Lonnie Glosson part 2 - Harmonica Ambassador

Lonnie Glosson
Harmonica Ambassador, part 2

By Marcella Pry
The Busby family's love for music flowed through the veins of most of the Glosson kids. Lonnie's sister, Esther Glosson, played with the group on WJJD. When Lonnie left there he persuaded his brother, Buck Glosson, to come up and take his place. He also replaced him in Birmingham, Atlanta and Shreveport at later times. When Lonnie had the Sugar Creek Gang, a harmonica band, it consisted of Lonnie, Buck, their cousin Carl Busby (aka Crazy Buzz) and Sonny Haley. Later, Esther played with them and at one time he had two fiddlers that went on to play with Bob Wills. Esther played harp with Lonnie some on the border stations and with Buck on WJJD in Chicago. Lonnie wanted to leave WJJD and they told him he couldn't so he asked them about having his brother Buck. He told them, "Buck is as good as I am and you'll like him better." Buck was very outgoing and likeable. They agreed that he could get Buck. He called Buck and asked him if he wanted to do it. Buck said yes and promptly hopped a train to Chicago.

The third of Lonnie and Ruth's six children, George Calvin, was born on Christmas day 1938 at Baptist Hospital in Little Rock. Lonnie Jr. arrived March 5, 1941, and Sally Ann July 9, 1943 both born in Little Rock. "Dr. Nixon had to work with Lonnie Jr. about 20 minutes before he got the baby to breathing right," Lonnie recalls. "He was a good doctor, and only charged me 15 dollars."

Lonnie and his growing family spent three years in Renfro Valley, working for John Lair. It was here that the final child was born Mary Louise, February 1, 1946, at Berea, Kentucky. Lonnie would play road shows at night except on Saturday night when he emceed the Barndance. Lonnie and Ruth's oldest daughter, Dorothy, would occasionally appear on stage with him, playing a miniature guitar he had bought for her. In fact, all of the Glosson children were used to enhance his show. Before coming to Renfro Valley Lonnie had started buying extra time on his own and using it to pitch whatever he had to sell harmonicas, songbooks, resurrection plants. The "kicker" was a picture postcard of the Glosson Family
Lonnie Glosson family 1946 | Click for larger photo
Lonnie and Ruth's family in 1946
the five children lined up by height with the newest addition on her mother's lap. Archie Campbell, a better-than-average photographer later famous on "Hee Haw," took most of the Glosson pictures and thousands of them went out.

But Lair would not allow anything that was not Renfro Valley. The artists were not allowed to publish their own songbooks. He controlled it. "It took some doing," Lonnie remembers now, "but we finally left Renfro Valley and went to KNOX at Knoxville." There, he appeared on the Mid Day Merry-Go-Round and guested frequently on the Grand Ole Opry, mostly on The Prince Albert Show hosted by Red Foley. Both Roy Acuff and Hank Williams Sr. sometimes emceed the show. The Glossons were living at Gadsden, Alabama, at this time. He played the Southern Network station SEQN, over the WSM Nashville station on Sunday afternoon. Atlanta, Shreveport, Cincinnati, Knoxville, Des Moines, Hollywood, Birmingham, Del Rio any time he heard of a new station going in, he had to try it.

"I went on to WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia," Lonnie says. "I played with Hugh Cross and the Radio Pals in the evening and we played shows all over West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and parts of Virginia. I got $30 a week but I sold harmonicas, which helped a lot.

"While on WWVA a big flood came on the Ohio River and me and my family were living on an island in the Ohio River. We were out on a show date and when we got back to Wheeling, the radio was telling everyone to get off the islands and into the hills. You see, the heavy rains had fallen up in Pennsylvania, east of Wheeling. Hugh Cross came and got me and my wife Ruth and kids Hugh and Dorothy just in time. Within 45 minutes the island was covered with 10 feet of water and the house we lived in had 20 feet of water within an hour after we got out. There were 10,000 people living on the island and all their houses were two-storied. They just moved all the things they could upstairs and there they waited for the water to subside. We had taken as much of our belongings with us when we left the island. The landlord had to do the big cleanup. Food also got scarce and there was little to eat until the floodwaters receded in four or five days.

