A little traveling music
There’s no telling how far music from a guitar might travel, how long it will be heard, and how great an audience will be blessed by it. In the case of George “Hutch” Shaw, it has traveled all over the world, and more than eighty years after he first plucked a guitar string, his musical legacy is still increasing in volume and expanse.
As a teenager, Hutch fell in love with country and gospel music.
“Someone had given him a banjo or something when he was 16,” said Kenton Shaw, the first of Hutch’s eight children. “He traded it for a guitar. Nobody showed him how to play it. He just learned evidently from seeing a guy here and there or listening to records and stuff.”
He not only learned guitar, but also mandolin, banjo, and fiddle. He’d often get together with other musicians in their homes or other locales, just to make music for the entertainment of themselves and anyone who happened to be around. Then he played in bands that performed regularly throughout the area, such as Denver Bill Clark and the Colorado Ranch Hands. With that band, Hutch and his wife Ruth performed together as Sally and Slim.
To support his large family, Hutch worked at a series of full-time jobs: driving a bakery truck, working in the Quaker State refinery in Emlenton, then in Cooper Bessemer, and finally in Sharon Steel where he operated a pit crane for 18½ years. To supplement these jobs, he ran a barbershop for a number of years.
Although music was not his livelihood, it certainly was his life. He would perform wherever and whenever he could, sometimes in unexpected venues.
“When people around here went to his barbershop,” Kenton said, “they allowed extra time because they knew that after they got their haircut done, Dad would grab his banjo and sing for them. People just loved that.”
Sometimes he took his guitar to his other jobs.
“The cranes in Sharon Steel had radios to communicate with each other,” said co-worker Ron Myers. “During slow times they would do a live broadcast of Hutch singing and playing.”
When Kenton was nine, Hutch started teaching him to play the guitar.
“I started learning on an old guitar of my aunt’s, not even full size,” Kenton said. “Dad worked in the refinery in Emlenton. When he’d come home from work, I was able to show him that I could do fairly well with the song he was teaching me. He was really tickled about that.”
Hutch soon recognized that Kenton could only do so much on that small, old guitar.
“We didn’t have a car,” Kenton said, “so he hitchhiked to a music store in Oil City and came home with a brand new Gibson flattop guitar in a brown case. When he opened that up and I saw the guitar and smelled that wood and oil, it just mesmerized me. He knew that would light my fire.”
Every night when Hutch got home from work, he would play mandolin or fiddle and Kenton would play guitar.
“Then he wanted me to sing with him. I’d sing lead and he’d sing tenor to harmonize with me. I couldn’t stay on the lead; I’d slip onto the tenor with him. So we started plugging my ear next to him.”
Hutch’s family grew to include four boys and four girls: Kenton, Jimmy, Yvonne, Tommy, Barbara, Brian, Karen, and Brenda. The boys all developed musically, while the girls mostly held back. Karen thinks she knows why.
“These guys, my brothers, are not just good,” she said. “I’m telling you, and not just because they are my brothers. All of them are so talented, they are fabulous. That’s probably why us girls just sat back, because they had all the talent. We girls just played around and listened.”
Though not all of the eight children became professional singers or musicians, music played an important, integral part in all of their lives, and in the lives of many of their children. Let’s consider each Hutch’s children in turn.
Oldest sibling Kenton learned from his father not only music, but also haircutting. When he entered the navy, he became a ship’s barber, and played music wherever and whenever he could. He and his wife Sonia started singing together at churches, camp meetings, and revivals. As a minister and pastor, he performed and led great gospel music in his churches.
Through that, the talent of the next generation became manifest.
“One evening Sonia and I were driving with our five-year-old son Randy in the back seat,” Kenton said. “Sonia and I were singing two-part harmony, and we heard a third voice adding the baritone harmony from the back seat. We were amazed. Before long Randy was performing with us.”
Randy became an excellent singer and musician, playing bass guitar, piano, and trumpet. World Gospel Missions takes him along to provide the music on missionary trips. He has also performed as entertainer on Carnival cruises.
