Lloyd George (Lonzo of Lonzo and Oscar and Ken Marvin)
Discography | Sessionography | Decca Singles | Articles
Lloyd George (Lonzo #1)
Johnny Sullivan (Lonzo #2)
David Hooten (Lonzo #3)
Lloyd George/Lonzo #1/Ken Marvin Biography:
By Peter J. Gossett
Austin Columbus George, born about 1898 in Tennessee, lived in the village of Cordova, Walker County, Alabama, because there was a huge cotton mill there known as Indian Head Mills, which started operation in 1898 and was from Boston, Massachusetts. He married Purnie Knight on May 25, 1919, in Cordova, but they soon got a divorce. Purnie later remarried to a Mr. Richardson and had a son named Bo. Then Austin married Myrtle Shirley on July 26, 1923, in Cordova. She was born in 1903. Their only child was Lloyd Leslie George, born in a "duplex house" (one building with two sections) in Cordova, on June 27, 1924. In 1930, Austin operated a cafeteria and Myrtle worked in the cotton mill. About 1931, they moved to the mill village in Haleyville, Winston County, Alabama, where better jobs were available, and this is where Lloyd went to school. Lloyd ordered a cheap guitar from Sears and Roebuck, and he started plucking on it right away. He always loved music, and his dream was to "be on the Grand Ole Opry," even back when he was seven years old. Lloyd had a local group called the "Rhythm Rascals," and he also played with Sonny James Loden and his family, as well as gospel singer Jake Hess. The Rhythm Rascals consisted of Ben Scanlon, Will Harvey Jones, James "Snookem" Turner, J.C. Camp, and Ewing Howell.
Lloyd was gutsy, and he couldn't find his way out of a paper bag, but he sure could talk his way out of it. One night, some boys thought they would play a trick on him. They told him to go to a certain person's house and get a left-handed monkey wrench. Of course Lloyd knew there was no such thing, so he went to the woods, fell asleep for three or four hours, and came back out of breath and said he looked all over for a left-handed monkey wrench and couldn't find one anywhere!
At the age of 14 years, about 1938, Lloyd made his first radio appearance on WMSD (presently WLAY) in Sheffield, Alabama. Lloyd graduated from Haleyville High School in 1942. This was during World War II, and like many of the boys right out of high school, Lloyd tried to join the army but was rejected. So instead of army life, Lloyd tied his bass fiddle on the top of his car and headed to Nashville. Upon arrival in Nashville, Lloyd got a gig playing with Curly Fox and Texas Ruby, but it was not long before he started playing bass with Eddy Arnold, because Eddy's bassist, Gabe Tucker, had left to join a different group. By this time, Lloyd stood five feet and ten inches tall and had brown, wavy hair and gray eyes.
Many miles away, a person by the name of Rollin Sullivan was already making a name for himself. Rollin was born in Edmonton, Kentucky, and he was one in a family of ten. Rollin (born January 19, 1919) and Johnny Sullivan (born July 7, 1917), a brother, toured together in the 1930s; they were also in a local group known as the "Kentucky Ramblers." They made their professional debut on WTJS in Jackson, Tennessee, around 1939. In 1942, Rollin joined Paul Howard’s Arkansas Cotton Pickers playing an electric mandolin. This is where he received the nickname of Oscar. His brother, Johnny, was in service at this time, since World War II was well under way. In the summer of 1944, Rollin, being with WSM’s Grand Ole Opry, played tent shows with a man by the name of Eddy Arnold.
By 1945, the Sullivan brothers and Lloyd George were playing a comedy act called Cicero and Oscar, opening shows for Eddy Arnold and His Tennessee Plowboys. Lloyd was Cicero, and Rollin was Oscar. Lloyd was already with Eddy when the Sullivan brothers joined them. While on the road one evening, the troupe stopped at a hotel. "While we was checking in, this black man, a porter, was coming down the steps just covered with dirty linen. The desk clerk looked up and said, ‘Lonzo! Don’t you ever come down those front steps with dirty linen anymore,’" says Rollin. It was here that Eddy Arnold changed Cicero to Lonzo. According to Rollin, they would "go out on the stage, and boy, we’d wang-bang them, get them all laughing and having a good time [Lonzo and Oscar got twenty minutes before Arnold came on.] Then we introduced Eddy. Eddy came out on the stage, and he would sing ‘Mommy Please Stay Home with Me,’ and they’d all start bawling." Rollin continued on the electric mandolin recording for Arnold on November 21, 1945. By Arnold’s next two recording dates on March 20, 1946, and September 24, 1946, all three were playing as session musicians: Lloyd George played bass and Johnny Sullivan played guitar.
