Obituary: Terry Gilkyson
Wednesday 10 November 1999
He was born in 1916 in a stone house built by his great-grandfather in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. He was playing the piano by the age of four, but tired of his later music studies at the University of Pennsylvania and left before graduation. In 1938 he worked on ranches in New Mexico and Arizona and both learnt and performed western songs. During the Second World War, he became a popular entertainer on Armed Forces Radio.
He recorded two albums of folk songs, The Solitary Singer, volumes 1 and 2, in 1950 and 1951, but had his first hit record when he joined the Weavers, with "On Top of Old Smokey", also in 1951. By then, he was establishing himself as a songwriter: both Frankie Laine and Tennessee Ernie Ford did well with "The Cry of the Wild Goose" (1950) and Laine also scored with "Girl in the Wood", "Tell Me a Story", "Roving Gambler" and "Love is a Golden Ring", which he recorded with Gilkyson's group, the Easy Riders, in 1957. Guy Mitchell had fun with Gilkyson's song "Christopher Columbus", but the best-known song, "Memories are Made of This", was a transatlantic No l for Dean Martin in 1956 and also sold well for Gale Storm, Dave King and, in 1967, Val Doonican.
With his songwriting friends Rick Dehr and Frank Miller, Gilkyson had formed a folk group, Terry Gilkyson and the Easy Riders, and they made a popular album, Golden Minutes of Folk Music, in 1953. The following year, their adaptation of a calypso from the West Indies, "Marianne", went to No 4 on the US charts, with a rival version by the Hilltoppers doing equally well. The Hilltoppers and the King Brothers had success with the song in the UK but Gilkyson's record was No 1 in Australia.
In 1958 the Easy Riders scored the film Windjammer, and then in the 1960s, Gilkyson wrote music for the long-running television series The Wonderful World of Disney. The title track of their 1961 LP, Remember the Alamo, was recorded by both Johnny Cash and Donovan.
Gilkyson preferred being a songwriter to performing, and the Easy Riders spent most of the 1960s without him. One replacement was Jerry Yester, who subsequently joined the Lovin' Spoonful. Gilkyson's many songs included the folk-based "Green Fields" for the Brothers Four, a US No 2.
In 1967 Gilkyson wrote "The Bare Necessities" for the Walt Disney cartoon The Jungle Book; the song, performed in the film by Phil Harris as Baloo, has also been recorded by Louis Armstrong and Kenny Ball. It was nominated for an Oscar but lost to "Talk to the Animals" from Dr Dolittle. However, "The Bare Necessities" certainly influenced "Hakuna Matata" in the recent Disney hit The Lion King. In 1970 Gilkyson contributed to the score of another Disney success, The Aristocats.
By then, however, he was at a loss with the music of the day and chose to spend his time fly-fishing. He retired completely, living on the royalties from over 300 published songs. His daughter, Eliza, became a well-known singer-songwriter. In turn, her son, Cisco Gilliland, is part of the Texan band Bunny Stockhausen. Gilkyson's son, Terry, has played in the bands X and Lone Justice.
Hamilton Henry "Terry" Gilkyson, singer and songwriter: born Phoenixville, Pennsylvania 17 June 1916; married (one son, three daughters); died Austin, Texas 15 October 1999.
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