Essay / On This Day

Stuart Hamblen’s Cowboy Church of the Air

Today (October 20) is the birthday of Stuart Hamblen (1908-1989), the cowboy singer. His story is a little bit larger than life. The public conversion of this radio star at Billy Graham’s 1949 Los Angeles crusade was a major media event. Hamblen had lived a rough enough life: hard drinking, playing bad guys in Western movies, and writing songs like “I Won’t Go Huntin’ With You Jake (But I’ll Go Chasin’ Women).”

Oh, it’s springtime in the mountains and I’m full of mountain dew.
Can’t even read my catalog like I used to do.
I’m a-settin’ in that little shed that’s right back of the house.
Here comes old Jake with all the hounds, but he’s gonna hear me shout:

CHORUS: Oh, I won’t go huntin’ with you, Jake, but I’ll go chasin’ women,
So put them hounds back in the pens and quit your silly grinnin’.
Well, the moon is bright, and I’m half tight. My life is just beginnin’.
I won’t go huntin’ with you, Jake, but I’ll go chasin’ women.

Graham had agreed to go on this character’s radio show, though it was sponsored by a cigarette company and didn’t quite match the Billy Graham image in various other ways. But Hamblen was eager to support a country preacher who dared to hold an old-fashioned revival in Los Angeles, and he encouraged his listeners to attend. When Hamblen himself showed up, he got more from Graham’s preaching than just nostalgia for that old-time religion. He got the good news, and he came to see Billy Graham after hours to ask earnestly what he could do to be saved. Hamblen converted on the spot. He called his dad, a Methodist pastor, and told him what had happened. Billy Graham reported that he could hear Rev. Hamblen shouting for joy over the phone.

Later on at a party, John Wayne asked Hamblen if it was true that he’d “got religion.” Hamblen answered, “It’s no secret what God can do.” John Wayne replied, “That sounds like a song.” So Hamblen wrote it, and it was a big hit for him and several other artists who covered it:

The chimes of time ring out the news, another day is through
Someone slipped and fell, was that someone you?
You may have longed for added strength your courage to renew
Do not be disheartened, for I bring hope for you:

It is no secret what God can do
What He’s done for others He’ll do for you
With arms wide open He’ll pardon you
It is no secret what God can do.

Hamblen recorded a large number of Christian songs, and had a long-running radio show called Cowboy Church of the Air. Hamblen ran for various political offices, trying unsuccessfully to parlay his considerable down-home charm and his strident anti-communism into something electable. He even ran for President of the United States for the Prohibition Party in 1952, winning more than 70,000 votes, but losing to Ike and even coming in way behind Stevenson.

Hamblen is also responsible for this execrable ditty, later recorded by Pebbles and Bam Bam:

Mommy told me something a little girl should know
It’s all about the Devil and I’ve learned to hate him so
She says he causes trouble when you let him in the room
He will never ever leave you if your heart is filled with gloom

So, let the sun shine in, face it with a grin
Smilers never lose and frowners never win
So, let the sun shine in, face it with a grin
Open up your heart and let the sun shine in

But all can be forgiven, even that song.

And Hamblen’s best song covers a multitude of sins: “This Ole House,” which he says was inspired when he found an old hunting cabin in the woods with the dead body of an old man inside. From that melancholy reminder of mortality, Hamblen wrote a sad country song. But he soon re-imagined it as a kicky little number with a sparkling banjo and a defiant vocal. Check it out here.

Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer
Ain’t a-gonna need this house no more
Ain’t got time to fix the shingles
Ain’t got time to fix the floor
Ain’t got time to oil the hinges
Nor to mend no window pane
Ain’t gonna need this house no longer
I’m a-gettin’ ready to meet the saints

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