"Not long after Consolidated Drug Products Company sent me to Eagle Pass, Texas, to the big 200,000-watt radio station XEPN. I got about eight of the WWVA boys jobs down there on the same station with me. The address was Eagle Pass although the station and transmitter were over the border in Mexico. I had sold harmonicas at WWVA but at Eagle Pass I bought myself two 15-minute programs a day, one morning and one at night. I sold several thousand harmonicas. Now this was in 1936-37.

"As usual, I got itchy feet and in the spring of 1938 I went home to Kensett and got together 'The Sugar Creek Gang.' My brother Buck, who played a great harmonica, my cousin Carl Busby 'Crazy Buzz' and I all played the harmonicas. Sonny Haley played the guitar. He was only 17 years old but was a very good singer. We had a really good novelty act, a good band. We went to KARK radio station in Little Rock and stayed about a year, playing on the radio, selling harmonicas and doing personal appearances.

"Eventually, we broke up the act and I went to KWTO in Springfield, Missouri, by myself. Just me, my harmonica and guitar." One week later, he had a better offer, so he loaded Ruth and the kids into the car and went to Fairmont, West Virginia.

"Our oldest, Hugh, had started in school and went to the Fairmont school," Lonnie says. "Fairmont was in coal mining country. The air you breathed was coal smoke and coal dust, so we did not stay in Fairmont but a few months. Then we headed back home to Arkansas where the air was clean and fresh."

Lonnie's unique sound was very much the "blues." One observer says he "choked the harmonica," a technique that today is called "cross harp." Nearly all of his playing is achieved by drawing in on the notes instead of blowing them. He worked hard at perfecting his own style and became known as "The Talking Harmonica Man." He could make the harmonica say, "I Want My Mama" "I Want A Drink of Water" "Uh Huh" and even say a little bedtime prayer. He amazed even the best "harp" players as he was able to keep the rhythm going while still playing the melody. His recordings and his exposure on the pioneering radio stations soon made him well known in the south and midwest.

In 1946 Lonnie moved his family to Memphis, where he was reunited with Wayne Raney, another traveling musician from Arkansas. Wayne was 15 years younger and had been greatly influenced by Lonnie's skill on the harmonica. Wayne was an excellent harp player, playing with The Delmore Brothers. As a high school student at Concord, Arkansas, he had won a promotional contest Lonnie had conducted back in 1938 when he had The Sugar Creek Gang on KARK.

Wayne Raney and Lonnie. Wayne and Lonnie would eventually team up in 1948, forming a partnership that was to last nearly 10 years. Lonnie played lead and Wayne played harmony. They played on the largest radio stations, including the border stations with the power. Letters came from all over the globe. That is when they got into electrical transcriptions, mostly made at WCKY in Cincinnati. Others were cut at Del Rio. They were on the air on some 200 stations twice each night with two 15-minute programs, selling "The Lonnie Glosson and Wayne Raney Harmonica" put out by the Kratt Harmonica Company in Uniontown, New Jersey. If you were driving west at night you listened to Lonnie and Wayne no matter what station you turned to.

They also sold books "How To Play The Harmonica In Just 10 Minutes" and "How To Play The Guitar In Just 10 Minutes." They pitched it that way on the radio and on the backs of comic books and other pulp magazines full-page ads. In one nine-year period they sold some five million harmonicas!

Together they wrote "Why Don't You Haul Off And Love Me (One More Time)" and the next morning recorded it with The Delmore Brothers, Alton and Rabon. They also did at least one album with the Delmores, called "Let The Hammer Down." The team of Glosson and Raney ended when Wayne died of cancer at the age of 72. They were inducted into the George D. Hay Country Music Hall of Fame September 17, 2000.

