THE UNOFFICIAL HOMEPAGE OF WEE WILLIE SHANTZ


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THE WEE WILLIE BIOGRAPHY

There is precious little in the way of information on Wee Willie Shantz. It would appear that Wee Willie's real name was William F. Shanks, that he occasionally went by "Billie," that he lived in the St. Louis, Missouri area in the 1950s and/or 1960s, and that he worked--at least on occasion--as an ice-cream man. On the side, however, Wee Willie was a musician (of sorts) who recorded a number of songs for the obscure "Mark Twain" label out of St. Louis.

In 2000, Wee Willie Shantz gained a bit of notoriety after one of his songs, "Coo Coo Bird," was posted on the website "Oddball Auditorium." [See the original posting via Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.] The extraordinarily strange song spread rapidly through cyberspace, and Wee Willie soon became something of a minor cult figure.

Unfortunately, however, no one to this point has been able to discover any other credible information on Wee Willie Shantz. The only other available data comes from the BMI Repertoire database, which includes twelve possible Wee Willie titles:

CREDITED TO "W SHANKS":

01.  COO COO BIRD – (243039)
02.  GOIN UP THE RIVER – (487500)
03.  ROCKS IN YOUR PILLOW – (1264226)

CREDITED TO "WILLIAM F SHANKS":

04.  BIG THINGS HAPP NING –  (115232)
05.  CABIN NEAR THE SKY – (167421)
06.  HUSH PUPPY HUSH – (600343)
07.  I LL MISS YOU WHEN I M GONE – (640873)
08.  IF MY DREAM WOULD ALL COME TRU – (705288)
09.  REMINISCING – (1242809)
10.  SAVE A PLACE IN YOUR HEART FOR – (1292494)
11.  SO SAID THE KING – (1365974)
12.  WHEN THE LIGHT OF THE CANDLE B – (1648446)

Recordings of #1 (three versions), #2, #5, #6, #7, #8 and #12 exist, along with a 13th song, entitled "The Chicken Thief." All ten extant recordings are posted below. If you know of any additional recordings or can provide any information on the mysterious Wee Willie Shantz, please contact us.

[UPDATED 20 MAY 2008]


THE LATEST WEE WILLIE NEWS

For the past several years, we've been operating under the assumption that Wee Willie Shantz was the pseudonym of one William Faunt Shanks of Beaufort, Frankin County, Missouri (b. 05 APR 1908, d. 02 DEC 1965).

Unfortunately, we were mistaken. Many thanks to Sue B. for all her hard work in tracking down and interviewing William Faunt Shanks' relatives. Given Sue B.'s research, we can now say with certainty that William Faunt Shanks was neither wee nor our Willie.

Now, the good news. We immediately started looking for new leads and have just identified a second potential Wee Willie:

From the SSDI (via WorldVitalRecords.com):

Name: William F. Shanks
Birth Date: 17 Apr 1906
Death Date: 11 Oct 1987
Social Security Number: 500-26-4889
Death Residence Zip Code: 63158
Death Locale: Saint Louis, Saint Louis City, MO

Further research on this second William F. Shanks suggests that he served as a Corporal in the U.S. Army during WWII, and that he is buried in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis.

Is this William F. Shanks our Wee Willie Shantz? We're not sure, but we would be grateful to anyone who could either help us find his obituary, or put us in touch with his relatives or descendants. We would also love to hear from anyone with ideas as to how we might follow up on the information listed above. Please contact us.

[UPDATED 20 MAY 2008]


JEFFERSON BARRACKS NATIONAL CEMETERY

Special thanks to Keith W. for tracking down the grave of William F. Shanks, and for sending in the photos posted above. We're still not 100% certain that Corporal Shanks is our Wee Willie, but we're hopeful.

[UPDATED 29 JUNE 2008]


MORE WEE WILLIE NEWS

A gentleman named Dan A. stumbled upon this page doing a search for "Hush Puppy Hush." He writes in to tell us that he recalls encountering Wee Willie in 1959 or 1960:

My family lived in a subdivision called Oakwood Park, municipality of Dellwood, north St. Louis Co. There was an ice cream truck driven by a very small man named Willie. Beside ice cream he would sell this homemade record of “Hush Puppy Hush” and was very proud of it. I can still see him as he described the sound of puppies in the background. We being 9-12 years old then, he seemed to us very old and about our size, always happy, funny and friendly. Ice cream then was 5-10 cents and we all chipped in and bought his record for 10 cents. I don't know what happened to that record or to my childhood friends but that song has stayed in my head all my life.

--Dan A., Tue 5/13/2008 10:52 PM

[UPDATED 15 MAY 2008]


THE WEE WILLIE DISCOGRAPHY


Currently, there are five known Wee Willie records.


RECORD # 1

The first Wee Willie Shantz record was unearthed by John Fitzpatrick, one-time curator of the now defunct Oddball Auditorium (see story).

