Charlie R. “Peanut” Faircloth Sr., 82, of Chattanooga, died on Tuesday, March 16, 2010.
He is survived by his wife and sweetheart of 61 years, Frances; by four children, Bonnie Cawlishaw (Vernon), Raiford Faircloth (Sadie), Dolores Harvey, and Marcy Tuggle (Mike); by 11 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren; by a sister, Marie Witt (Ed), a brother, Larry Faircloth; and a sister-in-law, Ginny Eriksen.
Charlie Faircloth, better known as “Peanut” or “Charlie Choo Choo,” was a legendary radio announcer. Faircloth was one of the nation’s first country music disc jockeys, working in Macon and Augusta, Georgia, and Muscle Shoals, Al., before coming to Chattanooga. He performed with some of the biggest names in the business, and through his radio work, has crossed paths with dozens more, including Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.
He helped launch Brenda Lee’s musical career, and played in a band with BoudLeaux Bryant, the man who wrote “Rocky Top.”
Mr. Faircloth was born - on his grandfather’s birthday - to Lawrence and Nora Faircloth in Mitchell County, Ga., in 1927, the year Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs and Charles Lindberg soloed across the Atlantic. He was born premature and weighed slightly less than three pounds. On the day he was born, an Afro-Indian midwife named Baby Dora delivered him and placed him in a shoe box with heated bricks around it to keep him alive.
Nine months later, he was stricken with polio. He was so small and frail as a baby that his family dressed him in doll clothes. He thrived despite the disease, and was able to lead a fairly normal life, eventually marrying a beautiful girl named Frances Lanier and fathering four children.
Like other members of his family, Faircloth was gifted musically and learned to write songs and play the harmonica, drums and guitar. He sang and played his musical instruments wherever and whenever he could. By the time he was five, he was singing for nickels at a general store near his home. When he was 13, he could play harmonica and buck dance without stopping for 15 minutes, an amazing feat considering the fact that he spent much of his childhood wearing leg braces.
Mr. Faircloth began his radio career at station WNEX in Macon, one of the state’s first FM stations, as a disc jockey, a newly coined term for a radio personality. At the time, WNEX had its own broadcasting network of 13 radio stations. Mr. Faircloth read the farm news and played country records in the mornings, then had a mid-morning pop music show. At noon he did a show called “Hillbilly Hit Parade,” and on Saturdays emceed a jamboree show featuring local bands.
He also played mandolin and was a comedian with a band called “Curly Wynn and The Georgia Ramblers.” By the late 1940s he had a popular band, “The Hoedown Party,” with whom he performed on his weekly radio show. The show was picked up by the Mutual Radio network and its 300 stations.
Ernest Tubb heard one of Mr. Faircloth’s broadcasts, gave him the opportunity to sing with his band, and hooked him with Decca Records. In 1950, Decca showcased Mr. Faircloth’s talents in the single “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone,” which climbed to the top of the Billboard country chart that year as the No. 1 song in the nation.
Later he wrote a song for Red Foley, “Reindeer Boogie,” which was recorded instead by Hank Snow. It became a national hit and is still selling very well on Trish Yearwood’s Christmas Album.
One of Mr. Faircloth’s prized memories was of a full-page ad that appeared in Billboard magazine in 1950. Purchased by Decca Records, the ad touted new releases by aging Al Jolson and Bing Crosby and introduced a new artist named Charlie “Peanut” Faircloth.
In 1951, Mr. Faircloth moved to August, Ga., where he worked until 1956 as an announcer for WRDW radio station. He soon had the top-rated show in town. James Brown, who later became “the Godfather of Soul,” used to shine Faircloth’s boots at a shoeshine stand in the lobby of the building.
In 1954, Mr. Faircloth left Augusta for six months to become the program director of Muscle Shoals, Al., radio station WLAY, which was owned by a friend. A listener called in and requested that he play the new record out by a young and talented guitar-picker named Elvis Presley.
At a singing event in Sheffield, Al., advertised by the station that year, Mr. Faircloth closed the show by introducing the youngster, who was just getting started on this music career.
One of Mr. Faircloth’s acquisitions from his Alabama stay was Presley’s first single, which had “Milk Cow Blues” on one side and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” on the other. He was likely the first disc jockey to play an Elvis record in Georgia, and shortly thereafter, Presley came to Augusta on Mr. Faircloth’s recommendation.
The Sheffield encounter led Mr. Faircloth to recommend that Presley be booked in Augusta’s Bell Auditorium on June 27, 1956, for what would be Presley’s only Augusta appearance.
“A friend of mine named V.E. King was a promoter in Macon who put together package shows for touring Georgia cities,” Mr. Faircloth said. “I told him about this boy Elvis, whom I had seen. He booked Elvis for some Georgia dates, including the one in Augusta.”
Presley had recorded only two songs, and his name was hardly noticeable underneath the margin on the cards advertising the show. “I was the emcee for the show,” Mr. Faircloth said. “The stars were Webb Pierce, Red Souvine and Wanda Jackson. Elvis was listed at the bottom as ‘added attraction.’ He came out and stole the show. There was another young man on the show that night who wasn’t advertised but was nearly as popular with the crowd - Johnny Cash. They were on Sun Records together in Memphis.”
In February of 1956, Mr. Faircloth was serving as the master of ceremonies for a live talent show from a downtown record store in Augusta. An 11-year-old girl singer and Mr. Faircloth were the stars of the show. The first song the young girl sang was “Jumbalaya,” and she soon became so popular that police had to direct traffic on the street outside. Before long, the little girl - Brenda Lee - was to become well-known across America.
When Red Foley’s show came to town, Mr. Faircloth was emcee for the program. Brenda Lee and her stepfather came backstage the night of the show and asked Faircloth if he could arrange for Brenda to sing a song. The promoter agreed after Faircloth described how the little girl stopped traffic when she performed on their weekly show.
“So I brought her out to do one number just before Red came out, and she sang ‘Jumbalaya.’ Red Foley came out from the wings, picked her up and hugged her. She signed a contract later that night to appear on Red’s national ABC-TV show, ‘Ozark Jubilee,’ the next month, and I signed as witness for the contract.” Within months, Lee was signed to Decca (later MCA) Records and was on her way to selling more than 80 million records.
Mr. Faircloth also had the privilege of performing at the Grand Ole Opry and with other wonderful entertainers who became superstars: Roy Acuff, Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. He also played in a band with BoudLeaux Bryant, the man who wrote “Rocky Top.”
Mr. Faircloth worked for several radio stations in Chattanooga for about 26 years, which led to a variety of experiences with stars including Jimmy Dickens and Patsy Cline.
Mr. Faircloth retired from radio work in 1982 and took on a new persona in 1988 when he began working as the historical narrator on the Southern Belle, a popular Chattanooga tourist riverboat. Today Mr. Faircloth is still singing and playing his musical instruments, including the “flushaphone” (a toilet plunger with holes punched in it), which he invented. He performs with “Curtis Hicks and the Old Time Strings.”
The family will receive friends from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, March 20, and 1:30-2:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 21, at the North Chapel.
Services for Charlie will be held at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at the North Chapel with Rev. David Kell officiating. Burial will follow in Hamilton Memorial Gardens.
Arrangements are by the North Chapel of Chattanooga Funeral Home, Crematory and Florist.
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