Western New York lost a legend on Jan. 17, when Ramblin’ Lou Schriver arrived in “Country Music Heaven.”
And I lost a friend.
In 1998, I was looking for a secretarial job. A want ad in the paper advertised a part-time opening at WXRL Radio. Flipping channels, I found 1300 AM. Willie Nelson was singing, “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.” It was a country station. I was not a fan of country music. It always annoyed me that those stations were the only ones that came in loud and clear on car trips. Despite this loathing, the idea of working at a radio station lured me.
A young receptionist, who I later learned was Lou’s daughter Linda Lou, greeted me. I sat in a heavily wood-paneled room reminiscent of the ’60s and ’70s with framed photos exhibited on the walls. I was interviewed by Bev, the station manager’s sister. As the conversation commenced, I realized that the owner was actually Ramblin’ Lou Schriver, who I remembered singing with his family band on the annual Variety Club Telethons.
We were joined by Lou himself, an imposing figure at well over 6 feet. The interview was going well, but I admitted to Lou that I really was not a fan of country music. He smiled and said, “That’s OK, we can convert you.”
Thus began my education in country music.
Family was an integral part of Lou’s life, and his top priority. I soon discovered that the Schriver family worked, performed and vacationed together. Lou and his Family Band, including the grandchildren, performed throughout Western New York. As babies, Lou’s grandchildren were brought to the station while their parents worked. It wasn’t unusual for a toddler to appear in my office and secure a spot under my desk.
I listened to a wide range of country music, from popular hits to a steady stream of “oldies, but goodies.” Lou was known for playing the entertainers who paved the way for today’s artists. He brought many of these stars to Western New York, including Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, Box Car Willie and Willie Nelson.
Listening to Lou’s radio shows, you felt like you were spending time with a good friend.
As I worked one Saturday morning in January, Lou announced the annual “Tribute to Hank Williams” during his “Grand Ole Country” broadcast, a tribute started following Williams’ death in 1953.
The country oldies were spinning all morning: Gene Autry had been yodeling, and Ernest Tubb had been “Walking the Floor Over You.”
Listeners heard how Lou enjoyed his favorite Limburger cheese and onion sandwich, and had smoked herring – called a “Blind Robin” by some – on New Year’s Eve.
One constant in Lou’s show was the appearance of Bessie the cow, who after coaxing from Lou, could be heard mooing as she provided a squirt or two of milk for his morning coffee.
Over the years, I took more notice of those old photographs that hung in the waiting room: Lou’s daughters with Vince Gill and Garth Brooks; Lou with Charlie Pride and Johnny Cash, and most amazingly, shaking hands in a photo with Elvis circa 1955.
I left to pursue a full-time position elsewhere in 2004. At that time, Lou called me and asked if I would still be interested in working a few hours during the weekends. I happily agreed. He knew that once radio gets into your blood, you are hooked.
The same can be said for country music. Lou’s prediction was right; I developed an understanding and appreciation of country music. Lou preserved the soul of country in its purest form, and did not forget those who forged the way for today’s contemporary country sound.
He will be missed, but his influence on country music will remain and continue through his family and fans. I can almost hear him saying, “Don’t touch that dial. Keep it tuned to 1300 AM.