Sonny’s Youth

Sonny’s Youth


From his family’s farm in beloved Hackleburg, Alabama; Sonny’s earliest years formed his rich musical style & talents as the youngest performing member of “The Loden Family”. As opportunities arise his career begins to take shape when suddenly Uncle Sam calls him to Korea. Review each of the following pictures and captions to witness the beginnings of the man who would become a country music legend… Sonny James, The Southern Gentleman.

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Hackleburg, Alabama: Since Nashville is the center of the country music industry Sonny James was advised to make his home in the beautiful hills of Tennessee. However, his hometown that he’s so proud of is Hackleburg, Alabama, his birthplace. This sign welcomes visitors to this friendly town.
Two of Sonny’s closest friends – Hackleburg Mayor Whitey Cochran & former Mayor Barney Shackelford.
Hometown friend and former Mayor Douglas Gunnin.
The country birthplace of Sonny James.
Sonny as a baby.
Sonny at age four.

Hear the very first recording of Sonny at age 4. Recorded in 1933, Sonny sings and plays the mandolin as his sister Thelma plays the guitar. This song was an "on the air" performance recorded at WMSD Radio as shown below.

Radio Station WMSD (presently WLAY) Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Sonny made his singing debut on this station when he was four years old, with sis Thelma.
James’s first instrument made by his father from the bottom of a molasses bucket and tuned like a mandolin as displayed in the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum.
The Loden Family – Sonny, "MOM" Loden – "POP" Loden and sister, Thelma.
The Loden Family (Southerners) enjoyed their greatest success when they were affiliated with WPTF and WNOX, Knoxville, Tennessee.
Sonny Loden And His Southerners. Performing in Birmingham, Alabama 1947. [L-R Guitarist (unknown), Little Ruby, Sonny Loden, Thelma Loden, Pop Loden]
The cast of WPTF’s Saturday night show with friends and fellow entertainers Johnny and Jack and others. Sonny's position in this larger photo has been highlighted.
The 252nd National Guard Unit departing Guin, Alabama on September 9, 1950. Pictured here preparing to board troop train. Sonny's position in this larger photo has been highlighted.
Sonny's Guard Unit. The 252nd, 2nd Platoon. Sonny's position in this larger photo has been highlighted.
The 1950’s

The 1950’s


After returning from Korea, Sonny & roommate Chet Atkins begin spending time playing instruments and sharing songs. Chet soon introduces Sonny to Capitol Records producer Ken Nelson. As with many young careers, the 1950’s offer a series of hits and misses while others frequently cover Sonny’s original recordings. Although the early ’50s will be a time of great learning, Sonny will end this decade as a nationally recognized recording star on the brink of his journey to becoming one of the most played artists of all time.

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Ex-room mate and good friend Chet Atkins was instrumental in Sonny’s first recording contract.
Ken Nelson directed James’s entire successful career at Capitol Records.
WFAA Saturday Night Shindig, Dallas, Texas. With touring artists Harland Powell and Neal Jones.
Big D Jamboree in Dallas Texas - 1955. Elvis on stage performing while Sonny sits behind the stage (see lower left) before both careers of Sonny & Elvis took off.
During this era, both Sonny and Elvis shared numerous stages together. In this photo from 1955, Sonny's trademark Martin guitar with his name on it was borrowed and played by Elvis for this performance.
An amazing time in music history. You could see Sonny James and The Everly Brothers at the Melody Mill.
Sonny in recording studio. "For Rent", a popular recording released in 1956.


Shindig Cast.
The Ozark Jubilee - ABC’s live television show every Saturday night gave national exposure for both Brenda Lee and Sonny.
A familiar scene for Ozark Jubilee viewers. Pictured to his left nearest to Sonny is friend Jean Graham and other members of the L.D. Keller Promenaders.
Jubilee host Red Foley presenting James with leading male vocalist award.
Transportation for some of the first tours.
One of the most powerful packages to hit the road were Sonny James and Marty Robbins. Pictured here with radio station owner, Gaylon Christie.
Sonny with Roy Orbison and to the left is Stanford Clark.
Sonny’s first managers were Ed McLemore and Ed Watt, Dallas, Texas. Both were actively involved in guiding his early career until Mr. McLemore passed away.
In 1961 he became the first country artist (recording division) to be honored with a star in the prestigious Hollywood Walk of Fame (located across from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (6628-6636).
Another powerhouse tour for the United States and Canada were Johnny Cash and Sonny James. Dave Stone a friend is here with the duo.
Publisher and personal friend Bill Lowery points to photo honoring Sonny in the famous Brown Derby in Hollywood. This is the man who brought the song “Young Love” to Ken Nelson for James to record. After adding his vocal style, his guitar and counter-rhythm male voices, the song came alive and would eventually be known as Sonny James signature song.
1957 - Sonny James and his Southern Gentleman at the famous Palace Theatre on Broadway, New York City. Dude Kahn, drums – Sonny – Harland Powell, Bass – Gene Stewart on guitar.
Young Love Photo
The 1960‘s & 70’s

