The news got lost amidst all the hype and hullabaloo of the CMA Music Festival last week, but the man who first called me “Whisperin’ Bill” passed away Wednesday night out in Branson, Missouri.
His name was Don Bowman, and I’m sure many of you remember him and the crazy, wacko songs he wrote and recorded for RCA back in the sixties and early seventies. A former disc jockey and the original host of American Country Countdown, he won the CMA’s Comedian Of The Year Award in 1967. He would have turned 76-years old in August.
I first became aware of Don when he cut songs like, “Chit Akins, Make Me A Star,” an obvious spoof about an unknown hick singer coming to Nashville and wanting the great Chet Atkins to turn him into a star overnight. Later, a parody on Red Sovine’s “Giddyup Go” called “Giddyup Do-Nut” cracked the Billboard top fifty, in the days when country stations embraced and exposed comedy material.
I had begun doing a syndicated television show in 1965, and for the first season Grandpa Jones provided the laughs. After one year, the travel to Charlotte, North Carolina, for our taping sessions became too much for him and his wife, Ramona, and he bowed out. Don Bowman had done a guest appearance or two on the show, and our producers liked him a lot. They offered him a regular slot on the program just as we moved our home base to Windsor, Ontario, Canada. After a couple of years north of the border, we came home to Nashville.
We would generally tape our shows in front of a live studio audience about eight o’clock in the evenings and Don, being a confirmed night-owl, would often leave the studio and head up to WSM radio where Ralph Emery held forth on the late night airwaves. Ralph would ask Don where he had been and Don would reply, “Oh, I’ve been out taping television shows with Ole Whisper.”
Ralph would ask, “Who is ‘Ole Whisper’?” to which Don would say, “Oh, you know…that guy who SAYS his songs….Whisperin’ Bill Anderson.”
In those days, I was recording my first recitations….songs like “Golden Guitar” and “Mama Sang A Song,” and I guess to many it did sound like I was “saying” my songs.
Pretty soon Ralph began referring to me as “Whisperin’ Bill” when he would play one of my records, and in no time at all the nickname began to spread. There weren’t a lot of country stations back then, and virtually every DJ in the country listened to Ralph in order to pick up the news and latest tid-bits from Nashville. Almost before I knew it, I had become “Whisperin’ Bill” to the rest of the world.
I’ve admitted that in the beginning the name bothered me, because I thought people were making fun of me. It didn’t take long for me to recognize the value in it, however, and I began to embrace it along with everyone else. I’ve often said that there is a Bill Anderson in virtually every telephone book in the U.S., but there’s only one “Whisperin’ Bill”…..largely thanks to Don Bowman.
Sadly, while Don was making the rest of us laugh, he was not a happy man in his own life. The records stopped selling, his personal life was in shambles, and he moved to Branson to try and get things together. Unfortunately,
he suffered a stroke there and had been confined to a nursing home for the past few years.
I can only say, “May you rest in peace, my friend. You’ve certainly earned it. And be assured that ‘Ole Whisper’ will never forget you.”