There's No Place Like Home: Merv Shiner Returns 

For Anniversary Concert At 93 years-old 
Thursday, September 11, 2014 by Jason Rehm Bethlehem Press Local News

 

A delightful evening of country, gospel and old time music was shared at Wesley United Methodist Church recently, when Bethlehem native Merv Shiner returned from Tampa for his Homecoming Concert Part II - Merv Shriner's Journey Continues.


Not only is the 93-year old a talented musician, he's also a gifted storyteller, captivating his audience with precious memories and anecdotal stories which he weaved throughout his 18-song set. With a musical career that has spanned more than seven decades, much of it spent in Nashville, Shiner has a lot to draw from.


His first Homecoming Concert was performed 30 years ago at Stabler Arena before a crowd of 2,500-3,000 people. While attendance Wednesday evening did not reach numbers quite that high, Shiner assured the audience with a smile that "this concert will be just as memorable as that one."


If the crowd gave any indication, it certainly was. Merv Shiner has a unique voice, both strong and expressive, and as he strummed along on a Martin guitar, the crowd tapped their feet and sang along. Making the evening even more memorable was the skillful accompaniment of Dick Boak, director of the Museum & Archives at the C.F. Martin & Co., who, of course, was also playing a Martin.

 

Martin guitars have held a special place in Merv's heart ever since his father bought him his first one in 1937. What a sacrifice it was in the middle of the Depression, long before credit cards, for Merv's father to purchase his 16-year-old son a Martin guitar for $37.50 so he could pursue his dreams of being a musician.


The concert was dedicated to the three most important people in Shiner's life: his mother, father, and his wife Shirley.

 

Shiner also dedicated the fun and sentimental song, "I Got a Thing About Trains," to his grandfather, who was a Civil War veteran and later worked on the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

 

"Address Unknown," was made famous by Gene Autry, one of Merv's heroes growing up. The love song was written by Hall of Fame songwriter Vaughn Horton, who was instrumental in signing Shiner to Decca Records.

 

Perhaps no song got the audience more excited than "Peter Cottontail," which launched Shiner's career after he was the first to record the classic in 1950. Shiner amused the audience by recounting his puzzled reaction when his agent first sent him the song.

 

"Why are you sending me these children's songs? I'm a country and gospel singer!" The song, as we all know, was a smash hit.

 

Dick Boak drew in the audience with a mesmerizing tune played on the autoharp. Boak performed his melodic piece during a free will offering to support the Lehigh Valley Outreach Depot and the 2015 We Got Your Backpack program.

 

Finishing the night, Merv played a number of gospel tunes, including the Fanny Crosby hymn, "Pass Me Not Oh Gentle Savior," a song he once recorded with the Jordanaires, a group well known for backing Elvis Presley.

 

"Well this is quite a journey I've been on," Shiner said joyfully. For those in attendance it truly was a delight to travel that journey along with him.

 

Merv Shiner At Pinellas Performing Arts Center

 

Merv In Red  194X194  72

Sept. 30th 2011 During Island Bill Haughey's Sunlust CD Release Concert, special guest appearance by Music Legend, Merv Shiner, performing his original holiday classic "Here Comes Peter Cottontail" along with "One Day at a Time". Merv Shiner is a true treasure, both as an artist and a human being. Merv is "TRUE LEGEND" in every way. Merv continues to inspire and bless us with his music. Check it out!  

 

Merv with Hat  194X194  72Also..........

Please make sure to check out Merv Shiner in concert (An Autobiography) at the First Reformed Church in Tampa, FLorida. Merv Shiner in concert, personal life, family and his musical career. Merv Shiner is a very interesting and a wonderful man.  See Merv Shiner In Concert!

 

  

Merv Shiner Bringing His "Hillbilly Sound

Home To Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

October 05, 1984 by David M. Erdman, The Morning Call

 

Merv Shiner  151X150  72Merv Shiner was 28 years-old, living in Bethlehem, singing country songs on Lehigh Valley radio and looking for a way to break into the Grand Ole Opry when his agent approached him with a number Shiner called "a silly kid's song about a rabbit." "It wasn't exactly what I had in mind. Frankly, I thought it was terrible. But my agent, Paul Cohen, kept saying to me, 'Trust me, it'll sell a million records'."
 

 

 

The song went like this:

 

Here Comes Peter Cottontail

Hoppin' Down The Bunny Trail

Hippety, Hoppin'

Happy Easter Day

 

As anyone who reads this and might be humming the tune may attest, Shiner was wrong and the agent was right. The song did sell a million copies.