The 1960’s & 70’s


As an honored member of the Grand Ole Opry’s 1962 “Cast of Legends”; during the early ’60s, the Opry stage will provide him with a strong foundation which mirrors his true musical style. No words can accurately express the heights at which the career of Sonny James will rise during the subsequent 20 years except to repeat what one biographer expresses as “Country music history verifies his achievements”.

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What many believe to be the “Cast of Legends”. The 1962 members of the Grand Ole Opry.
With Ernest Tubb during Opry broadcast.
While touring, this photo was taken of Patsy Cline and Sonny by her husband, Charlie Dick, just a few weeks before her fatal plane crash.

This close-knit group was like family. They respected each other’s talents and their voices blended perfectly with James’s. Stars in their own right, they relinquished some of the spotlight to showcase Sonny at his best. Many miles of enjoyment between these five.
Milo Liggett was road manager, featured artist, and played a major role in all James’ personal appearances. His comedy with Sonny is remembered by loyal fans throughout the country music industry. He also recorded for Monument Records. Sonny and Milo continue to have a deep friendship.
The Southern Gentleman, Minnie Pearl and Sonny enjoyed many appearances together.
Sonny, Patsy Cline, Ferlin Husky and Elvis Presley were among the original stars placed in the Walkway of the Country Music Hall of Fame on Music Row.
And a good time was had by all filming movie. Faron Young – Merle Kilgore – Minnie Pearl – Jimmy Dickens – Kitty Wells – Ruby Wright – Sonny – Curly Fox – Bill Phillips – Lamar Morris.
Fellow Capitol Records artist Buck Owens presenting Sonny with award at the Grand Ole Opry.
In 1967 the honors continued when James would host the first CMA Award Show – Country Music Association’s recognition of country’s top writers and performers. With Bobbie Gentry as his co-host, the two no doubt played a major role in what has become an annual event, and one of television's highest rated programs.
Sonny James with fellow Alabamian, Jim Nabors, when “Gomer Pyle” visited Sonny backstage during his performance. Los Angles, California, late 1960’s.
On the road again – this time more comfortable quarters for the Southern Gentleman. A little known fact is that shows became much easier for all artists due to the innovation and vision of Sonny & his Southern Gentleman. Bass player & Road Manager Milo Liggett was instrumental in developing what is now the modern "touring coach concept" used by traveling artists worldwide.
Manager Bob Neal maps out the next personal appearance schedule.
Bob Neal's work is certainly legendary and perhaps best known as the manager of Elvis Presley. Bob Neal and Dewey Phillips visit with Judy Tyler and Elvis during production of Jailhouse Rock - 1957
One of the most heralded albums of his career—“The Astrodome Presents Sonny James in Person”.
Visiting during his Astrodome appearance:
L to R: Sonny – Frank Broyles, Hall of Fame football coach (Arkansas) – Jimmy Dean – Boots Randolph – Darryl Royal, Hall of Fame football coach (Texas).
Bringing country music to larger & larger venues, here is just one of the many shows performed in the late 1960's.
These “cowboys” are Southern Gentleman (left to right) Milo Liggett – Duane West – Sonny - Glenn Huggins – Gary Robble.
Tremendous crowds were drawn by this trio in the late ‘60s. L to R: Conway Twitty – Promoter Jimmy Jay – James – Roy Clark.
Cover of a 1968 Country Music Life Magazine.
Booked by the same agency, Loretta Lynn and Sonny were often featured on the same package. Pictured here with promoter Abe Hamza.
Often promoters would feature a country artist and a motion picture personality. This series of shows starred James and Jayne Mansfield at the peak of her popularity. Her career was shortened by a tragic car accident. This picture was taken 3 months before her death.
A promotional photo for one of Sonny & The Southern Gentleman's appearances in a number of movies.
1965 Movie: Second Fiddle To A Steel Guitar
CAST: The Bowery Boys, Pamela Hayes, Sonny James, Kitty Wells, George Hamilton IV, Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Lefty Frizzell, Minnie Pearl, Carl & Pearl Butler, Bill Monroe, Little Jimmy Dickens, Dell Reeves, Johnny Wright & Homer & Jethro.
1966 Movie: Las Vegas Hillbillys
CAST: Mamie Van Doren, Jayne Mansfield, Ferlin Husky, Sonny James
1967 Movie: Hillbillys in a Haunted House
CAST: Ferlin Husky, Joi Lansing, Don Bowman, John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Basil Rathbone, Merle Haggard, Sonny James, Linda Ho, Molly Bee, George Barrows
Movie: Nashville Rebel CAST: Tex Ritter, Sonny James, Faron Young, Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner, The Wilburn Brothers, Henny Youngman & Waylon Jennings.
New venues opened up for country artists in the 1960’s. - “Theaters in the Round” where the stage would rotate continuously during a performance. Pictured here in Salt Lake City.

