Chuck Wagon Gang to celebrate 75 years in Boonville

Lindsay CravenStaff Writer

August 30, 2012

On Sept. 7, Yadkin county residents can take in 75 years of gospel music history. The Chuck Wagon Gang will perform at Charity Baptist Church in Boonville at 7 p.m.

The Chuck Wagon Gang formed in Lubbock, TX in 1935. Originally known as the Carter Quartet, the group was comprised of Dave Carter, his children Lola, Ernest and Effie. The band got a job working with radio station KFYO.

After a year the quartet was hired by station WBAP to become the Chuck Wagon Gang, an existing western band that went on location to advertise Bewley Mills flour products. Their set list consisted of ballads, folk, western and popular songs of the day and one hymn or gospel song each day.

Now, 75 years later, the band is still going strong and touring the country with one member who is a descendant of the original gang members.

Shaye Smith is the granddaughter of the gang’s original alto. Today Smith sings alto for the group and acts as the group’s owner/manager.

“It’s very humbling to know that I have the opportunity to carry on something that my grandmother helped start,” Smith said. “I was very close with her and I’m very grateful. It’s exciting to think of something going on for 75 years.”

Smith said that music has been a part of her life as far back as she can remember.

“As long as I can remember I’ve been singing and loving music,” Smith said. “My mom has a picture of me at three or four years old and I had a little toy microphone so I’ve loved music since I was very little.”

Smith said that she grew up singing in the church choir and then went on to college to study choral conducting and to become a vocal major.

“I was really involved in classical and choral music for many years,” Smith said. “When I started singing with the Chuck Wagon Gang in 1993 it kind of came full circle. I believe this is the kind of music that I’m supposed to be singing. I like a lot of different kinds of music.”

Today the Chuck Wagon Gang focuses their music on gospel but Smith says that it’s difficult to lump their sound into the general gospel genre.

“The term Southern gospel has taken on several different facets over the years,” Smith said. “You have traditional southern gospel, you have contemporary southern gospel but I think we fit more into a category of country gospel because of the structure and kind of songs we sing. We’re in a category all by ourselves, I guess you could say.”

Although there have been many changes to the world over the past 75 years, Smith said the biggest difference within the band has been the development of technology.

“When they recorded their first songs in 1936 the apparatus they recorded on was a big transcription machine that they put a metal disc on and they would sing into a sort of funnel and a needle would put grooves into this disc,” Smith said. “When you look at the way we record now in these huge studios with million dollar soundboards and microphones, that’s a huge difference. That technology is probably the biggest difference because we sing the same songs and we sing the same style.”

Smith said that the Chuck Wagon Gang has tried to venture down different musical paths over the years and evolve with the times but it’s never been successful for the group. She says it’s important to the group that they maintain the sound and style that they’ve become known for after all this time.

“I think as the music industry around us changes and evolves into such a different contemporary type sound; my goal is to keep us intact as we are,” Smith said. “Sometimes that’s hard to do. We have to work hard at not changing and remaining true to our style. We also want to expand our audience into places where either where the gang has never been or hasn’t been for a very long time.”

Smith has two sons and a daughter that she hopes will want to join the gang one day and continue the family tradition.

“My boys and both like to sing and I think they respect what I’m part of but they’re at that age where they don’t really know what they want to do and they listen to their own music,” Smith said. “I also have a one year old little girl and she claps along and loves the music so I’m hoping that one of children will pick it up and carry it on.”

Smith said that a Charity Baptist Church member is responsible for making their Yadkin County performance possible.

“We’ve met Chris Parker several times and she’s been a good friend over the years and she’s a faithful fan,” Smith said. “She had mentioned to me a year ago that she would like us to stop by that church if we were passing through sometime. When I called to let her know that we were coming through the area she hopped right on it and put it together for us.”

Smith said that she wants people to come out and see the show on Sept. 7 whether they are familiar with the music or not.

“Those who know who the Chuck Wagon Gang is should come because they’ll hear some songs that will bring back memories and I think it will be a blessing to them to hear songs from their past,” Smith said. “For those who have no idea who the Chuck Wagon Gang, they should come out if they like traditional, authentic Americana music. Everyone should come out and see it for themselves and take in a little bit of history.”

The Chuck Wagon Gang will perform at Charity Baptist Church on Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. Reverend Eddy Driver invites everyone to enjoy the performance. There is no charge for the performance but a love offering will be accepted.

Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at lcraven@heartlandpublications.com.