 

"Boy, talk about evergreens," said the 63-year-old singer in a recent telephone interview from his Tampa, Florida home. "That song opened all the doors for me. There I was singing kids' songs and country."

 

"Peter Cottontail" was hoppin' on the airwaves by Easter 1950 and Shiner soon was singing the Opry with Hank Williams and Minnie Pearl and went on to sing with or write songs for Dolly Parton and Charlie Pride.

 

At 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Stabler Arena, Shiner will return to the area to do "Cottontail" and selections from his repertoire of hundreds of songs.

 

The show will be a Grand Ole Opry reunion, says Shiner's brother, Robert of Bethlehem, who is promoting the country music night as a benefit for the Bethlehem Lion's Club and the Bethlehem Tall Cedars Club of Fountain Hill.

 

Backing up Shiner will be the late Hank Williams' original Drifting Cowboys Band with Bob McNett, Don Helms, Jerry Rivers and Hillous Butrum, who were Shiner's musicians when he was a Top 10 recording artist on Decca Records.

 

Other Opry stars, promoters, producers and writers will be flying in from Nashville, Canada and elsewhere to be part of the show-reunion, says Shiner. The emcee will be Merritt Freeman, the funeral business operator from Montgomery County who moonlights as a comedian with  Pennsylvania-Dutch jokes and as featured comedian at the Kutztown Folk Festival.

 

After recording "Cottontail," Shiner went on to become immensely popular below the Mason-Dixon line as a standard on the Nashville circuit.

 

But the singer said, "Money hasn't changed Merv Shiner, and you know, I really need to touch base with Bethlehem and my old friends, so I sneak in there every now and then." Shiner began singing with his mother Nellie when he was 16.

 

Merv Shiner and Mom 250X191  72
Nellie Shiner and Her Son Merv

"Mom was a choir soloist at Calvary Reformed Church on Wood Street and she and I traveled all over from church to church and in schools, singing church hymns and country music. I was just a boy from up north who liked country music."

 

Guest appearances with his mother on the radio show, "Hometown Frolic," out of Newark, N.J., led to his contract with Decca. His songs made the Top 10, including "Why Don't You Haul Off and Love Me," "Little Liza Lou," "Anticipation Blues," "An Old Christmas Card," "I Overlooked an Orchid" and "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time."

 

Some fans called him "the singer with a tear in his voice," perhaps a trait he gained from his mother's advice that he should always, "Sing the way the song makes you feel."

 

Shiner also remembers Bob Kempfer of Kempfer Music, Bethlehem.

 

"My brother, Charlie, came home with a guitar and he thought he was going to play but it never happened and I started fooling around with it. I took my first lesson from Bob Kempfer in 1938."

 

Back then, Shiner said, "Country music was hick, it was known as 'hillbilly music,' not 'country'," and Shiner remembers taking some flack for it as a student at Liberty High School.

 

Mornings before school, he said, "I used to run into Kosta's Drug Store with my guitar and ask Bill Kosta to keep it in his store until after school. Then I'd pick it up and hitchhike to Easton." He sang weekly radio spots on radio station WEST and later on WSAN.

 

And then there was the cowboy band, The Circle J. Range Riders from Quakertown in 1940, "who advertised for a guy that could sing, play guitar and yodel, and I said, 'That was me,' " Shiner recalled. The Range Riders played with Roy Rogers and was the Dorney Park house band. Shiner said two group members, Smiling Ray Walton and Al Anthony are both coming in for the Stabler show.

 

Shiner got out of regular performing about 10 years ago, "because I did everything there is to do," he said. "There's only so many years you can run all over the country."

 

But out of country music all together? "Oh, no," he said. Shiner and his wife, Shirley, started the Bay-Tree Organization in Tampa, Florida, a country music promotional agency with four offices and 50 employees which promotes country acts that play in Florida. "And I still get up to Nashville about half a dozen times a year to promote shows."

 

The singer is surprised that country music has become as popular as it is.

 

Shiner tells the story about a visit to London two years ago and an interview with Bob Powell, a disc jockey for a BBC country show:

 

"When I went to do the interview I found he had a good collection of my stuff and that it was getting a good amount of air time.

 

"It's funny, back in the days when I first started playing, it was 'Oh, you're a hillbilly,' and now when I say I worked in Nashville, people sit up and want to hear about it."

 

This Week In Bethlehem History:

Merv Shiner's Hop To Fame

Thursday, March 28, 2013 by The Press in Local News

 

Merv Shiner 03-28-2013  72
To This Day Merv Shiner Still Sings And Plays His Martin Guitar!

