“Hiram Hayseed” was the comic persona played by William Henry “Shorty” Godwin, during his years as a radio performer on WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia, beginning in 1937. By then, Godwin, a versatile singer, guitarist, fiddler, and comedian, was already a seasoned veteran of tent shows and vaudeville troupes, including a stint with Otto Gray’s Oklahoma Cowboys.
Born in south Georgia in 1889, Godwin was raised in Texas, and later adopted the monikers “Texas Cotton Picker” and “The Wacky Wag from Waco.” On April 12, 1929, he waxed two sides for the Columbia Phonograph Company at a field session in Atlanta. Accompanying himself on guitar, Godwin recorded Jimbo Jambo Land, a Tin Pan Alley spoof of tropical romance; and Turnip Greens, a folk song that probably originated in the minstrel shows. A photograph from this period shows Godwin onstage with members of Columbia’s best-selling hillbilly band, the Skillet-Lickers, all costumed as “rubes.”
By the mid-1930s, Shorty Godwin was broadcasting over WKRC in Cincinnati with Mack Jeffers and His Fiddling Farmers. Mack’s son, George “Sleepy” Jeffers, teamed with Godwin for an act they called “Sleepy and Shorty, The Happy Hoedowners.” In 1937, the band moved to WWVA, Wheeling, West Virginia, where Godwin popularized his “Hiram Hayseed” character. When the Fiddling Farmers left WWVA, Godwin stayed on as a featured performer with Doc Williams and His Border Riders, a favorite band on the station’s “World’s Original Jamboree.” Shorty Godwin remained in Wheeling until his death in 1959, at age 70.
Shorty Godwin’s Jimbo Jambo Land can be heard on Old Hat CD-1005, Good For What Ails You, Music of the Medicine Shows, 1926-1937.
Jones, Loyal, Country Music Humorists and Comedians, University of Illinois Press, 2008
Tribe, Ivan M., Mountaineer Jamboree, Country Music In West Virginia,
The University Press of Kentucky, 1984
Wolfe, Charles K., email correspondence with Marshall Wyatt, May 2002