square dances around Ohio. The family relocated to Huntington, WV, around 1912, a mountain crossroads hotbed for old-time music tinkering. It was in Huntington that Welling first became fascinated with guitar. It was the six-string that first engaged him, but eventually he developed a love of the steel guitar, which would become one of the key elements in the country music sound, as well as an instrument that even enemies of this genre agree has no equal when it comes to expressing varied forms of anguish or misery. Welling's initial exposure to this instrument was in a different context, however. He first heard steel guitars while playing in the combo Domingo's Filipino Serenaders in the late '20s. In the same decade, he began touring with various vaudeville groups such as Rose's Wintergarden Girls, in which he performed both music and skits with his brother, E.V. Welling. The brothers became active broadcasting over station WSAZ out of Huntington. This was also the period when the team up with McGhee began. Their first gig together was at a local church. From there, they slowly meandered their way in front of recording microphones only to find that the new record-buying public had an interest in acquiring items of great sentiment. Between 1928 and 1933, the pair had nine different recording sessions, cutting more than 150 different tracks such as "There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood," "I Want to Go Back to My Mountain Shack," and "Don't Marry a Man if He Drinks," to name just three of most common philosophical themes in old-time music. The title given to a reissue of much of this material on the Old Homestead label pretty well sums it up: Sacred, Sentimental and Silly. At the time of the original release of many of these records, however, the labels seemed interested in putting across the image of a much larger stable of artists than they actually had by releasing material by performers such as Welling and McGhee under a whole gamut of different names. While the gospel material was released under their own names, much of the secular material came out under the band name of the Red Brush Rowdies and was indeed rowdier than the gospel, an early crack at a distinct country & western sound. The fine fiddler Miller Wikel shows up on some of the Red Brush Rowdies sides. A third type of material was hard-hitting labor songs such as "North Carolina Textile Strike," which the record company felt was a bit controversial and thus slipped out under the name of the Martin Brothers. Welling's final recordings were done with bass singer and trumpeter William Shannon. Welling moved to Charleston, WV, in the late '30s and began a stint on WCHS lasting more than two decades.