Montana Slim: The Yodelling Cowboy
The Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies (TRCR) formed in 1923 and were instrumental in the career start of well-known country singer Wilf Carter (aka Montana Slim, the yodelling cowboy). Wilf was born December 18, 1904 in Port Hilford, Nova Scotia. Inspired at an early age by a yodeller passing through town, he began to practice and developed his own unique “echo” yodel. Wilf worked a short stint in the lumber woods in Nova Scotia before drifting to the Alberta grain fields.
Eventually Wilf began singing at the local dances and in 1930 was hired to sing for a radio station’s Friday night hoedowns. He also accepted an invitation from the Brewster Transport Company to entertain and worked as a packer on the rides during the day for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) trail rides through the Rockies. At night, trail riders gathered around the campfire as Wilf told stories, sang and yodelled. Two of his well-known songs were “Bluebird on Your Windowsill” and “Strawberry Roan”.
In 1933, while Wilf worked with the TRCR, a CPR talent scout signed him as an entertainer on the maiden voyage of the British ship S.S. Empress. Later that year, he stopped off in Montreal and recorded two songs he had just written: “My Swiss Moonlight Lullaby” and also “The Capture of Albert Johnson”. The recording became a best seller within a year from the time Wilf signed with the record firm RCA. That same year he wrote and recorded “Pete Knight, The King of the Cowboys,” which also became a hit.
In 1935, Wilf moved to New York City, where he performed on WABC radio. He also hosted a CBS country music radio program for two years until 1937. During this time, someone tagged him with the name “Montana Slim,” and the name stuck over the years. In 1937, Wilf returned to Alberta and purchased a ranch. He continued to appear on both American and Canadian radio shows, as well as perform live concerts.
In 1940, Wilf seriously injured his back in a car accident in Montana. He was unable to perform for much of the decade, but his popularity was sustained by the periodic release of new recordings. He sold his ranch in 1949 and moved his family to a farm in New Jersey.
Return to the road
In 1949, Wilf resumed live performances with tours in Canada and the United States. Soon he started touring with his own show – “The Family Show With The Folks You Know”.
Wilf performed for the first time at the Calgary Stampede in 1964, and often appeared on the TV show hosted by Canadian country singer Tommy Hunter.
Wilf had a simple, honest sound and his guitar playing had a universal appeal. He wrote hundreds of songs covering a wide range of themes, including traditional country western, folk, cowboy, and hobo songs. His recordings of “Blue Canadian Rockies” and “You Are My Sunshine” are among the most popular. Wilf Carter passed away in Florida in 1996.
Publisher’s note: Ironically, Wilf could not read music. And to think he got his career started with the TRCR – one of our claims to fame! Visit trailridevacations.com
By: Judy Fleetham