Co-manager Luther Wood spent many hours furthering James’ popularity- both with Capitol Records and CBS.
The Southern Gentleman in the studio.
Sonny believes the talents of Carole Smith were responsible for a great deal of his recording success. Sonny & Carole co-wrote many of his releases and are the closest of friends. Picture here at one of James’s contract signings (CBS). Carole, husband Lyman B. – Sonny and good friend Budd King.
Sonny’s production of Marie Osmond’s album Paper Roses sold millions and led to Marie's Grammy Nomination for Best New Artist in 1974. Pictured here with awards for the album. He produced her first three successful albums.
Ed Sullivan – his frequent appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show (CBS-TV) introduced James to millions of viewers.
Singing one of his most popular hits – Running Bear on the Sullivan show.
Milo Liggett – Gary Robble- Sonny – Duane West – Glenn Huggins. The bass voice of Southern Gentleman Glenn Huggins is the recognizable vocal sound on the #1 national hit Running Bear.
Another great outlet for the entertainer was television’s Mike Douglas Show. L to R: Liberace – Douglas – James – actress Agnes Morehead and actor Red Buttons.
James was an admirer of the legendary movie actor George Burns. Here the two appear during a TV taping.
Good Country Pickin’ by the Southern Gentleman and friend, Glen Campbell, on the CBS-TV “Good Time Hour”.
Sonny and Dolly Parton during their taping of a television show.
Being in the music industry afforded numerous opportunities to meet and enjoy many of the greats in the sports world. Here on the practice field with two of the greatest – Bobby Boyd, All Pro Defensive Back and Johnny Unitas, All Pro Quarterback. (both Hall of Fame).
Hall of Fame baseball legend, Dizzy Dean, wants to talk music with Sonny. However, Sonny’s mind is on baseball and his admiration for Dizzy’s career.
On January 31, 1971 Sonny James took a trip to the moon! By special request James was honored to be the first country artist to record a program exclusively for a moon flight. In appreciation, the crew of Apollo 14, Stuart Roosa, Edgar Mitchell and Commander Alan Shepard presented him with a flag they carried to the moon – one of James’ prized possessions.
Pictures from the Apollo 14 flight.
Picture of flag carried to the moon and the official NASA letter sent to James to commemorate this historic event.
One of the hit albums for 1976 was 200 Year of Country Music, celebrating our nation’s Bicentennial and recreating the authentic country music styles of the era with the help of many of the original band members and nominated for top honors.
Sonny always gave the audience a great show. He and his Southern Gentleman enjoyed every minute of it.
An interview with the legendary Mr. Ralph Emery.
A CBS Studio session during the making of "200 Years of Country Music".
Sonny enjoys some time with CBS Records executive Clive Davis.
His “200 Years of Country Music” was presented by CBS to the archives of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
The Martin guitar pictured on this album cover is the guitar he played on all of his major hits – a sound so familiar to Sonny James fans.
Academy of Country Music’s co-founder, Bill Boyd, gave James valuable exposure on the highly rated annual award show from Los Angeles.
Presenting award to Janie Frickie – with Sammie Smith.
His “King of the Road” buddy, Roger Miller, seems to be searching for rent money in James’ pocket during rehearsals for ACM awards show.
Always a fun time doing Sam Lovullo’s “Hee-Haw” show.
Across Canada and the U.S. this 1970’s CBC Television show originated in Toronto, Ontario with host Tommy Hunter.
After many years of performing at Nashville's "Fan Fair" celebration, this performance was from Sonny's last appearance at this renowned event.
Sonny signing autographs at 1979 Fan Fair promoting the CMA awards show.
Record World magazine names Sonny James their Country Music Artist of the Decade.
1980’s & Beyond

1980’s & Beyond


By the mid 1980’s Sonny had decided it was time to abidingly be at the side of Doris. From that point forward, they both began spending time with all their lifelong friends. To this very day, Sonny & Doris continually travel to visit with friends & family while also making appearances to receive awards and recognition for his extraordinary musical career.

