Yodeling Dick Brooks and the Wheeling Jamboree

Let me tell you about the latest inductee into the Wheeling Jamboree for 2015. Dave Heath, the emcee, President, and the main reason we still have a Jamboree in Wheeling, invited Yodeling Dick Brooks to be a member while Dick was introduced on Saturday, March 7, 2015.

Picture

Yodeling Dick with some of his friends

It has sure been a long and twisted road for this country boy born and bred in Brooklyn, which is a borough of New York City. During his set, he started with the 1st single he ever recorded which was The Cat Came Back in 1953. He was either the 2nd or 3rd person to record this song, the 1st being Yodeling Slim Clark of the Wheeling Jamboree. Yodeling Slim was a big reason why Dick took up yodeling.

As Dick told the story, Roy Acuff had invited him to Nashville to try out for the Grand Ole Opry back in 1955. But it only cost $7.00 to buy a Greyhound bus ticket to Wheeling, so this is where he stopped. He tried out for the Wheeling Jamboree but wasn’t hired as a regular.

So he returned to Brooklyn to get more seasoning and to work as a key punch operator for Goldman-Sachs. Since he was at work and not home waiting for his phone to ring, he missed the phone call from the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout show. No cell phones in those days.

During the turbulent 60’s he temporarily joined the protest movement and recorded an album under his own name of Richard Bruce Morriale with his lovely wife Janet called Philosophical Songs of Brotherhood and Spirituality. Eventually he came to his senses and got back to country.

Fast forward to 1988 and Dick, Janet and Dick’s mother, Susan, decided to get out of the big city and try another part of the country. They had lived in an apartment all of their lives, but Dick had fondly remembered his first time in Wheeling. So they all moved to Wheeling and bought a 2 story Victorian in the Warwood section of town.

Dick made it back on the stage of the Jamboree at the Capitol Music Hall when Marty Stuart saw him performing in a local pub and invited him on-stage. Then one day Dick was performing at the Ohio County Public Library for their Lunch with Books program and the newspaper headline of Yodeling Dick Singing made it all the way out to the Jay Leno Show in Hollywood.

The Lunch with Books program is where I met Dick about 10 years ago. I went to see Roger Hoard and his finger-picking style of guitar playing when I noticed this strange older man video-taping the show. After the show was over I went over and introduced myself to the one and only Yodeling Dick Brooks. He still tapes every show that the library has using an old VHS camera plugged into a wall outlet. Then he takes the tapes home to his attic and transfers them to DVD’s. He gives the finished product back to the library for their archives.

I’m helping him slowly to get into the digital age. He finally has some computers, but no internet yet. He has a WEB site www.YodelingDick.com thanks to Dave Heath and can be found on YouTube under the name Yodeling Dick Brooks. I have had correspondence with Scotland and other far-flung places about Dick. I found both of his records selling on ebay for good money at one time. He’s been discovered by some of the on-line independent radio stations.

I had friended the Wheeling Jamboree on Facebook to keep up with what was happening and, about 2 years ago, Dave Heath posted that he needed someone to run the video camera to record the live Jamboree shows. I passed the contact information on to Dick, he called Dave, and he started running the camera the following Saturday. This is not one of those sit-down and relax jobs. He has to stand up on a wooden box and straddle the legs of the tripod and make sure the picture is coming out perfect. At least he doesn’t have to use VHS tapes anymore, at least for this. He still uses them at the library.

Dick started feeding Dave some of his own DVD’s and Dave liked that he was the genuine article, so about six months later, Dick got back on the stage of the Jamboree.

He celebrated his 80th birthday about 3 months ago by being the opening act on the Jamboree for Ronnie McDowell.

So after 60 years, his dream is finally fulfilled.

The induction show for new members of the Wheeling Jamboree will be held sometime in October.

Dick with Banjo star burst cropped Dick Performing 8 x 10
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Freedom Isn’t Free

Freedom Isn’t Free

Or

How to Build a Prize-Winning Float

When You Didn’t Even Know There Was a Contest

By

Bill Orkoskey

Let me take you back to the Summer of 1967.  LBJ was President but would soon announce he would not run for a second term; race riots were starting to break out (even in Cincinnati, OH); hippies and flower children were beginning to make the scene; “The Graduate” was one of the top movies playing in the theaters; and the Viet Nam war was starting to heat up.

In the middle of all of this, I was in my second year of playing guitar and helping to run a singing group called Sing Out Wheeling which was part of the world-wide Up With People show.  There were three National casts and about 200 local casts from coast-to-coast.  We were self contained and on our own, but the music and choreography that we used was the same as the National casts.  I was probably the oldest member at 22 with most of the cast being in High School or College.  We did have a lot of parental support, however.

