What does international recording star Narvel Felts and I have in common?
“I was discovered by radio DJ/newsman Weldon Grimsley back in the 1950s,” Narvel shared.
That’s when Narvel asked how I made it out of our mutual native Bootheel farming country of Southeast Missouri: “I was discovered by the same Weldon Grimsley in 1969.”
But the world-famous singer’s narrative of being discovered is much more interesting than how I got discovered.
“I was competing at a Bernie (Mo.) High School talent show in 1956 that DJ Weldon Grimsley was judging,” Narvel shared. “The next week, while taking a break from picking cotton on our farm located on a Bootheel gravel road, I heard DJ Grimsley ask over our old battery-powered radio if ‘Narvel Felts is out there listening, you need to bring your guitar by (Dexter, Mo.) Radio Station KDEX.’
“Our old farm truck had a leaky radiator, so when Daddy came in from the cotton field, he put water in the truck, and we drove on our gravel road into town to the nearest pay telephone,” the singer warbled back in time. “That’s when Weldon Grimsley informed me I was to do a show on the radio.”
From there, Narvel Felt’s rockabilly/country music career was launched, taking him forever out of the cotton fields of his youth.
“Narvelous the Marvelous” and his love-of-life wife, Loretta, graciously granted wife Pat and I an interview while we were recently back in the Bootheel of Southeast Missouri doing a book-signing tour promoting my recently published book.
Reason for wanting the interview, Pat and I are compiling information for a future book about “behind the scenes” people who helped launch careers of country music stars.
“I guess you could say that my sharecropper farm parents (Albert and Lena Felts) encouraged my interest in music, dating back to our cotton picking days at Keiser, Ark., and Bernie, Mo.” Narvel shared. “Daddy could have been a professional baseball pitcher with a great curveball and fastball, but he never got the chance to leave the farm. He wanted me to pursue my music-making dream.”
That’s when I asked “who discovered you Narvel?”
I could have fallen over when the now 74-year-old entertainer responded: “Weldon Grimsley, an area disc jockey.”
Narvel and Loretta courteously wanted to know how Weldon Grimsley later helped discover my newspaper writing career.
“I was seated in front of my typewriter at The Daily Standard newspaper in nearby Sikeston, Mo., back in 1969, when my phone rang,” I shared. “I had heard of, but never met Weldon Grimsley, who was then an editor with the Nashville Banner newspaper.
“I was greatly honored when Weldon, who informed he had grown up in nearby Parma, Mo., wanted me to leave the little Bootheel newspaper in Sikeston, and come for a writing career in Music City USA. In 1971, I took Weldon up on his offer to become a feature writer at the Banner.”
Although Narvel achieved international acclaim, he remains Malden, Mo’s most famous resident, living there on Narvel Felts Avenue.
“I got lots of pressure to move to Nashville in the 1970s out near Old Hickory Lake after I’d had a string of hit songs, but Loretta and I decided we wanted to rear our little boy and girl back in Malden,” Narvel shared. “It would not have been fair to uproot them from their friends and schools.”
So, how did Narvel get discovered by the bride of his life?
“I was playing a club down in Blytheville, Ark., when these two couples came in, and as they walked by, this one pretty little lady grinned up at me there on the stage, ” Narvel noted. “When she later requested a song, I gave it all that I had in her honor.”
Narvel and Loretta held hands throughout our interview.
“In a week or two, I got up the nerve to call Narvel, telling him I don’t go into honky tonks unescorted,” Loretta shared with a sheepish warm grin. “He told he’d meet me out in the parking lot of the night club, and escorted me into the building.”
They wed on April 20, 1962 and have been making personal romantic music ever since.
“I eventually wrote and recorded the song ‘Loretta’ especially for the lady love of my life,” Narvel the Marvel noted.
Some of Narvel’s top country hits include “Lonely Teardrops,’’ “Funny How Time Slips Away” and “Drift Away.” His rockabilly hits include “Honey Love” and “My Babe.”