Ferlin Husky dies at 85; singer helped open doors for California strain of country music


Ferlin Husky, a pioneering country music entertainer in the 1950s and early 1960s who helped open the door for performers specializing in a distinctively twangy California strain of country, died Thursday. He was 85.

Husky, who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last year, died at a Nashville-area hospital, according to a statement on his website. He had a history of heart trouble.

“In the mid-’50s, Ferlin would create the template for the famed Nashville Sound, a sound that gave rock ‘n’ roll a run for its money and forever put Music City on the map,” Kyle Young, director of the Hall of Fame, said upon Husky’s induction.


After moving to Bakersfield in the late 1940s, Husky joined the burgeoning country music scene there and helped popularize the genre by performing with other musicians and appearing on Cliffie Stone’s “Hometown Jamboree” radio and TV series.

From the 1950s into the 1970s, Husky charted more than 50 country hits, the biggest of which were the heartache classic “Gone” and the gospel-driven “Wings of a Dove.”

Signed to Capitol Records in the early 1950s, he helped discover new talent for the label, which was building its West Coast country music division. Merle Haggard and Buck Owens followed him out of Bakersfield.

Ferlin Eugene Husky was born Dec. 3, 1925, near Flat River, Mo., and grew up on a farm. He learned to play guitar before he was 10 and dropped out of school in eighth grade.

After starting his career in St. Louis, he joined the merchant marine during World War II.

His war experience was reflected in the song “A Dear John Letter.” The contents of the letter are sung by Jean Shepard, who tells a soldier that she’s going to marry his brother. Released during the Korean War, it gave Husky his first hit in 1953.

One of his tours included a young Elvis Presley, but Husky was the headline act.

“He was so eager to learn how to entertain an audience, he’d watch everything I did,” Husky later said.

Among Husky’s other hits are “A Fallen Star,” “My Reason for Living,” “The Waltz You Saved for Me” and “Timber I’m Falling.”

He also made the charts recording as a country character named Simon Crum who served as his comic alter ego.

A frequent guest on TV talk shows, Husky appeared in a string of movies that included “Country Music Holiday” (1958) with Zsa Zsa Gabor and “The Las Vegas Hillbillys” (1966) with Jayne Mansfield.

In 1977, he had heart surgery — the first of many such operations — and after that performed part-time until several years ago.

“There were a lot of years when nobody in the business could follow Ferlin Husky,” Haggard told the Nashville Tennessean newspaper last year. “He was the big live act of the day. A great entertainer.”

Survivors include six daughters, two sons and many grandchildren.