Lonnie has written more than 35 songs but his most enduring work is "Matthew 24," which was written in 1938. George Jones used it on an album. Suzie Luchsinger has it on an album. It is in the Old Time Country Music section in the Smithsonian Institute on an album recorded by the Bill Sky Family with Lonnie playing the harmonica. That and "Why Don't You Haul Off And Love Me" are still bringing royalties and for some unknown reason, so is "Harmonica Twist."

All the time their children were growing up in Fort Smith, where they all graduated from high school, Lonnie played school assemblies during the school year. In the summer, he put them all in the car and headed for California and the cherry harvest. They followed it north to Oregon, Washington and Montana. Many times they picked other things but cherries were his favorite. With six children they did quite well, picking, traveling, visiting the national parks and other attractions along the way. He tried to make it interesting and educational for the kids as well as he and Ruth.

Both George and Cora lived to see Lonnie hit it big with his harmonica. George died at 87 and Cora at 94. They are buried in the Kensett Cemetery beside Lonnie and Ruth's double headstone.

With the rise of television viewers and decline of radio listeners, Lonnie sought other ways to make a living in entertainment, including school assembly shows. Playing for children, he says, has been the most enjoyable of all. "You know immediately whether or not you are pleasing your audience. Their little faces show it." In his earlier days, typically he would move into an area and spend about a week booking the shows and putting out advertising. Then he might play four schools a day for the next three weeks and move on. He would play a couple of harmonica tunes to get their attention, get some of the kids to help with his magic show, sell his records and tapes. It made a comfortable living for them both. At least, it seemed comfortable; the children had all left home and it was only Lonnie and Ruth and their camper. They took the camper to visit the youngest daughter, Mary, and her husband Warren Phipps at Albion, Oklahoma, when disaster struck.

A sharp pain in Lonnie's left leg got increasingly worse as the day wore on. Warren, a truck driver, was on the road and the nearest hospital was in Fort Smith, 100 miles away. Mary's preacher came with his truck to pick up Lonnie, who by this time was in almost unbearable pain. At Lonnie's urging, the preacher drove at speeds approaching 100 miles an hour. Lonnie's second daughter, Sally Gross, and his second son, George, lived in Oklahoma, just across the line, and met him at the hospital. A blood clot had stopped circulation in the limb and it was getting worse by the minute. Physicians fought unsuccessfully to save the leg, and removed it just below his knee. After two weeks in the hospital he was released to recuperate at the Phipps' home.

When Lonnie's leg healed it meant trying to find a prosthesis and he tried several that had straps and things that would come off no matter what he did to correct them. He had lots of trouble getting an artificial leg to fit. This went on for nearly four years and he was having a problem doing his comedy act for children. He eventually settled on the motorized wheelchair which he still uses today.

Lonnie's career almost ended August 7, 1987, on a highway seven miles from Hugo, Oklahoma. He had played a festival there and had just left when a pickup truck stopped suddenly in front of him to make a turn. Lonnie thought "I'm dead" because there was no way to stop in time. A man had come from Oklahoma City two weeks earlier and made him a new leg that had no straps, just like he had always wanted. The leg saved him. The knee jammed under the dashboard and kept him from going through the windshield when he hit the pickup. Although the three people in the truck were not seriously hurt, Lonnie almost died as a result of the accident.

An ambulance took him to the hospital in Hugo. But doctors there said he needed better care, in Shreveport. An airlift plane came from Shreveport but couldn't take off at Hugo. So, a plane was dispatched from Texarkana, arriving with a doctor and nurse on it. They took him to a hospital in Texarkana, where a doctor later told him later that he had thought Lonnie had only five or six minutes to live. He was in the hospital 39 days, most of it in intensive care. Visitors, mostly musicians and their families, joined Lonnie's family at the hospital. Newspapers also carried stories about his fight for life. He credits a writer from Texarkana with saving his life. Lonnie wouldn't eat the hospital food and the reporter would sneak cheeseburgers in to him.

