Often they talk or write about the station’s Southern Gospel Music format.
Gospel performers often went to WCHK to promote their recordings. They would talk with the announcers on the air about their records, where they were being sold and places they would be having concerts.
One of those performers was Wendy Bagwell. He was the leader of a comedy and singing trio known as Wendy Bagwell and the Sunlighters. He was one of the best known Southern Gospel Music performers at that time. Both Byron Dobbs and then-announcer Tim Cavender interviewed him when he visited WCHK.
Incidentally, there are several different spellings of the name of the group. One is Wendy Bagwell and the Sunlighters while another is Wendy Bagwell and the Sunliters. At times, it was spelled Wendy Bagwell and the Sonliters.
Canton’s Harold Westbrook knew Wendy Bagwell well. Both had discount stores in our area. As well as being friends with Wendy, Harold was a fan of the group.
Recently he told me about something that happened one night when Wendy Bagwell and the Sunlighters were performing in Canton. Another gospel great, Canton’s Lee Roy Abernathy, was there, too.
When he got up to leave the auditorium, obviously going to the bathroom, Wendy stopped the song he was singing and loudly told Lee Roy not to write on the walls. The crowd roared.
One of the women who sang in the trio was Jan Buckner. During their performances Wendy called her “Little Jan.” She was married to Wendy Bagwell’s nephew.
“Old Leather Lungs” was the name Wendy often used in heckling another member of the trio, Jerri Morrison.
Wendy Bagwell and the Sunlighters was the first Southern gospel group to tour Europe and was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
He was both a gospel musician and a comedian. Combining both talents, he could put on quite a show. He entertained audiences with his comic monologues. One was the “Three German Police Seeing-Eye Dogs.” It was in the Top 20 hits in 1984.
Accorded to the song, there was a blind family of gospel singers who went from church to church to sing. Wherever they went, they were led by their three seeing-eye dogs. The animals were huge German police dogs.
The group had been asked to sing on Homecoming Sunday in a very small country church.
There was not a good place in the church for the dogs. Finally, it was decided they would be put right in front of the altar.
Naturally the preacher was very nervous about having a packed house of church members and homecoming guests with those huge dogs packed in with them. But the preacher was assured the dogs would not move unless their owners told them to.
However, when a stray yellow cat wandered in the church and came down the aisle, as Wendy Bagwell said about the dogs, “They forgot.”
Wendy described, as only he could, the bedlam in the church as the dogs chased the cat under the benches. Supposedly musician and comedian Ray Stevens’ novelty song, “The Mississippi Squirrel Revival,” is based on the “Three German Police Seeing-Eye Dogs.”
“The day the squirrel went berserk, in the First Self-Righteous Church, in the sleepy little town of Pascagoula. It was a fight for survival that broke out in revival. They were jumpin’ pews and shoutin’ ‘Hallelujah!’”
Although the group sang in many churches, Wendy Bagwell said his trio never charged them anything.
One night when they were singing in a small church near Harlan, Ky., something totally unexpected happened. It inspired Wendy Bagwell’s biggest and most profitable hit, “Here Comes the Snakes.”
According to Wendy, while he and the Sunlighters were singing, some of the people in the congregation got out snakes and began handling them in the church. They were between Wendy and the front door.
Wendy asked the preacher where the back door was. The preacher said there was not one. So, Wendy said he asked the preacher where he wanted one.
“Here Comes the Snakes” was so successful that he even performed it in New York’s Carnegie Hall. It was the first certifiable million seller in Southern gospel history.
Commenting on the success of the recording, always the comedian, Wendy told Tim Cavender the tremendous success of “Here Come the Snakes” got him off having to eat beanie weenies.
Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.