Over the last few days, three major contributors to country music have passed away—performer and television/radio personality Bonnie Lou, songwriter and former husband to Tammy Wynette Don Chapel, and prolific hit songwriter Don Pfrimmer. Let’s take a minute to remember all three.
Bonnie Lou was the stage name of Mary Joan Kath born on Oct. 27, 1924 in Towanda, Illinois. Bonnie had two Top 10 country hits on King Records in 1953—“Seven Lonely Days” and “Tennessee Wig Walk”—before transitioning to rockabilly and scoring the 1955 hit “Daddy-O.” But she was best known as a regular and star on The Midwestern Hayride. She began on the program in 1945, hired by WLW’s Bill McCluskey who gave her the stage name Bonnie Lou. In 1948 The Midwestern Hayride began airing on local television in Cincinnati, and later on NBC and ABC as a summer replacement show between 1952 and 1959. Bonnie Lou remained a featured artist on the show until it ended in 1972.
Bonnie Lou learned how to yodel at a very early age from her Swedish grandmother, and also leaned fiddle and guitar. By the age of 13, she was performing on local radio programs in Illionis, including WMBD in Peoria, and then on WJBC in Bloomington. But it was in Cincinatti where she would make her biggest mark. Along with The Midwestern Hayride, she also appeared in the local shows The Paul Dixon Show and The Fifty Fifty Club. In the 80’s she became a disc jockey, and a beloved personality throughout the Ohio region.
Bonnie Lou passed away in Cincinnati on Tuesday, Dec. 8, at age 91. She’s a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Ray Price, Webb Pierce, Ernest Tubb, Conway Twitty, Johnny Paycheck, Lynn Anderson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carlie Louvin, and over 50 members of the Grand Ole Opry all recorded songs written by renown songwriter Don Chapel, who passed away at the age of 84 on Sunday, December 6th.
Born Lloyd Franklin Amburgey, Don’s most recognized hit “When the Grass Grows Over Me” was recorded by George Jones. But just as much as he’s known for his songs, Don Chapel had a big impact on country music behind-the-scenes, especially when it came to George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Chapel was Tammy Wynette’s second husband (out of five), and is given credit for coining her “Tammy Wynette” stage name, along with helping secure her first record deal with Epic, and her long-time working relationship with producer Billy Sherrill.
It was during a dinner argument between Tammy Wynette and Don Chapel at their home that George Jones lost his cool, flipping the dinner table over and later professing his love for Tammy. Wynette and Chapel soon divorced, and Tammy eventually married Jones.
Don Chapel was also an Air Force veteran, and served in the Korean War as a staff sergeant. He came from a very musical family, including his sister Jean Chapel who was a rockabilly performer. He passed away due to complications with pneumonia, and from heart failure.
Hit songwriter Don Pfrimmer died Monday, December 7th at the age of 78 after suffering from leukemia. Pfrimmer was known for countless hits by numerous country music stars, including George Jones’ “You and Me and Time,” Tammy Wynette’s “Let’s Call It a Day Today,” Ronnie Milsap’s “She Keeps the Home Fires Burning” and “My Heart,” and Diamond Rio’s “Meet in the Middle.” His career spanned a total of four decades, starting in the mid 70’s, and only slowing down recently, penning major hits all the way into the mid 2000’s. He officially wrote more than 450 songs throughout his career. His first single was “Any Old Wind That Blows” cut by the Grand Ole Opry duo Lonzo & Oscar in 1974.
Don Pfrimmer was born Sept. 9, 1937, and grew up in the Montana town of Whitefish. He was a school teacher and commercial fisherman in Alaska before deciding to move to Nashville in the summer of 1973 to become a songwriter. Pfrimmer was decorated with 14 awards from ASCAP, and was a nominee for the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015. Don most recently wrote for Cosmic Mule Music in Nashville, and continued to have published songs by artists like Kenny Rogers and Neal McCoy.