Lonnie was skin and bones when he came out of the hospital but he and his brother Buck played a scheduled appearance at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View. He used crutches for a couple of years until 1993 when he got the Pride Schuttle, the motorized wheelchair which has served him well. He just rolls out on the stage and turns his seat around and puts on his shows.

When Bluegrass Festivals discovered Lonnie he played some 30 festivals a year in the summer and schools during the fall and winter. He played the Hugo, Oklahoma, festival for 16 years. He has played the Sanders Family Bluegrass Festival for 23 years. The only time he missed was in 1989 when he got a pacemaker implant.

Today, he still performs at Southern Folklore, a three-day affair at Memphis which in 1994 drew the Harmonica Convention away from Detroit on the strength of Lonnie's involvement in the festival. He has played it since its beginning in 1982. In 1991, Harding University in Searcy invited Lonnie back three times in two months. Come harvest time each year he is a staple at Halloween festivals and fraternity events. In February 2000 he performed for the White County Historical Society, regaling a packed house at Harding Place in Searcy with his music and stories from the early days.

At last count, Lonnie and Ruth's family had grown from the six children to 16 grandchildren, 21 great grandchildren and two great great grandchildren. During all of Lonnie's escapades, he always kept his family close to him. Ruth died at Leisure Lodge in Searcy November 6, 1995, after years of Alzheimer's Disease
Lonnie Glosson | Click for larger photo  

Lonnie sums up his life this way: "I was born poor as poor as anyone can be. I am still poor, or I would be except for my family. Neither will I forget the many friends I have made along the way.

"You can see why they called me a first-class rounder. I never could stay in one place very long. I was a rambling wreck just a man that didn't fit in. I rambled my whole life through. Always tired of the things that were, I wanted the strange and the new. Each fresh move was a fresh mistake. I forgot until my youth had fled and the prime of my life had passed that it's the steady and quiet ones that win in this life's long race."

A 1998 article closed with the following comments:

"Lonnie's life is a reflection of the true pioneer and entrepreneurial spirit. Little did the kid who hopped the train in 1924 realize where his journey would take him and the fame and adventure that he would find. Lonnie has been an inspiration for aspiring harmonica artists for over 70 years. When listening to the young harmonica musicians today it is easy to depict the influence of Lonnie Glosson the World's Greatest Ambassador for the Harmonica!"

On March 2, 2001, just a few weeks after this story was published, Lonnie died at home in Searcy of congestive heart failure.

The author, Marcella Pry, knew Lonnie Glosson nearly 80 years. "I met Lonnie when I was 3 years old at Doniphan, Arkansas. He was about 12 or 13 at that time. He stayed briefly at our house after we moved to Glenwood. Lonnie worked in the mill at Doniphan and at the Caddo River Lumber Company in Glenwood. When he came to Chicago in 1930 he stayed with us. His cousin Virgil Busby brought him out to our house. My daddy and mother, Tom and Mae Edwards, were witnesses at Lonnie and Ruth's wedding ceremony.

"Our next-door neighbor was the Ford family and my girl friend was Mary Ford. We used to go down to the radio station (she was older than me) and sing on the radio. She was good but I wasn't but Mary always wanted to go to the stations and we got on kids programs. Mary ended up marrying Les Paul.

"After Lonnie got on WLS, he took my little brother, Raymond, to the station with him. Everyone thought he was Lonnie's kid until one day Gene Autry was taking care of Raymond while Lonnie was on the air. Raymond got to acting up and Lonnie told him to behave or he would spank him. Raymond said, 'If you do I'll tell my Daddy on you' and that blew that.

"My mother and dad both worked and Lonnie did the cooking. That lasted until Lonnie got a furnished room when he and Ruth were going to get back together." Marcella is former National Public Relations Director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Ladies Auxiliary and a member of the White County Historical Society.

For several years Lonnie's records, tapes, CDs and Videos were available at lonnieglosson.com. That page no longer exists. You can view an archived page here, but please know that it is not an active page, and materials listed are probably not available.


