December 2, 2021

Country careers lead to Hall of Fame

Lives dedicated to music are honored

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Ed Kowalski of Virgil, was one of three inducted into the New York State Country Music Hall of Fame this year at the Cortland Country Music Park.

Ed Kowalski of Virgil started playing trumpet as a youngster in his home, where his family operated a restaurant and bar.

“Patrons in the bar area most likely heard my beautiful harmonic monotones (well, I thought they were beautiful) and it probably curdled their beer,” Kowalski said. “My Dad was very good about telling me: ‘Eddie, it sounds great to me, but son, we’re losing customers. Let’s try another instrument.’”

Kowalski went for a trombone. Dad nixed him again. Then tuba. No, son. Kowalski started playing drums.

“That took,” said Ken Whitney, master of ceremonies at the Cortland Country Music Park’s 44th Annual Hall of Fame Presentation.

Whitney is the new director of the New York State Country Music Hall of Fame Museum at the Cortland Country
Music Park on Route 13, Cortlandville.

Kowalski played drums in the ’60s and turned to drumming in country music bands in the ’70s. In the ’80s, his career took off. He played with Rubin Everidge and the San Antones. In the 2000s, he started playing with Doc Weismore and the Ridge Road Ramblers.

“Country music has been part of his life for 50 years,” Whitney said.

Kowalski was one of three chosen for the 2021 New York State Hall of Fame at the Cortland Country Music Park.

Clayton Boise and Lowell Smith, were also inducted, posthumously for Boise. They were among seven considered and their plaques will be hung in the park’s New York State Country Music Park Hall of Fame.

“This is an honor and a pleasure,” Kowalski said. “This place has been here for years and years.”

Cortland Country Music Park

“(I’ve) been here since ’76,” said Kowalski, also on the board of director at the park. “It’s a great place for entertainment. A great place for the whole family to come out … I am so proud to be affiliated with this.”

Musical entertainment and dinner shows take place weekly during the summer and fall. The park also offers a campground, which kept the park alive when the pandemic nixed its music offerings.

Board members and volunteers staff the office, the kitchen, the museum and book the gigs, but Kowalski wants to see younger volunteers.

“The time and effort of what they do with other volunteers is incredible,” said Kowalski.

Talk from the winners

The Oct. 31 hall of fame show inducted people in two categories. Its hall of honor gives a nod to hard-working country musicians. The hall of fame is reserved for longtime players who’ve made a significant contributions to country music in the area.

Terri Whitney of Franklin said the stage at the Cortland Country Music Park has a Grand Ol’ Opry feel.

“It’s fantastic,” she said. She had just wooed the crowd with Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” and then launched into a Martina McBride song. Park officials inducted Whitney into its hall of honor, one of six getting an accolade.

Doc Weismore with Real Country provided music, and back up for the singers.

“These are people that have played for years and have had their own band for years,” said Jack Culter of Greene, a country musician watching the show. “They are showing their art.”

What the winners think

“I’m pretty much speechless. It was a surprise,” Whitney said of her honor. “I feel there are so many people out there deserving.”

The country singer has been at her craft for 25 years, with the same band, Country Express.

“It’s a great way to show your talent,” said Bobby “Guitar” Mahar, who lives just outside Fulton. “And a great place to come.”

Mahar, who has played music since he was 7, specializes in Merle Haggard songs.

How honorees are sought

The process has two levels, Whitney said. “First you have to be inducted into the hall of honor,” he said.
“This year, six were inducted. Some years there are eight. Six is good. That varies,” he said.

Musicians submit their resume to the awards committee. Once people are named to the hall of honor, they can be considered for its Hall of Fame.

“We put out advertising. We are looking for seasoned musicians, playing at least 20 years, and to submit a resume to be considered,” Whitney said. “Myself and others, we know musicians. I play in a band. The board knows musicians.

The committee reviews dozens of resumes, winnowing it seven nominees for the Hall of Fame.

