Perryman swaps tales from his life in Texas 'hillbilly' radio

Country Music DJ Hall of Fame member Tom Perryman, left, is welcomed by Rotarian and former Henderson Mayor Foy Brown at Friday’s weekly luncheon program. Staff photo by Matthew Prosser
Henderson Daily News
Tuesday, July 27, 2010 7:46 AM CDT
The history of country music in Rusk County and East Texas was the topic of the Henderson Rotary Club's weekly luncheon program Friday afternoon.

Hall of Fame disc jockey Tom Perryman regaled Rotarians with humorous anecdotes and fascinating tidbits of country music lore.

“Or ‘hillbilly music' as it was called back then,” he said.

Perryman was a member of Rotary during the late 1950s, serving as president from 1963-64 when he was the co-owner of local radio station KGRI with country music legend Jim Reeves.

“It was around 1952 [...] earlier Jim had to quit playing pro baseball because of an injury, and he was working at radio stations around East Texas while he was fronting the house band at the Reo Palm Isle,” he said. “I know none of y'all have ever set foot in there but it was a big thing in the area during that time.”

About that time, Reeves came over and started working with Perryman at the station he was running in Gladewater.

“Jim would open the station in the morning while working at night at the Reo until midnight,” Perryman said. “A lot of time he'd come over and sleep on a couch in the reception area so he'd be able to get up in time to open up the station.”

Perryman and Reeves became co-owners of KGRI in 1959, with Perryman putting up the down payment.

“Jim said ‘If you can borrow enough to make the down payment, I'll put up the rest of it,' so I did,” he said. “We changed it immediately to all country and some gospel. We were one of the first all country stations in Texas, probably in the whole country.”

Perryman talked about the time he helped a young singer named Elvis Presley find his first paying gig in Texas.

“The first day he ever worked in Texas was at the ‘Mint Club' in Gladewater out there on 271,” he said.

Presley had joined the Louisiana Hayride tour in the fall of 1954 but when some of the dates fell through, the promoter in Shreveport called Perryman for help.

“The man asked if I knew of somewhere Elvis and the boys in his band could play on short notice,” he said. “So I put them on in Gladewater.”

Perryman's wife, Billie, sold tickets at the door and they pulled in $90.

“Usually I would keep 15 percent of the profits for plugging the gig on the radio but I gave it all to Elvis,” he said. “And he never forgot it.”

When Presley came through East Texas on the Hayride tour again in 1955 with Jim Ed and Maxine Brown, Perryman served as the master of ceremonies.

“I was probably the only ‘hillbilly' disc jockey playing Elvis records at that time,” Perryman added.

Perryman also delighted Rotarians by playing a promotional record KGRI released in 1960 with songs ‘Henderson, My Home Town' on the front side and ‘The Rusk County Twist' on the back.

“They're almost impossible to find but you can see a copy at the Depot,” he said.

Perryman was inducted into the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame in 1988 following experience in all phases of radio broadcasting and country music since 1947.

Still working in radio, even at the venerable age of 83, Perryman can be heard on KKUS 104.1 The Ranch out of Tyler during 9-11 a.m. Mondays through Fridays.

He continues to play the legends of country music and tell the stories behind their songs.

“I still love what I do,” he said. “I'm going to keep going until I get tired of it or until they don't let me do it anymore.”

Staff Writer Matthew Prosser can be reached via e-mail at

Reproduced with permission by the HENDERSON DAILEY NEWS