Born: 1940 Milltown, AL

Country Guitar, Vocals Lefty Frizzell, Wyn Stewart

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame


What a life: Perry Wilson reflects on Hollywood years, current projects

Posted: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 10:52 am | Updated: 8:48 am, Wed Jan 9, 2013. Penny L. Pool

perry wilson

CLACKSVILLE––Perry Wilson wears a cowboy hat and boots, has five convertibles with the word Hollywood painted on them and an old Vespa scooter, has an absolutely lovely "pickin' house" and has lived his life the way he wanted.

As a young man he left town on the bus to find something new, then returned home to what he loved. Once living in the heart of Hollywood and singing and performing, he now lives in the seclusion in the woods.

"I left here in 1958 scared to death. I had been to LaGrange, to Atlanta. I knew there was more to life than what I was seeing around here," he said. He had a little money and got on a Greyhound bus in LaGrange. It was not a spur of the moment thing, he said. His mother's brother came from California and told him that is where he needed to go. He was on the bus on Sunday night and got to Los Angeles on Thursday night.

"It was a blast," he said of the trip. One rider had a harmonica and the driver turned over the intercom to him. Wilson started singing when he was 14 and had been singing with Razzie Bailey. He was 18 years old at the time of the trip and never drank or smoked. He played at nightclubs for 50 something years and, at 72, still doesn't drink or smoke.

When he got there he met Lefty Frizzell, Freddie Hartt and Merle Haggard. He played talent shows in Hollywood where he met a lot of entertainers. He always thanks Johnny Cash for Folsom Prison Blues because that got him a five-year contract. Henrietta Bobbitt called him and wanted to be his agent. She had been in vaudeville and was good friends with Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. In order to do some of the work his parents, Nora and Homer, had to have guardianship papers notarized at Phillips Brothers Hardware and sent to Harriet Nelson.

Dot Records wanted to sign him up but his agent told him no, that Tommy Sands was going to stay with the company and they wanted to take him off the market so he would not be competition, Wilson said.

He started playing TV shows and talent shows on TV. One day his agent got a call about him playing in a stadium with B.B. King and Stevie Wonder. They were pretty popular in California but not throughout the country at that time.

"I thought I was in tall cotton with Stevie Wonder," he said. He got spots in the Palimono Club in West Hollywood. Merle Haggard was there several nights when he was there. He played other shows such as the USO shows for two years but never got a cent for it. About the same time his agent knew a booker for Wagon Train. He was asked if he could act and ended up on the show for about 60 episodes. It was hot, dirty and nasty, he said.

Someone called him about "The Absent-Minded Professor" with Fred McMurray and told him when to be on the set. It was really hot but they were shooting winter scenes and had to wear heavy winter clothing. They had to take a lot of breaks and bring in big fans to cool down.

Sitting on a bleacher he met Walt Disney when he sat down beside him. They talked about 10 minutes then Disney got called away. He was a super nice guy, an everyday person but a genius.

Another time he met Clark Gable, who surprised him by knowing where Roanoke was. He told him he used to eat at The City Cafe in the 1920s or 1930s when he drove through town.

He briefly met John Wayne in a restaurant, who asked him to get him some cigarettes.

While playing some musical shows one stood out in Encindo, Mexico. He played with a great black singing group and he said his name was on a banner across a four-lane highway and he always wishes he had a photo of that.

He remembers seeing Don Knotts, who was skinny as a rail, eat three breakfasts at a place across from Universal Studios. He was a super nice guy, he said.

When Wilson met Faron Young he said he told Young he sang his songs more than Faron himself did. He named his son after the country western singer.

His dad was killed in 1962 in a traffic accident. Wilson had a little time left on his contract, then he came home for his mom. She couldn't drive or do many of the things her husband had done and was devastated, he said. He was married and had one daughter, Stephanie, at the time. They moved back and he played surrounding towns like LaGrange, Opelika, Alexander City. It was rockabilly back then, which later turned into country music.

His manager would not let him do anything but pop stuff like "Mack The Knife," which he did not really like but it was what was selling. He plays the banjo and guitar.

He rented a house in Dickert when he moved back and put a go-cart track behind the old Frosty Pal in Roanoke.

He said he met Gene Hackman in LaFayette when he was portraying an FBI agent on "Mississippi Burning." Sometimes it took two to three hours to set up a scene at the old movie theatre, and he had a great time everyday for a week talking with Hackman. He would stand up, get immediately in character, and do the scene perfectly every time.

