Terry Gilkyson

Born in the small town of Phoenixville, PA, in 1916, Terry Gilkyson's songs would one day create an important link during folk music's "lost" years, the mid-'50s. Like many families in the '20s and '30s, music was a primary source of entertainment for the Gilkyson clan. While this influenced the young Terry to study music at the University of Pennsylvania, the formality of class work bored him and he dropped out after two years. He moved to Tucson, AZ, in 1937, working on a friend's ranch, learning to play guitar, and writing folk songs. He joined the Army during WWII, serving briefly in the cavalry before joining the Army Air Corps where he remained until he was discharged in 1945. He returned to Pennsylvania where he took over his father's insurance business, but the dream of being a musician pulled him away from small-town life. In 1947, Gilkyson, along with his new bride, relocated to Los Angeles, CA. In 1948 he received his first professional job in music, operating a radio program called "The Solitary Singer" for the Armed Forces. During this time, and throughout his career as a singer, Gilkyson avoided controversial political and social subjects out of fear of being blacklisted during the "Red Scare." He recorded "The Cry of the Wild Goose" in 1949, a song that became a number one hit for Frankie Laine in 1950. He recorded two songs, "On Top of Old Smoky" and "Across the Wide Missouri," with the Weavers, and three albums -- Folksongs, Terry Gilkyson, and Golden Minutes of Folk Music -- for Decca. He also received acting roles in a number of movies, including Star in the Dust (1956) and Slaughter Trail (1951). In 1953, Gilkyson met Rich Dehr and Frank Miller, a duo who called themselves the Easy Riders, and the three decided to join forces. They wrote "Memories Are Made of This," a song that became a number one hit for Dean Martin, and recorded Marianne and Other Songs for Columbia in 1957. Gilkyson and the Easy Riders' ability to avert controversy served them well into the mid-'50s, a period when few folk musicians made names for themselves. The Weavers had nearly been put out-of-business by the McCarthy hearings, and the Kingston Trio would not burst on the scene with "Tom Dooley" until the summer of 1958. Meanwhile, Gilkyson wrote and recorded material that became standard folk repertoire for musicians like Burl Ives, Harry Belafonte, and the New Christy Minstrels. After forming a second version of the Easy Riders and writing "Greenfields," a smash hit for the Brothers Four, Gilkyson began working for the Disney studios in the early '60s. He wrote songs for Swiss Family Robinson (1960), Savage Sam (1963), and The Jungle Book (1967), and received an Oscar nomination for "The Bare Necessities." When Disney attempted to put him on salary in the early '70s, he feared that he would lose the rights to his songs and decided to retire. Gilkyson's three children also work in the music business. Tony has played in a number of bands, including the punk rock group X, while Eliza is an accomplished singer/songwriter. Nancy served for 20 years as a Vice President at Warner Brothers Records. Terry Gilkyson died in Austin, TX, on October 15, 1999. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.

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