With guitar in hand, 28 year-old Merv Shiner, an aspiring musician from Bethlehem, made his way to Decca Records in New York City to record a simple children's song. Within a matter of weeks it was selling hundreds of thousands of records.

 

The song? A timeless classic. It went something like this: "Here Comes Peter Cottontail/Hoppin' down the bunny trail/Hippety, hoppin'/Easter's on its way."

 

By Easter 1950, "Peter Cottontail" was a smash hit all across the country. Shiner's musical career was about to take off, and what a career it would be. But before he hit the big time, he was just a boy from Bethlehem chasing his dream.

 

From an early age, Shiner fostered a love for old-time music. He and his family would gather around the radio on a Saturday night and listen to the Grand Ole Opry.

It was Shiner's mother, Nellie, who taught him the fundamentals of singing.

 

"My mom was my mentor," the 92 year-old musician said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Tampa, Fla. "She had a beautiful contralto voice. It was easy for me to harmonize with her."

 

Shiner's first foray into musical performance was singing duets with his mother at Calvary Reformed Church on Wood Street. His goal was to someday sing on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

 

In 1937 at the age of 16, Shiner started on his journey. He and his mom began singing on the radio every Sunday night out of WEST in Easton. The duo known as "Mervin Shiner and his Mother" sang country and gospel songs for the program "Western Roundup."

 

That very same year, Shiner pulled into Nazareth, where his father, Algier, bought him his first Martin Guitar for $37.50.

 

"What a sacrifice," Shiner expressed as he looked back on that important day. "In the middle of the Depression there were no credit cards and people were only working two or three days a week. But my dad had that much faith in me to take me up there and buy me that guitar."

 

For a period during high school, Shiner hitchhiked to Easton once a week to perform an additional 15-minute program by himself. Back then, country was considered 'hick' and known as hillbilly music. Shiner was often heckled by fellow students at Liberty HS.

 

"So I would drop my guitar off at Kosta's Drug Store," he explains. "Then after school I'd pick up my guitar, run over to the corner on Easton Avenue to hitchhike, and hoped I got a ride before the kids came out and razzed me."

 

No amount of ribbing could keep Shiner from pursuing his dream. He remained busy singing weekly radio spots on WEST and WSAN in Allentown. He even became a part of a local cowboy band, the Circle J. Range Riders.

 

After a successful audition in 1949, Shiner and his mother sang on a television program called the "Hometown Frolic" out of WATV in Newark, N.J.

 

"And there's where my life changed. Right there in the summer of '49."

 

A Hall of Fame songwriter by the name of Vaughn Horton heard Shiner sing and invited him to interview in the Brill Building at 49th and Broadway in New York City, which is Tin Pan Alley. Horton made a master recording and brought it to producer Paul Cohen, who signed him to a recording contract with Decca Records.

 

The following January, Shiner received a 78 record in the mail with a song Cohen wanted him to record. At first Shiner disliked what he considered "a silly kid's song about a rabbit."

 

"I called him back," Shiner laughs, "and said: 'Why are you having me sing these children's songs? Whatever happened to my country and gospel career?"

 

But Cohen had strong faith in "Peter Cottontail," and believed it would shoot Shiner up to a number one record. He was right.

 

Shiner recorded the classic in New York City, backed by a 10-piece orchestra. The next thing he knew his manager called and said he had a shot to perform with Hank Williams and Minnie Pearl on the Grand Ole Opry the Saturday before Easter, 1950.

 

"Talk about a dream coming true. There I was with all these people that I listened to in the '30s. They were still there."

 

That "silly kid's song about a rabbit" was Shiner's door opener to a 35-year career in the music industry. Along the way Shiner made more than 100 records and wrote and produced many more.

 

A number of his recordings have hit the Top 10, songs such as: "Why Don't You Haul off and Love Me," "I Overlooked an Orchid," "Little Liza Lou," and "In the Ghetto."

 

Much of his career was spent touring the United States and living in Nashville. Shiner has recorded with the famous gospel quartet, the Jordanaires, and was even the star attraction of the Camel Caravan.

 

"So with my recording career, my children's songs, my gospel songs, and my country songs, I kept fairly busy."

 

To this day Shiner still sings and plays his Martin Guitar. He plans on doing a charity concert later this spring.

 

To his hometown he leaves this message: "I'm proud to say I'm from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania."

 

Please Note:

 

Thank you for taking the time to get to know Merv Shriner who is a remarkable man and will be 95 years old on February 20, 2016. It was such a joy for me to put this together and post it on the website. I learned so much about this man! May God Bless you, Merv Shiner. I think he already has!

 

Just Judy  101X101  72

Posted by Judy Crispo

02/02/2016