David “Stringbean” Akeman is the last of our stars from Hee Haw that we’ll talk about here. It’s sad that he might be better known for the way that he died than for the music that he made.
He was born into poverty in Annville, Kentucky in either 1915 or 1916. His father was a great banjo player, and young David learned to play from him. After a tour with the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression, he divided his time between playing the banjo and being a semi-pro baseball pitcher. He came to the attention of Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass Music, and played with Monroe in the mid-1940’s. He and a man named Willie Egbert Westbrook would perform a music and vaudeville act during breaks with Monroe’s band. When Stringbean left the Blue Grass Boys, he started doing his music and comedy with “Doctor” Lew Childre. It was around this time that he met Grandpa Jones, and the two of them, both banjo players and comedians, would become best friends. Little wonder that, when casting Hee Haw, producer Sam Lovullo called on Stringbean to add to the great music and cornpone comedy.
The Depression made Stringbean wary of banks, and carried a good deal of money with him and kept a large amount at home. He didn’t keep it a secret, and that may have led to his death. After playing on the Grand Ole Opry Hour on November 10, 1973, he and his wife Estelle drove home and walked in on brothers John and Doug Brown, who were tearing the place apart looking for money. The Browns murdered Stringbean and his wife and got away with nothing more than a chainsaw, a pillowcase, and some guns. Grandpa Jones found their bodies the next day. The case is well-documented, so I won’t dwell on it here.
Stringbean had an interesting way of dressing his long, lanky frame in the early days, as you’ll see in today’s first video, “Chewing Chewing Gum.” He demonstrates his two-finger picking style here.
I believe that this second clip was taken from Hee Haw, Stringbean’s take on Bill Monroe’s “Mighty Dark To Travel,” played clawhammer-style.
David “Stringbean” Akeman, your Two for Tuesday, October 1, 2013.
I’d like to welcome those of you that might be dropping in because of the Ultimate Blog Challenge. This is the one regular feature of this blog, at least for now.