Mr. Fitzpatrick declared the disc "The World's Strangest Record," and wrote:

Friends, you are in for a treat. This record is truly beyond description but I'll try. Can you imagine John Cage jamming with Negativland inside a moving boxcar full of victrolas... or perhaps an old backwoods codger, swigging mash whiskey from a facejar, has been working on these songs for 40 years and he finally got a chance to record them, but the only band he could find was a family of occultists who live at the junkyard. Anyway this record has it all -- prepared sound objects, recording manipulation, sing-speak vocal somewhere between nursery rhyme and shaman ritual, semi-aleatoric stringed instruments, and even a sublime saxophone solo.

Even the handwriting on the label tells a story. I can see the original owner writing her name on the label, and then putting the record on her turntable. After listening for about about twenty seconds, she tears the record from the player and slashes two marks on the label, to remind herself "Never play this record again!" She then stores the record in the kitchen and uses it to grate Parmesan cheese. Eventually, after the grooves loose their edge, she props open the screendoor with it. In other words, the condition of this vinyl is saddening. Add that the recording session and process were very noisy and chaotic. However, I did digitally repair the worst of the vinyl damage. Just be prepared to "eat your fried mush," OK?

Following the posting on Oddball Auditorium, Wee Willie Shantz became something of a minor internet celebrity. Here are the two mp3s that originally appeared on Oddball Auditorium:

Side A: "Hush Puppy Hush"
Side B:
"Coo Coo Bird" (Ver. 1)

[UPDATED 29 MAY 2006]


RECORD # 2

In the autumn of 2004, we dug up a second Wee Willie Shantz record: an undated 45 on the Mark Twain label out of St. Louis that has "Going up the River" on side A, and "Coo Coo Bird" on side B.


The version of "Coo Coo Bird" that appears on this record is entirely different from (and, quite frankly, not as weird as) the one that originally surfaced on Oddball Auditorium. Here are mp3 versions of the two songs we turned up:

Side A: "Going up the River"
Side B:
"Coo Coo Bird" (Ver. 2)

[UPDATED 29 MAY 2006]


RECORD # 3

Much to our amazement, in the autumn of 2005 we stumbled across a third "Wee Willie" record, also on the Mark Twain label out of St. Louis.


As with the other two records, songwriting credits are given to one "William Shanks." This time, however, the performer is listed as "Billie Shanks" rather than "Wee Willie Shantz." For your edification, two more mp3s:

Side A: "When the Light of the Candle Burns Low"
Side B: "If My Dreams Would All Come True"

[UPDATED 22 MAY 2006]


RECORD # 4

In May of 2006, Mike B. contacted us regarding a posting he'd seen on the Hillbilly Music Mailing List:

"The Chicken Thief" by Wee Willie Shantz is one of my personal favorites. The lead instrument is a banjo, ineptly played, and it features sound effects of actual chickens. 5 Stars.

--Don Julio, Fri Oct 31, 2003  2:36 am

Many thanks to Andrew B., who was kind enough to pass along a copy of the record (Mark Twain #1001):

Side A: "The Chicken Thief"
Side B: "Coo Coo Bird" (Ver. 3)

[UPDATED 22 MAY 2006]


RECORD # 5

Another weird Wee Willie Shantz discovery--Mark Twain #875--also occured in May of 2006. In addition to being a musician, it appears that William Shanks was an aspiring graphic artist. Wee Willie not only co-wrote both sides of this particular record, but he also designed the cover art. Note the signature "Wm Shanks" in the lower lefthand corner of the picture sleeve:

The sheet music to "Cabin Near the Sky," printed on the verso of the picture sleeve:

And finally, pasted over the sheet music to "Cabin Near the Sky," was the following:

The record itself features the country stylings of Walt Jenkins & the Hanky-Panks. Who was Walt Jenkins? We have no idea. Given the date of the record, however, we're pretty sure the band's name is coincidental with and not a reference to the forced resignation of the LBJ aide caught in a dalliance at his local YMCA. Could Walt Jenkins be the Rotarian song leader Walter Jenkins?

Whoever Walt Jenkins may have been, it seems clear that the name is not another of William Shanks' pseudonyms. Wee Willie is certainly not singing lead here (and given the relative competence with which the Hanky-Panks handle their instruments, it is doubtful whether Wee Willie numbers among them). All in all, the two songs featured on this record are worlds away from the oddball experimentation found on other Wee Willie records. The only hint of Wee Willie's wacky musical whimsy occurs at the tail end of "I'll Miss You When I'm Gone," when an odd siren effect kicks in.

Without further ado, Walt Jenkins and the Hanky-Panks:

Side A: "Cabin Near the Sky"
Side B: "I'll Miss You When I'm Gone"

[UPDATED 29 MAY 2006]


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