Wilson was not going to try out for the movie but his wife, Faye, came in talking about the movie they were filming in LaFayette and encouraged him to check it out. It had been years since he had acted but she was insistent. When he went to sign up the casting director told him he was no stranger to her--that she recognized his voice. She told him he had to cut his hair, and he filled out the paperwork.

"It's hard work but it's fun. It was a blast," Wilson said.

He still has the desire to sing and act. He has done a lot of Christmas carols during the holiday season and been carrying his train around to events for children to ride. He has stayed busy, he said.

Normally on Tuesdays a crowd shows up to enjoy playing music together or listening to the talented folks play at the pickin' House.

He played the pilot song for the movie, "When The Storm God Rides," for a group of about 80 gathered at his pickin' house. It was well received, he said. The pilot, filmed in Bremen, Ga., helps get the investors.

He talked to the producer/novelist Thomas E. Kelly recently who said the filming should begin in April in Arizona. It is on a 26,000-acre ranch where the Geico lizard ad was filmed in the desert, he said.

Kelly, from Cumming, Ga., has written a lot of books. He sent word he wanted to meet with Wilson so Wilson went there to talk to him. He told him he hoped he was not in a stagecoach scene because they make him sick. They are worse than a boat, he said.

The director will be the man who directed Dallas, Michael Preece. Wilson and Doug Stone, a country western singer who lives in Texas and farms, will be in the movie.

Wilson has photos of himself in his movie costume and with his fellow actors spread out with his holster and other memorabilia as you enter the pickin' house.

"When The Storm God Rides" is about a man who leaves home to buy property and while he is gone someone murders his wife and daughter. While hunting down the killers he comes into a town called Storm. It is a place like Dodge City. He sees horses that he thinks were used by the killers. The man enters the office of Wilson, who plays the sheriff, and wants help in arresting them. The sheriff said he is too old and he doesn't want to be killed over someone he doesn't know. Wilson said there is a big party where there is a big fight that spills outside. The sheriff intervenes, throwing one of them on the porch. There is a big shootout in this old-timey western.

He has a plaque of a James Dean quote that says: "Live Your Dream. Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today."

He said he likes different aspects of singing and acting. At the entrance to his property is a sign saying Wilson Boulevard; Pickin' House and the call letters WSM--the station most known as the home of The Grand Ole Opry, the world's longest running radio program. The station reaches most of North America.

A couple used to drive to his performances in the area just to hear him play "Blue Lights, Blue Champagne," which he would play about three times for them.

Back in the summer he and his wife re-did their vows on their 50th anniversary. A crowd attended and sent cards, which he had displayed in The Pickin' House at that time. People came from everywhere. He wore his sheriff's outfit and she wore a traditional white wedding dress.

The Pickin' House came about when they started playing in the living room and it grew from four to five picking to about 50 or 60 people. His wife suggested building The Pickin House, which he did with lumber Bob Stewart had saved from building his house and donated it. Some people helped. It has a wonderful porch, flowers, and a small fountain out front.

"I tell people we're not Nashville--we're Clacksville," he said of the Tuesday meetings when visitors bring a covered dish. They eat at 6 p.m. and start playing at 6:30. Sometimes they jam before they eat. It is a 10-year tradition.

Tim Duggar started here playing, he said.

He said he remembers when Ray Stephens, Joe South and Jerry Reed used to play the old Star Theatre in Roanoke in the mid-1950s. The old Star Theatre fell in and was torn down in the past couple of years.

He remembers walking down Hollywood Boulevard wanting to be on a dirt road back home. He likes to go back and visit Hollywood but he would not live there anymore, he said. He has two sons and a daughter. His youngest son is the principal at Wadley, he said.

In between acting and singing he brings in money from other businesses or hobbies, such as motivational speaking or inspirational seminars.

He has been a National Safety Associate for 25 years, selling devices that clean water instantly. At age 12 he built an old-fashioned Hollywood bed. His wife at one time drove a school bus for Milltown School.

His son Todd graduated kindergarten; Faron graduated sixth grade and Stephanie graduated high school all in the same week, he said.

He and Faye were in the Pell City area when he saw a bicycle on the side of the road. He went back and got it. Thus was born his involvement with motorized bicycles. He's built at least 16 of them and sells them at flea markets. They sell for $450 and get 150 miles to the gallon. He said he has had several ideas for inventions but has never patented them because it costs too much, he said.

There are three kinds of people: those who watch what happens, those who make things happen and those who wonder what happened, he said. Life is what you make it.

Some information about his current movie can be seen at ThomasEKelly.com.

Source: http://www.therandolphleader.com/features/article_c4897e30-54fc-11e2-8430-001a4bcf887a.html

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