On Monday afternoon, with the sun trying to peek through the clouds, radio station WXRL played Hank Williams Sr.’s 1949 song, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
For listeners, it was a fitting tribute for the news that followed: Ramblin’ Lou Schriver, the man who owned and ran the station and who for just shy of 70 years was the soul, the voice and the Stetson-wearing visage of country music in Western New York, died Sunday in Buffalo General Medical Center. He was 86.
He had been battling heart problems, said his daughter Linda Lou Schriver-Sukennik. His voice was last heard on the airwaves on Dec. 26, when he broadcast his regular morning show on WXRL.
“He was loved by a lot of people,” she said.
Linda Lou, as she is known, performed with her father as part of the Ramblin’ Lou Family Band, along with her guitar-playing mother, Joanie, her brother, Lou Jr., and her sisters, Lori Ann and Lynn Carol. Five grandchildren also play with the band.
The band was a popular draw at numerous local festivals including Canal Fest and the Erie County Fair. Ramblin’ Lou last performed with his family Dec. 5 at a Christmas show at Samuel’s Grande Manor in Clarence. The show was broadcast live on WXRL.
A recognizable figure in his trademark Stetson, Ramblin’ Lou was a championed country music even in an era when no one thought it could be done. Shows he presented decades ago at Kleinhans Music Hall, by such artists as Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton, were pioneering and successful.
“He was country when country wasn’t cool,” said his daughter Linda Lou.
Ramblin’ Lou grew up in the City of Tonawanda, and graduated from Tonawanda High School. He got his start in music playing parties and barn dances. In 2014, he told The News that he got his first guitar when his father, a barber, gave a customer a haircut in exchange for it.
He performed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and the Jamboree held by historic WWVA in Wheeling, W.Va. In 1947, as a teenager, he got into radio, working at WJJL in Niagara Falls.
He served in the military in the late 1950s, as a sergeant in the 102nd Battalion of the Army National Guard. In 1961, he married virtuosic guitarist Joanie Marshall, whom he called the love of his life.
“He loved to tell the story of how he needed a guitar player, and didn’t have the money to pay her, so he married her,” recalled Linda Lou. “Her response was, ‘He married me, and he’s been paying for it ever since!’ ”
When WMMJ in Lancaster came up for sale in 1970, Ramblin’ Lou bought it, changing its call letters to WXRL after his own initials.
“This little AM radio station did big things for country music,” said Dwane Hall, owner of the Sportsmen’s Tavern. “People underestimate it. He never tooted his own horn. And he always played the local guy stuff.”
Hall also admires the many sold-out bus tours Ramblin’ Lou has sponsored for years, to such country music meccas such as Branson, Mo., and Nashville.
“A lot of people around here didn’t understand how big he was,” Hall said. “He was doing great business. He always kept it country, too. We’re going to miss him.”
One long-ago event made Ramblin’ Lou unexpectedly famous late in life. In 1952, at 22, he presented Hank Williams Sr. shortly before Williams died young, of a heart attack. Sixty years later, Time/Life called. It turned out that the show, which took place in the Capitol Theater in Niagara Falls, was one of only two live recordings of Williams known to exist. Time/Life was releasing it on a CD called “Hank Williams: The Lost Concerts.”
The voice of the young Ramblin’ Lou, introducing Williams, is on that CD. He laughed about that with The Buffalo News in 2014.
“I heard my own voice,” he said, eyes twinkling. “And I said, ‘I guess I can’t deny this.’ ”
Ramblin’ Lou was a member of the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, the Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and Nashville’s Country Music Disk Jockey Hall of Fame. In September 2015, the Buffalo History Museum paid tribute to him with a gala evening.
He also was a lifetime member of the Country Music Association and the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame. He received the “Distinguished Broadcaster Award” from the Buffalo Broadcaster Pioneers. He also was a lifetime member of Musicians Local 92 of Buffalo and Musicians Local 209/106 of Tonawanda.
All these accolades celebrated a career that was glittering – sometimes literally. One prized item on display at WXRL’s studios is a performance suit Ramblin’ Lou treasured, depicting Niagara Falls in rhinestones. It was custom made by Nudie Cohn, who designed Elvis’ gold lame suit as well as suits for John Lennon, Elton John, George Jones and Cher.
Nearby, a letter from President Ronald Reagan began: “As a former member of the broadcast fraternity ...”
In recent years, Ramblin’ Lou used a walker and would sit on stage, shaking a tambourine. But he retained his boyish charm.
After announcing his death, WXRL segued immediately into a previously recorded show. And there was his voice, as if he had never left.
“Well, thank you, and I want to say good afternoon on this Monday to all our good friends and listeners north of the border, up into Canada, all across Western New York State, down among those beautiful hills of northern Pennsylvania – and hey, don’t we have some good music lined up for today, so just sit back, turn your radio up a little bit louder ...”
He eased into a bluegrass oldie.
There’ll be no detours in heaven
No rough roads along the way
I’m using my Bible for a road map
My last stop is heaven, some sweet day.
Linda Lou said the family band will play on and her father will remain a part of it.
“He’ll take care of us from heaven,” she said.
Citing the Loretta Lynn classic, she said “They Don’t Make ’Em Like My Daddy Anymore.”
In addition to his wife and his daughter, he is survived by two other daughters, Lori Ann and Lynn Carol Schriver-Supparits; a son, Louis Edward; and five grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday, at Salem United Church of Christ, 114 Morgan St., City of Tonawanda.