Kenton’s son Robert also sang with him and Sonia at camp meetings and revivals.
Hutch’s second son Jimmy became a very good singer and passed the music down to his sons. William attended the Stamps-Baxter School of Gospel music in Nashville, and is looking forward to go full time performing gospel music. George plays guitar and leads worship in a large church in Texas.
Hutch’s first daughter Yvonne became, as Kenton described her, “ an absolutely fabulous piano player. She was piano player for our gospel quartet – Jimmy, Tommy, Brian, and me. If you’d say the key you were in is a little too high, she’d put it wherever you wanted it. We were devastated when she passed away from a brain aneurism when she was just 57 years old.”
Fourth-born Tommy spent more than twenty years as a missionary in Guatemala and Honduras.
“Tommy is a tremendous song writer and a great lead tenor,” Kenton said. “He and his wife sang together a lot. They had four sons: Lee, Steve, Nathan, and Caleb. All play guitar, and all led worship or pastured churches. Lee can do anything on guitar. Caleb and his wife are now traveling all over the place performing gospel rap. With that he can minister to people we can’t reach with traditional music. He’s very well known in South and Central America. He performed with Franklin Graham’s crusade in South America.”
Hutch’s fifth child is Barbara. She and her younger sister Brenda both sing very well, but their priorities in life did not allow time for performing.
In the early 1970s, youngest son Brian moved to Nashville with hopes of breaking into the world of country music. Of course, countless aspiring country wannabees dream of being discovered while performing in some Nashville bar or nightclub. Only a teeny weenie percentage of them ever get beyond that fantasy stage. Brian was one who did.
“Me and about four guys were setting in a bar about noon on a Sunday,” Brian said. “The guys all wanted me to play my guitar and sing. I started playing and yodeling Hank Williams’s song, ‘Long Gone Lonesome Blues.’ A guy come in wearing sandals and a robe and smoking a cigar. He listened to it and ordered a six pack of beer to go. He came over and said, ‘Do you have a manager or a record label?’ I said no. He said, ‘Meet me at RCA in the morning at nine o’clock.’ The next day I signed a recording contract with RCA.”
Brian cut some records, toured, and even performed on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1974, his single, “Here We Go Again,” moved up to number 12 on the country music chart. In 1975, the Country Radio Broadcasters listed him in their “New Faces of Country Music.”
Despite this great beginning, the vagaries of the music industry undercut Brian’s chances.
“Contracts in those days called for a certain number of singles over three years,” Brian said. “If you had a monster hit, they would have you cut an album. Just about the time they were going to do that with me, the RCA corporate executives from New York came down and cleaned house – not only me, but everybody else, too.”
Brian recently moved back to Sandy Lake where he is focused on writing and performing gospel music. His second son Aaron is an entertainer who has performed on cruise ships virtually all over the world, as far away as Australia. Brian’s youngest son Braxton works for a booking agency in Nashville, and is actively pursuing a career in gospel music.
Brian’s younger sister Karen moved to Nashville when she was 14 to live with her older sisters, but had no thoughts of pursuing a career in music. She got married and raised five kids before she followed the old adage, “better late than never.”
“When I was little,” she said, “Dad always tried to get me to sing. I had piano lessons, but I was just too shy to sing. I just pretty much played piano until I got older and started to really appreciate the other instruments that Dad played. I really didn’t get started until 1998, when I took up the guitar and I started to write songs.”
She still lives in Nashville with her second husband, Don McNatt. They continue to write songs together, perform, and cut CDs.
Although Hutch passed away in 1992 at the age of 75, his musical legacy continues to spread across the country and beyond. Through his talented children and grandchildren, it has enlivened churches and Christian missions both here and on other continents; entertained people on cruise ships, concert tours, and recordings; and even brightened countless homes live over radio from the stage of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry.
That’s quite an accomplishment for a little country boy from Emlenton.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 4, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2010