The post on Duluth’s first television station from a few weeks back included a mention of “Famous, a country-western singer.”
The name “Famous” piqued my curiosity, so I went digging in the files and found out a lot more about Famous Lashua, Duluth’s singing cowboy, including this article from February 6, 1983:
Duluth’s singing cowboy remembers
By Bob Ashenmacher, News-Tribune staff writer
He was Duluth’s singing cowboy during the heyday of radio.
He wrote country-western songs that were recorded by some of the biggest names. He made one of the earliest live television broadcasts in Duluth.
So what ever happened to Famous Lashua?
“Every once in a while that comes up,” Lashua, now 66, said from his home in Mountain Iron. “I get mentioned on one of the radio stations I worked for – maybe on a call-in show or something. People wonder where I went.”
He moved from Duluth in 1964 to take over a dry-cleaning business in Virginia. He and his wife Ruby retired two years ago. Lately he’s recovering from an artificial hip operation.
Lashua doesn’t regret leaving show business.
“I’d been in it for 30 years. This (the dry cleaners’) was a chance to get into a good, growing business, so we bought it.”
But his enthusiasm for the music days remains.
“Oh, the way I got into it is funny. I’d gone out West on a freight (train) when I was 16, gotten a job on a ranch. The cowboys there, it was a big joke for them to put me on a wild horse. I did pretty good – an old Indian wanted to put me in the rodeo. Anyway, I wrote a letter to a girlfriend back in Rhinelander and to dress it up a bit I said, ‘We’re sitting around the campfire singing songs and I’m playing my guitar.’ I was BS’ing – I didn’t know a guitar from any other instrument.
“When I came back home in ’36, well, of course I run into the old girl again, and the first thing she wants me to do is sing for her. So I had to quick scare up a guitar and get me a music book for two bits. After about a week I could sneak by with ‘Home on the Range.’ I did it for her, and she liked it. It went from there.”
Songwriter and performer Famous Lashua spins country and western music on WDSM radio in early 1964. Note the Hotel Duluth / Greysolon Plaza facade visible through the window. (News-Tribune file photo)
Except for a brief stint in Kentucky, Lashua played music locally for almost three decades. He had a pleasant soprano voice that lent itself well to relaxed country-western tunes.
He worked in many settings, from WEBC radio’s 15-piece orchestra to a popular band called Uncle Harry and His Hillbillies to a solo act.
He was master of ceremonies on “Corn’s A’Poppin,” a weekly KDAL radio show broadcast live from the stage of Duluth’s Lyceum Theater for three years in the mid-1940s.
“Every Monday night, right after the stores closed,” he said. “We had full houses – boy, it was great. We’d bring in some local acts each night. Some girls tap dancing or a local kid singing.”
Among his more unusual gigs was one with an organist who was dying of cancer. They played together on a show sponsored by a funeral home.
“He knew he was done for,” Lashua said, “but he insisted on continuing playing. During commercials I’d sing hymns and he’d play organ softly in the background and once in a while he’d break down and cry. … That was harder than digging ditches, I tell you.”
The early TV appearance came when engineers of Duluth television station WDSM were preparing to go on the air and wanted to test the signal.
“There wasn’t even a studio yet, just a garage up on the hill by the antenna. … We dragged a log in out of the woods. I sat on it and played some songs.”
All the while, Lashua was writing songs.
Red Foley had a big hit with his “Chocolate Ice Cream Cone.” It was among the top 10 country songs of – he thinks it was – 1952 and was eventually covered by 10 artists. Vaughan Monroe and Hank Snow each recorded his “Ghost Trains.” The Blue Sky Boys did his “I’m Glad.” His own favorite among his originals: “A thing called ‘Little Miss Mischief.’ It was recorded by the Oklahoma Sweethearts. I liked that one, but it never went anywhere.”
Where’d he get that stage name, “Famous,” anyway?
“They’ve been asking me that for years,” he said. “It’s my real name. My folks must have had big plans for me. Either that or they were running out of names – I’m the ninth out of 10 kids.”
Now that he’s retired, Lashua wouldn’t mind putting together a little radio show of his own again.”
– end –
Famous Lashua died on May 3, 1992, at the age of 76.
A Google search turns up quite a bit of information on Famous Lashua. For a site with a number of mp3 files of his songs, click here. Among the files available is “Choc’late Ice Cream Cone,” which was a country hit back in the early 1950s. It’s a sweetly innocent song, certainly from another era. Not quite sure how it would be received today. I found this image of a folio of sheet music for the song on Amazon.com:
Share your memories of Famous Lashua, or other well-known Northland musicians, by posting a comment.