They would come out on stage in their costumes and perform a comedy act, such as this one: "Welcome to the Eddy Arnold Show. "He’s Lonzo, and I’m Oscar." "You know what, Lonzo?" Oscar would say. "I sure do think a lot of you." "I like you too, Oscar," Lonzo would say. "Lonzo, there ain’t nothing I wouldn’t do for you." "Well, Oscar, there ain’t nothing I wouldn’t do for you." Then Oscar would say, "That’s the way we go through life...doing nothing for each other!"
In 1947, Eddy Arnold had gotten a contract for Lloyd and Rollin with RCA Victor Records, his own label. They recorded their first songs on May 18, 1947, which would be released in August of that year. It was Lloyd who named the group "Lonzo and Oscar with their Winston County Pea Pickers." According to Rollin, Lloyd "must have been picking peas down in Alabama." Rollin Sullivan still recorded for Eddy Arnold throughout 1947. Their comedy act was not just on stage either. On their first recording date, they recorded their songs after Eddy Arnold did his. All were there except the harmonica player, who arrived after a sleepless night on a train, then had to wait for Eddy to finish. Either Lonzo or Oscar slipped into the control room and said to the engineer "Tell Brownie [the harmonica player] that you don’t think the harmonica fits the song." When it was mentioned to Brownie, everyone watched him. He was dumbfounded until everyone burst into laughter.
At the end of 1947, Eddy Arnold decided to let Lonzo and Oscar go. Besides persuading Steve Sholes of RCA Victor to get them a contract and landing them a spot on the "Grand Ole Opry," he had even hired Johnny Sullivan to manage a record store that Eddy owned in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
A total of sixteen songs were recorded for RCA Victor that year under the name of "Lonzo and Oscar with their Winston County Pea Pickers." Their best selling song was released in 1948. Written by Dwight Latham and Moe Jaffe, "I’m My Own Grandpa" became their signature tune and was recorded by many others. RCA Victor did not have the capacity to release this record (I'm My Own Grandpa); they had to enlist help in 10 other countries to press the record because RCA Victor couldn't do it fast enough. It sold over four million copies. Originally, RCA Victor approached Eddy Arnold to sing and release this record, but Eddy thought that it would suit Lonzo and Oscar better.
In 1949, the team switched record companies, finding their home with Capitol Records. Their first recording date with Capitol was August 21, 1949; however, Lloyd recorded his first songs as Ken Marvin on Capitol two days before he recorded as Lonzo and Oscar with Rollin. The latter recorded a total of ten songs for Capitol. By the end of January 1950, Lloyd was tired of the zany comedy act of Lonzo and Oscar, and he left the group to become Ken Marvin full-time. Lloyd asked Rollin if he could quit, and he always told Rollin that "sometime in my life, I am gonna try to go solo. It's something that I've always wanted to do." Lloyd had to choose a different name because WSM, the Grand Ole Opry radio station, stipulated that Lloyd would have to give up the name "Lonzo," so Rollin could find another Lonzo and continue with the "Lonzo and Oscar" name. As a child, Lloyd was an old western movie lover, and there was a guy that he liked named Marvin, and this is how he chose the stage name of Ken Marvin. After Lloyd left the group, he started playing shows with "Little" Jimmy Dickens, who had the hit song "Sleepin' at the Foot of the Bed," which was co-written by Eugene "Happy" Wilson, who was also from where Lloyd was raised: Haleyville, Alabama.
