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Pete Pyle

Pete Pyle - Burnsville

Vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Pete Pyle (1920-1995), a native of Burnsville, played an important role in the development of modern country music. Pyle began his career playing over regional radio stations and after making his first recordings for RCA Victor in 1940, he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry and performed there as a solo artist. While playing with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, Pyle penned classic songs including “True Life Blues” and “Highway of Sorrow” and appeared on the iconic “Orange Blossom Special.” He was inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame in 2017.  

Pete Pyle was born Raymond H. Pyle in Burnsville on April 18, 1920, and began playing guitar “as far back as I can remember,” initially learning many love songs from his mother. His early influences included Jimmie Rodgers and “singing cowboys” Gene Autry and Cowboy Slim Rinehart, and started writing his own songs as a teen. Pyle began playing on the radio during an era when music was provided mostly by live performers rather than records. By his mid-teens he was playing on regional radio stations including WCMA in Corinth and WMSD in Sheffield, Alabama, and in 1939 he moved to Memphis, where he performed on WMPS, WHBQ and WMC, and played with Bob McKnight and the Ranch Boys and Miss Billie Walker’s Texas Longhorns.   In 1940 Pyle signed with RCA-Victor, and recorded eight songs, with Edward Crowe on mandolin, at a session in Atlanta in October. He soon moved to Nashville, where he began working as solo artist on the Grand Ole Opry, broadcast over Nashville’s powerful WSM, and in November of 1940 became a member of the Opry, apparently the first from Mississippi. In addition to solo sets, Pyle sometimes played with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, which he officially joined in September 1941. Monroe was still in the process of creating the new “high, lonesome sound” of bluegrass, and Pyle played an important role in shaping the music’s distinctive ensemble sound as instrumentalist, vocalist and songwriter. He recorded eight songs with Monroe at an October 2, 1941, session in Atlanta for RCA-Victor, though he didn’t sing lead for contractual reasons; Pyle had recorded a solo session for the company just three days earlier.   

In February 1942 Pyle was drafted into the Army, serving in Washington, D.C. during WWII before ending his service in mid-1943. He soon joined Opry artist Pee Wee King’s Golden West Cowboys as the featured vocalist, staying for about a year, and in 1944 Pyle returned to the Opry with a new band, The Mississippi Valley Boys, and began hosting a regular morning show on WSM. Pyle also toured with fellow Opry stars Grandpa Jones, Cousin Wilbur, Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff, and played a string of nightclubs in Chicago and Detroit. Between 1946 and 1953, Pyle recorded for the Bullet, Intro, and Fortune labels, and he returned to the Opry and on radio over WSM and WLAC. In 1953 he worked briefly again with Bill Monroe, and he continued to write songs regularly, often selling them outright or giving them away. In the ’70s and early ’80s he played with his daughter Dwanna on shows with Monroe, Ernest Tubb, and Walter Bailes, and they appeared regularly on Buddy and Kay Bain’s “Mornin’ Show” on Tupelo’s WTVA. He also frequently visited old friends backstage at the Grand Ole Opry.  

Pyle’s composition “Lovin’ Lies” was initially recorded by Little Jimmy Dickens in 1950, and was subsequently recorded by country stars including George Jones, Don Gibson, Willie Nelson, and Porter Wagoner.   Musicians earned extra money selling song folios that featured lyrics, photos and biographical information. This one from 1944 was called “Favorite Songs of Pete Pyle – Chuck Harding & Mississippi Valley Boys.”    

Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, circa 1941-42. From left: Art Wooten, Bill Monroe, Bill “Cousin Wilbur” Wesbrooks, and Pete Pyle. In addition to “True Life Blues” and “Highway of Sorrow,” Monroe recorded Pyle’s songs “Happy On My Way” and “Don’t Put Off Until Tomorrow.” Pyle later led the house band at Monroe’s Brown County Jamboree at Bean Blossom, Indiana, working with Monroe’s brother Birch.   Pyle’s wife, Naomi, (1923-1976) also worked in radio and performed and recorded with him for three or four years before concentrating on raising their ten children. She sang on and has songwriting credit on this record, issued in 1949.  

Pyle, right, with Pee Wee King and his daughter Dwanna. They recorded this single together in the late 1970s.  

Pyle was able to tour widely because on his singles on the Bluebird label and his work with the Opry.

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