Little David Wilkins Interview
by Donna Cunningham for Country Music News International
Little David Wilkins (born May 18, 1940) is an American country muisc singer, songwriter, and pianist. Between 1969 and 1977, he recorded for MCA Records with whom he released his greatest number of chart hits.
Donna: When did you first realize that you wanted music to be a major part of your life?
David: When did I realize that music was where I wanted to go with my life. When I started playing assembly programs at my Parsons, Tn high School at around 15 years of age singing Elvis, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry & Jerry Lee Lewis songs, as well as any other Pop/Rock songs that were radio hits at the time, along with 4 rhythm guitar Players. Parsons High School sent us to 5 other schools to perform at their assembly programs. When the girl’s started screaming, I started dreaming, and was hooked.
Donna: Where & when was your first gig?
David: I Played my first paying gig at the B & W Nightclub Appx. 3 Miles outside Parsons, Tn, my hometown for $10 a night for 3 or 4 weeks. After that I was offered 3 nights a week job down the road for $15 a night and moved on to the Cottage Cafe.
Donna: When did you start writing?
David: Song writing started after I left Sun Records in Memphis after Sam Phillips sold his Company to Shelby Singleton in Nashville. Sam Phillips encouraged me to start writing songs due to songs being extremely hard to find at the time. Therefore, when I started coming to Nashville, I began writing. That is when Capital Records became interested in me, after which I started writing as many as 15 songs a week bringing them to Capital Records Billy Graves, where he would tear them apart teaching me song writing structure. After I had written 18 songs that Graves approved, he sent me to Hubert Long at Moss Rose Publishing Company where Bill Anderson was the top songwriter. Hubert came to see me play at the 120 Club outside of Parsons unexpectedly, he was happy with what he heard & asked me to be in his office the next Monday. Mr. Long picked the first 8 songs he heard, had me demo them the following Tuesday with a 4 Piece band at the Quonset Hut where most hit records were recorded in Nashville by stars like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Marty Robbins etc. We recorded 5 songs on my first demo and 3 out of 5 were recorded By Stonewall Jackson…’Give It Back to The Indian’s”, the Serendipity Singers “Knock on Wood” and Sonny James “I’m Getting’ Gray from Being Blue” which rode the back side of his #1 record “You’re the Only World I Know” plus Sonny included my song in 3 albums.
Donna: Tell us a little about starting touring, the band, etc.
David: It was tough touring with my young family, my wife & 2 Sons 4 years apart in age, but we made it work. And we will have been married for 58 years come Oct.6th this year 2021. I started with a bass player & myself traveling in an Eldorado Cadillac playing with house bands. But after I had my 2nd hit record on MCA Records, I added a drummer & a lead guitar player, bought a Cadillac limo with only 13 thousand miles on it, & pulled a 4×8 U-Haul type trailer across the USA & Canada for about 18 months. then in 1978 bought a new Silver Eagle bus from the factory had the interior built here in Nashville and Traveled Appx.100 Thousand miles per year un till I retired in 1990 to care for my parent’s. This was a choice I would do again in a New York Minute if I were given the chance, because family is everything.
Donna: Tell us about your Grand Ole Opry experience.
David: I Performed on the Grand Ole Opry throughout the mid to end of the 1970’s and was offered an Opry Membership in August 1977, but had to refuse it due to the rules as a member was required to Perform at least 6 months per year and at the time I was playing up to 200 road shows per year and sadly told the Opry Manager Hal Durham at the time that I could not do it in good faith but have regretted it ever since. Sadly, the Opry changed the rules several years later or I would be on stage today. LOL
Donna: Can you share an interesting story or two of other artists and yourself?
David: I have so many stories of performing with other Country Music Stars this page would not hold them. I Opened Shows for the Statler Brothers & Tammy Wynette for 18 Months taking Ronnie Millsap’s opening position after Ronnie won Male Vocalist of the year in 1975. Then I opened for Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn for 15 months…then Marty Robbins for 15 months as well plus doing my own standalone show. Also, I was on tons of package shows with 5 to 8 Artist on most shows. I was on tour for 17 fantastic years before I retired
Donna: What is your favorite song, or a good story behind one?
David: There is a story behind a song. Jerry Chestnut ran my Publishing Company “Little David Music” BMI and I kept bugging him to write me a hit song like he had for dozens of other artists like George Jones, Faron Young etc. Also, Chesnut had brought Jerry Lee Lewis back with “Another Place Another Time”. So, one morning early he wrote T.R.O.U.B.L.E for/about me. Lamar Fike my Manager who had worked for Elvis Presley almost from the beginning and who was an original “Memphis Mafia Member” wanted Elvis to hear the song, took it to Memphis. Elvis went nuts over the song,” saying don’t let anybody else hear “Trouble”, it’s a rock standard & will be my next single.” Jerry Chesnut asked me what I would do if the situation were turned around, I said let Elvis have it. He did. Travis Tritt had the biggest hit on the song a few years later. Sad but true. LOL
Donna: It must have been a thrill to sign with Sun Records. How did that come to be?
