"Tennessee Waltz"

Redd Stewart Wrote Country Music History On A Match Box

By Berk Bryant The Country Gentleman

(Who has a radio program on WFPL Radio on Sundays at 8 p.m. called "Bluegrass Sunday. ")

Two long time friends and associates were driving to the next show date. The radio was tuned to a country station. It was Bill Monroe in the speakers with one of his big ones at the time, "Kentucky Waltz." The driver turned to his companion and said something to the effect, "There's all these songs about different states like 'Kentucky Waltz,' 'Shenandoa Waltz' and the 'Missouri Waltz.'" Redd, here you are a song writer, from Tennessee, why don't you write a song about Tennessee?"

Now folks, ain't it amazing what a simple remark can turn into? In this case, according to some statistics, the biggest selling country song ever written.

Pee Wee King, the driver at the moment, and Redd Stewart. Absolute legends in the country music world. Redd used to smoke those big, long, fat cigars and always carried a big box of the old country matches in the glove compartment. He dumped the matches, tore the box open and without knowing it then, or for a long time to come, began to write country music history. When they got back home Redd and Pee Wee polished it up a bit and into the guitar case it went.

Redd used to sell some of his songs to other performers at the Opry. One night backstage he pitched it to Cowboy Copas. Copas listened and turned it down. The $50 asking price wasn't too much, Copas just didn't think it would ever do anything.

About five years after it went into the guitar case the first time, Pee Wee and Redd were recording one of the extended play 45s. Now these records, for those of you who don't remember, had four songs, two each side. They had three cuts and Pee Wee asked Redd if he had something they could use for the fourth. "I've got this old thing that's been over here in the guitar case."

They got it out and recorded "Tennessee Waltz" as a filler for the record. For all the good it did them, it may well have stayed in the guitar case another five years. That is except for an incident that happened along a short time later. Although the song did not get much air play, a young pop singer heard it somewhere. Redd got a call from this young lady, Patti Page, and she wanted to know if she could record it. Record it she did and sometime back there in the '40s one of the all time greatest country songs became a permanent part of American music.

It has and will endure. It was recognized as the official Tennessee State song by the Tennessee Legislature. "Tennessee Waltz" is known to country music lovers all over the world. It's the kind of material that real country, good traditional country, is made of. In contrast to what we get today and what our semi-country "radio stations are playing for us, Boxcar Willie summed it up very well one night on TNN. "If Tennessee Waltz was written today, you couldn't get it played on the air."

Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King, it's a good thing you came along when you did.

(The above article is reprinted with the permission of author Berk Bryant, who originally wrote it for his column in a Radcliff, Ky. newspaper.) .