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Sonny signing autographs following one of his many appearances.
One of Sonny's favorite personal performance photos while truly enjoying himself on stage.
He was the third inductee into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame – 1987.

View Alabama Music Hall Of Fame.
The James’ and the Arnolds enjoy an evening of entertainment. Sonny, wife Doris, Sally and Eddy Arnold.
He treasures his longtime friendship with Hall of Famer Little Jimmy Dickens.
Sonny James & Minnie Pearl.
The “OAKS” (The Oakridge Boys) drop by for a visit during one of Sonny’s recording sessions. Note the Boy Scout uniforms, a cause they are interested in.
Sonny James & The Jordanaires. Their great voices accompanied those of Sonny's Southern Gentleman on eight releases in 1969 and 1970. Those recordings are It's Just A Matter of Time (#1), You're The Reason I'm Living, What Am I Living For, Traces, Waterloo, Happiness Bound, Don't Keep Me Hanging On (#1), and Woodbine Valley. Pictured far-left is Duane West who as a longtime original member of the Southern Gentlemen joined the Jordanaires in 1982 until 1999 making him the third-longest member of the Jordanaires and whose vocal contributions can be heard on countless classic recordings.
Sonny never fails to express his admiration for both these men and their talents. Here with wife Doris, Ricky Skaggs and popular radio personality Eddie Stubbs.
Clowning it up with good friend Dottie West.
Fishing the deep clear lakes and reservoirs in the Tennessee mountains and his home state of Alabama is Sonny’s favorite pastime. He believes this relaxation is un-equaled.

Hear a live performance audio clip from the Grand Ole Opry in 1965 when - even then - Sonny was asked about his fishing.:

To all of James’ fishing friends who practice “catch and release”, this nice string of bass was only out of the water long enough to make this picture. They’re all back with their families and await your visit to Tennessee.
Sonny, hold’em up a little closer to the camera!!! – with the help of the photographer, you can say they are ten pound'ers.
June, 2001
MALE GOLDEN VOICE AWARD
Golden Voice Awards
November, 2001
MASTER ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
(R.O.P.E. AWARDS)
June, 2002
CAREER ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
The Country Music DJ Hall of Fame and Country Radio Broadcasters, Inc.
COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME INDUCTION: A photo for the ages... Three men whose talents, recordings & achievements are legendary. Three men, who share a common simple faith in God, Hope, Family & Friends.

Sonny James - George Strait - Harold Bradley


View all photos from this historic occasion.


Sonny and Doris with Mel Tillis at the 2007 Medallion Ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville on Oct. 28th.
Charlie Louvin and Sonny enjoying some time to visit during a Hall Of Fame reception.
Sonny with David McCormick and Bud Wendell following the Induction of Jean Shepard into the Hall Of Fame.
Always active, Sonny certainly enjoys supporting the recording industry whenever possible.
Sonny visiting with C. Brian Jasper. Co-writer and dear friend of over 30 years. Sonny & Brian wrote many songs together.
While attending the 2013 CMHOF Medallion Ceremony for the induction of Kenny Rogers, Bobby Bare and Jack Clement on Sunday, October 27th, Barry Gibb & Sonny came together as friends on the stage after the fabulous ceremony had ended with great admiration and appreciation of each others music, careers, common friends, and musical mentors to enjoy a few private moments. Left to right are Sonny James - Barry Gibb - Greg Robble.

View more about Barry Gibb & Sonny James.


The Southern Gentlemen

The Southern Gentlemen


In the early 1960’s Sonny developed a rich vocal sound which was accented by the harmony & vocal style of his “Southern Gentlemen”. As a part of both his recordings & national touring appearances, the subsequent music, which received legendary sales and radio play from this collaboration, is a direct result of the efforts of each of the following talents.

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Dude Kahn
1950's
Harland Powell & Gene Stewart
1950's


