Bev King ~ Queen of the Dobro

November 1, 2009 | By More

Clarksville music store owner and Dobro/resonator guitar expert, Beverly King, is a bona fide country music legend but she’d never tell you that. Described as “humble” in more than one country music publication, King is modest about her celebrity status as a traditional country recording artist.

One clue to King’s fame is her impressive volume of work, both as a resonator (Dobro is a trade name) guitar player, instruction book author and editor of Country Heritage for 30 years, the only magazine devoted to resonator players. Keeping the tradition alive, Country Heritage is also the name of her music business. King is also the first female resonator (reso) picker in the world that ever recorded an all instrumental reso album on vinyl (6 of them) including 2 with Bashful Brother Oswald, a world-renowned resonator artist himself.

King has played in shows headlined by such famous county musicians as Roy Acuff, Tanya Tucker, Lester Flatt, Lonzo and Oscar, Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells, Wilma Lee and Stony Cooper. Also, Ernest Tubb, Bill Anderson, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Patton, The Whites, The Doug Dillard Band and worked with studio musician Jo Knight and Jerry Clower, who co-hosted the Country Crossroads show with Bill Mack.

Crowning her career, King was inducted into Iowa’s American Country Music Hall of Fame in 2003. Heady stuff for most people, but King doesn’t even mention it and you’d never guess she was famous from her quiet demeanor and soft voice. Fortunately, her music speaks volumes.

Playing completely “by ear,” King comes by her talent naturally, crediting her Mother, Hazel, for musical roots.

“I always did like old time music,” said King, who was born and raised in Bucks County, in eastern Pennsylvania, about 40 miles from Philadelphia. “My mother listened to country music when I was growing up, so I loved music early,” King smiled shyly.

“Lots of my mother’s family loved music. My mother’s uncle Alfred played several instruments and had a band on the radio in the 1940s. My mother always told me he had a Martin guitar, so my ambition was to learn to play well enough so I could get a Martin, although at the time I really didn’t know what a Martin was. When I was 20, my mother and I went halves and bought a new D 28 Martin for my birthday, and I still have it.”

Despite King’s musical chops on both the reso and guitar, her early musical adventures began with a simple plastic toy.

“When I was five years old my mother’s sister gave me a toy uke (ukulele). My mother tuned it like the first 4 strings of a guitar, and I learned to pick Red River Valley and some simple tunes like that. She taught me a set of chords but didn’t explain how to use them, so I played a chord progression as if it was a song.

“Back in the ‘40s, she had bought an Oahu Hawaiian guitar from her sister- in-law, and she still had the slide, picks, and metal extension nut from that guitar. She set up my uke like a Hawaiian guitar, which of course threw that little plastic uke off balance, and I thought that was a dumb way to play a guitar, so I about quit playing until she changed it back like a regular guitar.”

When King was 10 years old she finally got a Harmony arch top guitar. Notorious for their high action strings, King explained an arch top is hard to play. “I had to take three fingers to get one note!” she exclaimed.

Surprisingly, King’s grade school teachers underestimated her talent and resolve to play.

“I don’t think the teacher thought I had enough talent to bang two sticks together. When we played rhythm instruments in school, she wouldn’t give me one.”

Fortunately for country music, King continued her playing and when she was 12, she got a record player which cemented her fate. The first album she bought was by Roy Acuff, the King of Country Music. There was an instrument on that album that caught her attention, especially on “The Great Specked Bird”, but she had no idea what it was. King’s Mom told her that sound she loved and wanted to emulate was a Hawaiian guitar.

Later King said she found the Grand Ole Opry on radio and heard Roy Acuff’s band, and Roy identified the sound as Bashful Brother Oswald, playing the dobro. Even today, King credits Acuff for her abiding passion in the instrument.

“When I heard Oswald, I started going to music stores asking for a dobro, but most of them had no idea what I was talking about. I finally found a store where someone said it was a guitar with a Resonator, but that nobody was making them anymore,” said King.

Then in 1966, someone opened a folk music store so I went there and he told me that “Mosrite” was going back into business and would be producing resonators again. Mother agreed to buy me one for Christmas, but because of an unfortunate car accident, I didn’t get the instrument until just a week before I graduated from high school, she added ruefully.

When music is in one’s blood as it is with King, waiting for a special instrument is difficult and the day it arrives long remembered.

After that, King’s family moved to Oklahoma where she stayed for the next 19 years.

“I liked Arkansas better, but my Dad would never move here. But, after he died in 1993, King and her mother relocated to Arkansas the following year. She opened her first Country Heritage music store in Clarksville in 1998, and the store has since outgrown two locations. The current store, at 134 W. Main Street, was for years a car dealership and part of it was originally a livery stable.

“I always liked this property, but someone else had bought it and planned to have a ball room. The first time I looked at the part that had been a stable, I immediately saw a music theater. The stage was already there (probably a platform for displaying furniture, when it had been a furniture store).”

The dance floor never materialized, and the owner put it up for sale, so after several failed attempts to find other suitable property, King was able to procure the Main Street property in 2006.

“Something kept calling me back here, so I guess I was meant to have this,” said King.

Besides hosting last year’s Peach Festival Fiddle Contest and other music events, the venue held traditional country music show with several performers from Nashville, Tennessee, on Oct. 23-24 and King plans to host a Resonator Roundup in early April next year.

Of course, the music store is a draw in itself, with hundreds of old and new instruments on display. (currently around 400 instruments, including harmonicas, etc.). Guitar and piano lessons are also offered. Any time of day, a jam session might be going on.

“Lots of people want to know which instrument to play and how to encourage their children to develop a love of music. The main thing is to expose children to music early on,” said King. “I don’t like ‘background music’. Music is meant to be listened to, not just used as background noise. How can you learn music unless you really listen to it?”

Regarding the instruments, King said the Autoharp is the easiest stringed instrument to play. “A person can play the first day as the chords are identified right on the instrument and all you have to do is strum”. Next easiest is the guitar, as it had frets to help the musician strike the right notes, said King, and the resonator is an extension of the guitar, with the added feature of the slide. The hardest instrument to play is the fiddle, as it has no frets and requires using the bow, King added.

For more information about the Country Heritage Music Store and Barn, contact King or her assistant, Charlotte Tucker, at 479-754- 4604. www.countryheritage.net.

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