Wayne Raney: Up with Jesus, Down with Rock ‘n’ Roll

Wayne Raney of Wolf Bayou in Cleburne County made a name for himself with his harmonica and 1949 hit song, “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me,” which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard country music chart. He penned boogie songs (“Lost John Boogie” and “Jack and Jill Boogie”) with harmonica solos that could rival those of many Mississippi bluesmen. His song, “Shake Baby Shake,” is outright rock ‘n’ roll, making him one of those unsung heroes of the genre.

Jack Holt - Wayne Raney ad 1952
Wayne Raney performed at a 1952 campaign rally on the Fayetteville square for Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Jack Holt. In the ad, Raney is billed as a “harmonica wizard from Grand Ole Opry, composer, entertainer and recording star.”

Which is why his 1958 gospel revival single on Starday records is an interesting one. Was he fed up with the direction music was taking, the one he helped create? Or, as has been the case with many recording artists later in their careers, did he feel he could tap into a new market by recording religious material? Whatever the case, it worked. The result was “We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus (And a Lot Less Rock ‘n’ Roll”), which has since been covered multiple times by many music artists, including, of all people, Linda Ronstadt.

As a child, Raney’s musical ambition was intense. When he was 13, he hitchhiked to Eagle Pass, Texas, to transcribe transcription records at XEPN, a south-of-the-border radio station with a range that covered much of the United States. While still a teen, he teamed up with Lonnie Glosson of Judsonia, with whom he established a mail-order harmonica operation before moving on to record with the Delmore Brothers. The year “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me” became a hit, Raney performed on Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry and, shortly after, toured with country musician Lefty Frizzell. By the early 1960s, Raney returned to Cleburne County, continued to record gospel music and set up his own studio and record-pressing plant. In the 1970s, he made occasional appearances on the TV variety show, Hee Haw, before his health deteriorated, causing him to leave the music business altogether. Raney died of cancer in 1993 in Batesville.

One thought on “Wayne Raney: Up with Jesus, Down with Rock ‘n’ Roll”

  1. Met Wayne in the early ’70s. His brother was a doctor in Cave City with daughters in school there. Wayne had a recording studio in Concord. He would record anything at his studio. I think tapping new markets fits him exactly,

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