ENDSLEY: Guitar helped him recover.
The chestnut song “Singing the Blues” debuted on KWCB radio in Searcy. Originally called “I Never Felt More Like Singing the Blues,” it was written by Cleburne County native Melvin Endsley.
Endsley was born in Drasco on Jan. 30, 1934. When he was 3, he contracted polio. It withered his arm and he lost the use of his legs. Before he was a teen-ager, his parents sent him to the Crippled Children’s Hospital in Memphis, where he stayed for two years, doing rehab — in part by learning to play the guitar.
Endsley returned to Drasco and began writing songs. After he graduated from nearby Concord High School, he enrolled at the state teacher’s college in Conway (now the University of Central Arkansas) and performed on that town’s KCON radio. He also performed at a Saturday afternoon radio jamboree on KWCB in Searcy. It was hosted by harmonica great Wayne Raney of Wolf Bayou, who was already an established hillbilly star and a hero of Melvin’s. On the KWCB show, Endsley debuted what would become his biggest song.
“Singing the Blues” began to take off when Marty Robbins cut it in late 1955. Robbins’ version was released in August 1956 and remained No. 1 on the country charts from mid-November to February 1957. Then pop crooner Guy Mitchell covered “Singing the Blues” and had an even bigger hit with it than did Robbins, but Robbins was the only one to chart the song in both places.
On the U.K. charts, competing versions of “Singing the Blues” by Mitchell and Tommy Steele fought for the top position during January 1957.
But “Singing the Blues” didn’t stop there. It has since been recorded by more than 100 musicians. Pop stars Eddy Arnold, Connie Francis, Frankie Laine and Dean Martin covered it, as well as such early rockers as Bill Haley and His Comets, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins — and such country stars as Webb Pierce, Hank Snow, George Jones, Loretta Lynn and Hank Williams Jr.
Rockers liked it, too — John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful recorded a version in 1974; the Beatles attempted both the Endsley song “Little Demon” and “Singing the Blues” in January 1969 during their “Let It Be” sessions. McCartney and Wings later recorded it in the 1970s, and McCartney finally released a version of “Singing the Blues” on his 20th solo album in 1991.
“Singing the Blues” also has been recorded by such Arkansas-connected artists as the Kentucky Headhunters and Floyd Cramer.
Besides “Singing the Blues,” country artists recorded other Endsley songs: “Too Many Times,” by Billy Worth; “It Happens Every Time,” by Don Gibson; and “I Love You Still,” by Bud Deckelman. Endsley’s own recordings never sold well.
Endsley died Aug. 16, 2004, in his native Cleburne County. But his song “Singing the Blues” may never die. It may be the only song covered by the likes of Marie Osmond and Anne Murray as well as the state’s own Black Oak Arkansas — certainly two disparate ends of early 1970s pop-rock.
• “Singing the Blues,” Marty Robbins
• “Singing the Blues,” Black Oak Arkansas
• “Singing the Blues,” Tommy Steele