Walter Hugh Glosson married Arcola Thompson at Benton in 1957. Sons Walter H. Jr. and Douglas R. Hugh joined the U.S. Air Force, served 28 years. Son Walter is now an airplane hotline engineer in Wichita, KS. Doug is in the Air Force, presently in Intelligence in India.

Dorothy Lee Glosson married Oscar Floyd, an airman, in 1954. Children Mark Allen, La Wana Lee and Gregory Scott. Mark and Gregory served in the Air Force. Dorothy is now a widow living in San Antonio. Greg enrolled in college after retiring from the Air Force and lives with Dorothy. LaWana is married to a Coast Guardsman who formerly was in Air Force.

George Calvin Glosson married Gloria Phipps in 1968 (sister to Warren). Children Karen Marie, George Calvin Jr. and Michael David. George owns a business in Fort Smith and lives in Cameron, OK. Karen and Calvin both married and are living in Oklahoma. Michael is a bricklayer who is "on the road a lot," according to Lonnie.

Lonnie Glosson Jr. married Nelda Watkins in 1966 and now live in Waco. Sons Lonnie Ray and Larry. Junior served in the Air Force in Del Rio, TX, and later secured a job with Harvest Foods in Waco. Both sons teach in a church school in Tyler, TX. Only Lonnie Ray is married.

Sally Ann Glosson married Willie (Jim) Gross, an airman, in 1963 and they now live in Fort Smith. After Air Force, he worked for Stephens, Inc. Girls Kristen, twins Sherri and Brenda, and Sally Denise are all married, living in Arkansas.

Mary Louise Glosson married Warren Phipps. He retired as a medic from the Air Force. They live in Chama, New Mexico. Children Mary Margaret and Warren Jr. are married and also living in Chama. Mary works for the scenic railroad there.


Boss Glosson, a millwright at Doniphan, married Ola Ramsey and had three girls Katherine, Lillian and Adred. He died at 64 "from smoking sack tobacco," Lonnie says.

Mary "Sis" Glosson married Lawrence Wilson and had five children. She died "at a ripe old age" in Houston.

Jim Glosson and his wife Thelma had eight children. He died at 80 at Sledge, MS.

Colonel Blackwell married Ivoy Massey and had two daughters, one named Imogene, and a son Buddy. Colonel died at 28 at Newport also "from smoking sack tobacco."

Johnny and Lilly Glosson had a son and daughter. Johnny was killed at 27 when a scaffold fell with him and another bricklayer. Children Joe and Doris. Lilly remarried and moved to Indiana.

2006 addition by Charles Young
Joe Glosson and his wife Ilene often sang together in church. They also sang in quartets, most recently with Arlen and Lenora Titsworth of Benton, Arkansas who recorded a gospel quartet album. Joe and Ilene owned and operated a donut shop on South Street in Benton, Arkansas. After Ilene died, Joe sold the shop, financing the sale himsef. The man who had bought the donut shop declared bankruptcy leaving Joe with nothing. Joe then worked the late shift as a greeter at Wal-Mart in Benton for several years.

Lonnie Glosson, who married Ruth Moore.

Violet "Tootsie" Glosson married Vic Biram, a minister. Sons Buddy and Moncey became ministers and daughter Evelyn married a minister. Tootsie died in 1996 and rests with many other Glossons at Kensett Cemetery.

Buster "Buck" Glosson died at 83. He married Murl "Billie" Manasco. Daughters Betty, Norma Jean and Billie.

Pansy Glosson. Married Oscar Bolin. Died at Shreveport. Children Tommy and Cora Ann.

Esther Glosson was married to a minister, Bill Lewis, for 51 years and has a son, Eddie, and two daughters, Sandra Jean and Terra. In 2002 she was in a rest home in El Dorado.

Louise Glosson married Howard Watkins, a minister, and has a son Howard Jr. After her husband's death Louise married Eural Curtis then Earnest Hill, a retired dairy farmer in Beebe.

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