David: I was Playing the Delmar Club in Jackson, TN in 1959 and W.S.”Fluke” Holland who was Carl Perkins’ drummer and played on all Carl’s Sun Records recordings, and who later played drums for Johnny Cash for almost 40 years, listened to my show on a Friday night came over and said, “I think Sam Phillips would sign you to a Sun Records contract.” Then he asked when I could go to Memphis and audition for Sam. The following Monday afternoon, I was singing for Sam Phillips the 17 hits of the day which were mostly pop hits. Sam walked out of the Control room where he recorded them saying, “Son, you are now on Sun Records!” I was overwhelmed. He told me I was the first artist he had ever worked with that never hit a sharp or a flat note in 17 songs. Owen Bradley told me the same thing, so I told Mr. Bradley, “I’ve got to tell you something you won’t believe, Sam Phillips told me the exact same thing at my audition.” Owen said, “Well son it’s true.” Bradley had perfect pitch & could barely stand to hear anyone sing off key. Please do not think I am bragging but it is just a fact that I have always been proud of, Donna.
Donna: What is your favorite song you have written?
David: Donna my favorite is “Coming on Strong” my first million seller that won a Pop Award in NYC in 1967 for one of the most played songs on radio out of the 38 other winners for 1967/68 were “Something Stupid” by Frank & Nancy Sinatra won Song of the Year. Just a personal note Donna I feel you had one of the best recordings on C.O.S. out of 37 Artists who have recorded my song thus far. Thank You so much I am forever grateful to you.
Donna: Of which career achievement are you the proudest?
David: My greatest Career achievement was mainly having a great career with 160 songs recorded, with all the Superstars surrounding me, being able to get to the point of winning 2 BMI Award’s on “Coming on Strong” in the Pop field #2 Winning a Country BMI Award for “Georgia Keeps Pulling on My Ring” Recorded by Conway Twitty and Charlie Pride, plus one ASCAP Award on “He’ll Play the Music but You Can’t Make Him Dance” Written & recorded by myself on MCA Records. Also having the great State of Tennessee name highway 641 running from interstate 40 to Parsons, TN my hometown “Little David Wilkins” Highway. All of this and just having a career at all. It has been overwhelming.
Donna: Your career has lasted for over half a century, a longevity that not many achieve. Why do you think people still identify with your music?
David: My songs are simple to understand being all about life, love & everyday things. When I perform, I talk to the audience like family & try to interact with the people as if I am one of them, which of course I am. I feel keeping my shows simple & fun with a few jokes, back stories on some of the songs I’ve written & singing from my heart has kept my fans & friends with me for all these years and I am thankful, which I feel the audience can identify with.!! I love what I am do… SO MUCH.
Donna: Please give us your thoughts on traditional country music, where it has been and where it is headed, and what it has been like dedicating your life to it.
David: I feel real Country music has gone to Hell in a handbasket, with major radio stations refusing to play Traditional Country, we the writers & singers do not have a chance anymore for airplay on a good country song. I would bet if Patsy Cline were alive & recording today, she might not get much if any radio airplay. The songs they call country today sounds like a hip hop loop with the same beats & music being used on over half the songs they call country records. I do not waste my time writing songs anymore due to the new so called country trend. and I already have dozens of potential real country hit songs that have never been heard by anyone else but me & the session musicians who played on the recording sessions. I realize things must change a bit but this? Give me a break. Where did real country music go? To Hell in A Hand Basket’ as I’ve already stated. Pardon me, Donna. I just tell it like I see it.
Donna: Please fill us in on any personal/family information you do not mind sharing. If you would rather keep this part of your life personal, please feel free to do so, or tell us as much as you wish….
David: Oh, I never answered the full question earlier. It has been a wonderful blessing dedicating my life since I was 18 years of age to my career and country music. Although I retired in 1990, after a few months I opened a 175 seat Restaurant in Lexington, TN 15 Miles from our family farm where my Mother and Dad lived until their deaths, called “Little David’s Country Kitchen” where I Performed on Friday & Saturday Night’s for 6 Years. After being on Tour in the USA, Canada & Germany for 17 wonderful Years I just could not let music go, so I performed in Lexington, TN, 15 miles from where it all started. Once music is in your heart & soul, you just cannot give it up, which is why I began recording again 8 years ago for Jimmy Adams’ Jam Records & itube247.com. I ‘ve loved every minute of it until Covid hit & shut the world down. I am optimistic that concert’s along with other music venue’s will open later this year 2021 and hopefully I will, along with you, Donna & thousands of other entertainers, and musicians, hit the stage once again and music will Prevail forevermore in our lives. God Bless the World. Donna, thank you once again for giving me a free hand & opportunity to speak my mind about music opinion’s & stories of my musical life in your article with “Country Music News International Magazine”