SLIM PICKER: Cletus Jones.
You might not know the name, but Cletus “Slim” Jones has a connection with Arkansas history that only he can claim — that of singing and co-writing the Official Arkansas Waltz, as unanimously decreed March 10, 1971, by the Arkansas Senate.
There have been several state songs of differing capacities over the decades. A 1987 attempt at legislative housekeeping resulted in Eva Ware Bennett’s “Arkansas” named Official State Anthem and “Arkansas Traveler” named Official State Historic Song. Wayland Holyfield’s “Arkansas, You Run Deep In Me” and Terry Rose’s and Gary Klaff’s “Oh, Arkansas” are each termed Official State Songs. But perhaps because the Arkansas House never acted on the legislation, few recognize Jones’ distinction.
“It was in there the whole session; it came up on three resolutions,” Jones recalls. Objections over a verse stating that to get a job, one had to leave the state — then nicknamed “the Land of Opportunity” — resulted in an 11th-hour rewrite of the song and resubmission.
“They wasted time on that when they needed to be a-doing something worthwhile,” Jones laughs, also taking the opposite angle of the joke: “They got nothing better to be doing up there anyway — they might as well be a-doing that!”
Born in Lonsdale in Garland County and raised on Ten-Mile Creek near Hot Spring County’s Glen Rose, Jones got his first guitar at age 12. He was drafted for World War II seven years later. Jones still lives within four miles of where he was born.
“The Official Arkansas Waltz” LPs were pressed by Wayne Raney’s Rimrock Record plant in Concord (Cleburne County). “When this ‘Waltz’ come out, [Raney] done thought he struck a gold mine,” Jones says. “He told me ... ‘I pressed more records for you than I thought about pressing for anybody.’ ” In the mid-1970s, the pressing plant was sold to Stax Records.
In addition to Raney, “The Official Arkansas Waltz” LP album jacket features congratulatory messages from the likes of Jones’ friends Chet Lauck of comedy radio duo Lum and Abner, and Carl “Six Days on the Road” Montgomery, as well as congressman Wilbur D. Mills, Senate sponsor Virgil Fletcher and then-Gov. Dale Bumpers, who writes, “I sincerely hope that in the not-too-distant future, all of our people will have an opportunity to listen to it often on radio and television.”
There was also an “Official Arkansas Waltz” 45 rpm single with a picture of Jones on the cover. Bill Urfer of Heber Springs co-wrote the waltz, and got the notion to send it to the Arkansas legislature, Jones says. But Jones stands alone by the Capitol dome on the front cover, wearing a maroon sport coat and holding an acoustic guitar.
More than 30 years later, Jones doesn’t seem to mind the hint of an asterisk by his waltz. In more recent years, Jones has been a fixture at the Snow Springs Flea Market along state Highway 5 on the outskirts of Hot Springs, playing country hits. “You got it in your blood,” he says of playing music. “Whether you’re good at it or not, you still got to do it. ... But I’ve enjoyed it. It may be the reason I’m alive today, I dunno.”
Upon request, he’ll play his own Arkansas songs, like “Memories of Benton,” “Mt. Ida Sunset” — and, of course, “The Official Arkansas Waltz.”
• “Memories of Benton”
• “Mt. Ida Sunset”