The main song that was in our show was our theme song “Up With People”, but our second song we performed was always “Freedom Isn’t Free”, especially with the war in the news every day.  This was before most of the country turned against this war and started protesting it.

We found out sometime in June that the City of Weirton was going to have as the theme for their 4th of July parade Freedom Is Not Free.  This sounded like too big of a coincidence for us not to take advantage of with our song.  We were basically dedicated to go anywhere that would have us so we could perform and relay our message to the masses.  The Weirton city leaders welcomed us with open arms, but said nothing about a prize for the best float.

Now, our expertise in building floats was at zero.  We did have two fathers who had the experience and the necessary licenses to drive a tractor-trailer.  Since we had about 25 members in our group at this time, we needed a good flat-bed trailer.  Weir-Cove Trucking was receptive to our needs for a flat-bed tractor trailer and they even gave us a place in their yard on Freedom Way in Weirton to assemble whatever we had to add onto the trailer to make it resemble some kind of float.  Sam Steele, the drummer’s dad, took care of all the driving we needed until the parade was done.

My mother, Margaret, came up with the design for the sides of the trailer.  We constructed a wooden frame and fastened chicken wire to it.  We took colored paper and spelled out FREEDOM ISN’T FREE on both sides of the trailer.   We added some bunting and a big badge that we used when we put on shows.  We worked late into Monday night to finish up our project, using temporary lighting powered by a gasoline generator that we had borrowed to use as power for our guitar amps and our sound system when we rode on the float.

On Tuesday, July 4th, there was a little bit of a rain storm in the morning.  The parade started 35 minutes late and 40 of the 70 units that had signed up for the parade had to cancel.  Our float was still intact because we were still under cover at Weir-Cove’s lot.

Eventually Sam drove the float over to Main St. where we could take our place in line.  We hurried and hooked up the sound system and our amps to the generator and did some fast sound checks and guitar tuning.  Everything was working like it should and we sounded and looked very professional.  We had 22 total performers on the float.  It was cozy, but not too cramped. 

Sam Steele knew how to handle the clutch and we never felt any jerking while we were standing on the float.  As soon as we got started, we started singing “Freedom isn’t free! Freedom isn’t free! You got to pay a price, you got to sacrifice, for your li—ber—ty.” ©

We had to go South on Main Street for about 4 blocks after we started to get to the reviewing stand at Main St. & Ferguson Ave.  The spectators were very supportive all along the parade route.  We slowed down a little bit when we reached the reviewing stand so the 5 judges could get a good look at us and hear our message loud and clear.  Of course we thought we were just singing to the 11,000 estimated patriots in attendance.  The Grand Marshals for the parade were three Viet War Veterans, so we fit right in with the whole character of the parade.

We went past the reviewing stand and got ready to make the right turn onto Lee Avenue when our generator gave out.  In using it the previous night to finish building the float, nobody thought of the need to fill up the gasoline tank.  Our voices were young and very robust, so the singers could still be heard.  I grabbed an acoustic guitar and hardly missed a beat or a chord.

We then had to get ready to make another right turn to go North on Orchard Street which would take us to the disbanding area.  WE NEVER MADE IT!!!  The heavens opened up and down came the biggest and wettest cloud-burst you could imagine.    We were soaked in seconds.

We grabbed the microphones and took the sound system apart in record time.  We unloaded everything right there and found what cover we could find in near-by buildings.  Sam took what was left of the float back to the Weir-Cove lot and the rest of us found our cars so we could go home and jump in the showers and into clean and dry clothes.  Nobody told us that the award ceremony was going to take place right after the parade at the reviewing stand.

We didn’t have anything going on that night and most of us were going to see the Wheeling 4th of July fireworks down at the Wharf Garage.  After I was ready to go out, I turned on the news on Channel 9.  I figured they would probably have more information on Weirton’s parade since they were right across the river in Steubenville.  They sure did.  They even mentioned that the best float in the parade was FREEDOM ISN’T FREE and that the singing group Sing Out Wheeling won the $500.00 grand prize.  Actually it was the only cash prize given out that year.   We burned up the phone lines that night before we went out.  We had to call everybody before we went out because we didn’t have the luxury of a phone in every pocket like we have today.

The next day, we made arrangements with the parade organizers to come up and receive our prize.  Then, on the following Sunday, we performed our whole show at the Weir High Stadium to an enthusiastic audience.

 © 1965 by Moral Re-Armament, Inc. New York     Words by Paul Colwell ASCAP     Music by Paul & Ralph Colwell ASCAP