Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Guitar Finally Fell Out of my Family Tree

I've always thought it would be interesting to find out I was distantly related to someone famous. I have cousins who are related to Elvis Presley (and they even have the last name to prove it) but until now, no one from the entertainment world has jumped out of my tree and started singing.

Malcolm Yelvington
I’ve recently been researching the Yelverton family and received an email from a distant Yelverton relative, Mickie, who let me know that I have a famous cousin too. Had Elvis Presley not decided to walk into Sun Studio that day in 1954, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll could have been Malcolm Yelvington.

Malcolm and I share a common ancestor in Hardy Yelverton who was his fifth great grandfather and my sixth.

Malcolm Yelvington and the Star Rhythm Boys
Malcolm was born near Haywood County, TN in Covington on Sept. 14, 1918 and was the youngest of eight children. As a young boy, he learned to sing and play the guitar after one of his older brothers taught him a few chords. In the late 1940s he began playing with Reece Fleming’s band, The Tennesseeans at The Memphis Gem Theater. Later he played with the Star Rhythm Boys and the band was a big hit in honkey tonks and clubs around Covington. Malcolm had a deep baritone voice that some compared to Ernest Tubb.

Although the rest of the band lived in Covington, Malcolm lived in Memphis and wanted to play the clubs and bars there.

According to Wikipedia, Malcolm and guitarist Gordon Mashburn arranged to meet Sam Phillips in 1953. Sam thought they had potential although he didn't like the country sound of some of their songs. He had them audition a large number of songs until he found one he thought may work (If you are an Elvis fan, that will sound familiar).

Finally, they recorded "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" which was a blues song written by Sticks McGee. Phillips thought it was a great mix of black and hillbilly music and liked the fact that it was different.

Unfortunately, their record was the next one released after Elvis’ “That’s All Right.” The country radio stations thought "Drinkin' Wine" sounded too black and the black radio stations thought it was too country.

Malcolm recorded other songs but eventually gave up on a recording career and concentrated on raising his growing family. In 1961 he had a religious conversion experience and dedicated his life to God. Malcolm joined Decatur Trinity Christian Church in Bartlett, TN where he remained a member for the rest of his life. He became a welder for Buckman Laboratories in Memphis and continued to sing as a member of the gospel group, The Carpenter’s Crew.

In the 1980s, music historians discovered Malcolm's music and, along with a resurgence in popularity and appreciation of rockabilly, he found himself once again a popular artist.

Malcolm with a European fan

Malcolm later toured Europe and one of his live concerts was released on a CD in 1991.

He also began recording again at Sun Studio and released his first full-length album at the age of 79 in 1997.

In one of his later interviews with documentarian Devin Miller he said, “I would like to be remembered as a Christian man who sang rockabilly music.”

He died in Memphis in February 2001 at Baptist Memorial Health Care and was buried in Covington.

Check out this interesting story about Scottish rock 'n' roll fan Graham Knight
who sent a Sun check to Malcolm Yelvington when he was ill.
To find out more, you can watch a great short film about Malcolm created by Devin Miller in 1997. It includes Malcolm’s story in his own words.

Amazon sells some of his music in re-released compilation form including, "It's me Baby, The Sun Years Plus."

You can read more about the Yelverton Family on

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