1920-2015, Bolt, Raleigh County
A country music performer like no other, Little Jimmy Dickens was known as the “King of the Novelty Song.” Born James Cecil Dickens in Bolt, Raleigh County, Dickens charted hits in every decade from the ’40s to the ’70s. His most popular songs included “Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait,” “Out Behind the Barn” and the Top 10 crossover hit, “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.”
Dickens was the 13th child in a farming family. He began performing professionally and singing on a local radio station while studying at West Virginia University in the late ’30s. Around that time he left school and joined what might be called the first West Virginia “supergroup.” Formed by Johnnie Bales, the Happy Valley Folks included Skeets Williamson and his sister LaVerne (who later changed her name to Molly O’Day and was inducted into the WV Music Hall of Fame in 2007). Dickens was billed as “The Singing Midget.”
He then took to the road, traveling the country, singing on radio shows in the Midwest under the name Jimmy the Kid. Roy Acuff heard Dickens on a radio show in Saginaw, MI, and invited him to sing on the Grand Ole Opry. Dickens became a permanent member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1949 and continued to perform and host segments of that show until his death in 2015.
The 4'11" entertainer struck a recognizable figure wherever he went, with his flashy rhinestone stage costumes, jumbo-sized guitar, and infectious smile. Hank Williams gave Dickens the nickname “Tater” taken from Dickens’s hit song “Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait.” Dickens and Williams were friends and frequently shared billing at shows and concert appearances; Williams reportedly refused to follow Dickens on stage.
In the early ’50s, Dickens formed the Country Boys which featured a steel guitar and two lead guitars. The group pioneered the sound of twin leads – as heard on his hit “Hillbilly Fever” – that would become a signature of Nashville country music. In 1965, he scored his biggest hit, “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose,” which topped the country charts and crossed over to No. 15 on the pop charts.
In 1964, Dickens became the first country music artist to tour the world.
Dickens’s songs reflect a down-home sense of humor as well as the kind of humble beginnings that stay with a man his entire life. His hits have also included “A-Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed,” “I’m Little But I’m Loud” and “Out Behind the Barn.” Lesser known titles include “Bessie the Heifer, Queen of All the Cows,” “How to Catch an African Skeeter Alive” and “Who Licked the Red Off Your Candy.” Dickens was also particularly proud of his ballads, and country and gospel sides.
In the ’90s, Dickens found a friend and supporter in fellow West Virginian Brad Paisley, one of country music’s biggest stars. Dickens appeared in several of Paisley’s music videos.