“We send the seven to an outside independent source,” Whitney said, to cut out favoritism. That whittles the number to three, the number inducted ever year.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Brian Nelson of Rome is a hall of honor inductee.

‘So many things go into it’

Chauncey “Tink” Bennett of East Homer, singer and songwriter for Tailor Made, has been playing music for 40 years, 30 of them with Tailor Made.

It’s so gratifying to be honored for making music, he said. His band earned a SAMMY award in 2021 for best country album, “Hate the Game,” in the Central New York area.

“So many things go into it to be successful and being around for 30 years. You need to treat it like a business. There’s equipment, personnel, people in the band, the road crew, rehearsals to learn new material. People see you doing something part-time on the weekends, you are having fun.”

There’s a lot more going into that performance.

“Country artists do a lot of great things, donate to charity, do benefits for free, salt of the earth things,” Bennett said. “Anytime someone gets an award like that, I love to see that.”

Whitney has mentored girls, teaching them to play on stage. She also is active at the Oneonta Sock Hop, fundraising for organizations. She has shared the stage with the likes of Kenny Rogers. But her favorite times are playing with her band, Country Express.

Hall of honor inductee Brian Nelson of Rome, a crowd favorite, has been playing country music since he was 16. He and his brother formed the Nelson Brothers Band, playing area VFWs, Moose clubs and festivals.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Jim Wright of Walton plays in the band Phoenix. He’s been playing country music for 52 years. He is a hall of honor inductee.

Jim Wright of Walton, a hall of honor inductee, has been playing music for 52 years. He started playing bass guitar at 18, was in his father’s band in 1969 and played in the Petty Officer’s Club during his Navy stint in the ‘70s. His band, Phoenix, where he plays lead guitar, has been active since 2005.

“You gotta love it,” he said. His band mate, Jim Tooley of Greene, was inducted into the hall of honor in 2005.

“We don’t care about the money. We just enjoy the music and having some fun,” said Tooley.

Paul Stark was up for the Hall of Fame and sang a few songs with his wife, Mary Lou. The couple live in Honeoye.

“We play all over the country,” Paul Stark said, including Florida.

Ray Randall, 84, another nominee for the hall of fame out of Delphi Falls, also played for the crowd. He’s been playing music for 74 years. Randall and his Rhythmeers have played all over Central New York, and now Florida.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Ray Randall of Delphi Falls was one of seven considered for the New York State Country Music Hall of Fame this year. He’s been playing country music for 74 years. Only three make it into the hall. He’s already received a hall of honor award.

“I have been here several times,” Randall said at the park. “I like this place. I think they do a good job.”

Michael Garlock, a hall of honor inductee, was given a nod due to his promotion of bluegrass music in New York for 20 years.

Hall of Famers

Other hall of famers were Clayton Boise of Oxford, who died in 2009, and Lowell Smith, who played in the Cortland area.

Boise played in the Air Force Band, winning an honor that allowed him to play at Air Force bases throughout the world. He was in the Country Cousins with his cousin Dick Boise, and “The Clayt Boise Band,” playing in clubs like Taylor’s Country House and The Halfway House, and in stage shows at country music parks in New York and Pennsylvania.

Smith was in several bands, including Country Prospects and Gambler’s Dream. And most recently in Loose Change, where he plays in nursing homes and rehab facilities.

Kowalski now plays in Doc Weismore with Real Country, a regular at the Country Music Park.

“I think it’s a great band. We have had the opportunity to play in big shows,” Kowalski said. “ The place here helps us out and keeps us going. It’s a great place to play.”

2021 New York State
Hall of Honor Inductees
Bobby “Guitar” Mahar
Michael Garlock
Richard Lester
Brian Nelson
Jim Wright
Terri Whitney

2021 New York State
Hall of Fame Inductees
Clayton Boise
Ed Kowalski
Lowell Smith