This close-knit group was like family. They respected each other’s talents and their voices blended perfectly with James’s. Stars in their own right, they relinquished some of the spotlight to showcase Sonny at his best. Many miles of enjoyment between these five. Milo Liggett – Lin Bown - Sonny – Duane West – Gary Robble.
Early 60's
The Parsons would immediately become The Southern Gentlemen after meeting Sonny at the Grand Ole Opry in 1964. This group of extraordinary harmonies had replaced The Jordanaires as the staff backup vocal group on the Opry earlier that year and were performing as The Chordsmen. The Opry was so impressed with their energy they received their own spot on the show and once received a legendary 11 standing ovations. Listen to one of their dorm-room recordings from 1961 while attending college.
Lin Bown & Gary Robble
1960's - Early '70s
Milo Liggett – Gary Robble- Sonny – Duane West – Glenn Huggins.
1960's - Early '70s
Milo Liggett – Wayne White – Sonny – Jack Galloway – Lonnie Webb – Harland Powell.
1970's
Jack Galloway – Gary Timbs were always very popular with audiences & provided great energy to many of Sonny's performances. Jack is now a full time Minister. Gary is recording in the gospel field.
1970's & 80's
Roger Hicks – Jack Hicks.
1970's & 80's
Ricky Burch
1970's & 80's
ROY BARBEE - Not only was he a key member of the Southern Gentleman but he was Sonny’s business and road manager during the later years of touring. In every situation he found a solution. Close ties with he and family still remain.
1970's & 80's
Roy Barbee – Sonny – Virgil True – Dennis White – Kevin Anderson – Michael Cochran.
1970's & 80's
Tom Wilkerson a graduate of Texas Tech where he also starred as a great quarterback for the Red Raiders football team. Known as an excellent drummer he also has enjoyed great success as a record producer. A friend of many on music row he remains very active today in the music business. As a Southern Gentleman he added much to Sonny's band.
Anthony Crawford toured with the Sonny James Band during the early 1980's. A prolific songwriter and musician, Crawford has over four hundred songs to his credit, many recorded by artists including Steve Winwood, Pegi Young, Kenny Rogers, Lee Greenwood, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sawyer Brown, Billy Burnett, and Lorrie Morgan. Anthony’s solo career has been productive as well, recording several albums as well as those produced with his wife Savana with the duo performing as Sugarcane Jane.
Country Music HOF Medallion Ceremony

Country Music Hall Of Fame Medallion Ceremony


May 6th, 2007 Medallion Ceremony: A Musical Tribute To Sonny James

      • “A World of Our Own”: Connie Smith, vocals. Dann Huff, acoustic guitar
      • “Your the Only World I Know”: Randy Owen, vocals.
      • “Young Love”: Vince Gill, vocals & guitar.
      • “Running Bear”: Ray Stevens, vocals. With Special Appearance by George Lindsey.
      • All Performances Featuring the Southern Gentlemen: Lin Bown • Jack Galloway • Glenn Huggins • Gary Robble
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Greeted by country music fans, media & gracious Hall Of Fame leadership - Sonny, Doris and party arrive at the red carpet for the Medallion Ceremony & annual family reunion of membership.
A proud moment for everyone as Kyle Young, director of the Hall of Fame and Museum, personally welcomes Sonny, Doris, Thelma & Milo to this honored occasion.
Milo Liggett, sporting his recognizable & endearing personality - Always the backbone to Sonny's impeccably entertaining live performances, and a friend for over 5 amazing decades. At Milo's side throughout the evening... Sonny's Beloved Sis, Thelma.
Arriving with Sonny & performing during the ceremony - Long time friends & staples of 'The Sonny James Sound'... The Southern Gentlemen.
Sonny shares his thoughts and appreciation to media representatives along the red carpet.
The Southern Gentlemen with a million stories to tell enjoy sharing just 1 or 2.
George Strait and family's arrival for his Hall Of Fame Induction.
Before the Medallion Ceremony, Sonny, Doris & Sis swap stories and laughs with Hall Of Fame Members Porter Wagner (seated left) & George Jones (standing).
Sonny & Doris enjoy a visit with Randy Owen, following the Country Music Hall Of Fame "Medallion Ceremony".
A reunion of friends. Sonny James and The Southern Gentlemen with 16 consecutive #1 hit records.
During the Medallion Ceremony Randy Owen sang an amazingly inspired a capella performance of "You're The Only World I Know", backed up by the strong rich vocal harmonies of The Southern Gentlemen.

[Pictured Left to Right - Jack Galloway, Lin Bown, Hall of Fame Member Randy Owen, Gary Robble, Glenn Huggins]
A memorable highlight of the evening was Ray Stevens and George Lindey's perhaps a bit overly inspired rendition of Running Bear.
Sonny receives his Medallion from his dear long-time friend Porter Wagoner.
Dear friend Harold Bradley receiving his Hall Of Fame Medallion from another dear friend and Hall Of Fame Member, Brenda Lee.
Reba McEntire performing during the evening's celebration.
A true tradition... The Medallion Ceremony ends with a family celebration, singing "Will The Circle Be Unbroken".
COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME INDUCTION: A photo for the ages... Three men whose talents, recordings & achievements are legendary. Three men, who share a common simple faith in God, Hope, Family & Friends.
A return visit to the Hall Of Fame by Glenn Huggins & Gary Robble following the official placement of Sonny's plaque.