Rollin Sullivan was not alone though. Johnny Sullivan stepped up to take on the role of Lonzo. Rollin produced the group from this point on. The group went to Decca Records and recorded twenty-nine songs that were released as singles. In 1963, the group scored another hit with "Country Music Time." A tragic car accident caused the death of Johnny Sullivan on June 5, 1967, and resulted in Rollin continuing on with the name of Lonzo and Oscar when he found David Hooten, who was the third Lonzo.
Meanwhile, Ken Marvin continued recording throughout the 1950s; he released many songs on the Capitol, Mercury, RCA Victor, Intro, Todd, and Briar labels. In the 1960s, he changed his stage name from Ken Marvin to his real name, Lloyd George, where he released songs on Imperial Records. Ken Marvin's best known song is "Uh-Huh Honey", which nearly became a hit. He was also a disc jockey on WSKY in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1956. After Lloyd quit making records, later in his life, he started booking shows for Bill Monroe.
Lloyd’s parents, Austin and Myrtle, were not left out of the country music business. Between the time of June Carter's marriage to Carl Smith and her marriage to Johnny Cash, Lloyd's mother, Myrtle, helped June through the rough times by talking to her and carrying her fishing. Austin knew Cowboy Copas very well.
Lloyd nearly married Rachel Oswald, sister to Brother Oswald who played at the Grand Ole Opry in Roy Acuff's band. However, Lloyd married Clyda Ogletree, a singer in a trio, and daughter of Clarence and Hallie Hastings Ogletree. She was born on January 15, 1924, and died on June 6, 1990. Lloyd George passed away on October 16, 1991. They lived in Cookeville, Putnam County, Tennessee, and had one daughter, Claudia Faye. Lloyd and Clyda are buried at Netherland Cemetery in Overton County, Tennessee.
Lloyd George/Ken Marvin
1. RCA Victor Ledger Sheets
2. Interview with first cousin of Lloyd George, Wallace George, Haleyville, AL, 6/18/2005
3. Ken Marvin Grand Ole Opry WSM Souviner [sic] Program
4. "Lonzo and Oscar's Folio of Mountain Ballads and Comedy Songs", Ernest Tubb Music, 1948
5. Interview with Rollin Sullivan, 11/22/2004
6. Walker County, Alabama, Marriage Record, Volume O, Page 72
7. Walker County, Alabama, Marriage Record, Volume U, Page 17
8. Interview with Kitty Shirley, Haleyville, AL, 2002
9. The Advertiser, Haleyville, AL, article dated 11/14/1950, "Ken Marvin, Native Son, Famous Singer"
10. The Advertiser, Haleyville, AL, article dated 2/3/1956
11. RCA Victor "In the Groove" Magazine, August 1947, "Comedy Duo Signs Contract"
12. Clyda George Obituary from the Herald Citizen, TN Newspaper, 6/7/1990
13. Lloyd George Obituary from the Herald Citizen, TN Newspaper, 10/17?/1991
14. Alabama Music Hall of Fame Web Site
15. E-mail from discographer Michel Ruppli, 5/8/2004
16. The Decca Labels - A Discography, by Michel Ruppli, Greenwood Press, 1996
17. Walker County, Alabama, 1920 Census, Series: T625; Roll: 44; Page: 8B; Enumeration District #: 104; Family #144
18. Walker County, Alabama, 1930 Census, Series: T626; Roll: 52; Page 171; Sheet #: 32A; Enumeration District: 64-18; Mill Village Precinct 12; Family #: 681
19. "Cordova" article on Walker County ALGenWeb (USGenWeb) by Ruth Teaford Baker
20. The Haleyville Advertiser, Haleyville, AL, article dated 10/23/1951, "Lonzo and Oscar Show is Coming Friday"
21. The Advertiser-Journal, Haleyville, AL, article dated 3/26/1942, "Local Music Makers"
22. The Advertiser, Haleyville, AL, article dated 11/7/1958, "Visited Haleyville"
23. The Haleyville Advertiser, Haleyville, AL, article dated 10/16/1947, "'Lonzo and Oscar' to Head Cast in Haleyville Program Friday"
24. The Haleyville Advertiser, Haleyville, AL, article dated 7/13/1954, Harmonettes "Record Gospel Songs"
25. The Haleyville Advertiser, Haleyville, AL, article dated 3/20/1953, "Platter Platter"