by Joseph DeGweck
When does the transformation from boyhood to fatherhood take place? Is it in a moment? Is it over a period of time? Perhaps it is an ongoing event that never ends once it begins? I believe that the answer lies within the character of the individual. It depends on our spirit and the will with which we, individually, independently and freely decide to commit one’s self to the challenges that fatherhood brings. That is why, this month, in honor of Fathers’ Day, After 50 News has decided to grace our front cover by featuring the man that we proclaim as the father of country music in Western New York. This month we honor Mr. Ramblin’ Lou of WXRL. For 60 years this October, he has broadcast classical country music over the airwaves of the Western New York Region. From Toronto to Pennsylvania, as far east as Rochester, and as far west as parts of Erie, Pennsylvania, his loyal audience has had the opportunity to listen to what Ramblin’ Lou refers to as “family-oriented” entertainment. This self-taught musician and singer has fostered good wholesome and enjoyable moments of listening pleasure for millions since 1947---and has no desire to stop. Ramblin’ Lou has plans to continue “for another 50. years” And after meeting him, I believe that it is a strong possibility. If anyone can do it, he can!
Where DidiIt All Begin?
Growing up as a boy in Tonawanda, New York, Lou Schriver often had the good fortune of visiting his “granddad” in Pennsylvania. He would spend some of his summers there working on his granddad’s farm. On Saturday nights, they would get in his granddad’s Model “A” and together they would travel from fire hall to fire hall and entertain the local residents with a wholesome square dance. “I don’t know; I just loved it,” Ramblin’ Lou explained in a tone that embodied a spirit of both youthful enthusiasm and ageless admiration. At age nine Lou got his first guitar. His father, who was a barber in Tonawanda, New York, traded a haircut for that guitar. That customer, who now lives in Clarence, New York, called Ramblin’ Lou just the other day. He still listens to WXRL and they have remained in touch after all these years. That just seems to be a way of life with this gentle spirited man.
In 1947, as a young man, still a teenager in high school, Lou approached a radio station in Niagara Falls hoping to play live music on the radio. They asked him to cut a tape and summit it for listening. Ramblin’ Lou recorded two songs, “Hair of Gold, Eyes of Blue” and “You Call Everybody Darlin.” A couple days later the station called him back and offered him a 15-minute spot at 6:00 a.m. So every day, Lou would get up at 4:30 in the morning, drive his “old junky car” to Niagara Falls and perform live on the air. His tone transformed this event into what seemed a heavenly experience and a commencement of a dream for a young man. Those 15 minutes grew into one hour and then were gently cultivated into three hours of live and recorded country music. Ramblin’ Lou and his genre of classical country music was “clicking” and he began booking some of the big acts from Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1964, Ramblin’ Lou was asked to become program director at an established Buffalo radio station. WWOL wanted to get into country. He converted their programming to pure country music and “it took off like gangbusters.” For six years, he continued to nurture this apparition.
In 1970, Lou was approached once again and asked if he would be interested in acquiring a radio station of his own. Immediately, he pursued this challenge and purchased WMMJ Radio on William Street in Lancaster, New York. He changed the call letters to WXRL and it has since become “the only independently owned radio station in the Buffalo market.”
Ramblin’ Lou spoke of the “lean years” in Niagara Falls, but never with regret. Articulately he spoke only with a conviction: a belief in a dream that started with his granddad on a farm in Pennsylvania, supported by his family in Tonawanda and trapped within his heart---heart, now shared with his wife, Joanie.
Together, a Family
With this same passion and commitment that Lou had pursued his love of classical country music, he now directed towards his family. Joanie is a trained and accomplished musician. She plays lead guitar in Ramblin’ Lou’s Family Band. Their son, Lou Jr. is on the drums. Their daughters play also with Linda Lou on the bass and sings; Lori Ann on the violin; and Lynn Carol on keyboards. They now share the stage along with their father and a dream that once was his is now all of theirs. WXRL’s “Ramblin’ Lou Family Band” has appeared at the Hamburg Fair, now known as America’s Fair in Hamburg, for 43 consecutive years. They continue to draw their “loyal audiences” to such WNY events as Canal Fest, West Seneca Town Park, Cheektowaga Seniors, and the Town of Tonawanda Lincoln Arena, to name a few. They also have performed and supported a variety of fund-raisers such as the Telethon. Giving back to the community is as important and natural to Ramblin’ Lou as performing in front of it.
When asked how it happened that his children were so interested and committed, Lou simply stated with a gentle and simplistic tone that “I don’t push them; I try to encourage them.” Having met his daughter at an event last year, I sensed that she shared her father’s love of country music as well as his desire to serve this community.
In Ramblin’ Lou’s own words, “be yourself, don’t try to be pretentious.” His persona of realism and true sense of self has made him aware of how fortunate he is to have achieved what he has aspired to today. He simply stated that what has happened over the past 60 years is not accomplished alone. He contributes his success first of all to his family. He goes on to thank the many sponsors that have supported this tradition of classical country music in WNY. Ramblin’ Lou considers himself blessed to have had the opportunity to serve his “loyal audience” for so many years.
His accomplishments of having brought great and notable artist to our area are astonishing---from Johnny Cash to Eddie Arnold, Roy Clark, Dolly Parton and even Hank Williams Sr. This December, Ramblin’ Lou will open for Charlie Pride at the Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls. What “an honor” he considers this. He also prides himself for having supported local artists. He believes that “the talent in WNY is as good as anywhere in the country.” Every morning he has a salute to local artist broadcast on his radio station.
Ramblin’ Lou’s office is adorned with the trophies of his accomplished life. The things he cherishes most: pictures of his family; pictures of the artists that he has met; pictures of him with his audience, from his appearances at Earl’s Restaurant in Chaffee, New York, to those taken at his annual Christmas parties.
This father of classical country music in WNY continues
to provide a tone of peacefulness and a sense of family that is perhaps
summed up in the words he first greeted me with. I believe that they represent
his character, his life. As he hobbled down the stairs, bothered by arthritis
in his knees, he had a smile that concealed and liberated his discomfort.
He reached out his hand and gently and softly but with sincere conviction
simply stated, “Good to see you here.” Ramblin’ Lou
has lived a life that is exemplified in those words. Thank you, Lou, for
all the great moments.
|Ramblin’ Lou - 1971|
|Ramblin’ Lou - 1951|
|Ernest Tubs and Ramblin’ Lou - September 1964|
|Ramblin’ Lou Band with wife Joanie Marshal, Accordion Jake on Accordion, Don Juan on Drums, Bashful Eddie on Bass, WGR Television - 1968|
|Ramblin’ Lou and Elvis Presley|
|Johnny Cash, Joanie Marshal, and Ramblin’ Lou - Mid ’60s|
|Ramblin’ Lou and wife Joanie Marshal with Their Children Linda Lou and Lou Jr. - 1966|
|Ramblin’ Lou Performing at a Store Opening in East Aurora, NY 1954|
|Eddy Arnold and Ramblin’ Lou - 1948|
|Ramblin’ Lou 2-Years Old
|The Ramblin’ Lou Family Band - 2003|
|Ramblin’ Lou on His Favorite Horse “Chico” - 1949|
|The Ramblin’ Lou Family Band - 2007|
|The Ramblin’ Lou Family Band|
|The On-Line Edition of After 50
Newspaper for Western New York's Young @ Heart